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"What's this, the society page?" Troy asked, lifting the newssheet from the chair's rolled arm and turning toward his aunt with a smile. "Do you really read this rubbish?"
"And why not?" she replied indignantly, dropping her lorgnette between her ample breasts. "Far more interesting than the financial page." Her faded eyes narrowed as she studied him closely. "Is that paint there in your whiskers?"
"Hmm, what?" Absently, Troy stroked his chin.
She scowled at him as if he were a naughty child. "I said 'paint.' In your whiskers."
"Ah, yes. Likely so." He sat, resting one ankle on the opposite knee. "But don't fret, my dear aunt. I'll make myself presentable before tea. Now, let me see ..." He snapped the paper before settling it in his lap, his eyes scanning the page. "I can't for the life of me ..."
His gaze skimmed across a photo of a woman, one cheek slightly turned, her dark eyes staring straight into the camera's lens, the barest hint of a smile tipping the corners of her mouth. Troy's breath caught in his throat as the thrill of recognition washed over him. It was her. Dear God, but it was. A name. There must be a name-
"For the life of you, what?"
He nodded, his hands suddenly shaking. "I'm sorry. What?"
"You said, 'I can't for the life of me,' and then naught else. Troy? Dearest?"
Her words barely registered in his brain. Instead, his eyes roamed the text beneath the picture, looking for the name he knew he would never forget, once learned.
Sir William Granger and his lovely daughter, Miss Miranda Granger, have lately retired to their country estate in Surrey, having returned from New York but a fortnight ago aboard the RMS Mauretania. It is rumored that they will be among the guests of distinction at the Christmastime opening of the new seaside resort, the Grandview Hotel in Eastbourne. As one of the hotel's principal investors, Sir William ...
Miss Miranda Granger. He let out his breath in a rush, his gaze involuntarily drawn back to the woman's face, immortalized in newsprint. His muse. He had to paint her-had to. He'd thought of nothing else since that night so many months ago, the mysterious woman standing on the ocean liner's deck with eyes that hinted of sorrow and despair even while she smiled shyly at him, her face illuminated by the silvery light of the moon. He'd asked for her name then, but she had refused to give it. At the time, it hadn't mattered overmuch.
He had only sought to remember the exact curve of her neck, the tilt of her lashes, the rose-colored hue of her lips, the gentle swell of her breasts beneath her bodice. She had been delicate-so very delicate, so fragile. Though he could not fathom why, her face and form had captivated him beyond reason.
"Troy, darling, whatever is the matter with you? You're positively trembling!"
He shook his head, attempting desperately to clear it. "Am I? How very odd." It took every ounce of his reserve to keep his voice steady. "I say, what do you know of Sir William Granger? Of Surrey?"
"Obviously we are not acquainted, though I do hear an on dit about him now and then. Why ever do you ask?"
"And what of this Grandview Hotel in Eastbourne?"
"Simply stunning, they say, with a grand lawn sloping down to the sea and excellent views of Beachy Head. Opening in a fortnight, I believe. All the papers are carrying reports. A grand fete being planned for Christmas Day, the actress Simone DuBois engaged to perform. Didn't the paper say that Sir William Granger would be in attendance? With his daughter Miss Granger, the poor girl." His aunt brushed crumbs from her voluminous skirts.
Instantly, his attention snapped into focus. "What do you know of Miss Granger?"
"Only that her father is a widower twice over, and she has two half sisters to raise-hellions both, from what I hear. His last wife died nearly a decade ago, and still the man hasn't remarried." His aunt shook her head, clucking her tongue against her teeth in disapproval. "The poor girl's a spinster now."
"Is she?" She'd seemed too young for that distinction.
"Indeed." His aunt nodded. "And so unfair. A daughter should not be forced to sacrifice her own happiness in order to raise her siblings. Wherever will that leave her when her father's gone?"
Troy swallowed hard, his gaze fixed upon Miss Granger's photograph. "A fine question."
