Any Woman Who Truly Loved

Chapter One

Lyme Regis
November, 1839

Even after nearly a fortnight in their lodgings, it was still rather startling to wake and find herself in a strange bed, surrounded by heavy velvet bed-curtains so unlike her gauzy ones at home. No, not at home, thought Anne Musgrove. Those curtains hang in my father's house. Uppercross Cottage is my home now. She grinned happily. I am a married woman. I am Charles' wife.

A part of her still expected to find herself back at Oaklands each morning in her girlhood bed. For four years prior to her marriage, she had prayed and wished that she could be the wife of Charles Musgrove; and here she was, on her honeymoon, her husband's arm wrapped firmly around her waist in the dim light of early dawn. Anne turned over to face him, careful to remain within the circle of his arm.

Charles was an extremely sound sleeper, like a hibernating bear, she thought fondly. Herself a habitually early riser, Anne knew that he would sleep for another hour yet. She had inadvertently awakened him one morning a few days earlier, and he had been snappish and cross for several hours. Anne had been a bit startled but not particularly put out by such behavior from her normally good-natured husband. Charles, to his credit, had sheepishly apologized later that evening, then fastened around her throat a silver chain from which hung an oval-shaped aquamarine, the same lovely clear blue as a wave breaking over the prow of a ship. She had not removed the treasured piece of jewelry, knowing it would be a lifetime reminder of their idyll by the sea, as well as a reminder to let her husband sleep as long as he liked.

That gentleman murmured something unintelligible and turned away from her onto his back, throwing one hand carelessly over his head. Anne wrapped her arms around her pillow, propping up her head so that she could watch him sleep. It was still a treat to be able to look at him as much as she liked, after so many years of sneaking glances when she thought that he was not paying attention, occasionally being caught anyway, usually to be greeted with his quick, kind smile while she looked away guiltily. She reached out and gently ruffled his unruly fair curls, careful not to wake him. She smiled as she remembered an incident, less than a year ago, when she had been talking to Charles at a family gathering. Well, I was talking, he was mumbling into his teacup, the shy darling. A lock of hair had fallen into his eyes, and her hand was halfway to his face to brush it away when she became aware of what she was doing. She had snatched her hand back just in time, her fingers tingling with the desire to touch his hair, just as they were now. His hair was a little long now, falling into his eyes and curling down over his ears; he would need a haircut when they returned to Uppercross. That is your job now, Annie girl, she told herself. To be able to perform such small offices for her beloved brought her true contentment; they let her know that she was really married.

It was chilly in the bed-chamber, the steady wind from the ocean rattling the windowpanes softly. Anne pulled the quilts up over her shoulders and huddled closer to Charles. The blankets had slipped down to his waist when he turned on his back, and even in the depths of his slumber he must have felt the cold, but she was loath to cover him. She ran her hand gently over his bare chest, the muscles well developed from years of working in the stables. Charles Musgrove, when dressed in the shapeless country clothes he favored, was a rather nondescript young man: not quite tall, not quite handsome. But on her wedding night, seeing her husband by the flickering firelight, her head still light from the wine her mother-in-law had insisted she drink and the story of Lochinvar and Ellen still ringing in her ears, Anne half-believed that she had indeed been carried away by a magnificent Highlands warrior. Her hand moved across his broad shoulder and down his arm, until at last she reluctantly pulled it away. Enough of that. Do not wake him again.

She slipped out from under the blankets, donned her dressing-gown, and pulled the quilts up over his shoulders. She dropped a feather-light kiss on his cheek, rough with the bristles of his morning beard, underneath which the bruise inflicted by Henry Clay had finally healed. Charles' bravery and honour that terrible night still astonished her, nearly a month later. She had only to wish that Sophie could appreciate her new brother's actions. She had a letter from her mother just the other day:

Your sister has declared that she is in love with George Hayter and will marry him, conveniently forgetting that only a few weeks ago she wept dramatically and screamed at her father that she was in love with Henry Clay. Apparently young Mr. Hayter danced with her at the assembly last week and she has never seen a more amiable or handsome man. Mr. Hayter exhibits no symptoms of peculiar regard for your sister, but this has not discouraged her attachment. There is nothing objectionable about him, however; he seems to be a very good sort of young man, and his prospects are excellent, as he shall inherit Winthrop. I suppose it is harmless enough, but poor Sophie will be terribly disappointed when the truth becomes apparent. She is much younger than you were at seventeen, my dear.

Anne smiled as she thought of her mother's wry turn of phrase. She understood perfectly; at seventeen, marriage had been the furthest thing from her mind. Anne felt for her parents, who had given Sophie all the attention and care they had given their older children, with little to show for it. I will have to speak to her when we get home, she thought, although she knew that anything she said to Sophie would do little good. She felt sympathy for her sister, however; Anne had been sixteen, a year younger than Sophie, when she entered society, and she remembered that the experience could be strange and sometimes a little frightening, even with the steadying influence of her mother, always nearby.


