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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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Donovan must have sensed her mounting revulsion, for he
led her abruptly to his horse and drew her into his arms for all to see. She
stiffened, but at the dark warning in his eyes, she forced herself to relax as
he brushed his lips upon her forehead.

"Don't forget, Mrs. Polkinghorne awaits you, my
love. Tell her I want the dress finished by Monday morning for our wedding at
eleven. I'm off to Helston to see the bishop about a license, but rest assured
I'll see you at Sunday service tomorrow. In fact, I'll be counting the hours."

That said, he bent his head to kiss her cheek, and
Corisande seized her chance, flinging her arms around his neck and drawing him
down so she could hiss into his ear, "Bastard! You think you're so very,
very convincing, don't you—"

She didn't get to say more as Donovan's lips covered
hers so suddenly that she gasped aloud, but the warm pressure of his mouth
stifled that sound too. It couldn't stifle the astonishment rippling through
the crowd, however. Corisande's ears burned as she heard embarrassed coughs and
children giggling.

Yet still Donovan kissed her, his mouth moving over
hers as with a strange hunger until she felt light-headed, her face on fire,
her
body going almost limp against him. Only then did he
raise his head, Corisande fluttering open her eyes to find that lazy, charming
smile upon his lips and wry amusement—amusement!—in his devil's eyes.

"I'll miss you too."

He released her before she could respond and mounted
Samson while Marguerite came rushing over to her side, her sister fairly
breathless.

"Oh, Corie, you're so lucky! He's so dashing, so
handsome . . ."

And so mistaken if he thought she was some naïve
country miss he could toy with, Corisande fumed as Donovan rode away,
Marguerite half swooning beside her.

Oh, yes, bloody mistaken, and she couldn't wait to set
him straight. In fact, she was counting the hours.

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

It was late by the time Donovan arrived home, so late
that when he let himself in the massive oaken front doors, neither of the two
housemaids were there to receive him.

He wasn't surprised. Imagining the shiftless pair had
long since retired to their rooms in the attic, he was grateful at least that they
had left a lamp burning in the immense entry hall, the dim, flickering light
shrouding in shadow a dilapidated interior that must have at one time been
quite grand.

Henry Gilbert had told him that the estate had changed
hands many times in the past century before being bought by Donovan's father,
the last owner an elderly viscountess who had wanted a more modest country
house closer to London. She'd cared little about the ancient abandoned mine at
the northeast corner of her property, not seeing its potential as had the Duke
of Arundale. After he ordered the sinking of deeper and deeper shafts, a rich
lode of tin ore was struck, making Arundale's Kitchen one of the most
profitable in west Cornwall.

Not that his father had spared many shillings on the upkeep
of the house and grounds, Donovan thought disgustedly to himself. Nor to pay a
fair wage to the miners—no, tinners, as Corisande had so graciously corrected
him. As graciously as a spitting cat. But at least he had found the perfect way
to silence her in a pinch, his bride-to-be quite kissable for a shrew.

Quite bloody kissable.

Frowning, Donovan shook off the memory of Corisande's
soft parted lips and moved to the sweeping staircase. But he switched his
course at the last moment and headed for the library instead, wondering if
Gilbert had purchased the few items he had requested that morning on the way to
the mine. Soap, shaving paste, and a razor to start. The house was bare of such
simple necessities, and he hadn't enjoyed a good shave since his short
overnight stay at Arundale Hall.

He had asked for paper as well, pens, ink, and more
candles and lamps to light the place, especially the library. And good brandy,
of course, if Gilbert could find it. Obviously not too difficult a task,
considering the superb quality of the spirits Donovan had tasted at the
parsonage.

He was no fool. Smuggling had to be rampant along this
godforsaken coast, given the high taxes levied upon so many goods to help pay
for the war. A sizable portion of the Reverend Easton's parishioners were no
doubt chin-deep in the running of contraband from France to Cornwall. How else
could such fine brandy have found its way to a vicar's cupboard?

