Tuesday, May 05, 2020

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

She looked at him, and her mind became a blank. She saw only his eyes, his beautiful eyes, intent upon her face. She wanted to tell him the truth. She wanted to see his smile, hear his laughter, find joy in his arms.

It was too hard to take that step. Men like him did not love women like her. She had to make him see that his emotions were only fleeting, a mad dream from which he would wake. She gave a short laugh, tinged with both sadness and incredulity. “In a week?”

Hurt flinched across his face, and she regretted her laugh and her words.

“You cannot tell me that I do not feel as I do,” he said.

Her jaw set. “I will not allow you to make such a bad bargain.”

His jaw set, as well. She had seen this stubbornness in him, but never directed at herself. “Why is it such a bad bargain if I am in love with you?”

Love. He kept saying the word, as if he meant it. He couldn’t mean it. She had to convince him. Or perhaps … she was trying to convince herself.

She took a deep breath, then faced him squarely. “Because I do not love you, Gerard.”

Her hands shook as she said it, so she pulled them from his grasp and clamped them together, feeling her finger bones creak. But she had spent a lifetime perfecting this mask of calm—no, not a mask, a shield. She admitted it. But now, she was shielding him from herself.

He looked disbelieving, but in the face of her steady gaze, his skepticism began to crack, revealing … pain, held at bay only by some inner strength. She recognized it. She’d felt it often enough when her parents had said something particularly denigrating, when Felicity’s tongue ran sharp.

And she’d done it to Gerard.

“I ... I am sorry, that was too blunt,” she said.

Gerard didn't respond, but his eyes spoke for him—he did not want to believe her, he could not believe that he would feel this way if she did not feel the same.

She did feel the same. She loved him. But she was in a walled garden of her own making, and she held the key. And she was too weak to unlock the gate and step outside.

She wanted to believe that she could be vulnerable, that she could learn to trust. But she had been this way for too long. It was too frightening to step out. There was that part of her that was perhaps too broken.

Miranda rose to her feet. She wanted to appear practical, unfeeling—but she gnawed nervously on her bottom lip and she could not meet his eyes. 

He gathered his crutches and stood before her, a numb expression on his face.

Miranda stared at her feet. “I am sorry, Gerard. I am grateful for the honour of your proposal, but I cannot marry you.”

She turned away to hurry back to the children.

Behind her, she thought she heard him growl, “I do not want your gratitude.”

Then his hand captured her elbow. Not hard, but firmly enough to detain her. She turned back to demand that he release her.

His crutches clattered to the ground, and then his arms were around her, pulling her tight against his body. His kissed her, his lips firm and sensual.

Then she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling his head down. Blood pulsed fast and hard in her ears, and she kissed him with all that her heart had to give to him.

His tongue touched her lips and she opened for him. His hand tightened on her waist, her back, and she pressed herself against him.

It was glorious. And for a moment, the Upper Garden was in full bloom.

He pulled away from her, breathing hard. His eyes were amber fires, and the love she saw in them made her want to weep.

Her breath was coming in soft gasps, but when she gently pushed at him and his arms loosened about her, she still couldn’t seem to draw air into her lungs.

“Miranda, you lied to me.” Fierce delight shone in his smile. “You do love me.”

“I did not lie.” She pushed away from him, slithering around him to walk a few feet away.

He took only one limping step toward her. “You cannot lie your way through this. I felt it.”

She turned her back to him. He had felt it.

“Miranda, you must marry me.”

“I do not want to marry you.” Because she loved him, she also knew the most painful way to hurt him. “You say you can protect me, but we both know that a cripple cannot do so.”

There was no sound behind her. She could not turn around to see his face, so she hurried out of the garden without looking back. Upon walking through the arch into the Lower Garden, she spotted a little boy hiding behind a manicured bush. Which admittedly looked like a gigantic turd.

“I see you, Paul!” She ran to him, arms outstretched as though to tickle him to death.

He ran from her, screaming with laughter.

She played with the children for another half hour, but Gerard did not appear. When she, Miss Teel, and the nursery-maids gathered the children and marched them back to the house for tea, he still had not departed from the bleak Upper Garden.

***

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