Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 19a #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 19a

Ellie was missing.

Miranda had walked back from the Lower Gardens with her and the other children, and there had been much bustling about as they shed their cloaks, scarves, caps, and mittens. The nursery smelled strongly—and not very pleasantly—of wet wool, freshened only in the corners where pine boughs were tucked.

Dinner for the children was earlier than usual today because of the New Year’s Eve dinner party. The kitchen simply could not prepare the food for all the children and the grand party at the same time. But when it was time to eat, Ellie was nowhere to be found.

Miranda spent twenty minutes searching the nursery wing, in every closet and corner. She had begun to feel real concern when Jean, the under-maid, came up to her in the deserted hallway. “Miss, I found Miss Ellie.”

Miranda had not seen Jean since the incident in the family wing two days ago, and her appearance now with Ellie missing made Miranda’s breath freeze in her throat. “Where is she?”

“If you’ll follow me, miss.”

“I wouldn’t follow you if you promised the way to Paradise.”

Jean surprised her by stepping close to her, enough that Miranda could see the hard lines along her mouth and eyes. In a low voice, she said, “You’ll come with me if you want to see Ellie again.”

“If you’ve hurt her, you’ll see what I’m capable of,” Miranda said in a dark voice.

That startled Jean, and she blinked her pale eyes twice, thrice. Then they narrowed. “If you don’t come with me, she’ll be hurt badly.”

Miranda set her jaw, then noticed Jean was wearing a cloak. “Are we going outside? Let me get my cloak.” Jean looked as though she would object simply to be contrary, but Miranda added, “I will come quietly if you let me get my cloak.”

Jean came into the bedroom with her as she retrieved her wool cloak, and did not object when she also snatched up her bonnet and Gerard’s black and red scarf. Miranda then followed Jean down the stairs.

Michael would be helping with the preparations for the dinner party. Would they pass the dining room or the kitchens? Could she catch his eye?

But they descended to the family wing and then took the back stairs to the gardens. They saw no other servants, for they were all helping guests in their bedrooms or preparing for the dinner.

They turned toward the south end of the estate, but they did not cross the lawn, instead skirting the edge of the forest. Gerard’s bedroom window faced in the opposite direction. He would never see her.

The wind had risen, and it cut through her thin cloak like ice daggers. But her heart felt even more frozen. Was despair always so cold?

After taking a short trail through a narrow strip of woods, they came upon a dirt road used by the tenant farmers. An old traveling coach sat fifty yards away, driven by one of the men who had attacked them in the garden and at the skating party. It was the taller one, who had injured Gerard.

The coach opened and the round-faced man who had tried to take Miranda stepped out. He nodded to someone inside, and then Miranda saw Harriet.

She exited the vehicle gracefully. She had deep lines in her hard face, but her hair, visible under her bonnet, was still thick and beautiful, a rich brown color. Her eyes glittered when she spotted Miranda, but she didn’t smile.

“Randa!” Ellie’s voice carried to her on the wind.

“Ellie!” She hurried forward, and now saw Ellie sitting in a corner of the coach, looking small and very cold. She had her cloak, but no mittens or cap.

Miranda had no need to say anything to Harriet. The woman helped Ellie to the ground, shoving her roughly toward Jean. She also tossed the maid a leather pouch that clinked. “My thanks, Jean.” Harriet’s voice was low and rough, but would sound sultry to most men.

She issued no orders to Miranda, but simply turned her blue gaze upon her and waited.

Harriet’s silence was strangely frightening. Miranda climbed into the coach, and Harriet and the man followed. In a moment they were in motion, leaving Wintrell Hall far behind.

“I thought you were dead,” Miranda said to Harriet.

“You probably wished I was.” Idly, Harriet fingered the embroidered edge of her traveling cloak. While the material was not rich, it was of good quality, as were her gloves and bonnet trimmed in velvet ribbon. She had apparently not died a sickly prostitute, as the gossip had hinted, but had perhaps found some patron. She had the means to pay Jean, and probably these men, and to rent this traveling coach.

“Where are you taking me?”

“London.” Harriet stifled a yawn.

“You’re taking me to London to kill me?”

Miranda finally had Harriet’s full attention. “Kill you? No. I haven’t spent all this time and money to find you simply to kill you. I’ll toss you into the same neighborhood where I was stranded after you had me sacked without a reference.”

“You didn’t deserve a reference,” Miranda snapped.

“I didn’t deserve anything that happened to me,” Harriet hissed. “But you will.”

“Why—”

“Hold your tongue or I shall have Todge cut it out for you.” Harriet nodded to the man across from them. He gave Miranda a narrow gaze from eyes that were still slightly swollen from where she’d thrust her fingers into them, three days ago.

They traveled in silence for a mile. Miranda saw the forested area on either side of the road and knew they were about to leave Belmoore lands.

She knew exactly when they had to slow down because of the potholes in the public road.

She leaned down as if removing a stone from her shoe, grabbed two handfuls of dirt and straw from the floor of the coach, and flung them in Todge’s eyes. Then she grabbed at the door latch and flung herself from the moving coach.

***

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