Friday, April 24, 2020

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 16a #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 16a

December 30th

Gerard had wearied of staring at his bedroom walls while submitting to another poultice, so after Maddox had removed it, he went to stretch his legs.

The drawing room was stuffed, like a meat pie, but with chattering young women discussing their gowns for the New Year's Eve dinner party the next evening. Gerard sneaked past the doorway and headed instead to the music room, where he heard the laughter of children.

For most of the year, the ballroom at Wintrell Hall served as the music room on one side, and store-room on the other half, separated by some painted folding screens. He didn't realize until he entered the room that he had hoped to see Miranda there, but it was the governess at the pianoforte while the girls still in the schoolroom were learning the steps of a dance. Gerard was surprised to see his mother teaching them, correcting footwork and handclasps, her face alight with laughter. She smiled when she spotted her son in the open doorway.

“Oh, good,” his mother said, “now Gerard can play so Miss Teel can help teach the girls.”

“I?” He was embarrassed at how his voice squeaked. “Madam, I have not played the pianoforte in years—”

“Oh, you needn't give a perfect performance. We merely need a light little air so the girls can learn the steps. And the slower you play, the better.”

Trapped, he made his way to the instrument, perhaps taking longer than he might have otherwise with his crutches. He seated himself and rested the crutches against a nearby chair. Miss Teel, the governess, had been playing a fairly simple repeating melody, and he realized he could dance (ha ha) his way around the more difficult passages.

He began, slowly and with absolutely horrible fingering, slamming chords about like a ship on stormy seas. But after struggling through the melody twice, he eventually found his sea legs and was able to play only half as slowly as Miss Teel had been playing. He even found himself enjoying watching the girls whirl about, giggling at their own mistakes.

The door to the music room opened, and Miranda appeared. Her eye caught Gerard's. They glowed for a moment, then she looked away.

He had not had a moment alone with her, or at least, a time long enough to pluck up his courage to say what he wished to say. He had never felt so awkward with her before, after all the years they had known each other.

She had also never before been so unguarded. He could see the pain and guilt in her eyes, the unease. It had seemed unsuitable for him to speak of his feelings.

So he had done what he could do. He had been a comforting presence when she desired it. Indeed, he could not remember a time he had ever been so patient.

“The bell to dress for dinner is about to ring,” Miranda said. “It is time for the girls to prepare for their supper in the nursery.”

Cecil's middle daughter, Julia, gave her younger sister an exuberant swing around, her frothy laughter filling the echoing room. 

The abused sister, Constance, scowled at her. “Why is Julia allowed to join the adults at table and not me? I'm only two years younger.” The whining voice made it apparent this was an argument she'd already made today, probably several times.

“Because your mother needs an even number at table tonight,” Gerard's mother said. “And since the men outnumber the ladies by one, I convinced your mother to allow Julia to join us.”

“It's not fair,” Constance complained as Miranda led her out of the music room.

“Miranda,” his mother called, “you received my message? I can't think how Felicity forgot to include you.”

“Yes, Mrs. Foremont,” Miranda said. “Thank you.” She and the governess left with the girls without looking at Gerard again, and he felt strangely let down.

“Thank you, Gerard.” His mother sat beside him. “You played wonderfully.”

“Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “Mother, about Miranda ...”

“Yes, I was surprised when I discovered this morning that Miranda had not been included among the guests for tonight. It is only a small dinner party, and Felicity said Miranda would not mind since there were already even numbers, but I felt that would be insulting to her. After all, she is a poor relation, not a servant.”

“That may not be clear in Felicity's mind.”

“I pointed out that including both Miranda and Julia would ensure a gentleman for every lady, and it would also be good practice for Julia. She does not come out for another year, but little James Barnes is attending tonight.”

“He is up from Oxford so he is little no longer,” Gerard said, laughing.

“Well, he would otherwise be the youngest guest. He will be able to talk to Julia. And Miranda will be there to smooth over any faux pas. I simply did not feel comfortable excluding her.”

He hadn't expected this kindness from his mother, considering her resistance in allowing Miranda to accompany Ellie. He realized that now it would not matter if she agreed or not, because he intended to marry Miranda. Er … as soon as he asked her, that is. “Miranda is too often overlooked.”

His mother looked down at her hands, fidgeting in her lap. “I have been most impressed with Miranda these past few days. She has been very patient in caring for you, spending time with you. More patient than I,” she added in a low voice.

“Mother, you are very patient. You nursed me when I returned home from the hospital.”

“But lately I have had a rather short temper. And Miranda's kindness made me feel quite ashamed.” She reached over to touch his hand. “I have been selfish. I wanted you to be completely healed in the shortest time possible, and I pray I have not pushed you to exertions that may have injured you.”

“No, of course not, Mother.”

“These attacks have made me realize that you are not as healed as I had wanted you to be, and that was very wrong of me.” She squeezed his hand.

The bell rang.

“Come, Mother, we must dress for dinner.” Gerard rose to his feet. His knee ached, and he grimaced as he rubbed at it. “Do not dare to coddle me, madam,” he said before she could speak.

She smiled ruefully, but only said, “I shall see you at dinner.”

Tonight’s dinner was an intimate gathering compared to the lavish New Year’s Eve dinner party that would occur the following night, but the wine flowed freely, and the talk around the table was bright and sparkling.

Again, Miranda was seated far down the table from Gerard, on one side of James Barnes while Julia sat next to him. However, the two young people seemed to be in animated conversation and oblivious to their other dinner partners.

At one point, Miranda caught Gerard's eye. He glanced at the chattering pair, then back to her, and she smiled, sharing his silent amusement.

She looked beautiful, again in her green dress. He wanted to spend as much time with her as he wished. He wanted the shadow of Harriet’s revenge to be lifted from her eyes.

He would speak to her soon—tonight or tomorrow. He did not think she would refuse him. He did not want to contemplate what he would feel if she did so.

***

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