Friday, August 28, 2015

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

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

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

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Monday, August 24, 2015

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 12d

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 12d

Gerard swung his crutch and caught the man in the leg. He stumbled and dropped Miranda, who landed hard on the ground.

At that moment, the second man ran toward him. Gerard caught the dull gleam of the knife blade just in time to jerk backward. He quickly shifted his grip on the other crutch so that the wood was braced against his forearm and blocked the man’s next swing with the knife.

Where was the other jaw of his trap—where was Michael?

But Gerard had no opportunity to look around as the knife stabbed toward him. He threaded the blade through the crutch and twisted. The knife flicked through the air, and the man looked at his empty hand in disbelief. Gerard slammed the other crutch into the man’s nose, and he howled and jumped backwards.

Gerard looked up in time to see Miranda shove her fingers into the first man’s eyes, and he cried out, releasing his grip on her. She shoved at the sack still over her head.

At that moment, a third man moved from behind a tree and grabbed Miranda’s attacker from behind. It was Michael.

“Miranda, run!” Gerard said.

She pulled the sack from her head and ran back towards the lake.

But Gerard’s attacker lunged to follow her. Gerard tripped him with his crutch, but the man’s leg pulled at it. Gerard staggered and pain stabbed through his knee. He fell to the ground with the other man, who kicked at him, but Gerard rolled out of the way.

Miranda’s attacker pulled out a knife and slashed at Michael, who released him and leaped back. Then the attacker ran back into the woods.

The man on the ground with Gerard also jumped to his feet and followed his compatriot.

Michael ran after them.

Gerard shoved himself to his feet. His knee throbbed once, so painfully that his vision clouded briefly, then receded to a spiking ache. He reached out and grabbed one of his crutches from the ground, then hurried after them.

It was easier for him to maneuver through the narrow deer trails with only one crutch, but he did not move quickly enough. He could see movement ahead of him through the trees, and he followed the shadow.

But when he rounded a tree, he lost sight of the shadow. He stopped, his eyes scanning the dimness. No movement. A bird called feebly, as if reluctant to break the silent vanguard of old oaks. A scurrying to his right, but it sounded like a mouse.

Then, ahead of him, a shadow detached itself from behind a tree and approached him.

Gerard exhaled. “Lost them?”

“Sorry, old chap.”

“You’re a poor bodyguard, Cousin. I wondered if you’d received my message.”

Gerard’s cousin, Lieutenant Michael Coulton-Jones, wore a thoroughly disreputable costume in motley shades of dirt, slime, and moss on his worn clothes. Mud almost hid the grin across his handsome face. “I hid in a tree where I could see all the paths someone was likely to take in order to sneak up behind you on that bench, just as you told me to do. It is hardly my fault that I was thwarted by a dozen children creating a fort under the tree where I was hiding.”

“Paul and his company, I suspect.”

“Yes, the one giving orders was named Paul. I couldn’t drop down and scare them half to death, and they were making such a rumpus that I suspect your attackers chose a more circuitous route on their way to relieve you of your life.”

“Trapped by a gaggle of children? Embarrassing, Michael.” Gerard sobered. “Did the children see the attackers? Did they harm them?”

“All the children left but Paul, who left a few minutes later. Then I heard a woman scream.”

“That must have been Miranda. Michael, they were after her, not me.”

“That sheds a different light upon it.”

Behind them, someone called Gerard’s name.

“I’ll find you later,” Michael said.

“I hope you find different clothing. You look like something the hunting dogs vomited up.”

Michael drew himself to his full height, which made his hideous clothes rain dirt upon the ground. “I’ll have you know that I was perfectly concealed in the tree while wearing these clothes.”

“I’m surprised the children didn’t smell your presence.”

The corner of Michael’s mouth curled up. Then in the blink of an eye he was gone, disappearing behind the tree.

In the next moment, Gerard heard a soft tread behind him. He turned to see Mr. Drydale running toward him, appearing from behind a clump of trees.

“Gerard, are you harmed? Miranda said two men attacked you both.”

“They ran. I was following, but I lost them.”

“Were you speaking to someone?” Mr. Drydale’s dark eyes regarded the tree, although his face was impassive.

“I spoke with a tenant who happened to be in the woods. Er … I promised him I would not mention to Sir Cecil about his presence in an area popular with poachers.”

Mr. Drydale’s eyebrows rose. “I see. Did he see them?”

“He saw movement, but thought it was a deer. I am afraid they are out of our reach by now, sir.”

