Unraveled (Turner 3) - Page 23

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Was that anger in his voice? Anger, from even-keeled Jeremy?

“I’m always happy when someone escapes Temple Parish,” Jeremy added stiffly. “This place kills.”

As if to underscore that, Mrs. Blasseur coughed twice. Jeremy met Miranda’s eyes, his gaze communicating what he did not need to say any longer.

Get out. Get out, if you can.

Chapter Eleven

AS IT TURNED OUT, Turner settled the details that very morning.

/> It was scarcely ten when a runner came by. Robbie was to report to the shipwright for his apprenticeship in a handful of hours. Miranda helped him pack his things, and hugged him good-bye. He harrumphed at this treatment, and pulled away. But before he left, he stopped in front of her.

“Miranda?”

“Yes?”

“I’ll still see you on Sundays, won’t I? You’ll want me to come over?” His voice had grown so deep that it almost disguised the querulous note to his inquiry.

“I’d be miserable if you didn’t,” Miranda told him.

He turned away. “Huh,” he said.

Miranda tugged on his elbow. “You know,” she said, “I love you. If ever you need anything…”

“Sure.” He shrugged, and then looked at her and straightened to the height of his not-quite-five-feet yet. “I’m going to be a shipwright. So, later, when you need something, I’ll be the one to provide it.”

There were a thousand things she wanted to say to him, as he took his satchel to the door. Don’t get in trouble. Don’t drink gin. Try not to do anything stupid.

Instead, she reached into her pocket and retrieved a handkerchief. “Here,” she said, handing it over. “You forgot to pack one.”

He rammed it into his pocket and then left with the courier. While she waited, Miranda piled her own things into the valise that the runner had brought. She finished packing before the courier returned; there wasn’t much to take. But a scant hour later, she left her garret room for good.

The runner conducted her across the water, past the cathedral and up a slope. Halfway up the hill, he turned onto a street overshadowed by trees. The bare limbs moved slightly in a breeze that brought with it only the smell of fallen leaves—no sewage, no starch. A row of houses, several stories high, rose on one side of the street. On the other was a park and a large stone building.

She had no time to explore her environs before she was ushered into the house.

She’d imagined Turner would obtain something for her along the lines of his own residence—a few rooms, perhaps smaller. But this was a lavish affair. The entry opened on a wide staircase, spiraling up two stories. A housekeeper—she introduced herself as Mrs. Tiggard—greeted Miranda, and she presented a cook and a pair of maids. She’d scarcely had a chance to get an impression of richly-papered walls and dark polished wood in the entry, before she was whisked on a tour of the house: parlor, pantry, dining room, all on the ground floor; then, up a flight of stairs, a sitting room, a morning-room, and a library. On the floor above that there was a dressing room and several bedchambers. The largest had been furnished for her.

The bed had four solid posts, and was covered in ivory linen sheets and a heavy gold coverlet. It seemed far too large for one person—or, for that matter, for two. Tonight, he’d come to her. There. Her skin tingled. Oh, God. She was really going to do this.

Before she had a chance to think matters through, however, a dressmaker was announced, along with three assistants. They’d brought with them a handful of mostly-finished gowns. Satins and silks and fine merino wools in browns and greens and blues—terribly impractical attire if one were to go walking down Temple Street. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as they tried them on her, pinning and basting in place. It was as if she were dressing up again as a lady. This time, the charade would last not for an afternoon, but for a month. This time, she was being paid to have the gowns, instead of paying for their use.

The dressmaker clucked at the light stays she was wearing, frowned at her chemise, and sent one of her assistants out with a list of items to be purchased.

She was pinned and measured and prodded; the assistants made adjustments, and no sooner was one dress fitted than it was whisked away and another put on in its place.

A brief respite was allowed for tea in the afternoon. Miranda took the opportunity to corner one of the maids and to ask her to obtain a few items for her bedchamber. She was about to manufacture an explanation for why she needed them—a perfectly reasonable explanation, of course—when the woman simply curtsied and left.

Apparently, she didn’t need to explain herself any longer. She just needed to ask.

And her time away from the dressmaker didn’t last long. No sooner had she drained her cup than one of the assistants returned, laden with packages. Her personal maid stripped her down to her skin, and everything was tried on to test the fit—fine linen shifts and drawers and petticoats, followed by knee-high silk stockings held in place with garter-ribbons. She caught another glimpse of herself in the mirror as they fastened the corset for her. The seamstress grumbled about the fit, but it seemed finer than any of the ill-fitting secondhand garments Miranda had ever tried.

She was surrounded by feminine bustle, but she could not help but dwell on the masculine. He was going to see her like this tonight. He’d see her in far less. Tonight, he’d be the one undoing those laces. She found herself flushing.

