"Shoes?" Olivia echoed, looking down at her feet. "Shoes?"
Miranda didn't bother to explain further. She was too busy tilting her head so that she could peer at the gold leaf that edged the pages.
"And we've read that already," Olivia continued. "I believe it was two years ago- when Miss Lacey was hired on as our governess. Don't you recall? She was all aghast that we hadn't got to it yet."
"It's not about reading it," Miranda said, pressing even closer to the glass. "Is it not the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?"
Olivia regarded her friend with a doubtful expression. "Er…no."
Miranda shook her head slightly and looked up at Olivia. "I suppose that's what makes something art. What can send one person into raptures may fail to move another even the tiniest bit."
"Miranda, that's a book ."
"That book," Miranda decided firmly, "is a piece of art."
"It looks rather old."
"I know." Miranda sighed happily.
"Are you going to buy it?"
"If I have enough money."
"I would think you must. You haven't spent your pin money in years. You always put it in that porcelain vase Turner sent you for your birthday five years ago."
Olivia blinked. "Six what?"
"It was six years ago."
"Five years ago, six years ago- what is the difference?" Olivia burst out, looking rather exasperated by Miranda's exactitude. "The point is, you have quite a bit of money tucked away, and if you truly want that book, you should buy it to celebrate your twentieth birthday. You never buy anything for yourself."
Miranda turned back to the temptation in the window. The book had been set on a pedestal and opened to a page in the middle. A brightly colored illustration depicted Arthur and Guinevere. "It's going to be expensive," she said ruefully.
Olivia gave her a little shove and said, "You'll never know if you don't go in and ask."
"You're right. I'll do it!" Miranda flashed her a smile that hovered somewhere between excitement and nervousness and headed into the store. The cozy bookshop was decorated in rich, masculine tones, with overstuffed leather chairs strategically placed for those who might want to sit and leaf through a volume.
"I don't see the proprietor," Olivia whispered in Miranda's ear.
"Right there." Miranda gestured with her head toward a thin, balding man about the age of their parents. "See, he's helping that man find a book. I'll just wait until he is available. I don't wish to be a bother."
The two ladies waited patiently for a few minutes while the bookseller was busy. Every so often, he shot them a scowling glance, which quite perplexed Miranda, as both she and Olivia were finely dressed and obviously able to afford most of his merchandise. Finally, he finished up his task and bustled toward them.
"I was wondering, sir- " Miranda began.
"This is a gentlemen's bookshop," he said in a hostile voice.
"Oh." Miranda drew back, rather put off by his attitude. But she desperately wanted the Malory book, so she swallowed her pride, smiled sweetly, and continued. "I apologize. I did not realize. But I was hoping I- "
"I said this is a gentlemen's shop." His beady little eyes narrowed. "Kindly depart."
Kindly? She stared at him, her lips parting with astonishment. Kindly? With that sort of tone?
"Let's go, Miranda," Olivia said, taking hold of her sleeve. "We should go."
Miranda clenched her teeth and did not budge. "I would like to purchase a book."
"I'm sure you would," the bookseller said snidely. "And the ladies' bookshop is only a quarter of a mile away."
"The ladies' bookshop doesn't have what I want."
He smirked. "Then I'm sure you shouldn't be reading it."
"I don't believe it is your place to make that judgment, sir," Miranda said coldly.
"Miranda," Olivia whispered, wide-eyed.
"Just one moment," she replied, never taking her eyes off the repulsive little man. "Sir, I can assure you that I possess ample funds. And if you would only allow me to inspect Le Morte d'Arthur , I might be persuaded to part with them."
He crossed his arms. "I don't sell books to women."
And really, that was too much. "I beg your pardon."
"Leave," he spat, "or I will have you forcibly removed."
"That would be a mistake, sir," Miranda countered sharply. "Do you know who we are?" It was not her habit to pull rank, but she was not averse to doing so if the occasion warranted.
The bookseller was unimpressed. "I am certain I do not care."
"Miranda," Olivia pleaded, looking acutely uncomfortable.
"I am Miss Miranda Cheever, daughter of Sir Rupert Cheever, and this," Miranda said with a flourish, "is Lady Olivia Bevelstoke, daughter of the Earl of Rudland. I suggest you reconsider your policy."
He met her haughty glare with one of his own. "I don't care if you're bloody Princess Charlotte. Get out of my shop."
Miranda narrowed her eyes before she moved to leave. It was bad enough that he'd insulted her. But to impugn the memory of the princess- it was beyond the pale. "You have not heard the end of this, sir."
She took Olivia's arm and left the premises in a huff, giving the door a good slam just to be contrary. "Can you believe him?" she said once they were safely outside. "That was appalling. It was criminal. It was- "
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