Friday, February 14, 2020

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 6c #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 6c

The doors opened and the butler entered with a mound of raisins in a large shallow bowl. A footman lit a taper from the fire and set the brandy-soaked fruit ablaze.

Oooh rose from the children as the blue flame blazed in the darkness, turning the butler’s staid face rather sinister. As he placed the bowl upon a low table in the centre of the room, it was the adults who led the traditional song:

Here comes the flaming bowl,
Don’t he mean to take his toll,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Take care you don’t take too much,
Be not greedy in your clutch,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!


Then adults and children alike gathered round for a game of Snapdragon, with each person reaching in to snatch a flaming raisin and eat it without being burned. Servants hovered nearby, ready to douse any inadvertent fires set by dropped raisins.

In the darkness, Gerard contrived to sneak away from Miss Church-Pratton and move about the dark room, straining to see each of the people in shadow. Then he saw Miranda, seated by the window with a bundle in her arms. As he approached, he saw that Ellie was asleep on her lap.

“You will not allow her to play Snapdragon?” he asked.

“Most certainly not,” she retorted.

“I seem to recall that we played at a fairly young age.”

“And at that tender age, you burned both your sleeve and your eyebrows, do you recall?”

He laughed. “I had forgotten.”

She looked at the blue light in the centre of the room, which flickered as people moved in front of it. “I like the light. It is mysterious and lovely. But I admit I like it better from a distance.” She turned her face toward him, and even in the darkness he could see the gleam of her smile.

He answered with one of his own, and he reached out to touch her cheek because it seemed the most natural and necessary thing for him to do. As in the carriage when he had touched her hand, he wanted to be connected to her in a powerful way that he could not understand.

Her skin trembled beneath his fingers, and then she turned her face away.

He suddenly felt awkward and large. He clasped his hands in front of him, then behind him, then he shifted his feet, except that he put too much weight on his injured knee. He winced.

“Does it hurt you?” she asked.

He didn’t know how she could have known, in the dark. “It is stiff.”

“I shall send the poultice to you after I put Ellie to bed.” She made as if to rise, but he remembered why he had sought her out.

“Stay. I have a question to ask you.” He didn’t need to, but he put a hand on her shoulder—again, that desire to touch her. He left it there for a moment, even after she had settled back into the chair, Ellie still fast asleep in her arms.

“Have you thought more about the woman?”

“Yes.” As usual, she surprised him. “I have wondered if perhaps the attack was not by chance. But …”

When she did not continue, he said, “You are very insightful. I should like to hear your thoughts. Can you think of anyone who would wish to harm you?”

She hesitated longer than he would have expected, but then said, “No. I have no family and no fortune. I had one season in London and have spent the rest of my life in the country, first with my parents and then with Cecil.”

“But we cannot dismiss the possibility simply because we cannot think of a good motivation. You must be careful.”

She looked up at him again, and although he couldn’t see her eyes, something made him feel rather fevered. He added, “After all, Ellie is often with you. I am concerned for both of you, of course. It was only by chance that she was nearer to me in the forest, and that you were farther away from the rest of the party.”

“Of course.” Her voice sounded hollow. She rose to her feet, carrying Ellie. “If you will excuse me, I must be awake early to help Felicity with the preparations for the ball tomorrow.” The Christmas Day ball had been a tradition at Wintrell Hall much like the kissing bough.

He didn’t want her to leave him. “It sounds as though Felicity has invited all the county.”

“There are more guests this year than last year. We have hired twice the usual number of local people to help tomorrow.” She suddenly stiffened.

“What is it?” He moved closer to her.

Miranda turned, and they stood close to one another, face to face, Ellie’s sleeping form between them. He could smell lavender and lemon, soothing and yet also tart, like her.

“The villagers all know me,” she said in a low voice. “None of them would have attacked me because they all know I am a poor relation and have nothing of value. So it must have been someone newly come to the village.”

“I could make inquiries, determine whether anyone has arrived recently.”

“They will hardly speak to you, especially if it is someone who knows the woman who attacked me. Can you send your valet?”

“I am sharing my father’s man, and the local residents know him well because of my father’s longtime friendship with Mr. Belmoore.”

“Is there another servant? A stranger? Someone the woman would not know is connected to the Belmoores.”

“There is no other servant here with us who would be suitable, but …” He suddenly knew who he could use. “I will think of something.”

She smiled calmly, not needling him for more information or pouting that he would not confide in her. “Good night, Gerard.”

“Good night, Miranda.”

He watched her leave, still carrying Ellie, and then he left the drawing room through another door. He knocked on the door to the library, then opened it to an empty room.

Seating himself at Cecil’s desk, he took out a quill and paper and proceeded to write.

***

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