September, 1835

Millie was putting the finishing touches on her hair when her mother entered the room. Mrs. Wentworth was lovely in her blue velvet dress, which displayed her still-slim figure to perfection. Anne felt strange in her own gown, a muslin in her favorite shade of blush pink, the large puffed sleeves and rustling of the many petticoats making her feel like a little girl playing dress-up. Deep down, she knew that she loved the pretty clothes that her mother helped her choose, but for a moment she wished that she could put on her comfortable, well-used riding habit, and her boots instead of the delicate dancing slippers. She was afraid that she would twist her ankle while dancing and make a fool of herself at Elizabeth's birthday celebration. Such fears persisted before every social occasion, although Anne had been out for two years and no such untoward incidents had occurred during that time.

Her mother placed a hand on each of her shoulders and smiled at their reflection in the mirror of Anne's dressing table. "You look beautiful, Anne," said Mrs. Wentworth. "You shall not want for dancing partners tonight."

"Thank you, Mother," she replied. "Unfortunately, there will be no young man attending this party with whom I particularly wish to dance."

"When I was your age, I did not scruple overmuch with whom I danced, so long as I had a partner," her mother declared.

I wish I could make her understand, Anne thought wistfully. I just want to know that there is a man, somewhere, whom I can love. Instead, she rose, turned to her mother, and embraced her. "Do not worry, Mother, I shall stand up with whomever cares to ask me," she declared, and her mother smiled in response. "Are you ready? I am sure that Father is waiting for us, tapping his foot and inspecting his watch."

"Yes, I am ready." Anne took her mother's arm, and they went down the stairs.

The admiral was waiting for them at the bottom of the steps. He watched them as they descended, his face lit by an admiring and loving smile. He took Anne's hands in his own and kissed her cheek. "You look absolutely lovely, Annie girl," he said, using her childhood nickname.

"Thank you, Father," she responded, thinking that her father was a handsome man indeed, tall and imposing in his naval uniform.

He released her and held out a hand to his wife. "And you, my love, are spectacularly beautiful tonight, as every night," the admiral declared, as he swept her into his arms and kissed her. Anne giggled, used to her parents' behavior. They always seemed more like lovers than, well, parents, and freely expressed their affection within the intimacy of the family circle. Sophie was sometimes embarrassed by such conduct, but Anne thought their relationship was exactly how marriage should be.

The butler, also well used to the master and mistress, coughed discreetly. "The carriage is ready, Admiral."

"Very good, Jennings," cried the admiral, releasing his smiling wife. "Please send someone up to fetch Edward. He seems to be running behind." Anne was glad that her brother's furlough had begun in time for him to attend the ball.

The last command proved unnecessary, as Edward was already running down the stairs, buttoning his blue coat. "Here I am, Father," he cried. "Perfectly on time. I trust you shall make a glowing report to my captain of my punctuality?" Then he caught sight of Anne, and his jaw dropped while he looked her over. "No mud, no riding habit, and I believe," he leaned close to her and sniffed audibly, "not a bit of eau de equine about you! Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?"

"Edward!" cried his mother, although she was laughing, along with her husband and even the object of his teasing.

The young naval officer smiled fondly at his sister and kissed her on the cheek. "You look stunning, Annie girl," he said quietly. "I had better bring my shotgun. The young men will be camping in the park when they get a look at you." Anne flung her arms around her brother's neck. She had missed him terribly these past five years, since he went away to the naval academy and then to sea; she was glad that their closeness had not abated during that time, although his visits home had been much fewer than his family could desire.


The trip to Uppercross was over quickly, and they were ushered inside the big, old house, as familiar to Anne as her own home. The passage was lit by a multitude of candles, and they went into the drawing-room, crowded with friends and neighbours. Anne suddenly felt shy and took her brother's arm.

A voice came from behind her. "I should have known that you would be monopolizing all the pretty girls, Wentworth." Anne turned to see her cousin Walter Musgrove, wearing his usual crooked smile. He shook hands with Edward and said, "Please introduce me to this fetching creature. She bears a striking resemblance to your sister Anne. Are you a member of the family, madam?"

"You and Edward are both excessively diverting," she said. "You should go on the stage together."

Walter took her hand and kissed it, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "You will save me a dance, love, will you not?" he asked. "I think I had better get my request in early. Do not forget your old cousin, now."

"I shall not forget," she promised, and Walter winked at her.

