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A Springtide Meeting

A Regency Romance

By Emily Murdoch


Smashwords Edition

Copyright © Emily Murdoch

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Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven


Chapter One

Thursday 4th March, 1790. London

Dear Dr Walsingham,

Well, you have succeeded. I am coming to Weymouth, and it is all your fault of course. Sea air? Rest? I do not consider myself in any way elderly at this point, and yet familial pressures and your conniving now mean that I am to make the long journey from London to Weymouth, jolted all the way no doubt on a second-class carriage with a second-class driver. I hope you are happy with yourself, Dr Walsingham, for I certainly am not. You can alleviate your conscience, however, by meeting me on the Wednesday after I arrive at your doctor’s surgery, where you can identify me by my large golden heart-shaped locket, undoubtedly obvious in the sunlight, and give me a full – and clean – bill of health.

Until we meet, and most probably after that, I shall remain,

Miss C Honeyfield

Monday 5th March, 1790. Weymouth

Dear Miss Honeyfield,

Since our correspondence began, your brother (an acquaintance of my cousin, as you know), has been most desirous that your health be considered seriously. I am delighted to hear that you will be joining me in Weymouth; its health benefits alone are reason enough to visit, but beyond that there is thriving society that I am sure you will enjoy. I am quite at your leisure, yet sadly my surgery itself has been closed for some months for refurbishment. I will, however, happily meet you on the promenade opposite the Esplanade – shall we say, eleven o’clock? The springtime March air may be chilly, so wrap up warm. The last thing that I would want, as your doctor, is for you to catch cold whilst waiting for me.

I am your ever-faithful servant,

Dr Walsingham

The golden sand rippled in the wind, and scattered over her skirts. Toes bare, she lowered them and Cordelia could not help but smile with delight as the grains of sand pushed against her heel. She had left her stockings behind, a risqué move but one that was surely more common here? A salty breeze tugged at the curls that had slipped from her pins, and her smooth skin pulled at the gloves keeping the breeze from her.

She had done it. She had made it to Weymouth.

“Weymouth,” Cordelia Honeyfield murmured under her breath, her thirsty eyes absorbing everything that was going on around her. Elegant couples dressed in the latest French fashions, bonnets rustling in the wind, were strolling arm in arm up and down the promenade. She was sitting on the edge of the walkway, legs dangling down to the sand, and gulls with dark heads were bobbing along the lapping tide.

Admittedly, Cordelia had not done it alone.

“Wrap that shawl a little closer around your shoulders, Cordelia,” came the sharp tones of Mrs Chambers. “And mind you keep it there, this wind is biting. And where are your gloves?”

Cordelia had not noticed. She had almost forgot that Mrs Chambers, the indomitable chaperone, was standing behind her under a parasol almost stolen by the wind, and she had almost forgot about the odious Dr Walsingham. The disgust rose strongly here, but receded as she watched another small fishing boat pulling onto the shore.

“Look, Mrs Chambers, another one!” She flung out a finger as she spoke excitedly, but there was no answer from her companion, who shook her head at her young impetuous charge.

Three men jumped out of the small boat, and began to haul it further up the sands, sweat pouring from their brows despite the spring breeze that bit at uncovered flesh.

I could go anywhere, she thought. This is not London, or home – there is nowhere in Weymouth that I cannot go, any time that I wish. The mere possibility of such freedom was enough to get her pulse racing, and colour in her cheeks.

“. . . perhaps today.”

She caught the dribs and drabs of conversations that passed her along the promenade.

“Today? Surely the King is in London, he would not bring his family down here so soon –”

“Nay, I swear it, that is what I read, and he is going to bring his . . .”

The pair of ladies, past the prime of life and greying at the edges, moved beyond Cordelia’s ears, but as her gaze followed them it rested on a gentleman.

He was not moving along the promenade; he was standing, perhaps ten feet from her, staring out to the ocean. Dressed in all the finery that one would expect from a gentleman, he was not doing anything as far as she could tell. Just standing there.

Cordelia turned back to watch the fishermen complete their journey, but they had already taken their spoils further inland, and now that she was aware of the young man out of the corner of her eye, she found that she was uncomfortably conscious of him. Was he watching her? If she turned her head to see, was she watching him?

A flush that had nothing to do with the liberty before her started to creep up her neck. This was as bad as waiting around for the last half an hour for Dr Walsingham – was he ever to arrive? Thinking of him again made her irritation with him rise like bile, and she quashed it.

“Mrs Chambers, I wonder if –” Cordelia began, turning around to speak to her chaperone; but she had gone. The only person standing behind her now was the young man, and his eyes, previously vague in their focus, had found something to lock onto. Her.

He should not be staring at her – certainly not now that she had noticed, though his expression was surely blatant enough for her to feel discomfort. But Dr Timothy Walsingham could not help it. A young lady, seated alone at Weymouth was enough to draw the eye regardless of her personal charm, and this woman had more than enough.

Perhaps it was her chestnut hair that drew the eye; the way that the struggling springtime sunshine glinted off it, as it did the waves from the sea. Perhaps it was her figure, slender and small. Perhaps it was the way that her shoes lay carelessly forgotten beside her. But more than anything else, it was probably the way that her eyes seemed to have flecks of gold in them as the sun sparkled in them. He had only seen them for an instant before she turned to gaze back out to sea, but they seemed to be constantly altering their colour, at once a light brown and at others a hazel. Had he imagined flecks of shimmering gold?

