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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 15 and more...

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 15

I’m blogging the revised version of my Regency romance, The Spinster's Christmas, so you all get a chance to read it. After I post it all, I’ll take it down from my blog, so be sure to read it while it’s being posted. It is the first book in my Lady Wynwood series.

A Regency romantic mystery

Miranda Belmoore has never felt attuned to the rest of society. Her family has never understood her blunt speech and unwillingness to bow to conventional strictures, and so they have always made her feel that there is something wrong with her. Now as a poor relation in her cousin’s house, she makes plans to escape a life of drudgery and disdain from her own family members.

Naval Captain Gerard Foremont is having difficulty adjusting to life back on land, frustrated that his career has been cut short by his severely injured knee. Guilt haunts him as he sees the strain his long convalescence has had upon his parents. As they spend Christmastide with the Belmoores, he wants to help fulfill his mother’s wish to have her orphaned niece come to stay with them.

However, an enemy has infiltrated the family party, bent on revenge and determined that Twelfth Night will end in someone’s death …

Start reading here.

***

Chapter 15

The bell to dress for dinner had already rung, but something drew Laura, Lady Wynwood, past her bedroom and up the stairs to an older section of the house. She followed a winding route she remembered well from her childhood, taking her from staircase to hallway to staircase, always climbing upward. At the top of the last narrow set of stairs, she wrestled with the door, but it eventually flung open to the pressure of her shoulder against it, and she was out on the rooftop of Wintrell Hall.

The brick cupola, slit with glass to let light fall into the great front hall far below, was flanked by two small turrets, one containing the door out of which she stepped. The wind whistled harder at this height, but she’d brought her fur-edged cloak, and the fresh bite of the cold air made her feel awake and alive.

A brick parapet ringed the cupola, and she passed through an opening to walk around and view the countryside. She could see the tracks in the snow on the front lawn where the children had had a snowball fight this morning, while beyond the trees glistened with the snow and ice dripping from their branches. Farther out, the pasturelands lay in squares and rectangles, broken by hedgerows and the dark line of the river. The setting sun was just starting to turn the sky rosy and golden.

Her thoughts wandered. The cold stung her cheeks but the view was too beautiful to leave it, the peace too delicious to want to stop soaking in it.

But then the sound of the door opening made her turn, and Miranda stepped out onto the roof.

Her eyes—oh, her eyes were like those of the dead.

She made as if to leave, but Laura held out her hand. “Come enjoy the view with me.”

Miranda hesitated for so long, Laura was not certain she would join her. But then she stepped through the opening in the parapet on slow feet and came to stand beside her.

“I did not mean to interrupt you,” Miranda said.

“You did not, my dear.”

“The first bell has rung.”

“Yes, I know, but …” Laura took a deep breath. “It is all your fault.”

“Mine?” Her green eyes were hazel in the rose-orange light.

“You are so restful, Miranda, and I … I am like Gerard, always wanting to do something. And so I am here, seeking peace, seeking the Lord.”

Miranda’s gaze flicked away.

“Is that why you are here?” Laura asked.

Miranda’s mouth opened, searching for the words to say. “I don’t know,” she finally said. Her jaw worked. It seemed to Laura that Miranda’s emotions were crawling under her skin and she was struggling to keep them in.

Laura would have asked, but something almost like a physical touch stayed her voice. So instead, she turned to drink in the view and remained silent.

Laura worried that Miranda would simply return inside, but she stood there beside her for several long minutes.

“Coming up here reminds me of how small I am,” Miranda said.

“Yes, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Hebrews.”

Miranda blinked. “That’s in the Bible?”

“Of course, my dear. Why does that surprise you?”

She frowned. Her gaze remained on the view, but Laura could tell that she didn’t see it. “I … I never thought God would be mindful of me.”

“Whyever not? He created you. He loves you more deeply than any parent ever could.”

Miranda’s jaw grew hard, and her eyes grew sad. “That would not be difficult. I never mattered to them.”

Laura had a sudden memory of a summer day here at Wintrell Hall, and Miranda’s mother complaining to her and Augusta about how, during the season in London, they had not been able to find a man to take Miranda off their hands.

