Friday, April 03, 2020

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 12d #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 12d

Gerard swung his crutch and caught the man in the leg. He stumbled and dropped Miranda, who landed hard on the ground.

At that moment, the second man ran toward him. Gerard caught the dull gleam of the knife blade just in time to jerk backward. He quickly shifted his grip on the other crutch so that the wood was braced against his forearm and blocked the man’s next swing with the knife.

Where was the other jaw of his trap—where was Michael?

But Gerard had no opportunity to look around as the knife stabbed toward him. He threaded the blade through the crutch and twisted. The knife flicked through the air, and the man looked at his empty hand in disbelief. Gerard slammed the other crutch into the man’s nose, and he howled and jumped backwards.

Gerard looked up in time to see Miranda shove her fingers into the first man’s eyes, and he cried out, releasing his grip on her. She shoved at the sack still over her head.

At that moment, a third man moved from behind a tree and grabbed Miranda’s attacker from behind. It was Michael.

“Miranda, run!” Gerard said.

She pulled the sack from her head and ran back towards the lake.

But Gerard’s attacker lunged to follow her. Gerard tripped him with his crutch, but the man’s leg pulled at it. Gerard staggered and pain stabbed through his knee. He fell to the ground with the other man, who kicked at him, but Gerard rolled out of the way.

Miranda’s attacker pulled out a knife and slashed at Michael, who released him and leaped back. Then the attacker ran back into the woods.

The man on the ground with Gerard also jumped to his feet and followed his compatriot.

Michael ran after them.

Gerard shoved himself to his feet. His knee throbbed once, so painfully that his vision clouded briefly, then receded to a spiking ache. He reached out and grabbed one of his crutches from the ground, then hurried after them.

It was easier for him to maneuver through the narrow deer trails with only one crutch, but he did not move quickly enough. He could see movement ahead of him through the trees, and he followed the shadow.

But when he rounded a tree, he lost sight of the shadow. He stopped, his eyes scanning the dimness. No movement. A bird called feebly, as if reluctant to break the silent vanguard of old oaks. A scurrying to his right, but it sounded like a mouse.

Then, ahead of him, a shadow detached itself from behind a tree and approached him.

Gerard exhaled. “Lost them?”

“Sorry, old chap.”

“You’re a poor bodyguard, Cousin. I wondered if you’d received my message.”

Gerard’s cousin, Lieutenant Michael Coulton-Jones, wore a thoroughly disreputable costume in motley shades of dirt, slime, and moss on his worn clothes. Mud almost hid the grin across his handsome face. “I hid in a tree where I could see all the paths someone was likely to take in order to sneak up behind you on that bench, just as you told me to do. It is hardly my fault that I was thwarted by a dozen children creating a fort under the tree where I was hiding.”

“Paul and his company, I suspect.”

“Yes, the one giving orders was named Paul. I couldn’t drop down and scare them half to death, and they were making such a rumpus that I suspect your attackers chose a more circuitous route on their way to relieve you of your life.”

“Trapped by a gaggle of children? Embarrassing, Michael.” Gerard sobered. “Did the children see the attackers? Did they harm them?”

“All the children left but Paul, who left a few minutes later. Then I heard a woman scream.”

“That must have been Miranda. Michael, they were after her, not me.”

“That sheds a different light upon it.”

Behind them, someone called Gerard’s name.

“I’ll find you later,” Michael said.

“I hope you find different clothing. You look like something the hunting dogs vomited up.”

Michael drew himself to his full height, which made his hideous clothes rain dirt upon the ground. “I’ll have you know that I was perfectly concealed in the tree while wearing these clothes.”

“I’m surprised the children didn’t smell your presence.”

The corner of Michael’s mouth curled up. Then in the blink of an eye he was gone, disappearing behind the tree.

In the next moment, Gerard heard a soft tread behind him. He turned to see Mr. Drydale running toward him, appearing from behind a clump of trees.

“Gerard, are you harmed? Miranda said two men attacked you both.”

“They ran. I was following, but I lost them.”

“Were you speaking to someone?” Mr. Drydale’s dark eyes regarded the tree, although his face was impassive.

“I spoke with a tenant who happened to be in the woods. Er … I promised him I would not mention to Sir Cecil about his presence in an area popular with poachers.”

Mr. Drydale’s eyebrows rose. “I see. Did he see them?”

“He saw movement, but thought it was a deer. I am afraid they are out of our reach by now, sir.”

Mr. Drydale accompanied Gerard to retrieve his other crutch and they returned to the lake together. Almost all the women and children had already gone back to the house with the servants and supplies, leaving only several of the menfolk, Lady Wynwood, Miranda, and Paul. Upon hearing about the attack and being assured that Gerard was unharmed, they all returned to the house in their carriages.

He rode with Mr. Drydale and Lady Wynwood, whose carriage was one of the last to reach the hall. Gerard’s father and mother met him at the door to the house. He forestalled them by telling them, “I am well.”

“Oh, Gerard, if only we had not left the lake so early,” his mother moaned.

“How’s the leg?” his father asked.

It had been feeling as though a hammer had been attempting to pound its way in, but he said, “No worse than before. I must change out of my wet things.”

After Maddox had helped him into a dressing gown and left him seated before the fire, he was surprised by a knock at the door. Cecil, Mr. Belmoore, and Gerard’s father were there.

His father and Mr. Belmoore seated themselves, but Cecil stood before the fireplace. His father’s unhappy expression made Gerard tense.

“My boy, what a terrible thing to have happened,” Mr. Belmoore said.

“I will find these men, I assure you,” Gerard said. He hadn’t the faintest idea what he would do, but surely sheer determination should count for something.

“We are concerned about you,” Mr. Belmoore said.

“I am perfectly—”

“We are concerned about what you may have done to cause someone to want to harm you,” Cecil said sharply.

“Cecil!” Mr. Belmoore said. “Good God, he’s just been attacked.”

“For the second time,” Cecil retorted. “Are those two men connected to that vagrant woman in the woods? Why are they after Gerard and Miranda? We are all thinking it, even if none of us speaks of it to the rest of the household.”

Gerard should have been expecting this. His mother had mentioned something like this only a few days before. But he felt like a statue in an ice-covered garden. He had difficulty breathing. “I have done nothing of which I am ashamed. Nothing which would shame you or the family.”

“I have no doubt of it.” However, his father would not meet his eyes.

No, he was not a statue. He was a block of ice that had been shattered into razor-sharp shards.

He would not stand for this. He had faults enough, but he had never been dishonourable. How could they suspect that he’d been involved in anything that would draw such danger and unsavoury characters to the Belmoore family home? The frustration made him shoot to his feet and limp to the fireplace. His knee was a ball of heat and pain, but his emotions were an ice storm.

“Gerard, you must sit,” his father said.

Gerard ignored him. He would not tell them that the men had been after Miranda, for what would Cecil do to her then? Instead, Gerard would find these men and make them tell him why they were doing this. He would prove himself and Miranda innocent.

But he also knew that his relationship with the Belmoores had changed. He stared into the fire and felt as though something inside of him had withered and died.

***

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