Maggie Robinson

All Through the Night

All Through The Night
Maggie Robinson ♦ October 30, 2015

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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays personal assistant Carrie Moore from the swift completion of her appointed rounds. She’s used is used to delivering for the rich and famous. Can she mend a hunky English lord’s heart and not get him deported?

As a personal assistant, Carrie Moore is used to fulfilling the whims of the rich and famous, even if it means driving through a blizzard to pick up a fresh Kosher turkey for Christmas dinner. No ordinary Butterball for her employer Rosemary Stephens, an eccentric English mystery writer who’s spending the winter on a remote Maine island. When the last ferry is cancelled, leaving Carrie with a turkey that’s bound to get frozen, all the roads closed and no room at the local inn, what’s a resourceful girl to do?

Why, break in and enter, of course, along with Mrs. Stephens’s titled English nephew who is stranded too. Lord Griffin Archer is an actual viscount, but there will be no roast goose and figgy pudding for him, just the random contents of Carrie’s grocery bags. He’s come to America to improve the family fortune, but keeping company with Carrie might result in a prison sentence or deportation. And with a broken engagement behind him, the last thing he wants to do is lose his heart again.

As they snuggle up in a vintage Jaguar inside the inn’s carriage house, bells ring. Alarm or Christmas? Only time will tell.

This novella originally appeared in the anthology “Holiday for Two”. It has been extensively revised and expanded. 32,000 words.

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Chapter 1

“WAIT!” SHE SCREECHED. Not that anyone could hear her over the wind.

Carrie Moore frantically stuffed the most critical items into her trusty canvas boat bag. To her dismay, she heard the unmistakable thrum of the ferry engine and the mournful blast of its horn. Carrie didn’t even take the time to lock the car or grab her Kindle. She dashed across the parking lot, hoping one of the ferrymen would spot her through the swirl of snow and hold back from casting off.

Well, they might have if she hadn’t slipped on a patch of ice and landed on her ass. She lay still for a minute, the breath knocked out of her. Nothing was broken but her dignity. She stood up on the sheet of ice with difficulty, retrieved the fresh Kosher turkey from underneath a rusty truck and found the glasses that had flown off her nose. With one final blast, the ferry backed out of the pen and was gingerly maneuvering to face the island for the trip home.

Finding her glasses in the snow was a bit of a Christmas miracle. Carrie could barely see the little gray terminal building with her glasses on—it had blended right in with the gray whitecaps beyond. Taking baby steps, she made it to the door. Through the glass, she could see ferry agent Edna Fernald coming out of her office and slinging a handbag over her Baxter State Parka. Those L.L. Bean folks were so damn clever in their homage to Maine. Carrie was wearing an Acadia herself.

Relief. The waiting room was empty and deliciously warm.

“Last boat’s just left, hon. Gotta lock up. You wanna use the rest room before you go?”

Last boat?” Carrie knew she was late to drive on the three o’clock, but had counted on walking on. Even though Carrie had raced through the blinding snow on Route 1, she had known she might not get her car on so close to departure time. But she could walk on with her grocery bags, right? Call someone to pick her up on the other side, or better yet, hop into an islander’s car and have a friendly chat across Penobscot Bay. “What do you mean, last boat?”

“Power’s out over there. They’ll have to use the emergency generator to bring the boat in and lift the ramp,” Edna said with a certain amount of relish. There was a degree of friction between the rich islanders and those from “America.” Carrie tried to stay out of it, feeling she belonged in neither place. “Service is cancelled until tomorrow.” Edna waved a piece of paper at her.

Carrie squinted through the spots on her lenses. Sorry no 5 o’clock ferry today. Next boat 12/25 8 AM weather permitting. For more info call 207 5555555.

“Are you sure they won’t run another boat? It’s Christmas Eve!” Carrie knew she sounded like a spoiled brat. It wasn’t as if she expected any presents. She’d already opened the box from her parents in Connecticut, eaten the cookies—all of them—and was wearing the beige cable-stitch turtleneck sweater right now. She’d used the bonus check from her boss on her fancy new asymmetrical haircut, not entirely certain it was a success

“Just look outside. We’re having a blizzard.” Swaddled like the Michelin Man, Edna taped the hand-printed sign on the glass door. “A winter weather warning has been issued. You can’t argue with that.”