And to top all that, Timothy could see that she had followed the latest fashions in beachwear, and underneath the woollen shawl wrapped tightly around her neck and shoulders, was wearing a dress that was several inches shorter than the urban style, displaying pale ankles and half of her calves to the world as they swung down to the sand.

This is ridiculous, he chided himself. You are a doctor, not some young whelp of a boy coming up to Oxford! Should a few inches of bare flesh really turn you into such a – an animal?

The answer, unbidden and mercifully unspoken, came back to him immediately: yes. This was not a young woman that you came across often.

But this was not the time to stare down unaccompanied young women who could have come to Weymouth for the delights of the coming season. He was here to find the elderly lady whom he had been advising by letter, and poor old Miss Honeyfield seemed, if the letters be true, in dire need of a little medical attention. He had waited here at least thirty minutes, but none of the more mature ladies who had strolled up or down the promenade before him had been wearing a golden heart-shaped locket matching the one she had described in her last letter.

Something golden did catch his eye though, and he was drawn as though by a magnet back to the young woman, her back resolutely turned to him. The sea air, gusty as it was this spring, lifted a curl of hair and the lock glinted golden in the sunlight.

Timothy realised that his mouth was open.

“Catching flies?”

At first, he did not understand who had spoken, but by process of elimination if it had not been he to speak first, then it must have been –

The woman’s eyes, no longer fixed out to sea, were staring at him filled with suspicion. Timothy closed his mouth slowly.

“Because I would have thought you would have more success with honey, if I were you.”

Timothy willed himself to speak, but for some reason, no sound came out. His lips did not even move. He was too busy drinking in that sharp look of interest he could see in her face.

She furrowed her brows as she beheld him. Then she turned around to watch the waves, now stronger as the tide turned.

“I was watching the ocean.” Relieved that he could speak again, Timothy took a step forward towards the young woman, gaze fixed upon her, and almost barrelled into a mother with a child either side of her. Muttered apologies were offered before he found himself on the other side of the promenade, standing beside the seated young woman.

“I love watching the tide,” was the reply from her, and Timothy smiled. “I have always loved the sea, rarely as we have visited it.”

“You have been here before then?”

She nodded slowly, not taking her eyes from the cresting waves that shone first blue, then silvery white. “When I was a girl, and before the Royal family had ever thought to come here – it was not a fashionable place to come to, then.”

It did not take long for Timothy to make a decision. Leaning down, he dropped to sit beside the young woman, leaving a respectable two feet between them as decorum would dictate. From here, he could see much more of her, and was surprised to see that there was a hint of sadness playing around her mouth, despite the smile.

“Some people just love the sea,” he said quietly.

She turned towards him, and the smile deepened to something more genuine. “It is as though salt runs through my veins, rather than blood.”

Timothy nodded. “That is an admirable way of putting it; many people seem to come alive when they arrive here. Something in the air, something in the water sparks them into life like nothing else.”

A gull, squawking into the gusty breeze, floated by them. The control was absolute, only needing to move its wings minutely to guide itself along the beach, calling out to its friends.

“It is funny though,” she said softly. “I seem to spend the majority of my time considering the ocean, and I have not yet set foot in it. I have a friend from home who has gone swimming in it! But that is a pastime far beyond me – I do not even know how to swim.”

He smiled. He caught a fleck of golden light dancing in her eyes as she spoke. “It is recommended here, of course, for its health benefits, but I must admit that there are plenty of us who live here in the town who swim for the pleasure of it.”

At his words, she turned to stare at him. “Swim – for pleasure?”

Intensity sparked through her, and Timothy’s smile broadened. This strange woman seemed to give her companions all her attention, or none of it. “Yes, for the sheer joy of it. There is nothing quite like being out in the water, completely lost in the elements. If you are not careful, you can forget that there is even a real world around you.”

She stared at him, and then smiled slowly. “To be perfectly honest with you, I shall be sad to leave here after a fortnight.”

An overwhelming feeling of disappointment washed over him. “Is your stay so short?”

“Short?” The young woman stared, puzzled. “How do you know that I only arrived but recently? I could have been here five weeks already.”

“Oh, I live here,” said Timothy quickly, “and I observe whenever there is a new person in Weymouth, and therefore I assumed that –”

“I have to go.” Before he could say anything more to reassure her that he had not, in fact, been following her as she undoubtedly seemed to think, she had pulled herself up and placed her sturdy shoes on her feet. “I must meet Mrs Chambers – goodness knows where she has got to, she was supposed to be my chaperone.”

No one had intrigued Timothy more than this woman, almost a mermaid in her devotion to the sea, and she was already stepping away from him. He did not even know her name.

“Miss – excuse me, Miss?” He scrambled to his feet, and waved an arm after her, knowing better than to follow her.

The breeze caught his words and flung them out to sea, far away from her ears. She had not heard him, and he was already losing sight of her in the crowded street that led on from the promenade.

Timothy sighed. Sometimes it was just not meant to be.

“. . . and why you considered it acceptable to simply leave me there, alone, I have no idea.” Cordelia had rattled off her speech and did not even pause to hear Mrs Chambers’ reply. Stalking upstairs, she went to her room, and sat, irritably fiddling with the quill on the wooden desk that had been provided for her.