“My dear.” Laura turned Miranda to face her. “If you believe nothing else I tell you, believe this. You matter to God, a great deal, and He loves you exactly the way He made you.”

She gave a little shake of the head. “Why would God see someone like me?”

“Come, I will tell you a story.” Laura threw her arm around Miranda and led her around the cupola. “There was a slave who was mistreated by her mistress, so she ran away. But God saw her in the wilderness and spoke to her.”

Miranda’s brow wrinkled, but she said nothing.

Laura continued, “People in those days liked naming things, so she gave God another name. She called him, Thou God seest me.”

By now, they had reached the other side of the cupola. In the dome, the rectangular panels of glass had circular designs within them, and the setting sun shone through a circle, looking a bit like an eye. Laura stopped. “She was only a slave, but He saw her, Miranda.”

Miranda looked at the orange light for a few seconds, but then turned her face away. Laura saw her expression and was haunted by it, because it was despair.

I see you, Miranda,” Laura said. “And I have to believe God will find a way for you out of these troubles.”

“Yes,” Miranda said, but absently. “I must go.” She headed toward the turret door, but then she suddenly turned and embraced Laura in a fierce hug.

She was gone in a moment, passing through the door and down the narrow staircase.

Laura stood there, her heart throbbing hard and slow. Miranda’s hug had almost seemed like good-bye.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 16a

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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 14b

I’m blogging the revised version of my Regency romance, The Spinster's Christmas, so you all get a chance to read it. After I post it all, I’ll take it down from my blog, so be sure to read it while it’s being posted. It is the first book in my Lady Wynwood series.

A Regency romantic mystery

Miranda Belmoore has never felt attuned to the rest of society. Her family has never understood her blunt speech and unwillingness to bow to conventional strictures, and so they have always made her feel that there is something wrong with her. Now as a poor relation in her cousin’s house, she makes plans to escape a life of drudgery and disdain from her own family members.

Naval Captain Gerard Foremont is having difficulty adjusting to life back on land, frustrated that his career has been cut short by his severely injured knee. Guilt haunts him as he sees the strain his long convalescence has had upon his parents. As they spend Christmastide with the Belmoores, he wants to help fulfill his mother’s wish to have her orphaned niece come to stay with them.

However, an enemy has infiltrated the family party, bent on revenge and determined that Twelfth Night will end in someone’s death …

Start reading here.

***

Chapter 14b

“I …” She squeezed her eyes shut as if trying to block out a horrible memory. “I know who wants to kill me.”

“Who?”

She pressed her fist to her mouth, and he saw she was trembling. He reached for her, no matter that Michael stood by the fire with an interested expression on his face, and held her hand in his own,

The eyes she raised to his were tortured. “Gerard, it is all my fault.”

“Miranda—”

“Do you remember what I told you about my parents? They hired a new nursery-maid when I was six years old, but they were unconcerned with the goings on in the nursery. Harriet …” She swallowed. “Harriet was cruel and told my parents that I was clumsy.” She absently ran her hand over her forearm. “And so my parents never questioned the bruises.”

He had to concentrate to keep from crushing her hand. A rage built up in his chest, tightening every muscle in his body. He focused on the delicate bones of her fingers, so fragile next to his. He could protect her now. He would protect her now from anyone who would harm her, because he loved her.

“It went on for two years,” Miranda said. “Then one day I found my mother’s diamond bracelet under a bush in the garden. She had put the house in an uproar because she’d lost the bracelet two or three nights before at a dinner party she’d given. The bracelet must have slipped off when she went walking in the gardens after dinner. But instead of returning it, I hid the bracelet in Harriet’s dresser. On Harriet’s day off, one of the under-maids watched me, so I casually mentioned a pretty bracelet I’d seen Harriet wearing. It took very little encouragement to get the maid to look through Harriet’s things and find my mother’s bracelet. Harriet was sacked immediately and the maid promoted to an upper-maid.”

“It’s Harriet doing this?” Michael asked. Gerard had nearly forgotten he was there. “After all these years?”

