Miranda looked to Turner. "Are you still coming?"
"No." And it didn't take him even two seconds to reply.
11 June 1819
My birthday today- lovely and strange.
The Bevelstokes held a family supper in my honor. It was so very sweet and kind, especially as my own father has likely forgot that today is anything other than the day that a certain Greek scholar did a certain special mathematical computation or some such other Very Important Thing.
From Lord and Lady Rudland: a beautiful pair of aquamarine earrings. I know I should not accept something so dear, but I could not make a fuss at the supper table, and I did say, "I can't…" (if with something of a lack of conviction) and was roundly shushed.
From Winston: a set of lovely lace handkerchiefs.
From Olivia: a box of stationery, engraved with my name. She enclosed a little note marked, "For Your Eyes Only," which said, "I hope you shan't be able to use this for long!" Which of course means she hopes my name shall soon be Bevelstoke.
I did not comment.
And from Turner, a bottle of scent. Violets. I immediately thought of the violet ribbon he pinned to my hair when I was ten, but of course he would not have remembered such a thing. I said nothing about it; it would have been far too embarrassing to be revealed as so maudlin. But I thought it a lovely and sweet gift.
I cannot seem to sleep. Ten minutes have passed since I wrote the previous sentence, and although I yawn quite frequently, my eyelids do not seem the least bit heavy. I think I shall go down to the kitchens to see if I might get a glass of warm milk.
Or perhaps I will not go to the kitchens. It is not likely that anyone will be down there to assist me, and while I am perfectly able to heat some milk, the chef will probably have palpitations when he sees that someone has used one of his pots without his knowledge. And more importantly, I am twenty years old now. I can have a glass of sherry to help me sleep if I want.
I think that is what I will do.
Turner had been through one candle and three glasses of brandy, and now he was sitting in the dark in his father's study, staring out the window, listening to the leaves of a nearby tree rustle in the wind and slap up against the glass.
Dull, perhaps, but just now he was embracing dull. Dull was precisely what he wanted after a day such as this.
First there had been Olivia, accusing him of wanting Miranda. Then there had been Miranda, and he had-
Dear Lord, he had wanted her.
He knew the exact moment he had realized it. It wasn't when she had bumped into him. It wasn't when his hands had gone 'round her upper arms to steady her. She'd felt nice, yes, but he hadn't noticed. Not like that.
The moment…the moment that could quite possibly ruin him had occurred a split second later, when she looked up.
It was her eyes. It had always been her eyes. He had just been too stupid to realize it.
And as they stood there, for what felt like an eternity, he felt himself changing. He felt his body coiling and his breath ceasing altogether, and then his fingers tightened, and her eyes- they widened even more.
And he wanted her. Like nothing he could have imagined, like nothing that was proper and good, he wanted her.
He had never been so disgusted with himself.
He didn't love her. He couldn't love her. He was quite certain he could not love anyone, not after the destruction Leticia had wrought on his heart. It was lust, pure and simple, and it was lust for what was quite possibly the least suitable woman in all England.
He poured himself another drink. They said that what didn't kill a man made him stronger, but this…
This was going to kill him.
And then, as he sat there, pondering his own weaknesses, he saw her.
It was a test. It could only be a test. Someone somewhere was determined to test his mettle as a gentleman, and he was going to fail. He would try, he would hold back as long as he could, but deep down, in a little corner of his soul that he didn't particularly like to examine, he knew. He would fail.
She moved like a ghost, almost glowing in some billowy white gown. It was plain cotton, he was sure, prim and proper and perfectly virginal.
It made him desperate for her.
He clutched the sides of his chair and held on for all he was worth.
* * *
Miranda felt a little uneasy at entering Lord Rudland's study, but she had not found what she was looking for in the rose salon, and she knew that he kept a decanter on a shelf by the door. She could be in and out in under a minute; surely mere seconds would not count as an invasion of privacy.
"Now where are those glasses?" she murmured, setting her candle down on the table. "Here we are." She found the bottle of sherry and poured herself a small amount.
"I hope you are not making this a habit," a voice drawled out.
The glass slipped through her fingers and landed on the floor with a loud smash.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk."
She followed his voice until she saw him, seated in a wingback chair, his hands perched awkwardly on the arms. The light was dim, but even so, she could see the expression on his face, sardonic and dry. "Turner?" she whispered foolishly, as if maybe, possibly, it could be someone else.
"The very one."
"But what are you- why are you here?" She took a step forward. "Ouch!" A shard of glass pierced the skin on the ball of her foot.
"You little fool. Coming down here with bare feet." He rose from his chair and strode across the room.
"I wasn't planning on breaking a glass," Miranda replied in a defensive tone, leaning down and plucking the splinter out.
"It doesn't matter. You'll catch the death of a cold wandering around like that." He scooped her up in his arms and carried her away from the broken glass.
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