Unraveled (Turner 3) - Page 37

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“You make it all sound so reasonable.”

“Only because you’re unreasonable in the first place.”

“I am not,” he protested.

She folded her arms around him. “Yes, you are. You can’t even be sentimental by quarters, and so you’ve apportioned it off to a specific time. You’re utterly unreasonable.”

He was silent for a little while longer. “Are you…are you doing me by quarters, then?” He spoke in a casual tone of voice, as if the question were scarcely of interest. Still, he felt himself holding his breath.

“No,” she said. “You know I’m not. I don’t believe anyone can do you by quarters, no matter how hard she might try.”

“Good.” He leaned into her and inhaled her scent. In truth, he feared he’d taken on too much of her.

But she gave him a brilliant smile. “I’m giving you at least thirty-seven percent.”

Chapter Sixteen

“APPARENTLY,” MRS. TIGGARD SAID on the next morning, “there’s a new fashion in mystery. Last night it was an unannounced gentleman. Today, a boy brought this by.”

Miranda turned to see her housekeeper holding out a single envelope.

There was no name stamped on the paper, no card attached, and no return direction. She took the envelope, turned it over, and then tore it open.

A sheet of paper was inside. The writing on it was thin and spidery. Portions had been crossed out, but the import was clear enough.

The Patron is pleased to hear that you have influence over Lord Justice. He imagines Lord Justice would be simmarlly interested in your prior activities. If you want to keep your seeckrits, you know what you must do. Our arranjemint is not over.

Miranda hadn’t responded to the stone left on her doorstep. She’d been trying not to think of it ever since. But now the threat had grown to include blackmail. Miranda didn’t know what Smite would do if he heard about the three years of favors she’d granted the Patron—guards she’d flirted with, constables she’d distracted so that the Patron’s men might evade detection.

Mrs. Tiggard was watching her, so she flipped the paper closed.

“It’s from an old friend,” Miranda said. “One I haven’t heard from in a good long while. She wants me to do her a favor.”

Mrs. Tiggard sighed. “Isn’t that always the way? You never hear from them except when they need you.”

Turner no doubt suspected she’d not kept her hands entirely clean, but he’d hardly want to be confronted with a detailed list of her crimes. She knew how straitlaced he could be about such matters—and how unforgiving he was. She didn’t want to see the light fade from his eyes when he looked at her.

She could manage this on her own. It would be simple. She’d go to Temple Church… She’d find out what the Patron wanted. Maybe she’d even do it. Smite would be gone all day. He would never have to know.

Unbidden, the memory returned of her last time in Temple Church. The Patron had wanted information. He’d obtained it; he’d discovered that she cared enough for Robbie that she’d revisit the rules she’d originally set. The Patron might not be angling after control over Lord Justice. But information?

The Patron wanted to know if he could make her do his bidding.

Miranda hadn’t so much as thought of gruel since she came here. Robbie was happy, situated in his new apprenticeship. She’d seen him on his half-day, and they’d not even argued once.

She’d forgotten the weight of her responsibilities. But she hadn’t rid herself of them. She’d only misplaced them.

She could take care of this on her own.

She shut her eyes and imagined what Jeremy would say. You are going to get yourself killed. Smite had asked for very little in exchange for this bargain, but he’d wanted honesty and fidelity. She suspected he would rather she engaged in intimacies with another man than perform a favor, however innocent, for a known criminal.

If she were someone else… But no. She wasn’t.

Smite had bought her gowns and paid for lemon cakes, but she’d bargained for those things. She’d not bargained for his forbearance. She couldn’t pay him for it, and she didn’t know if she could ask for a favor she couldn’t repay.

Her hands trembled, and she stared blankly at the wall.

Independence was all well and good when it was only dinner on the line. But if she didn’t learn to live with this, it would surely kill her. And so, instead of dashing off to Temple Church, she went to her desk and wrote a single word. She sanded the paper, tucked it into an envelope, and addressed it. After some thought, she searched until she found the dark stone that had been left on her doorstep a few nights past. These things she handed to her maid, to be delivered to Temple Church.

