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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 3a and more...

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 3a

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 3a

For the better part of the last ten minutes, Gerard had been staring up Cecil’s hairy nostril. It was most unpleasant, but Cecil had kept his nose upturned during their entire discussion here in the library, which had taken place directly after dinner. Gerard wondered that Cecil didn’t get a crick in his neck from looking down at all the world. Or perhaps Cecil simply had extraordinarily large nostrils.

“I assure you it is no hardship for Eleanor to continue her stay here,” Sir Cecil said, playing with a pretentiously large silver paperweight upon his desk. “She is firmly fixed in our home. Indeed, the entire neighborhood is aware of it and approves.”

Ah, now Gerard understood. Cecil would never admit it, but he did not want it known that he had “cast out“ a little girl dependent upon him, especially because he obviously had the means to continue to keep her. It might reflect poorly upon his reputation, which was not otherwise known for its generosity.

“Surely you would not object to such a small sacrifice on your part for my mother’s health and happiness?” Gerard asked.

Cecil blinked rapidly, unable to think of a suitable response.

Gerard’s father turned to Mr. Belmoore, Ellie’s grandfather, who sat in an overstuffed chair. “Mary has always loved children, and they love her. She has always wanted a girl.”

“In addition to her most excellent son,” Gerard added with a grin. Mr. Belmoore returned it, but Cecil sniffed.

“We have the added advantage of more children Ellie’s age in our neighborhood than there are around Wintrell Hall,” Gerard’s father said.

Seeing Cecil’s brows draw low, Gerard added, “I assure you they are all of good family.”

Cecil said nothing, obviously thinking better of calling the statement into question because it would be insulting to Gerard’s father.

“Cecil, you recall I expressed some concern on that head a few months ago,” Mr. Belmoore said to his nephew. “John is perfectly right. Ellie would have more playmates if she were to go with him. She has been lonely and of low spirits since her mother died.” Mr. Belmoore reached over to clap Gerard on the shoulder. “My only real concern, dear boy, is your health.”

“I’m strong as an ox. Don’t let the cane fool you. Come, I’ll wrestle you, and you’ll see.”

Mr. Belmoore laughed. “I don’t doubt your enthusiasm, but I simply wish to be assured that you are recovered enough to have a lively young girl underfoot.”

“I have improved considerably, or I would not have put forward this scheme.”

“Are you … completely recovered?” Mr. Belmoore asked.

Gerard knew what he was asking. “The doctor tells me that I shall walk with this cane for many months yet, perhaps years. But a full recovery is entirely within my grasp.”

“Years?” Cecil said. “And what manner of accidents may befall a child? That cane is downright dangerous.”

“I hardly intend to bat at her like a cricket pitch,” Gerard protested.

“No one is accusing you of anything of the sort,” Mr. Belmoore said, “but Gerard, I speak from experience when I say that a young girl Ellie’s age can be dangerously unpredictable, especially for a man with difficulties getting about.” He took his walking stick from where it leaned against his chair and tapped his left foot. “My gout has its good and bad days, but after Edmund died in action and Beth and Ellie came to stay with me, I had any number of accidents. Ellie likes to run, and will often run into things like legs, even when she does not intend to do so.”

Yes, Gerard had seen Ellie running about earlier this evening before their dinner in the nursery, darting here and there. She and the other children had not sat down to behave themselves until Miranda had arrived in the room half an hour later, restoring order.

But he disliked the caution in Mr. Belmoore’s tone. Gerard was a sailor who had fought, and he’d had enough of being treated like a porcelain figurine or a gouty old man. “I assure you, sir, I will have no difficulties with Ellie. I quite look forward to playing with her.” The memory of the nursery also reminded him of his promise to Miranda, and he turned to his father. “Sir, I have not had opportunity to speak to you of this, but I thought we might take Miranda with us, if only for a few months, to assist Mother with Ellie.”

