Anne just about managed to stifle a yawn for what seemed to be the third time in less than a quarter of an hour, as the subject turned to what the Countess de Lieven had been wearing at the Opera House the previous evening. Not for the first time, Anne regretted coming to this afternoon tea but she’d been at a loose end, what with Frederick having been summoned to the Admiralty and she’d been hopeful that Lady Russell had reached out to her. Things had been somewhat fraught between Anne and her family since her engagement and subsequent marriage to Frederick. Anne had had hopes of a thawing between them when they came to the wedding but her hopes hadn’t come to fruition once Anne had announced her intentions to travel with Frederick.
That had been four years ago.
Ever since their marriage, Anne had accompanied Frederick aboard ship wherever he had gone. After the Battle of Trafalgar, the ongoing Peninsular War had been predominantly a land battle so Frederick had been persuaded into allowing Anne to live aboard ship with him as they would be doing little more than patrolling and transporting both men and supplies. Frederick being summoned back to speak with the Admiralty had come at a most fortuitous time as Anne was starting to speculate that she was with child and, while she adored life at sea with her husband, she didn’t particularly relish the idea of raising a child on board ship. Thus, Anne had an appointment with the doctor tomorrow and, if her suspicions proved to be correct, then she and Frederick would discuss how best to proceed.
Anne had kept in intermittent contact with Mary since her marriage but Mary had never been the best correspondent and, unsurprisingly, Anne’s most frequent correspondent had been her new sister-in-law. Thus, when Anne and Frederick had arrived in London and settled into what would be their home whilst in the capital, Anne had been most surprised to receive a calling card from her godmother. Far more confident in herself since her marriage, having spent the last four years with sailors calling her ma’am and teaching young midshipmen how to read, Anne had made contact but had made it clear that – as much as she was loved and respected – Lady Russell would not be permitted to run roughshod over Anne, as she had in the past. Lady Russell had accepted this but the downside was that, in re-establishing their relationship, Anne was required to attend dull social events such as this.
Glancing up, Anne caught sight of a young woman much the same age as Anne herself rolling her eyes and couldn’t help the smile that sprang to her lips. Seeing that she had been caught, the other woman blushed and gestured towards the other end of the room where a piano sat by the large windows. Anne nodded and, turning to Lady Russell, quietly excused herself from the conversation that she hadn’t been participating in before moving over to the piano. The other lady was already waiting as Anne arrived and curtsied, her cheeks still flushed with embarrassment.
“I must apologise. I’m not the biggest fan of social situations such as this but, nevertheless, I shouldn’t have been so rude.”
Anne laughed. This woman was a breath of fresh air and Anne was delighted to have found someone seemingly of like mind in such a setting. “Please don’t apologise, I was thinking exactly the same thing. I’m simply here with my godmother while my husband is otherwise occupied. I’m Anne Wentworth, I don’t believe we’ve met before?”
“No, I don’t live in town. I’m Margaret Thornton. I’m in London with my sister-in-law but my cousin begged me to accompany her this afternoon.”
“You didn’t seem to be enjoying yourself.”
“No more than you were. I spend most of my time assisting in my husband’s cotton mill. I’ve persuaded him to start a kitchen for the workers and I assist there several days a week as well as running a school for the children of our workers. Sitting around and discussing the latest fashions is the furthest away from how I would spend an ideal afternoon. I think I’m right in saying that you are of like mind?”
Anne smiled ruefully. “My husband is a Rear-Admiral in the Royal Navy. I’ve spent the four years since our marriage at sea with him teaching the midshipmen and boys to read and write. I admit that I had forgotten the tedium of afternoon tea parties.”
“Mrs Wentworth, I think that you and I will get along famously.”
“Mrs Thornton, I do believe you are right and please, do call me Anne.”
“Only if you will call me Margaret.”
The following evening, with a trip to Almack’s looming thanks to an invitation courtesy of Viscount Melville, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Frederick had commented that Anne didn’t seem as reluctant as he would have expected. Anne had blushed and confessed that she had made a new friend the previous day and that said friend would be present at Almack’s due to a tenuous connection with the Civil Commissioner of the Ionian Islands. Frederick had smiled at that, stating that he was happy Anne had made a friend and, kissing her gently, commenting that she looked beautiful in her new gown. Anne had blushed further at the compliment before leaning in and stealing another kiss, unable to resist her handsome husband in his dress uniform.
The crowd at Almack’s was just as daunting as Anne had expected and, judging from the glances that she was receiving, she would be one of the topics of conversation at more than a few afternoon tea gatherings the following day. She clung to Frederick’s arm, pressing as close as etiquette would allow and wishing that Sophy had been present. As such, once they had removed their outerwear, she was more than relieved to see Margaret threading through the crowd towards her, a man hot on her heels. Waiting for Margaret to reach them, Anne studied the man that must be Mr Thornton. He seemed to be ever so slightly taller than Frederick and dark where Frederick was fair. He also had a rather stern countenance but, then again, so could Frederick. He wasn’t Frederick but Anne could appreciate that he was a highly attractive man. Anne smiled as Margaret finally reached her, the two of them grasping hands and curtseying before pressing a kiss to each other’s cheek.
“John, I’d like you to meet Mrs Anne Wentworth and her husband, Rear-Admiral Wentworth. Anne, this is my husband, Mr John Thornton.”
Anne curtseyed to the gentleman, noticing a slight awkwardness to him as he bowed in return before he shook hands with her husband. She couldn’t help but notice the admiring looks that their quartet was receiving from the other guests and couldn’t help but hope that the two men got on. She had visited a doctor that Sophy had recommended that morning and her suspicions had been confirmed; it would be nice to have some friends in the country when Frederick inevitably had to return to sea.