"I came," he spat out, "because I am looking for a mistress. Not a wife."

She lurched backward. And she stared at him. She stared until he thought her eyes would burn holes in him. And then finally, in a voice so low it hurt, she said, "I don't like you right now, Turner."

That was convenient. He didn't much like himself just then, either.

Miranda's chin lifted, but she was trembling as she said, "If you'll excuse me. I have a ball to attend. Thanks to you, I have a goodly number of dance partners, and I wouldn't want to offend any of them."

He watched as she stalked off. And then he watched the door. And then he left.

20 June 1819

I saw that widow again tonight after I went back into the ballroom. I asked Olivia who she was, and she said her name is Katherine Bidwell. She is the Countess of Pembleton. She married Lord Pembleton when he was nearly sixty and promptly produced a son. Lord Pembleton passed soon after, and now she is in complete power of his fortune until the boy is of age. Smart woman. To have such independence. She probably won't want to marry again, which I'm sure suits Turner perfectly.

I had to dance with him once. Lady Rudland insisted upon it. And then, as if the evening could not get any worse, she pulled me aside to comment on my sudden popularity. The Duke of Ashbourne danced with me! (Exclamation point hers.) He is married, of course, and very happily, but still, he does not waste his time with little misses just out of the schoolroom. Lady R. was just thrilled and so very proud of me. I thought I might cry.

I am home now, however, and I resolve to invent some sort of illness so that I do not have to go out for a few days. A week, if I can manage it.

Do you know what disturbs me the most? Lady Pembleton is not even considered beautiful. Oh, she is not unpleasing to look at, but she is no diamond of the first water. Her hair is plain brown, and so are her eyes.

Just like mine.

Chapter 9

Miranda spent the next week pretending to read Greek tragedies. It was impossible to keep her mind focused on a book long enough to actually read one, but as long as she had to stare at the words on the page every now and then, she figured she might as well choose something that suited her mood.

A comedy would have made her cry. And a love story, God forbid, would have made her want to perish on the spot.

Olivia, who'd never been known for her lack of interest in other people's business, had been relentless in her quest to discover the reason for Miranda's morose mood. In fact, the only times she wasn't interrogating Miranda were when she was trying to brighten her mood. She was in the midst of one of these cheering-up sessions, regaling Miranda with the tales of a certain countess who'd thrown her husband out of the house until he agreed to let her buy four miniature poodles as pets, when Lady Rudland rapped on the door.

"Oh, good," she said, poking her head into the room. "You're both here. Olivia, don't sit like that. It's very unladylike."

Olivia dutifully adjusted her position before asking, "What is it, Mama?"

"I wanted to inform you that we have been invited to Lady Chester's home for a country visit next week."

"Who is Lady Chester?" Miranda inquired, setting her now dog-eared volume of Aeschylus down in her lap.

"A cousin of ours," Olivia replied. "Third or fourth, I can't remember."

"Second," Lady Rudland corrected. "And I accepted the invitation on our behalf. It would be rude not to attend, as she's such a close relation."

"Is Turner going?" Olivia asked.

Miranda wanted to thank her friend a thousand times over for asking the question she didn't dare voice.

"He had better. He has wormed his way out of his familial obligations for far too long," Lady Rudland said with uncharacteristic steeliness. "If he doesn't, he'll have to answer to me."

"Heavens," Olivia deadpanned. "What a terrifying thought."

"I don't know what is wrong with the boy," Lady Rudland said with a shake of her head. "It is almost as if he is avoiding us."

No , Miranda thought with a sad smile, only me .

* * *
Turner tapped his foot impatiently as he waited for his family to come down. For about the fifteenth time that morning, he found himself wishing that he were more like the rest of the men of the ton , most of whom either ignored their mothers or treated them like pieces of fluff. But somehow his mother had managed to get him to agree to this blasted week-long house party, at which, of course, Miranda would also be in attendance.

He was an idiot. That fact was growing clearer to him by the day.

An idiot who had apparently offended fate, because as soon as his mother arrived in the front hall she said, "You're going to have to ride with Miranda."

Apparently the gods had a sick sense of humor.

He cleared his throat. "Do you think that's wise, Mother?"

She gave him an impatient look. "You're not going to seduce the girl, are you?"

Holy bloody hell. "Of course not. It's just that she has her reputation to consider. What will people say when we arrive in the same carriage? Everyone will know we've spent several hours alone."

"Everyone thinks of the two of you as brother and sister. And we shall meet up a mile from Chester Park and switch everyone about so that you may arrive with your father. There won't be any problem. Besides, your father and I need to have a word alone with Olivia."

"What did she do now?"

"Apparently she called Georgiana Elster a silly widgeon."

"Georgiana Elster is a silly widgeon."

"To her face, Turner! She said it to her face."


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