Secrets of Midnight(3)

By: Miriam Minger


"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—"

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