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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:13

“The Bookshop Rake?” Lady Penelope Campion burst through the kitchen door, flushed and breathless, holding a flour sack in one hand and clutching a bundle to her chest with the other. “Did I hear mention of the Bookshop Rake?”

With a soft moan, Alex laid her head on the table again.

“Oh, Alexandra.” Penny dropped the sack, sat down beside her, and clutched her arm. “You’ve found each other at last. I knew you would.”

“It wasn’t like that. Not in the slightest.”

“Tell me everything. Was he just as handsome as he was in Hatchard’s?”

“Please, Penny. I beg you. Hear me out before you start dreaming up names for the children.”

“Oh!” Penny snapped her fingers. “I nearly forgot the reason for my visit. It’s Bixby’s cart. He was chasing after the goslings, and he popped the axle out of place.” At the sound of his name, the rat terrier poked his head out from the blanket. Penny clucked and fussed over him. “What a little scoundrel you are. If you had all four legs, I shouldn’t know what to do with you.”

Nicola reached for the sack and withdrew the contraption inside—a tiny cart she’d rigged up to serve in place of Bixby’s hind legs. She turned it over, inspecting the axle. “Won’t take but a moment.”

“There, now. Alex, you were saying . . . ?”

“She was saying he offered her work.” Nicola retrieved her little caddy of hand tools and sorted through the wrenches and pliers. “That’s all.”

“Of course he offered her work,” Penny said. “As a pretext. That way he can see her once a week. He’s taken with her.”

Alex placed both hands on the table. “If you’re going to make up your own tale, I can retire to bed.”

“No, no.” Penny fed Bixby a biscuit. “We’re listening.”

Alexandra poured herself a cup of tea and began at the beginning. By the time she reached the end of her tale, the plate of biscuits had been devoured to crumbs and Bixby was racing circles around the table with the aid of his cart.

“He ran after you and gave you his coat.” Penny sighed. “So romantic.”

“Romantic?” Nicola made a face. “Did you miss the bit where he keeps two little girls locked in the attic and feeds them nothing but dry crusts?”

“Not at all,” Penny returned. “It’s one more reason to accept. Just think of how much those orphaned girls need her.”

Alex rubbed her temples. How she missed Emma. She adored all three of her friends, but Emma was the most understanding among them. A former seamstress, she’d once worked for her living, too. At the moment, however, both Emma and her heavily pregnant belly were happily ensconced in the country.

Nicola tsked. “Alex, I can’t believe you accepted the post.”

“I couldn’t say no. He offered me an astronomical sum. I will make more in two months than I could hope to make in two years of clock setting. Besides, after what happened at the dock, I didn’t have a choice.”

“Of course you had a choice. You might have asked your friends for help,” Penny said. “We are always here if you need us.”

“We could have scraped together the money to replace your chronometer.” Nicola looked up from her tinkering. “And you know you are welcome to stay with me as long as you wish.”

“That’s lovely of you both. But what if you loaned me money I couldn’t repay?” She turned to Nicola. “What if you decide to marry, and your husband doesn’t want a spinster in the house?”

Nicola chuckled. “Me, married. Now that is a laugh.”

“No, it isn’t,” Penny protested. “It’s entirely likely that a dashing gentleman will fall in love with you and propose.”

“But would I want to accept? That’s the question.”

Alexandra was grateful the conversation had veered to Nicola. The risk she was taking was so enormous, she couldn’t contemplate it. No more than a snowflake could contemplate summer. If she failed in this post, she could lose any chance of supporting herself thereafter. And as much as she adored her friends, Alex craved a place of her own.

Even a tiny cottage in the country would do nicely, so long as it was hers. She longed to feel real earth beneath her feet and let her toes burrow into the soil like roots. No more drifting on tides.

However, her plan required money. A large amount of money. She scoured the papers for notices of cottages to let and made careful note of the rents. She’d drawn up a budget, then calculated the lump sum she’d need to have saved in the bank in order to live on the interest.

In three years, she’d managed to save fifty-seven.

Now she had the chance to walk away with two hundred and fifty pounds by Michaelmas. For that sum, she would shovel the Shepherd Market middens during the height of summer. Naked.