"Of course you can," he said, a little too easily.
"I lack your sophistication, Turner," she said, and then added bitterly, "Or perhaps I lack your shallowness."
"I'm not shallow, Miranda," he shot back. "I'm sensible. Lord knows, one of us has to be."
She wished she had something to say. She wished she had some scathing retort that would cut him off at the knees, render him speechless, leaving him quivering in a gelatinous, messy heap of pathetic rot.
But instead she just had herself, and the horrible, angry tears burning behind her eyes. And she wasn't even certain she could manage a proper glare, so she looked away, counting the buildings as they passed by her window and wishing that she were anywhere else.
Any one else.
And that was the worst, because in all her life, even with a best friend who was prettier, richer, and better-connected than she was, Miranda had never wished to be anyone other than who she was.
* * *
Turner had, in his life, done things of which he was not proud. He had drunk too much and vomited on a priceless rug. He had gambled with money he did not have. He had once even ridden his horse too hard and with too little care and left the horse lame for a week.
But never had he felt quite so low as he did when he looked at Miranda's profile, aimed so determinedly toward the window.
So determinedly away from him.
He did not speak for a long while. They passed out of London, through the outskirts where the buildings grew fewer and farther between, and then finally into open, rolling fields.
She didn't look at him once. He knew. He was watching.
And so finally, since he could not tolerate another hour of this silence, nor could he bring himself to ponder what, exactly, this silence meant, he spoke.
"I do not mean to insult, Miranda," he said quietly, "but I know when something is a bad idea. And dallying with you is an extremely bad idea."
She didn't turn, but he heard her say, "Why?"
He stared at her in disbelief. "What are you thinking, Miranda? Don't you give a damn for your reputation? If word gets out about us, you'll be ruined."
"Or you'll have to marry me," she said in a low, mocking voice.
"Which I have no intention of doing. You know that." He swore under his breath. Dear God, that had come out wrong. "I don't want to marry anyone," he explained. "You know that , as well."
"What I know ," she shot back, her eyes flashing with un-concealed fury, "is that- " And then she stopped, clamping her mouth shut and crossing her arms.
"What?" he demanded.
She turned back to the window. "You wouldn't understand." And then: "Nor would you listen."
Her contemptuous tone was like nails under his skin. "Oh, please. Petulance does not suit you."
She whirled around. "And how should I act? Tell me, what am I supposed to feel?"
His lip curled. "Grateful?"
He sat back, his entire body a study of insolence. "I could have seduced you, you know. Easily. But I didn't."
She gasped and drew back, and when she spoke, her voice was low and lethal. "You're hateful, Turner."
"I'm just telling you the truth. And do you know why I didn't do more? Why I didn't peel your nightgown from your body and lay you down and take you right there on the sofa?"
Her eyes widened and her breath grew audible, and he knew he was being crude and crass and, yes, hateful, but he could not stop himself, could not stop the bluntness, because, damn it, she had to understand. She had to understand who he really was, and what he was capable of, and what he was not.
And this- this . Her. He had managed to do the honorable thing for her, and she wasn't even grateful?
"I'll tell you," he practically hissed. "I stopped out of respect for you. And I'll tell you something- " He stopped, swore, and she looked at him in question, daringly, provokingly, as if to say- You don't even know what you mean to say .
But that was the problem. He did know, and he had been about to tell her how much he had wanted her. How if they had been anywhere but his parents' home, he was not certain he would have stopped.
He was not certain he could have stopped.
But she did not need to know that. She should not know it. That sort of power over him, he did not need.
"Can you believe it," he muttered, more to himself than to her. "I did not want to ruin your future."
"Leave my future to me," she replied angrily. "I know what I'm doing."
He snorted disdainfully. "You're twenty years old. You think you know everything."
She glared at him.
"When I was twenty, I thought I knew everything." he said with a shrug.
Her eyes turned sad. "So did I," she said softly.
Turner tried to ignore the unpleasant knot of guilt twisting about in his belly. He wasn't even sure why he felt guilty, and in fact the whole thing was ridiculous. He shouldn't be made to feel guilty for not taking her innocence, and all he could think to say was, "You'll thank me for this someday."
She looked at him in disbelief. "You sound like your mother."
"You're getting surly."
"Can you blame me? You're treating me like a child, when you know very well I'm a woman."
The knot of guilt grew tentacles.
"I can make my own decisions," she said defiantly.
"Obviously not." He leaned forward, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "Or you wouldn't have let me push down your dress last week and kiss your breasts."
She blushed with the deep crimson of shame, and her voice shook with accusation as she said, "Don't try to say that this is my fault."
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