It crossed Miranda's mind just then that she was as close to heaven as she had ever been in her short life. His body was warm, and she could feel the heat of him pouring through her nightgown. Her skin tingled from his nearness, and her breath started coming in strange little pants.

It was the scent of him. That must be it. She had never been this near to him before, never been close enough to smell his uniquely male essence. He smelled like warm wood and brandy, and a little of something else, something she couldn't quite pinpoint. Something that was simply Turner. Clutching his neck, she allowed her head to drop closer to his chest just so she could take another deep breath of him.

And then, just when she was convinced that life was as perfect as it could possibly be, he dumped her unceremoniously on the sofa.

"What was that for?" she asked, scrambling to sit up straight.

"What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?"

He sat down across from her on a low table. "I asked you first."

"We sound like a pair of children, she said, tucking her legs beneath her. But she answered him, nonetheless. It seemed silly to argue over such a thing. "I couldn't sleep. I thought a glass of sherry might do the trick."

"Because you've reached the ripe old age of twenty," he said mockingly.

But she would not take his bait. She just tilted her head in gracious acknowledgment that said- Exactly .

He chuckled at that. "Then, by all means, allow me to assist in your downfall." He stood and walked to a nearby cabinet. "But if you are going to drink, then by God, do it properly. Brandy is what you need, preferably the sort smuggled from France."

Miranda watched as he plucked two snifters from a shelf and set them down on the table. His hands were steady and- could hands be beautiful?- as he poured two liberal doses. "My mother occasionally gave me brandy when I was small. When I got caught in the rain," she explained. "Just a sip to warm me up."

He turned and looked at her, his eyes piercing even in the dark. "Are you cold now?"

"No. Why?"

"You're shivering."

Miranda looked down at her traitorous arms. She was shivering, but it wasn't the cold that had caused it. She hugged her arms to her body, hoping he would not pursue the subject further.

He walked back across the room and handed her the brandy, his body infused with lean, masculine grace. "Don't drink it all at once."

She shot him an extremely irritated expression at his condescending tone before taking a sip. "Why are you here?" she asked.

He sat down across from her and lazily propped one ankle on the opposite knee. "I had to discuss some estate matters with my father, so he invited me to share a drink with him after our meal. I never left."

"And you've been sitting here in the dark all by yourself?"

"I like the dark."

"No one likes the dark."

He laughed aloud, and she felt terribly green and young.

"Ah, Miranda," he said, still chuckling. "Thank you for that."

She narrowed her eyes. "How much have you had to drink?"

"An impertinent question."

"Aha, so you have had too much."

He leaned forward. "Do I look drunk to you?"

She drew back involuntarily, unprepared for the unwavering intensity of his gaze. "No," she said slowly. "But you're far more experienced than I am, and I would imagine that you know how to handle your liquor. You probably could drink eight times as much as I do and not show it at all."

Turner laughed harshly. "All true, every bit of it. And you, dear girl, should learn to stay away from men who are 'far more experienced' than you."

Miranda took another sip of her drink, just barely resisting the urge to toss it back in one gulp. But it would burn, and she would choke, and then he would laugh.

And she would want to die of the embarrassment.

He'd been in a foul mood all evening. Cutting and mocking when they were alone, and silent and surly when they were not. She cursed her traitorous heart for loving him so; it would have been far easier to adore Winston, whose smile was sunny and open, who had doted upon her the entire evening.

But no, she wanted him. Turner, whose quicksilver moods meant that he was laughing and joking with her one moment, and treating her like an antidote the next.

Love was for idiots. Fools. And she was the biggest fool of them all.

"What are you thinking about?" he demanded.

She said, "Your brother." Just to be perverse. It was a little bit true, anyway.

"Ah," he said, adding more brandy to his glass. "Winston. Nice fellow."

"Yes," she said. Almost defiantly.

"Jolly."

"Lovely."

"Young ."

She shrugged. "So am I. Perhaps we are well matched."

He said nothing. She finished her drink.

"Don't you agree?" she asked.

Still, he did not speak.

"About Winston," she pushed. "He's your brother. You want him to be happy, don't you? Do you think I'd be good for him? Do you think I'd make him happy?"

"Why are you asking me this?" he asked, his voice low and almost disembodied in the night.

She shrugged, then slipped her finger into her glass to dab up the last drops. After licking her skin, she looked up.

"At your service," he murmured, and splashed two more fingers of brandy into the snifter.

Miranda nodded her thanks and then answered his question. "I want to know," she said simply, "and I don't know who else to ask. Olivia is so eager to see me married off to Winston, she'd say whatever she thought would bring me to the altar quickest."

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