Unraveled (Turner 3) - Page 26

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“Next time, then, I’ll make sure to conform to your expectations, Your Worship.”

He sighed, and wood scraped against the floor. The bed felt suddenly cold, no matter the softness of the coverlet that she pulled around her. It no longer seemed a soft, sensual place, this bed, a place to be wooed and won. It seemed a prison of linen and wool. And she’d agreed to it.

She was aware of all her muscles—the deep, strange soreness, pulsing inside of her. Her body seemed to stretch out in satisfied lassitude.

She’d had intercourse with him, and now she couldn’t even remember why it had seemed so beautiful. She’d made a mistake, a dreadful mistake.

She bit her lip, but a tear escaped anyway. She turned away so he wouldn’t see it trace down her cheek. She willed herself not to sniff. She wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.

Fabric rustled again, and his steps neared her. His hand fell on her shoulder. “Miranda…”

She lifted her head haughtily. “I don’t believe I’m paying you for affection, either.” She was proud that her voice didn’t waver once.

His hand fell away. “Very well, then.” He turned and left.

The click of his shoes against the floor made a cruel sound. He shut the door behind him. She could hear him descending the stairs.

He’d been quite clear as to his expectations. She’d made up the rest herself—told herself a fairy tale of affection, based on evidence that now seemed utterly scanty. Attila the Hun probably liked cats. Attila the Hun could probably laugh at a woman’s jokes, up until he’d had his turn at her.

And Turner wanted that from her again—forty-something more times. Forty more times, she’d have to welcome him inside her, pretend that nothing was wrong. She didn’t even want to look at him right now. She wanted to screw her eyes shut and avoid everything.

She’d wanted him, and he’d only wanted to slake his lust. But she couldn’t call him a liar. She had lied to herself. She’d been so eager to give herself to him that she’d invented affection out of what was merely physical passion. She’d been rapturously silly about everything about him. He just wanted her body.

She curled into a little ball on the bed. The sheets still smelled like him. And even if she rang the bell and demanded that her housekeeper change the linen, it wouldn’t alter the dreadful truth.

He’d purchased everything in this house. Including her.

“Remember this,” she said aloud into the night. The tears began to come then—not just for him, nor for her misplaced affection, but for the lonely month ahead of her.

She’d thought this would mean something. And it did: it meant a thousand pounds and cold sheets.

Chapter Twelve


She opened her eyes. It was not yet morning. Little crystals of salt clung to her eyelashes, the remnants of last night’s emotional outburst. She looked around her blearily, the world fuzzy and black in her first blinking awakening.

“Miranda.” The voice came again. Turner was sitting next to her on the bed. His form was a dark, warm silhouette. He must have seen her turn her head, because he took something from his pocket and set it on the bedside table next to her.

A watch.

It was early morning, and the memory of the last evening swept over her like a breath of cold air.

He’d had her. He’d hurt her. And now he wanted to do it again. Miranda clutched her rumpled chemise to her. If there could be anything less romantic than awakening to this, she didn’t know. When he’d talked in the churchyard about having her forty times, it had seemed utterly thrilling. Right now, doing it even once more would chafe.

He must have sensed that something was wrong, because he leaned over and took her hand. She sat up, groggily. Before she quite understood what was happening, he wrapped her fingers around something, holding it in place until she was awake enough to understand that it was a clay mug, warm, and filled three-quarters with a hot liquid.

She took a sip. It was warm, spiced milk. The gesture confused her. If he didn’t want her affection, why bother with such trivialities?

“Turner?” She managed to keep the quaver from the word.

“Last night ended badly.” His voice was quiet and sharp. “I didn’t say what I should have. You took me quite by surprise.”

She took another sip. It heated her.

“I told you when we entered this arrangement that I didn’t want your affection, but I don’t believe I told you what I wanted you for.”

Her eyes shut. “No need to belabor the point. You’ve made your intentions perfectly clear.”

“No. If you’d understood, you’d not have cried yourself to sleep.” He paused, cleared his throat, and she felt a stab of embarrassment that he’d understood that. It was monstrously unfair that she’d given him everything, and he’d stolen her vulnerability, too.