Anne suddenly found herself in the perfumed embrace of Walter's sister Elizabeth. "I adore your dress, Anne! It is perfect on you!" Elizabeth stood back, holding Anne's hands and looking her over. "And your hair! It is absolute perfection! Who did it for you? Does she not look perfect, Charles?" she cried, turning to her eldest brother, who was standing quietly behind her.

"Why are you asking him?" said Walter. "Charles has no sense of discernment about young ladies. Now, if Anne were a horse, that would be a relevant question."

"Be quiet, Walter," cried Elizabeth. "Do go away and stop teasing us."

Charles had laughed at his brother's witticism, but he smiled at Anne and said, "You are looking well." He did not move forward to take her hand or greet her more familiarly, so she dropped a curtsey. Charles bowed stiffly. He looked strange in his evening clothes; she was used to seeing him in riding breeches and a rough wool coat, frequently hatless even in the coldest weather, his callused hands gripping the reins instinctively, like he was born in the saddle. He was obviously as uncomfortable in his raiment as she was in hers.

Elizabeth was still prattling on about Anne's dress and her own, and Charles nodded to her politely and walked away. Anne was surprised to realize that she felt disappointed. She and Charles had been good friends only two years previously, when he had taught her to ride, but lately she had felt a distance growing between them. He seemed uncomfortable and quiet in her presence, and she felt shy and silly and immature in his.

"I am so glad that my father invited Edward's friends," Elizabeth was saying. "They are such a well-looking group of young men. I do so love a man in uniform."

Anne wrenched her attention back to her cousin. "Well, you will have plenty to choose from," she replied gaily. "There will be enough young men here tonight even for your insatiable appetite, my dear Eliza." Anne was fond of her pretty, warm-hearted, vivacious cousin, and sometimes wished that she could emulate her outgoing manner. Elizabeth had a knack for drawing out the shyest person, including the young men of her acquaintance, without being improper; even when she got carried away and approached that state, her brothers, particularly Charles, were always nearby to lift an eyebrow or speak a low word of warning.

"I hope that you will be dancing tonight," Elizabeth said. "If I find you hiding in a corner as usual, I shall force you to stand up with Mr. Joseph Williams for a punishment." That unfortunate young man, the younger son of a neighboring landowner, was cursed with two left feet, but doggedly insisted on dragging some hapless young lady around as long as the music played, despite the havoc he wreaked on his partners' dancing slippers.

"Then I shall be sure to hide myself very well," Anne declared, and the girls laughed together.

"I must greet the rest of my guests, dearest, but we will talk later," her cousin said, and Anne left Elizabeth to her duties as hostess.


Two hours later, Anne had danced every dance, including two with Walter. She had found his conversation charming, as usual, and his company agreeable. Walter should be easy to fall in love with, she mused. He is certainly handsome, and I am very fond of him, yet somehow I cannot feel more toward him. Anne sometimes wondered about her feelings, or lack of them; she and Elizabeth had both been out for nearly two years, and her cousin had become infatuated with countless gentlemen during that period, but Anne had never seen a young man whom she felt she could love. She was in no rush to wed, and her parents certainly did not expect her to marry at eighteen, but she longed to have a beau to boast of as Elizabeth did about hers. Not that Anne had lacked for admirers; she had even had a marriage proposal last winter in Bath, from a strange young man called Manfred Pearson who had stammered his offer after only two nights' acquaintance. Anne had unfortunately been unable to control her giggles at the absurdity of his addresses on such a short acquaintance, and Mr. Pearson had stalked off in a huff, leaving his heartless lady-love to laugh until tears coursed down her cheeks.

Mrs. Wentworth interrupted her thoughts. "Anne, will you be all right by yourself for a few minutes? I must find your father, and I do not see him in the hall."

"Likely he is in my uncle's gun room," she replied, smiling. "Go on, Mother, I will sit here and rest until you return." Her mother squeezed her hand and went in search of her husband.

Anne tapped her toes with the music, watching the dancers and enjoying her moment of solitude. Suddenly she spied her aunt Musgrove bearing down upon her and tried to shrink into her chair, hoping against hope that she would not be seen. Luck was not with her, however.

"Anne, why are you not dancing?" her aunt cried. "And my useless sons are standing about. Charles, I insist that you dance with your cousin."

Charles looked around from his conversation with his uncle Harry Musgrove. "I beg your pardon, Mother," he said. "I did not attend."

"Anne does not have a partner," Mrs. Musgrove exclaimed. "It is high time that you began to do your duty as the future master of Uppercross. You shall stand up with your cousin, if you please."

"Yes, Mother," he replied dutifully. He offered his arm to Anne, rolling his eyes and smiling a little when his mother could not see. Anne swallowed her own grin and allowed him to lead her to the other dancers.

"Please accept my apology on behalf of my mother," he said. "She has some rather strange notions of hospitality, which apparently include humiliating her guests."

