He chuckled. "Indeed."

She stiffened. "I beg your pardon."

He'd ruffled her. He didn't know why he found this so satisfying, but he couldn't help but be pleased. And it had been so long since he'd been pleased about anything. He leaned forward, just to see if he could make her squirm. "I've been watching you."

She paled. Even in the firelight he could see it.

"Do you know what I've seen?" he murmured.

Her lips parted, and she shook her head.

"You have been watching me."

She stood, the suddenness of the movement nearly knocking her chair over. "I should go," she said. "This is highly irregular, and it's late, and- "

"Oh, come now, Miss Cheever," he said, rising to his feet. "Don't fret. You watch everyone. Do you think I hadn't noticed?"

He reached out and took her arm. She froze. But she didn't turn around.

His fingers tightened. Just a touch. Just enough to keep her from leaving, because he didn't want her to leave. He didn't want to be alone. He had twenty more minutes, and he wanted her to be angry, just as he was angry, just as he'd been angry for years.

"Tell me, Miss Cheever," he whispered, touching two fingers to the underside of her chin. "Have you ever been kissed?"

Chapter 2

It would not have been an overstatement to say that Miranda had been dreaming of this moment for years. And in her dreams, she always seemed to know what to say. But reality, it seemed, was far less articulate, and she couldn't do anything but stare at him, breathless- literally , she thought, quite literally without breath.

Funny, she'd always thought it was a metaphor. Breathless. Breathless .

"I thought not," he was saying, and she could barely hear him over the frantic racing of her thoughts. She should run, but she was frozen, and she shouldn't do this, but she wanted to, at least she thought she wanted to- she'd certainly thought about wanting to since she was ten and didn't particularly even know what it was she'd been wanting and-

And his lips touched hers. "Lovely," he murmured, raining delicate, seductive kisses along her cheek until he reached the line of her jaw.

It felt like heaven. It felt like nothing she knew. There was a quickening within her, a strange tension, coiling and stretching, and she wasn't sure what she was meant to do, so she stood there, accepting his kisses as he moved across her face, along her cheekbone, back to her lips.

"Open your mouth," he ordered, and she did, because this was Turner, and she wanted this. Hadn't she always wanted this?

His tongue dipped inside, and she felt herself being pulled more tightly against him. His fingers were demanding, and then his mouth was demanding, and then she realized that this was wrong. This wasn't the moment she'd been dreaming of for years. He didn't want her. She didn't know why he was kissing her, but he didn't want her. And he certainly did not love her. There was no kindness in this kiss.

"Kiss me back, damn it," he growled, and he pressed his lips against hers with renewed insistence. It was hard, and it was angry, and for the first time that night, Miranda began to feel afraid.

"No," she tried to say, but her voice was lost against his mouth. His hand had somehow found her bottom, and was squeezing, pressing her up against him in the most intimate of places. And she didn't understand how she could want this and not want this, how he could make her tingle and make her scared, how she could love him and hate him at the very same time, in equal measures.

"No," she said again, wedging her hands between them, palms against his chest. "No!"

And then he stepped away, utterly abrupt, without even the slightest hint of a desire to linger.

"Miranda Cheever," he murmured, except it was really more of a drawl, "who knew?"

She slapped him.

His eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.

"Why did you do that?" she demanded, her voice steady even as the rest of her shook.

"Kiss you?" He shrugged. "Why not?"

"No," she shot back, horrified by the note of pain she heard in her voice. She wanted to be furious. She was furious, but she wanted to sound it. She wanted him to know . "You may not take the easy way out. You lost that privilege."

He chuckled, damn him, and said, "You're quite entertaining as a dominatrix."

"Stop it," she cried. He kept talking about things she did not understand, and she hated him for it. "Why did you kiss me? You don't love me."

Her fingernails bit into her palms. Stupid , stupid girl . Why did she say that?

But he only smiled. "I forget that you are only nineteen and thus do not realize that love is never a prerequisite for a kiss."

"I don't think you even like me."

"Nonsense. Of course I do." He blinked, as if he were trying to remember how well, exactly, he knew her. "Well, I certainly don't dislike you."

"I'm not Leticia," she whispered.

In a split second, his hand had wrapped around her upper arm, squeezing nearly to the point of pain. "Don't you ever mention her name again. Do you hear me?"

Miranda stared in shock at the raw fury emanating from his eyes. "I'm sorry," she said hastily. "Please let me go."

But he didn't. He loosened his grip, but only slightly, and it was almost as if he were staring through her. At a ghost. At Leticia's ghost.

"Turner, please," Miranda whispered. "You're hurting me."

Something cleared in his expression, and he stepped back. "I'm sorry," he said. He looked to the side- at the window? At the clock? "My apologies," he said curtly. "For assaulting you. For everything."


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