Friday, June 19, 2015

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 1a

Revised: I blogged the entirety of the revised version of my Regency romance, The Spinster's Christmas, but after I posted it all, I took down from my blog all but the first 3 chapters. 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 1a

December 23rd

Captain Gerard Foremont, lately of His Majesty’s Royal Navy, wasn’t certain what caused him to notice the woman walking on the road toward Wintrell Hall. When he spotted the slim figure in a dark green wool cloak, something about the tilt of her head, the cadence of her measured stride, triggered a memory.

He had been fourteen years old, about to leave home as midshipman on his uncle’s frigate and spending a last Christmas with the Belmoores, old family friends, here at Wintrell Hall. They’d been hauling mistletoe and greenery when twelve-year-old Miranda had come up to him, raising her head. As always, he was momentarily startled by her crystal-green eyes framed by dark lashes. He rarely saw her eyes because she usually kept her head lowered.

“Will you miss us, when you are at sea?” she asked.

“Of course I will,” he said as they walked toward the house.

“Christmas won’t be the same without you. You make us all laugh. Even Cecil.”

Gerard laughed at that. “Then you must learn what will make our stodgy Cecil laugh more. Come, Miranda. I want some hot punch, don’t you?”

The memory faded as his family’s coach came up on the woman in the green cloak. She raised her head to look at him, and he caught the flash of crystal green.

“Stop the coach!” he ordered. The coachman heard him and began reining in the horses.

“Whatever for?” his mother asked.

“It’s Miranda. We should offer her a lift to the house.”

Gerard’s mother and father exchanged a strange look. Then his mother said, “Have we room for her?” She didn’t quite gesture toward the stout cane propped between the seats and leaning against the corner of the coach.

Gerard’s forehead tightened, not solely from the reminder of the cane, but also in shock at his mother’s want of hospitality. “What?”

His father said to his mother, “Dear, the coach has already stopped. It would look odd if we did not offer her a ride.”

“Oh. Yes, of course,” his mother said.

Gerard automatically reached for the door handle … then remembered in time that he’d have too much difficulty climbing out.

His father pretended he hadn’t seen the gesture, and said heartily, “I’ll go out and get the girl, shall I?” He tossed aside the blankets warming his legs, opened the door and stepped outside, raising his hand to hail her. “Miranda! My dear, walking in this weather? Come inside the coach with us.”

“Thank you, Mr. Foremont,” said a low voice. However, it did not sound like the Miranda he knew. He’d only seen her a few times in the sixteen years since he’d gone to sea, and the last time had been almost three years ago, before her parents had died and she’d gone to live with her cousin, Sir Cecil Belmoore. Miranda had always been quiet, but this voice sounded … defeated.

Her figure appeared in the doorway, but he couldn’t see her face, obscured by her bonnet. His father handed her into the coach, and she looked up at Gerard.

Crystal green pierced him, and elation rushed through him, pulsing with his heartbeat. He couldn’t breathe. He wanted to reach out to touch her, to have some point of connection, and so he did, taking her hand. He squeezed her fingers. He didn’t want to release her.

She dropped into the seat across from him, her eyes lowered once again. He was forced to relinquish her hand.

He tried to speak, but found he had to clear his throat twice before he could say, “It’s good to see you again, Miranda.”

“You look well, Gerard,” she said.

“Not quite at death’s door,” he said in a light tone.

“I do wish you would stop exaggerating your injury, Gerard,” his mother said tartly.

Miranda sent her a surprised look, but Gerard had become used to his mother’s frayed temper in the past few months. She was not gifted in the sickroom, and being forced to care for her son had become wearisome for her. She loved him, he knew that, but she loved him more when he was whole and not in need of constant care.

“Miranda, my dear, why were you out today?” Gerard’s father asked. “It’s quite cold to be walking.”

“I had an errand to run for Felicity in the village,” Miranda said.

“That was kind of you,” Gerard said. However, the words she used made it sound as though the errand had been expected of her rather than as a favour to her cousin’s wife.

Sitting next to Gerard, his mother cleared her throat. His father said to Miranda, “Are you warm enough? Here, take this brick for your feet. It is still warm.”

“No, I am perfectly well.” Miranda’s voice had that same serenity that he remembered, which soothed over awkward moments and calmed crying children.

His father insisted, moving his warmed brick from beneath his feet to Miranda’s. It was then that Gerard noticed her clothes. He was not one to notice women’s clothing very often, but because of his mother’s fastidious taste, he understood the standards of dress worn by the women of his class.

However, the leather of Miranda’s half-boots was old and cracked, in worse shape than the boots in which he used to walk the fields with his father. He then noticed the frayed edge of her gown, and the faded blue of the thin wool fabric. Her cloak, too, was worn at the bottom edge and where it fastened at her throat. And compared to his mother’s bonnet, crisp straw lined with velvet, Miranda’s bonnet was limp and crushed, with her dark hair escaping in smooth strands. The ribbons tied under her chin were wrinkled and old, more suited for summer than winter.

Miranda looked like …

“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.”

***

Next blog post: Chapter 1b

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