She stopped and turned on her heel. “Yes?”
“You’re not leaving dressed like that.” He shrugged out of his tailored topcoat, shaking it down his arms.
“I can’t accept your coat.”
“You can, and you will.” He swung the coat around her shoulders and tucked it tight. She was so petite, the garment’s hem nearly reached her boots. The sight was equal parts comic and piteous.
He jerked on the coat’s lapels, drawing them together. “Yes, yes. I know you’re bossy. As a governess, it’s to your credit. But I’m your employer, as of two minutes ago. For as much as I’m paying you, I expect you to do as I say.” As he worked the buttons through their holes, he went on. “Given the alacrity with which you fled my offer of employment this morning, it’s obvious something dire occurred to make you change your mind. If I were any sort of decent fellow, I would ask about that dire situation and sort it out. Seeing as I am a selfish blackguard, however, I intend to take full advantage of your lowered circumstances.”
There, now. He had her buttoned, and he stood back to look at her. She looked like a sausage roll.
A soggy sausage roll.
A soggy, confused sausage roll with slick ebony hair that would feel like satin ribbons between his fingertips.
Right. He dragged himself back to the point.
“I need a governess. Not just any governess, Miss Mountbatten. I need you. Which is why I will not have you walking home in the rain and catching the grippe.”
“I insist. Most insistently.”
She blinked at him. “Very well.”
Finally, she heeded his demands. She walked down the pavement and turned the corner, disappearing from view.
As he returned to the house, Chase took note of an unexpected sensation. Or rather, the lack of an expected sensation. Miss Mountbatten had appeared at his front door soaked to the skin, and he hadn’t yet felt a single raindrop.
He tipped his head to the sky. Strange. Nothing overhead but the periwinkle and orange streaks of twilight.
In fact, now that he thought of it, it hadn’t rained all day.
At home, Alexandra unwrapped herself from Mr. Reynaud’s coat and hung it on a peg. She’d likely ruined the thing. The garment had smelled deliciously of mint and sandalwood when he’d wrapped it about her shoulders. Now it reeked of the Thames.
After bathing and changing into a clean shift and dressing gown, she followed the scent of baking biscuits down to the kitchen. Thank heaven for Nicola and freshly baked biscuits.
She sat down at the table and laid her head on folded arms. “Hullo, Nic.”
Nicola whisked a tray of biscuits from the oven. A sweet, lemony steam permeated the kitchen. “Goodness, has the day gone already?”
“It has, I’m afraid.” And what a day it had been. Alex lifted her head. “Do you remember the Bookshop Rake?”
“The Bookshop Rake?” Nicola frowned. “It’s not a poem or limerick, is it? I’m useless at those.”
“No, it’s a man. We met with him in Hatchard’s last autumn. I was carrying a stack of your books in one arm, and reading one of my own with my free hand. He and I collided. I was startled, dropped everything. He helped me gather up the books.”
Nicola piled the biscuits onto a plate and carried it to the table, setting it between them.
“Tall,” Alex prompted. “Brown hair, green eyes, fine attire. Handsome. Flirtatious. We all decided he must be a terrible rake.” And we didn’t guess the half of it. “Penny teased me for months. Surely you must remember.”
Nicola lowered herself into a chair, thoughtful. “Maybe I do recall. Was I buying natural history books?”
“Cookery and Roman architecture.”
“Oh. Hm.” Biscuit in one hand and book in the other, Nicola was already absorbed in other thoughts.
Alexandra reached for a biscuit and took a resigned bite. That was Nicola for you. She jettisoned useless information like ballast. She needed the brain space to cram in more facts and theories, Alex supposed. And to come up with her ideas.
When Nicola was concentrating, she set aside everything else. She would neglect the passing of hours and days, if not for the odor of burnt cakes coming from the kitchen, or the clamor of the twenty-three—
The twenty-three clocks.
So it began. The chiming, ringing, chirping, and bonging from timepieces that stood, hung, sat—even danced—in every corner of the house.
Alexandra couldn’t complain about the noise. Nicola’s clocks were the only reason she could afford to live in a place like Bloom Square. In exchange for a room in her friend’s inherited Mayfair house, Alex bartered her timekeeping services. The din was loud enough when they all struck the hour in unison . . . but if they fell out of synchrony, the noise went on for ages.