Unraveled (Turner 3) - Page 28

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Oh, hell. This was bad—worse than lust, worse than intimacy. He’d missed her. He wasn’t used to missing anyone.

But he traced his fingertips down her cheekbone, followed the curve of her jaw until he touched her chin. He tipped up her face to his, and then he kissed her.

Her lips were soft and welcoming. Kissing was different with real intimacy present. He didn’t have to think about where she was putting her hands; he knew she’d not touch his face. He could lose himself completely in the taste of her, the scent of her. The feel of her body, melting into his.

It was the first time he’d kissed a woman without feeling wary.

And then her stomach growled. He pulled away.

“I’m starving,” she said apologetically. “There’s roast pheasant. I’ve been smelling it the entire afternoon. Did you know I’ve never had pheasant?”

“Good. We’ll eat, then.”

Her cheeks pinked. “I asked them to lay the covers in the bedchamber. It’s not the usual arrangement, but—”

“Usual arrangement.” He met her eyes. “I don’t have usual arrangements, Miranda. I just have you.”

If she heard what he’d betrayed there, she let no sign of it show. Instead, she took his arm and they walked slowly up the stairs.

A small table before the window had been set for an intimate meal. From this high, they had an extraordinary view of the city. Evening was coming, and Bristol was doused in the hard reds and dusky pinks of sunset. Streetlamps sprang to life like glowing jewels. At the base of the hill, the graceful arches of the Bristol Cathedral were scarcely visible. Beyond it, a forest of masts from the Floating Harbour disappeared into the oncoming gloom.

He seated Miranda, and then sank into the chair across from hers. Cucumber soup came first. She chattered away about her day, asked him questions about his. She knew what spoon to reach for.

After they’d exchanged a few sentences and the soup had been cleared, he set his hand atop hers. “You didn’t grow up in the bad part of Bristol,” he remarked.

She slanted a glance at him.

“In fact,” he continued, “I’m not sure you were raised in the bad part of anywhere. The finishing-school accent is quite convincing. I would say you have a hint of Oxford in your tone. And your manners are flawless.”

“I should be convincing,” she said. “I’ve been practicing since I was a child.” She put a bite of pheasant into her mouth and closed her eyes.


She chewed thoughtfully and then swallowed. “It tastes like chicken. I feel disappointed.”

He tried again. “So you were raised in a family that spoke the King’s English and used proper etiquette. Just like me. How did you end up alone in Bristol?”

As he spoke, he took a small plate from the table and filled it with scraps of pheasant. She made no comment when he set this on the floor for Ghost.

“My parents were always terribly busy. During the day, they handed off care of me to the rest of the troupe. Everyone had a hand in my upbringing, but I was mostly raised by Jasper and Jonas. Jasper was from Yorkshire, and he was our lead actor. He was very handsome, very debonair and very good with accents. The ladies were constantly showering him with flowers. He taught me to read so that I could help him practice his lines.”

“I can’t believe a Yorkshire man taught you your accent.”

“No. That was Jonas. Jonas was… He wasn’t an actor, actually. He helped us put together our scenery, moved heavy boxes, that sort of thing.” She frowned, and chewed more pheasant. “He also argued with Papa about what the plays really meant.”

“Your porter taught you your accent?”

“Jonas wasn’t a porter.” Miranda had a dreamy little smile on her face. She looked up and away, as if recalling that happy time. “It happened before I was born, but Jonas used to be a fellow at Oxford before he ran off with my father’s troupe. I gather it was quite the scandal. His family disowned him. He used to study classics. In any event, he taught me how to speak this way.”

“You had an Oxford fellow moving your scenery?” Smite asked in disbelief. “Wait—you cannot mean Jonas Standish?”

Her eyes widened. “You know him?”

“By reputation only. He was well before my time. Jonas Standish,” he repeated, feeling slightly dazed. “But he’s brilliant. I saw some of his work when I was there. No wonder you’ve heard of Antigone. I can’t believe he walked away from everything to join a traveling troupe. Your father must have been quite persuasive.”

