Miss Eve Shelling plastered herself between the smothering red damask of the parlor curtains and the freezing glass panes of the front windows. From the outside, this likely made her look like a madwoman. Eve didn’t mind. She wasn’t hiding from the outside.
She was hiding from her father.
Eve was also simultaneously keeping an eye out for Wilson, who delivered the afternoon post.
The post was the main reason Eve was avoiding her father. Not their endless rows about rule-following or eternal Christmas or journalistic integrity. She could hold her own on any of those topics. But if he caught her intercepting the afternoon post… Or, worse, if he happened to discover what the letters said…
Just as her cheek was about to go numb from pressing so hard against the breath-fogged glass, Eve glimpsed Wilson’s jaunty green woolen hat heading in her direction.
She slipped out from the curtains, tossed a furtive glance over both shoulders, then cracked open the front door just as Wilson reached the front step.
“Good afternoon, Miss Shelling.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Wilson.”
She eased her fingers through the crack just long enough to feel the early winter chill and snatch the thick pile of letters. Eve latched the door as quickly as possible. Father’s study might be on the opposite side of the cottage, but he sensed the presence of the slightest draft like a human barometer.
“Damn it, Anderson,” Father roared from his office. “You’re letting all the warm air out!”
Eve mentally apologized to the very innocent Anderson. As the sole male member of the household staff, Anderson was butler, footman, valet, and anything else that might be needed. At this moment, Anderson was out collecting firewood, but he could return at any time.
All Eve had to do was shove the letters inside her sewing basket and make her way past the open door of her father’s study to the privacy of her bedroom without him registering her presence or questioning her motives.
It might have worked, too, if Father hadn’t chosen that exact moment to step out of his study with a walking stick in his hand. He was coming her way.
“What are you doing?” he asked suspiciously.
He was always suspicious of her these days. Mostly with good reason.
“Nothing.” She tried to look innocent.
There was no time to shove the stack of letters into her sewing basket. Any such movement would only call undue attention to their presence.
It was too late. “Is that the afternoon post?”
“It’s for me.”
Sort of. She hoped. There hadn’t actually been an opportunity to sift through the pile to check names, but if the past four weeks were any indication… every single item would be addressed to the Cressmouth Gazette.
Which was mostly her. In spirit, if not legally.
Although her father owned the Gazette, Eve was the one who ran virtually every aspect. It wasn’t even unusual for her to handle the correspondence which, historically, consisted of one letter per quarter: The curmudgeonly Duke of Silkridge, begging for his name to be removed from the subscriber list.
Eve didn’t think anyone else had even noticed the Gazette, much less bothered to peruse its contents.
“All of that is the afternoon post?” His eyes widened with obvious incredulity.
Eve gave a weak smile.
No doubt a dozen letters seemed like a proper blizzard of correspondence. Father would be horrified to learn that this was the smallest amount yet. The autumn issue’s infamy appeared to finally be dying down.
He clomped forward, placing most of his weight on his walking stick, his eyes narrowed dangerously. “If that’s because of that libelous—”
“It wasn’t libelous,” she interrupted hotly. “Every single word was true.”
“Reporting the truth isn’t scandalous. That’s what real newspapers do.”
“—foolhardy nonsense you slipped into the paper without my knowledge or consent—”
“Yes,” she burst out. “The increased reaction from our readers is the direct result of my exposé on our village’s founder. Mr. Marlowe was a man, not a myth. He was a wonderful visionary and a terrible grandfather to the poor Duke of Silkridge, who—”
“No need to summarize the bloody article. I read it. The whole village read it.” He shook the eagle claw of his walking stick at her face. “How many times do I have to tell you that the Cressmouth Gazette only publishes positive coverage of positive things that happen in our community?”
“It was our biggest seller ever!” Eve flung out her arms in frustration. “We had to go back to press three times. Usually issues only go out to people with subscriptions, but this time locals purchased copies, subscribers actually read it—”
“You shouldn’t have written it.” He pointed at the stack of letters wrinkling in her sweaty hand. “That proves it.”
“This?” She lifted the letters high. “Nobody cared about the paper before. This proves I was right. Some people speak of Marlowe as though he were the King of England, but others have sent in stories that paint a completely different picture.”
Father’s gaze was cold. “We don’t want to paint a different picture. Our village is known as ‘Christmas’ and that is the only picture we shall paint. Sleigh rides. Wassailing. Sprigs of holly.”
“We write that in every paper.” She curled her fingers, every muscle in her body tense. “I’m not suggesting we stop writing about Christmas. I’m suggesting our village is more than just Christmas. We could include a selection of reader responses in the opinion columns—”
“The Cressmouth Gazette doesn’t have an opinion column. We are Christmas. We write about Christmas. That’s all our audience wants. The legend of the twelve dukes, casting for The Winter’s Tale, the latest biscuit flavors seen in the castle’s public buffet. Those are the rules. Follow them.”
“Those are your rules,” she gritted out. “You invented them; you can change them. I want to be a real journalist who writes real stories.”
He grimaced in exasperation. “Why?”