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Authors: Miriam Minger

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Regency, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance

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At least she agreed with the woman on that score,
Corisande thought as she glanced at Lindsay, her friend's eyes fixed
expectantly to the east, as if she could see the roofs of London all the way
from Cornwall. Not because helping those less fortunate than herself wasn't
suitable for Lindsay, but because she finally had the chance to do something
for herself. To make her own dreams come true.

When she'd told Lindsay that only pretty girls should
go to London, she had meant merely that Lindsay with her peerless blond beauty
was born for such a glittering world, a fact Corisande didn't begrudge her in
the least. How could she? To experience life outside of Cornwall was all her
indomitable friend had ever wanted to do. Just as staying in Cornwall where she
was needed was what Corisande wanted to do. God knew, she had plenty of
responsibilities to keep her busy, and with times being so harsh thanks to this
damned interminable war with Napoleon and now America, too—

"Don't, Corie. I know that look on your face."
Lindsay's voice held fresh reproach as she squeezed Corisande's arm. "You've
got that tiny little frown between your brows, and I won't have it. You're not
supposed to be thinking about all the things you have to do."

"I wasn't," Corisande fibbed, although it was
hard to forget that the cutter
Fair Betty
was due to drop anchor at a secluded cove near Porthleven harbor late tonight,
which meant she would be busy helping to oversee the landing and dispatching of
smuggled tea, silk handkerchiefs, and brandy until the wee hours of the morning

"Yes you are! There's that frown again!"
Lindsay blurted out, looking wholly exasperated. "You promised me, Corie.
We were just going to enjoy ourselves this afternoon. No thinking about the
villagers' problems or the tinners' problems—"

"I know, or
their children's
grumbling bellies."

"Or worrying about your father."

"Or wondering whether poor Frances has been chased
from the house yet by one of Estelle's pranks."

"Or whether your two other sisters are behaving
themselves."

"And least of all," Corisande said wryly, her
temples beginning to throb, "wondering if the king's excisemen might be on
the prowl tonight when we've a ship coming in from Roscoff."

"That, the very least of all!" Lindsay rolled
her eyes heavenward as if realizing the impossibility of a carefree afternoon.
Then, just as suddenly, a wide grin broke over her face. "I know what we'll
do."

Corisande watched, bemused, as Lindsay hoisted her
skirt and clambered on top of a large lichen-covered rock. Once settled, she
patted the place beside her.

"I know you don't like to sit still for very long,
Corie, but let's rest here a while. I want to talk about husbands."

"Husbands?"

"Exactly. And we already know what kind we don't
want."

"No lecherous-eyed pigs for one," Corisande
quipped as she bunched a handful of her own frayed woolen skirt and climbed up
next to Lindsay.

"Or disgusting white whales." Lindsay gave a
light laugh, only to become serious suddenly. "And I'll have no man,
ever
, who would allow my stepmother to
govern our lives."

Corisande wasn't surprised by the steely determination
in Lindsay's voice. Lady Somerset might have finally decided that it was time
Lindsay found herself a husband, but Lindsay had her own ideas as to what sort
of man she wanted to wed.

"Someone Olympia couldn't intimidate,"
Lindsay continued softly. "Someone who wouldn't hesitate to stand up to
her."

"That rules out most eligible bachelors, I would
imagine," Corisande said half under her breath, unfortunately voicing a
sad reality for Lindsay. Her stepmother had an uncanny gift for making grown
men wilt like thirsty potted plants in her presence.

"Oh, no, I'll find him,"
came
Lindsay's fervent response, her eyes meeting Corisande's. "I damned well
won't marry until I do. I swear it—in fact, we both should swear!"

"Lindsay, what . . . ?" was all Corisande
managed to say as Lindsay jumped to her feet and hauled Corisande up beside
her, both of them nearly toppling from the rock. Laughing, they regained their
balance, Lindsay grabbing Corisande's hands as she faced her.

"Say it with me, Corie. Neither of us can wed
anyone less than the man of our dreams. Ready?"

