"You look a bit queer."

No Are you quite all right? or Are you unwell? Just You look a bit queer.

It made him smile. It made him think how much he actually liked this girl, and how much he'd wronged her the day of Leticia's funeral. And it made him want to do something nice for her. He looked at his sister one last time, and then said, as he slowly turned back around, "If I were a young buck, which mind you I'm not…"

"Turner, you're not even thirty."

Her expression turned impatient- in a somewhat governessy way that he found oddly entertaining, and he gave her a lazy, one-shouldered shrug as he answered, "Yes, well, I feel older. Ancient these days, to tell the truth." Then he realized that she was staring at him expectantly, so he cleared his throat and said, "I was merely trying to say that if I were nosing around the crop of new debutantes, I don't believe Olivia would catch my eye."

Miranda's brows rose. "Well, she is your sister. Aside from the illegalities- "

Oh , for the love of- "I was attempting to compliment you," he interrupted.

"Oh." She cleared her throat. Blushed a little, although it was difficult to be sure in the dim light. "Well, in that case, please do go right ahead."

"Olivia is quite beautiful," he continued. "Even I, her older brother, can see that. But there is something lacking behind her eyes."

Which elicited an immediate gasp. "Turner, that is a terrible thing to say. You know as well as I do that Olivia is very intelligent. Far more so than most of the men who are swarming around her."

He watched her indulgently. She was such a loyal little thing. He had no doubt she'd take a bullet for Olivia if the need ever arose. It was a good thing she was here. Aside from whatever calming tendencies she had on his sister- and he rather suspected the entire Bevelstoke family owed her an enormous debt of gratitude for that- Miranda was, he was fairly certain, the only thing that was going to make his time in London bearable. God knew he hadn't wanted to come. The last thing he needed just then were women angling for position, attempting to fill Leticia's miserable little shoes. But with Miranda about, at least he was assured of some decent conversation.

"Of course Olivia is intelligent," he said in a placating voice. "Allow me to restate myself. I personally would not find her intriguing."

She pursed her lips, and the governess was back. "Well, that's your prerogative, I suppose."

He smiled and leaned in, just a hint. "I think I'd be far more likely to make my way to your side."

"Don't be silly," she mumbled.

"I'm not," he assured her. "But then again, I am older than most of those fools with my sister. Perhaps my tastes have mellowed. But the point is moot, I suppose, because I'm not a young buck, and I'm not nosing around this year's crop of debutantes."

"And you're not looking for a wife." It was a statement, not a question.

"God , no," he blurted out. "What on earth would I do with a wife?"

2 June 1819

Lady Rudland announced at breakfast that last night's ball was a smashing success. I could not help but smile over her choice of words- I do not think anyone refused her invitation, and I vow the room was as crowded as any I have ever experienced. I certainly felt smashed up against all sorts of perfect strangers. I do believe I must be a country girl at heart because I am not so certain that I wish to ever again be quite so intimate with my fellow man.

I said so at breakfast, and Turner spit his coffee. Lady Rudland sent him a murderous glare, but I cannot imagine she is that enamored of her table linens.

Turner intends to remain in town for only a week or two, he is staying with us at Rudland House, which is lovely and terrible, all at once.

Lady Rudland reported that some crotchety old dowager (her words, not mine, and she would not reveal her identity in any case) said that I was acting Too Familiar with Turner and that people might get the Wrong Idea.

She said that she told the c.o.d. (cod! how apt!) that Turner and I are practically brother and sister, and that it is only natural that I would rely upon him at my debut ball, and that there are no Wrong Ideas to be had.

I am wondering if there is ever a Right Idea in London.

Chapter 5

A week or so later, the sun was shining so brightly that Miranda and Olivia, missing their frequent sojourns in the country, decided to spend the morning exploring London. At Olivia's insistence, they began in the shopping district.

"I certainly don't need another dress," Miranda said as they strolled down the street, their maids a respectful distance behind them.

"Neither do I, but it's always great fun to look, and besides, we might find a trinket or such to buy with our pin money. Your birthday will be here before we know it. You should purchase yourself a treat."

"Perhaps."

They wandered through dress shops, milliners, jewelers, and sweet shops before Miranda found what she hadn't even known she'd been looking for.

"Look at that, Olivia," she breathed. "Isn't it magnificent?"

"Isn't what magnificent?" Olivia replied, peering into the elegantly dressed window of the bookshop.

"That." Miranda pointed her finger toward an exquisitely bound copy of Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. It looked rich and lovely, and Miranda wanted nothing more than to lean right through the window and inhale the air that wafted around it.

For the first time in her life, she saw something that she simply had to have. Forget economy. Forget practicality. She sighed- a deep, soulful, needy breath, and said, "I think I finally understand what you mean about shoes."

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