"Well, his fortune is rumored to be enormous. Even split three ways it will leave her a very rich woman, if nothing else. That should bring her some comfort, eh?"
"I must go," Troy said, carefully folding the page in two and tucking it inside his waistcoat.
His aunt leaned forward in her seat, her eyes regarding him sharply. "Go? Where?"
He rose on shaking legs. "To the Grandview Hotel. The opening. I must see to the arrangements straightaway."
His aunt just shook her head. "Don't be daft, Troy. It's by invitation only, my dear boy. Whatever has come over you? Besides, what about Christmas?"
He took out his watch and flipped open the case. Half past four. Damn, he couldn't ring François now-not with his aunt listening in. He'd have to hurry to François' office, instead, before he left for the day. No time to waste. "If you'll excuse me," he said with a bow, then hastened toward the door.
"My paper!" he heard his aunt sputter indignantly as he stepped out into the foyer.
There must be a way, he thought, his heels clicking against the floorboards. Now that he had identified his muse, he could not let her slip through his fingers, not this time. After all, he'd only seen her thus far in the light of the moon. Why, there was still the light of the sun, the false light of the electric lamps to paint her by. And paint her he must.
The three half-finished canvases in his room were testament to his obsession with the heretofore-nameless woman, and he knew enough of his own talents to know that his obsession was the key to his success. Hadn't his masters in France said as much?
He must somehow secure an invitation to the opening of the Grandview Hotel, and he must find her-the mysterious Miss Granger. His paintbrush would unlock her secrets; of that he was sure.
Two weeks later ... The Grandview Hotel, Eastbourne
"They say, miss, that on a clear day you can see the chalk cliffs at Beachy Head." Sullivan bustled about the room, unpacking trunks and hatboxes and settling toiletries on the wide marble vanity.
"Is that so? How lovely," Miranda murmured, peering out the window as the sun began its slow descent toward the sea.
"Will you be going down to tea?" Sullivan asked, stopping to stare at her with a furrowed brow.
Her father would expect it, of course. Miranda had claimed a headache and made her excuses upon their arrival at the lavish resort, leaving her father to his many associates-his fellow investors in this new, grand establishment. She only wished to be alone. Had her father no idea of the significance of the date? Perhaps not, but Miranda would never forget. Never.
"I don't believe I will. I'm still feeling poorly," she said at last, the lie slipping effortlessly from her tongue. "I'll send a message to my father."
"Very well. Shall I help you undress?"
Sullivan's displeasure was evident, but as Miranda's lady's maid, she had no right to openly criticize, nor would she presume to do so.
As the maid began to remove the pins from Miranda's enormous silk-covered hat, a knock sounded on the door, startling them both. A hat pin clattered loudly to the vanity, then rolled onto the thick carpet below.
"Likely the chambermaid," Sullivan said, striding out toward the room's antechamber. "I'll ask her to return later."
Miranda turned toward the vanity and sat on the chair before the looking glass. The face that stared back at her was a stranger's face, one she barely recognized as her own. Lately she'd taken to avoiding mirrors. She did not want to see this new Miranda, this foreign person inhabiting the shell of a body her old self had left behind.
Turning her face from the glass, she sighed heavily. The high, lace collar of her blouse was itchy and constricting, as if daring her to take a deep, restorative breath. Voices rumbled in the antechamber, and then she heard the door shut. Miranda sighed again. Sullivan would return any moment now; time to school her features into a placid mask.
"Who was it?" she asked when the maid reappeared.
"A man, Miss Granger. An American. Wishing to speak with you. I told him no, of course, but he was quite insistent."
Miranda frowned. "How odd. A gentleman? Did he give his name?"
"Yes, but it is not one I recognize. A Mr. Troy Davenport, miss. He's clearly not a gentleman or he would never have made such an inappropriate request."
"He didn't expect to converse with me in my rooms, did he?"
"He was bold, but not that brassy. No, he said you should meet him in the Rose Salon, at half past five. I told him you would not consider it."