His father looked thoughtful. “That may be a good plan, although you will need to persuade your mother. And obtain Cecil’s permission, naturally.” He inclined his head toward Cecil.

Cecil frowned. “It matters not to me what happens to Miranda.”

His tone made Gerard’s teeth grind together.

Cecil continued, “However, Felicity had hoped to send the girl to her cousin’s home after Twelfth Night. They have lost yet another nursery-maid.”

Gerard had expected Cecil to object to losing his unpaid servant, but this unexpected need of his wife’s close relation would perhaps take precedence over Gerard’s family.

“Cecil, you must order your household as you think best,” Mr. Belmoore said. “As for Ellie, I have decided she will go to the Foremonts at the end of the Christmas celebrations.”

“Thank you, sir.” As Gerard shook Mr. Belmoore’s hand, he determined to spend every moment that he could playing with Ellie within sight of her grandfather, to show him that his injury was not affected in the slightest by having a child about. Regardless, he would need Ellie to become accustomed to him. She had been shy when he’d introduced himself in the nursery earlier.

He desperately hoped that having Ellie’s company would improve his mother’s temperament, which was wearing on both himself and his father. He had brought such difficulties to them because of his injury, and he only wanted to make his mother happy again.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 3b

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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 2b

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 2b

“The children are eating dinner at the moment,” she said. “Perhaps if you visited them later tonight?”

“When have I ever stood on ceremony with the brats? I’ll pop in to say hello, wrestle a few of them to the ground, and make them cast up their accounts.” He grinned. “I shall see you at dinner, then.”

She considered giving a noncommittal answer because she knew the unvarnished truth would upset him again, but he would know the truth eventually. “I will not be downstairs. I am having dinner in the nursery.”

He had been about to head toward the nursery but he stopped. His cane halted in midair for a split second before it snapped down on the floor again. “Why would you do that?”

She bit her tongue so that she would not say the first thing that came to mind, namely, Felicity is exercising her ability to count heads at table.

However, the expression on her face must have given her away, because he said incredulously, “Felicity has barred you from the dining room?”

“Nothing quite so barbaric. You know how fanatically she values order and appearances. She does not wish an odd number of guests at table tonight.”

Gerard’s face grew thunderous. “That is outside of enough.”

“Gerard, I shall not be missed in the least.” While she knew it was true, saying it out loud seemed to hammer it into her chest with a hollow blow. No one would notice her absence, and indeed, some members of the party would even welcome it.

Her words seemed to have shocked him. Finally he sputtered, “Of course you will be missed. We all grew up together. It would not be the same without you there.” He checked himself, then added, “You and everyone else, of course.”

The spark of warmth that had involuntarily risen at his words was doused by the splash of reality. Gerard had never looked at her as other than a friend, and surely by now, after years apart, she had outgrown her childish infatuation with him. She gave him a rueful smile to hide her feelings. “Gerard, when have you known me to speak more than a dozen words at table? No one will pine for my brilliant conversational bon mots.”

A flicker of a smile on his face. “I want it all to be as it was the year before I went to sea. I have looked forward to Christmas in England these many years past.”

There was an echo of longing in his voice, and she could imagine what his Christmases had been like on his ship, far from home and family.

“I shall speak to Felicity,” he said.

“Pray do not,” she said fervently.

“She is treating you like a servant.”

“Because we have never gotten along and she is resentful that Cecil was forced to take me in. If you insist I sit at dinner, she will do something else.”

“It is not right, Miranda.”

“There is nothing you can …” An idea suddenly formed in her mind, vague like the sun straining to shine through mist over the fields, but slowly gaining strength. And hope.

“Miranda?” he asked.

“Do you wish to help me?”

“Of course. Name it.”

“Will you speak to your mother on my behalf? Will you ask if she will consent to allow me to travel to Foremont Court with Ellie after Twelfth Night?”

He sighed. “You saw my mother’s temper in the carriage,” he said in a low voice. “She is not best pleased with me. I fear I could not sway her.”

