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A Midnight Clear

A Midnight Clear

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Will the twelve days of Christmas bring them together or leave his family in ruin?
Jane Ryder is innocent, plain, poor, and eager for adventure. After taking a job as a secretary with the notorious gossip, Lady Eudora “The Tongue” Swann, she is given the task of transcribing Lady Swann’s scandalous history of the aristocracy, featuring the many promiscuities of the Fallon Marquesses.
When the Fallon heir, Charles, returns from India with a self-made fortune, he dedicates himself to restoring the derelict manor house and the infamous family name. Face-to-face, he orders the crafty Lady Swann to leave his family out of the book.
Lady Swann offers a sly trade: If he agrees to confide intriguing tidbits of his family history (and of his own rise to fortune) to Miss Ryder, she will tone down his family’s sordid tales in Scandalbroth.
At Wolvercote, the centuries-old and long-abandoned seat of the Fallon family, a snowstorm strands Charles and Jane. They’re drawn together in mutual respect, humor, and as time passes, an attraction that cannot be denied, though her lowly station forbids it. When they discover an abandoned infant girl near the stable on Christmas Eve, caring for her together, the formal barricades between them seem to vanish.
Can a romance begun on a night of joy and miracles overcome the strict rules of London society? It may take a meddling old gossip named Lady Swann to persuade them that love is the best Christmas gift of all.
Lynn Kerstan, former college professor, folksinger, professional bridge player, and nun, is the author of sixteen romance novels and four novellas, all set in Regency England.
A RITA winner and five-time RITA Finalist, her books are regularly listed among the best in the Regency genre. The Golden Leopard and Heart of the Tiger were selected by Library Journal for its Best Books of the Year list (2002 and 2003), and Dangerous Passions was named by Booklist as one of the Top Ten Romances of 2005.

Will the twelve days of Christmas bring them together or leave his family in ruin?
Jane Ryder is innocent, plain, poor, and eager for adventure. After taking a job as a secretary with the notorious gossip, Lady Eudora “The Tongue” Swann, she is given the task of transcribing Lady Swann’s scandalous history of the aristocracy, featuring the many promiscuities of the Fallon Marquesses.
When the Fallon heir, Charles, returns from India with a self-made fortune, he dedicates himself to restoring the derelict manor house and the infamous family name. Face-to-face, he orders the crafty Lady Swann to leave his family out of the book.
Lady Swann offers a sly trade: If he agrees to confide intriguing tidbits of his family history (and of his own rise to fortune) to Miss Ryder, she will tone down his family’s sordid tales in Scandalbroth.
At Wolvercote, the centuries-old and long-abandoned seat of the Fallon family, a snowstorm strands Charles and Jane. They’re drawn together in mutual respect, humor, and as time passes, an attraction that cannot be denied, though her lowly station forbids it. When they discover an abandoned infant girl near the stable on Christmas Eve, caring for her together, the formal barricades between them seem to vanish.
Can a romance begun on a night of joy and miracles overcome the strict rules of London society? It may take a meddling old gossip named Lady Swann to persuade them that love is the best Christmas gift of all.
Lynn Kerstan, former college professor, folksinger, professional bridge player, and nun, is the author of sixteen romance novels and four novellas, all set in Regency England.
A RITA winner and five-time RITA Finalist, her books are regularly listed among the best in the Regency genre. The Golden Leopard and Heart of the Tiger were selected by Library Journal for its Best Books of the Year list (2002 and 2003), and Dangerous Passions was named by Booklist as one of the Top Ten Romances of 2005.

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Published by: BelleBooks Publishing House on Mar 25, 2013
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09/29/2013

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Prologue
 WHEN THE parlor door opened, seven pairs of eyes gazed curiously at the white-faced woman who emerged, pressing a handkerchief to her brow.
“Oh,” she mumbled. “Oh dear. Oh dear.” She staggered across the entrance hall and out the
main door. The elderly lady who had introduced herself as Felicia turned to the remaining applicants,
ensconced on wooden benches set against the walls. “Which of you is next?”
  A stiff-backed, reed-
thin woman stalked to the parlor door. “Miss Blimpstone,” she announced
imperiously.Felicia scuttled ahead of her to make the introduction, and the door closed again.My heavens, Jane Ryder thought, tugging her shabby portmanteau closer to her knees. Since herarrival, four other applicants had stumbled away in similar fashion. The mysterious employer mustbe a tyrant of the first order.
“What do you suppose is going on in there?” whispered the nervous young woman seatedbeside her. “I thought this was to be an interview for a secretarial position.”
 
“Of course it is,” Jane assured her. “Were you sent by the Farbes Agency, too?”
 