“No one else in the neighborhood would hire her,” Miranda said. “She was forced to go to London to find work, but fell on hard times. I heard that she had died, in a … brothel.”

Gerard saw the guilt in her expression. “You were only eight years old.”

“I was old enough to know it would be hard for her to find another situation once she’d been accused of theft,” Miranda said. “And later I understood what had happened to her in London. But at the time, all I felt was relief that she was gone.” Her fingers clenched hard in his palm.

“You never saw the woman in the woods,” Gerard said. “You can’t know it’s Harriet.”

“Jean, one of the maids, alluded to how I could have her sacked,” Miranda said. “She couldn’t know unless Harriet had told her. No one else knew that I had hidden that bracelet among Harriet’s things in order to get her sacked. She must have used Jean to open the garden gate so those two men could attack us.”

“No, she couldn’t have known the two of you would walk outside that night,” Michael said.

“Perhaps they would have entered the house and waited for you,” Gerard said grimly.

“It seems incredible that Harriet happened to find you,” Michael said. “And those two men—she must have hired them. There is something about this that seems odd.”

“I considered leaving,” Miranda said in a low voice.

Gerard’s heart twisted once, hard. “There is nowhere you could go. You would be like Harriet.”

“It would draw her away from all of you.”

“This is not some penance you must pay,” he said fiercely.

“We can use this to our advantage,” Michael said. “Set a trap. We nearly had them at the skating party.”

“I won’t put Miranda in danger,” Gerard told his cousin.

“She wouldn’t be. I will need to think on this.”

“We will both think on this. In the meantime, Miranda, remain close to the house and do not go anywhere alone. Since Michael is now one of the servants, he can keep an eye on you.”

Michael gave him a smug smile. “I told you it would be useful for me to be here.”

Gerard gave him a dark look. “You are useful only if you are not caught out.”

***

Next blog post: Chapter 15

Buy The Spinster's Christmas:

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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 14a

I’m blogging the revised version of my Regency romance, The Spinster's Christmas, so you all get a chance to read it. After I post it all, I’ll take it down from my blog, so be sure to read it while it’s being posted. It is the first book in my Lady Wynwood series.

A Regency romantic mystery

Miranda Belmoore has never felt attuned to the rest of society. Her family has never understood her blunt speech and unwillingness to bow to conventional strictures, and so they have always made her feel that there is something wrong with her. Now as a poor relation in her cousin’s house, she makes plans to escape a life of drudgery and disdain from her own family members.

Naval Captain Gerard Foremont is having difficulty adjusting to life back on land, frustrated that his career has been cut short by his severely injured knee. Guilt haunts him as he sees the strain his long convalescence has had upon his parents. As they spend Christmastide with the Belmoores, he wants to help fulfill his mother’s wish to have her orphaned niece come to stay with them.

However, an enemy has infiltrated the family party, bent on revenge and determined that Twelfth Night will end in someone’s death …

Start reading here.

***

Chapter 14a

Gerard almost didn’t notice the footman. He wanted to say it was because he was distracted, but in reality, it was because Michael was that accomplished.

After Miranda left him, Gerard was too cold to remain out of doors and was seeking the comfort of his fire and perhaps a pot of tea with a splash of whiskey in it for good measure. However, the way to his bedroom was blocked by footmen leaving the music room, each carrying some chairs which had been stored there. They headed toward the drawing room, and Gerard guessed that the extra chairs were for the guests tonight. Felicity had planned a lavish dinner party for this evening.

A certain footman passed Gerard, his ill-fitting livery looking as though it had been made for someone else. At first, the man’s face was that of a complete stranger. Then suddenly the servant turned a blue-green eye toward him and winked.

Gerard ground his teeth.

He headed slowly down the hallway, past the music room and toward his bedroom. He paused at his door, waiting.

The butler stood supervising while the footmen silently wove around him. The footman in question exited the drawing room, returning to the music room for more chairs, but Gerard made certain to send him a pointed glare before going into his bedroom. Gerard settled in front of the fireplace and waited.

In a few moments, there was a scratch at the door. “Come,” he bellowed.