Cordelia reached out for a sheet of paper, and there was a roughness to it; there were grains of sand under her fingertips as she brushed past it. She could not help but smile. There was sand in her shoes also, and every step reminded her that she was here, finally, in Weymouth. Now all she had to do was get this meeting with the odious Dr Walsingham over, and she would be free to do what she wanted here – father or no father.

The quill was dipped into the inkpot, and after dabbing it slightly to rid it of its excess, she began to write.

Wednesday 10th March, 1790. Weymouth

Dr Walsingham,

It is with the greatest of regret that I remind you that you did not fulfil our appointment this afternoon; honestly, it is too bad of you, when I have come all this way from London and you cannot even stir from your fireside chair. No matter, Dr W, I am sure that I will not hold it against you forever – and fortunately for you, there is an opportunity most providential to atone for your crime. I shall be in the same place tomorrow morning – that is Thursday morning, Dr W, so as to prevent you from wilfully misunderstanding – at eleven o’clock. Same place, same time, different people. After all, you did not bother to attend.

Do not disappoint me again, sir. There is much that I wish to do here, and I cannot spend the week waiting around for you. I am ever your patient patient,

Miss C Honeyfield

Chapter Two

Dr Timothy Walsingham tugged at his greatcoat, and pulled it closer around him as the biting spring wind attempted to wrench it open. A squall was coming in, and the whole of Weymouth could feel the icy wind. His top hat, usually proud upon his head, was grasped underneath his arm for fear of it being blown off. Turning a corner – and knowing that as it brought him to the beach, the wind would only increase – he braced himself.

And almost gasped audibly.

There she was. A day later, and there was the same young woman, this time standing, at the same place on the promenade.

Legs almost entangled themselves as Timothy tried to stop himself from going forward, desperate not to be seen by her, but it was too late. Her face had twitched up, and a look of surprise mingled with alarm covered it – an expression that was probably mirrored, he thought ruefully, on his own.

Why was she here again? It was too much to hope, and he smiled briefly, that she was here in the expectation of seeing him again. Their conversation the day before had been brief; it surely could not have sparked in her an interest.

But why not? It had done, within him.

Unsure what he was supposed to do with his hands and feeling an almost uncontrollable urge to whistle, Timothy stood still, allowing the gusting wind to buffet him slightly forwards and backwards as the cry of the seagulls made for a mournful melody.

As the seconds turned to minutes, Timothy gazed around him. The unsettled weather had driven many of Weymouth’s inhabitants and visitors inside, away from the gusting wind, and it could surely come as no surprise to him that Miss Honeyfield, the poor old dear, was staying safe inside. She had remarked in one of her letters, and he smiled to think of it, how clumsy she was, constantly tripping over her own feet and having to pass it off as the untidiness of the cobbles. No, Miss Honeyfield would not be venturing out today.

But she had. Another glance over at the elegant young woman, staring resolutely anywhere but where he stood, was enough to drive his impetuous nature.

“Good morning.”

His words were snatched away by the breeze but, unlike the day before, they were pushed towards her rather than away from her. She nodded, and Timothy took a step closer.

“I hope you are well, this fine morning, and not concerned about the wind.” The weather. He was talking about the weather? Cringing inside, he glanced over to her to see if his ineptitude and forwardness had made her wish to leave.

It seemed not.

“I love the wind, do not you?” Cordelia stretched out her arms and glorified in the way that the wind caught at her shawl, wrapped tightly around her neck and shoulders. “Does it not make you feel as though you could take off at any moment, and join the birds in the air?”

Closing her eyes, she turned, revelling in the sharp scent of the salty wind that rushed through her hair.

“It is certainly a day to feel alive.” The young gentleman who had appeared again seemed slightly concerned about her sanity, and Cordelia put down her arms and opened her eyes. The last thing she needed was word to get back to her father that she was unstable.

Cordelia smiled serenely. “Indeed, sir. There is nowhere one can feel alive quite like Weymouth.”

The man took another step closer to her and rather than take a step backwards herself, as she would have done in London when a man she did not know got too close, she stayed. Their brief meeting the day before somehow settled her spirits. There was something about this man that made her feel entirely safe; as though he were some sort of anchor, unmoveable and unshakeable despite the tugging of the world.

And his next words shocked her.

“I was wondering if you would enjoy taking a stroll down the promenade with me.” His words were quiet yet firm, and as far as Cordelia could tell, there was no mischief in them.

She turned around. Mrs Chambers had only run back to collect her own shawl from their lodgings, and she would surely panic if she returned to this spot to find Cordelia absent from it. And yet the promenade was not so very long, and she was desperate for a walk. All this lounging around for one’s health, there was nothing more likely to kill one off.

Cordelia decided. “I would be delighted, Mr . . .”

If she was not mistaken, there seemed to be a slight hesitation before he answered her, “Timothy. Just Timothy.”

It was enough to make her pause. Surely it was his real name – surely, she could trust him, a gentleman as he was, dressed in that frockcoat with top leather boots, a large gold pocket watch chain slightly visible when the wind moved it. And after all, this was Weymouth out of season. She would not want her full name to be known here either, to be written in the gossip pages of London as a feeble woman who could not stand life’s challenges to the extent that one needed time away at a healing spa.

“And I am Cordelia.” Her words were short and clipped, but there was no distrust in her tones. I wanted to escape my father’s control, after all, she thought, and here I am! He would never have countenanced such behaviour, but there are none here to stop me!