“Can I call my employer?”

Edna frowned. It was against the Maine State Ferry Services rules to let civilians use the landline.

“My cell phone has no bars—I already tried on the way here,” Carrie entreated.

Edna huffed. No doubt she was looking forward to going home early and slug down some spiked eggnog.

“All right. But make it quick.” She dragged out the phone from under the plastic office window slot and sat down on one of the waiting room benches like a giant vulture.

Carrie knew a hopeless effort when she saw one. If the power was out on the island, Mrs. Stephens’s home phone wouldn’t work. The woman refused to get an iPhone, saying she didn’t want to be reached when she was in the bath or in the middle of writing a critical scene. But Carrie was just killing time. Where would she go? She had Christmas dinner in her canvas bag.

The phone rang and rang and rang.

She glanced down at the turkey. Mrs. Stephens’s housekeeper will pick up 12/24.

Carrie tore off the wet tag from Fry’s Market that was taped onto the drumstick and crumpled it to the bottom of the bag. She wasn’t a housekeeper. Personal assistant—sometimes magician—was more like it. But at the moment Carrie Moore was assisting nothing but an unmagical turkey carcass from leaking on the tile floor of the ferry terminal under Edna’s gimlet eye.

On days like this, Carrie wondered why her employer had decided to spend the winter on a remote Maine island. Summer she could see—this past one had been glorious. Blue skies, sparkling waves, starry nights. Carrie had eaten more seafood than they sold at Red Lobster, and her job was pretty easy, transcribing Mrs. Stephens’s spidery hand onto the computer screen in the morning, then running errands in the afternoon.

She began working for Mrs. Stephens—a famous mystery author just like Jessica Fletcher minus the dead bodies!—in June, and had expected to go back to New York with her in the fall. But October had turned into November, then December, and here they were at the mercy of the ferry schedule in the middle of a blizzard. Mrs. Stephens was suffering from writer’s block and had taken to drinking brandy with her morning coffee “to ward off the chill.” Coffee with her brandy was more like it.

Then it was gin o’clock every night at five on the dot that ran well past hors d’oeuvres and right into dessert. Carrie was hoping her employer’s daughter Diana might have something to say about that while she visited for Christmas. Mrs. Stephens was almost seventy and needed not to break a hip on her way upstairs to bed. While Carrie had first-aid training, she wasn’t an orthopedic surgeon.

Carrie hoped Mrs. Stephens would be okay. Her daughter was already out there, and the cottage—a misnomer if there ever was one, since it had twenty bedrooms—had a back-up wood furnace, ten working fireplaces and a thousand scented candles besides. Handyman Pete Smith would be plowing and shoveling the veranda steps. Rent-a-cook Dottie Angelo would arrive tomorrow morning to fix Christmas dinner.

Except there would be no turkey. No fresh bakery rolls, which were rather squashed at the bottom of the bag at this point. Carrie hadn’t had time for lunch. Still holding the ever-ringing phone to her ear, she rooted around, opened up plastic container and popped an olive from the fancy gourmet market in her mouth, just to see what made them so indispensable to Mrs. Stephens—her employer had underlined the word “olives” three times on the list. Maybe she was going to switch from gin and tonic to martinis? Gin and tonic was a summer drink, and it certainly wasn’t summer now.

Edna gave her a look, and Carrie finally put the receiver down.

“No answer. Want one?” Carrie asked. Not bad. A little garlicky, in her opinion.
“No thank you.” Edna was as frosty as the window pane. “You really need to leave now.”

Carrie was pretty sure the woman was not about to invite her to go home with her. No spiked eggnog for her.

“What if anyone else shows up?” Mrs. Stephens’s nephew was supposed to be on the last boat. He was driving up from Boston in all this weather, poor guy.

