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Authors: Miriam Minger

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

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BOOK: Secrets of Midnight
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"Perhaps, Corisande, this isn't a good time."
Donovan's voice was surprisingly quiet as he drew alongside her, his expression
somber. "We could talk to your father tomorrow."

"Yes, I . . ." Corisande stopped, shaking her
head. "No, we should tell him now. I don't want Mrs. Polkinghorne to be
the one to give him the news—"

"News? Is there news?"

Corisande was startled that her father seemed suddenly
aware of their conversation, his eyes falling upon Donovan.

"Yes, Papa. Good news. Happy news." She
swallowed, hating to lie to her father. "Lord Donovan Trent has asked me
to marry him, and . . . and I've accepted. I know it's sudden, but, well . . .
you'll perform the ceremony, won't you, Papa?"

For the briefest instant, she saw a flicker of such
clarity in her father's face—as in those times when she sensed he knew full
well about her smuggling—that she truly believed he had grasped the import of
her words. And from the way he glanced back at Donovan as if taking his
measure, even scrutinizing him, she began to wonder if the dark cloud that had
settled over his mind years ago might be lifting.

But her shoulders fell when, a brief moment later, he
merely turned back to his pruning, mumbling something to himself about how the
purple blossoms were half as abundant this year as the last, their
but half as sweet. Meanwhile Corisande felt close to
tears, as close as she'd been for some time, not wanting to admit it but slowly
coming to the realization that her father might very well be half mad, not just

As he went about his business, finishing the veronica
and moving across the garden to his geranium plot, where he sank to his knees
in the dirt, she swallowed hard and turned away, her eyes meeting Donovan's.
All this time he had said nothing, but she broke the awkward silence, waving
her hand helplessly at her father.

"The Reverend Joseph Easton, my lord. Surely not a
man to stand in the way of our agreement." She moved to walk past him, but
Donovan caught her arm and stopped her.

"Has he been like this for long?"

Again she was struck by the stillness in his voice, but
maybe he was simply unsettled or even repulsed by what he'd seen. Repulsed?
That thought made her stiffen angrily, and she jerked her arm away. "Since
my mother died, not that it's any of your
. Nor
does his malady make him any less a man deserving of respect! My father is much
beloved by the people of this parish, tinner, fisherman, and shipbuilder alike,
and I'll not have you—"

"Cease your bloody tirade, woman. I merely asked a
simple question," Donovan said through his teeth, tempted to grab her by
the shoulders and shake her. Hell and damnation, he had only to open his mouth
and she thought the very worst of him! "You're right, it's none of my
as long as he's capable of saying the proper words
when it comes time for the wedding."

"Oh, he'll say them, though I'll be choking on
every one."

"You'd best choke on the rest of your venom too,"
Donovan advised dryly, glancing beyond Corisande as Frances
came charging through the kitchen door, the stout housekeeper's face red as a
beet, her rolling pin held high. "And smile prettily, my love. It seems
the reinforcements have arrived."

"You stand away from her there, do 'ee hear me,
stranger?" Frances blustered as Corisande groaned. "Never
you fear
, Corie, they're coming soon to help us, Dr. Philcup
an' the constable! I didn't know who to fetch first so I sent up a cry for 'em
both an' came back as quick as I could—"

"It's all right, Frances. Papa's fine. I'm fine.
Everything's fine." Corisande tensed as she felt Donovan draw her
possessively into the crook of his arm, but somehow she managed a lighthearted
tone. "And put down that rolling pin, will you? I can't have you cracking
the man I'm going to marry over the head—"


The rolling pin hit the ground with a thud, Frances
looking as if she were about to totter, her slack mouth forming words that gave
no sound. At once Corisande rushed to her side, but Donovan got there first,
lifting the stricken, heavyset woman in his arms with nary a grunt.

"Have you any brandy?"

Corisande nodded. With a last glance at her father, who
seemed oblivious to the commotion as he tended his geraniums, she led the way
back inside, skirting the puddle of spilt goat's milk and smashed crockery by
the door just as Linette, Marguerite, and Estelle, Luther yapping at her heels,
came shoving and pushing into the kitchen.

