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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:18

“It’s only shortbread,” Nicola said.

Alex smiled. “Never underestimate the power of biscuits.”

Once her friends had gone, Alex hurried upstairs, entered the nursery, and went directly to the slate.

Seven attempts. Nicola had needed seven different attempts to make edible shortbread before she’d found success. Alex needed to follow her example. These five subjects chalked on the schoolroom slate weren’t the right recipe for an education. They were like Nicola’s first six batches of lavender-vanilla shortbread. Put together, they tasted like soap.

She wiped the slate clean. “No more maths and etiquette. We have a new set of lessons.”

“What are you on about?” Rosamund asked.

“You wanted to buck all the rules, Rosamund? See the world? Be free? Then you have only one option.” She wrote a single word at the top of the slate and underscored it with a thick, decisive line. “Piracy.”

“Piracy?” Rosamund sounded skeptical, but intrigued.

“These are your new lessons.” Alexandra wrote five topics on the board. “Log keeping. Plunder. Navigation. The Pirate’s Code.” She ended the list. “And needlework.”

“Needlework?” Daisy made a face. “Why would a pirate need serviettes?”

“They don’t. But every sailor, law-abiding or otherwise, must know how to work a needle and thread. On the open sea, no one else is going to mend a sail or darn a sock.”

Rosamund’s suspicion won out. “Never mind her, Daisy. It’s only a trick.”

Alex forged ahead, pretending not to hear her. “We’ll have our own ship. Right here in the nursery. I’ll be captain, of course. Rosamund, you’re first mate. You’ll be responsible for log keeping and the money.”

“What about me?” Daisy asked.

“You,” Alexandra said, crouching close, “will be our quartermaster. That means you’ll ration food and water for the crew. And since we’re so undermanned, you’ll also take on the most important duty of all: ship’s surgeon. There are oh so many diseases and maladies that afflict pirates. Scurvy, malaria, tropical fever . . .”

Daisy’s eyes lit up. “Plague?”

“Yes, darling. Even plague.”

Poor Millicent had rough seas ahead.

Alex stood. “What say you, Rosamund? Are you joining our crew?”

Rosamund peered at the slate. “How do you mean to teach us all those things?”

“Personal experience. From the time I was younger than either of you, I was climbing the ratlines. I know how to set a course to Barbuda, I know the worth of a Spanish real in shillings, and I can barter in Portuguese.”

“Does our guardian know you’re proposing this?”

“He’s not going to like it.”

Alex lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Pirates don’t ask permission.”

She’d been hired to teach these girls, and she meant to fulfill that duty. Her financial circumstances wouldn’t allow her to do otherwise. But she was going to accomplish it on her own terms. Rosamund and Daisy needed encouragement, not etiquette. Confidence, rather than comportment.

And whether Chase Reynaud wished it or not, Alexandra would make certain they received it. She would not participate in transforming them into well-mannered, empty-headed, docile young ladies who wouldn’t cause him any trouble.

She’d help them become women who couldn’t be ignored.

After a pause, Rosamund set aside her book. “Very well.”

Alexandra suppressed a triumphant grin. The girl was humoring her, and probably out of sheer boredom, but it was a start. “Then we have a great deal to do. To start, we’ll have to rig our ship.” She went to the window and yanked the curtain from its rod. Not precisely sturdy canvas, but for their purposes, it would make an adequate sail. She looked at Rosamund. “Do you know where we might find a coil of rope?”

“Lie back on the bed for me.”

From his seat on the edge of the mattress, Barrow regarded him. “That is not in the terms of my employment.”

“Just do it, will you?”

Barrow complied. “Mind, I am only doing this because it’s five o’clock, and I value being on time for dinner more than I value my pride.”

“No, no. Not like that. On your side, facing me. Prop yourself on one elbow and rest your head on your hand.”

“Are you going to draw me like one of your French girls?”

“And keep your boots off the mattress. It’s new. Finest quality a shameless rake can buy.”

Barrow rolled his eyes.

“Now.” Chase lifted a gilt-framed mirror and positioned it on the wall opposite the bed. “Tell me, can you see yourself?”

“Which parts? The good parts?”

“That’s it.” Barrow rolled to a sitting position. “I’m done.”

“Come along, man. I can’t do this by myself.”

“Well, I can’t run the Belvoir estate by myself. You’re the one with power of attorney.” He sighed and gave in. “A few inches to the left. Now up. A bit more. No, no. That’s too much.”

Chase strained under the weight of the mirror. “Hurry up, would you?”

“Tilt it forward a smidgen . . . There.”

“Took you long enough.” Chase drew a nub of chalk from his pocket and marked off the corner. Then he set the mirror down with a groan of relief.