For a man who had not wished to remarry, he had clearly not been thinking with his head.
Groaning, he sank down into a chair and remembered the rules he and his friends had set down years ago when they'd left Oxford for the pleasures of London and the ton . There were only two. No married ladies, unless it was extremely obvious that her husband did not mind. And above all, no virgins. Never, never, never seduce a virgin.
He took another swig of his drink. Good Lord. If he'd needed a woman, there were dozens who would have been more suitable. The lovely young widowed countess had been coming along quite nicely. Katherine would have been the perfect mistress, and there would have been no need to marry her.
He'd done it once, with a romantic heart and stars in his eyes, and he'd been crushed. It was laughable, really. The laws of England gave absolute authority in a marriage to the husband, but he had never felt less in control of his life than when he'd been married.
Leticia had ground his heart into dust and left him an angry, soulless man. He was glad that she'd died. Glad . What sort of man did that make him? When the butler had found him in his study, and haltingly informed him that there had been an accident, and his wife was dead, Turner had not even felt relief. Relief would have at least been an innocent emotion. No, Turner's first thought had been-
Thank God .
And no matter how despicable Leticia might have been, no matter how many times he wished he had never married her, should he not have felt something more charitable at her passing? Or at the very least, something that was not entirely un charitable?
And now…and now…Well, the truth was, he did not wish to marry. It was what he had decided when they'd brought Leticia's broken body into the house, and it was what he'd confirmed when he'd stood over her grave. He'd had a wife. He did not want another one. At least not anytime soon.
But despite Leticia's best attempts, she had apparently not killed everything right and good in him, because here he was, planning his marriage to Miranda.
He knew she was a good woman, and he knew she would never betray him, but dear Lord she could be headstrong. Turner thought of her in the bookshop, assaulting the proprietor with her reticule. Now she would be his wife . It would be up to him to keep her out of trouble.
He swore and took another drink. He did not want that kind of responsibility. It was too much. He just wanted a rest. Was that too much to ask? A rest from having to think about anyone other than himself. A rest from having to care, from having to protect his heart from another beating.
Was it so very selfish? Probably. But after Leticia, he deserved a bit of selfishness. Surely, he must.
But on the other hand, marriage could bring a few welcome benefits. His skin began to tingle just thinking of Miranda. In bed. Underneath him. And then when he started to imagine what the future might bring…
Miranda. Back in bed. And then back in bed. And back in bed. And back-
Who would've thought? Miranda .
Marriage. To Miranda.
And, he reasoned, draining the last of his drink, he did like her better than almost anyone else. She was certainly more interesting and more fun to talk to than any of the other ladies of the ton . If one had to have a wife, it might as well be Miranda. She was a damned sight better than anyone else out there.
It occurred to him that he was not approaching this with a terribly romantic outlook. He was going to need more time to think. Perhaps he should go to bed and hope that his mind was clearer in the morning. With a sigh, he placed his glass back down on the table and stood up, then thought better of it and picked his glass back up. Another brandy might be just thing.
* * *
The next morning, Turner's head was throbbing, and his mind certainly was not any more disposed to deal with the matter at hand than it had been the night before. Of course, he still planned to marry Miranda- a gentleman did not compromise a wellborn lady without paying the consequences.
But he hated this feeling of being rushed. It didn't matter that this mess was entirely of his own making; he needed to feel that he had sorted everything out to his own satisfaction.
This was why, when he went down for breakfast, the letter from his friend Lord Harry Winthrop was such a welcome diversion. Harry was contemplating buying some property in Kent. Would Turner like to come down and take a look at it and offer his opinion?
Turner was out the door in under an hour. It was only for a few days. He would take care of Miranda when he got back.
* * *
Miranda didn't mind terribly that Turner had left the house party early. She would have done the same had she been able. Besides, she could think more clearly with him gone, and although there wasn't really much to debate- she had behaved in a manner contrary to every tenet of her up-bringing, and if she did not marry Turner, she would be forever disgraced- it was a bit of a relief to feel at least slightly in control of her emotions.
When they returned to London a few days later, Miranda fully expected Turner to show his face immediately. She didn't particularly want to trap him into marriage, but a gentleman was a gentleman and a lady was a lady, and when the two of them were put together, a wedding usually followed. He knew that. He'd said he would marry her.
And surely he would want to do it. She had been so deeply moved by their intimacy- he must have felt something, too. It could not have been one-sided, at least not completely.
She managed a casual tone when she asked Lady Rudland where he was, but his mother replied that she hadn't the slightest idea except that he had left town. Miranda's chest grew tight, and she murmured, "Oh," or "I see," or something like that before dashing up the stairs to her room, where she wept as quietly as she could.
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