She leaned back against a wall and took great big gulps of air. His rejection didn't just sting. It stabbed. It shot bullets. And its aim was accurate to a degree.

This was not like all those years when he had viewed her as a child. Then at least she could be consoled by telling herself that he did not know what he was missing. But now he did. Now he knew exactly what he was missing, and he didn't care a bit.

Miranda could not remain in the hallway all night, but she was not ready to return to the party, so she made her way out to the garden. It was a small patch of green, but well proportioned and tastefully laid out. Miranda sat down on a stone bench in the corner of the garden that faced back toward the house. Large glass doors opened onto the ballroom, and for several minutes she watched the lords and ladies twirling to the music. She sniffled and pulled off one of her gloves so she could wipe her nose with her hand. "My kingdom for a handkerchief," she said with a sigh.

Maybe she could feign illness and go home.

She tested out a little cough. Maybe she really was ill. Really, there was no sense in her staying the rest of the ball. The aim was to be pretty and sociable and engaging, wasn't it? There was no way she was going to manage any of that this evening.

And then she saw a flash of gold.

Gold-touched hair, to be more precise.

It was Turner. Of course . How could it not be he, when she was sitting off by herself, pathetic and alone? He was walking through the French doors that led to the garden.

And there was a woman on his arm.

A strange lump rolled about in her throat, and Miranda did not know whether to laugh or cry. Would she be spared no humiliation? Breath catching in her throat, she scooted down to the edge of the bench where she would be more hidden by shadows.

Who was that? She'd seen her before. Lady Something-or-other. A widow, she'd heard, and very, very wealthy and independent. She didn't look like a widow. Truth be told, she didn't look much older than Miranda.

Murmuring an insincere apology to no one in particular, Miranda strained her ears to hear their conversation. But the wind was carrying their words in the opposite direction, so she heard only the barest of snatches. Finally, after what sounded like "I'm not certain," from the lady's lips, Turner leaned down and kissed her.

Miranda's heart shattered.

The lady murmured something she could not hear and returned to the ballroom. Turner remained in the garden, his hands on his hips, staring enigmatically up at the moon.

Go away , Miranda wanted to scream. Go! She was trapped there until he left, and all she wanted was to go home and curl up in her bed. And possibly never get out. But that did not appear to be an option just then, so she scooted farther along the bench, trying to cloak herself with even more shadows.

Turner's head moved sharply in her direction. Blast! He'd heard her. He squinted his eyes and took a couple of steps in her direction. Then he shut his eyes and slowly shook his head.

"Damn it, Miranda," he said with a sigh. "Please tell me that isn't you."

* * *
And here the evening had been going so well. He had managed to avoid Miranda completely, he had finally got himself introduced to the lovely Widow Bidwell- only twenty-five years young- and the champagne wasn't even that bad, either.

But no, the gods were clearly not inclined to grant him any favors. There she was. Miranda. Sitting on a bench, watching him. Presumably watching him kiss the widow.

Good Lord.

"Damn it, Miranda," he said with a sigh. "Please tell me that isn't you."

"It isn't me."

She was trying to sound proud, but her voice held a hollow edge that pierced him. He closed his eyes for a moment because, damn it, she wasn't supposed to be there. He wasn't supposed to have these sorts of complications in his life. Why couldn't anything ever be simple and easy?

"Why are you here?" he asked.

She shrugged a little. "I wanted some fresh air."

He took a few more steps toward her until he was as deeply embedded in the shadows as she was. "Were you spying on me?"

"You must have a very high opinion of yourself."

"Were you?" he demanded.

"No, of course not," she retorted, her chin drawing back with anger. "I don't stoop to spying. You ought to inspect your gardens more carefully the next time you plan a tryst."

He crossed his arms. "I find it difficult to believe that your being out here has nothing to do with my presence."

"Do tell, then," she bit off, "if I had followed you here, how could I have got all the way back to this bench without your noticing me?"

He ignored the question, mostly because she was right. He raked a hand through his hair, and then grabbed a hunk and squeezed, the tugging sensation at his scalp somehow helping him to rein in his temper.

"You're going to yank it out," Miranda said in an aggravatingly even voice.

He took a deep breath. He flexed his fingers. And his voice was almost steady when he demanded, "What is this about, Miranda?"

"What is it about?" she echoed, rising to her feet. "What is it about? How dare you! It's about your ignoring me for a week and treating me like something that needs to be swept under a rug. It's about your thinking I have so little pride that I'd appreciate your bribing your friends to ask me to dance. It's about your rudeness and your selfishness and your inability to- "

He placed his hand over her mouth. "For God's sake, keep your voice down. What happened last week was wrong, Miranda. And you're a fool to call in your promises and force me to attend tonight."

"But you did it," she whispered. "You came."

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