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

“And the smudges that aren’t comets. What are they?”

“Nebulae, mostly. Or star clusters.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to define these things if you want me to have any idea what you’re talking about. Alternatively, you can simply go on talking while I stare at your earlobe.”

She blushed. “You needn’t trouble yourself.”

“It’s no chore.” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the window casing. “I’m a veritable connoisseur of earlobes, and yours is rather nice.”

“I meant you needn’t pretend to be interested, Mr. Reynaud. Clearly you have an engagement this evening, and I don’t wish to delay you.”

“I’m not pretending. I’m finding this conversation most fascinating. Even though a great deal of it is lost on me.”

That wasn’t precisely the truth. He was finding Alexandra Mountbatten fascinating, and nothing about her was lost on him. He wasn’t all that interested in gazing at the sky himself, but he was captivated by the experience of watching her gazing at the sky. Her figure and earlobe weren’t the half of it.

Standing this close, he could detect the faintest hint of orange-flower water about her. Not enough to qualify as a perfume. Just the suggestion that she scented her bathwater with a few sparing drops. An amount carefully poised between the indulgence of a small feminine luxury, and the economy required to make a small vial last for months.

A tiny, beaded, cross-shaped pendant was tied about her neck with a narrow satin ribbon just long enough for the coral beads to nestle at the base of her throat. Again, that balance between prettiness and practicality. The best quality ribbon she could likely afford, purchased in the smallest possible amount.

Damn, she would be a delight to spoil. If she weren’t his employee, he could shower her with little gifts and luxuries. Remove all the small worries that came between her and the sky.

“Do go on,” he said. “I’m listening.” And looking. And noticing.

“Nebulae are clouds of stardust floating in space. Star clusters are just as they sound. Stars appear so close together in the sky, they’re sometimes mistaken for one object. My favorite smudge, however, isn’t a nebula or cluster. It’s Messier’s number 40. A double star. Perhaps even a binary star.”

“Oh, truly.” And with that, he was back to the earlobe.

She bent to peer through the eyepiece. “A binary star is created when two stars are drawn together. Once they come near enough, neither one can resist the other’s pull. They’re stuck together forever, destined to spend eternity revolving about each other, like . . . like dancers in a waltz, I suppose.” She scribbled a note in her notebook. “The fascinating thing is, a binary star’s center of gravity isn’t in one star or the other. It’s in the empty space between them.”

He was silent for a while. “I’ll be damned. You were right when you scolded me for letting this instrument go to waste.”

“I’m glad you see its value now.”

“Absolutely. To think, I could have been using it to seduce women all along.” To her chastening look, he replied, “Come now. All that waltzing star business? It’s deuced romantic.”

“I would never have marked you as a romantic.”

“I suppose it’s all that glory-of-the-universe talk. Makes a man feel rather small and insignificant. And that makes a man want to grab the nearest woman and prove himself to be otherwise.”

Their gazes met, and they both became keenly aware of the obvious.

She was the nearest woman.

He was not—absolutely not—going to pursue his governess. Yes, he was a rake. But for a gentleman, chasing after the house staff wasn’t rakish behavior. It was repulsive.

“The girls,” he blurted out, breaking the tension. “How was your first day?”

“Can you tell me something about their interests, or their schooling? Anything at all?”

“They’ve had little proper schooling, but are somehow far too clever despite it. Their interests are mischief, disease, petty thievery, and plotting crimes against the house staff.”

She laughed a little. “You speak as though they’re hardened criminals.”

“They’re well on the way to it. But now you’re here to take them in hand. I have every faith in you, Miss Mountbatten.” He patted her shoulder gamely. “I’ve seen your natural talent as a disciplinarian.”

She cringed. “Yes, about that . . .”

“If you’re intending to apologize, don’t. I richly deserved all your censure, and then some. I wish I could say you’ve already seen me at my worst, but that’s nowhere near the case. However, I do wish to say one thing.”

She gave him her full attention—and she had an intimidating amount of attention to give. Only natural, he supposed. Here was a woman willing to stare into dark emptiness night after night, on the hope that someday some tiny speck might shine back. As she gazed at him, Chase found himself wishing he could reward her observation.