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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 5a #Christianfiction #Regency #romance

I’m posting my Regency romance, The Spinster's Christmas, so all my blog readers get a chance to read it! It’s the Prequel novel to my Lady Wynwood’s Spies series.

A Christian Regency romantic suspense

Spinster Miranda Belmoore has become a poor relation in her cousin’s house. She determines to escape a life of drudgery and disdain from her own family members, who are embarrassed by her straightforward speech and unconventional behavior that does not match with proper society. She is beginning to believe what they tell her—that she doesn’t matter to anyone, not even to God.

Former naval captain Gerard Foremont is having difficulty adjusting to life back on land, bitter that his career has been cut short by his severely injured knee. A Christmastide houseparty with the Belmoores reunites him with his childhood friend, Miranda, but he is appalled at the verbal abuse she endures and wants to help her.

The festivities are disrupted when a cloaked intruder attacks Gerard, with Miranda as the only witness. Now the two of them must uncover who wants to harm him and why, before Twelfth Night ends in murder …

All the posted parts are listed here.

***

Chapter 5a

Miranda welcomed the distraction of picking Christmas greens to decorate the house. Everyone was in a merry mood, no one paying attention to her, and she could calm herself.

She had thought Gerard would not expend much effort for her request to his mother, and had expected that path to be closed to her. His actions in enlisting the help of Cousin Laura had not only surprised her, but had caused hope to blossom in her chest.

She ought not to hope. It always led to disappointment.

And yet what else could she do when two people were suddenly championing her? She was unaccustomed to such consideration, for her parents’ treatment of her had taught her to avoid depending upon others.

Therefore, it had been particularly difficult for her to ask Aunt Augusta for help, only to be accused her of ingratitude for Cecil’s benevolence. After such criticism, Miranda had nearly not approached Laura with the same request. But then Laura had been so concerned, and Gerard had surprised her with his persistence in helping her.

Would they succeed in convincing his mother? And yet, she was afraid to hope.

She took a deep breath, letting the quiet of the forest soothe her. The trees had the feel of age and patience, perseverance through storms and overzealous woodchoppers. She imagined she could hear the trees whispering to each other even now, rustling in arboreal gossip over the excited chatter of women and children gathering greenery.

How the paths of her life had shifted only a scant hour or two ago. Everything seemed too wonderful to possibly be more than a dream that would melt away—staying with Ellie and the Foremonts, and then with Cousin Laura. Escaping the Beattys. No longer needing to withstand Felicity’s impatience and determination to put Miranda in her proper place as a humble, grateful dependent.

Would her circumstances truly be different after Twelfth Night? It was hard to imagine how they would be, because she had felt for a long time that she was slowly disappearing, like a ghost fading away into mist. She didn’t know if she could be happy. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been.

“Randa.” Ellie broke into her thoughts. She had been following Miranda and holding the fir boughs that she cut.

“Yes, darling?”

“Paul said he will get the biggest branch.”

“Oh, did he? We shall see if we can best him.”

Ellie grinned, and it was Miranda’s cousin Edmund who smiled at her in the shape of her mouth, the crinkling of her eyes. But she had her mother’s blue eyes and golden-brown hair, fine as cornsilk.

Miranda had done this every Christmas Eve with her Belmoore relatives—the women and children picking mistletoe, ivy, and fir boughs while the men and farmhands went out to collect the massive Yule log, which would burn in the oversized medieval fireplace in the great entry hall until the end of Twelfth Night.

Gerard came up beside her, but spoke to Ellie, whose arms were so full of fir boughs that they trailed down behind her. “Take care, Ellie, or you will trip over your green dress.”

She looked at the dripping fir, then giggled and twirled in a circle, making the branches fly out around her, and a few flung off through the undergrowth.

“You’ll lose everything we’ve collected,” Miranda said with a smile.

“I’ll go get them. Come, Ellie.” Gerard went off the path, making a dramatic effort as he swung his cane at the scraggly bushes, pretending to get lost as he searched for the missing firs.

The last time Miranda had gathered greenery with Gerard had been sixteen years ago, the Christmas before he went to sea. He would have been with the men and the Yule log if his knee had allowed him to keep up, or allowed him to ride a horse without pain. He joked with Ellie and with the other children, but every so often, the distant sound of a man’s voice in the woods made him look up, and a harshness would settle over his face like a mask.

Or perhaps his cheerfulness was the mask.

She admitted that some of the fear—no, probably most of the fear she felt was how, if she went to the Foremonts’ home, she would be so close to Gerard for the first time in years. Yes, fear that she wouldn’t be able to hide her feelings from him, or even worse, from his parents.

She was used to hiding. She’d had to hide who she was, it seemed, all her life—from her own parents, from most of her family. People seemed to constantly remind her that she could never be quite the same as the rest of society. That she was different.

Her father had been disappointed that she wasn’t charming, that she was too quiet and uninteresting. Her mother had been upset that she’d been hopeless at catching a husband during her season. Felicity disliked her so much that she was eager to foist her off rather than keeping an unpaid servant.

And aside from all that, there was the one secret no one could know, the one sin she could never rub out.

She had no wish to open herself to anyone, and certainly not handsome, confident Gerard. He would find her lacking, as so many other people in her life had done, and if she loved him, his disappointment or rejection would flay her alive.

So she had to somehow crush her feelings for him. Burn them out of her heart.

Not all the trees had lost their leaves, and combined with the fitful winter sun, the dimness made it seem even colder. Gerard and Ellie had wandered away from Miranda, and she determined to keep herself apart from him. Ellie needed to become used to Gerard, who was a stranger to her.

Miranda tramped through the undergrowth, distancing herself from the other women and children, deeper into the silence and darkness of the forest. Even their voices became muffled by the tree trunks and low-hanging branches.

Behind her, leaves rustled, then a stick snapped. And then something heavy collided with the base of her neck.

***

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