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.
“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.”
“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
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