Turning on her heels, she began to walk slowly along the promenade, the golden sand on her left and the jutting spit before her. Timothy, or whatever his name was, did not have to move fast to catch up however. It took him but three long strides to be alongside her. Cordelia looked over at him, and he smiled.

“Why have you come to visit Weymouth, if I may ask?”

Cordelia stopped to pick up a bit of dry seaweed, and glanced out to sea. “You may ask,” was her short reply.

He seemed to accept this. Cordelia raised an eyebrow; a man who did not question, who did not demand to know everything, who was happy to accept an obvious rebuttal without censure?

It was this, perhaps, that made her relent. “It was my Papa.”

Timothy smiled, and nodded reassuringly as the wind tried to steal the shawl from her shoulders. She pulled it tighter as he said, “He wanted you to enjoy the sea air, and have a holiday?”

“Ha!” Her sarcastic laugh was not lost on him.

“Perhaps not.”

“Perhaps not indeed.” Cordelia tore the seaweed that was in her hands to shreds, and smiled, amused, into her companion’s face. “Nay, I should not laugh, not when such a holy man is involved. My brother has been newly ordained, you see, and the family is concerned about my health.”

“Your health?” His eyes widened, and without thinking he put out an arm to take hers – one that she escaped, and so his arm dropped to his side again. “Did you see many doctors in London?”

“Four . . . five? They all seem rather alike after a while, their grey beards waggling as they talk about ‘spirits’ and ‘grave concern’ and ‘in need of a restorative trip’. If you ask me, it is because the style of corsets is too tight.”

Her voice was light, but there was a sense of sadness underneath it. Timothy swallowed. “I did not realise that you were in need of Weymouth’s restorative powers.”

“Oh, I think that if Papa had been truly concerned about my health, I would have been sent to Bath, do you not agree?” A wry smile appeared on her face, and she shook her head as they passed a family with five children, the parents attempting to herd their children like lambs across the beach as one flock.

There was a second of silence, and Cordelia let it linger. It was rather exotic, not being known intimately by someone. Her entire acquaintance at home had known her for – goodness, twenty years or more! How delicious to be able to pick and choose the information that one reveals, to only have known about oneself what one decides to impart – to live as a mystery if she wanted to!

But this Timothy was not an aficionado of mysteries. “What symptoms were you experiencing, that a trip to Weymouth was necessary?”

Cordelia could not help but laugh at this, her fingers grasping another stray strand of seaweed from the bank beside them as the spit came closer into view. She could feel the cold movement of her locket underneath her shawl as she walked. “Timothy, I know we have only just met, but you will soon learn to see through my idiocy and dissembling. Fear not, I am not about to keel over before you; I am here not for a sea cure for fainting fits, but for exuberance and over-excited spirits.”

With these words, she skipped ahead of him, turning around and walking backwards to face him. “In truth,” she said beaming, “I am here to cure my one true fault: that I always want my own way, in everything.”

Timothy could not help but burst into laughter, alarming the two young ladies that passed them. “Cordelia, you are incorrigible!”

She batted her eyelashes, and almost tumbled over as her foot caught on a pebble. “Why, thank you for saying so, kind sir!”

“Your father cannot manage you, and you have been sent here as a sort of . . . punishment?”

His voice sounded surprised and a little censorious, and Cordelia examined him. He could not be much older than she, and he had money, otherwise the top hat would have stayed at home. Who would risk losing it, if it could not be replaced? He seemed in the habit of charming, that was for sure, and yet he seemed genuinely unsure how to manage her.

She sighed. Add him to the list, then.

“Not a punishment, really,” was her eventual reply. “Dearest Papa conspired with a doctor to have him recommend a sea visit.”

“Conspired!” Now it was his turn to laugh. “I was not aware that doctors conspired with anyone.”

Cordelia’s smile became more mischievous, but there seemed to Timothy to be sadness mingled in with it. “And yet here I am.”

She twisted back to face the spit, and Timothy was left with the view of her back – a sight still lovely, it had to be said. And so, this was why Cordelia was here: a doctor who believed that the sea air would calm her spirits.

“I have met such doctors, of course, and disagreed with them.” Timothy had wondered who had spoken – and then realised that it had been himself. His train of thought, so personal, had escaped him and entered the world. At what price?

Cordelia had turned to stare at him. “You have?”

He nodded. “I do not think that women should be punished for feeling alive, as men are allowed to do. What does that gain, but servile partners to our lives?”

And then he almost walked into her, stopping himself short as she had done mere moments before a collision. Her eyes were wide, her mouth open, and the seaweed that had been in her hand had dropped to the ground, forgotten.

“Do you genuinely think that?” Cordelia asked quietly, hands clasped around her shawl, keeping it tight around her. “Truly?”

A gust of wind pushed her, and she raised a hand to his chest to prevent her from falling. They stayed there.

“Truly,” he murmured. His arms had moved, almost without his knowledge, and cradled her elbows to steady her, but it was now that he felt the movement of her ribcage as she breathed. Her lashes fluttered as their eyes met, and he could see her breathing quicken.

What are you doing man, it has been moments since you met the woman – unchaperoned, and unprotected!

The idea burned through his mind and he dropped her arms and took a step backwards as though she was red hot.

“And . . . and you decided to come after all?” He managed, walking around her and continuing towards the spit. “You do not strike me as a person who would allow such a thing to happen if you did not secretly wish it.”

