"Lack of judgment on her part but nothing that requires a two-hour scolding, I think."

"That's not all."

Turner sighed. His mother's mind was made up. Two hours alone with Miranda. What had he done to deserve this torture?

"She called Sir Robert Kent an overgrown stoat."

"To his face, I suppose."

Lady Rudland nodded.

"What is a stoat?"

"I haven't the slightest idea, but I can't imagine it's complimentary."

"A stoat is a weasel, I think," Miranda said as she entered the hall in a creamy blue traveling dress. She smiled at them both, annoyingly composed.

"Good morning, Miranda," Lady Rudland said briskly. "You're to ride with Turner."

"I am?" She nearly choked on her words and had to cover for it with a few coughs. Turner took a rather juvenile satisfaction in that.

"Yes. Lord Rudland and I need to have a word with Olivia. She has been saying rather inappropriate things in public."

A groan was heard on the stairs. Three heads swiveled around to watch Olivia as she descended. "Is that really necessary, Mama? I didn't mean any harm. I would never have called Lady Finchcoombe a miserable harridan if I thought it might get back to her."

The blood drained from Lady Rudland's face. "You called Lady Finchcoombe a miserable what ?"

"You didn't know about that?" Olivia asked weakly.

"Turner, Miranda, I suggest you leave now. We will see you in a few hours."

They walked in silence to the waiting carriage, and Turner held out his hand to assist Miranda as she climbed up. Her gloved fingers felt electric in his own, but she must not have felt the same, because she sounded singularly unaffected as she muttered, "I hope my presence is not too much a trial for you, my lord."

Turner's reply was a cross between a grunt and a sigh.

"I didn't arrange this, you know."

He sat down across from her. "I know."

"I had no idea we'd- " She looked up. "You know?"

"I know. Mother was quite determined to get Olivia alone."

"Oh. Thank you for believing me, then."

He let out a pent-up breath, staring out the window for a moment as the carriage lurched into motion. "Miranda, I don't think you're some sort of habitual liar."

"No, of course not," she said quickly. "But you did look rather furious when you helped me into the carriage."

"I was furious at fate, Miranda, not you."

"What an improvement," she said coldly. "Well, if you'll excuse me. I brought along a book." She twisted around so that as much of her back was facing him as possible and began to read.

Turner waited about thirty seconds before asking, "What's that you're reading?"

Miranda froze, then moved slowly, as if completing the most odious of chores. She held up the book.

"Aeschylus. How depressing."

"It fits my mood."

"Oh dear, was that a barb?"

"Don't be condescending, Turner. Under the circumstances, it's hardly appropriate."

He raised his brows. "And what, precisely, might that mean?"

"It means that after all that has, er, occurred between us, your superior attitude is no longer justified."

"My, but that was a long sentence."

Miranda let her glare be her reply. This time, when she picked up the book again, it covered her face entirely.

Turner chuckled and leaned back, surprised by how much he was enjoying himself. The quiet ones were always the most interesting. Miranda might not ever choose to place herself at the center of attention, but she could hold her own in a conversation with wit and style. Baiting her was great fun. And he didn't feel the least bit guilty for it. For all her disgruntled behavior, he had no doubt that she enjoyed the verbal sparring every bit as much as he did.

This trip might not be quite so hellish. He just had to make sure he kept her engaged in this sort of amusing conversation and didn't stare too long at her mouth.

He really liked her mouth.

But he wasn't going to think about that. He was going to resume their conversation and try to enjoy himself the way he had before they had become embroiled in this mess. He rather missed his old friendship with Miranda, and he supposed that as long as they were trapped together in this carriage for two hours, he might as well see what he could do to patch things up.

"What are you reading?" he asked.

She looked up irritably. "Aeschylus. Didn't you already ask me that?"

"I meant which Aeschylus," he improvised.

To his great amusement, she had to look down at the book before replying, " The Eumenides ."

He winced.

"You don't like it?"

"All those furious women? I think not. Give me a nice adventure story any day."

"I like furious women."

"You feel a great empathy? Oh dear, no, don't grind your teeth, Miranda, you'd not enjoy a visit to the dentist, I promise you."

Her expression was such that he could do nothing but laugh. "Oh, don't be so sensitive, Miranda."

Still glaring at him, she muttered, "So sorry, my lord," and then somehow managed to drop an obsequious curtsy right there in the middle of the carriage.

Turner's chuckles exploded into rollicking laughter. "Oh, Miranda," he said, wiping his eyes. "You are a gem."

When he finally recovered, she was staring at him like he was a lunatic. He thought briefly about holding up his hands like claws and letting out some sort of strange, animalistic sound, just to confirm her suspicions. But in the end he just sat back and grinned.


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