Mr. Drydale accompanied Gerard to retrieve his other crutch and they returned to the lake together. Almost all the women and children had already gone back to the house with the servants and supplies, leaving only several of the menfolk, Lady Wynwood, Miranda, and Paul. Upon hearing about the attack and being assured that Gerard was unharmed, they all returned to the house in their carriages.

He rode with Mr. Drydale and Lady Wynwood, whose carriage was one of the last to reach the hall. Gerard’s father and mother met him at the door to the house. He forestalled them by telling them, “I am well.”

“Oh, Gerard, if only we had not left the lake so early,” his mother moaned.

“How’s the leg?” his father asked.

It had been feeling as though a hammer had been attempting to pound its way in, but he said, “No worse than before. I must change out of my wet things.”

After Maddox had helped him into a dressing gown and left him seated before the fire, he was surprised by a knock at the door. Cecil, Mr. Belmoore, and Gerard’s father were there.

His father and Mr. Belmoore seated themselves, but Cecil stood before the fireplace. His father’s unhappy expression made Gerard tense.

“My boy, what a terrible thing to have happened,” Mr. Belmoore said.

“I will find these men, I assure you,” Gerard said. He hadn’t the faintest idea what he would do, but surely sheer determination should count for something.

“We are concerned about you,” Mr. Belmoore said.

“I am perfectly—”

“We are concerned about what you may have done to cause someone to want to harm you,” Cecil said sharply.

“Cecil!” Mr. Belmoore said. “Good God, he’s just been attacked.”

“For the second time,” Cecil retorted. “Are those two men connected to that vagrant woman in the woods? Why are they after Gerard and Miranda? We are all thinking it, even if none of us speaks of it to the rest of the household.”

Gerard should have been expecting this. His mother had mentioned something like this only a few days before. But he felt like a statue in an ice-covered garden. He had difficulty breathing. “I have done nothing of which I am ashamed. Nothing which would shame you or the family.”

“I have no doubt of it.” However, his father would not meet his eyes.

No, he was not a statue. He was a block of ice that had been shattered into razor-sharp shards.

He would not stand for this. He had faults enough, but he had never been dishonourable. How could they suspect that he’d been involved in anything that would draw such danger and unsavoury characters to the Belmoore family home? The frustration made him shoot to his feet and limp to the fireplace. His knee was a ball of heat and pain, but his emotions were an ice storm.

“Gerard, you must sit,” his father said.

Gerard ignored him. He would not tell them that the men had been after Miranda, for what would Cecil do to her then? Instead, Gerard would find these men and make them tell him why they were doing this. He would prove himself and Miranda innocent.

But he also knew that his relationship with the Belmoores had changed. He stared into the fire and felt as though something inside of him had withered and died.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 13a

Buy The Spinster's Christmas:

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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 12c

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 12c

As the morning wore on, others from the party came to sit with him. At one point, Miss Church-Pratton chatted incessantly with him for half an hour. Miranda was speaking to Mrs. Peterson, the rector’s wife, but Gerard finally managed to catch her eye. She smiled at him, and within a few minutes, Lady Wynwood joined him again. This time, Miss Church-Pratton remained only a minute before leaving.

“You are fortunate,” Lady Wynwood said. “Sir Horace has become a rival for Miss Church-Pratton’s hand.”

“I am certain I can withstand the disappointment. Who is the gentleman?”

She nodded to an elderly man who had joined Mr. Sol Drydale near one of the fires next to the lake. “He is a relative of Mrs. Barnes, and indecently wealthy. However, I assure you that you are much more handsome.”

“The curse of a pretty face. Shall I have Mr. Drydale plant me a facer to break my nose?”

I can do that for you.” She grinned at him. “I am out of sorts with Sol. He mentioned to me that Sir Horace is a fine judge of horseflesh, so when I was introduced to him, I asked him about his stable. Did you know that he has fifty-nine horses?”

“That is a great many.”

“Yes, especially when Sir Horace proceeded to recite the lineage of each and every one of them.”

He laughed.

Lady Wynwood turned toward the lake before them. “What a lovely view you have here. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork, indeed.”

“I would not have expected the woman who speaks of muslin enhancements at a ball to be so well-versed in Scripture.”

“Fashion foibles and a vulgar sense of humor do not preclude a sense of the spiritual. I do not find muslin enhancements unholy.”

“Yes, ma’am, I see that.”

“Do you? We are none of us saints, Gerard.” Her light brown eyes had turned golden in the sunlight. She absently touched the narrow streak of silver at her temple, barely visible against the blond hair mostly hidden by her bonnet. It appeared she did not notice she was doing it. “We would do well to always remember that, lest we become self-righteous and hypocritical. But by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are forgiven our sins, such as they are.”

