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Authors: Leanna Renee Hieber,L. J. McDonald,Helen Scott Taylor

A Midwinter Fantasy

BOOK: A Midwinter Fantasy
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A MIDWINTER FANTASY

LEANNA RENEE HIEBER

“Gripping and with an on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense . . . this book is perfect for fans of the paranormal who enjoy a Gothic setting.”

—ParaNormal Romance Reviews on
The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

“The romance in this book is just swoon worthy . . .
The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker
is a book not to be missed. It is adorable, utterly romantic and while the first book in the series made my favorites list of 2009, Leanna Renee Hieber wrote a second book that I enjoyed even more.”

—Smexy Books

L. J. MCDONALD

“Lovers of
Stardust
and
The Princess Bride
rejoice! A must for every Fantasy library!”

—Barbara Vey,
Publishers Weekly
blogger on
The Battle Sylph

“A stunningly original world . . . An amazing start to what promises to be a truly engaging series!”


RT Book Reviews
on
The Battle Sylph

HELEN SCOTT TAYLOR

“This book is so well written that it’s hard to believe it’s Taylor’s first novel, as well as the first in a promising series of contemporary fantasy romances.”


Booklist
, Starred Review on
The Magic Knot

“Taylor’s debut reads like a romance inside of a fairy tale. It’s a fast story that weaves together the lives of two characters until they are bound by mind, body and spirit. It’s sure to be a hit with a wide variety of romance readers.”


RT Book Reviews
on
The Magic Knot

Other books by Leanna Renee Hieber:

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

Other books by L. J. McDonald:

The Shattered Sylph

The Battle Sylph

Other books by Helen Scott Taylor:

The Phoenix Charm

The Magic Knot

A
M
IDWINTER
F
ANTASY

Leanna Renee Hieber

L. J. McDonald

Helen Scott Taylor

DORCHESTER PUBLISHING

November 2010

Published by

Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016

A Midwinter Fantasy
copyright © 2010 by Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

The publisher acknowledges the copyright holders of the individual works as follows:
A Christmas Carroll
copyright © 2010 by Leanna Renee Hieber
The Worth of a Sylph
copyright © 2010 by L. J. McDonald
The Crystal Crib
copyright © 2010 by Helen Scott Taylor

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

ISBN 13: 978-1-4285-1162-0
E-ISBN: 978-1-4285-0947-4

The “DP” logo is the property of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

Printed in the United States of America.

Visit us online at
www.dorchesterpub.com
.

CONTENTS

A Christmas Carroll
by Leanna Renee Hieber

The Worth of a Sylph
by L. J. McDonald

The Crystal Crib
by Helen Scott Taylor

A Christmas Carroll

Leanna Renee Hieber

 

Team Michael, this is for you
.

~Leanna Renee Hieber

Prologue

December 1888, at the edge of London’s reality

Three spirits murmured to each other, standing in the luminous Liminal that separated the waiting Whisper-world from the dazzling, drawing light of the Great Beyond. The Whisper-world was quite the grey purgatory, while the Great Beyond, well . . . who possesses the words to describe Paradise?

The Liminal is a place where magic is discussed and made, from whence spirits receive duties and inspiration, where dreams are both created and abandoned. Where those who are worthy might become angels. It is a place where time is porous and malleable; it keeps its own clock. Here pasts are recaptured and futures glimpsed; here spirits from every walk of death—those still invested in parties on Earth—discuss their current designs on the living, for better or for worse.

The present trio at the Liminal edge was shrouded in shadow, and they contemplated parties in London, England, under the reign of Queen Victoria. Their clothing, too, represented various decades within Her Highness’s extensive reign, long may she live. The spirits stood before a living portrait rendered by exquisite hands: the vast proscenium of an elaborate stage dwarfed their spirit trio. The set scene laid wide before them was a stately school on a moonlit night, dim, eerie, engaging . . . and awaiting its players.