"What's wrong with Frances?" blurted out

"Oh, Corie, is that him? The man you were kissing?"
Marguerite's excited query, her eyes agog.

"I wasn't kissing—" Corisande's sharp retort
died at the warning look Donovan threw her; instead, she focused upon helping
him seat Frances in the high-backed settle near the open hearth. "Linette,
fetch Papa's brandy from the cupboard, but watch out for that mess. Quickly

The twelve-year-old did as she was bade, her eyes very
wide as she brought forth the dusky brown bottle, her gaze more upon Donovan
than Frances. "You do look like a Gypsy, just as Johnnie Morton said."

"So I've been told." Donovan accepted the
bottle from the young girl and poured a generous amount in the glass Corisande
held out to him, watching silently as she urged the housekeeper to drink. Frances
coughed a few times as she swallowed, her pale eyelids fluttering, but within a
moment she'd downed the entire amount, her color much improving.

For good measure, Donovan poured her a second glass,
helped himself to a healthy swallow, the rich, amber
liquid providing molten warmth all the way to his stomach. He needed
fortification, too, surrounded as he was by a near fainted housekeeper, a
bride-to-be with the temper of a shrew, a trio of girls who could but stare at
him, and a scruffy-looking dog, more rat than canine, that persisted in
sniffing ominously at his boots.

Oh, yes, let him not forget that poor wretch, the
Reverend Easton, puttering near dotty as a hatter in the garden, and his new
temporary family was complete. It was enough to make a man drink, and he did,
taking another good swallow, grateful at least that the brandy was far better
than passable.

"Your father has a commendable taste in spirits,"
he said to Corisande, not missing the slight flaring of her eyes. "French,
best quality. Haven't tasted the like since my regiment captured an enemy
general outside Madrid. The fellow was fleeing with his beloved supply on a
packhorse. Hated parting with it."

"It was a gift from a parishioner." Surprised
to hear that Donovan had been an officer in Spain and yet eager to change the
subject, Corisande turned her attention back to Frances, who'd downed the
second glass without any assistance at all and was now fairly glowering at her.
"Are you feeling better?"

"Ais, so I am, Corie Easton, even if 'ee gave me
one of the biggest shocks of my life. Marrying, are 'ee? An' I've never before
even seen the man!" Frances glanced at Donovan, saying in apology, "Pardon
me, sir, 'ee were kind to help me, an' I'm sorry to have come at 'ee with my
rolling pin. But Corie's like one of me own
is, though she's always been one to do exactly as she pleases. An' now jes
proves it." The housekeeper looked back at Corisande, her voice heavy with
disapproval. "An' what poor manners 'ee have too! You haven't even told me
your man's name—"

"Lord Donovan Trent, Frances, if you'd only let me
speak," interrupted Corisande, exasperated. "His brother is the Duke
of Arundale. I know it's terribly sudden—quite unexpected, but—"

"You're going to marry him, Corie?" Estelle
had scooped up Luther, hugging her little dog close as she gazed uncertainly at
Corisande. Before she could answer, Donovan sank to his haunches in front of
the child, his expression, to Corisande's amazement, grown almost tender.

"Yes, we're to be married—very soon, I'm pleased
to say. But you needn't worry about your sister. I'll take good care of her.
Now tell me, is your name as pretty as Linette's?"

"Estelle Marie?" The little girl looked
thoughtful for a moment,
shrugged. "I s'pose,
but I think Marguerite's is the prettiest of all.
she's not always as nice as her name. Just the other day she tromped on poor
Luther's tail—"

"Estelle Easton!"

"It's true, Marguerite, and you know it! You
pulled my hair too!" Linette chimed in, Corisande certain she'd never seen
Marguerite more chagrined. But in the next instant the pretty fifteen-year-old
bright pink to her roots when Donovan smiled at her,
though Corisande could see it didn't reach his eyes, his massive shoulders
rigid as he rose.

"Sometimes I don't get along very well with my
brother either."

He didn't say any more, but even if he had it would
have probably been drowned out by the sudden fierce pounding at the front door,
a booming male voice demanding entrance.

