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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:17

“But he’d become a father.”

She nodded. “Most men would have left me to be raised by my mother’s family, but my father would have none of it. He took me aboard his ship, and off we went. The Esperanza was our home for the next decade. He’d named it for her.” She smiled a little. “The same way my mother had named me after him. His name was Alexander.”

“That’s appallingly romantic.”

“Isn’t it? And if you think that’s treacly, wait for this part. My father went down with the Esperanza in a storm. Died in the embrace of his true love, you could say. And that’s how I ended up in England.”

“Hold a moment. There are a few bits missing from that story.”

Such as the part that would tell him who to blame for stranding her in a strange country, alone. And whether that someone was still alive and available to be pummeled.

She changed the subject. “How did your parents meet?”

“Let’s see.” Chase drummed his fingers on the table. “My father was a second son. He had connections, but no money. He found a young woman with money, but no connections. He proposed, she accepted, they were married. A year later, I came along. And then we all lived miserably ever after.”

She was quiet for a moment. “I like my story better.”

“I like yours better, too. But coming back to the matter at hand, my history should only underscore the point. I’ve no idea what a family looks like. I cannot be a satisfactory guardian. Hell, I don’t even have dogs. Commitment isn’t in my nature.”

“You’re simply too virile to be tied down, is that it?” Her eyes teased him. “Must be all those antlers.”

“Don’t make light of it,” he said in a warning tone. “And while I’m on the subject, it’s inadvisable to wander the house at night in the home of a known rake. Your reputation could be compromised.”

“I’m not worried. You said the thought of seducing me would never even cross your mind.”

“Yes, but sometimes,” he murmured, “a man acts without thinking at all.”

He leaned in as if drawn to her, trying to convince himself that a kiss would be for her own good. Just a little one, of course. A mere brush of his lips on hers. It wouldn’t be so very terrible of him. It would be a tiny bit terrible of him, and that was the point. To put the punctuation mark on his warning. Beware. Turn back. Here there be monsters. He’d be doing her a favor, really.

Right. He’d bedded Venetian acrobats less flexible than his morality.

She put a hand to his chest. “Wait.”

“Wait” wasn’t “stop.”

“You can afford to act without thinking,” she went on, “but I have to reason things through.”

“Reason things through,” he echoed, nonplussed.

“Whenever I’m faced with a decision, I consider the arguments for and against.”

“Remind me. What decision are you facing?”

“Whether or not to allow you to kiss me.”

“That was your intent, wasn’t it? To kiss m—” She paled in horror. “Oh, Lord. It wasn’t, was it? I’ve misunderstood.”

“No, no,” he assured her. “It was my intent.”

“Oh.” She exhaled, and the pretty flush of pink returned to her cheeks. “That’s good.”

“I’m not certain yet. The ‘against’ pile is rather large.” She plucked lumps of sugar from the sugar bowl and began counting them into a heap on the worktop. “I’m your employee. You’re my employer and a shameless rake. You’re clearly trifling with me. I might lose your respect. I might lose respect for myself. I might give you the idea that I’m willing to allow further liberties—which I am not.”

“I never imagined you were.”

“But in the ‘for’ pile . . .” She gathered a cluster of sugar lumps with her right hand, adding them one by one. “If it would be just the once—”

“—with no further entanglement . . .”

“I despise entanglements. The mere thought of them makes me itch.”

“And you must have accumulated some talent for kissing, considering your history. So I suppose I could do worse.”

Hold a moment. Worse? He couldn’t let that pass unchallenged.

He lowered his voice to a seductive drawl. “Sweeting, you’d be hard-pressed to do better.”

“Precisely,” she agreed, matter-of-fact. “I may as well have a pleasant experience for my first kiss.”

Chase couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Her first kiss? What a travesty. That lush, rosy mouth was eminently kissable.

She bit her bottom lip, as if she could sense him staring. “Goodness, I suppose it could be my only kiss. That’s rather lowering to contemplate, but the possibility can’t be discounted. Another lump in the ‘for’ heap, isn’t it? Knowing that even if I die a spinster, I won’t be an unkissed one.”

He watched her slide another sugar lump into the pile. “If you truly make all your decisions this way, you must drive shopkeepers mad.”