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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:15

At his sides, his hands instinctively cupped, estimating size and plumpness.

Chase, you despicable bastard.

He shook out his hands and cleared his throat. “Miss Mountbatten?”

Startled, she stood bolt upright and reeled to face him. “Mr. Reynaud.”

“So. Do you like what you see?”

“Do I like what I . . . ?”

Her gaze wandered over him. In his evening attire, he could only imagine he made a markedly different picture than he had on their first meeting. He’d actually bathed and shaved, and gone to the trouble of buttoning his cuffs.

She stammered. “I . . . er . . . that is to say, I should imagine that—”

“The room,” he said. “Does it meet with your satisfaction?”

“Oh, that,” she said with relief. “Yes. Thank you. Very much. I wasn’t expecting something so spacious.”

“Mrs. Greeley usually gives the governesses a chamber next to the nursery, but I told her you required the one with the largest window and a clear view of the sky. I’ll send up a maid to assist you in unpacking your things.”

“I’ve already unpacked them,” she replied, looking self-conscious. “There was only the one trunk.”

“Oh. Yes, of course.” He strolled across the room to the window, taking a look at the arrangement of the telescope and window. “There’s space out here for a narrow verandah. I’ll have plans drawn up for a platform and railing this week.”

“That’s too generous of you.”

“Nothing of the sort. It’s entirely self-interest. If you’re satisfied with your accommodations, you’re less likely to leave.” He bent and squinted to peer through the telescope. “Why did you want it? I can’t help but be curious.”

“Well, our agreement is temporary. At the end of the summer, I will need a new occupation.”

“I should think you’d go back to setting clocks.”

She shook her head. “I’m planning a new business venture. Instead of selling the time, I’m going to sell comets.”

“Selling comets?” He laughed a little. “Oh, I must hear this. Pray tell, how do you intend to catch them?”

“The aristocrats are positively mad for comets, but most don’t have the time or interest in doing the work. I’ll search the skies and chart observations, and then I’ll find a patron willing to pay me for the effort.”

“So you’ll find the comet, and this patron claims it as his discovery? That sounds highly unjust.”

“I’m not interested in it for the glory. A woman of my station has to be more practical than that.”

“So you intend to be an astronomical mercenary. I’m impressed.”

She smiled a little. “That makes it sound far too exciting. It’s boring work. A matter of searching the sky, one dark patch at a time, looking for anything smudgy.”

“Smudgy? A proper scientific term, that.”

“I’ll show you an example, if you like.”

She joined him, crowding into the small window alcove, and bent to adjust the telescope—affording him, should he choose to take it, a view directly down the neckline of her frock. Chase pulled his gaze away, but not swiftly enough. That split-second view of two celestially perfect crescents of soft, feminine flesh was going to linger.

In need of distraction, he swept a gaze around the room—which, in its own way, was equally revealing.

This was the sum total of her possessions? The bedchamber remained empty for the most part, save for a simple dressing set on the washstand, a row of books and writing supplies on the corner table, and a few articles of clothing hanging on pegs. On the wall above the table, she’d affixed items clipped from newspapers and magazines. A map of the constellations, a card with an illustration commemorating the appearance of Halley’s comet in 1759, and a few smaller notices that he had to squint to read from this distance. At the top of one, he could just make out the words “Cottage for Let.”

“Here it is. Have a look, if you like.” She beckoned him to look through the eyepiece.

Chase bent awkwardly, closed one eye, and peered into the brass tube. His reward was a blurry glimpse of a wholly unremarkable speck of light. “Apparently I’m a natural astronomer. I can declare with certainty”—he squinted—“that is a smudgy sky thing. I shall expect to imminently receive my medal from the Royal Astronomical Society.”

“That’s not a comet. Most of the smudges aren’t. Before declaring it a new discovery, you have to rule out the other possibilities. Fortunately, others have done much of that work. There’s a book by a Frenchman. Charles Messier. He catalogued a great many of the known not-a-comet smudges, so that comet-hunting observers know to ignore them.” She went to retrieve a folio from the table and flipped through the pages for him to view.

“You said a book. That’s not a book.”

“I couldn’t find a copy I could afford to purchase,” she admitted. “So I borrowed it from a circulating library and copied it out by hand. After consulting Messier, one must check against lists of identified comets. If it’s not among those, then you can report your smudge to the Royal Observatory for verification. Even then, nine times in ten it will have already been claimed.”