But now, with her accusing him of this, of wanting Miranda , of all things, he lashed out without measuring his words, without scaling them down in size and sentiment. And his voice was hard, biting, and sharp as he said, "If you would look beyond your own desire to have Miranda constantly at your beck and call, you would see that she and Winston are extremely ill-suited."
Olivia gasped at the unexpected attack, but she recovered quickly. "Beck and call?" she repeated furiously. "Now who is making unfounded accusations? You know as well as anyone that I adore Miranda and want nothing more than her happiness. Furthermore, she lacks beauty and a dowry, and- "
"Oh, for the love of- " Turner clamped his mouth shut before he cursed in front of his sister. "You sell her short," he snapped. Why did people persist in seeing Miranda as the gangly girl she'd once been? She might not fit the society's current standards of beauty, as did Olivia, but she had something far deeper and more interesting. One could look at her and know that there was something behind the eyes. And when she smiled, it wasn't practiced, it wasn't mocking- oh, very well, sometimes it was mocking, but he could excuse that, as she possessed the exact same sense of humor as he did. And truly, trapped in London for the season as they were, they were bound to come across any number of things worth mocking.
"Winston would be an excellent match for her," Olivia continued hotly. "And she for- " She stopped, gasped, and clamped her hand over her mouth.
"Oh, what now?" Turner said irritably.
"This isn't about Miranda, is it? It is about Winston. You don't think she is good enough for him."
"No," he retorted, instantly and in a strange, almost indignant voice. "No," he said again, this time measuring the word more carefully. "Nothing could be further from the truth. They are too young to marry. Winston especially."
Olivia immediately took umbrage. "That is not true, we are- "
"He is too young," he cut in coldly, "and you need look no further than this room to see why a man should not wed too young."
She did not understand right away. Turner saw the exact moment that she did, saw the comprehension, and then the pity.
And he hated the pity.
"I'm sorry," Olivia blurted out- the two words guaranteed to set him even more on edge. And then she said it again. "I'm sorry."
And ran off.
* * *
Miranda had been waiting in the rose salon for several minutes when a maid arrived in the doorway and said, "Beg pardon, miss, but Lady Olivia has asked me to tell you that she will not be down."
Miranda set down the figurine she'd been examining and looked to the maid with surprise. "Is she unwell?"
The maid looked hesitant, and Miranda did not wish to put her in a difficult position when she could simply seek out Olivia herself, so she said, "Never you mind. I shall ask her myself."
The maid bobbed a curtsy, and Miranda turned to the table next to her to make sure she'd put the figurine back in its proper position, then, giving it one more backward glance- she knew Lady Rudland liked her curios to be displayed just so- she stepped toward the door.
And crashed into a large, male body.
Turner . She knew it even before he spoke. It could have been Winston, or it could have been a footman, or it could have even been- heaven help her, the embarrassment- Lord Rudland, but it wasn't. It was Turner. She knew his scent. She knew the sound of his breath.
She knew the way the air felt when she was near him.
And that was when she knew, for sure and forever, that it was love.
It was love, and it was the love of a woman for a man. The young girl who'd thought him a white knight was gone. She was a woman now. She knew his flaws and she saw his shortcomings, and still she loved him.
She loved him, and she wanted to heal him, and she wanted-
She didn't know what she wanted. She wanted it all. She wanted everything. She-
His hands were still at her arms. She looked up, even though she knew it would be almost unbearable to face the blue of his eyes. She knew what she would not see there.
And she didn't. There was no love, no revelation. But he looked strange, different.
And she felt hot.
"I'm sorry," she stammered, pulling away. "I should be more careful."
But he didn't release her. Not right away. He was looking at her, at her mouth, and Miranda thought for one lovely, blessed second that maybe he wanted to kiss her. Her breath caught, and her lips parted, and-
And then it was over.
He stepped away. "My apologies," he said, with almost no inflection whatsoever. "I should be more careful, as well."
"I was going to find Olivia," she said, mostly because she had no idea what else to say. "She sent word that she will not be coming down."
His expression changed- just enough and with just enough cynicism that she knew he knew what was wrong. "Leave be," he said. "She'll be fine."
"For once," he said sharply, "let Olivia deal with her own problems."
Miranda's lips parted with surprise at his tone. But she was saved from having to respond by the arrival of Winston.
"Ready to leave?" he asked jovially, completely unaware of the tensions in the room. "Where's Olivia?"
"She's not coming," Miranda and Turner said in unison.
Winston looked from one to the other, slightly nonplussed by their joint reply. "Why?" he asked.
"She's not feeling well," Miranda lied.
"That's too bad," Winston said, not sounding particularly unhappy. He held out his arm to Miranda. "Shall we?"
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