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.
He thumped his way down the hallway. His bedroom was smaller than the bedrooms in the other wings, but it was close to the drawing room, just past the library and the ballroom. The carpet runner narrowed here, and he stumbled when the tip of his cane slid a few inches because it had touched down on the polished wooden floor rather than the rug.
He and his father were sharing a valet during the visit so that Cecil would not need to house an extra servant in his bursting household, but Gerard did not bother to call Maddox to assist him. His evening wear hung loosely on his frame since his returned home, and he had become used to dressing himself while on board ship. He easily shrugged out of his coat, waistcoat, and shirt, although the clean shirt he pulled on was not quite as creaseless as Maddox would have wanted. Gerard pulled out the first waistcoat he saw, which was striped in grey and blue and perhaps more suited to morning wear, but the cravat he tied was unexceptionable, if not overly elaborate.
He made his way out of his room, but he could faintly hear a woman’s voice, shrill with displeasure. At first it sounded like Miss Church-Pratton, but then he realized it was Felicity. A low man’s voice answered her—Cecil. The voices came from the library door, open a crack, and it was obvious they were arguing.
“Things take her twice as long as anyone else,” Felicity said. “Or she does something completely ridiculous. Last week, the governess was ill so she was supposed to take over Ellie’s instruction. Instead, she took her skating on the pond. She said it was to teach her mathematics!”
He couldn’t be certain, but he thought they might be speaking of Miranda. She had always had an unconventional way of thinking of the world, which had made her a delightful playmate when they were children. She was also the type of person who was patient no matter what the task.
The library was far enough from the drawing room that no one there would hear them, but Gerard’s room was closer. He began thumping along as quickly as possible, hoping neither of the angry couple would suddenly storm out of the library and see him skulking like a thief. The distance to the drawing room seemed like a mile.
“She’s impossible,” Felicity hissed. “She does it on purpose to upset me.”
“I hardly think she does it on purpose,” Cecil said. “She’s always been like that, a bit touched in the head.”
“Well then, I don’t want a madwoman in my home. I shall be heartily glad when she goes to my cousin Polly’s house.”
Gerard moved to the far side of the hallway as he passed the library door. Calling Miranda a madwoman was a bit much, even for Felicity’s spiteful nature. Miranda had always been unique, uncaring of what others thought of her, comfortable in who she was and unapologetic about it. But perhaps in Felicity’s mind, the fact that Miranda wouldn’t scurry to obey her every command would seem like the actions of a madwoman.
Suddenly his cane again landed on the wooden floor, a good foot of which lay between the edge of the carpet runner and the wall. This time, the tip slid quickly. His knee twisted at the sudden loss of support. A sharp pain sliced up his leg. He didn’t feel the impact as he hit the floor, just saw the carpet runner rise up to meet him. As he lay there, he panted heavily and screwed his eyes shut, focusing on pushing past the pain in his knee so he wouldn’t faint. He could smell dust, mold, and the faintest hint of lemon polish.
He didn’t realize he had blocked out all sound until Cecil’s voice broke into the haze of pain.
“As to that, Mr. Foremont wanted her to go with Ellie, to help out for a few months.”
Gerard had to get out of this hallway. He couldn’t bear it if someone came along and saw him on the floor, or worse, if Cecil and Felicity left the library and realized he had fallen nearly across the threshold. He pushed at the floor, rising on his good knee. His entire leg was shaking.
“Absolutely not,” Felicity said. “Polly didn’t come this year because her youngest broke his leg and they lost yet another nursery-maid. She needs Miranda.”
“What your cousin needs is to learn how to keep her maids from quitting her service.”
“It is the best solution for us to loan Miranda to Polly. Miranda cannot quit service.”
Gerard got to his feet and leaned against the wall for a moment, catching his breath. His heart pounded as if he’d run up ten flights of stairs. He continued toward the drawing room at a slower pace, his knee aching with each step.
But even more than the pain in his leg, he felt the burning of injustice and frustration in his gut. Miranda was little better than a slave in this household. He could not bear to see her so abused.
His only goal had been to become well in body, but oughtn’t he to exercise his conscience, as well? How could he stand to allow Cecil and Felicity to treat her so? Surely he could do more to convince his mother to change her mind.
There had been so many men, so many friends he had not been able to save during the war. Now that he was ashore, at the very least he could save one childhood friend.
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