He felt suddenly as though he were on holy ground. Her words touched something in his soul that he did not quite understand. “None of us like to dwell on our sins, I think.”

“Of course not, but I have come to appreciate a good confessional prayer. It is like giving my heart a good scrubbing. When I am here at Wintrell Hall, I pray in the chapel nearly every midday.”

“I did not know that. Did you always do so?”

Her gaze became distant and burdened. “No. Only in the past ten years or so.”

Down by the shore, Mrs. Hathaway waved frantically to them.

“Oh, there’s Augusta waving to us to return. Gerard, I nearly forgot to mention that your mother had a message for you. She and your father left earlier and I am to take you back to the house in my carriage. Shall I assist you?”

His knee would pain him when he stood, and he had no wish to be helped anywhere. “No, I shall follow in a moment.”

“Very well. Don’t dawdle.” But before she moved away, she said, “I am still speaking to your mother about Miranda. I believe she may be having a change of heart, although I am not yet certain.”

He bowed as she left. The children had been called in from the ice and the party were all heading back to the house. Automatically, as he used to do when they were children, he began to count the heads of the young ones. Twenty-seven. Hadn’t there been twenty-eight in total? How many children had arrived at the lake? Perhaps one of them had remained at the house, or returned earlier.

Gerard grasped his crutches and heaved himself up. Because he had been sitting for so long, his knee immediately responded with the pain of a thousand knife blades stabbing into it. He gritted his teeth and bowed his head, waiting for the wave to pass.

He caught Miranda’s eye and signalled to her. As she approached, he asked, “How many children came to the lake?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“A moment ago, I counted only twenty-seven.”

She immediately frowned and stared down at the children, her lips moving silently. “You are correct. It is easier to count from this vantage point.”

“Who is missing?”

“I do not see Paul, do you?”

He scanned the heads. Paul had been wearing a bright maroon cap. “No, I do not see him.”

“I think I know where he is. He and the others made a snow fort in the woods earlier this morning.” She gestured behind him, toward the tree line.

Alarm shot through him. “I will come with you.”

She glanced at him suspiciously, but only said, “Come along, then.” She tramped into the woods.

Although he had to hurry to catch up to her, he found it a relief that she did not try to argue with him or treat him differently because of his injury. But this was Miranda, and she never responded in the way one might expect.

Then, when they were deep enough into the woods to have lost sight of the lake, they were attacked.

The men came from a different direction than the one he had been anticipating. Miranda was only two feet in front of him when one of the same men from the garden suddenly rushed at her, throwing a sack over her head. She shrieked but her voice was muffled by fabric caught in her mouth. The man tossed her over his shoulder.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 12d

Buy The Spinster's Christmas:

Ebook:
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

PULP DEN: Gone Missing

New review of Gone Missing by Tom from Pulp Den! Thanks a bunch, Tom!

PULP DEN: Gone Missing: As a skip tracer in training, Joslyn Dimalanta knows she has the skills to track down her missing friend. As long as her friend's sta...

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 12b

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 12b

The coach jostled over the rough road, but the ride was not long and when they emerged, the sun had also emerged from the clouds to shine brightly upon the ice of the lake. Thick forest surrounded them on all sides, making the lake seem more isolated.

Servants had gone before them, bringing skates and the two sleds that could be pushed about on the ice. They had also created fires near which people might warm themselves, and were heating cider and chocolate.

He was surprised to find Miranda not yet at the lake, especially because many of the children had come in the first coaches and were now darting about on the ice. He did not see Ellie, either.

Gerard managed to maneuver carefully on the icy ground to one of the stone benches that had been built on the upward slope on the north end. He scanned the forest beyond, but saw no movement. Well, it would hardly do to have the trap he’d set be obvious, would it?

He had just dropped to the bench, his leg trembling, when another coach arrived and Ellie shot out of it, heading directly for the skaters.

“Ellie!” Miranda had emerged, but then she saw Lady Wynwood take Ellie in hand, helping her tie on her skates, and she relaxed. More children tumbled from the coach behind her, and she helped them with their skates.

In a few minutes, she had climbed up the small rise to sit beside him. “Isn’t it a lovely day? How does your knee feel?”

“Better.” He paused, then added, “I have not yet thanked you for the poultices. And the crutches.”

“Am I forgiven, then?”

“For what?”

“For not ignoring the extent of your injury.”

His brow knit, then smoothed. “Is that what I have been doing?”

“It is not an unusual failing. I often refuse to acknowledge to myself how ill I actually am.” She looked out at the skaters on the lake. “I am sure there are many people who would prefer that you be here, injured, than at the bottom of the ocean.”