“You're cross as a bear,” Michael said as he entered the room, closing the door behind him. He had suddenly become Michael again, rather than the strange servant Gerard had first seen.

“Why are you in that livery?” Gerard demanded.

Michael tried to look innocent as he tugged at his sleeves. “I should think it obvious. And you will surely get me sacked, wanting to speak to me when I should be working.”

“It is too risky for you to insinuate yourself as one of the servants,” Gerard said. “We discussed this when you first arrived.”

“I cannot protect you if I continue in my guise as a peddler in the village,” Michael said.

“My father—your uncle—may recognize you, you fool.”

Michael gave him a level look. “You did not. And you are forgetting, Cousin, that day in France. I can fool him, I assure you.”

Gerard’s ire drained out of him.

Two years ago, Gerard had led a crew on shore to capture some Frenchmen who were resupplying their ship from a French village. There was a skirmish and some of the peasants had been captured along with the seamen.

Gerard had stared his cousin in the face and not recognized him until hours later, when the French peasant managed to unobtrusively whisper to him with Michael’s voice. He had confessed that he was on assignment for the Home Office and had asked Gerard to find a way to free him. There was apparently more to Michael’s duties than simply being one of Wellington’s junior officers.

After the woman’s attack on Christmas Eve, Gerard had written to Michael, whom he knew was on leave at home this Christmas, to ask for his help in investigating the woman. Michael had gone so far as to darken his hair, and when posing as a peddler, the dirt hid his features. Now, he had no dirt but he had done something to make his face appear sallow, and when Gerard had seen him carrying chairs, his gait and posture had been completely different from his normal upright carriage.

Michael gave his carefree smile. “Besides, no one notices servants.”

Gerard admitted he was probably correct.

Michael continued, “The peddler guise was useful when I became drinking partners with nearly every man in the local tavern, looking for any local family with a connection to you or Miranda. But after the attack yesterday, I thought it would be better to be here to protect her. And to ensure the safety of my ungrateful relative, of course.”

“I am not ungrateful,” Gerard growled. “I am concerned about you.”

“I am touched by your solicitude.” Michael gave a short bow. “It is mutual. Especially when you insist on attempting to lure the men out of hiding by dangling yourself as bait.”

“I cannot sit here in safety and do nothing. Surely you understand that.”

Michael's eyes were serious as they rested upon him. “Yes, I do.”

A sudden frantic knocking at the door made them both turn. In an instant, Michael's face underwent an astounding transformation. He altered the muscles of his jaw and lips, relaxing some and tightening others, and suddenly his chin seemed weaker, his eyes half-lidded, and in combination with the slouch of his shoulders and the makeup on his face, he hardly looked like himself. He shuffled to the door to answer it.

Miranda started in surprise at the sight of him, but her eye slid over him to Gerard. Her face had turned so pale that her skin was translucent.

“Miranda, what’s wrong?” He rose to his feet, ignoring the protest from his knee.

She gulped and glanced at Michael.

“Hurry, come inside,” Gerard said.

Miranda did not even hesitate at the impropriety and slipped into his bedroom. Michael closed the door behind her and relaxed his facial muscles again, which made her squeak in surprise.

“Miranda, may I introduce my cousin, Lieutenant Michael Coulton-Jones. Miss Miranda Belmoore.”

“Charmed.” Michael bowed over her hand and gave one of the dashing smiles that caused every woman he’d ever known to swoon at his feet.

Gerard scowled at him. However, he was gratified when Miranda pulled her hand from his quickly and turned toward Gerard.

But now that she was in private with him, she seemed anxious and nervous. “Gerard, you should sit. And not because of your knee.”

“What is it?” He sank gratefully back into the sofa while she settled on a chair.

“I …” She squeezed her eyes shut as if trying to block out a horrible memory. “I know who wants to kill me.”

***

Next blog post: Chapter 14b

Buy The Spinster's Christmas:

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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 13b

I’m blogging the revised version of my Regency romance, The Spinster's Christmas, so you all get a chance to read it. After I post it all, I’ll take it down from my blog, so be sure to read it while it’s being posted. It is the first book in my Lady Wynwood series.