Corisande felt foolish, but she nonetheless decided to
play along, never ceasing to be amazed by her more romantic-minded friend's
antics. "All right. Neither—"

"You have to really
believe
it," Lindsay cut in, exasperated, as if guessing
Corisande's thoughts. "Otherwise our pact won't mean a thing. You don't
want to end up with a husband like Druella's, do you?"

Corisande knew she would never allow such a dreadful
thing to happen, oh, no, not to herself. But for Lindsay's sake—who could say
what sort of undesirable character Olympia Somerset might wish for a
son-in-law?—she squeezed her friend's hands and shouted with her at the top of
their lungs after Lindsay counted to three, "Neither of us can wed anyone
less than the man of our dreams!"

"There, that should do it," Lindsay
pronounced as the wind carried away their words. Grinning from ear to ear, she
looked quite pleased with herself. "It will be our secret."

"Secret? They probably heard us all the way to
Arundale's Kitchen." Thinking sourly of the tin mine that had earned such
a name because of the hot, moist air at its deeper levels, Corisande turned to
jump off the rock, but Lindsay caught her arm.

"Oh, no, we're not done yet. You have to close
your eyes and pretend he's standing right in front of you, just as you imagine
him to be—"

"Lindsay!"

"Come on, Corie, it will be fun. Here, I'll go
first!"

Lindsay closed her eyes and tilted her face upward as
if she were looking at someone. "Oh, Corie, he's so handsome."

"Of course he's handsome, silly." Corisande
gazed wryly at her beautiful friend. "But that isn't the most important
thing. What kind of man do you want him to be?"

"A valiant man, an adventurer," Lindsay
murmured dreamily, making Corisande smile to herself. "Someone who'll show
me new places. Grand, exciting places! There's so much more to the world than
Cornwall. I want to see it all! I want to experience things I've only read
about in Papa's books!"

Corisande felt a twinge of sadness, but quickly stifled
it. She'd always known Lindsay might one day leave Cornwall and not return. If
that meant her dear friend would be happy, she would simply have to bear it.

"He'll want me with him, of course. Always by his
side." Lindsay hugged her arms to her breasts. "And we'll be
hopelessly, deliriously in love. Nothing will be more important to him than our
life together . . ." Sighing deeply, she opened her eyes and smiled at
Corisande. "Your turn."

Corisande squeezed her eyes shut, feeling that her
ideal man was going to seem bland as paste next to Lindsay's.
Which in truth was fine with her.
Trustworthy, dependable. A
companion to help her, nothing more. She could not yet envision his face, but
it mattered little if he was handsome or not—

"No fair keeping it to yourself, Corie. You have
to say what you want aloud," Lindsay urged with impatience.

"Well, I'd want a man who cares about the things I
do," Corisande began firmly, starting with what mattered most to her. "Someone
who's willing to work side by side with me to help ease the lives of those
around us." She threw a small smile in Lindsay's direction. "Now that
you'll be busy traveling the world, of course. And he must care just as much as
I do about righting wrongs. God knows, there's enough injustice in this parish
to make the angels weep—"

"But what of love, Corie? Wouldn't you like for a
man to just sweep you off your feet?"

Corisande was taken aback, but she should have expected
such an unsettling question from Lindsay.

To be that much in love with someone? Her father had
deeply loved her French-born mother, which was probably why he'd become an
eccentric shell of a man at her death eight years ago. The same vicious fever
that had claimed Adele Easton had taken Lindsay's mother as well. But while Sir
Randolph had remarried, much that he must rue the day, Joseph Easton had not.
No, Corisande wasn't sure at all if she wanted a love that could bring such
pain. In fact, she didn't want to fall in love with anyone, something she hadn't
even told Lindsay. Just thinking about her father . . .

"I'd certainly have to respect a man first before
I would ever marry him," she answered, skipping over the topic of love
altogether. "He would have to be honorable, selfless—"

"Sounds dull as a saint."

Corisande gave a small laugh as she opened her eyes. "Well,
not so dull that he'd be afraid to take chances. Fair trading's no occupation
for the faint of heart."

"And you're certainly not the woman for any
fainthearted man, no matter what you say," Lindsay said with a snort. She
released Corisande's hands and jumped nimbly to the ground. "You'd have
suitors buzzing around you like honeybees if you'd just learn to curb your
temper."

