1870. Sarah Scraghill has been sent away from Maythwaite by her father, to thwart her relationship with Jack, the most reckless of the Marriott brothers. She now lives in London with her rich cousins, the Porters.
Jack visits the Porters one day, not knowing she lives there and a misunderstanding leads to him becoming engaged to her cousin Amelia. A necklace goes missing, hearts are broken and their social life is thrown into confusion as everyone works out who loves whom, how to proceed and get their heart’s desire.
London, April 1870
Sarah Scraghill stepped out of the college door for the last time and breathed a deep sigh. Attending Queen’s College had changed her life beyond recognition. Gone were her Yorkshire dialect, social awkwardness and plain appearance. She had now learned the correct way to speak, behave in any situation and present herself to highlight her best features. Learning about a wide range of subjects also expanded her mind beyond daily life.
The Brougham carriage waited on Harley Street to take her home. The journey would only be short, but it was a relief to be shielded from prying eyes for even a few moments. She swallowed, determined not to cry. Saying goodbye to the mistresses and pupils at the college had been heart breaking. Even though she would meet some of them socially, her girlhood now lay behind her.
Gazing out of the window, she watched the pedestrians. Two middle aged ladies, cheerfully conversing arm in arm reminded her of her favourite teachers, Miss Bunce and Miss Haldane, and how she would miss them. They inspired her with her studies and encouraged her to think differently about herself. Instead of being merely a woman bound by her social status, Sarah realised she possessed more features—intelligence, wisdom and her own opinion.
The time had come to find a husband, a task she did not relish but which must be taken seriously. Marriage for a girl in her situation was a sober matter which needed careful planning.
She still remembered the man who introduced her to passion three years ago, a notorious lover of women even in those days.
Brought up to behave modestly, she knew she should despise such a man but her emotions betrayed her and responded to him even when he mocked her strict beliefs. When he at last kissed her, she thought her insides would melt into hot quivering feelings not experienced since. She needed to find a husband who could arouse all of those sensations, one who would set her heart fluttering and knees trembling again.
At the front door of her home, 18 Portland Place, the maid let her in with a whisper.
“There is a visitor, Miss. A man.” Daisy smiled broadly, her eyes bright with excitement.
Sarah expected the visitor would be one of her cousins’ friends, and removed her gloves and wrap, her thoughts returning to college. As her father sent her to live with her cousins at the age of seventeen, she entered Queen’s College rather late and been one of the oldest pupils there. She would be mature for a debutante but the headmistress assured her it was of no matter in this modern age.
She entered the parlour, where her aunt and cousins already sat. Aunt Charlotte, a full figured lady, dominated the room in her striking royal blue dress, while her daughters sat one each side like bookends. Sarah hid a smile at the sight, glad no one could mistake her for another sister.
The Porters showed off their wealth in the parlour. Hunter green wallpaper in a leafy design covered three walls, while the curtained bay window occupied the fourth. Built-in seating promised comfortable seating around the bay, with its plump satin cushions and ample leg room. The view from the window revealed the Porters’ over-cultivated back garden.
Sarah’s family lived in the small village of Maythwaite, Yorkshire, on harsh moorland where the bleak and cold view from her front window revealed no ornamental plants. She never felt comfortable in such luxury as the Porters’ home because most of her life had been spent in the severity of the north.
A gold velvet three piece suite occupied the main part of the parlour and a display cabinet for the fine china. A grandfather clock stood in the corner, while a Persian rug covered the centre of the room.
All this clutter in the one room made Sarah feel claustrophobic, but she lived as a lady now, not a mere apprentice to her undertaker father.
“Good afternoon,” said a husky voice and she turned to see a familiar figure in the armchair.
Trying to hide her shock, she smiled. Thank goodness for her thorough schooling in etiquette.
“Sarah, may I introduce the Honourable Jack Marriott?” enquired her aunt. “He is a friend of Stephen’s. Mr. Marriott, this is Miss Sarah Scraghill, my niece.”
Jack rose and kissed Sarah’s hand. Her smile did not waver, despite the surge of heat inside her the minute their hands touched.
“Delighted to meet you,” he said.
She nodded, silently giving thanks her aunt did not know she had met Jack before.
Jack made small talk with her aunt and cousins. Grace blushed when he spoke to her, Amelia twirled her hair and even Aunt Charlotte smiled, enthralled with whatever he said. So Sarah could remain quiet and observe.
Even three years older, his green eyes still displayed the roguish twinkle. He passed his hand through his dirty blond hair and smoothed his moustache. Sarah noticed his stocky but athletic figure. His face, however, had lost the slight puppy fat and he had now grown long sideburns which gave his face a fox-like aspect, suiting him perfectly.
“I must apologise for the absence of my son,” said Aunt Charlotte. “Stephen is not often so late home from the hospital.”
“You will have to make do with the ladies of the household,” interrupted Amelia, Sarah’s eldest cousin. She smiled winsomely at Jack, adjusting her mahogany ringlets.
“Oh, it is no hardship.” He returned the smile and all the ladies in the room fluttered girlishly. Except Sarah. It was not her custom to give her heart away easily, especially to one who had hurt her before.
“How is Stephen’s medical training going?” he asked.