Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 1c

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 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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