"And you might have been happily married several
times over if you'd settled for a husband of good Cornish stock, but no, only a
bold adventurer with a daring gleam in his eye will do!" Corisande
countered, jumping down next to Lindsay. They both stared at each other for a
long moment,
then
burst out laughing.

"I'd say we're done with making secret pacts for
the day, wouldn't you?"

Corisande nodded, looping her arm through Lindsay's as
they set out once more along the cliff.

"So I'll be twenty going into my first Season,"
Lindsay said with a jaunty toss of her head. "Better that than some
foolish green goose of a girl who doesn't have a clue what she wants."

"So I'm known for my temper." Corisande gave
a nonchalant shrug as she looked out across a sunlit Mount's Bay. "At
least it's helped me to get things done."

Just as she'd be venting her legendary spleen first
thing tomorrow morning, Corisande thought to herself. She'd already decided to
ride out to Arundale's Kitchen as soon as she saw that Lindsay was happily
settled in her coach and bound for London.

She doubted she would get a wink of sleep tonight with
Oliver Trelawny's ship due in from Brittany and then Lindsay leaving so bright
and early, but the news she'd received only a few hours ago fairly screamed for
her attention. This time that damned mine
captain
Jack
Pascoe had gone too far, cutting the tinners' wages by a full half because they'd
fallen behind in their work due to bad weather. Was the man mad? How did he
expect the tinners to feed their families, to clothe and shelter them on what
had already been a mere pittance?

A pity it wasn't the mine owner who'd be the target of
her tongue-lashing. It was clear from worsening conditions that the new Duke of
Arundale possessed the same ignoble qualities as his recently deceased father.

Corisande had itched for three years to tell that
miserly old bastard what she thought of a man who could pay his workers so
little that they were forced to live with their families in wretched hovels . .
. but the weasel had gone and died. Now she would just have to save her choice
words for his son the duke—if only he'd show his face in Cornwall. In fact, she
dreamed of the day—

"Corie, you're frowning again!"

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

ARUNDALE HALL

NEAR CHRISTCHURCH, DORSET

 

"I say, Donovan, your scowl could wake the dead.
Buck up, old man! Things could be worse, you know. Father could have named a
bride for you in his will rather than granting you a choice."

Nigel Trent, Duke of Arundale, realized his attempt to
put a good face on the situation had failed completely as his younger brother's
scowl grew blacker. So black that the owlish-looking solicitor at Donovan's
right seemed to shrink in his chair, the poor man nervously adjusting his
spectacles.

"Uh, perhaps, Your Grace, I should leave the
library to allow you and Lord Donovan some time to discuss—"

"Good idea, Wilkins,"
came
a low growl that seemed to make the very draperies shiver. "And you can
take that damned will—"

"Yes, yes, you'd best leave us," Nigel
intervened, though the slight little man was already halfway across the room,
his precious documents hastily snatched from the desktop and clutched
protectively to his chest. As the door closed behind Wilkins, Nigel leaned back
in the polished leather chair that had been his father's until two short months
ago and studied his brother, who had lunged to his feet and now stood at the
wide bow window with his back to the room.

A massively broad back stiff with tension, Nigel noted,
sighing to himself. In that respect, Donovan had changed little. Nigel had seen
him take such a stance in nearly every encounter with their father, an
iron-willed, hard-gambling, blustering titan of a man who had done his
damnedest to rule every aspect of his sons' lives.

But while Nigel had succumbed to the late Duke of
Arundale's domination, unashamedly taking the easier path to afford
himself
some peace, Donovan had confounded his father's
wishes from the moment he could talk. That is, until now. The old bastard had
finally won, and, at least in this matter, Nigel couldn't say he wasn't glad.
The dukedom was at stake, after all.

"So I'm to bloody wed."

Nigel met Donovan's deep brown eyes—nearly black,
really, depending on the light—and wondered again at the changes in his
brother. Donovan was a big man, nearly a full head taller than Nigel, but his
four years as an officer under Wellington had left him leaner, harder, lending
him a most forbidding air, well, at least when he was angry.

BOOK: Secrets of Midnight
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