“Yes.” His doctor in London had warned Gerard of the possibility that he would never walk without a cane. But even though he knew he should be grateful, he only felt …

“I know you feel shackled,” she said.

His throat tightened, and he couldn’t speak.

“I understand the feeling of being trapped,” she added. “But I have to believe that it will not last forever.”

“Do you feel trapped in Cecil’s house?”

She sighed. “Not trapped. I am grateful that he took me in, but …”

“Yes. But.” He understood that feeling.

“I feel sometimes as though I am aboard a ship,” she said.

“Do you?”

“We are all together in the nursery wing. I do not have days off, so I must take advantage of any time I can spend by myself.”

“Miranda, even servants have days off.”

“I am a servant who is not a servant.”

He reflected on that. On board, it had been difficult to find time to him self, but they had not been on duty all the time. “Things will be better when you come to stay with us,” he said.

But as soon as he said it, he realized he could not say with certainty that he could convince his mother. He knew Lady Wynwood had also been attempting to sway her, but after the attack in the garden, his mother had intimated that since Miranda had been there for both attacks, she could not allow her to accompany Ellie. He understood her concern, but was no closer to uncovering the truth. Had the two attacks been connected?

“Would someone wish to harm you?” he asked her.

She blinked several times before adjusting to the sudden change in topic. “I … I can’t think of anyone who would wish to do so. And I have been here with Cecil’s family for almost two years, but no one has attempted to hurt me before. There have been no mysterious accidents, such as those in gothic novels.”

He had to smile at her comparison. “No evil uncle attempting to force you into marriage?”

She laughed, and the sound rang out in the stillness of the woods behind them, mingling with the laughter from the group on the pond. Ellie, skating with Paul, turned at the sound, saw her, and waved.

Miranda waved back, then pulled her cloak more tightly around her. “I am glad the weather turned cold enough for the skating party. Ellie was quite looking forward to today.”

It was then that he noticed her neck was bare. “Where is your scarf?” He remembered the grey one she’d worn during the greenery hunting party, which she’d used to staunch the blood on Ellie’s forehead.

“It was too stained.”

“Have you no other? Here.” He unwound the red and black scarf from his neck and draped it around hers.

“I cannot take your scarf.”

“Maddox, like a mother hen, gave me two.” He pulled back the edge of his cloak to show the other scarf wound underneath. He then proceeded to tie it under her chin.

She had become still, as if she had stopped breathing, although she did not look at him. He was close enough to her to smell lavender and a hint of lemon. He might have taken longer than necessary to fasten the scarf, but he was reluctant to draw away from her.

He felt both rested and vibrantly alive when he touched her, even with the bulky scarf between them. It reminded him of the night of the Christmas ball, and the kiss they’d shared.

He wanted to kiss her again.

Last night, when she’d asked him if he loved her, for one glorious moment, he had considered saying yes. It had been completely mad but completely wonderful.

But then reason had intruded. Of course he could not have come to love Miranda in only a few days. He had known her since they were children, and he was fond of her, that was the extent of it. His emotions—frustration, anger, bitterness, restlessness, sadness, and a hundred others he couldn’t define—felt like the tangled silks in his mother’s workbag. He had no room for romantic love.

“There,” he said finally, and sat back.

“Thank you, Gerard.”

He reminded himself of the reason he had attended the skating party, the reason he had positioned himself here at the most remote end of the lake.

As bait.

“Oh, goodness,” she said. Paul had gotten into a squabble with Sally down on the lake. “I beg your pardon, Gerard, but I must separate them. They already had a frightful row earlier this morning.” She hurried away, and he suddenly felt a little colder.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 12c

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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 12a

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.

***

December 28th

The next morning, as Gerard lounged in bed wearing a banyan, Maddox asked in long-suffering accents, “Will you attend the skating party today, sir?”

He hesitated before answering. He had no wish to be cooped up, but he also had no wish to sit on the sidelines with the women, or worse, to be shoved about on the ice in a sled like an old man. It was also a jostling carriage ride to the particular lake that had frozen over enough for skating.

There was a knock at the door, and Maddox had no sooner opened it than Miranda's voice asked, “Is he giving you a bear garden jaw, Maddox? Or is he pouting and refusing to stir?”

“Neither, you heartless wench,” Gerard shouted to the open door.

“I have another poultice,” came the disembodied voice.

“I'll not have you freezing off my leg.”

“This one is warm.”