IT HAD BECOME A foregone conclusion that, instead of heading to his own home after work, Smite would go to Miranda’s. It was a foregone conclusion that he’d spend the evening in her company—reading, talking…making love to her. It was almost enough to make a man think sentimental thoughts.

Almost.

He smiled privately at that, and tried not to think of the passage of time. Surely, by the end of the month…

No. No. He was definitely better off not thinking about it.

He let himself in by means of the front door. One of the maids was dusting bric-a-brac on the curio shelf in the parlor. She ducked her head at him. Miranda didn’t call out in greeting, though. He let Ghost off his lead.

“Well,” he said softly. “What are you waiting for? Go find her.”

The dog looked up at him, sniffed the ground, and then trotted off. After a few false starts, Ghost clambered up the stairs. But the dog barely sniffed at the door of the sitting room. Smite was just beginning to wonder if she was out—but surely the maid would have said something?—when Ghost paused at the threshold of the library and waved his tail happily. Smite peered around the door.

Miranda was poring intently over a book, making notes on a sheet of paper as she read. She was wearing a light green gown of muslin, embroidered in little white flowers. She’d managed to spatter droplets of ink on the lace of the cuffs, though, and her fingertips were stained black. Rationally, she hadn’t become prettier over the course of their arrangement. Subjectively…well.

She leaned forward and scratched something on a piece of paper, and then gingerly turned the page of the book. Ghost chose that moment to scamper toward her and thrust his nose in her lap. She reached down, idly, to pat Ghost—using the flat of her palm to avoid getting ink on him. Then she set down her pen and looked up.

As always, he realized how much he’d missed her when she lit up at his presence. Her eyes were green and mobile, and filled with a spark that made him think she was amused.

But he didn’t say anything so ridiculously maudlin.

“What is it that has you so engrossed?” He walked forward and tipped back the book so he could read the spine. “Investment on Real Securities,”

he read in bemusement. “I didn’t know you invested.”

She rubbed her ink-stained fingers against a cloth. “I don’t. Not yet. But…after, I won’t be able to return to Temple Parish. I’ll need to find some way to get a decent return on my investment.”

“After,” he repeated stupidly.

“I don’t think I can stay in Bristol, either,” she was saying. “I’m not sure where I’ll go. Up north is too cold. Bath is too close. But—here—” She thrust a piece of paper at him. “There’s this scheme for transporting coal from the midlands via canal.”

“Miranda, what are you talking about?”

“After you’re done with me,” she replied matter-of-factly. “I can’t stay here. You see, I received this piece of blackmail today, and it got me thinking about what I was to do. I have to take care of myself, so—”

“Wait.” Smite set his hands on her shoulders and leaned in. “What the devil do you mean, you received a piece of blackmail today? I should think that you ought to lead with that, and not babble on about shares in some canal venture and how I’m going to be done with you.”

She looked up into his eyes, her own sparkling brilliantly up at him. “Yes,” she said, her voice almost breathy. “Do that again?”

“Do what?”

“That—that thing. With your eyebrows. And leaning over me, your voice cold as stone. I love it when you try to intimidate me.”

“I’m not—damn it, Miranda. Stop trying to distract me. The blackmail.”

She gave him a negligent wave of her hand. “Well, that’s important, too. Still, if you insist.” She sounded grudging, as if the matter of blackmail were a mere trifle. “I was sent a threatening little note today, saying that he would tell you about all the things I had done if I did not agree to meet with him.”

“He.” Smite rubbed at his forehead. “When you say ‘he,’ you are referring to the Patron?”

Her breath sucked in. “You know of him?”

He knew only what he’d overheard of her conversation with Robbie. But he waved his hand at her. “Obviously, you’ve not done anything that you need to be concerned about.”


Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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