She waited, counting the seconds until he spoke. One, two, three…and then he took a ragged breath.

It was almost like a surrender.

"I don't know, Miranda." He sounded tired, weary. "I don't see why you wouldn't make him happy. You'd make anyone happy."

Even you? Miranda ached to say the words, but instead she asked, "Do you think he'd make me happy?"

It took him longer to answer this question. And then finally, in slow, measured tones: "I'm not sure."

"Why not? What's wrong with him?"

"Nothing is wrong with him. I'm just not certain he'd make you happy."

"But why?" She was being impertinent, she knew, but if she could just get Turner to tell her why Winston wouldn't make her happy, maybe he'd realize why he would.

"I don't know, Miranda." He raked his hand through his hair until the gold strands stood at an awkward angle. "Must we have this conversation?"

"Yes," she said intently. "Yes."

"Very well." He leaned forward, his eyes narrowing as if to prepare her for unpleasant news. "You lack the current societal standards of beauty, you're too sarcastic by half, and you don't particularly like to make polite conversation. Frankly, Miranda, I really cannot see you wanting a typical society marriage."

She swallowed. "And?"

He looked away from her for a long minute before finally turning back. "And most men will not appreciate you. If your husband tries to mold you into something you're not, you will be spectacularly unhappy."

There was something electric in the air, and Miranda was quite unable to take her eyes off him. "And do you think there is anyone out there who will appreciate me?" she whispered.

The question hung heavily in the air, mesmerizing them both until Turner finally answered, "Yes."

But his eyes fell to his glass, and then he drained the last of the brandy, and his sigh was that of a man satisfied by drink, not one pondering love and romance.

She looked away. The moment- if there had been one, if it hadn't been just a figment of her imagination- was gone, and the silence that remained was not one of comfort. It was awkward and ungainly, and she felt awkward and ungainly, and so, eager to fill the space between them, she blurted the first completely unimportant thing she could think of.

"Do you plan to attend the Worthington ball next week?"

He turned, one of his brows lifting in query over her unexpected question. "I might."

"I wish you would. You're always so kind to dance with me twice. Otherwise I should be sadly lacking in partners." She was babbling, but she wasn't sure she cared. In any case, she couldn't seem to stop herself. "If Winston could attend, I wouldn't need you, but I understand he has to return to Oxford in the morning."

Turner flashed her a strange look. It wasn't quite a smile, and it wasn't quite mocking, and it wasn't even quite ironic. Miranda hated that he was so inscrutable; it gave her absolutely no indication how to proceed. But she plowed on, anyway. At this point, what had she to lose?

"Will you go?" she asked. "I would so appreciate it."

He regarded her for a moment, then said, "I will be there."

"Thank you. I'm quite grateful."

"I'm delighted to be of use," he said dryly.

She nodded, her movements spurred more by nervous energy than anything else. "You need only dance with me once, if that is all you can manage. But if you might do it at the outset, I would appreciate it. Other men do seem to follow your lead."

"Strange as it may seem," he murmured.

"It's not so strange," she said, offering him a one-shouldered shrug. She was beginning to feel the effects of the liquor. She was not yet impaired, but she felt rather warm, perhaps a little daring. "You're quite handsome."

He seemed not to know how to reply. Miranda congratulated herself. It was so rarely that she managed to disconcert him.

The feeling was heady, and so she took another gulp of her brandy, careful this time to let it slide down her throat more smoothly, and said, "You're rather like Winston."

"I beg your pardon."

His voice was sharp, and she probably should have taken it as a warning, but she could not seem to step out of the ditch she was rapidly digging 'round herself. "Well, you both have blue eyes and blond hair, although I suppose his is a bit lighter. And you stand in a similar manner, although- "

"That's enough, Miranda."

"Oh, but- "

"I said, that's enough ."

She silenced at his caustic tone, then muttered, "There is no need to take offense."

"You've had too much to drink."

"Don't be silly. I'm not the least bit drunk. I'm sure you've drunk ten times as much as I have."

He regarded her with a deceptively lazy stare. "That's not quite true, but as you said earlier, I have a great deal more experience than you do."

"I did say that, didn't I? I think I was right. I don't think you're the least bit drunk."

He inclined his head and said softly, "Not drunk. Just a trifle reckless."

"Reckless, are you?" she murmured, testing the word on her tongue. "What an interesting description. I think I am reckless, too."

"You certainly must be, or you would have gone right back upstairs when you saw me."

"And I wouldn't have compared you to Winston."

His eyes glinted steely blue. "You certainly would not have done that."

"You don't mind , do you?"

There was a long, dead silence, and for a moment Miranda thought she'd gone too far. How could she have been so foolish, so conceited to think that he might want her? Why on earth would he care if she compared him to his younger brother? She was nothing more than a child to him, the homely little girl he'd befriended because he'd felt sorry for her. She should never have dreamed that he might one day come to care for her.


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