“No custard,” Mrs. Greeley said.
“They’re not allowed custard, either?”
“That’s Daisy’s fault,” Rosamund explained. “She gave Millicent a nasty case of the grippe and used it for phlegm.”
Daisy shushed them all, clutching the doll tightly to her chest. “Please. Allow her some peace in her final hours.”
“I won’t disturb your peace if you don’t disturb mine,” Rosamund said. “You had better not wake me with hacking and wheezing in the middle of the night.”
Now that she had Rosamund’s attention, Alex decided to try with her. “What are you reading?”
“A book.” She turned a page.
“No, it is a book of practical advice. How to Torture Your Governess in Ten Simple Steps.”
“She’s likely writing the second volume,” Mrs. Greeley muttered. “The cook will send up your luncheon at noon.”
The housekeeper disappeared, leaving Alexandra alone with her two young charges. Her stomach fluttered with nerves.
Steady, she told herself. Rosamund and Daisy were only girls, after all. Girls who’d been orphaned and passed from home to home, guardian to guardian. If they greeted a newly arrived governess with mistrust, it was only natural. In fact, it was sensible. Alex had been an orphan, too. She understood. It would take time to build trust.
“We won’t have any lessons today,” she announced.
“No lessons?” Rosamund lifted an eyebrow from behind her book. “What are we going to do all day?”
“Well, I intend to acquaint myself with the schoolroom, then perhaps write a letter or read a book. How you spend the day is yours to decide.”
“So you intend to bilk our guardian for wages while letting us do as we please,” the girl said. “I approve.”
“That is not my intent, but we have the whole summer for lessons. Of course, if you wished to begin today, I could—”
Rosamund put her nose back in her book.
Alex was relieved. The truth was, she had no idea where to even start. Being a governess hadn’t sounded so difficult last night—she had an education, after all—but now that she was here, she felt at a loss.
While the girls were occupied, Alex had a look at her surroundings. One side of the space had been designated as a schoolroom. She found it furnished with just as much attention and thought as the nursery. Two child-sized writing desks, an adult-sized table with a wide, flat top, and a bedsheet-sized slate hanging on the wall. On the slate, in careful script, someone had chalked five words:
Alex moved on to a world map affixed to the wall. The continents were peppered with tacks in a seemingly random arrangement. Malta, Finland, Timbuktu, a speck of an island in the Indian Ocean, the Sahara Desert.
Daisy appeared at her elbow. “Those are the places Mr. Reynaud says he’s sending us to boarding school.”
Alex considered the options. “Well, if I were you, I’d take Malta in a heartbeat. It’s quite lovely. Surrounded by azure seas.”
“You’ve been to Malta?”
“I’ve been all sorts of places. My father was a sea captain.” Alex rearranged the tacks, pushing them into common trading ports. “Macao. Lima. Lisbon. Bombay. And I was born near here.” She placed the final tack.
Daisy flashed a glance over her shoulder, then whispered, “I can’t.”
“Ma-ni-la.” Alex sounded out the syllables for her. “It’s a port in the Philippine Islands.”
Seven years old, and she couldn’t yet read. Oh, dear.
“Say, Daisy. I’m wondering if we have enough pencils and bits of chalk. Would you help me count them out?”
“Daisy,” Rosamund interrupted sharply. “I think I hear Millicent coughing.”
As her sister went to nurse her ailing patient, Rosamund fixed Alex with an unflinching—and unmistakable—look. Stay away from my sister.
Alex’s spirits dipped. The challenge before her was already intimidating. She had no teaching experience, the younger of her two charges had not yet learned to read, and her employer would be completely unhelpful.
However, it was plain that the most formidable obstacle in this entire endeavor would come in the shape of a mistrustful, strong-willed, ten-year-old girl.
So. The war of wills began here.
If she didn’t want to leave this house penniless, it was a war Alexandra had to win.
That evening, Chase stood in the doorway of his governess’s bedchamber, waging a fierce battle with temptation.
He’d stopped by her room with the most innocent of motives. He intended to see that she’d settled in, and be assured that the accommodations were to her liking.
What he was doing, however, was admiring her sweet, round little bottom.
It wasn’t as though he’d intended to ogle her. He wasn’t some perverse old man leering through a peephole in the closet. Her door was open, and her back was to him, and she hadn’t taken note of his presence—probably because she was bent over that cursed telescope.
So there it was, presented for his view. The most delightful peach of a backside. More generously rounded than he would have guessed, given her slender figure.