Mimi MatthewsMimi Matthews

Return to Satterthwaite Court: Sneak Peek II

Somerset, England
January 1844

Kate turned her attention to the bleak winter landscape ahead. The setting sun kissed the curves of the barren hills, streaking the empty brown fields in cold shadow. “It isn’t at all what you think. I’m not enamored of him. I’m only intrigued. It amuses me to tease him a little. Why shouldn’t I?”

“Take care,” Mama warned. “Country gentleman aren’t as sophisticated about flirtation as London gentlemen are. They’re far more likely to be offended by such things.”

“I don’t seek to give offense.”

“Your intentions matter little among those who don’t know you.”

Kate frowned. She didn’t like to imagine Lieutenant Heywood thinking ill of her.

But he already had, hadn’t he?

He’d accused her of writing that strange note. Of daring to mention his mother—a grievous sin by any measure. One didn’t involve a man’s mother or sisters in a jest. It simply wasn’t done. Kate would never—

But he hadn’t known that.

Her mother was right. The lieutenant knew nothing about Kate’s motives or her character. Nothing except that she’d had the temerity to send him a humorous gift and to seek him out at his parents’ home uninvited.

“No, he doesn’t know me,” Kate said. “Which is why the two of us must become better acquainted.”

Her mother considered the matter. “If you’re resolved on it, I suppose your father and I could invite the Heywoods to dine.”

“I already have,” Kate replied promptly.

Mama took the pronouncement in stride. “Naturally you have. When might we expect them?”

“I’ve asked them to join us next week.” Kate urged Ember into a trot. “Once the lieutenant has dined and danced with me, I’m confident he’ll recognize my finer points.”

Her mother easily kept pace on her ebony mare. “After which you’ll grow bored of him just as you have the others.”

Kate gave an exaggerated wince. “Really, Mama. You’re too cruel.”

“It’s not I who can be cruel,” Mama said. “You’re too careless with gentlemen’s hearts, my dear.”

“I’m not,” Kate assured her mother. “I’ve never had anyone’s heart. In truth…” She hesitated a fraction of a second, hating to give voice to the niggling suspicion. “I sometimes think gentlemen don’t like me at all.”

“Nonsense. You’re enormously likable.”

“You wouldn’t know that by what happened in London. I met no one who could tolerate me as I am.”

“That’s not what your Aunt Jane said in her letters. She claims all manner of gentlemen called on you in Duke Street.”

“Oh yes, they paid court handsomely enough. They thought me pretty. They also thought me strident, overbold, and excessively opinionated.” As they approached the top of the hill, Kate brought Ember back down to a walk. “I know for a fact my personality grated on them.”

Mama slowed her mare. Her expression was troubled. “How can you know?”

“One hears things. And one has eyes enough to see them.” Kate circled Ember back to her mother. The wind whipped at her net veil. “I’m tired of playing by society’s rules. They weren’t designed for a lady’s happiness.”

“No,” Mama said. “But we must all play by the rules at some time or other. To flout them occasionally may be forgiven, but to disregard them entirely—”

“You would have done.”

“It was a different time. And I wasn’t the daughter of an earl, merely the wayward only child of a bombastic country squire.”

“Nevertheless…” Kate cast a contemplative eye toward the horizon. The icy air filled her lungs on a deeply indrawn breath.

It wasn’t even about Lieutenant Heywood. Not really. It was about the exercise of her own free will. She wanted the unbridled independence to choose her future husband for herself.

“Take care,” Mama said again. “You have your reputation to consider. It’s already received a beating during your time in London, deservedly or not. I won’t review what transpired then. You’ve been scolded enough on that score. But I beg you, for once, spare a thought for your good name. If not for your own sake, then for your father’s. Your conduct reflects on the earldom. It does him no credit when you behave as though you don’t know any better.”

Kate’s gaze returned to her mother’s. She’d heard this particular lecture before. If pressed, she could probably recite it by heart. “I’ve done nothing wrong,” she said. “I’ve only called on Lieutenant Heywood in company with my brother. A perfectly respectable call, I might add. There was nothing of romance about it. And even if there were…” Ember stamped his hooves beneath her, sensing her restlessness. “What harm could it do if I were to pursue him a little?”

“A great deal of harm if he doesn’t reciprocate your intentions. Society tolerates boldness far more readily than it does foolishness. If you make yourself ridiculous—”

“I’ve no plan to do so.” Kate turned Ember back toward the house. “You needn’t worry, Mama.”

“I won’t worry.” Her mother rode up alongside her. “Not so long as you promise to behave.”

“I promise,” Kate said, “to do nothing more scandalous than what you might have done yourself when you were my age.”

Her mother’s mouth curved in a dry smile. “That, my darling girl, is precisely what I’m afraid of.”

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