Miranda began to breathe again, not certain if she was disappointed or relieved.
Olivia, however, had no doubt of her own feelings. " Quel disaster," she muttered, in her typically broken French. "All these gentlemen, and I'm stuck with my brother. When is the next time I will be allowed to wander off alone with a gentleman? It's a waste, I tell you, a waste."
"It could be worse," Miranda said pragmatically. "Not all the gentlemen here are, er, gentlemen. At least you know that Turner won't attempt to ravish you."
"It's a small consolation, I assure you."
"Shush, they just called out Lord Westholme."
"And for the ladies…" Lady Chester trilled. "Miss Miranda Cheever!"
Olivia nudged her. "Lucky you."
Miranda just shrugged.
"Oh, don't act like such a jade," Olivia admonished her. "Don't you think he's divine? I'd give my left foot to switch places with you. Say, why don't we switch places? There aren't any rules against it. And you like Turner, after all."
Only too much, Miranda thought gloomily.
"Well? Will you do it? Unless you have your eye on Lord Westholme as well?"
"No," Miranda replied, trying not to sound dismayed. "No, of course not."
"Then let's do it," Olivia said excitedly.
Miranda didn't know if she ought to jump at the chance or run to her room and hide in the wardrobe. Either way, she didn't have much of an excuse to refuse Olivia's request. Livvy would certainly want to know why she didn't want to be alone with Turner. And then what would she say? I just told your brother that I love him , and I'm afraid that he hates me? I can't be alone with Turner because I'm afraid he might ravish me? I can't be alone with him because I'm afraid I might ravish him?
Just thought of it made Miranda want to laugh.
But Olivia was staring at her expectantly, in that Oliviaish way she'd perfected at, oh, the age of three, and Miranda realized that it didn't really matter what she said or did, she was going to end up partnered with Turner.
It wasn't that Olivia was spoiled, although she was, perhaps, a little bit. It was just that any attempts on Miranda's part to dodge the issue would be met by an interrogation so precise and so persistent that she would surely end up revealing everything.
At which point she would have to flee the country. Or at least find a bed to crawl under. For a week.
So she sighed. And she nodded. And she thought about bright sides and silver linings and deduced that neither was in evidence.
Olivia grabbed her hand and squeezed. "Oh, Miranda, thank you!"
"I hope Turner doesn't mind," Miranda said cautiously.
"Oh, he won't mind. He'll probably get down on his knees and thank his lucky stars he doesn't have to spend the entire afternoon with me. He thinks I'm a brat."
"He does not."
"He does. He often tells me I ought to be more like you."
Miranda turned in surprise. "Does he really?"
"Mmm-hmm." But Olivia's attention was back on Lady Chester, who was completing the task of matching off the ladies and gentlemen. When she was done, the men rose to seek out their partners.
"Miranda and I have exchanged places!" Olivia exclaimed when Turner reached her side. "You don't mind, do you?"
He said, "Of course not," but Miranda wouldn't have bet even a farthing that he was telling the truth. After all, what else could he say?
Lord Westholme arrived soon after, and although he was polite enough to try to hide it, he appeared delighted by the switch.
Turner said nothing.
Olivia shot Miranda a perplexed frown, which Miranda ignored.
"Here is your first clue!" Lady Chester called out. "Would the gentlemen please come forward to collect their envelopes?"
Turner and Lord Westholme walked to the center of the room and returned a few seconds later with crisp white envelopes.
"Let's open ours outside," Olivia said to Lord Westholme, flashing a mischievous smile at Turner and Miranda. "I wouldn't want anyone to overhear us while we discuss our strategy."
The other competitors apparently had the same idea, because a moment later, Turner and Miranda found themselves very much alone.
He took a deep breath and planted his hands on his hips.
"I didn't ask to switch," Miranda said quickly. "Olivia wanted me to."
He raised a brow.
"I didn't!" she protested. "Livvy is interested in Lord Westholme, and she thinks you think she's a brat."
"She is a brat."
Miranda was not particularly inclined to disagree at that moment, but she nonetheless said, "She could hardly have known what she was doing when she paired us together."
"You could have refused the switch," he said pointedly.
"Oh? And on what grounds?" Miranda demanded testily. He didn't have to be quite so upset that they had ended up as partners. "How would you suggest I explain to her that we ought not spend the afternoon together?"
Turner didn't answer because, she presumed, he had no answer. He merely turned on his heel and stalked out of the room.
Miranda watched him for a moment, and then, when it became apparent that he had no intention of waiting for her, she let out a little huff and scurried along after him. "Turner, will you slow down!"
He stopped short, the exaggerated motions of his body clearly displaying his impatience with her.
When she reached his side, his face held a bored, annoyed expression. "Yes?" he drawled.
She did her best to maintain her temper. "Could we at least try to be civil to one another?"
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