“I came from Simon and Sillaright. They have always placed me well before, but only intemporary positions. Not many employers will take on a female for more than a fortnight.”
  Jane nodded. She had yet to find a position for even so brief a period and still owed Mrs.
 Tucker for a week’s lodging. The widow had turned her out that very morning in favor of a boarder
 with ready cash.She glanced at the women sitting on the bench across from her. All were staring fretfully at theparlor door, as if expecting it to burst into flames. Jane rather wished that it would. A bit of fire and brimstone would send the others scampering,
leaving the field to her. She’d been the last to arrive, after lugging all her worldl
y possessions forthree miles in a sleet storm, and feared that another candidate would secure the job before it was herturn to be interviewed.
 At this point she didn’t care if it was Satan himself holding court inside that parlor. Better a
 warm night in hell than the one she faced on the icy streets.She sat a little straighter on the hard bench, willing steel into her spine. Perhaps it had been amistake coming to London, but there was no going back now. And surely she was overdue for ahelping of good luck. The Farbes Agency had not sent her out for a single interview since she registered with them amonth ago. Nor did they have one for her today, until she bullied her way past the clerks andbearded Mr. Farbes in his office. A kindly, rather befuddled man, he apologized profusely forneglecting her.
“But, Miss Ryder, there are so few positions to be had in December,” he had said. “With the
gentry gone to their country estates for the holidays it is quite impossible to turn up anything appropriate. Could
you come back in a few weeks, when Parliament is seated?”
 
“No I could not,” she replied. And when she refused to be budged, demanding that he search
his files for even the most inconsequential of openings, he reluctantly pulled a folder from hisdrawer and spread it open on the desk.
“In the normal course of things,” he said, “I’d not wish to be involved with this matter. Youmay be sure I have sent no one to apply for the position. Disreputable business!” Shuddering, hedipped his pen in the ink pot. “But
if you insist, Miss Ryder, I shall give you the direction. For all I
 
know, the position may have been filled long since, but this is all I have to offer at the moment.”
 Now she was here, and the position had obviously 
not 
been filled. Whatever that position was.She had rushed off before thinking to ask for details. Impulsiveness has already got you in a greatload of trouble,
 
she scolded herself. One day it will be the death of you, my girl.
 
 The parlor door opened with a groan of metal hinges, and Miss Blimpstone stomped out, her
narrow cheeks clenching and unclenching as if she were sucking on a lemon. “Leave now if youknow what’s good for you,” she advised contemptuously. “Spare yourselves the indignity I have justendured.”
  Two applicants, including the girl who had spoken to Jane, leapt to their feet and followed MissBlimpstone. Jane crossed her fingers for luck. Only three to go, and then she would have herchance.In the next half hour, Felicia called them in one by one. All emerged whiter than paper orblushing furiously. They shook their heads at Jane as they walked past, a silent warning to escape while she could.She straightened her skirts, waiting eagerly to be summoned.
It’s only the two of us now,
she toldthe mysterious figure behind the door.
Whatever it requires, I must find a way to make you keep me.
Felicia beckoned then, inquired her name, and led her into a large, cluttered room lit only at thefar end by two braces of candles and a flickering fire. Heavy tapestries lined the walls, and curtainsof deep crimson velvet hung over the window. Jane wove among chairs, sofas, and claw-footedtables strewn with knickknacks, following Felicia on shaky legs.Near the hearth was a small figure huddled in a Bath chair. Rather like a spider in its web, Janethought, able to distinguish only a shape outlined by the flames behind it. A long-fingered hand withpainted nails raised a lorgnette.
“Jane Ryder, is it?” The voice rang clear as a brass bell. “Not much of a name, Jane Ryder.”
 
“No, ma’am. Were it left to me, I’d have chosen better.”
 
She barked a laugh. “You’re the one who brought her luggage, Felicia tells me. Planning tostay?”
 
“Only if I meet with your approval, ma’am. I trust you to tell me how I may do so.”
 
“To begin with, do cease wringing your skirt. I ain’t going to bite you. And come closer, where Ican have a good look at your face.”
 Hands straight as sticks by her sides, Jane moved into the circle of light in front of the chair. The woman had arranged the candelabra so that she could see her victims while her own faceremained in the shadows. Jane admired the tactic.
 The woman peered through her lorgnette. “Ah. Plain as your name, I see. But just as well. Iprefer to be the most beautiful woman in any room. Now tell me about yourself.”
  Jane cleared her throat, wondering what it was this exceedingly odd woman wished to hear. Her work experience, she supposed, and an accounting of her skills. She had acquired a great many inher four-and-twenty years, but few were the sort to be relevant in this place.
“I read and write in Latin and Greek,” she began. “Also English, of course. I am used to taking dictation, have excellent penmanship, and my work habits are exemplary.”
 
“Oh,
exemplary,
are they?” The woman chuckled. “Hoity 
-
toity.”
 
“I also possess an extensive vocabulary,” Jane acknowledged, wishing her knees would cease
knocking together.
“Useful. I wonder if you are acquainted with the specific words you will require for this project.
But never mind that. It appears you lack the ability to answer a simple question. The subject at handis
 you,
gel. Who are you, where do you come from, and how came you to land in my parlor?”
 
Oh, Lord. How can it matter, you atrocious old biddy? 
 Jane mustered a polite smile. “My life story is atedious one, ma’am.
 
If you don’t mind, I prefer to keep it to myself.”
 

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