Miranda feared that she did.

"I'm sure they've just got carried away with wine, women, and the sort," Olivia continued. "There won't be any proper ladies in attendance, I'm sure."

The lump in Miranda's throat quickly reappeared. The thought of Turner with another woman was violently painful, especially now that she knew just how close a man and woman could be. She had made up all sorts of reasons for his absence- her days were filled with rationalizations and excuses on his behalf. It was, she thought bitterly, her only pastime.

But she had never thought that he was off with another woman. He knew how painful it was to be betrayed. How could he do the same to her?

He didn't want her. The truth stung and it slapped and it dug its nasty little nails right into her heart.

He didn't want her, and she still wanted him so badly, and it hurt . It was physical. She could feel it, squeezing and pinching, and thank heavens Olivia was examining her father's prized Grecian vase, because she did not think she could keep her agony off her face.

With some sort of grunted comment that wasn't meant to be understood, Miranda stood and quickly crossed to the window, pretending to look out over the horizon. "Well, he must be having a good time," she managed to get out.

"Turner?" she heard from behind her. "He must, or he wouldn't be staying so long. Mama is in a despair, or she would be, if she weren't so busy despairing over me. Now, do you mind if I stay here with you? Haverbreaks is so big and drafty when no one is home."

"Of course I don't mind." Miranda remained at the window for a few moments longer, until she thought that she could look at Olivia without bursting into tears. She had been so emotional lately. "It will be quite a treat for me. It's a bit lonely with only Father to keep me company."

"Oh, yes. How is he? Improving, I hope."

"Father?" Miranda was grateful for the interruption provided by the maid who answered her earlier summons. She ordered some tea before turning back to Olivia. "Ehm, he is much improved."

"I shall have to stop in and wish him well. Mama asked me to send her regards as well."

"Oh, no, you shouldn't do that," Miranda said quickly. "He doesn't like to be reminded of his illness. He's very proud, you know."

Olivia, who had never been one to mince words, said, "How very odd."

"Yes, well, it's a masculine complaint," Miranda improvised. She had heard so much about feminine complaints; surely the men had to have some sort of ailment that was exclusively theirs. And if they didn't, she could not imagine that Olivia would know otherwise.

But Miranda hadn't counted on her friend's insatiable curiosity. "Oh, really?" she breathed, leaning forward. "What exactly is a masculine complaint?"

"I shouldn't talk about it," Miranda said hastily, offering her father a silent apology. "It would embarrass him greatly."

"But- "

"And your mother would be most upset with me. It's really not fit for tender ears."

"Tender ears?" Olivia snorted. "As if your ears were any less tender than mine."

Her ears might not be, but the rest of her certainly was, Miranda thought wryly. "No more on the subject," she said firmly. "I shall leave it up to your magnificent imagination."

Olivia grumbled a bit at that but finally sighed and asked, "When are you coming home?"

"I am home," Miranda reminded her.

"Yes, yes, of course. This is your official home, I know, but I assure you, the entire Bevelstoke family misses you very much, so when are you returning to London?"

Miranda caught her lower lip between her teeth. The entire Bevelstoke family obviously did not miss her, or a certain member would not have remained so long in Kent. But still, returning to London was the only way she could fight for her happiness, and sitting up here in Cumberland, crying into her journal and gazing morosely out the window, made her feel like a spineless twit.

"If I'm a twit," she muttered to herself, "at least I shall be a vertebrate twit."

"What did you say?"

"I said I will go back to London," Miranda said with great determination. "Father is well enough to get along without me."

"Splendid. When shall we leave?"

"Oh, in two or three days' time, I think." Miranda was not so brave that she didn't want to put off the inevitable by a few days. "I need to pack my things, and you are surely tired from traveling across the country."

"I am a bit. Perhaps we ought to stay a week. Assuming you are not weary of the country life already. I would not mind a short break from the congestion of London."

"Oh, no, that's just fine," Miranda assured her. Turner could wait. He certainly wasn't going to marry someone else in the meantime, and she could use the time to bolster her courage.

"Perfect. Then shall we go riding this afternoon? I'm dying for a good gallop."

"That sounds lovely." The tea arrived, and Miranda busied herself with pouring the steaming liquid. "I think a week is just perfect."

* * *
A week later, Miranda was convinced beyond anything that she could not return to London. Ever. Her monthly, which was so regular that it truly was monthly, had not arrived. She should have bled a few days before Olivia came. She had managed to stave off her worry for the first few days by telling herself that it was only because she was overset. Then, in the excitement of Olivia's arrival, she had forgotten about it. But now she was well over a week late. And emptying her stomach every single morning. Miranda had led a sheltered life, but she was a country girl, and she knew what that meant.


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