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The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 17a #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 17a

December 31st

The children were being positively horrid. Miranda, Miss Teel, and the nursery-maids who worked for the other Belmoore families were quite prepared to begin stringing them up by their toes.

So Miranda suggested a game of Hide and Seek in the Lower Ornamental Garden. Miss Teel was amenable, but the nursery-maids objected since they did not wish to trouble themselves to bundle up the children for the outdoors. However, the children were enthusiastic about the idea, and Miranda remarked that they would be entertaining themselves in such a way as to require very little supervision, since the garden was walled, so the maids were at last persuaded.

Wintrell Hall had two large walled gardens, the Upper and Lower Ornamental Gardens. They were accessed by a gate at the bottom of the Lower Garden. The Upper Garden was smaller and connected to the Lower Garden by a stone arch in the wall separating the two.

The Lower Garden had more hiding places for the children, and Miss Teel and the two nursery-maids sat at the gate to ensure that none of the children wandered out of their sight. Miranda walked up the winding paths to the archway.

The Upper Garden was bleak at this time of year, its bare trees covered in snow and the gravel walks lined only by twiggy bushes. It matched her low spirits, and she sat on a frozen stone bench along the wall, staring at the empty space. In the spring, it would be a riot of flowers, but today it lay sleeping.

The shrieks and laughter of the children drifted to her over the high stone wall and through the open archway, echoing oddly on the ice-covered stones. The sharp air bit into her nose and lungs, but the pain was somehow comforting.

One desperate act twenty years ago was at last reaping a bitter harvest. She could blame no one but herself.

She was so afraid.

“Oh God.” The cry escaped her lips, but the soft sound fell like wet snow. Cousin Laura was so assured of the presence of the Lord, but Miranda was alone in the garden. In her life, she had never felt that the Lord had been close to her—now was no different. Perhaps only people like Cousin Laura were invited into that type of fellowship with the Almighty.

And now that Gerard’s mother appeared to be having a change of heart about her, it would be to no purpose if they did not stop Harriet. Ah, her timing was ever inconvenient.

Then came a soft, rhythmic sound. Man’s boots and a pair of crutches crunching on the gravel paths. Coming closer.

Her heart raced with wild fear, with wild joy. Her body grew more and more taut as the sound drew near.

Gerard strode through the archway into the Upper Garden. When his gaze found hers, she could not have moved, like the lichen-covered marble statues in the corners of the garden.

She would never have expected the flame that lit his eyes when he saw her.

“Miranda.” His voice tethered her to him, like a ship at anchor.

He came closer to her, moving carefully over the gravel walk until he stood before her, closer than she should have allowed. She realized too late that she should have moved toward him rather than the other way around. With the bench and the garden wall behind her, she felt as though he surrounded her.

“Are you hiding from the children?” he asked.

“In a sense.”

He sat next to her on the bench, although he seemed closer than he ought to be. Certainly there was ample space on his other side, yet his shoulder brushed hers, his boot tangled in her cloak.

He most likely had a plan he had concocted with his cousin, Lieutenant Coulton-Jones. Something that would place all of them in danger. Or perhaps he had changed his mind and would not help her. He had come to his senses and decided she was more trouble than she was worth.

“Miranda,” he said, staring ahead of him, “you do realize that you’ve been staring at a bush that looks like a gigantic turd?”

She choked, then laughed, her stomach tightening as she howled. “Gerard!”

“You looked so extremely serious,” he said. “I thought I would try to lighten your mood.” He swept his hand towards the offending bush. “And it truly does look like it. Cecil’s gardener certainly has a sense of humor.”

She hiccoughed, then snorted, then hiccoughed again.

“You’re not choking, are you?” He glanced sideways at her.

“It would be your fault if I were.”

“At least now you look less frightened.”

“I am still frightened, Gerard.”

“You are never frightened. Which is why I have a very dangerous proposition for you.”

His words were serious and yet his tone was light. It confused her. “What is it?”

He turned to face her, and took her hands in his. Through their gloves she felt his warmth.

“Miranda, will you marry me?”

More than his question, the look in Gerard’s eyes made her tremble. His eyes were shining amber flames and she was the moth, drawn towards them.

She had never allowed herself to dream of this moment, this question. Dreaming of it would have made her life all the more bleak. And now that he had asked it, with both of them sitting on an icy stone bench, she didn’t know what to think, what to feel.

Why would he say such a thing to her? Surely he wasn’t serious. He was simply being gallant and would regret his hasty words in a moment.

She swallowed and closed her eyes, shutting out that expression on his face that looked like love. When she opened her eyes, her calmness slid over her like a shroud. “Gerard, why should I do that?”

“I will do all I can to protect you. I will not leave you alone.”

She had been alone, it seemed, for most of her life. Her parents had not even liked her, she suspected. She had not belonged to the set of people she’d met in London during her season.

She knew Gerard was true to his word, he would not leave her alone. For a moment, she wanted to take hold of that, to have someone who was hers. She would be free of Harriet, of Cecil and Felicity.

But this new potential threat to her life enabled her to draw back. No, she would not marry him and expose him to the same threat. She turned her face away, her skin feeling like marble, her eyes downcast. “It is dangerous and foolhardy, Gerard.”

“I don't care.”

“I will not marry you for that reason.” This was a terrible dream. It must be. She had loved him for so long, and yet now in this moment that she had never expected would happen to her, she was refusing him because she loved him. Because she couldn’t bring this menace into his life. And so she lied to him. “I will not marry without love.”

She thought that would silence him. He would assume she was a silly, romantical girl. But then the last words she expected tumbled out of his mouth.

“Miranda, I’ve fallen in love with you.”

***

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