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Absent at sea for four years, Anne Wentworth nee Elliot returned with her husband and two children in tow. (She would be expecting a third child before the year was out, but it was not appropriate to mention this is company.)

Seated in the large reception room at Uppercross Hall, now the home of her younger sister and brother-in-law, she surveyed the large number of children before her.

Perhaps it was petty of her, but she felt a sense of superiority when comparing her own offspring to that of her nephews and niece.

Where Charles and Walter Musgrove harangued their little sister Maria and generally disrupted the peace, her own Margaret was wary of the ruckus, keeping her distance, whilst little Frederick rose from his position on the floor, looking every inch his father.

Unconsciously resting her hand on where her abdomen swelled again with child in a manner that all expectant women do, she watched as her little boy moved to defend the honour of his young cousin.

Her eyes remained on the scene before her as she detected a new voice over her shoulder. "Do I need to step in here?"

"I think Fred is more than capable of protecting a fair lady."

He smiled, placing himself closer to his wife than what society might consider proper, leaning down to whisper into her ear. "Much like his namesake."

Laughing at the absurdity of such a notion, she tilted her head, finding mirth in his eyes.

Four years of relaxed social convention as a sailor and his wife had them naturally moving toward each other, but they stilled. Where he would draw her into his arms, he had to make do with briefly placing a hand on her arm.

Hearing a crash behind them, he spoke softly. "When are we to quit this madhouse?"

She squeezed his hand in mutual sympathy before they made to part as company returned.