He did not turn his head, but could feel her presence by his side, and then heard her speak.

“I must admit, the doctor in the letters does seem to be genuinely concerned about my health,” Cordelia admitted in a low tone. “It is hard to truly dislike someone who is so amiable. And besides, if I had my way, I would always live by the sea,” she confessed, fiddling with what he could see was another piece of seaweed, dried out in the sun. “Being within earshot of the waves, tasting the salt on the breeze – it is more than I can bear lodging at the Golden Lion which to my mind, is far too much a distance from the shore.”

“I must say, I think I undervalue the place that I live because I see it often.” Timothy said, quietly. “You see something every day and then you start to go blind to its charms.”

But who could ever go blind to her charms? He wondered. This woman was part woman, part mermaid, always slipping from his understanding.

“Cordelia,” he began, not entirely sure where this sentence was going to lead him, “I was wondering if –”

“What is the time?”

She stared at him inquisitively, and Timothy thrust his hand into his waistcoat pocket to retrieve his pocket watch, hands resolutely clasped at the top of the face.

“It does appear to be midday,” he said, almost disappointed. Whatever the reason she had asked, it was surely not one that kept her here, and his enjoyment of her company seemed about to be drawn to a close.

And he was right. “I must go. Mrs Chambers – that is my chaperone, you know, though you would hardly know it, consider us now! She is expecting me, if I had not met the dreaded doctor – thank you for the walk, sir.”

Skirts flying in the wind and her haste, the woman he had met the day before sprinted down the promenade running faster than anyone Timothy had ever seen. In a flurry of shawl almost escaping and her muffled laughter, she was gone.

That evening, two letters found themselves switching residences.

Thursday 11th March, 1790. Weymouth

Dr Walsingham,

Well, what is this – another disappointment, and it is all your fault so do not think about crying to me. I waited for you at least ten minutes, which is more than anyone should be required to do in polite society, and I eventually gave you up as a lost cause. I have come here on your instructions, if you remember, and the least you could do is face me after you have brought me here for my health. It should not take long; all I require of you is to see that I am perfectly well, and that is an end to it. I am sure you have plenty of women on your books who cannot spare you for even a minute – but they must, as I am your most irritable patient,

Miss C Honeyfield

Thursday 11th March, 1790. Weymouth

Miss Honeyfield,

I am beyond desperately sorry to have missed you today. Indeed, my other patients are being just as neglected, but I am to make amends within the day, and I shall attend to you first – shall we say, nine o’clock? I would be remiss, however, if I did not ask where you were this morning when I waited for you – but no matter, I am sure you had a most elegant and correct reason for leaving me waiting. If you would wear that golden heart-shaped locket that I have heard so much about, I am sure it will not be difficult to give you a quick medical examination, and then a clean bill of health. I remain, most affectionately, your devoted,

Dr Walsingham

Chapter Three

Cordelia burst out laughing. “You, again?”

Friday seemed to be handing her the same view that Wednesday and Thursday had offered; a tall man in a rather large greatcoat, though no top hat under one arm, despite being less windy than the day before. He turned, and a rather surprised smile spread over his face.

“Why – Cordelia, I had not expected to see you here again!”

There was something strange about the way that his words spread over her like a warm sunrise, but she put it down to a lessening of the wind. It could not be, of course, his Grecian profile or the way that he seemed pleased to see her.

“Nor I you,” she returned, walking towards him and taking in a lungful of fresh salty air. “Your acquaintance has not arrived, then? I say acquaintance because I think if you had been waiting for a friend, you would have had much less patience.”

Timothy’s eyebrows rose. “Less patience? You do not think, then, that for our friends we should have almost unlimited patience, as those who love us dearly?”

He inclined his head at an elderly gentleman who passed them along the promenade, so Cordelia was not sure whether he had caught her snort of laughter – it was suppressed as she wrapped her shawl around her tightly against the biting wind, her fingers grazing past the locket from her mother that she always wore, and when his gaze returned to her, her features were elegantly composed.

“For our friends, we typically have but little patience, for they know us well and should be ready to accept and forego any shortcomings.” She spoke decidedly, striding forwards towards the edge of the promenade and taking both shoes off. “They can easily offend and easily be forgiven – but an acquaintance, someone who does not know our faults? For them is our patience, surely. After all, they have not had time to learn of all our faults yet.”

The laugh Timothy gave seemed borne more of confusion than mirth, but Cordelia could not tell exactly; her eyes were focused on the rolling waves, and her mind on the sensation of the sand between her toes. In truth, there was nothing to compare to it.

“Perhaps you are right,” came Timothy’s voice ever closer, and Cordelia felt rather than saw him drop beside her. “And you are right about my acquaintance; she is an elderly gentlewoman, a friend of the family whom I have never met. All I know of her visit here is that she is staying at the Golden Lion, and –”

“The Golden Lion?” She physically started, a jolt that knocked her into him. “But that is where I am staying, Mrs Chambers and me. What a coincidence!”

“It is indeed strange, considering just how many different lodging houses, inns, and hotels there are now in Weymouth,” Timothy conceded. “And yet five years ago, in 1785, it was rare for there to be any sort of number of visitors, making extra accommodation not necessary. Have you seen her?”

Cordelia dragged her gaze away from the ocean, confused. “Her?”