A Regency romantic mystery

Miranda Belmoore has never felt attuned to the rest of society. Her family has never understood her blunt speech and unwillingness to bow to conventional strictures, and so they have always made her feel that there is something wrong with her. Now as a poor relation in her cousin’s house, she makes plans to escape a life of drudgery and disdain from her own family members.

Naval Captain Gerard Foremont is having difficulty adjusting to life back on land, frustrated that his career has been cut short by his severely injured knee. Guilt haunts him as he sees the strain his long convalescence has had upon his parents. As they spend Christmastide with the Belmoores, he wants to help fulfill his mother’s wish to have her orphaned niece come to stay with them.

However, an enemy has infiltrated the family party, bent on revenge and determined that Twelfth Night will end in someone’s death …

Start reading here.

***

Chapter 13b

After retrieving Sally’s mittens, Miranda had reached the foot of the nursery wing stairs and started down the hallway to the main staircase when she saw the under-maid, Jean, looking around furtively with her hand on the latch to Cecil’s bedroom. Jean froze when she saw Miranda.

“What are you doing?” Miranda demanded. Jean was not an upper-maid, nor was she Cecil’s valet, so she should not be entering Cecil’s room for any reason.

Jean’s eyes were wide for a moment, then she affected an innocent expression. “Sir Cecil is in a snit because his grandfather’s pistol is missing. I am helping to search for it.” She smirked at Miranda.

“You are not.”

“Are you calling me a liar?”

“I am.” Miranda drew herself up. She was a poor relation now, but she was also a gentleman’s daughter and had been the only daughter of a wealthy household. In her father’s home, Jean would have been sacked for such belligerence to any guest.

Jean stood there stiffly, her hands clenching and unclenching at her sides. Then she gave Miranda a nasty smile. “What will you do about it? Will you have me turned out? Lady Belmoore won’t listen to you.”

“Let’s find out, shall we?”

“Or p’raps you’ll resort to other ways to get me sacked. I hear you’re quite good at it.” Jean whirled in a flurry of skirts and stalked away.

The hallway tilted. Miranda thrust out blindly for the wall, sagging against it. Her stomach heaved.

Jean knew. And there was only one way she could know. She’d been told.

The light dimmed, darkness threatening to cover her, but she fought it, dragging in deep breaths, willing her heartbeat to ease and slow.

She knew who was after her. And why.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 14a

Buy The Spinster's Christmas:

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Correct invalid entries
      


The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 13a

I’m blogging the revised version of my Regency romance, The Spinster's Christmas, so you all get a chance to read it. After I post it all, I’ll take it down from my blog, so be sure to read it while it’s being posted. It is the first book in my Lady Wynwood series.

A Regency romantic mystery

Miranda Belmoore has never felt attuned to the rest of society. Her family has never understood her blunt speech and unwillingness to bow to conventional strictures, and so they have always made her feel that there is something wrong with her. Now as a poor relation in her cousin’s house, she makes plans to escape a life of drudgery and disdain from her own family members.

Naval Captain Gerard Foremont is having difficulty adjusting to life back on land, frustrated that his career has been cut short by his severely injured knee. Guilt haunts him as he sees the strain his long convalescence has had upon his parents. As they spend Christmastide with the Belmoores, he wants to help fulfill his mother’s wish to have her orphaned niece come to stay with them.

However, an enemy has infiltrated the family party, bent on revenge and determined that Twelfth Night will end in someone’s death …

Start reading here.

***

Chapter 13a

December 29th



She was wearing his scarf.

Gerard made his way out through the portico on the south side of the house, placing the crutches carefully on the icy stones. It had snowed last night, a few inches, and the children were having a rousing snowball fight on the south lawn. Miranda sat on a bench at the edge of the flagstone terrace, and his red and black scarf around her neck was a splash of color on the white landscape beyond her.

She turned and saw him as he exited the house. Her face was pale, and for a moment she looked apprehensive. Then she gave a small smile that commanded the wind and waves of his anxiety to be still. The air sliced through his nose and lungs, but despite the cold, he reveled in the clean scent of freshly fallen snow, of firs and woodsmoke.

She rose and walked towards him. “You should be resting.”

