"I don't know. I think it was inside of me all along. I was just too blind to see it."
She swallowed nervously. "Was it when I almost died?" She didn't know why, but the idea that he couldn't realize his love until she was snatched away from him didn't sit well with her.
He shook his head. "It was when you gave me Caroline. I heard her cry out, and the sound was so…so…I can't describe it, but I loved her instantly. Oh, Miranda, father-hood is an awesome thing. When I hold her in my arms…I wish you knew what it was like."
"Rather like motherhood, I imagine," she said smartly.
He touched her lips with his forefinger. "Such a mouth on you. Let me finish my story. I have friends who have had children, and they have told me how remarkable it is to have a new life that is a piece of your own flesh and blood. But I- " He cleared his throat. "I realized that I didn't love her because she was a piece of me, I loved her because she was a piece of you."
Miranda's eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Turner."
"No, let me finish. I don't know what I did or said to deserve you, Miranda, but now that I have you, I'm not letting go. I love you so much." He swallowed, choking on his words. "So much."
"Oh, Turner, I love you, too. You know that, don't you?"
He nodded. "I thank you for that. It's the most precious gift I have ever received."
"We're going to be really happy, aren't we?" She gave him a wobbly smile.
"Beyond words, love, beyond words."
"And we'll have more children?"
His expression turned stern. "Provided that you don't give me another scare like this one. Besides, the best way to avoid children is abstinence, and I don't think I'm going to be able to accomplish that."
She blushed, but she also said, "Good."
He leaned down and gave her as passionate a kiss as he dared. "I should let you get some rest," he said, reluctantly tearing himself away from her.
"No, no. Please don't go. I'm not tired."
"Are you sure?"
What bliss it was to have someone care for her so deeply. "Yes, I'm sure. But I want you to get me something. Would you mind?"
"Of course not. What is it?"
She pointed out her finger. "There is a silk-covered box on my desk in the sitting room. Inside it is a key."
Turner raised his brows questioningly but followed her summons. "The green box?" he called out.
"Here you are." He walked back into the bedroom, holding up the key.
"Good. Now if you go back to my desk, you'll find a large wooden box in the bottom drawer."
He walked back into the sitting room. "Here we are. Lord, it's heavy. What do you have in here? Rocks?"
"Books? What kind of books are so precious they need to be locked up?"
"They're my journals."
He reappeared, carrying the wooden box in both arms. "You keep a journal? I never knew."
"It was at your suggestion."
He turned. "It was not."
"It was. The day we first met. I told you about Fiona Bennet and how horrid she was, and you told me to keep a journal."
"Mmm-hmm. And I remember exactly what you said to me. I asked you why I should keep a journal and you said, 'Because someday you're going to grow into yourself, and you will be as beautiful as you already are smart. And then you can look back into your diary and realize just how silly little girls like Fiona Bennet are. And you'll laugh when you remember that your mother said your legs started at your shoulders. And maybe you'll save a little smile for me when you remember the nice chat we had today.'"
He stared at her in awe, wisps of the memory starting to come back to him. "And you said you'd save a big smile for me."
She nodded. "I memorized what you said word for word. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me."
"My God, Miranda," he breathed reverently. "You really love me, don't you?"
She nodded. "Since that day. Here, bring me the box."
He set the box on the bed and handed her the key. She opened it and pulled out several books. Some were leather-bound, and some were covered with girlish floral fabric, but she reached for the simplest one, a small notebook reminiscent of the sort he'd used while a student. "This was the first," she said, turning the cover with reverent fingers. "I really have loved you all along. See?"
He looked down at the first entry.
2 March 1810
Today I fell in love.
A tear welled up in his eye. "Me too, my love. Me too."
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