Chapter One Only

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The beach between Lyme Regis and Charmouth, England, December 1817

A cry rang out from the other end of the beach. Cassandra Linfield spun towards the sound. Mary must have found something of interest. Clutching her fossil finds in her hands, she hurried in her friend's direction, stumbling over a jutting rock in her haste. Regaining her footing, she peered up at the blue-hued cliffs. The limestone-and-clay structure leaned ominously forward. She shivered a little and continued to where Mary crouched on the foreshore, below Black Ven.

After the violent storm last night, the cliff face was unstable. Should a chunk of mudstone dislodge and tumble onto Cassy's head, it would render her insensible—or worse. Fortunately, in all the years she had lived in Lyme Regis, she had never sustained an injury while fossil hunting.

She took even greater care these days. Cousin Agnes made it clear when she came to live with Cassy after the death of her mother that she disapproved of her foraging activities. If she so much as sprained an ankle, her cousin would probably write to Aunt Ella, who would then insist that she come to live with her.

The wet brown sand crunched beneath her iron pattens as she threaded her way around the fallen rocks to Mary's side. "What have you found?"

The other girl shoved her hat to the back of her head, leaving a streak of dirt on her forehead. She peered at a nodule sticking out of the mud and then chipped at it with her hammer. "It's a fossil fish."

Cassy bent over. "What a fine specimen. The scales are perfectly preserved."

Mary squinted at her. "It's a good cury and will fetch a good price." She returned her attention to the fossil. "See how the skull is undamaged? Ma will be pleased. Have you found anything?"

"Only a couple of belemnites and a sea urchin." She opened her palm to reveal the treasures, but her friend didn't even glance at them. Instead, she fixed a wide gaze on something behind Cassy.

What had so captivated the other girl's attention? Alarm gripped her stomach in a painful clench as she swung in a slow half-circle.

A large male figure strode along the foreshore in their direction. Within minutes, he was upon them, and his expression did not bode well. Tall and broad, he wore buff breeches, black boots, and a form-fitting double-breasted riding coat. A slate-grey gaze swung from Cassy to Mary and then back to Cassy again.

"Miss Linfield?" The clipped tone did nothing to relieve the ache in her stomach.

She nodded. How did he know her name? If she'd ever seen this man before, she did not recall the occasion. She doubted it not, as his was a face not easily forgotten. His hair was dark—nearly black—and a slightly piratical cast to his features brought to mind legends of wild men upon the seas. However, the rigidity of his square jaw and his flinty eyes gave the lie to her initial impression that this was a man ruled by his passions.

His gaze swept from her well-worn straw bonnet to the pattens over her visibly muddy boots. His gaze narrowed on her gloved hands. Stained and filthy, they must present a peculiar appearance to this gentleman who somehow knew her name. For he was a gentleman, that she did not doubt—a gentleman in none too pleasant a humour.

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