“Please, would you try? Ellie is very attached to me. You would have no need to hire a nursery-maid.”

His dark brows drew low over his eyes. “Miranda, I will not have you treated like a poor relation at our home, as well.”

“Gerard, my situation is intolerable.” She could not bring herself to speak such disgraceful gossip about Mr. Beatty to a young man—and certainly not Gerard—but she was desperate. Even admitting her desperation to him was difficult for her, who had always had to take care of herself.

A step on the stair made them both turn to see one of the under-maids, Jean, appear at the top of the stairs. She gave Miranda and Gerard a saucy, appraising look. Jean always seemed reluctant to serve Miranda or Miss Teel, the governess, and Miranda had the impression that Jean resented their place in the household, neither fish nor fowl, as it were—neither genteel nor of the servant class.

“What is it?” Miranda said, a bit shortly.

“Lady Belmoore requires you to fetch her rose-embroidered petticoat from her room and repair it before tomorrow.”

That was a task for Felicity’s abigail. “What about Hobson?” Miranda asked.

“She has to alter some fancy gown for milady at the last minute and is too busy.”

“Very well.” Miranda nodded to Jean, but the girl lingered at the top of the stairs, regarding Gerard with obvious interest.

He cleared his throat. “Thank you, that will be all.”

Jean’s mouth pinched, but she turned to walk back down the stairs.

“I am shocked at the forwardness of Felicity’s staff,” Gerard said.

“It is only Jean, I assure you. Felicity runs a tight ship.”

He laughed. “Just so.” He hesitated, then said, “I will speak to my mother, Miranda. But I do not wish to falsely raise your hopes.”

She realized that in those short moments, she had begun to rely upon Gerard. No, that would never do. She had long ago learned that it was futile to rely on anyone else besides herself.

He suddenly reached out and grabbed her hand. Neither of them wore gloves, and she felt the callouses of his fingers, the warmth of his palm. Somehow, his touch made her feel more substantial than she usually did in this household. He knew her, he saw her, where everyone else tried to forget her. She realized she had been growing accustomed to the feeling of having lost her identity.

“I meant what I said,” Gerard said. “I am happy to see you. For me, you are part of the Christmas season.”

She smiled and turned to go downstairs to Felicity’s room while he continued toward the nursery. But his words had caused a twinge in her chest, like a harp string too harshly plucked.

His anger on her behalf had made her feel less alone, and his kindness was a balm to her spirit after two years under Felicity’s thumb. But in truth, Gerard and his family would leave after Twelfth Night, and Miranda would be sent to Felicity’s cousin’s home.

She could only rely on herself to save herself.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 3a

Order The Spinster's Christmas:

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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 2a

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 2a

“Miranda.” Felicity’s sharp, displeased voice echoed harshly from the wainscoting along the walls of the nursery wing’s corridor.

Miranda stopped on her way to her room and turned. Felicity stood at the head of the stairs. Waiting for her to come to her.

She headed back down the hallway. “What is it, Felicity?”

Felicity gave an impatient huff and strode to meet Miranda halfway. “For goodness’ sake, you walk as slowly as a slug.”

Miranda’s mother had complained of that, as well, but she and others among the Belmoores had equated Miranda’s slowness of foot with slowness of mind, also. Probably because in moments like these, Miranda simply said nothing. It made others uncomfortable, which was why Miranda did it.

Felicity waited, and when the silence stretched on, she blinked several times before saying, “I only needed to tell you that we won't be needing your presence at dinner tonight. We are already even at table, because there are a few guests who will be arriving tomorrow.”

Miranda kept her eyes lowered as her hands fisted in the fabric of her skirts. “Of course,” she said evenly.

“But do come to me in the drawing room after dinner. I might need you. And what do you mean by accepting a ride in Mr. Foremont’s carriage? I was ever so embarrassed that they’d seen you in that shabby gown.”

“I had thought you would want the ribbons I fetched for you a half hour sooner.”