“It is the case of the pot and kettle brangling with each other,” he said.

“I do not brangle.” Her eyes crinkled. “And I was not injured.”

“You were attacked, the same as I.” His voice was too forceful, and he took a breath before continuing. “It frightened me.”

A whisper of emotion passed over her face. It reminded him of a child pressing her nose to the glass of a candy shop. Then it was gone, and she was the same calm, dependable Miranda.

“Come sit.” She pointed to the bench. “I have swept the snow from it.”

She walked beside him as he made his way to the edge of the flagstones. “Miranda,” he said in a low voice, “you should not be sitting alone. It is not safe—those men were focused upon you.”

She said nothing. She dipped her head so he could not see her face beyond the edge of her bonnet.

“Miranda, you cannot avoid this discussion.”

Still she said nothing.

He sighed. “I will bring up the other topic of conversation you wish to avoid if you do not speak.”

“Oh for goodness' sake.” She looked at him then, her cheeks pink.

It made him want to kiss her again.

However, he missed his chance, because she looked away again, hiding behind the edge of her bonnet. “Everyone is gossiping about the attack. I have been circumspect in what I have said about it, although I am not certain whether that is the wisest course.”

Gerard remembered the tense conversation with Cecil, Mr. Belmoore, and his father. “It is. No one knows that the men specifically wanted you except for myself and, er …”

“That man who helped me? Who was he?”

“It was my cousin, Michael. Did you never meet him?”

“Perhaps when we were children, but not in the past several years. You said that you had sent for someone to help us—it was Michael?”

“Yes. I had gone to the skating party in hopes that the men would attack me. Michael was lying in wait to ambush them.”

“Ah.” She nodded. “That was a good plan.”

“It was? It didn’t work.”

“It was still a good plan.”

In the midst of the distant snowball fight, Ellie caught sight of her and Gerard and waved.

Miranda waved back. “I cannot avoid the children, but I did not wish to be near them, in case …”

They had nearly reached the bench, but he stepped on a patch of ice and his foot slid out sideways, catching her ankle. The sudden pressure on the opposite crutch sent it skidding in the other direction. He had a view of wildly spinning sky, and then the hard smack of the stones beneath his back, the clatter of his falling crutches. Miranda also gave a little squeak and fell with him, her cloak and skirts tangled around his foot.

“Miranda, are you—”

She burst into laughter.

In the sound of her laugh, his crutches, the symbol of his weakness and the root of his bitterness, lost some of their evil. In the sound of her laugh, he was not a cripple, but a man lying tangled in the skirts of a beautiful woman on a beautiful winter day.

Hang her relations, who might see them from the windows of the house behind them. He wanted to cup her face and kiss her senseless.

He had fallen in love with her.

He might have fallen in love with her the moment she stepped into his family's coach. He remembered the rush when he'd seen her, the notion that she was linked to him. He had known her for most of his life, but he had fallen in love with her this past week as he had seen how she fit with him, like a key in a lock.

Her laughter had died to gasping breaths. “Come, Gerard, the ground is too cold.”

Her words were too mundane for what he was feeling. And yet what could he say? Confess his love? Propose to her? He’d sound like a madman.

He was so much less than he had been. He was still uncomfortable with the thought of offering himself to any woman, but especially Miranda. He knew that she would accept him, she would willingly shoulder the burden of his care.

He did not wish to do that to her, to be yet another person who needed something from her.

They sat on the bench, and despite the pain in his leg, his body felt so much more alive than it had in months. Miranda had done this to him. Love had done this to him.

“Miranda—”

“Miranda!” The governess hurried toward her. “Paul is quite upset because Sally is wearing his mittens rather than her own. Would you fetch hers from the nursery and put Paul’s mittens away?” She gave Miranda a set of blue mittens.

“Of course. If you’ll excuse me, Gerard?” And then Miranda was gone, leaving only a whiff of lavender and lemon behind her.

Gerard sat there feeling nonplussed. What had he been about to say to her? What could he say? He was being a complete lackwit.

Well, that was nothing unusual.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 13b

Buy The Spinster's Christmas:

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