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.
“The children are eating dinner at the moment,” she said. “Perhaps if you visited them later tonight?”
“When have I ever stood on ceremony with the brats? I’ll pop in to say hello, wrestle a few of them to the ground, and make them cast up their accounts.” He grinned. “I shall see you at dinner, then.”
She considered giving a noncommittal answer because she knew the unvarnished truth would upset him again, but he would know the truth eventually. “I will not be downstairs. I am having dinner in the nursery.”
He had been about to head toward the nursery but he stopped. His cane halted in midair for a split second before it snapped down on the floor again. “Why would you do that?”
She bit her tongue so that she would not say the first thing that came to mind, namely, Felicity is exercising her ability to count heads at table.
However, the expression on her face must have given her away, because he said incredulously, “Felicity has barred you from the dining room?”
“Nothing quite so barbaric. You know how fanatically she values order and appearances. She does not wish an odd number of guests at table tonight.”
Gerard’s face grew thunderous. “That is outside of enough.”
“Gerard, I shall not be missed in the least.” While she knew it was true, saying it out loud seemed to hammer it into her chest with a hollow blow. No one would notice her absence, and indeed, some members of the party would even welcome it.
Her words seemed to have shocked him. Finally he sputtered, “Of course you will be missed. We all grew up together. It would not be the same without you there.” He checked himself, then added, “You and everyone else, of course.”
The spark of warmth that had involuntarily risen at his words was doused by the splash of reality. Gerard had never looked at her as other than a friend, and surely by now, after years apart, she had outgrown her childish infatuation with him. She gave him a rueful smile to hide her feelings. “Gerard, when have you known me to speak more than a dozen words at table? No one will pine for my brilliant conversational bon mots.”
A flicker of a smile on his face. “I want it all to be as it was the year before I went to sea. I have looked forward to Christmas in England these many years past.”
There was an echo of longing in his voice, and she could imagine what his Christmases had been like on his ship, far from home and family.
“I shall speak to Felicity,” he said.
“Pray do not,” she said fervently.
“She is treating you like a servant.”
“Because we have never gotten along and she is resentful that Cecil was forced to take me in. If you insist I sit at dinner, she will do something else.”
“It is not right, Miranda.”
“There is nothing you can …” An idea suddenly formed in her mind, vague like the sun straining to shine through mist over the fields, but slowly gaining strength. And hope.
“Miranda?” he asked.
“Do you wish to help me?”
“Of course. Name it.”
“Will you speak to your mother on my behalf? Will you ask if she will consent to allow me to travel to Foremont Court with Ellie after Twelfth Night?”
He sighed. “You saw my mother’s temper in the carriage,” he said in a low voice. “She is not best pleased with me. I fear I could not sway her.”
“Please, would you try? Ellie is very attached to me. You would have no need to hire a nursery-maid.”
His dark brows drew low over his eyes. “Miranda, I will not have you treated like a poor relation at our home, as well.”
“Gerard, my situation is intolerable.” She could not bring herself to speak such disgraceful gossip about Mr. Beatty to a young man—and certainly not Gerard—but she was desperate. Even admitting her desperation to him was difficult for her, who had always had to take care of herself.
A step on the stair made them both turn to see one of the under-maids, Jean, appear at the top of the stairs. She gave Miranda and Gerard a saucy, appraising look. Jean always seemed reluctant to serve Miranda or Miss Teel, the governess, and Miranda had the impression that Jean resented their place in the household, neither fish nor fowl, as it were—neither genteel nor of the servant class.
“What is it?” Miranda said, a bit shortly.
“Lady Belmoore requires you to fetch her rose-embroidered petticoat from her room and repair it before tomorrow.”
That was a task for Felicity’s abigail. “What about Hobson?” Miranda asked.
“She has to alter some fancy gown for milady at the last minute and is too busy.”
“Very well.” Miranda nodded to Jean, but the girl lingered at the top of the stairs, regarding Gerard with obvious interest.
He cleared his throat. “Thank you, that will be all.”
Jean’s mouth pinched, but she turned to walk back down the stairs.
“I am shocked at the forwardness of Felicity’s staff,” Gerard said.
“It is only Jean, I assure you. Felicity runs a tight ship.”
He laughed. “Just so.” He hesitated, then said, “I will speak to my mother, Miranda. But I do not wish to falsely raise your hopes.”
She realized that in those short moments, she had begun to rely upon Gerard. No, that would never do. She had long ago learned that it was futile to rely on anyone else besides herself.
He suddenly reached out and grabbed her hand. Neither of them wore gloves, and she felt the callouses of his fingers, the warmth of his palm. Somehow, his touch made her feel more substantial than she usually did in this household. He knew her, he saw her, where everyone else tried to forget her. She realized she had been growing accustomed to the feeling of having lost her identity.
“I meant what I said,” Gerard said. “I am happy to see you. For me, you are part of the Christmas season.”
She smiled and turned to go downstairs to Felicity’s room while he continued toward the nursery. But his words had caused a twinge in her chest, like a harp string too harshly plucked.
His anger on her behalf had made her feel less alone, and his kindness was a balm to her spirit after two years under Felicity’s thumb. But in truth, Gerard and his family would leave after Twelfth Night, and Miranda would be sent to Felicity’s cousin’s home.
She could only rely on herself to save herself.
Next blog post: Chapter 3a
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