Felicity’s lips pursed. They barely cracked open as she said, “Very well. But do try to spare a thought for my feelings. The less you are noticed, the better.”

Miranda felt as if she had been plunged into the lake. Her hands began to shake, making the fabric of her gown tremble.

“It will be better for all of us when you go to my cousin Polly’s household after Twelfth Night,” Felicity added.

“Felicity, I beg you to reconsider sending me,” Miranda said. Her hands now trembled with a darker emotion than mortification. “One of the maids has told me that there are … rumors about Mr. Beatty. The people who live near the Beattys spoke of maids who ran away from their posts.”

“Polly has always had difficulty retaining her nursery staff,” Felicity said impatiently. “It is reason I am sending you.”

“But the maid said there were some indelicate stories. Two of the maids were thought to be pregnant, and a third killed herself.”

“Miranda!” Felicity’s cheeks flamed with color. “Listening to spurious gossip—nay, repeating it!”

As an unmarried young woman, it was highly improper of Miranda to say these things, but she had to try to make Felicity see the truth and change her mind. “Villagers nearby will not allow their daughters to work at the Beatty home, no matter what the wages are. Felicity, do you not understand?”

“I understand that you are being disobliging,” Felicity snapped. “After we have taken you into our home, for you to go and serve my cousin is the least you could do.”

Miranda would be an unpaid servant in a household with a man rumored to have a penchant for forcing the maids. “Please, Felicity,” she said.

“I will hear no more of such horrid lies about my cousin’s husband,” Felicity said. “Cecil would be shocked if I were to tell him what you have said to me, you ungrateful wretch of a girl.” In an angry whirlwind of skirts, Felicity left Miranda standing alone in the nursery wing corridor.

Was she ungrateful? Were the rumors untrue? And yet her cousin’s wife should be more concerned about the possible danger to her relation, even if she was not connected by blood.

Miranda squeezed her eyes shut, all her limbs fluttering like leaves in a stiff winter wind. Life here with Felicity was difficult, but she simply could not go to the Beattys. She must find a way to save herself.

She shivered violently. She had been in the stillroom, which was pleasantly warm from the heat of the kitchen next to it. However, this wing of the house had terrible drafts, and so she went to her room to collect a shawl. She exerted herself to calm her jumbled emotions.

As she exited the room, she nearly collided with a large male figure. She had been too preoccupied even to hear his footsteps.

There was a clatter of wood upon the floor, and then warm hands clasped her shoulders. She caught a whiff of sea rushes and mint and knew without looking that it was Gerard. He had not touched her like this since they’d played together as children, and she remained perfectly still, not wanting him to release her.

“Miranda, what are you doing?” He peered at the governess’s room behind her. “Why were you in there?”

“It is where I am sleeping for the holidays, since we are full to the rafters with guests.”

“In the nursery-maid’s room?”

“No, I am sharing the governess’s room. We have no nursery-maid.”

He frowned at her as his hands dropped from her shoulders. “Surely Cecil can afford one?”

“He has no need of one while I am here.”

His face grew dark. “He ought not to treat you this way. You are his cousin.”

“I am a poor relation now, Gerard. That is how poor relations are treated.”

“Not all poor relations are treated this way.”

“Did you expect an outpouring of love from Cecil or Felicity?”

His eyes, the color of cinnamon, narrowed as they surveyed her. “Who is in your bedroom, then?”

“The nursery-maids that Aunt Augusta and Aunt Anne brought with them.”

His brows furrowed. “Maids? In your bedroom?”

It took her a moment to understand his outrage, and she quickly said, “My bedroom is not in the family wing of the house. It is there.” She pointed to the door opposite.

But it seemed to make him even more shocked and angered on her behalf. “Do you mean to say that you sleep in the nursery-maid’s room?”

“It’s closer to Ellie’s bedroom, and to the younger boys when they are home on holiday from school. I don’t mind.”

