But soon her optimistic side broke through, and she decided that perhaps he had been called away from town on emergency estate business. It was a long way up to Northumberland. He would certainly be gone at least a week.

A week came and went, and frustration built up next to the despair in Miranda's heart. She could not inquire as to his whereabouts- no one in the Bevelstoke family realized that the two were close- Miranda had always been considered Olivia's friend, not Turner's- and if she asked repeatedly where he was, it would look suspicious. And it went without saying that Miranda could have no logical reason to go to Turner's lodgings and inquire herself. That would ruin her reputation completely. At least now her disgrace was still a private matter.

When another week passed, however, she decided that she couldn't bear to remain in London any longer. She fabricated an illness for her father and told the Bevelstokes that she had to return to Cumberland immediately to care for him. They were all terribly concerned, and Miranda felt somewhat guilty when Lady Rudland insisted that she travel back in their coach with two outriders and a maid.

But it had to be done. She could not remain in London any longer. It hurt too much.

A few days later, she was home. Her father was perplexed. He didn't know very much about young women, but he'd been assured that they all wanted seasons in London. But he didn't mind; Miranda was certainly never a bother. Half the time he didn't even realize she was there. So he patted her on the hand and returned to his precious manuscripts.

As for Miranda, she almost convinced herself that she was happy to be back at home. She'd missed the green fields and clean air of the Lakes, the sedate pace of the village, the early-to-bed and early-to-rise attitude. Well, perhaps not that- with no commitments and nothing to do, she slept in until noon and stayed up late every night, scribbling furiously in her journal.

A letter arrived from Olivia only two days after Miranda did. Miranda smiled as she opened it- trust Olivia to be so impatient that she would send up a missive right away. Miranda's eyes flew over the letter for Turner's name before reading it, but there was no mention of him. Not quite sure if she was disappointed or relieved, she turned back to the beginning and began to read. London was dull without her, Olivia wrote. She hadn't realized how much she had enjoyed Miranda's wry observations of society until they were gone. When was she coming home? Was her father improved? If not, was he at least improv ing ? (Thrice underlined, in typical Olivia fashion.) Miranda read those sentences with a pang in her conscience. Her father was downstairs in his study poring over his manuscripts without even the teeniest of sniffles.

With a sigh, Miranda shoved her conscience over to the side and folded Olivia's letter, placing it in her desk drawer. A lie wasn't always a sin, she decided. Surely she was justified in whatever she had to do to get away from London, where all she could do was sit and wait and hope that Turner would stop by.

Of course, all she did in the country was sit and think about him. One evening she forced herself to count how many times his name appeared in her journal entry, and to her supreme disgust, the total was thirty-seven.

Clearly, this trip to the country was not clearing her mind.

Then, after a week and a half, Olivia arrived on a surprise visit.

"Livvy, what are you doing here?" Miranda asked as she rushed into the parlor where her friend was waiting. "Is someone hurt? Is something wrong?"

"Not at all," Olivia returned breezily. "I've just come up to retrieve you. You are desperately needed in London."

Miranda's heart began to thump erratically. "By whom?"

"By me!" Olivia linked arms with her and led her into the sitting room. "Good heavens, I am an utter disaster without you."

"Your mother let you leave town in the middle of the season? I don't believe it."

"She practically shoved me out the door. I've been beastly since you left."

Miranda laughed despite herself. "Surely it hasn't been that bad."

"I do not jest. Mama always told me that you were a good influence, but I don't think she realized just how much until you left." Olivia flashed a guilty smile. "I can't seem to curb my tongue."

"You never could." Miranda smiled and led the way to a sofa. "Would you like some tea?"

Olivia nodded. "I don't understand why I get into so much trouble. Most of what I say isn't half as bad as what you say. You've the wickedest tongue in London."

Miranda pulled the bell cord for a maid. "I do not."

"Oh, yes, you do. You are the worst. And I know you know it. And you never get into trouble for any of it. It's terribly unfair."

"Yes, well, perhaps I don't say things quite as loudly as you do," Miranda replied, biting back a smile.

"You're right," Olivia sighed. "I know you're right, but it's still vastly annoying. You really do have a wicked sense of humor."

"Oh, come now, I'm not that bad."

Olivia let out a short laugh. "Oh, yes you are. Turner always says so, too, so I know it's not just me."

Miranda gulped down the quickly forming lump in her throat at the mention of his name. "Is he back in town, then?" she asked, oh-so-casually.

"No. I haven't seen him in ages. He's off in Kent somewhere with his friends."

Kent? One couldn't travel much farther from Cumberland and still remain in Britain, Miranda thought gloomily. "He's been gone quite some time."

"Yes, he has, hasn't he? But then again, he's off with Lord Harry Winthrop, and Harry has always been more than a little wild, if you know what I mean."


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