“Yes, dear sister?”
Mirabel frowned as she closed the distance between them. “Are you feeling well this evening, Octavia?”
“Yes.” Her affirmation fled her, higher pitched than necessary.
Because she was lying.
Oh, what had become of her? A few kisses from Jasper Sutton, and she was lost. Hopeless.
Mirabel raised a brow, giving her a searching stare. “You seem distracted.”
Of course she was distracted. Since the moment her sister had caught Octavia and put an abrupt end to her nocturnal travels, Octavia had been decidedly distracted. Longing as well. Yearning. Desiring.
She swallowed. “Why should I be distracted, sister? No more than usual, I assure you.”
But Mirabel was not finished, drawing nearer still as her husband discreetly excused himself and left the luxuriously appointed chamber as well.
“Please, dearest heart,” she said in a low voice. “Be honest with me. This last week, you have not been yourself. You have been…withdrawn. Quiet. Changed.”
Her sister had uttered the word with such vehemence. And also, a hint of condemnation, as if Octavia’s metamorphosis was somehow wrong. But she had changed before. Life was filled with changes.
Surely Mirabel, better than anyone, would know and understand.
“Is there something wrong with altering one’s expectations?” she asked carefully. “It seems to me that you have done so, and look at how happy you are now with Mr. Winter.”
But despite the warmth Octavia intended to convey with her assessment—and the approval—Mirabel paled. “Do you think to compare our situations?”
Octavia was taken aback by the query. “I cannot fathom how I would. I am a happy spinster, and you are a happily married woman.”
“Jasper Sutton,” her sister said, and not without a hint of disdain.
No one was sweeter or more trusting, accepting, and forgiving than Mirabel. She scarcely ever spoke a harsh word against anyone. Heavens, if she had, Octavia could not recall when or whom or why. Mirabel was an angel on terra firma.
So the manner in which Octavia’s sister had uttered Jasper Sutton’s name—almost as if it were an accusation—gave her considerable pause.
“What of him?” she asked.
“I cannot help but to believe he is the reason for this change.” Mirabel was frowning again. “If you are truly insistent upon beginning this scandal journal of yours, Damian and I are willing to help fund it. I would not have you believe you must seek out someone like Sutton for aid before your own family.”
“Thank you, sister.” She forced a smile she did not feel. “I appreciate your offer more than I can say. But I have decided to give the matter rest for now.”
Mirabel’s intentions were good. But she did not understand that Octavia wanted to begin her journal on her own terms. Accepting help from her sister was not that. A partnership with Jasper Sutton, however, would have proven far more beneficial, had she been able to persuade him. He would provide her access to his forbidden world in a way she did not currently have. Forming a business relationship with him would have also given her the pride of knowing she had accomplished what she wished on her own merits, rather than relying on her familial connections.
It would also have granted her the opportunity to continue seeing the enigmatic man whose kisses she could neither forget nor repent.
“Truly?” Mirabel’s gaze was searching, looking for answers Octavia did not wish to give. “You are wil
ling to abandon this notion of yours?”
Of course not.