“Miranda …”

“Ellie needs me sometimes in the middle of the night. She still misses her mama—it’s been barely a year since Beth died. And I can give her the kind of attention that no stranger would give to her.” She added, “I don’t want you to become upset on my account.”

To forestall his reply, she bent to pick up his cane. He’d dropped it when he’d grabbed her to prevent her from running into him. “Here you are. Soon you will no longer need it.”

He held her gaze, and she couldn’t look away. He was aware of her attempts to change the subject, but he acquiesced. “I suppose I should be grateful I can stand without aid now, but it is still frustrating to need this.” He set the foot of the cane on the wooden floor with a sharp snap.

He would never know the agonies she had suffered, praying fervently for him each night when she had first heard about the severity of his injuries from a letter his father had sent to her uncle Edward.

“Are you here to see Ellie?” she asked.

“Yes. I can hear the noise from the nursery all the way down the staircase.”

“All the children are excited to be with their cousins again.”

“I recall we were that way, at their age.”

She had lived for the times when he had joined their large family gatherings. His father’s close friendship with her uncle Edward had enabled him nearly to grow up with her and her cousins, at least until he went to sea. He had never known how much she cared for him, how she had pined for him with girlish tears. She was a girl no longer, but she still felt remnants of that wistful longing for him, that little gasp of excitement in her chest when he looked at her.

Gerard would never know. He must never know.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 2b

Order The Spinster's Christmas:

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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 1c

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 1c

At this point, the coach turned onto the stretch of drive that led up to the front of Wintrell Hall. The trees lining the drive were bare, but snow had not yet fallen, and the lawn in front of the house was a pale ash-green color. In contrast, on the east side of the house, the bushes peeking over the top of the stone garden wall were a startling orange-brown, waving in the wind that swept down the valley and swirled around the house.

They weren’t the first to arrive, for as they passed the red brick stables, a coachman was directing the grooms and stablehands in maneuvering a massive travelling coach inside the building.

They pulled up in front of the north entrance, and the butler and a footman promptly came out to meet them. In the winter sunlight, the red brick of the house was a warm russet color, which belied the blast of cold wind that rushed into the coach when the servant opened the door. “Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Foremont, Captain Foremont,” said the butler. His grey eyebrows rose slightly at the sight of Miranda in the coach, but that was the extent of how he showed his surprise.

“Thank you, Lewis,” Mrs. Foremont said as the butler helped her alight. “Have Cecil’s sisters arrived with their families?”

“Yes, ma’am. And their husbands’ families, as well.”

Gerard’s mother gave a happy sigh. “The nursery must be full to bursting.”

“And eagerly awaiting your arrival, if I may say so, ma’am,” Lewis unbent enough to say.

Gerard gestured for Miranda to precede him out of the coach, but she shook her head violently.

“Miranda, what is going on?” he whispered to her.

Her only answer was to say in a neutral tone, “I shall pass you your cane, Captain Foremont.”

Gerard gritted his teeth at the necessity of being assisted from the coach by his father and the footman. A year ago, he would have …

Best not to think of it.

He had just taken his cane from Miranda when Felicity, Lady Belmoore, came out to greet them. “Mr. and Mrs. Foremont, you are come at last. And Gerard, you are looking well.” Her smile froze before it reached her blue eyes. “How good of you to give Miranda a lift to the house, but quite unnecessary of you.”

“Whyever not?” Gerard said with a touch of belligerence. “Miranda is hardly a scullery maid.”

“It is my fault entirely,” his father interjected. “Miranda demurred, but I insisted when I heard she was returning from an errand. We have brought her home sooner in case she should be needed.”

“So kind of you,” Felicity said. “Come inside, out of this wind. There’s tea in the drawing room.”

Miranda followed everyone into the house, but Gerard caught the disapproving look that Felicity shot toward her.

He was careful in climbing the stairs, his good leg beginning to shake with the strain from the two flights of the grand staircase. By the time he’d finally reached the drawing room with his parents and Felicity, Miranda had disappeared.

