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.
They all returned to the drawing room. One of the cousins was pounding away at the pianoforte while some of the furniture at the far end of the room had been rearranged to clear space for a few couples to dance.
Gerard sank into a chair near his mother, while his father sat beside her on the sofa.
“All went as expected, my dear,” his father said to her. “Ellie shall come home with us when we leave.”
His mother gasped with delight and clasped her husband’s hands in her own. “How wonderful it will be to have Ellie with us. The house has been so gloomy lately.”
Gerard looked away, but found he was staring down at his injured leg. At the very least, Ellie would distract his mother from the task of nursing him, which she had come to resent more in the past few weeks.
“The village seamstress is not as skilled as Madame Fanchon in London, but Ellie must have a new wardrobe,” his mother said. “And perhaps we might refurbish the nursery. Yes, a trip to Bath would be of utmost importance. Frilled curtains at the windows, a new table and set of chairs, a new canopy for her bed. Oh, there is so much to do.” She looked elated at the prospect.
“Mother, I wondered if we might bring Miranda with us, as well, to help with Ellie,” Gerard said.
Some of the annoyance crept back into her face. “Whyever would we do that?”
“Ellie has become very attached to Miranda, and she could serve as Ellie’s nursery-maid.”
“Ellie will soon become attached to me,” his mother said. “And we could hire a nursery-maid from the village.”
He should not have mentioned Ellie’s attachment, for it was making his mother defensive and possessive. “It is only for a few weeks, or a few months at most.”
“All the more reason for her not to stay with us,” she said. “Ellie will only miss Miranda the more when she leaves.”
“My dear, we only are thinking of your own comfort,” his father said.
“You needn’t be concerned about me,” his mother replied. “And I must say, John, that I am rather surprised that you would agree with Gerard in this. A penniless young woman, not related by blood, under our roof? It would be most improper.”
Heat crawled up Gerard’s neck and jaw. “I am in no danger from Miranda. We know each other too well.”
“You are not alleviating my concern,” she said.
“I don’t think Miranda has a heart to be captured by any man,” Gerard said. “She is still as quiet and self-controlled as ever she was as a child.”
“Your mother is correct, Gerard,” his father said. “A young woman under our roof …”
“If you are ill at ease, I will move to Foremont Lacy.” He had not seen his property, inherited from his grandmother, since he had come ashore. “I will soon be well enough that I can do with only a manservant.”
“But that is only …” His mother checked herself. “I am still unconvinced that it is necessary to bring Miranda with us.”
Gerard had not considered his marital prospects since becoming injured, but he now realized that nothing had prevented his mother from thinking of such things, especially now that he was living in his father’s house. And apparently, in his mother’s opinion, his residence at the neighboring farm of Foremont Lacy would still be too uncomfortably close to Foremont Court, should Miranda take up residence there.
His father’s look convinced Gerard to abandon the subject. “I would not distress you, madam.”
“Yes, your convalescence has been quite distressing enough,” she said peevishly.
He was rescued by the appearance of their evening tea, which also included an ornate silver punch bowl of wassail. However, on his way to get a cup of the Christmas drink, he was waylaid by Miss Church-Pratton, one of Felicity’s cousins.
“Now why were you men sequestered together for so long?” She gave a trilling laugh. “I had begun to fear you had abandoned us.”
“Business, I fear,” Gerard said politely.
“Oh, you mustn’t work during Christmastide.” She smiled, and dimples appeared in her cheeks. “Is not the company amusing enough?”
“Indeed.” She had been seated next to him at the dinner table, and while she spent a few scant minutes talking to her partner on her other side, she spent the rest of the time talking to him. About herself.
Even aside from that, Gerard was mistrustful of her smiles. He’d heard from Lady Wynwood, who obviously disliked Miss Church-Pratton, that she had broken her engagement earlier this year to an officer who had been wounded at Corunna. However, the season in London had not resulted in a second engagement, and Gerard could see that her charm had an edge of bitterness and desperation.
He had no intention of being her next matrimonial target. With his injury, he was in no condition to even consider a more distant future with any woman. He must concentrate on the most immediate needs, namely being able to discard his cane and to relieve the burden upon his parents.
It was a cowardly thing to do, but he simply grasped at the first idea that came to mind. He took a small glass of wassail from the maid serving the punch at a side table and then wobbled on his cane, spilling the drink on his waistcoat. The scent of wine, nutmeg, and apples grew stronger, and he felt the warmth as the hot beverage soaked through his shirt.
“Oh, dear!” Miss Church-Pratton fished out her handkerchief, a thin lawn square the size of a playing card, and swabbed at his chest.
Her hand seemed to be touching a larger area of his chest than the spill, and he hastily stepped away from her suspicious ministrations. “I do beg your pardon, Miss Church-Pratton. I must change my waistcoat before it stains.” He turned and left.
Next blog post: Chapter 3c
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