“They’re out of luck.” Apparently the use of her phone and offer of the restroom had been the extent of Edna’s Christmas spirit.

Carrie decided she’d better dart into the bathroom to stall for even more time in the stall. She had absolutely no idea where she was going to spend the night. Most local hotels along Route 1 were closed for the season, or booked through the end of the year at astronomical prices for the “complimentary” mulled wine, toasty fires and down comforters. Coastal living ambiance didn’t come cheap.

Thank goodness she had Mrs. Stephens’s credit card. Carrie wouldn’t have to sleep in her car if she could find room at an inn. The irony of the season was not lost on her, but at least she didn’t expect she’d have to share a stable with a donkey, just a turkey. Although it might be best if she left it in the car to freeze.

So much for “fresh.”

There was no mirror in the restroom. Carrie took a paper towel and swabbed her face dry. She’d have to make herself presentable in the car’s rear view mirror before she tried to find lodging. Her hood had fallen back when she fell, and her short brown hair was wet. She rumpled it with her fingers, and thought about sticking her head under the hand dryer. Edna certainly wouldn’t like any more delay.

The thought of driving again struck terror in Carrie’s heart. She’d already plowed through whiteout conditions with the damn turkey and had pressed her luck far enough. But there was a Victorian bed and breakfast inn right across the road from the ferry parking lot, and there she would go to beg for shelter.

She didn’t know what she’d do if they were full. Ask to sleep in the cellar? It was more than ten miles in either direction to find civilization. This stretch of Route 1 was pastoral, almost deserted, with very little in the way of commercial development, except for a lobster shack, a pottery outlet and two antique stores, all of which would reopen in the spring.

When she came out of the bathroom, she discovered Edna was not alone. A tallish man was stomping the snow off his boots, oblivious to Edna’s disapproval. His horn-rimmed glasses had steamed up in the heat of the terminal and he couldn’t possibly see the puddle that was forming beneath him.

You tell him,” Edna said impatiently. “I don’t think he understands English.”

“I beg your pardon, madam. I am English,” the man said, taking the glasses off his face and blowing on them. That wouldn’t help at all. Carrie reached into her pocket for a lens cleaner packet and handed it to him. He stared down at it. “A condom? I hardly know either of you.”

“It’s f-for your glasses,” Carrie said quickly, dying inside only a little.

There was no question who this man was. She’d seen his picture all over Mrs. Stephens’s house. Griffin in short pants and an unfortunate bowl haircut. Griffin playing rugby at Rugby. Griffin in those silly university robes riding a bicycle through Cambridge. Griffin with his gorgeous blonde fiancée, Lady Alice Something-or-other.

Which was only fitting, since Griffin was Lord Griffin Archer. A frigging viscount. Like in a Regency romance, except that he worked for a commercial real estate development firm in Boston and did not, as far as Carrie knew, ride to the hounds or race curricles or compromise debutantes behind a potted palm during a masquerade ball.

She had never been able to resist an English accent since she first back-packed through Europe after college. She didn’t even mind Mrs. Stephens bossing her around most of the time. Her employer still sounded and looked like Queen Elizabeth minus the tiara, even though she’d been in the states for fifty years and had had divorced three American husbands.

She stuck out a hand. “You must be Lord Archer. I’m Carrie Moore, your aunt’s PA.”

“Ah. Sorry about the mix-up. I am quite blind without my glasses.” To his credit, he looked chagrinned. “This day has been hell from beginning to end. Do you know they’ve closed Route 1? Accidents left and right. I believe I was the last car to be let through. I do wish the police had told me the ferry wasn’t running. Well, what’s to be done?” He settled his glasses back onto his patrician-if-slightly beaky nose and looked expectantly at Carrie. His eyes were the bluest blue, and Carrie felt her knees buckle. He couldn’t be wearing colored contact lenses plus his glasses, could he?

I’m going home,” Edna said. “You two will have to make your plans somewhere else.”

Carrie shrugged at him apologetically. “Why don’t you come to my car?”

