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

Presently, Felicity rose to lead the women out of the dining room and into the drawing room. The men settled around the table and the servants began to serve brandy and cigars. However, Cecil, mindful of his wife, would not allow the men to linger overlong before joining the ladies in the drawing room.

As had happened yesterday, Michael, posing as a footman, had managed not to serve Gerard's father at dinner. However, now he poured brandy for the men, and Mr. Foremont did not notice him at all. Gerard did not realize he had been holding his breath until he released it.

Mr. Barnes, an avid angler, had been fishing only yesterday in the river that ran past his home and Wintrell Hall. He became so animated in his story that he began waving his arms to describe the fish he had caught, and the movement knocked into a young footman pouring more brandy into his glass. The young man stumbled backward, but Michael quickly reached out to steady the lad while at the same time preventing the decanter from crashing to the floor.

It all happened in a moment, but something in Michael's movements made Mr. Foremont's brows knit. For that second, Michael's disguise had faltered. He had immediately melted back into the unobtrusive servant, but now Gerard's father stared hard at the footman as he resumed his duties.

“Michael?” Gerard's father said.

Thankfully, Michael did not so much as flinch, nor did he respond to his name.

Sitting on his father’s right, Gerard quickly said, “He has the look of a Coulton-Jones, does he not, sir? I thought as much when I saw him earlier today, so I made a point of speaking to him. However, he is not a relation, even distantly.”

His father relaxed back into his seat. “He looks a bit like Michael.”

“I have had a letter from Michael only yesterday,” Gerard said. “He is enjoying Christmastide with his family, although the younger boys are rather merciless in snowball fights.”

“Michael wrote to you?”

“I wrote to him weeks ago asking if he would be interested in one of my hunters.” Gerard sighed. “Since he is Michael, he waited until this week to respond.”

His father chuckled and turned to Mr. Drydale, sitting on his left. “Did you hear that Cecil has unearthed his grandfather’s pistol? It had fallen behind a desk drawer, of all places.”

Mr. Drydale seemed to be looking in Michael's direction, also, but he turned his attention to Gerard's father. “Indeed, sir, he showed it to me yesterday. It must have taken him a great while to clean and repair it.”

The men did not remain long in the dining room and soon rose to head to the drawing room. However, Mr. Drydale laid an arm along Gerard's shoulder. “A word, Captain Foremont, if you please.”

“Of course, sir.”

“Shall we go into the library? We may be assured of more privacy there.”

Mr. Drydale's demeanor was calm and affable, but there was a hardness in his hazel eyes that made the muscles tighten at the base of Gerard's skull. He reined in his curiosity and followed the older man to the library, thumping along on his crutches.

As soon as the door was closed behind them, Mr. Drydale shoved Gerard hard against the wall, his forearm slicing his throat.

Gerard was the same height as Mr. Drydale, but thrown off his guard, he was tossed about like a limp puppet. His crutches clattered to the floor.

“I saw that man with you in the wood,” Mr. Drydale bit out. “I saw him a day earlier in the local tavern, posing as a peddler. Now I see him here as a footman and you claim to have spoken to him again. What game are you playing, Captain?”

“He is my cousin, Lieutenant Michael Coulton-Jones,” Gerard said in a tight voice. “He was helping me to investigate the attackers, since anyone connected with them is unlikely to speak candidly to me.”

Mr. Drydale seemed nonplussed by that confession. He dropped his arm, and Gerard rubbed his neck, which still burned despite the fact that the pressure against his windpipe had been released.

“Who is he?” Mr. Drydale said.

“He is my cousin,” Gerard repeated, but Mr. Drydale cut him off with an impatient hand.

“He is not simply your cousin. I did not recognize him as the man in the woods until he caught that decanter. Only then did I also recognize him as the peddler who defended a barmaid from a belligerent customer in the village tavern.”

Gerard faced the older man, his jaw working. “I cannot say more than that he is my cousin, sir.”

Mr. Drydale regarded him steadily for a moment, then gave a self-deprecating half-smile, which brought out a dimple in his cheek and made him look years younger. “No, you cannot. I should have realized that. I would hazard a guess that you saw him on the Continent at some point.”

Gerard fought to keep his face impassive.

Mr. Drydale bowed to him. “Forgive me, Captain.”

Gerard nodded stiffly.

“And should you need my assistance,” Mr. Drydale said, “I am at your service. I, too, understand about certain things of which we cannot speak.”

Gerard did not know how to respond, so he simply bowed in return, his mind whirling. Mr. Drydale came from an old, highly respectable family and he had heard someone say that he had served in the army in his youth. But this was an entirely unexpected revelation.

Mr. Drydale opened the library door, but paused to add, “If you trust Lady Wynwood, you may trust me, Captain.” He left the room.

Gerard gathered his fallen crutches, feeling as though he had awakened from a dream. This Christmastide had revealed hidden depths to people he thought he knew well—Lady Wynwood's spiritual depth and maturity, Mr. Drydale's hinted past, and most especially, Miranda's inner peace and how it influenced him so strongly. But if he were honest with himself, there were many things about Miranda that he had discovered influenced him strongly—her quick wit, her sense of humor, and the loveliness that he had not noticed until meeting her eyes that day she climbed into their coach.

But when he entered the drawing room, Miranda was nowhere to be found. He could go to the nursery to see her, but did not want to embarrass her by seeking her out.

Tomorrow. He would settle all this tomorrow.

***

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