Miranda couldn't help but smile. "And what did he say to that?"
"Just one word, miss. Maury. Has it any meaning to you?"
Maury? Miranda clutched at her skirts in confusion as she pondered the cryptic message. Could he mean the Mauretania? The RMS Mauretania was the passenger liner on which they had traveled to New York early in the fall, and then back again just last month. Had this Mr. Davenport been a fellow passenger on one of the voyages? Whatever other explanation was there? And if so, what was his purpose in calling on her now?
"The ocean liner," Miranda said, shaking her head in bewilderment. "I think he means the ship."
"Yes, of course. I'm sure you're right-I've often heard it called 'the Maury,' though it didn't occur to me. Well, no matter. I sent him away and told him to stay away, lest I'd notify the authorities."
"Thank you." Miranda nodded, glad to be rid of any intrusion. "I think I'd like to lie down, if you don't mind. I can manage my clothes, if you'll only help me dislodge this ridiculous hat without ruining my hair. Perhaps I will change and join my father later, after tea."
"Very well, miss," Sullivan said, then set to work. "Shall I go check on Miss Grace and Miss Gertrude, then?"
Miranda nearly groaned aloud at the mention of her sisters. She'd seen them settled into their own chamber, just next door, where they were no doubt still chattering happily as their own lady's maid bustled about, unpacking their things. Lord knows the two of them hadn't paused for a breath since they'd set off from home that morning in their father's enormous Mercedes touring motorcar.
"There's no need for you to check on Grace and Gertie," she said at last. "Let Bridget deal with them. It is her job, as disagreeable as it might be. Go and have your own tea, Sullivan. It's been a long day, hasn't it?"
She nodded her head, her steel-gray hair entirely immobile beneath the old-fashioned lace cap she wore. "Indeed, miss. I'll leave you to your rest."
Minutes later, Miranda found herself mercifully alone, sitting on the edge of her bed, contemplating taking a nap. How she'd hoped that spending Christmas at the Grandview would be just the tonic she needed to make her forget her past, to get her through the always-painful holidays without thinking of things best forgotten. A change of scenery would surely provide a much-needed distraction, and she'd readily agreed to spend a fortnight there, enjoying the season's festivities. And yet, even now, dark thoughts began to crowd her mind, making a nap impossible. She rose and went to the window, instead. Pulling back the crisp, white curtains, she peered out, able to make out the chalky cliffs of Beachy Head in the distance, as promised.
They were beautiful, yes-but horribly treacherous, a popular site for ending one's life. What a horrible way to die, she thought-falling into the cold, rocky sea from such a height. Still, she could relate to such depths of despair. She'd been there. A shiver worked its way down her spine, and she let the curtain drop back against the glass.
Her gaze was drawn toward the antechamber, toward the room's door that led out into the wood-paneled corridor. Who was this mysterious Mr. Davenport, and what did he want with her? What would possess the man to bypass her father's protection, and boldly rap on her chamber's door? As Sullivan suggested, no gentleman of her acquaintance would do such a thing. Of course, Sullivan had said he was an American, and the rules of propriety were a bit more relaxed across the Atlantic. Still, this went beyond the pale. She'd never heard the likes of it.
Clasping her hands into fists, she searched her memory-if nothing else, then to escape other, more painful memories. Had she met an American on board the Mauretania? One with whom she had become well enough acquainted to warrant such an intrusion?
No. She had mostly kept to herself. Except that one night, the night she'd escaped from Grace and Gertie's silly prattle and found herself on the second-class deck, a place where no one would dream to look for her. She'd stood at the rail and stared down at the black water, the image of the moon reflected off its surface, and she'd spoken to no one. Except ...
The painter. A beautiful man with hair the color of bronze, his pale eyes piercing and arresting, even in the moonlight. He'd been an American, but she hadn't dared to give him her name. How could he possibly have learned her identity? And even if he had, what would he be doing there at the Grandview Hotel?
