Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE

"There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand. I am practically industrious—painstaking;—a workman to execute with perseverance and labour:—but besides this, there is a love for the marvelous, a belief in the marvelous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore."

London, 1815

There was something glorious about the first day of June. The time of year when the earth exhaled a warm breath, coaxing tender shoots and delicate emotion. And for one blessed moment, Amelia Balfour surrendered to the wonder of it, lifting her face to the sunshine beaming through her bedroom window. Surely this was how heaven would feel.

But for now, the grind of wheels and soot-flaked air of London beckoned. Snapping out of her reverie, she primped her bonnet bow tight beneath her chin then scurried out of her bedroom. God may still sit on the mercy seat, but her editor would pace a deadly cadence behind his desk if she were late.

Near the front door, Amelia gave her portfolio a final peek through. Manuscript, check. Proposal for a new travel handbook, double check. Lucky Egyptian Ibis feather...

Wait a minute.

Plunging her hand in deeper, she fingered around for the white plume with a black tip. She could've sworn she'd set it in there last night before retiring. This would never do.

"Betsey?" She peered down the corridor, hoping to spy a sturdy grey gown. If asked to do so, her maid and faithful companion could find a singular grain of peppery-pink sand amidst an entire Menorcan beach. "Have you seen—?"

A rap on the front door echoed through the foyer as Betsey rounded the corner. Everything about the woman was robust, from the dense stripe of silver hair that refused to conform to the rest of her dark locks, to the wide cut of her shoulders and thick waistline. She was a battleship. Formidable. Durable. Not to be trifled with. And Amelia loved her with her whole heart.

"I'll get that for you, miss." Betsey tipped her head towards the door, her heavy shoes thudding like distant cannon fire with each step.

Amelia held up a hand. "Thank you, but no. I'd rather you find my Ibis feather."

"Your—oh! I know just the place."

With a snap of her fingers, Betsey turned on her heel, and Amelia turned to the door.

A cadaverous man in a lawn-green frockcoat loomed on the stoop, sunshine glinting off his spectacles. Amelia blinked, not for the brilliance of reflected sunspots but for the incongruity of seeing her editor at her home instead of ensconced in his paper-strewn office. An unprecedented action, for Mr. Moritz never ventured outside the publishing house save for a late-night dash to his home for a few hours of sleep. What on earth was he doing here?

He dipped his head in a curt bow. "Good day, Miss Balfour."

"Mr. Moritz." She tucked her chin in greeting. "What a surprise. I was just on my way to see you."

"I suspected as much, but I felt a private setting would be more appropriate for our meeting."

Her throat closed. This couldn't be good. Forcing a smile, she stepped aside. "Do come in."

After he passed, she retrieved her portfolio then scuttled ahead of him. "This way, please." She led him into the sitting room and stopped near the bellpull. "Shall I ring for tea?"

"You may wish to ring for something stronger when I tell you why I am here." He doffed his hat, the flat line of his lips giving away nothing. "Perhaps you should take a seat."

The milk she'd taken with her breakfast curdled into hard lumps in her belly. She'd been right. Only ill could come of a superior deigning a home visit to one of his writers.

Willing her fingers to keep from trembling, she pulled out her manuscript and closed the distance between them, offering it over. "Perhaps you would like to read this first?"

He took the bound papers, yet shook his head, not one pomaded hair straying from the movement. "No need, Miss Balfour. I trust every I is dotted and T is crossed, for such is your perfection." With his free hand, he reached into an inside pocket, but paused before producing anything. "Are you certain you would not like to sit?"

...

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