He stifled a laugh. He had never met anyone so easily distracted by the constantly changing scenery of the seaside. Woe betide the elderly Miss Honeyfield to come across this vibrant and vivacious Cordelia. “My correspondent. I know little of her, but I think she must be of advanced years. She writes sometimes as though she has lived over seventy years on this dull plain.”

“My word, she sounds formidable,” smiled Cordelia. “I shall certainly keep a weather eye out for her.”

Sighing, he shook his head. “I fear that she is too ill to leave her rooms as she has come to Weymouth –”

“For her health?” She should not have allowed the bitterness to creep into her voice, but she could not help herself. “Poor thing, she has probably been bundled off by a family member – younger, and poorer, no doubt – in the hope that she will catch a sea chill and die off, leaving her fortune to the next generation!”

Timothy laughed, and clasped his hands together in his lap. “That is as may be, but I can assure you that I would profit none by her death – so you can assure yourself that I am no murderer!”

She smiled back in turn, and cast a glance over to him past dark lashes. “I did not have you down as a murderer, sir, I have more than enough of those from the circulating library’s novels!”

At this, he sat up straighter. “Ah, you have found the one here – here in Weymouth? It is perhaps my favourite place, other than the shore itself, in the whole town. Have you been there recently? There is a new book by William Gifford that I have been most desirous of reading myself, but I have not yet had the opportunity to attend.”

“No time like the present!”

Without another word, she had jumped up and taken a few steps away from him, until his words caused her to stop.

“Cordelia, will you not be needing these?”

She turned to see her shoes being held at the end of his fingertips, a knowing smile on his face. She could not help but smile.

“Perhaps,” she conceded. “I rather enjoy walking barefoot, I must own, but it is one of those practices that my dear Papa is attempting to sand out of me, like a piece of wood with splinters.”

Though one hand kept tightly on her shawl, the other reached forward and took the shoes from his, delicate fingers brushing past each other. The gasp that Cordelia let out was audible, and it was matched by him. It was as though a spark had jumped between them, something greater than themselves and yet emanating from them.

She dropped her gaze, and concentrated on putting her shoes back on her feet, pulling her ankles back towards her hips, and when she caught Timothy’s eye again, the moment had passed.

“Do . . . do you know the way to the circulating library?” He said, more to cover the silence than anything else. He drew himself up to stand tall as she replied.

“You know, I do not think that I have come across the one in Weymouth yet,” she mused, looking left and right. “Which way?”

“‘Tis not far.” Timothy raised a hand, and she moved into him, staring out where his fingers pointed. “Just further along the shoreline. It is nearby York Buildings – you know, on Charlotte Row? Five steps from it and you are back on the sand again.”

“Very well.” She began walking, but Timothy did not join her side at first. Cordelia was surprised at the sadness that washed over her when he was not beside her – and the shiver of pleasure she felt when he was.

“You make your mind decisively,” he said.

It did not seem to be a negative tone, and she nodded. “When you have spent most of your life in London, following other people’s wills and instructions, being able to make your own becomes almost a joy in itself.”

As they walked, they passed several couples arm in arm. Heat rose in her as she caught glimpses of his hand beside her, fingertips out of reach. He had not offered her his arm, and despite her inclination to take it, she restrained herself. This was not her brother.

The circulating library was situated in a tall terraced building, and Cordelia stood still before it, not moving.

Timothy had walked forward, but now paused. “Are you not coming in?”

“Not yet.” Cordelia stared at the building, and the faint paint marks that denoted its contents. “I have got to drink it all in first. How many hundreds of books, how many thousands of pages, how many millions of stories are carefully bound in leather and placed on shelves in this place?”

He was staring at her, and a flush of self-consciousness rose in her. This was unusual; normally the outraged or concerned stares of other people lapped at her feet, not reaching her heart at all. This man was different.

There was sand in the entranceway, and sand throughout the rooms that had been ground into the carpets. When the wind blew northwards from the ocean to the shore, you could still smell brine on the air, and there was crystallised salt at the window panes.

“Good morning,” piped up the gentleman who was tending the library. His black frockcoat was formal, and had golden buttons all the way down the sleeves. “Is there anything in particular that I can discover for you, sir, madam?”

Cordelia smiled. “There most certainly is, but first I need to adventure though the woodlands of your library. I shall be back soon.”

She strode off into the depths of the shelves, and she could hear the answering beat of Timothy’s footsteps behind her.

“I thought we were here for William Gifford?”

He had spoken in a whisper and she answered in one – though perhaps not how he had expected. “Do you not find it singular that people lower their voices when they enter a library? Almost as though they were churches, holy sites of treasures waiting to be discovered.”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. Was she never to learn the talent of holding her tongue? She may not agree with her father about her general ‘ill health’, but that did not mean that she should not learn an element of decorum.

“I think of them more as treasure islands.”

Cordelia stopped dead in her tracks, and turned to stare at Timothy. He smiled.

“It strikes me as more accurate,” he continued in a whisper, “that authors bury treasure in books, ready for us to stumble across when desperate for safe shores, and the more we read, the richer we become.”

Her mouth opened, but no sound came out.

“Do . . . do you not think so?” He sounded hesitant, and she could not help but warm to him. How many other men gave their opinion so decidedly, but were perfectly happy to be challenged?

Her eyes glittered as she replied, “It is a beautiful notion, and one that I think we should take ourselves. Tell me, do you have a pocket book on your person?”

