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Return to Satterthwaite Court
Author: Mimi Matthews


Chapter One



London, England

December 1843



Lieutenant Charles Heywood came to a halt in front of the holly- and ivy-festooned window of the draper’s shop. He was just about to enter—intent on purchasing Christmas presents for his mother and younger sister—when a small, filthy gray mongrel dog darted past him.

It was a busy day in Bond Street. Shoppers bundled up against the cold in heavy topcoats and cloaks hurried up one side and down the other. Their arms were laden with parcels, their puffs of breath visible in the frosty December air. Carriages and cabs rattled by them through the mud. Drivers jockeyed for position amid the heavy afternoon traffic that clogged the center of the street. Pedestrians crossed at their peril.

But the thin little dog exercised no caution.

He flew straight into the path of an oncoming conveyance, seemingly set on catching the wheels of a passing carriage and four.

A jolt of alarm spurred Charles into action. He surged into the street, narrowly avoiding being flattened by a coach himself. Vehicles veered around him. The muck from the flying hooves of the horses spattered his greatcoat

“Bloody fool!” one of the drivers shouted.

Charles didn’t stop to apologize. The pup was on the move and Charles along with him.

He had many flaws, undeniably, but no one had ever accused him of failing to be a man of action. It was what he’d chiefly been known for during his time away. Eight years altogether, spent serving in Her Majesty’s Navy. Always the first into the fray, no matter the risk to life and limb.

It was a quality he’d hoped to put behind him now he was finally back in England. He’d had enough of swashbuckling adventure. He was ready to settle down to a quiet, uneventful life.

His ship had only docked in London yesterday morning. It was but a brief stop in his journey. Tomorrow, he’d be traveling home to join his parents and sister at Heywood House, their family estate in Somersetshire. A long-awaited reunion. A difficult one as well.

He’d seen his family only a handful of times since leaving Somersetshire eight years ago. Just a few short visits managed while he was on leave. It had been four years since the last one. Then, Charles and his father had argued, relitigating the past with no little acrimony. His father had never wanted him to be a soldier or a sailor, risking life and limb in service to the crown. Indeed, he’d strictly forbidden Charles from joining up.

But Charles had no thought for that now. Nor for the Christmas presents he was meant to be buying in a feeble effort to atone for the pain of his absence. There was only the dog and the immediate threat of danger.

Charles reached out to grab the muddy miscreant, but the little beast nimbly darted away, snapping first at the wheels of one carriage and then another.

The dog was in the throes of the chase, heedless of the crushing danger of the wheels or the steel-shod hooves of the horses. It was a madness in some creatures. Charles had observed it before. Raised in the country among his mother’s pack of unruly dogs (a ragtag group of dubious lineage and character), he’d learned from the cradle to count animals as his friends. He’d seen them at their best—and at their worst.

But this snarling canine was nobody’s friend. He didn’t appear to reciprocate any fellow feeling toward humankind at all.

Reaching the opposite side of the street, the dog turned his focus on the bustling shoppers. He weaved through the crowd, snapping at a passing woman’s skirts and baring his teeth in a threatening matter. Never mind that he couldn’t have been more than half a stone in weight.

“Away with you!” An elderly lady in a plumed bonnet batted at him with her silk-ruffled umbrella. “Do something, Smithers,” she cried to the liveried footman accompanying her, “before he ruins my hem!”

Obedient to his mistress, the footman swung his foot to kick the dog back into the street.

The wiry little mongrel was too canny. Nimbly dodging the footman’s boot, the dog set his sights on another pair of shoppers up ahead—two stylish young ladies walking arm in arm. His gimlet eyes fixed on the bell-shaped mazarine velvet skirts of the smaller lady’s expensive-looking carriage gown. Mayhem was plainly on his mind.

With a sigh of resignation, Charles moved to intervene.

He was thinking more of the dog than the young lady. A shortcoming of his, to be sure. It was one that arose as much from upbringing as inclination. His compassion for animals frequently overshadowed his concern for the comfort of well-to-do human beings.

“Pardon me, ma’am,” he began.

The velvet-clad young lady turned to look at him in the selfsame moment the little dog latched onto her skirts. Her eyes widened in surprise.

They were blue eyes.

Impossibly blue.

Charles’s words of warning died on his lips. For an instant, he forgot where he was.

It was only for an instant.

He may not be immune to the sight of a pretty face, but neither was he a green lad. He was nearly nine and twenty. A hardened sailor to the bone. He’d encountered plenty of beautiful women in his lifetime.

Though, admittedly, this female was something out of the common way.

And it wasn’t only the blue of her eyes, as rich and midnight-velvety as the fabric of her gown, it was the turn of her flawless ivory-and-damask-rose countenance.

But she was no milk-and-water miss, for all that. Not if her face was to judge.

There was an air of strength in the winged arch of her mink brows and the firm line of her jaw. It was softened only slightly by the voluptuous curve of her mouth and the fetching cleft in her chin. A cupid’s thumbprint, he’d sometimes heard it called. The sign of a bold and sensuous nature.

It took an effort not to stare. Not to privately catalogue every contour and lilt in her vivid expression.

If she noticed the effect she had on him, she gave no sign of it. Her gaze dropped at once to the growling dog attached to her hem. A bemused smile touched her lips.

“Naughty boy.” She stretched out an elegantly gloved hand to gently remove the beast. “You mustn’t worry my skirts.”

“Don’t touch him!” Charles commanded.

The taller young lady gasped at his tone.

And no wonder.

It was the same voice he’d often used on the deck of the HMS Intrepid. One perfectly pitched to reduce wayward underlings into quivering masses of compliance.

The blue-eyed young lady didn’t even flinch. “Nonsense.” She continued to reach for the dog. “He’s just a mischievous pup. He doesn’t mean any—”

The dog responded to her advances with vicious speed, sinking his teeth into her gloved fingers.

“Oh!” She jerked her hand back with a startled cry. The fine leather of her kid glove was torn open. A drop of blood welled from her exposed finger, bright as crimson against her skin.

Charles’s stomach tightened to see it. He shrugged off his greatcoat and, in one deft movement, threw it over the snarling dog. Using the coat as a blanket, he wrapped the little creature up and lifted him into his arms.

A good swaddle was known to work miracles on small animals who had run amok. This one was no different. The dog fought his captivity in vain for but a moment before ceasing his struggles in favor of muffled yips and grumbles.

Shoppers began to slow around them, some of them stopping to investigate the source of the commotion.

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