“Let me tell you what I want you for, so that we are not laboring under any misapprehensions.”

“Intercourse,” she said.

He set his hand over her lips. “Let me finish, before you start scrapping at me. You don’t let me frighten you. You’re not afraid to disagree with me. From the first, you made me feel warm in a world where I often feel alone. I’ve reposed confidences in you that I’ve scarcely told another soul. And if you must know why I want you near, it’s because I don’t like to think of you too far away.”

She let out a gasp. There was nothing to say to that. She simply sat up and clutched the mug to her chest, trying to make out his expression in the predawn light.

“I like you,” he said. “I like you very well. I don’t think I’ve ever been as desperate for a woman—for all of a woman, not just her body—as I am for you. And that, I suppose, is what I should have told you.”

She simply stared at him, wondering if this was a dream. If she’d invented this to comfort herself in the middle of the night. But when she pinched herself, she didn’t wake.

“My God,” she said into that silence. “You are direct.”

“I did not want there to be any chance of your misunderstanding me. And after last night, I very much feared you had.”

She contemplated his silhouette. “No,” she said. “I do not think I misunderstood what happened last night. I offered you a little affection, and you stormed off into the night. You can’t come back and ply me with hot milk and compliments and expect me to understand. Your explanation does not make sense.”

“Indeed,” he said. “There is one other thing. It is a little thing that perhaps I should have mentioned before now.” He sat back and folded his arms.

She waited. She waited a very long time, before she realized he was not cold, but uneasy.

“Don’t touch my face,” he said.

She waited even longer. She could hear his watch ticking steadily away, until finally he spoke again.

“You recall my mother locked me in the cellar,” he said. “And it flooded. When the waters were at their worst, she came back. I was huddled on the ladder. The waters had stolen all the warmth from me, and my eyes had seen nothing but darkness for days. I was almost blinded when she opened the cellar door.”

Miranda set her mug on the bedside table.

“She reached for me. I thought she’d come to her senses. She said, ‘Oh, my poor, beautiful boy.’ And she smoothed my hair back.”

His breathing had become harsher.

“I had almost no strength in my grip, but I took her arm. She leaned down and stroked my face with her other hand. I wasn’t holding on to anything except her; I was scarcely keeping myself upright on the ladder. And then…” He took a deep breath. “And then,” he said, his voice getting harder, “she pushed me into the water. It came up over my head, and for a second I didn’t think I’d have the strength to kick my way to the surface. When I did, she was gone.

“She hadn’t come to save me. She’d come to say farewell. Since then, I can’t bear to have my face touched. Everything else, I can manage. When you touched m

y face, it brought me back to that moment. Vividly. Never mind that it was decades in the past.”

Oh, she was dreaming this. This kind of thing didn’t happen to brothers of dukes.

“Don’t.” He set his hand over hers. “Don’t feel sorry for me. Just accept my apology. And…don’t touch my face.”

It was awful. She wanted to touch his face now, to hold him against her and let him know that he was safe. What a horrible mess.

Instead, she simply let out her breath. “You should have told me that before we started. It would have saved us both a bit of grief.”

“So noted.” Another pause. “Although I believe that if I had simply forbidden it, like Bluebeard, you’d have given it a try. Besides, you fed me that line about not giving me affection. I thought I was quite safe.”

Safe, because he’d thought nobody cared for him? She felt a lump in her throat. She didn’t think he would appreciate the observation, though.

She let out a breath. “Is there anything else I ought to know?”

He sighed. “I’m sure there is. I’ve been by myself for so long, I forget these little things until they crop up. I’ve been told I’m not the easiest individual to care for.”

“And who told you that? A former mistress?”

“My brother. Mark.” He twined his hand with hers. “There is no former mistress, Miranda Darling. There have been affairs, mind, but they never lasted long. Usually, she decides I’m stoic and cold only because I have been unlucky in love. She thinks she’ll be the one to melt through my defenses. She thinks that she can fix everything that is wrong with me by simply weeping over me. It lasts until she realizes I won’t spend the night, she can’t touch my face, and I despise women who weep for no reason. I have no tolerance for maudlin affection, and less for women who want to fix me.”

Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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