“Why don’t you come to mine? The engine’s still running. I wasn’t sure where to park.”

Despite entreaties from Mrs. Stephens, Lord Archer had not visited his aunt’s island home since he was a child. There was a picture of that, too—Griffin missing two front teeth with Mrs. Stephens’s second husband on a sailboat. His teeth had come in pretty straight for an Englishman, Carrie noted. She’d seen the Austin Powers movies and gotten the joke.

“Christmas is a time for family, and Diana and I are all you’ve got until you do your duty to the family name. And none of us are getting any younger,” Mrs. Stephens had harangued her nephew on the telephone numerous times over the past month. Carrie couldn’t help but overhear, and had practiced her curtsey in the event the man gave in to his aunt’s emotional blackmail.

Well, here he was, a peer of the realm, dripping in the ferry terminal. She’d completely forgotten to curtsey since Lord Archer didn’t look very lord-like at first sight. He wore an unsettling hunter-orange ski cap, Timberland boots and a heavy Barbour jacket. She recognized the latter as she’d ordered it for him herself as a “Welcome to New England” gift from his aunt. Rosemary Stephens was always sending people presents, although she couldn’t be bothered to shop for them herself.

Americans didn’t have to curtsey. And he was just a viscount, not a duke. Certainly not Prince Harry, one of Carrie’s crushes. So adorable, and he was walking to one of the Poles for injured soldiers, too—she couldn’t remember which. North or south? One had penguins, one didn’t. She’d have to Google it when she had Internet access again.

“Don’t make a fuss over the boy when he comes,” Mrs. Stephens had warned, though Griffin was no boy. Carrie had looked him up in Mrs. Stephens’s well-thumbed Debrett’s. He was the same age she was, and nobody would call Carrie a girl and get away with it. “He doesn’t like it. He’s come to America to be just like everybody else.”

Carrie couldn’t comprehend that. Mrs. Stephens’s had a coffee table book with her childhood home Archer Hall in it. She often sat turning the pages on rainy afternoons, obviously longing for the good old days. Who would want to live in a sublet condo on Beacon Street when you could live in practically a castle?

“No central heating, and no money to put it in” Mrs. Stephens had said sadly, shivering and pulling her Hermes scarf closer to her throat. Evidently her brother the previous Lord Archer had been profligate with the ponies.

Carrie needed her salary, too, so she smiled up at Griffin Archer, who was really just another working stiff, when all was said and done.

“Lead the way.” She opened the door and the wind blew it back with a bang. Maybe they should be tethered together like mountain climbers. It was impossible to see a foot in front of her through the driving snow.

Lord Archer must have sensed her reservations. He put a gloved hand on her elbow and guided her around the building to an illegal parking zone. No one was apt to come and give him a ticket today, though. The lights of the car cast a misty beacon through the snow, and like the English gentleman he was, Lord Archer opened the passenger door for her and took the boat bag from her grip, stowing it in the backseat.

Yum. New car smell. And leather and some refined men’s cologne, something you’d find at Trumper’s on Curzon Street in London. Carrie had brought her dad a shaving brush there a few years ago when she was vacationing between jobs.

The car was rather spiffy, a Range Rover Evoque. Not the most expensive in the line, but nothing to sneeze at. She patted the dashboard. “Yours?” she asked when Lord Archer climbed into the car.

“I’m leasing it while I’m in the States. Do you have another of those things for glasses?” His had fogged up again in the luxurious warmth of his luxurious car. Carrie got another wipe out of her coat pocket.

“I’ll use it after you. How long are you staying?”

“It depends.” He polished his lenses and gave her back the wipe. “Where to, Miss Moore?”

Well, he remembered her name—that was something. And he was depending on her to save the day, or night, as it were. It was pretty damn dark already. Edna’s red taillights were barely visible as she fishtailed out of the parking lot.

