Unraveled (Turner 3) - Page 14

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As she spoke, she doubled over and coughed once more. Miranda met Jeremy’s eyes over her bent form. He looked absolutely stricken. He reached one hand out to her.

But Mrs. Blasseur straightened before he touched her. She tucked away the handkerchief she’d whisked out. And before Miranda could venture to ask if she needed assistance, she delivered a sunny smile. “I suppose there’s this to say for Jeremy: he’ll never do anything wrong.”

“No,” Jeremy said, setting his jaw. “I won’t.”

“And that,” Mrs. Blasseur said, thumping him on the collar, “is why Miranda is meeting another man. You’re neat and tidy and orderly, and you never cause me any problems. But…you’re neat and tidy and orderly, and you never cause anyone problems. Women want men with problems. We need something to fix.”

There was not the least chance that Jeremy would fall in love with her, nor she with him. He met her eyes in quiet apology. Miranda shook her head. No need for him to be sorry. It was heartbreaking to watch Mrs. Blasseur fade away. All that exuberant wit and energy and charm seemed to compress in these final weeks. For all her physical weakness, she radiated frustration. She was leaving her life incomplete, too many things undone.

“Leave off Miranda,” Jeremy said, his voice weary. “Or I’ll…”

“You’ll what?” Mrs. Blasseur’s fingers slid across the counter. She took the lace that Jeremy had just mended from his hands, scanning it with a practiced eye. Mrs. Blasseur always wanted to fix everything. She found nothing to quibble about, though, and laid it aside.

“I haven’t got forever,” Mrs. Blasseur said. “You’d best act quickly. You know what will happen if I have to take matters into my own hands.”

Jeremy set his jaw.

Miranda couldn’t imagine how intensely frustrating it would be for Mrs. Blasseur, to have all of her thwarted ambition run aground on something as impossible as her own mortality.

But Jeremy simply shook his head. “It won’t be happening,” he said. “Not even to please you. And besides, I think Miranda has an appointment with a man.” He gave her a shrug.

It was not just apology she saw in his eyes. Sorrow, resignation, bitterness, and more than a little anger. His father had died years before; his mother had practically raised him. Jeremy had watched her die for close to a year. No wonder he was bitter.

She reached out to him, but he jerked away. “You’d best be off, Miranda, unless you plan to be late.”

Chapter Seven

THE CLOCK STRUCK TWO as Miranda arrived at the Council House. Overhead, clouds obscured the sun. Still, even the midday gloom could not hide the empty steps of the building. Magistrate Turner wasn’t here.

She had imagined he would be punctual. He seemed the sort to be precise about—well, everything.

She waited for a minute, until she heard a faint mewing sound emanating from a nearby alleyway. Curious, she stepped back and peered around the corner.

Ah. Here was the reason Magistrate Turner wasn’t standing on the stairs.

He had squeezed in that small gap between the buildings. His face was set in grim concentration, as if he were listening to a prisoner’s speech. But he was sitting in judgment over a pair of cats—one small and orange, the other large and white.

One meowed again, and he broke off a piece from what appeared to be a meat pie, and tossed it to them.

He was dressed in sand-colored wool. Up until now, she’d only seen him in dark colors—black robes, navy jackets. The light color of his coat made his hair seem all the blacker. It brought out a warmth in his skin that she’d not seen before.

And when he looked up from the cats and met her gaze, she realized for the first time how intensely blue his eyes were—emphasis on intense. He seemed to see straight through her, right through her threadbare cloak and her nondescript dress, through her flesh, straight into her heart. That unruly organ thumped heavily in her chest.

She raised her hand to give him an awkward wave. Her pulse beat, and an unexpected thrill ran through her at the sight of him. The sensation spilled through her body in little shocks, like a harpist strumming out an arpeggio against her ribs.

Oh, drat. She was attracted to him.

“Magistrate Turner,” she said.

His eyes narrowed. “Turner,” he corrected her.

“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

“You called me Magistrate.” His nostrils flared. “Magistrates decide cases and issue warrants for arrests. They don’t go on walks with intriguing women, no matter what the destination might be. I must make it clear that I’m helping you in my private capacity. If you call me Magistrate Turner again, I’ll turn around and walk away.”