She wasn’t finished, not even when the dressmaker departed for the evening. Miranda’s maids drew her a bath. They scrubbed her hair with something soft and floral-smelling, and dumped warm water over her when she stood. Afterward, they wrapped her in thick, warm towels and dried her hair by the fire. She had almost drifted off to sleep before they intruded again, this time to dress her in a cream-and-green striped silk gown. The smooth fabric spilled over petticoats that swished when she walked. Her clothing seemed to belong to another woman.

No, she corrected herself. Another man. Who was going to take it off—every last inch of it.

The thought should have horrified her. Instead, it sent tendrils of heat sifting through her. When she sent her maids away, she pulled out the parcel she’d had them obtain. A bit of sea sponge, a bottle of vinegar, and some silk thread. The simplest of the prophylactics she knew. Somehow, readying herself in that final way brought home the fact that she stood on the verge of something irrevocable. His body would fit where her fingers dipped. That sponge, soaked in vinegar, was lodged inside her because he was going to have her.

She could scarcely wait.

A scratch sounded at her door. She jumped to her feet, patting her skirts back into place, and rushed to open it. The maid blinked in surprise when Miranda threw it open herself; apparently, that had been the wrong thing to do, too.

But all the maid said was, “Supper is ready.”

Supper, when she’d had tea just three hours past? She could scarcely touch the soup or the meat pie or the roasted beetroot. The repast was whisked away, and Miranda was left alone in the library, with tea and a tray of small, delectable lemon cakes. They were too good not to eat, even though she was full beyond belief.

“I could grow used to this,” she remarked aloud. The books had nothing to say in response.

Easy to grow used to something when she hadn’t yet paid the price for any of it. Tonight, she’d have to surrender herself to him. If she’d had any proper sensibilities, she should have been trembling in fear. But it was distinctly not fear that had her thumbs pricking. She wandered from shelf to shelf, glancing at titles of books that she couldn’t bring herself to read, and reliving the feel of his hands on her skin, his mouth on her. She couldn’t feel the sponge inside her, but she was aware of its secret promise. Tonight. It was going to happen tonight.

Finally, the housemaid ducked in once more.

“Mr. Turner to see you,” she said.

He stood behind the maid, and her heart stopped beating.

Miranda had been so engrossed in her thoughts that she’d not heard him arrive. He waved the maid away—she wondered, briefly, what the servants said amongst themselves about this arrangement—and leaned against the doorway. His eyes met hers, smoldering with barely suppressed intent.

“Everything to your liking?” he asked.

He was damnably handsome. He was tall and imposing, topping her by more than half a head. There was something sharp about his features, true, but he was saved from severeness by the small smile he gave

her. Her gaze dropped to contemplate his long fingers. He’d stroked her with those; he was going to do it again. She was going to know all of him, and by the way he looked at her, she was going to enjoy it. He was dressed in dark wool; his white shirt and a green silk waistcoat gleamed in contrast. His cravat was tied neatly.

There were no diamond stickpins, no cuff links made of precious stones. She’d known he was a duke’s brother. But somehow, she’d not quite comprehended what that meant. He lived by himself in a tiny house. How was she to have expected this luxury? And what did it mean that he’d casually lodged her here and promised her a thousand pounds without even flinching?

It means he has more money than you can comprehend, she told herself fiercely. It’s his to spend as he wants. And if he’s eccentric enough to want you to enjoy yourself, it’s because he expects to enjoy you, too.

Her whole body tensed at the thought. His eyes wandered down her form, newly clad in silk, and then up to the neckline of her dress. The corset they’d fit her into had shaped her body. It had given her bosom curves and definition that Miranda hadn’t known she’d possessed. His eyes rested there, briefly, before returning to her face.

“Everything is lovely.” She took a lemon cake off the tray beside her, and crossed the room to him. “Especially these. They’re delicious.” She held out the cake, feeling utterly brazen. “Try one.”

Slowly, he slid his fingers around her hand. He brought it up to his mouth, and took the cake from her, his lips brushing her fingers.

He held her gaze as he chewed. Swallowed.

“Let’s see if we can discover what else is to your liking.” His hand tightened around hers and he drew her close, until she could smell the lemon on his breath. And then he dipped his head and kissed her.

He tasted of sweetness and citrus, but there was nothing sweet about his kiss. It was hard and demanding.

Oh, God. This really was going to happen. Tonight. This very hour. She’d not imagined he would be the sort to dilly-dally, but his kiss left no doubt. There would be no waiting. Her body sang with anticipation. Her hands clenched in his lapels, and she kissed him back.


Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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