"Oh!"

Turner looked up from his father's chair. "Miss Miranda," he drawled, not adjusting one muscle of his lazy sprawl. " Quelle surprise."

* * *
Turner wasn't certain why he wasn't surprised to see Miss Miranda Cheever standing in the doorway of his father's study. When he'd heard footsteps in the hall, he'd somehow known it had to be she. True, his family tended to sleep like the dead, and it was almost inconceivable that one of them might be up and about, wandering the halls in search of a snack or something to read.

But it had been more than the process of elimination that had led him to Miranda as the obvious choice. She was a watcher, that one, always there, always observing the scene with those owlish eyes of hers. He couldn't remember when he'd first met her- probably before the chit had been out of leading strings. She was a fixture, really, somehow always there , even at times like these, when it ought to have been only family.

"I'll go," she said.

"No, don't," he replied, because…because why ?

Because he felt like making mischief?

Because he'd had too much to drink?

Because he didn't want to be alone?

"Stay," he said, waving his arm expansively. Surely there had to be somewhere else to sit in here. "Have a drink."

Her eyes widened.

"Didn't think they could get any bigger," he muttered.

"I can't drink," she said.

"Can't you?"

"I shouldn't ," she corrected, and he thought he saw her brows draw together. Good, he'd irritated her. It was good to know he could still provoke a woman, even one as un-schooled as she.

"You're here," he said with a shrug. "You might as well have a brandy."

For a moment she held still, and he could swear he could hear her brain whirring. Finally, she set her little book on a table near the door and stepped forward. "Just one," she said.

He smiled. "Because you know your limit?"

Her eyes met his. "Because I don't know my limit."

"Such wisdom in one so young," he murmured.

"I'm nineteen," she said, not defiantly, just as statement of fact.

He lifted a brow. "As I said…"

"When you were nineteen…"

He smiled caustically, noticing that she did not finish the statement. "When I was nineteen," he repeated for her, handing her a liberal portion of brandy, "I was a fool." He looked at the glass he'd poured for himself, equal in volume to Miranda's. He downed it in one long, satisfying gulp.

The glass landed on the table with a clunk, and Turner leaned back, letting his head rest in his palms, his elbows bent out to the sides. "As are all nineteen-year-olds, I should add," he finished.

He eyed her. She hadn't touched her drink. She hadn't even yet sat down. "Present company quite possibly excluded," he amended.

"I thought brandy was meant to go in a snifter," she said.

He watched as she moved carefully to a seat. It wasn't next to him, but it wasn't quite across from him, either. Her eyes never left his, and he couldn't help but wonder what she thought he might do. Pounce?

"Brandy," he announced, as if speaking to an audience that numbered more than one, "is best served in whatever one has handy. In this case- " He picked up his tumbler and regarded it, watching firelight dance along the facets. He didn't bother to finish his sentence. It didn't seem necessary, and besides, he was busy pouring himself another drink.

"Cheers." And down it went.

He looked over at her. She was still just sitting there, watching him. He couldn't tell if she disapproved; her expression was far too inscrutable for that. But he wished that she would say something. Anything would do, really, even more nonsense about stemware would be enough to nudge his mind off the fact that it was still half eleven, and he had thirty more minutes to go before he could declare this wretched day over.

"So tell me, Miss Miranda, how did you enjoy the service?" he asked, daring her with his eyes to say something beyond the usual platitudes.

Surprise registered on her face- the first emotion of the night he was clearly able to discern. "You mean the funeral?"

"Only service of the day," he said, with considerable jauntiness.

"It was, er, interesting."

"Oh, come now, Miss Cheever, you can do better than that."

She caught her lower lip between her teeth. Leticia used to do that, he recalled. Back when she still pretended to be an innocent. It had stopped when his ring had been safely on her finger.

He poured another drink.

"Don't you think- "

"No ," he said forcefully. There wasn't enough brandy in the world for a night like this.

And then she reached forward, picked up her glass, and took a sip. "I thought you were splendid."

God damn it. He coughed and spluttered, as if he were the innocent, taking his first taste of brandy. "I beg your pardon?"

She smiled placidly. "It might help to take smaller sips."

He glared at her.

"It's rare that someone speaks honestly of the dead," she said. "I'm not certain that that was the most appropriate venue, but…well…she wasn't a terribly nice person, was she?"

She looked so serene, so innocent, but her eyes…they were sharp.

"Why, Miss Cheever," he murmured, "I do believe you've a bit of a vindictive streak."

She shrugged and took another sip of her drink- a small one, he noted. "Not at all," she said, although he was quite certain he did not believe her, "but I am a good observer."

***

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