She raised the back of one hand to her mouth, refusing to recognize the swell of hope that rose in her breast. How she'd longed to see him once more, to speak with him at length, to learn what moved him to put his brush to canvas. Had her deepest wish, her most secret desire come true?
No. It was impossible. Besides, she should have forgotten him the moment she left his company, as he had no doubt forgotten her. As it should be. Hadn't she learned her lesson, in the most painful way imaginable?
She forced herself to turn from the door, to walk back toward the vanity. Her gaze landed on her watch, a Chinoiserie-enameled oval hanging from a delicate gold chain. With shaking hands, she turned it over. Half past five. Turning back toward the door, she considered her options. Dare she?
Sullivan would not approve, and her father would be livid. They were her keepers, the two of them. Yet she had a mind of her own-she was a grown woman of twenty-eight, not a child.
Besides, roaming about the hotel was preferable to sitting in her room thinking dark thoughts, wasn't it? She would go-if only to satisfy her curiosity. She need not speak to him; she would simply walk by and see if, by chance, it was him.
And if it was ... well, she need not worry until it proved to be so. With a steadying breath, she slipped the watch chain over her head, then went to the wardrobe and retrieved her woolen coat. Why, she couldn't say, except that she wanted to be prepared for any eventuality, including escaping out-of-doors if need be.
She slipped into the coat and reached for her reticule, stuffing her gloves inside before hurrying through the antechamber and out the door, closing it softly behind herself before she had the chance to reconsider. Her palms damp, she reached into her bag for the key. After glancing around to make certain that no one was observing her, she slid the key into the lock and turned it, then slipped the key back into her bag and hurried away.
Slightly breathless, she found the Rose Salon only minutes later, after inquiring with a bellman. The door was ajar, the room empty. But as she stepped closer, she saw that the room wasn't empty, after all-a lone man stood in the corner, gazing up at a painting on the pale rose-colored wall, his hands clasped behind his back.
Miranda reached for the doorjamb, trying to steady herself as she searched for something familiar in the man's stance. And then, as if he sensed her presence there in the doorway, he turned.
And there it was, the face that had teased her dreams for so many nights. Vivid green eyes startling in a sun-browned face, deep bronze hair falling carelessly across his forehead. It was him, no doubt about it, though she could not fathom how or why.
Excerpted from A Midnight Clear by Kristi Astor Copyright © 2010 by Kristina Cook Hort. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted December 24, 2012
Posted December 25, 2012
Posted January 3, 2011
Posted October 17, 2010
In December 1908, American artist Troy Davenport lives with his Aunt Agnes when he notices a picture in the gossip column she is reading. It is his muse who he met briefly on the passenger ship Mauritania; he desperately wants to paint Miranda Granger who with her family is staying over Christmas at the luxurious Grandview Hotel during its grand opening gala. Two weeks later at the hotel, Troy and Miranda meet. She refuses to give him money or sex, but he surprises her because all he wants to do is paint her.
Miranda thinks back a decade ago when she loved Paul Sutcliffe. They planned to marry, but her dad offered him money and he took it. He ignored Miranda's plea in which she told him she was carrying his child; now raised by loving distant cousins. She assumes Troy is a fortune hunter unaware he comes from wealth.
Six months later William remains irate with his middle daughter Gertie for her tryst with Edmund that Miranda intercepted. Gertie blames Miranda for her trouble taking no responsibility for her action and for her father taking them back to Surrey. Troy arrives in her village allegedly to paint the abbey ruins. He pursues his muse again. He owes her the truth, but has to leave for New York to see his dying father. She is not home so he gives a note to Gertie to give to her older half-sister. Her father informs Miranda that Troy came but left as he wanted money not her.
The lead couple is a strong pairing of two people with secrets. The support characters are super by enhancing the Edwardian England era deeply. Although her younger sister is a spoiled brat with no redeeming qualities and some coincidence is needed to cause misconception between the lead couple, this is a strong historical.
Posted November 8, 2010
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Posted January 27, 2011
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Posted December 20, 2010
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