He closed his eyes and raked both hands through his hair, aware that he had just said something very, very stupid. "Of course it's not your fault, Miranda. Please forget I said that."
"Just like you want me to forget you kissed me." Her voice was devoid of emotion.
"Yes." He looked over at her and saw a kind of deadness in her eyes, something he had never before seen on her face. "Oh, God, Miranda, don't look like that."
"Don't do this, do do that," she burst out. "Forget this, don't forget that. Make up your mind, Turner. I don't know what you want. And I don't think you do, either."
"I'm nine years older than you," he said in an awful voice. " Don't talk down to me."
"So sorry, Your Highness."
"Don't do this, Miranda."
And her face, which had been so closed and bitter, suddenly exploded with emotion. "Stop telling me what to do! Did it ever occur to you that I wanted you to kiss me? That I wanted you to want me? And you do, you know. I'm not so naive that you can convince me you don't."
Turner could only stare at her, whispering, "You don't know what you're saying."
"Yes, I do!" Her eyes flashed, and her hands curled into shaking fists, and he had a terrible, awful premonition that this was it, this was the moment. Everything depended on this moment, and he knew, without even a thought to what she would say, and what he would say in return, that it would not end well.
"I know exactly what I'm saying," she said. "I want you."
His body tightened, and his heart thundered in his chest. But he could not allow this to continue. "Miranda, you only think you want me," he said quickly. "You have never kissed anyone else, and- "
"Don't patronize me." Her eyes locked with his, and they were hot with desire. "I know what I want, and I want you."
He took a ragged breath. He deserved to be sainted for what he was about to say. "No, you don't. It's an infatuation."
"Damn you!" she exploded. "Are you blind? Are you deaf, dumb, and blind? It's not an infatuation, you idiot! I love you!"
Oh , my God.
"I've always loved you! Since I first met you nine years ago. I've loved you all along, every minute."
"Oh, my God."
"And don't try to tell me that it's a childhood crush because it's not. It may have been at one point, but it's not any longer."
He said nothing. He just sat there like an imbecile and stared at her.
"I just- I know my own heart, and I love you, Turner. And if you have even the tiniest shred of decency, you'll say something, because I've said everything I possibly can, and I can't bear the silence, and- oh, for heaven's sake! Will you at least blink?"
He couldn't even manage that.
Two days later, Turner still seemed to be in something of a daze.
Miranda hadn't tried to speak with him, hadn't even approached him, but every now and then, she would catch him looking at her with an unfathomable expression. She knew that she had unsettled him because he didn't even have the presence of mind to look away when their eyes met. He'd just stare at her for a few moments longer, then blink and turn away.
Miranda kept hoping that just one time he'd nod.
Still, for most of the weekend they managed to never be in the same place at the same time. If Turner went riding, Miranda explored the orangery. If Miranda took a walk in the gardens, Turner played cards.
Very civilized. Very adult.
And, Miranda thought more than once, very heartbreaking.
They did not see each other even at meals. Lady Chester prided herself on her matchmaking abilities, and because it was unfathomable that Turner and Miranda might become romantically involved, she did not seat them near each other. Turner was always surrounded by a gaggle of pretty young things, and Miranda more often than not was relegated to keeping company with graying widowers. She supposed Lady Chester did not hold much stock in her ability to snare an eligible husband. Olivia, by contrast, was always seated with three extremely handsome and wealthy men, one to her left, one to her right, and one across the table.
Miranda learned quite a bit about home remedies for gout.
Lady Chester had, however, left the pairings for one of her planned events to chance, and that was her annual treasure hunt. The guests were to search in teams of two. And since the aim of all the guests was to get married or embark upon an affair (depending, of course, on one's current marital status), each team would be made up of one male and one female. Lady Chester had written out her guests' names on slips of paper and then put all the ladies in one bag and the gentlemen in the other.
She was presently dipping her hand into one of these bags. Miranda felt sick to her stomach.
"Sir Anthony Waldove and…" Lady Chester thrust her hand into the other bag. "Lady Rudland."
Miranda exhaled, not realizing until then that she had been holding her breath. She would do anything to be paired up with Turner- and anything to avoid it.
"Poor Mama," Olivia whispered in her ear. "Sir Anthony Waldove is really quite dim. She will have to do all the work."
Miranda put her finger to her lips. "I can't hear."
"Mr. William Fitzhugh and…Miss Charlotte Glad-dish."
"With whom do you wish to be paired?" Olivia asked.
Miranda shrugged. If she was not assigned to Turner, it didn't really matter.
"Lord Turner and…"
Miranda's heart stopped beating.
"…Lady Olivia Bevelstoke. Isn't that sweet? We have been doing this for five years, and this is our first brother-sister team."
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