“Not my father,” Miranda replied. “They quarreled over everything. My father only tolerated him because Jasper would have walked off, had he sent Jonas on his way. I followed Jasper and Jonas everywhere from the moment I could walk. They taught me half the accents I know how to do.”

“Did Jonas also teach you proper deportment?”

Miranda shook her head. “That was Mama. She said if anything ever happened to her, I’d need to take her place. She and my father had this act they would put on whenever there was a disagreement with anyone outside the troupe. He would bluster and shout about aesthetics; she would timidly explain that my father was a temperamental man of art, and couldn’t be made to see reason. So perhaps the theater owner would just consider a small, tiny alteration…?”

“Putting on an act—that worked well, did it?”

She must not have heard the hint of disapproval in his voice, because she grinned. “Like a charm. They would laugh and toast each other with cheap wine every time they succeeded.”

He might have criticized, but her eyes were alight, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it. “You had a happy childhood,” he remarked instead. He couldn’t imagine what that would be like.

“I’m sure someone could point out the many imperfections of my childhood, but I loved it. I loved it all.”

In fact, her eyes seemed suspiciously bright. He remembered what she’d told him last night about her father. “So when the troupe fell apart, you lost everyone. Not just your mother.”

“Yes,” she said softly. And then after a pause, “Well, no. Jasper and Jonas had already left a few years back. Father found a patron, and so we’d been in London for a good space of time, see.” She looked to the window, dark as it was. “They didn’t like staying in one place too long. People talked. The last I’d heard, they were in Bristol. It’s why I came here with Robbie—I’d been hoping to find the two of them. But they’d moved on, and I’ve never had the means to search them out.”

He’d never wondered why she was alone with Robbie. Perhaps he should have. But he was so solitary by nature; it often slipped his mind that others naturally were not.

“Besides,” she continued, “Robbie was ship-mad. And when I thought of him crawling about some mine in Yorkshire…” She shook her head. “But enough of me. Tell me more of you.”

“I’ve talked of myself enough for today.” He gave her his most repressive cold glance.

His most repressive cold glance bounced ineffectually off her sunny smile. She helped herself to a second serving of carrots and said, “No, you haven’t. Tell me about your brothers. There are three of you in your family, are there not?”


But he didn’t correct her. “Ash,” he said. “The eldest. He’s a damned nuisance.” But he could feel himself smiling despite his words. “I would say that he’s like Midas, turning every enterprise he touches to gold, but it’s not that. He’s just one of those men that brings out the best in everyone.”

“Everyone except—I am guessing—you.” Miranda took a bite of carrots.

“Except me. I am his brother, after all. He went to India at the age of fourteen. Five years later, he returned, conversant in several languages and with a fortune in the thousands of pounds. Which has only grown since. He has some of the most incredible stories.” He shook his head. “Then there’s Mark, my younger brother. For a while, he was the most popular fellow in all of London. He wrote a book, for which the Que

en knighted him.”

“Mark Turner,” she said. “Sir Mark is your brother?”

Smite gave her a repressive nod.

“Sir Mark of the Practical Gentleman’s Guide to Chastity?”

“Yes,” he growled.

“Oh, you do have disagreements with him, then.”

“No. We are in perfect accord.” He glanced at her. “Mostly because my letters to him have made no mention of you.”

In any event, he suspected that even Mark might thank the Lord if he found out about Miranda. You’re too solitary, Mark had said a few months ago. Smite shook his head.

What he said instead was, “Mark makes no mention of my affairs. I believe he harbors hopes that one day I’ll fall in love. Always the damned optimist.”

The tiniest intake of breath across the table betrayed what Miranda thought of that disclosure.

She held the fork too tightly and didn’t look him in the eye. If she’d burst into tears or leveled accusations, it would only have annoyed him. But her stoic acceptance of his cavalier words—that he was never going to love her—befuddled him more than any overt emotional display.

Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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