If he was surprised by her question, he did not show it. As they resumed their slow pacing up the corridor that the shelves had created, he handed over a small black leather-bound pocket book, along with a pencil.

“Thank you.” Cordelia reached out for them both, and almost gasped audibly as his fingertips brushed over her palm as he placed them within it. Was this the heat of the day, or a reaction to that barest of touches? She shook her head slightly, as though trying to dislodge water from her ears, and then stopped before a large atlas that had been placed on a table, for the reference of patrons.

“Now then, what shall we write?”

Her glee was evident, but Timothy was none the wiser. “Write?”

Her head bobbed, and Timothy tried to focus on her words rather than the way that her hair was almost unpinned around her left ear, the chestnut waves moving dangerously.

“Write. Write messages. Is that not what you said – leaving little treasures behind?”

His laugh was almost unbelieving. “Treasures – messages – write them down! You cannot be serious.” And yet he desperately hoped that she was. Sent to Weymouth for her health? Cordelia was a woman that you could not cure, because there was nothing wrong with her.

Her smile was broad, and her matching laughter quieter than his own. “Well, why not? Let us give the people of Weymouth something to gossip about.”

Cordelia leaned over, shawl once again readjusted, and began to write. He knew that he should not, knew that it was against all sense of propriety and gentility, but at his central core he was a man, and a man who could appreciate the female form. The way that she leaned, the careful way that she bit her lip as she considered what to write – it was enough to get any man’s blood heated, and his was almost boiling.

“There; do you approve?”

Startled from his reverie, he took in the five pieces of paper that she had thrust to his face. They read:

The man who truly loves you needs a sign – give him one

They know. Run.

What would your mother say?

The King’s next visit to Weymouth will occur on a Tuesday.

Money without happiness is like honey without bread; it gets everywhere, but you cannot enjoy it.

A grin wider than one he thought he could ever experience spread over Timothy’s face. “Where did you read these from?”

Cordelia looked at him oddly, her eyebrows scrunched together. “Read them? I did not read them from anywhere, I plucked them out of my mind. Do you like them?”

“Like them? They are gold!”

It took less than a minute for them to secrete the five notes into different books around the circulating library, and then they quietly left without speaking to the attendant again.

“But you did not get the book by William Gifford,” Cordelia said after they had reached the seashore once again, and were walking along it.

She had taken off both shoes again, walking in the sand barefoot, and Timothy stepped in her footprints. “It will not be going anywhere fast, I would think – he is not a particularly desired author. I will get my turn. I am a patient man.”

“Too patient, if you ask me! What about this woman you have spent the last three days waiting for?” A curl of hair escaped and she tucked it absentmindedly behind her ear. “Do you not think that your patience should run out eventually?”

He shrugged. The wind was tugging at her shawl and he was glad that he had not brought his top hat with him that day. “Eventually. But I have been corresponding with her for – why, many months now. She is an elderly friend of the family, and I feel honour bound to meet with her.”

Cordelia stooped down to pick up a piece of seaweed yet again, and began twisting it around and around her fingers. Timothy now had the almost impossible task of concentrating on where he was placing his feet – riding boots poorly designed for sand striding – and not becoming absorbed in following the progress of those slender digits.

“She is an incredible writer, actually,” he said, hoping that continued conversation would distract him from one problem and keep his mind on another. “I cannot help but find her fascinating, and her turn of phrase is most captivating. I happily anticipate each letter that I receive, and am frequently disappointed at their brevity.”

She laughed as her shawl was almost blown away from her completely, and then said, “You must be disappointed, then, to miss her.”

“I am,” was his reply, but it was not altogether a truthful one. For, he told himself, if Miss Honeyfield and her striking golden heart-shaped locket had arrived this morning, he would be spending the hours speaking to an elderly and rather unwell (by the sounds of it) lady. This time with Cordelia would be lost to him, and he was finding that any time not spent with her was time wasted.

“Look!” She pointed to an area of Weymouth far from them where small shapes were being gently lowered into the sea by ponies. “Are those the bathing machines?”

“They are indeed,” Timothy replied, his gaze more occupied with Cordelia herself than her topic of interest. “Have you seen one before?”

She shook her head, more hair flying out into the wind. “No, but . . . I have always wanted to go swimming in the sea. I have been told that there is absolutely nothing like it in the world, and I do not consider my life complete without that experience.”

“You would be hard pressed to do it now, in March!” He stared out at the freezing waters, and shuddered. The wind was cold enough. “But if you stayed long enough in Weymouth for the season to truly begin, you could try sea bathing.”

Cordelia was still dancing out ahead of him. “Do you not think swimming itself a beneficial idea then?”

Timothy shrugged. “Many people choose to be dipped.”

She stared. “Dipped?”

“They go down in one of the bathing machines, and then are gently lowered by someone into the water. Usually they cannot swim, so they just float there. Of course, dippers are much more easy to regulate – it is the swimmers who need to follow the restrictions.”


“Bathing restrictions.” His boots were still struggling across the sand, but she seemed to be dancing on air. “They segregate male and female swimmers, you see, and there is a stretch of rope over there,” and he pointed, “where the line is.”

“So, men and women cannot swim together?”

He shook his head with a smile. “That would be quite scandalous! No, in season there is usually a gentleman there to ensure that people swim on the correct side of the line. There is much the same rule in many of the sea bathing towns along the coast: Brighton I think, and Ramsgate also.”

