Snuggling comfortably in her corner, Beatrix gave her older sister a perplexed glance. “Win? You have the oddest look on your face. Is something the matter?” Win had frozen in the act of lifting a teacup to her lips, her blue eyes round with alarm. Following her sister’s gaze, Amelia saw a small reptilian creature slithering up Beatrix’s shoulder. A sharp cry escaped her lips, and she moved forward with her hands raised. Beatrix glanced at her shoulder. “Oh, drat. You’re supposed to stay in my pocket.” She plucked the wriggling object from her shoulder and stroked him gently. “A spotted sand lizard,” she said. “Isn’t he adorable? I found him in my room last night.” Amelia lowered her hands and stared dumbly at her youngest sister. “You’ve made a pet of him?” Win asked weakly. “Beatrix, dear, don’t you think he would be happier in the forest where he belongs?” Beatrix looked indignant. “With all those predators? Spot wouldn’t last a minute.” Amelia found her voice. “He won’t last a minute with me, either. Get rid of him, Bea, or I’m going to flatten him with the nearest heavy object I can find.” “You would murder my pet?” “One doesn’t murder lizards, Bea. One exterminates them.” Exasperated, Amelia turned to Merripen. “Find some cleaning women in the village, Merripen. God knows how many other unwanted creatures are lurking in the house. Not counting Leo.” Merripen disappeared at once. “Spot is the perfect pet,” Beatrix argued. “He doesn’t bite, and he’s already house-trained.” “I draw the line at pets with scales.” Beatrix stared at her mutinously. “The sand lizard is a native species of Hampshire—which means Spot has more right to be here than we do.” “Nevertheless, we will not be cohabiting.

~ Lisa Kleypas