Gerard glowered at the doorway, then nodded to Maddox. The valet was not able to suppress a shudder as he took a cloth bag from Miranda. He bore it well ahead of himself, and Gerard understood why as he neared the bed. The cloth held a lump of steaming mash that smelled like boiled turnips and a mix of pungent herbs.

“That smells even worse than the ones before,” Gerard said.

The voice came from the doorway. “You would do well to be civil, Captain Foremont, lest Maddox accidentally spill that upon your person, allowing you to enjoy the aroma even longer.”

The corner of Maddox’s lips twitched, but his face remained impassive. “If you would, sir?”

Gerard pulled up his pantaloon leg and removed his stocking. However, as Maddox laid the mash on his knee, Gerard caught Miranda peeking into the bedroom. “Miranda!”

But she was extraordinarily unmoved by the sight of his bare limb. “Move it more over the leg muscle, Maddox,” she said. Somehow her undisturbed countenance soothed him. Perhaps it was simply the lack of fussing that he appreciated.

Suddenly there was movement at the doorway and Miranda’s head disappeared. He heard his mother’s voice, “Miranda, what are you—oh good gracious!” His mother halted in the open doorway, looking first at Gerard on his bed and Miranda just outside the room.

Gerard froze. Even with his valet here, this was highly irregular.

His mother saw the poultice, still steaming, then exhaled audibly. She swept into the room and promptly sat on the chair on the other side of Gerard's bed. “Pray continue, Maddox.”

Maddox finished wrapping the disgusting mash around Gerard’s knee. The strong scent burned his nose hairs, but he admitted the aches lessened considerably.

“Good Lord, that smells like a rat died on your leg,” his mother said.

“Thank you, madam,” he said.

“So, Gerard,” his mother said, for all the world as if a young unmarried woman were not standing outside his bedchamber, “will you join the skating party today?”

He had not intended to subject himself to the ordeal, but something in her expression made him wonder if he ought to do so. And he had a sudden idea as to how he might use the skating party to enact a plan that had been rattling about in his head for the past two days. “Had you intended to go?” he asked her.

“I shall not skate, but I will sit with you if you desire. You could also ride in a sled. Cecil will be bringing two of them, I believe.”

“Mrs. Foremont, you should ride in the sled with Mr. Foremont,” Miranda called from the doorway. Of course, being Miranda, she would not act as any other person and pretend that she could not hear every word.

His mother tried to ignore her. “I should be glad to sit with you, especially now that ...”

The heaviness settled on his chest. As an adult, he ought not to be a burden to his parents, to his mother in particular. Just as he had started gaining more independence, the attack had cast him back to the same situation of over a month ago.

“I’m certain Gerard will not lack for friends to sit with him. Miss Church-Pratton, perhaps?” Miranda peeked inside, and the look she gave him was completely unexceptionable, but he caught the devilish glint in those green eyes.

“Oh, this is ridiculous,” his mother said. “I refuse to converse with a doorway. Miranda, do come inside. Maddox, are you quite finished?”

“Indeed, madam.” His valet covered his leg discreetly with a towel as Miranda entered the bedroom. She was more hesitant than she had been last night with Ellie, but she sat quietly next to his mother. Maddox moved away and remained standing next to the open door.

“You should not curtail your amusement, Mrs. Foremont,” Miranda said. “As we know, Gerard becomes insufferable when his every whim is being fulfilled. We should not contribute to the dissolution of his moral character.”

He burst into laughter.

His mother blinked at him, then glanced uncertainly at Miranda.

“There you have it, Mother,” he said. “My immortal soul may be at risk.”

“Do not be irreverent, Gerard,” his mother scolded.

“I shall sit with him, ma’am,” Miranda said. “Surely you would rather spend time with your husband than your ill-tempered son. I am willing to sacrifice my head so no one else need do so.”

His mother hesitated, but then she suddenly smiled. She was more relaxed with him than she had been in a long time. “Gerard, I beg you not to bite Miranda's head off.”

“I will be on my best behaviour, I promise.”

Miranda rose. “Maddox, please wait a few minutes more before removing the poultice. Then you may convey your tyrannical master to the coach.”

“I am not a tyrant,” Gerard said.

“Gerard, don’t be ridiculous. Of course you are.”

He scowled at her.

She smiled, gave an elegant curtsey to him and his mother, and left the room.

His mother left soon afterwards. As Maddox helped him to dress, Gerard was forced to concede that his knee felt a great deal better. After giving the valet a message to send, Gerard made his way, on the crutches, to his parents’ coach, which would convey them to the lake. He was relieved to find his parents as his only companions, although it was because the cursed crutches were like another passenger inside.

***

Next blog post: Chapter 12b

Buy The Spinster's Christmas:

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