He lowered himself into a gold and white striped chair, but his leg gave out and he fell heavily into the seat, making it wobble on its delicately carved legs. He winced. Yes, Gerard, the quickest way to cultivate Cecil’s good graces is to break his furniture.

Felicity’s eyes widened slightly, but when the chair held, she relaxed.

“Gerard, I would not have thought the stairs to be so cumbersome for you,” his mother said critically.

He had been used to his commanders shouting in his face, but his mother’s impatience with his slow rate of recovery had worn through his temper like a taut length of rope being slowly shredded by friction. He was tempted to reply with some caustic remark, but held his tongue in front of Felicity.

Ever the peacemaker, his father said, “I wonder, Felicity, if we could beg your indulgence. Perhaps it would be best to give Gerard a room on this floor?”

“Oh, it would be no trouble at all,” she said.

Gerard pressed his lips together briefly before answering politely, “Thank you, I would be most appreciative.”

“If you will excuse me a moment to speak to my staff.” Felicity rose and left the drawing room.

Gerard took advantage of the moment of privacy to lean closer to his parents. “What is going on with respect to Miranda?” he demanded in a low voice.

His parents looked at each other, that uncanny way they could communicate without speaking.

“Would you rather discuss this with Felicity here?” Gerard asked.

His mother sighed. “So awkward.”

“What is?”

“Miranda’s position in this household,” she said.

“I don’t understand. She’s Cecil’s cousin.”

“Her parents died in great debt,” his father said. “Their tenant farms had been in decline for years and the house was mortgaged to the hilt. Cecil was forced to settle their obligations with the bank, and then to take Miranda into his household.”

Gerard could imagine how Cecil had felt about that. He was scrupulous with his money, to the point that he was a bit of a nip-farthing even though his wealth was substantial. It would have been painful for him to part with so much of his blunt to pay his uncle’s debts.

“Felicity was not best pleased,” his mother said. “She and Miranda have never gotten along.”

“But I don’t understand why—”

“I apologize,” Felicity said as she sailed back into the room. “It is so difficult to find good servants these days. They never seem to understand what you wish them to do. Could I pour you more tea, Mrs. Foremont?”

At that moment, the door opened again and Cecil’s aunt, Mrs. Augusta Hathaway, burst into the room. “John and Mary, I have only just heard you were arrived. How lovely to see you. And little Gerard!” She did not wait for him to struggle to his feet, but bent to kiss his cheek, enveloping him in her expensive French perfume. “You are looking so well.”

“Hardly little any longer, Mrs. Hathaway,” Gerard said.

“You will always be little to me, no matter how you grow.” Mrs. Hathaway plopped herself down upon the sofa. “You must tell me how you all have been doing. Felicity, be a dear and pour me a cup of tea. I am parched after settling the children in the nursery.”

“Oh, you must tell me how your granddaughters are,” his mother said. “I have not seen them since last Christmas.”

Gerard said little as the others talked. He was not skilled at waiting, but it seemed he must wait for an explanation of what had happened to Miranda for her to be treated so differently by her own family. It upset him. His own extended Foremont relations would not have treated a poor relation so shabbily.

His father had been good friends with Edward Belmoore, Sir Cecil’s uncle and Ellie’s grandfather, since they were schoolboys together, which was why the Foremonts were always invited to Wintrell Hall for the elaborate Christmas celebrations. He was friendly with the Belmoores, but he had sometimes disagreed with the way the family conducted themselves in their relationships with others.

He disliked the little that he understood about the goings-on here. He thought of the men who had died under his command, and the injuries he had suffered. What had they all fought for when there was still such injustice at home?

***

Next blog post: Chapter 2a

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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 1b

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 1b

“Ellie will be happy to see you, ma’am,” Miranda said to his mother. “She was asking after you all this week, wondering when you would arrive.”

The mention of the six-year-old made his mother smile. “We so enjoyed her visit in the summer. It quite lifted my spirits.”