Donovan wished he had a strong dose of that brandy now
as he opened the door to the library, anything to help him stomach writing a
letter to Nigel about his impending marriage. He might have found a way out of
his miserable predicament, but what he had to do to gain his inheritance still
chafed like hell. No, he wouldn't allow himself to sleep until that letter was
done. He'd be damned if he would allow a new day to start on such a galling
note—

"What the devil?" Donovan came to a halt at
the sight of Henry Gilbert fast asleep in a tattered wing chair drawn close to
the fireplace. A fireplace that, amazingly enough, wasn't cold, black, and
empty but filled with fat logs that burned brightly, the lively hiss and
crackle of the flames a welcoming sound in this drafty place. Gilbert's
discordant snoring, however, was anything but pleasant, the agent's mouth
hanging open and his bony elbows dangling over the arms of the chair.

"Nothing like an honest day's work to tire a man,"
Donovan muttered dryly, wondering how a fellow so slight could make such a
racket. He moved to wake him, but a full decanter of brandy flanked by a pair
of cut-crystal glasses set to one side of the marble mantelpiece caught his
attention. Reminded with a grim jolt of the letter he must write, he decided
rousing Gilbert could wait. A moment later, the brandy was poured and snaking a
warm path down his throat, a vintage almost as fine as the Reverend Easton's.

"Good man, Gilbert. Good man."

Donovan's loud-spoken compliment had the desired
effect,
Henry's snores coming to an abrupt halt as he
blinked open his eyes. Upon seeing Donovan, the agent lurched at once to his
feet, nearly upsetting the chair.

"Oh—oh, my lord! I had no idea—"

"Sit down, Gilbert, and get your bearings. I don't
want you tumbling into the fire." As Henry obliged him, plopping
bleary-eyed and silent into his chair, Donovan sat himself on the edge of the
worn desk and took another deep drink. "I take it you were waiting for me
to return?"

"Why, yes, my lord. I thought you might like to
know that all was done to your satisfaction. I hired a new man to captain the
mine,
Jonathan Knill's the name—"

"The tinners will work for him?"

"Gladly, my lord. Knill's well liked, his family
long known in the parish."

"Excellent. And the tinners' pay?"

"Doubled it just as you
asked,
which drew quite a cheer from the men. And when they heard a share of wheat
would be doled out to each family on Monday morning, enough good couldn't be
said—"

"About Miss Easton, I hope," Donovan cut in
as he rose to refill his glass. He poured a brandy for Gilbert, too, the agent
accepting it with a look of some surprise. Donovan doubted that his father had
ever shared a drink with the man, or any employee for that matter. "She
made quite an impression on me this morning, enough for me to ask her to be my
wife. But I suppose you've already heard that we're to be married."

Before he answered, Henry took a good swallow of
brandy, his hand slightly shaking as he lowered the glass. "Yes, my lord,
the talk in Porthleven was of little else but you and Corisande Easton. But of
course, I knew from His Grace's letter that you might be seeking a bride—"

"My brother wrote you a bloody letter?"
Donovan knew he had roared like a tyrant, but he couldn't contain himself at
this news. "About my personal affairs? By God, when?"

"I . . . I just received it a week past, no more."
Henry Gilbert's prominent Adam's apple bobbed nervously, but he managed to rush
on. "His Grace asked that I assist you in any way I could—in making
introductions to some of the local gentry, of course, if needed. The letter
stated that the Arundale family is in desperate need of an heir, thus your
haste today in choosing a bride is quite understandable."

"Quite," Donovan echoed tightly, reining his
anger as best he could. It was damned difficult—how thoroughly Nigel had seen
to every detail, and before Donovan had even agreed to come to Cornwall!—but he
now had the perfect explanation for his odd behavior in the stable that
morning. "So it must be equally understandable to you, then, why I want
Miss Easton to reap full credit for my decisions made earlier in the day. It
made her happy, you see, to think that it was her own doing, and thus endeared
her all the more to my proposal of marriage. She doesn't know, of course, that
an Arundale heir is of the utmost importance—as you say, a matter of haste. Any
young woman would find the matter most indelicate, perhaps even unpleasant—"

"Of course, of course, my lord, have no fear that
I'll not honor your confidence. It is the very least that I can do."

Donovan had to summon all his will not to scowl as
Gilbert gave him a conspiratorial wink. Instead he raised his glass, and the
agent quickly followed suit.

"A toast, then, to my coming marriage."