The eldest of the three spirits stepped forward as if to touch this threshold upon which the past would play, a tall woman, appearing nearly forty and garbed in a plain dress. Her long, waving tresses—in life, they would have been a dark blonde—hung gamesomely down around her shoulders. Though she wore the grey-scale of death, the palette of the Whisper-world, her eyes were kind and her face very much alive.

She addressed the two spirits before her—a fair young woman and a raggedy little boy—in a boisterous Irish accent, as if she were presenting a vaudeville act, a mischievous light in her grey-hazel eyes. “Lady and gentleman, our forces of divine intervention present to you one of several scenes rather recently acted, starring our charges Headmistress Rebecca Thompson and Vicar Michael Carroll, here members of that honourable patrol known as The Guard, and the last of our miserable personal dramas to unfold.”

She took the hands of her fellow spirits, and the Liminal clock set high above the stage frame—a device consisting simply of two vast, floating metal hands above shifting metal barrels of numbers arranged to display a calendar date—began to turn. The scene began to play, memory cast wide as if upon a photography plate, sounds emanating forth quite like magic. The spirits watched.

In the scene, distant music and laughter lured a tall, willowy woman with silver-streaked auburn hair from her book-filled office into the tenebrous hall of the stately, Romanesque fortress that was Athens Academy. She wore a dark woolen dress buttoned primly and proper as befitted her station as headmistress, yet sewn with just enough elegance to keep her from looking entirely the spinster. Up a grand staircase to a shadowy landing she crept, a wide, colonnaded foyer lit only by great swaths of moonlight and several low-trimmed gas
lamps. Hanging back out of sight, she took in the antics of her longtime compatriots, this motley family fate had provided in her youth, the spectre-policing Guard.

A foppish blond man stood arm in arm with a gorgeous brunette, both swaying beside a broad-shouldered woman playing a waltz on a fiddle—a woman who looked eerily like the Irish spirit now watching from the Liminal. Nearby stood a distinguished figure in clergyman’s garb, singing a soft and tender verse in accompaniment to the strings. From the shadows the headmistress stared at him as if she’d never known or paid attention to his voice, and for a fleeting moment she appeared enchanted. But it was the centre of the scene that clearly struck her a blow, the black-clad man and his ghost-pale partner who danced slowly through a wide shaft of moonlight.

The waltzing pair was clearly enraptured. Languorous steps, their bodies partaking in the close confidence only marriage could fashion . . . The girl in the moonlight was nothing short of an angel, graceful and blinding white, radiating love as pure as her skin, eyes and hair were colourless. Her partner stared down at her as if she were salvation incarnate, his otherwise stoic manner entirely transformed.

The headmistress donned pain like a mask. She retreated from the tableau, letting tears come as they would. Keeping to the shadows, she slipped down the stairs and to the corner of the foyer below, looking out over the courtyard. Pressing her forehead to the window, she sighed and did not hear the soft tread behind her.

His voice made her whirl. “I know that certain things do not unfold according to our desires.”

It was the clergyman. He stood partly in shadow, his bushy, grey-peppered hair smoothed down from its usual chaos, and his blue eyes danced with an unusually bright light. “I know
we cannot always choose who we love. And I know how it hurts to see the one we love look adoringly at someone else. I know; I have been watching you watch Alexi for years.”

The headmistress registered his words, gaped, flushed and then returned to staring out the window, as if by turning away she might hide her transparent heart from his unmatched scrutiny.

“I cannot replace him,” the clergyman began again, and waited patiently for her to turn. He continued with a bravery that seemed to surprise them both. “And I do not fault you your emotions, though I must admit a certain jealousy as to their bent. I do not expect to change anything with these words. I know I am bold and perhaps a fool, but I can remain silent no longer. Should you desire closer company . . .” His fortitude wavered and he could not continue the invitation.

He dropped his gaze and said, “I shall now return to a glass of wine. Or two. But as we’re too old to play games and deny our hearts, I felt it my duty to speak. At long last. At long, long last.” He then offered her his signature, winning smile that could warm the most inhuman heart, bowed slightly and retreated, leaving the headmistress clearly thunderstruck, standing alone once more in the glare of moonlight through the window.

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11.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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