Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 14a #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 14a

Gerard almost didn’t notice the footman. He wanted to say it was because he was distracted, but in reality, it was because Michael was that accomplished.

After Miranda left him, Gerard was too cold to remain out of doors and was seeking the comfort of his fire and perhaps a pot of tea with a splash of whiskey in it for good measure. However, the way to his bedroom was blocked by footmen leaving the music room, each carrying some chairs which had been stored there. They headed toward the drawing room, and Gerard guessed that the extra chairs were for the guests tonight. Felicity had planned a lavish dinner party for this evening.

A certain footman passed Gerard, his ill-fitting livery looking as though it had been made for someone else. At first, the man’s face was that of a complete stranger. Then suddenly the servant turned a blue-green eye toward him and winked.

Gerard ground his teeth.

He headed slowly down the hallway, past the music room and toward his bedroom. He paused at his door, waiting.

The butler stood supervising while the footmen silently wove around him. The footman in question exited the drawing room, returning to the music room for more chairs, but Gerard made certain to send him a pointed glare before going into his bedroom. Gerard settled in front of the fireplace and waited.

In a few moments, there was a scratch at the door. “Come,” he bellowed.

“You're cross as a bear,” Michael said as he entered the room, closing the door behind him. He had suddenly become Michael again, rather than the strange servant Gerard had first seen.

“Why are you in that livery?” Gerard demanded.

Michael tried to look innocent as he tugged at his sleeves. “I should think it obvious. And you will surely get me sacked, wanting to speak to me when I should be working.”

“It is too risky for you to insinuate yourself as one of the servants,” Gerard said. “We discussed this when you first arrived.”

“I cannot protect you if I continue in my guise as a peddler in the village,” Michael said.

“My father—your uncle—may recognize you, you fool.”

Michael gave him a level look. “You did not. And you are forgetting, Cousin, that day in France. I can fool him, I assure you.”

Gerard’s ire drained out of him.

Two years ago, Gerard had led a crew on shore to capture some Frenchmen who were resupplying their ship from a French village. There was a skirmish and some of the peasants had been captured along with the seamen.

Gerard had stared his cousin in the face and not recognized him until hours later, when the French peasant managed to unobtrusively whisper to him with Michael’s voice. He had confessed that he was on assignment for the Home Office and had asked Gerard to find a way to free him. There was apparently more to Michael’s duties than simply being one of Wellington’s junior officers.

After the woman’s attack on Christmas Eve, Gerard had written to Michael, whom he knew was on leave at home this Christmas, to ask for his help in investigating the woman. Michael had gone so far as to darken his hair, and when posing as a peddler, the dirt hid his features. Now, he had no dirt but he had done something to make his face appear sallow, and when Gerard had seen him carrying chairs, his gait and posture had been completely different from his normal upright carriage.

Michael gave his carefree smile. “Besides, no one notices servants.”

Gerard admitted he was probably correct.

Michael continued, “The peddler guise was useful when I became drinking partners with nearly every man in the local tavern, looking for any local family with a connection to you or Miranda. But after the attack yesterday, I thought it would be better to be here to protect her. And to ensure the safety of my ungrateful relative, of course.”

“I am not ungrateful,” Gerard growled. “I am concerned about you.”

“I am touched by your solicitude.” Michael gave a short bow. “It is mutual. Especially when you insist on attempting to lure the men out of hiding by dangling yourself as bait.”

“I cannot sit here in safety and do nothing. Surely you understand that.”

Michael's eyes were serious as they rested upon him. “Yes, I do.”

A sudden frantic knocking at the door made them both turn. In an instant, Michael's face underwent an astounding transformation. He altered the muscles of his jaw and lips, relaxing some and tightening others, and suddenly his chin seemed weaker, his eyes half-lidded, and in combination with the slouch of his shoulders and the makeup on his face, he hardly looked like himself. He shuffled to the door to answer it.

Miranda started in surprise at the sight of him, but her eye slid over him to Gerard. Her face had turned so pale that her skin was translucent.

“Miranda, what’s wrong?” He rose to his feet, ignoring the protest from his knee.

She gulped and glanced at Michael.

“Hurry, come inside,” Gerard said.

Miranda did not even hesitate at the impropriety and slipped into his bedroom. Michael closed the door behind her and relaxed his facial muscles again, which made her squeak in surprise.

“Miranda, may I introduce my cousin, Lieutenant Michael Coulton-Jones. Miss Miranda Belmoore.”

“Charmed.” Michael bowed over her hand and gave one of the dashing smiles that caused every woman he’d ever known to swoon at his feet.

Gerard scowled at him. However, he was gratified when Miranda pulled her hand from his quickly and turned toward Gerard.

But now that she was in private with him, she seemed anxious and nervous. “Gerard, you should sit. And not because of your knee.”

“What is it?” He sank gratefully back into the sofa while she settled on a chair.

“I …” She squeezed her eyes shut as if trying to block out a horrible memory. “I know who wants to kill me.”

***

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