They drank, downing the brandy in one swallow—well,
Donovan did. Henry Gilbert began to cough and wheeze, his thin shoulders
hunched and his eyes watering as Donovan pounded him several times on the back.

"Are you all right, man?"

"Yes, my lord, thank . . . thank you. I was fine
until I thought of how close I came to being skewered this morning. Forgive me
for saying so, Lord Donovan, but I don't envy your choice of a bride. Perhaps
you should reconsider. Take a few more days. There must be other young ladies
who would gladly—"

"No, Gilbert, my proposal's been accepted. It
would be dishonorable not to proceed."

"But her temper, my lord—"

"A passionate spirit, nothing more. Stands up for
what she believes in, an admirable trait, really. Very impressive."

"But she wanted to kill me! She would have, too,
if you hadn't been there. You saved my life!"

Donovan sighed, growing weary of defending a young
woman whom he imagined wouldn't think twice about taking a pitchfork to him
either. "Enough, Gilbert. I'm sure now that Miss Easton's cause has been
championed, she'll be as docile as a spring lamb. In fact, I guarantee it. She
would tell you herself that she couldn't be more pleased about our marriage.
You've nothing to fear from my bride. Nothing at all."

Donovan hoped he didn't sound as doubtful as Henry Gilbert
looked at that moment. Corisande, as docile as a lamb? That thought was so
preposterous that he considered another glass of brandy, but he'd had plenty
enough already to see him through the vexing task that lay ahead. Without
saying more, he sat down at the desk and drew pen and paper toward him while
Gilbert, recognizing Donovan's cue that he wanted to be left alone, headed for
the door.

"Oh, yes, my lord, I've placed the other things
you wanted in the master suite. If there's nothing else—"

"Jack Pascoe." Donovan looked up, his
expression grim as he met Gilbert's eyes. "Was he gone from the mine as I'd
ordered?"

Henry Gilbert nodded, swallowing hard.

"No trouble?"

"None, my lord. I imagine he's already left to
find work in another parish. He's no family here."

"Good. Take yourself home, then. I'm meeting Miss
Easton tomorrow morning at church, so you'll have to post this letter for me.
You've done well today, Gilbert. See that it continues."

Another mute swallow and the man
was
gone, leaving Donovan to stare at the blank page before him. Resentment, ah, it
was thick and deep enough to choke him, but he had only to think of Paloma—was
she safe? Was she well? God help him, it had been months since he'd seen her.
Would she even remember him?—and he began to write, furiously.

To find his little daughter he would write a hundred such
letters. A thousand! Anything!

Soon, if the fates were willing, soon he'd have his
money and be heading back to Lisbon, his father, Nigel, and their bloody plans
for him
be
damned.

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

"Maybe he's not coming, Corie. Maybe Lord Donovan's
changed his mind—"

"Shh, Marguerite, for the last time. I'm sure he'll
be here any moment. Now please keep your voice down! The service is about to
start. And tell Linette and Estelle to stop squirming!"

Corisande frowned down the mahogany pew at her two
youngest sisters, both girls twisting in their seats to peer behind them—at
least until Marguerite hissed for them to face front and sit still. They obeyed
but only for an instant, first Linette and then Estelle glancing over their
shoulders as if they couldn't help themselves. When Marguerite joined them,
Corisande sighed with exasperation and gave up, keeping her eyes trained
forward even if they could not.

She'd be damned if she was going to watch for Lord
Donovan Trent to make his grand entrance into the church like the conquering
hero. In fact, she hoped he wouldn't come at all. Already she felt as if every
eye in the packed sanctuary was trained upon her, a low flurried buzz of
conversation and speculation taking place behind white-gloved hands and
fluttering fans.

She'd never seen the church so crowded, no, not even on
Easter Sunday. There had been no need to erect the cardboard figures her father
insisted upon using to fill the normally empty back pews, a curious practice
begun not long after her mother had died and her father's unsettling
eccentricities had frightened away—at least temporarily—many of his flock. It
seemed every parishioner from Porthleven to Arundale's Kitchen, including much
of the local gentry, had made the trek to service—no doubt having heard the big
news and come to gape at her and marvel at her astounding good fortune.

BOOK: Secrets of Midnight
12.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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