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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:16

Alexandra had been hoping to hear “I want to be a painter.” Or a French-trained chef, or an architect. Whatever pursuit Rosamund named, Alex could build lessons on its foundation. But she was quite certain Mr. Reynaud would not approve of lessons in cheroot-smoking. Alex wouldn’t have known how to give them, anyway.

“That sounds like a grand life indeed,” she said, “but how will you support yourselves?”

“I’m perfectly capable of looking after us both.” Rosamund cast a glance at the table. “So you can clear away your nine sweets and leave us alone.”

“You know very well there are eleven sweetmeats.”

Alex looked. Sure as could be, two sweetmeats were missing. The girl had managed to steal them, right from under her nose, and one of the two was already across the room in Daisy’s hands. Alex could hear the paper crinkling as the younger girl unwrapped it.

“Rosamund, may I tell you something? You will find yourself reluctant to believe it, but it’s the truth.”

The girl gave a lackadaisical shrug. The warmest gesture she’d made toward Alex so far.

“I like you,” Alexandra said. “I like you very much indeed.”

Alex woke to darkness.

Disorientation wrapped her brain like a fog. She sat up and shook her head, trying to clear it. Her heart pounded. Perspiration glued her shift to her chest. Worst of all, her stomach pitched and rolled. As if she were at sea.

Dread rose within her, quickly transforming—thanks to Nature’s least helpful of alchemies—into panic.

She fumbled blindly, finding nothing familiar. Her hands grasped bedclothes of the softest flannel. Definitely not her own. Her feet found a solid floor, but as she stood, the floorboards didn’t creak beneath her weight.

Then her knee collided with a chest of drawers. Ouch.

The pain gave her racing thoughts a jolt. Calm yourself, Alexandra. She pressed one hand to her belly and mentally sank through each solid, immovable layer beneath her feet. Wooden floor. Stony plinth foundation. Cobbled London street. The same layer of grainy, musty earth that Romans had packed beneath their sandals, and the bedrock Atlas, supporting the city on his shoulders.

There, now. You’re fine, you ninny.

She wasn’t lost at sea. She was in the Reynaud residence. And she was a governess.

An underqualified, ill-prepared, and thus far unsuccessful governess, but a governess nonetheless.

When she swallowed, her tongue rasped against the roof of her mouth. She was also a thirsty governess.

By now, Alex’s eyes had adjusted to the dark. She went to the washstand and lifted the ewer. It was light in her grip, no sound of sloshing. Empty. Drat. Tomorrow she’d be certain to set a cup of water aside before she retired, but that wouldn’t help her now. She supposed she might ring for a maid, but she hated to bother the staff. She squinted at her compact traveling clock on the washstand. Already five in the morning. She could wait another hour until sunrise, couldn’t she?

Her parched throat objected. No, she couldn’t wait. To most people, the sensation of thirst was an inconvenience. But then, most people didn’t know the minute-by-minute torture of going without water for days at a stretch.

Alex slid her feet into a pair of worn slippers and made her way out of the bedchamber, through the corridor, and down the stairs with silent footsteps. Being small-statured had a few benefits, and stealth was one of them.

In the kitchen, she found the kettle on the stove. It still held some cooled water. She gulped down one cupful, then a second, and yet another still.

Once her thirst was slaked, she turned to make her way back upstairs.

She eyed the closed door to Mr. Reynaud’s private retreat.

The dull rhythmic sound ceased, and then started anew, and despite her misgivings, Alex put her ear to the door.

Now the thumping sounded more like banging. Something hitting the wall, again and again. Not just banging, but intermittent grunting.

She shouldn’t be listening to this, but she couldn’t pry her ear from the door. The sense of sordid fascination was irresistible.

All went quiet once again. She pressed her ear tightly to the door and held her breath, eliminating the distracting sound of her own inhalation. Then:

And a deep, harsh sound that was part growl, part barbaric shout.

She clapped a hand to her mouth. She was so absorbed by the struggle not to laugh, she didn’t notice the heavy footfalls until they were just on the other side of the door. The door latch turned.

She jumped back, clapping both hands over her eyes. “I didn’t see anything.”

“I swear it,” she said. “I didn’t see anything at all.”

Chase stared at his governess. She stood there with a finger-blindfold clamped over her eyes, dressed in a simple shift. Shadows skimmed contours of the form beneath it. “I should think snooping is beneath you, Miss Mountbatten.”