Anne could not help but laugh. "I am not embarrassed. I know that I should be more outgoing in social situations."

"Do not adjust your behavior to the expectations of others," he said more seriously. "No one could censure your conduct, Anne. It is always proper and becoming." She blushed at the compliment and found that she was suddenly unable to meet his eyes.

The musicians struck up a waltz, and Charles gently placed his hand on the small of her back and began to spin her around the room. He was a fairly good dancer for someone who did not often engage in the activity. They were quiet at first. Anne knew that she should converse with her partner, but was at a loss for a subject. Charles did not seem to expect her to talk, and they twirled around the floor in silence.

"You always smell of roses," he finally said, absently, almost as if speaking to himself.

"Edward would disagree with you," she replied. "He says that I usually smell of horses."

Charles laughed. "I suffer from that affliction myself, so I would hardly notice." He paused for a moment. "I think it is your hair. It is like being in a rose garden."

Anne usually sprinkled a few drops of rosewater on her brush before tending to her hair. Tonight, she had also placed a drop behind each ear and in the hollow of her throat, as she knew her mother did. More than once she had seen her father sneak up on her mother and kiss her in exactly those spots when he thought no one was looking. But she said only, "Are you sure it is not my nosegay?" indicating the tiny bunch of blush rosebuds, fresh from the hothouse, that she wore at her waist.

Charles leaned toward her, his face very close to hers, and after a moment said, "No, it is definitely your hair. Walter would probably be able to tell you how you achieve that effect, but I am unfamiliar with the sleight-of-hand employed by ladies in their toilette. I am impressed with the results, however." He smiled down at her.

She smiled back at him. Why have I never noticed his eyes? she thought. They were lighter brown than hers, with flecks of gold and green; they crinkled up and nearly disappeared when he smiled, as he was smiling now. He kept whirling her around the floor, and for that brief time they were the only two people in the world.

The music ended. As they danced, Charles' hand had slid along Anne's back until his arm almost completely enveloped her waist; they stood together, their bodies nearly touching, their faces very close, for what felt like an eternity but was actually only a few seconds. At last he released her, offered his arm, and led her to the fireplace where she had been sitting; her mother had not returned. He held her hand for a moment, opening his mouth as if to speak; but he only bowed and left her without another word.

The crowded room felt suddenly overheated, and Anne went out onto the veranda, grateful for the cool evening air and a moment alone to sort out her feelings.


Anne pulled the curtains back and stood by the window. At that time of year, Lyme was empty enough that they had their pick of lodgings, and Charles had purposely chosen a place with a view of the harbour, where Anne could watch the surf beat against the Cobb, framed by the cliffs of the far shore. She did not know how long she stood there, watching the ships sail around the harbour as the morning light increased, when she felt her husband's arms around her waist.

"Good morning, love," he murmured.

Anne smiled and tilted her head back and to the side so that she could see his face. "Good morning, my handsome husband," she said softly, and was rewarded with a smile and a kiss. She had been mortified at her drunken behavior on their wedding night; Charles had assured her that he had found her silliness quite diverting, and she had finally seen the humour in it. In their private moments, she continued to use the endearment she had unwittingly coined that night. She did not think that Charles had any idea how much she really meant it. In vino veritas, indeed.

Her husband looked out the window through which she had been gazing. "I suspected that you would like these rooms," he said. "I know how you love the sea."

She nodded. "I could watch it for hours. It is like a living creature. The power, the majesty of it entrances me. The way it stretches out and melts into the horizon."

Charles chuckled softly. "And you say that I am a poet." He reached up to her throat to touch the aquamarine. "I chose that necklace for you because it reminded me of the sea on a summer day. I hoped that it would remind you as well." He paused for a moment, fingering the stone. "When I think of you, I always think of those light pink roses you like so much. But this colour suits you as well. Pink roses by the sea in summer, that's my beautiful Anne."

She smiled at his artless tribute. "See? You are a much better poet than I could ever hope to be." She turned to face him, still remaining in his embrace. "These stone floors are so cold," she said, resting her cheek against his chest, the silk of his dressing-gown caressing her skin. "My feet are nearly frozen."

"That is easy to remedy," said her husband, then bent down and gently lifted her in his arms. Anne giggled and clung to his neck, charmed by his impetuous action, as well as his mischievous smile. You are no longer the bashful boy who asked permission to kiss me, are you, my handsome husband? she thought fondly, running a hand through his hair.

"I thank you, sir," she murmured. "But your feet must still be cold."

"Aye," he admitted. "Come back to bed and warm me, love. 'Tis early yet." In response, she brought her face closer to his until their lips met, the kiss lingering as he carried her to the bed. No, my love, she thought, giving herself up to the welcome embrace of her beloved, you are no longer bashful at all.

~ Continued in next chapter