She laughed, and twirled around, shawl fluttering in the breeze. “Is it not marvellous and ridiculous that even something as wild as the sea has to be tamed by our petty human ideals of decorum, and polite society?”

He laughed gently. “Your obsession and love of the ocean conquers all things, does it not?”

Cordelia raised an eyebrow mischievously. “Do you think I was a mermaid in another life?”

Before he could answer, her shawl, battered by the wind, flew off one shoulder and Cordelia caught at it with a laugh, dancing forward and running into the wind. Timothy smiled, and his pulse raced. This woman, there was no one at all to compare to her. It would be impossible to be bored in her presence, and there would never be a minute that you could truly predict.

What was this feeling? He examined it as he watched her wrestle with her shawl once more, eventually losing the fight as it went cascading off into the breeze, caught finally, and coming down right at the water’s edge.

As he hurried to retrieve the shawl, his hands became cold and wet as he lifted the shawl from the tide line. Was this . . . love?

“Thank you!” Cordelia was out of breath and she beamed at him as she held out her hand for her shawl. “It is sopping wet I suppose, but it cannot be helped.”

Timothy stared at her.

“Do not worry about carrying it though, I am quite happy to wear it slightly damp,” she continued, hand still outstretched. When he said nothing, silent and still as a statue, she repeated, “thank you.”

But he did not move. He could not tear his eyes away from the large golden heart-shaped locket that was hanging around her neck.

Obscured by the shawl. That is the only way that he could have missed it, have not seen it each of the three days he had met her. Surely, he could not be so blind as to have seen it and not put the pieces together? Miss C Honeyfield. Cordelia. Two women come to Weymouth for their health, two women meeting a doctor, two women meeting at the same point every day. But not two women. One woman.

Miss Cordelia Honeyfield. How could he have been so blind? What were the chances that another person would have chosen the exact time and location for meeting? And why on earth did he not ask for her full name – why did he not give his?

“You look rather exhausted.” Her words were faint and far off, and Timothy concentrated. They were still standing by the shore line, the incoming tide now washing over his boots and her feet. The seaweed was still in her hand, and the shawl in his. “Time to get back to dry land, if you ask me.”

Timothy opened his mouth, and then closed it again. This was the time to say something, to reveal the mistake, to disabuse her of the assumption that they did not know each other. Now. Do it now.

“I am tired,” he said quietly. “Let us head back to the shore.”

Chapter Four

“And you’re telling me that she has absolutely no idea who you are?”

The voice sounded incredulous, and Timothy winced as his friend’s words carried across the crowd. He did not need the entire Assembly Rooms to start asking awkward questions of him; he had enough of that from his own conscience.

“Do not be a fool,” he replied curtly. “She knows that I am Timothy.”

John’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “And you honestly think that that’s enough to prevent her from finding out the truth and railing you about it for all eternity?”

Timothy shrugged, but his nonchalance was forced. “Perhaps that would not be the end of the world . . . if she stayed around to crow at me, at least I would still be with her . . .”

His companion shook his head in disbelief, and took a glass of punch from a passing waiter. “Well I think you’re mad,” he said flatly. “Mad.”

Timothy watched his friend drink thirstily, and sighed. Was he mad? It had been mere hours since he had uncovered Miss Cordelia Honeyfield’s identity, and he had been wracked with guilt ever since. Not even tonight’s invitation to the Assembly Rooms, the lively music performed with such gaiety, nor the delightful food that had been laid on by the Royal Hotel, had been enough to lift his spirits.

“Besides,” John continued, a smile spreading over his face as he beheld the room before him, “are there not sufficient young ladies in Weymouth for you without mooning over one in particular? You’re the youngest doctor for miles around – I could never understand how you finished your studies so quickly – do you not think that any other woman could interest you?”

John’s gaze roved over the coiffed hair in the French style, silk dresses with their corsets tightened to within an inch of their wearers’ life, and the wafting of a dozen perfumes in the air.

Mere hours ago, Timothy had been laughing with Cordelia, wandering around Weymouth with her, leaving the strangest notes in books for unsuspecting readers to discover. His smile was unbidden, unconscious. All of these pretty puffed up ladies who were promenading before them – it may satisfy John, but he had had a taste of something real, something that satisfied. Something that he wanted.

“That’s a new one.” John’s words interrupted his meditation, and he jerked his head to glance where his friend was pointing – and his mouth fell open.

Cordelia had just walked through the large doors into the Assembly Rooms, and she was miserable. Timothy could tell why almost immediately; instead of the looser, more flowing style of gown that he had seen her in previously, she had been trussed up in a Marie Antoinette style gown with ribbons beyond ribbons cascading down the back. Her hair had been powdered, and if he was not mistaken, she was wearing court shoes.

“My my, not a bird happy in its cage,” murmured John.

Timothy swallowed. Surely here, in this alcove on the other side of the room, with the musicians a much more attractive sight to their left, they would remain unseen. They could have been spotted, for she was looking across the room vaguely as if to find an acquaintance, any acquaintance – but then a hand grasped her wrist, and Mrs Chambers led her over to the other side of the room where the Master of Ceremonies was standing.

John tutted under his breath. “I must say, the French court may lead our fashions now in the 1790s, but I do wish those poor girls would loosen their corsets – you know my sister told me of a lady who actually fainted in Almack’s last week. Couldn’t revive her until they cut the cords, and of course it was a true-blue scandal because the man whose pocket knife they borrowed –”

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