Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 6b #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 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 …

All the posted parts are listed here.

***

Chapter 6b

He determined not to summon Dr. Morgan if his knee grew worse, and to do all he could to prevent the man from coming near Miranda or Ellie. “How is Ellie?”

“She woke several hours ago, and while she is quieter than usual, she seems to be well. I left her playing jack-straws with her cousins.”

“I am glad.” He had never felt so alarmed as when he had looked at Ellie and seen blood on her face. Although the sight of Miranda on the ground had made his heart stop in his chest.

“No, to the other right,” his mother told the servant.

“The kissing bough looks nice,” Gerard said, immediately regretting how inane that sounded. Earlier, Felicity had grown impatient with Miranda because she was not draping the greenery in the dining room as quickly as she wished, and so she had assigned to her the task of creating the kissing bough. Miranda had twined the mistletoe upon the wire frames with scarlet ribbons and roses made from twisted red paper. Stars cut from gold paper peeked out from under the dark green leaves and pearly white berries.

“Thank you,” Miranda said. Miss Church-Pratton would have laughed and teased him, but Miranda accepted his words without judgment on how foolish he sounded. “Your knee is paining you?” She stated it calmly, already knowing the answer.

“No, I am—”

“There is a poultice I can make for you that will soothe it. I shall give it to your man later.”

He wanted to say that he was well and in no need of any poultices, but Miranda was known for her skill in the stillroom. If it would indeed ease the pain, he ought not to indulge his pride and act like a muttonhead. Say thank you, Gerard. “Er … thank you, Miranda.”

“You are welcome.”

No fussing. No censure. Just a poultice for his knee. Miranda put him at ease like no one else had cared to do.

He caught his mother looking at them both, but the expression on her face was difficult to interpret. Some alarm—Gerard had not forgotten the embarrassing insinuation that Miranda would attempt to ensnare him just as Miss Church-Pratton seemed to be doing—but also some confusion, perhaps a thread of guilt. No, he must be mistaken about that. His mother looked away again.

“Why would that woman attack you when there were so many people nearby?” he asked.

“I had wandered away from all of you,” she said.

“We were fortunate that Ellie had lost sight of you and become alarmed. I went to look for you, and none too soon.”

“It is also fortunate that I had nothing for her to steal.”

“Now it is time to test it.” It was his father, just come into the drawing room and admiring the kissing bough, which the servant had finally hung to his mother’s specifications.

His father snatched his mother’s hand and yanked her under the kissing bough. She gave a surprised yelp, then a delighted gurgle. He kissed her firmly on the lips, then reached up to remove one of the berries. When all the berries were gone, there would be no more stolen kisses.

Cecil looked scandalised but resigned, for there had always been a kissing bough at Wintrell Hall for as long as the Belmoores had celebrated Christmas there.

“It’s almost time!” came a call from outside the drawing room. They all trooped to the doorway to the dining room, where Cecil held a large wax candle that had been decorated with gilt paper round its base.

Children came down the stairs to gather with the adults, and Cecil looked with pride at the assembly. He did enjoy theatrics when it made him look important.

“It is sunset, and now we will light the Yule candle,” he intoned. He led the way into the dining room, which had been magnificently decorated and set for the Christmas Eve feast. To accommodate all the guests, including the children, chairs had been shoved close to each other around the long table.

The guests stopped at the door while Cecil bore the candle to a special glass candle holder in the centre of the table. A servant approached with a lit taper, and with great solemnity, Cecil lit the candle.

“Happy Christmas,” he said, as though at a funeral.

In contrast, everyone responded with a rousing, “Happy Christmas!”

“May we be blessed by the light of the Yule candle,” Cecil said.

It did indeed look beautiful on the table. It was large enough that it would burn until dawn Christmas morning. Cecil would extinguish the flame just before the entire household left for church.

Everyone filed around the table with many smiles and appreciative sniffs at the feast to come. They all stood behind their chairs, waiting for everyone to find their places, and then at Cecil’s signal, they all sat to table at the same time. It had always been so. As a child, Gerard had been told it was to prevent bad luck.

He again found himself seated next to Miss Church-Pratton. Everyone was squeezed rather tightly together, but she seemed to rub her arm against his shoulder much more than Liliana, one of Mrs. Hathaway’s daughters still in the schoolroom, on his other side.

The meal was generous, with roast goose, boar’s head, venison, chicken, and turkey. There were more vegetable dishes than he could see from his seat, including potatoes, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and carrots, as well as stuffing. The meal tomorrow night would be even more lavish.

Also according to tradition, everyone rose from the table at the same time. No after-dinner port and cigars for the gentlemen—everyone gathered in the drawing room. The tension of anticipation filled the room as the servants doused the candles, and then came a moment of breathless silence.

***

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