"Oh, Lord, Constable Curtis!" Frances heaved
rather tipsily to her feet and rushed from the kitchen, Linette, Estelle, and
Luther scurrying after her while Marguerite remained planted to the floor. That
is, until she realized that she was the only one left in the kitchen besides
Donovan and Corisande. Her blush deepening, she looked about her distractedly
as if she weren't sure which way to turn.

"Papa's in the garden, Marguerite. By the
geraniums. Why don't you see how he's doing?"

"Oh—oh yes, Corie. Of course I will." Smiling
gratefully, Marguerite skipped over the spilt milk and fled outside, her rich
auburn curls flying.

That left Corisande alone, at least for the moment,
with a man whom she was growing to despise more and more. She grabbed a broom
and a dustpan and set to work cleaning up the mess on the floor, her back
turned purposely to Donovan.

"Would you like some help?"

"Oh, my, no, I think you've helped enough already.
Charmed them all quite handily, I'd say. Rose Polkinghorne, Frances, my very
impressionable sister Marguerite—"


She whirled, stunned. But one look at his sarcastic
expression and she turned right back to her task, deeming his ridiculous
comment not even worthy of a reply. Her heart was racing, though, which only
made her madder as she emptied the dustpan into a bucket. She was almost
finished when he spoke again.

"You missed a shard . . . over there by the

it, thank you." Corisande scooped up the last bit of broken crockery,
straightened to glare at him, no longer able to contain
herself. "Forgive me if I sound overly rude, but don't you have somewhere
else you can go? You've obviously accomplished your aims—met my family, spread
the word about our impending wedding, even ordered me a gown—"

Which leaves the license and a

"A ring too?" Corisande's tone was mocking as
she plunked the broom and dustpan beside the bucket. "Goodness, my lord,
you're going to a lot of trouble for a vicar's daughter. You should be glad you
didn't meet my friend Lindsay instead, and convinced her to play your wife. You
might have felt the need to spend even more coin for your sham wedding."


"Yes, Lindsay Somerset, gone to London for the
Season only three days ago. Her father is Sir Randolph, a baronet—"

"I wouldn't have wasted my time with her. No
marriageable young woman of the gentry would agree to such a plan, not if she
wanted her reputation left intact for a true marriage."

Donovan knew at once he'd gone too far at the stricken
look on Corisande's face, but the thing had been said. He couldn't take it
back. Nor did he have a chance to soften the blow as Frances bustled into the
kitchen, a plump arm hugging Estelle on one side and Linette on the other while
Luther barked and spun in circles around their feet.

"Ais, what a day this has been! I told the
constable an' the good doctor that all was well, Corie, but they're waiten at
the front door, hoping for a word with Lord Donovan. They want to wish him
an' you too. 'Tesn't every day that a duke's son comes
to Porthleven an' picks a bride from one of our very own."

Donovan looked to Corisande, but she still stood
staring at him as if she couldn't believe what he had said. He could swear he
saw pain in her gaze, too, but it was gone so quickly when he went and took her
by the hand, her lovely brown eyes now sparking with fury, that he was certain
he must have imagined it. Yet she came with him willingly—although she was
ominously silent—as he led her from the kitchen and down the hall, the hubbub
outside the parsonage growing louder as they passed through the parlor.

"Saints in heaven, have 'ee ever heard such a
stir, Corie?" Frances said excitedly from behind them. "It sounds as
if the entire village is here!"

It looked like it, too, Corisande seethed to
as they stepped into the sunshine, a sea of faces
there to greet them. People she'd known since she'd taken her first steps and
babbled her first words come to see the man she'd be marrying within the week,
the man who'd blatantly stated just a few moments ago that he cared nothing for
her reputation.

Such outrage filled her that she was tempted to expose
the ruse right then and there—they should know Lord Donovan Trent for the
horrible, self-centered man he was!—but she remained silent as a stone, her
thoughts upon the sweat-soaked tinners toiling fathoms underground, who by now
must surely know of their change in fortune. She kept silent and smiled like a
besotted idiot as good wishes were thrown her way, while Donovan was deferred
to and bowed to and fawned over until at last she felt as if she might retch if
she witnessed another moment of such spectacle.

BOOK: Secrets of Midnight
3.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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