He made it sound so grim, the prospect of taking a walk with her. It took her a moment to hear that word—intriguing. But he wasn’t smiling at her. That couldn’t be an attempt at flirtation, could it?

Miranda shook her head slowly. “Good heavens. That’s quite an act you put on.”

He drew himself up haughtily. “I beg your pardon.”

“An act,” Miranda repeated. “Stand as tall as you like, and frown at me all you wish. I saw you just now. You were feeding cats.”

“So I was. And do you make something of that?”

“You,” Miranda said daringly, “have a kind heart.”

He turned away from her, the tails of his greatcoat swirling about him. “Don’t enlarge too much upon the matter. The cats were hungry. I had food. This seemed to be a problem with a ready solution. It’s not kindness to solve problems; it’s efficiency.”

“I stand corrected. You have an efficient heart.”

He turned to look at her, and the corner of his mouth quirked up. That half-smile sent another prickle down her spine.

“Also,” he said, “I happen to like cats. They’re aloof creatures that want nothing from me except a little food. Once they’ve had that, they walk away.” He raised his chin. “I have a great deal of respect for creatures that walk away from me.”

“Are you trying to intimidate me?” Miranda set one hand on her hip.

He simply gave her a level look.

“It won’t work. I seek out frightening stories, just to send a shiver up my spine. I climb to the top of bell towers, just so I can look down at the ground. I like being scared. So please, give me that repressive look. Just once more.”

She’d said it to tease him. But her stomach roiled as she spoke. It was true, all too true. He scared her with his curt speeches. He wielded extraordinary power, and he was willing to use it. He frightened her, and she liked it.

That hint of a smile flickered across his face once more. But all he said in response was, “I see. Shall we be off? It’s a bit of a walk, and it looks like rain.”

“You have an umbrella, Lord Justice.”

He gave a deep sigh. “Don’t call me that, either. Just a plain ‘Turner’ will do.”

She trotted after him. “It’s intended as a compliment. You’re a stalwart defender of justice, and so forth.”

“I suppose it started that way. When it was just the common people calling me that, I didn’t mind. But my brother magistrates took up the cry as well.” He stopped, took her elbow, and turned around, pointing back down the street. They’d scarcely gone twenty feet.

Miranda shook her head in confusion.

He touched her chin, tilted her head up—but he wasn’t looking at her. Instead, he directed her attention to the roof of the Council House, still visible down the street. “Do you see that figure up there?”

It was hard to concentrate with his glove warm against her jaw. Still, she peered upward. There was a statue of a seated woman in flowing robes atop the Council House roof.

“That’s Lady Justice,” he explained.

“Isn’t Justice supposed to be blindfolded?”

“No. In Bristol, Justice stares you straight in the face.” He spoke matter-of-factly.

“Where are her scales? Has she misplaced them?”

/> “It would explain a great deal about my colleagues,” he said dryly. “But never mind that. One of my fellow magistrates said that the common people call me by that unfortunate appellation because I was so dedicated to my work that I might as well be married to Lady Justice—hence the name. The jest has been played out all too often. Don’t call me Lord Justice.” He started off down the street once more.

Miranda followed. “That doesn’t sound so awful as jokes go.”

“I paraphrased only. He didn’t imply actual marriage.”

“So circumspect, Mr. Turner.” Miranda spread her hands. “You forget: I have no sensibilities to offend. I was raised by actors.”

“Very well, then. He said I must be tumbling Lady Justice—‘It would account for the hours, and would explain why you’re cold as stone.’ I can’t hear the name now without calling to mind that ribald jest.”

He cast a glance at her. Just a simple glance, but it reminded Miranda of a time she’d slipped in winter and slammed her palms on the ice to break her fall. Maybe he was cold, but sometimes ice burned.

He was walking at a good clip. His route dipped behind buildings, around squares, avoiding the crowds nearer the water’s edge.

“You’re not cold,” Miranda offered. “You’re…controlled. Besides, if you’re a duke’s brother, why aren’t you Lord—um—Lord…” She trailed off. She didn’t know his Christian name. There was a book somewhere that listed it, doubtless. She’d never seen it.

Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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