Her joyful tone contrasted with her peevishness with her own son, and Gerard looked away. But he could not fault her. An orphaned grand-niece was surely better company than an invalid sailor.

This past summer, Ellie had been sent to visit her mother’s relations at Foremont Court. Because Gerard’s mother loved children, she’d begged Ellie’s grandfather to extend the visit to a full eight weeks. At the time, Gerard had still been in the hospital in London, recovering from the cannonball that had exploded the deck beneath his feet, driving splintered wood into his knee.

Only when Gerard had been about to return home was his mother forced to give up Ellie and let her go back to the household of Sir Cecil, her father’s cousin. Ellie’s paternal grandfather had not felt adequate to raise a young girl after her father had been killed on the Peninsula and her mother had died in childbirth only a few months later, so Ellie had been living with Cecil’s family above eight months now.

“How is Ellie?” Gerard’s mother asked Miranda.

Miranda hesitated before answering. “She was in high spirits in the weeks after she returned from your home, but since then, she has become quieter. It is difficult for her, since Cecil’s two younger boys are away at school most of the year, and only his two older daughters are at home. They are more likely to want to talk about gowns and fripperies than romp about with Ellie.”

“She has no playmates in the neighborhood?” Gerard asked.

Miranda said carefully, “Cecil is fastidious about the company his family keeps.”

Gerard frowned. Cecil apparently hadn’t changed in the years since they’d all played together. He was likely too proud to want to associate with any families of insufficiently high birth.

“Ellie enjoyed playing with our neighbors’ children. There was a veritable herd of children that galloped into our drawing room for tea and biscuits every morning,” his mother said with a laugh.

Because unlike Cecil, Gerard’s family had good relationships with all their neighbors, who had many young children below the age of ten.

“I worry that she is lonely,” Miranda said.

“You mustn’t worry,” Gerard said. “After Twelfth Night, we plan to take Ellie home with us to stay.”

He caught a flash of green as she raised her head, and her mouth fell open. “You do?”

“We should enjoy having Ellie with us ever so much,” his mother said. “The idea would never have come into our heads if we had not met Lady Wynwood in London a month ago. It was she who suggested it. She had recently spoken to her cousin Edward—Ellie’s grandfather—and he had mentioned that Ellie was feeling low.”

“Laura thought Ellie would enjoy a change of scenery,” his father said, “with the added benefit of having a girl around the house to cheer Mary up.” He patted his wife’s hand.

“It will not occupy too much of your time with Gerard to have Ellie at home?” Miranda had always been rather blunt, but the artless way she said it made it obvious that she was concerned about him.

Gerard had had enough of pity from his family and neighbors in the past few months, but somehow Miranda’s concern did not upset him. “I am well on the mend. In fact, I insisted we convince Uncle Edward to allow us to take Ellie.”

“Uncle Edward agreed to it?” Miranda asked. “Cecil’s house is but ten miles from his own.”

“And Foremont Court is merely twelve in the other direction,” his father said. “Ellie will be able to see her grandfather as often as she wishes.”

“Does Cecil know of this plan?” Miranda asked. Gerard wondered if anyone besides himself could hear the wary edge to her voice.

“Not yet,” his father said.

“I can’t imagine why he should make a fuss at having a dependent taken off his hands,” his mother said. “Cecil may be the tenth Baronet Belmoore, but Edward is Cecil’s uncle and Ellie’s grandfather.”

“And both of Ellie’s grandfathers agree,” Gerard’s father said, “for not only Edward, but also my brother have written their consent.”

“It would be better by far for Ellie to remove to your home,” Miranda agreed.

At this point, the coach turned onto the stretch of drive that led up to the front of Wintrell Hall. The trees lining the drive were bare, but snow had not yet fallen, and the lawn in front of the house was a pale ash-green color. In contrast, on the east side of the house, the bushes peeking over the top of the stone garden wall were a startling orange-brown, waving in the wind that swept down the valley and swirled around the house.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 1c

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