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.
At first, Miranda was too startled and too distraught to think. She could only feel. The fine wool of his coat against her cheek, his hand at her waist, the other at her back, pressing her close. The smell of mint, and somehow, the wildness of the sea.
A sudden burst of women’s laughter from the open door to the ballroom down the hallway made them both jump apart. And yet even out of his embrace, Miranda still felt … anchored.
She couldn’t look at him. He would see her pain, scraped raw by too many months in this house, and her desperation as she tried to snatch at the unraveling threads of who she was.
“What is it, Miranda?”
She simply shook her head.
The music from the ballroom drifted to them, lilting strains in counterpoint to laughter and gaiety. She felt more detached from life than she ever had before, standing here in the hallway while her family and neighbors danced and enjoyed themselves. Even if she were not unhappy, that sort of society was not hers. She was too different to ever belong.
Gerard picked up his cane, seized her hand, and pulled her down the hallway, away from the ballroom.
“What are you doing?” she hissed.
“Neither of us wishes to be anywhere near that.” He tilted his head back towards the open doorway, and she heard the bitter edge in his voice. When she had seen him in the ballroom earlier, he had clearly been annoyed by his two female companions, but his gaze had also strayed to the dancers. Even at fourteen years old, he had loved romping around the dance floor with the Belmoore cousins. She knew that sitting with Miss Church-Pratton and Miss Barnes had been difficult for him in more ways than one.
So she let him drag her down the hallway to the servants’ stairs at the back. They exited from the side door and skirted the house to the formal gardens.
The night sky was dark with the new moon, but Felicity had arranged for lanterns and torches to light the gardens, perhaps to dissuade guests from scandalous behaviour by attempting to illuminate any dark corners. She needn’t have worried because the air was too sharp for any to venture from the overheated ballroom.
Gerard led her next to a bright torch burning in a stand at the edge of the garden, so that the warmth from the fire kept them from shivering in the cold air. Above them and to their left came the sounds from the ballroom, but directly above them and to their right, all was darkness and quiet on the long, deserted balcony.
“It is too cold, Gerard.” Then she wished she hadn’t spoken because he removed his tailcoat, which sat loosely upon his shoulders, and draped it around her. It held his warmth and his scent, and she felt he was embracing her again.
“You mustn’t.” She was both scandalized and intrigued to see him in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves.
“After years at sea, the cold does not affect me as it once did.” Indeed, he wasn’t even shivering. “Do you remember that Christmas I found you alone in the woods? I gave you my coat then, also.”
“And then, as now, I had wanted to be alone,” she said with a hint of steel.
“You said you wished to be alone, but then you confessed that Cecil had called you a lackwit, and so I darkened his daylights for him.”
“Of course you would remember that.” Eight-year-old Gerard had been grinning and Cecil had been crying as they tussled on the front lawn.
“Whose daylights shall I darken for you now? Felicity’s?”
“Oh Gerard, do not speak nonsense.”
“What did she say to you?”
“It is silly.” She swallowed. “She was embarrassed by my dress. And my necklace. She expressed herself better than I expected—she said that she had not realized I had no appropriate attire this year for the ball or she would have given me one of her old gowns, but it was too late now. She didn’t wish me to return to the ballroom because one or two of the local women had been whispering about me.”
“How dared she?” The cold would certainly not bother him now—he was on fire with indignation. “You are her responsibility.”
“I was hurt because I quite like my gown,” Miranda said. “It is my favourite.”
There was a pause, then he suddenly gave a reluctant low laugh. “Miranda, you always know what to say to diffuse my temper.”
“Not always. You still engaged in fisticuffs with Cecil.”
“I don’t like the way they treat you.”
A part of her was comforted by his words, but another part of her was frustrated by him, because she didn’t understand why he was acting like this. “Why would you care how they treat me?”
He was surprised by her question. “Because it is all so unjust.”
“There is a great deal of injustice in this world, Gerard.”
“I cannot stand by and do nothing.” He flinched, as if remembering something, then added, “At dinner, I should have … If I had been …”
“Gerard, you feel guilt for things which have nothing to do with you.” It was making it more difficult for her to distance her feelings from him. She removed his coat to hand it to him, and the cold sliced through her gown. “You must return.”
He shrugged it back on with her help, but then he took her hand. Even through their gloves, she felt his warmth.
“I feel as though I am still at sea and need a war to fight,” he said.
“You are already helping me. I shall leave Wintrell Hall with you and your parents, and then I shall go to Cousin Laura’s home.” She did not tell him that she would try to find a position. She did not wish to be dependent even upon Cousin Laura. “I am not your war, Gerard.”
“I know that, but …” His fingertips touched her face. In the light from the torch, he looked confused.
She didn’t want him to be confused, because it only made her feel more confused. She closed her eyes and turned her cheek away. “Gerard—”
He took her chin, angling it back toward him, and then he was kissing her.
Next blog post: Chapter 9b
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