Friday, March 13, 2020

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 10b #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 10b

Gerard flattered himself that he was not a complete ass-head and agreed to take a dinner tray in his room. He thought the solitude would appeal to him, but the knock on the door as he finished eating roused his spirits.

“Come,” he called.

The door opened and Miranda peeked inside. “I have brought Maddox, and another poultice, and Ellie.”

“You will remain outside whilst I apply it, Miss Miranda,” Maddox said as he stepped into the room.

“I have seen your master in his shirt-sleeves often enough when we were children.”

“You are children no longer, Miss Miranda.” And Maddox closed the bedroom door.

His words reminded Gerard of last night—not the attack, but what had happened just before. He knew he ought to regret it, but he did not. Kissing Miranda had made him feel more anchored than any other time since he’d been back in England, even when he was home with his parents.

His emotions had been in turmoil because he was not whole, and while he was not as mad with frustration as he had been when he’d first awakened in the hospital, he yet resented the situation with all his being. He could not subject any woman to this, especially not Miranda, whom he had known nearly all his life.

And yet he had kissed her, a woman who was not his, who could not be his.

Maddox applied the poultice, which was blessedly warm this time, then covered his master’s limbs properly before allowing Miranda and Ellie to enter the bedroom. He left them with the door wide open.

“Isn’t it past your bedtime, miss?” Gerard said to Ellie.

“I wanted to play jack-straws with you,” she said, climbing onto his bed to sit beside him. She wore a dressing gown that was too large for her.

Miranda settled into a chair nearby. “Ellie could not sleep, so I brought her with me.”

So he played jack-straws with Ellie.

“You are cheating, miss,” he said after the first game.

“Am not.” Ellie yawned.

“I fear she learned to cheat from Paul,” Miranda said.

He gave Ellie a mock frown. “You are also a competitive little Captain Sharp.”

That she learned from Cousin Laura.”

In the middle of the second game, Ellie curled up on the bedclothes and went to sleep, her mouth slightly open, and breathing with a little whistle.

Gerard stared at her. “I must say that no woman has found me such a bore that she fell asleep on my bed.” He did not realize how warm that sounded until it came out of his mouth. He had been too long at sea, or perhaps he was simply too awkward with his tongue.

But Miranda was not offended, nor was she flustered by the scandalous comment—she simply began to pick up the jack-straws. “Perhaps you are being repaid for a woman’s broken heart,” she said lightly.

“I have not broken any hearts while at sea.”

Miranda did not reply, but gave him a sidelong look. Perhaps it was the bright color of her eyes, but he had never before seen an expression of greater incredulity.

“Upon my honour, I have not.” He had stolen a few kisses, certainly, all from women in foreign ports, but he had never compromised any of them—and several had been the ones to kiss him. He did not even know how to deliver those pretty speeches that women seemed to like.

But with Miranda, he had no need of pretty speeches. He could converse with her with ease. She did not make him feel uncomfortable or like a bumbling youth, as Miss Church-Pratton did.

And yet he had given her a gross insult, because she was a gently bred, respectable young woman. “Miranda,” he said slowly, “about last night, before the attack.”

“We agreed it was forgotten.” She turned her face from him so that he only saw the curve of her cheek, but she was cool and composed. It was as if the kiss had never happened. But then he saw the rapid rise and fall of her chest, and knew she was not unaffected. She was simply uncommunicative about it.

“Miranda, I am obligated—”

“No, you are not.” Her voice was higher than usual. “I beg you, put the events of last night from your mind. Or at least … those events.” She added, “Cecil is quite put out with us.”

“As if we were somehow to blame?”

“Cecil does not wish to appear indifferent, but he also has no wish to ride about the countryside searching for the two attackers, when he knows he will not find them. He does not like the way the situation makes him appear to the neighbors.”

“Save me from Cecil’s pride,” he groaned.

“Were the men who attacked us in league somehow with the woman in the woods?”

He had been wondering the same. “I don’t know. The men could be her cronies, or she may have hired them.”

“They attacked both of us. Was I still their target?” Her fingers tightened briefly on the jack-straws.

“There is no way to know. Perhaps they were not connected to the woman and I was their target.”

“You? But why?”

He shrugged. “I am simply a post-captain who lost his last ship. I have no influence, no inheritance of any worth.”

“But your property inherited from your grandmother? And also your father’s property?”

“In the event of my death, it all goes to my cousin, who already owns an estate twice as large.”

“Is there a possibility that the two men could be related to a man who died under your command?”

He thought of all the men who had died—too many faces. “Perhaps, but … I have been in the Royal Navy for sixteen years. There have been dozens of men who lost their lives.”

“But no one attempted to end yours while you were in the hospital in London,” she said. “If I wished to kill you, I would do it then, whilst you were weak or unconscious. Or I would contrive to poison your food. No one would know.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Miranda, I shall be sure never to incur your wrath. You are positively bloodthirsty.”

She ignored him. “Also, you were not attacked at home with your parents. This only happened when you arrived here.”

“So perhaps the two men live here. I must make inquiries, to discover if anyone has lost a loved one at sea.”

“You said you had a servant who could ask the local men whether anyone is newly come to the area.”

“I have sent for someone, but he has not yet arrived. Now he will have two pieces of information to ferret out.”

Miranda tucked the jack-straws in a pocket of her gown and moved around the bed to collect Ellie’s sleeping figure. “Those men could have attacked you because you were with me.”

“But they could have harmed you or taken you, and they did neither.”

She frowned as she carefully gathered Ellie into her arms. “I do not like that so much is unknown.” She froze. “Oh, dear.”

“What is it?” Had she thought of something he had not?

She nodded toward the bedclothes.

Ellie had driveled in a large wet spot in the middle of his bed.

***

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