Miranda pulled the sheets over her nude body, wishing that she hadn't inquired about the weather. If the rain had let up, they would have to return to the main house. They had surely been missed by now. They could claim that they had sought shelter in the rain, but that excuse would ring hollow if they did not return just as soon as the weather cleared.

He pushed the curtains back into place and turned to face her, and Miranda caught her breath at the sheer male beauty of him. She had seen drawings of statues in her father's many books, and he even possessed a miniature of the David statue in Florence. But nothing compared to the living, breathing man standing before her, and she dropped her gaze to the floor, fearing that the mere sight of him would seduce her anew.

"It's still raining," he said evenly. "But it's getting lighter. We should clean up our, er, mess, so that we'll be ready to go just as soon as it clears."

Miranda nodded. "Could you hand me my clothing?"

He raised a brow. "Modest now?"

She nodded. Perhaps it was silly, after her wanton behavior, but she was not so sophisticated that she could rise from a bed nude with someone else in the room. She jerked her head toward her skirt, which was still lying on the floor in a heap. "Could you please?"

He picked it up and handed it to her. It was still wet in places since she hadn't bothered to lay it out flat, but as it had been rather close to the fire, it wasn't too dreadful. She quickly dressed and put the bed aright, pulling the sheets neat and tight, the way she saw the maids doing it at home. It was harder work than she'd expected, what with the bed pushed up against the wall.

By the time they and the lodge were presentable, the rain had thinned down to a vague drizzle. "I don't suppose our clothing will get much wetter than it already is," Miranda said as she poked her hand out the window to test the rain.

He nodded, and they made their way back to the main house. He did not speak, and Miranda couldn't bring herself to break the silence, either. What happened now? Did he have to marry her? He should , of course, and if he was the gentleman she'd always thought him to be, he would, but no one knew that she had been compromised. And he knew her too well to worry that she would tell someone in order to trap him into marriage.

Fifteen minutes later, they stood just before the steps leading up to the front door of Chester House. Turner paused and looked at Miranda, his eyes serious and intent. "Will you be all right?" he asked gently.

She blinked several times. Why was he asking her this now?

"We won't be able to speak once we go inside," he explained.

She nodded, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in her belly. Something was not quite right.

He cleared his throat and stretched his neck as if his cravat were too tight. He cleared his throat again, and then for a third time. "You will notify me if a situation should arise for which we must act quickly."

Miranda nodded again, trying to discern whether that had been a statement or a question. A little of both, she decided. And she wasn't sure why it mattered.

Turner took a deep breath. "I will need a bit of time to think."

"About what?" she asked, before she had the chance to think the better of it. Shouldn't it all be simple now? What was there left to debate?

"Myself, mostly," he said, his voice a little hoarse, and maybe a little detached. "But I will see you shortly, and I will make everything right. You do not need to worry."

And then, because she was sick of waiting, and she was sick of being so bloody convenient , she blurted out, "Are you going to marry me?"

Because by God, it was as if the man were speaking through fog.

He looked taken aback by her shrill query, but nonetheless, he said brusquely, "Of course."

And while Miranda waited for the jubilation she knew she ought to feel, he added, "But I see no reason to rush unless we are presented with a compelling reason."

She nodded and swallowed. A baby. He wanted to marry her only if there was a baby. He would still do it regardless, but he'd take his sweet time.

"If we marry right away," he said, "it will be obvious that we had to."

"That you had to," Miranda muttered.

He leaned in. "Hmmm?"

"Nothing." Because it would be humiliating to say it again. Because it was humiliating that she'd said it once already.

"We should go in," he said.

She nodded. She was getting very good at nodding.

Ever the gentleman, Turner inclined his head and took her arm. Then he led her into the drawing room and acted as if he hadn't a care in the world.

3 July 1819

And after it happened, he did not speak to me once.

Chapter 12

When Turner returned home the next day, he retreated into his study with a glass of brandy and a muddled mind. Lady Chester's house party wasn't due to conclude for a few more days, but he had made up some story about pressing matters with his solicitors in the city and left early. He was fairly certain that he could behave as if nothing had happened, but of Miranda he was not so sure. She was an innocent- or at least she had been- and unused to such playacting. And for the sake of her reputation, all must appear scrupulously normal.

He did regret that he had been unable to explain to her the reasons for his early departure. He did not think that she would be affronted; he had, after all, told her that he needed time to think. He had also told her that they would marry; surely she would not doubt his intentions for his having taken a few days to ruminate upon his unexpected situation.

The enormity of his actions was not lost on him. He had seduced a young, unmarried lady. One he actually liked and respected. One his family adored.


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