“There’s a B and B on the corner of Ferry Road and Route 1.” Carrie peered through the windshield in the inn’s general direction with her cleaned glasses but realized she saw no glowing windows or festive decorations. Not even the spotlight that usually illuminated the sign was lit. The power wasn’t out here as well—the terminal parking lot was bright and the shuttered business had security lights on. “Damn,” she muttered. “We may have to break in.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Carrie’s spine shivered, and not from cold. Those four words were uttered in such haughty disbelief, she immediately thought of Mr. Darcy. Ultimate umbrage.

She’d always been a sucker for Mr. Darcy, the Colin Firth version, preferably.

“Um, don’t get your knickers in a twist,” she tried to joke, but Lord Archer was having none of it. The overhead light had not extinguished yet and his look of horror was evident. Was it because she proposed they committing a felony—or was it a misdemeanor?—or because she’d mentioned underwear. Hey, he’d used the word condom first!

“What I mean is, let’s drive across the road and see what’s what. We can’t stay in your car all night—we’ll get carbon monoxide poisoning if the engine’s running or freeze to death if it’s not. At least we won’t starve. I’ve got olives and wine and some munchies in the bag.” Carrie would not mention the turkey—it couldn’t be cooked over a running engine, could it? She read somewhere you could do fish that way in an aluminum foil packet. It was very odd what you wound up knowing as a personal assistant, but she really should know where penguins lived.

“How close is it to the next town or village or whatever one calls it here?”

“Over ten miles, and you should not be driving in this weather. The road winds around like crazy and it will be super-dangerous. You could slide right into the ocean.” An exaggeration. You could probably slide onto someone’s lawn though, and if you were very unlucky, hit their barn, and then go in the water.

Lord Archer pulled off his orange cap and attempted to smooth his fair hair down. He still looked electrocuted. The interior light powered down and they were left in a thick blanket of sideways snow. “This car handles beautifully in all kinds of conditions. It’s won awards.”

“I’m sure it’s great. I’m a big fan of English cars.” And English men. There was Harry, Colin and a host of others on Masterpiece Theatre. Jeez, she was just like a character out of Austenland. “But I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

“And I’d rather not spend time in jail! Damn—er—drat that ferry woman. She might have helped us make some arrangements.” He pulled out a cellphone, punched at it viciously and tossed it on the dashboard in disgust.

“Reception’s iffy even in good weather. Some people move here for the privacy and poor reception,” Carrie said. “Writers. Recluses. Millionaires.”

“They won’t stay millionaires for long if they cannot contact their brokers.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Carrie said lightly. And really wouldn’t want to know. Her experience with the rich and famous so far made her grateful for her middle-class parents. There had been lots of rules and limits, annoying at the time. But from her current vantage point at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, she was rooted in reality and had a pretty good head on her shoulders, even if she was uncertain about her cutting edge haircut.

And the reality was they needed to find shelter. “The inn is just over there. Maybe they’ve just gone to bed early.” Before four o’clock?

Lord Archer gave her an un-lordlike snort which the comment deserved and the car crept forward.

“Watch out—” Too late. They bumped over the snow-buried curb and there was an unpleasant scraping sound. Carrie thought he whispered the f-bomb, but was too polite to ask him to repeat himself.

They made it safely across the road and up the driveway, their tires marking virgin territory.

“There’s no one here,” Lord Archer ground out. “The place must be closed. I’ll just back out—”

“No! Let me check. I won’t be a moment.”

Before he could object, Carrie sprang out of the car and ran up the wide front porch. Her phone might not have bars, but the light on it was good enough to read the neatly-typed sign on the glass and mahogany front door.

Merry Christmas! We’ve gone to Portland to spend the holiday with our children and grandchildren. We’ll reopen December 30 for the annual New Year’s retreat. See you then!

Carrie dropped the f-bomb quite loudly. She’d jiggle the front door handle, but there was one of those alarm company shields beneath the doorbell. Not that anyone would come right away.

A jail cell would be warm, right? Three hots and a cot. Somehow she couldn’t picture Lord Archer behind bars.

“What does it say?”

Carrie jumped a mile. The man had snuck up the steps behind her, and she never heard a thing with the roar of the wind and that odd clicking sound that heavy snow made when it fell.

“They’re closed.”

