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Meet Me at Christmas
Author: Bianca Blythe



The morning had not always been Hazel Howard’s favorite time of day, but ever since she’d started a secret, scandalous correspondence with Lord Aston, the morning had surpassed all other occasions in excellence. The daily moonlight that appeared in the evening couldn’t compete, nor could Cook’s most valiant efforts at scones and tea in the afternoon. Maggie handed Hazel a new letter from the viscount every morning without fail, and Hazel, equally without fail, smuggled it to her room before her half-brother George noticed.

Corresponding with the viscount was the most wicked thing Hazel had ever done.

Everyone knew Lord Aston. His blond hair, tall, trim figure, and steel-grey eyes were unmistakable. Women vied for a dance with him, and columnists extolled Lord Aston’s importance to the war effort in each day’s broadsheets. The viscount didn’t fight overseas like other men, but his assistance in organizing the war effort from his government office in London was widely extolled.

Bonaparte might have an urge to attack every country in Europe, might cast longing glances at the British Isles on his maps, but the British had Lord Aston, and they would be safe.

Not that Lord Aston knew she was his correspondent. She’d written first, a fact she doubted George would admire. Granted, at the time she hadn’t known she was entering into a correspondence with the most eligible man in London. Her dear friend Cassandra might be sufficiently brave to do that, but not Hazel.

Their correspondence had begun last year. George had been reading the newspaper’s main section, so Hazel had busied herself with the classified section, even though she found the lists of items dull.

That’s when Hazel had noticed the code in the newspaper. Papa had been a cryptographer during the war with the former colonies and he’d taught her everything. If only Papa were here now and not buried at the local cemetery. Hazel had promptly informed George that the advertisement for men’s shoes was also about a package that would be smuggled to Bexhill and needed to be collected, but he’d grunted and called her melodramatic. Florence, George’s wife, had sniffed and called her young and pondered removing some of the more fanciful of Hazel’s books. That had halted the conversation.

Instead, Hazel had retired to her room and written Parliament.




While perusing The Morning Herald over my customary toast and jam, I happened to come across the classified section. Though I do not normally linger over this portion of the paper, my brother found the main section to be exceptionally exciting today and lingered on the articles. I will read that section later, lest I miss out on more information about the disturbing war we are waging against that horrible monster Bonaparte. Unfortunately, this morning, the classified section was also distressing.

Are you aware that the third advertisement from the leftmost column was written in code? I have decoded it for you. It is not about shoes at all.

Yours respectfully,

A Keen Decoder

Hazel set aside her quill, then folded the letter carefully and pressed a seal against it. Her hands shook. She hadn’t expected to happen upon such material in The Morning Herald. French spies were becoming too comfortable.

She considered visiting Parliament herself, but she doubted she would be taken seriously. Hazel preferred not to enter into conversations with grumpy guards, especially when those conversations were likely to be unsuccessful. Lord Aston would know what to do.

Though Hazel wasn’t certain what the viscount did, everyone said he was important for the war effort. His house was nearby. One of the maids had a brother who worked for the viscount. Perhaps she could enlist Maggie’s help. After all, Hazel could hardly call on Lord Aston herself. Even lingering outside his townhouse would be sufficiently scandalous.

But perhaps she could speak with the maid. Maggie was only a few years older than Hazel and possessed a pleasant disposition.

Hazel decided to look for the maid and after surreptitiously ascertaining Maggie was not on the top two levels of the townhouse, Hazel ventured to the kitchen.

The staircase to the lower level was narrower than the grand staircase. No sturdy gleaming Italian balustrades were present, and there was an absence of light.

Cook gave Hazel a startled gaze when she entered the kitchen. She halted kneading. “Miss Howard?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you.” Hazel’s cheeks heated. “Is Maggie here?”

“M-maggie?” Cook continued to stare, and Hazel’s cheeks continued to warm. Hazel had never ventured here before.

“I need to speak to her,” Hazel said.

“I expect she’s in her room.” Cook pointed a dough-covered hand in the direction of a corridor. “She had some sewing to do. Would you like me to fetch her?”

“No need. I’ll go see her.”

“Second door on the right,” Cook said, then returned to her pastry.

Hazel’s shoes pounded against the grey stone floor. She stopped in front of Maggie’s door, glanced at the letter, then knocked.

The door opened. Maggie’s green eyes rounded at once. “Is something wrong, Miss Howard?”

“Only Bonaparte.”

Maggie blinked.

“May I come in?” Hazel asked.

Maggie nodded, and Hazel darted inside.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, Maggie. I have a letter that needs to be seen by Lord Aston. Does your brother still work for him?”

Maggie’s mouth dropped open, then she valiantly closed it. “He does.”

“Could you please run this over to Lord Aston’s townhouse and ask your brother to share it with him?”

Maggie examined the letter and tilted her head. A red lock fell from Maggie’s updo. “Should you be sending Lord Aston letters?”

“Almost certainly not. Which is why it needs to be a secret.”

“I could put it in the post.”

“The post might not be safe.”

“And you probably shouldn’t be sending Lord Aston letters,” Maggie added.

“Probably not,” Hazel admitted.

Maggie scrutinized her. “You haven’t started a secret romance with him?”

This time gravity jerked Hazel’s jaw downward. “O-of course not. That would be absurd!”

“Because you’re so well-behaved?” For some reason, Maggie’s eyes twinkled, and the corners of her lips swerved into a distinct upward direction.

“I suppose this isn’t my most well-behaved moment. But Lord Aston is...Lord Aston. He’s tall and handsome and—”


“And I’m not.” Hazel halted her conversation, lest her voice tremble.

“I don’t think tallness and handsomeness are necessarily the qualities he’s seeking.” A smile was firmly pressed on Maggie’s face now.


“Besides you have good features.”

Hazel gave Maggie a wobbly smile, then cleared her throat. “This is for the war effort. I—er—spotted something in the paper. Something in...code. I’m afraid French spies have discovered the classified section.”


“Yes.” Hazel’s shoulders stiffened, and she braced herself for Maggie to react like George and Florence.

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