“I told you so. We’ll go back to Camden.” Lord Archer sounded smug and very Darcy-ish.

“Oh, no! Really, I’ve had enough—I just came from there and so have you. It was a harrowing drive, wasn’t it? It will be worse now that the snow is falling harder.”

“Belfast, then.”

“The road that way is even more awful. What about the carriage house?”

He blinked.

She pointed to a building over to the left. In the summer on sunny days, a jaunty red Jaguar convertible was parked in front of it, attracting the tourists’ attention. “The barn, the garage, whatever it is. Maybe it’s not locked. Grab my boat bag from your car, please.”

Carrie knew she was not being logical. If the carriage house held a valuable vintage car, then it was probably wired and locked too.

It was locked, but there wasn’t any sign of an alarm system panel through the door’s window as she shone her phone light in. Careless. Carrie had some experience jimmying doors—that pop singer she used to work for was forever locking himself out of his house before Carrie organized an intervention and got him into rehab—so she took out her special tools from her handbag that she’d tucked inside the canvas tote.

“Here. Hold my phone. I’ll need some light.”

“Tell me those aren’t what I think they are.”

“I won’t tell you then. If it makes you feel any better, reach up around the doorframe for a spare key—I don’t think there’s a doormat.”

She stood patiently while Lord Archer made his futile effort, raining clumps of snow down on his own bare head and shoulders. Satisfied that there was no easy way in, she crouched over the lock for a few minutes, turned the doorknob easy as pie, and switched on the light.

The car sat in isolated splendor, its canvas top still down, not going anywhere today. The concrete floor was swept clean enough to eat from, the workbench immaculate, the shelves lining the walls looking alphabetically neat with all the paraphernalia you’d need to keep an old inn going.

And it was warm! For the delicate car, presumably. Carrie felt like kissing its shiny fender.

“I’ll lose my work visa and be deported,” Lord Archer said with a certain sad grimness.

“Nonsense. The owners will understand. They’re in the hospitality business.”

He stared up at the rafters as if expecting them to fall down and crush them as punishment. Carrie noted there were a couple of kayaks and bicycles stored above for the non-winter guests, along with a whole bunch of other stuff.

“Where did you learn to pick locks? Secretarial school?” He unwound the plaid scarf from his neck and stuffed it in a pocket.

“I’m not a secretary—I was an art history major at UConn. But there’s not much of a demand for art historians, so I worked as a temp when I got out of school. One thing led to another and all of a sudden I was baby-sitting for the president of a music company. He loaned me out to one of his artists during a difficult time, and then I worked for several other difficult people. Your aunt is a dream by comparison.”

Since college, Carrie had worked with various creative crazy people, and so far Mrs. Stephens had been less crazy than most. She was particular, of course, being an internationally famous writer and related to Archer viscounts down through the ages. Nice, mostly. But the woman was going to have a conniption fit when she realized Carrie was not coming home tonight with the troublesome turkey.

Lord Archer was keeping his distance from the Jaguar, but it was obvious he wanted to look at it more closely—anyone would. “How long have you been doing this sort of thing?” he asked.

Carrie grinned. “House-breaking?”

Lord Archer rolled his eyes. Gosh, they were blue.

“Oh. My job. Six years. It’s been interesting to say the least. What kind of car is that anyhow?”

She knew perfectly well it was a sixty-something XK-E. Her question prompted Lord Archer to bound over to it rather like an exuberant Labrador puppy, his damp golden hair flopping onto his forehead. “It’s a Series 1 Jaguar E-type.” He pronounced it “jag-u-ar” instead of “jagwar” and Carrie was instantly smitten. He touched the pouncing cat on the hood—bonnet?—with a gloved fingertip. “My father had one for a time. Lovely ride.”

“Too bad we won’t be going anywhere in it.” Wouldn’t Lord Archer look dishy behind the steering wheel, his wavy blond hair blown back by the wind? Carrie mentally gave him a light tan and Ray-Bans. Wayfarers, since he seemed to be a classic kind of guy.

“Certainly not. I’m not going to add grand theft auto to the list of charges against us.” He turned to her. “Surely you realize we cannot spend the night here.”

“I can’t see why not. I can sleep in a bucket seat—it’ll be like being on a transatlantic flight without the hot towels and customs forms.”

Lord Archer scowled at her. “You have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

“Usually. I get paid to find solutions to things. I was a Girl Scout, you know—I’m very resourceful.” While her friends were wearing belly-baring shirts to the mall and getting extra ear piercings, Carrie was earning her merit badges and reading to old people in nursing homes. Damn, but she’d been a good girl.

Looking at the lanky, luscious man before her, Carrie itched to be bad. It had been a very long time since she’d even been kissed, and Lord Archer’s lips were seriously kissable. But that wouldn’t be prudent—he was related to her employer. Carrie was much too smart to act on her impulses, no matter how tempting a twenty-first century viscount was. She liked her job, and wouldn’t want to get mixed up in some sordid upstairs/downstairs debacle, even if Lord Archer was not her direct supervisor.

Plus, he was engaged.

“We call them Girl Guides in Britain.”

“I know. Isn’t it interesting how Americans and the English use two different words to mean the same thing? Like biscuit and cookie. Boot and trunk.”

Lord Archer was giving her the look now. She was babbling in an attempt to banish a Jane Eyre/Rochester scenario from her mind. In Carrie’s opinion, there had been more hanky-panky going on in that book than was on the page. Why else would Jane go insane on the moors if not lamenting the lack of her prized virginity? Such nonsense over a bit of membrane, though. Carrie had read there was surgery where you could re-virginize, unavailable in poor Jane’s time.

Lord Archer was not anything like dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. He was blond and bespectacled and incredibly proper. She would bet her life he’d never had a French mistress or a bastard daughter, or taken a virgin, for that matter.

“How are you adjusting to the states?” she asked, unzipping her coat. She was finally defrosting.

“As Shaw might have said but probably didn’t, we are two countries divided by a common language. Terminology’s a bit different in my field, but I’m a quick study.”

“Just what is it exactly that you do?”

He took off his gloves and combed his hair back over his forehead with long fingers, though his jacket was still resolutely zipped up. “The company renovates existing office space, mostly, with a bit of new construction on the side. We are committed to insuring our buildings are sympathetic to their historic neighborhoods, yet have first-rate amenities. ”

“You’re an architect?”

“Project manager. I suppose you’d call me more of a go-between between the design team, contractors, financiers and the commercial clients. It’s my job to make sure all the suites are leased before construction, determine the clients’ requirements, and make sure everyone is happy during and after.”

And Carrie bet everyone was. Just listening to him speak made her purr inside. He could be talking absolute rubbish but she wouldn’t care.

Carrie, Carrie, she chided herself. She was not in the middle of a romance novel, but in a barn on Christmas Eve with an uncomfortable stranger. Lord Archer looked ready to bolt out into the storm any minute. Perhaps she should divest him of his car keys. Stumble into him, rub against him, reach into his pocket.

Mrs. Stephens had interviewed an actual pick-pocket this summer for The Book That Would Not End. It had been very educational. Add one more skill to Carrie’s PA repertoire.

However, cooking wasn’t really one of them.

“Are you hungry? We can have a picnic.”

He glanced down at the wet dial of his watch. “At home, it would be tea-time.”

“We’ll just call it the cocktail hour instead.” Suddenly she remembered the twenty-five pound turkey. She bent and wrestled it out of the bag. “I’ll just stick this in a snowbank before it starts to smell.”

“Allow me.”

Ever the gentleman, Lord Archer took the unwieldy object from her and got as far as the door. The turkey proved impossible to juggle as he tried to turn the knob, and Carrie sprinted to open the door. She was impressed as he bowled it quite a ways into a drift.

“Good riddance,” Carrie said. Though if it hadn’t been for the turkey, she wouldn’t be here right now looking up into Lord Archer’s blue, blue eyes and thinking about rubbing against him to steal his keys.

Or a kiss.

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