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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:19

“Now,” Barrow said, “we need to discuss the land steward at Belvoir Manor. He might be a wizard with crop rotation, but he can’t write a report worth sheep dung. You need to pay him a visit yourself and sort matters.”

Chase checked his marks with a level, then hammered two hooks into the wall. “We have a hundred other matters needing attention. The planting’s done for the summer anyhow.”

“In point of fact, the planting was not yet done when I first raised the subject. In February. You’ve been avoiding the discussion for months.”

“I have not been avoiding the discussion.” He hefted the mirror again, hanging it on the hooks. “I’ve been avoiding my uncle.”

“The duke’s too ill. He won’t even know you’re there.”

“He’ll know I’m there,” Chase said softly. “He always knows I’m there.”

Eager to change the subject, he turned and propped his hands on his hips, surveying his handiwork. The Cave of Carnality was finally complete. Now it could start living up to its name.

“Very well,” he told Barrow. “I’ll make the journey to Belvoir soon.”

“Excellent. I will pin a date to that promise, I hope you realize.” Barrow rose from the bed, reached for his hat, and headed for the door. “But it will wait for tomorrow. I’m late getting home as it is.”

“Give Elinor a kiss for me.”

“The hell I will,” Barrow said, shutting the door behind him. “Find your own wife.”

That wouldn’t be happening. But a little matrimony had never stood between him and a kiss.

God, that stupid kiss. Days ago now, and he remembered the taste of Alexandra as clearly as he recalled his own name. Fresh and sweet. Like cool water straight from a mountain stream.

He left the retreat through the kitchen, locking the door after him, and mounted the stairs to his bedchamber, intending to change for the evening.

He hadn’t even reached the first landing when a piercing cry pulled him to a halt midstep. It was followed by a blood-chilling scream. Not a girlish scream, but a womanly one—coming from the direction of the nursery.

He jogged up the remaining flights of stairs, pausing on the third landing for breath. The silence was ominous.

Dear God, they’d killed her.

He took the last flight of stairs at a sprint, rushed down the corridor, and flung open the door to the nursery, steeling himself for the sight of her bloodless corpse splayed on the floor.

The scene that greeted him, however, was anything but lifeless.

They took no notice of his entrance. Chase used the following moments to survey the nursery. At least, it had been a nursery. He wasn’t certain what it had become since Millicent’s funeral early that morning.

The girls’ beds had been pushed side by side, with a gap of merely a few feet between them. The curtains had been removed from the windows and strung from the bedposts. Standing amid it all, Daisy squinted into a spyglass fashioned from a discarded paper cone, and Rosamund brandished a crescent-shaped object that resembled nothing so much as a cutlass.

Millicent sat on the opposite bed, wearing a paper sailor’s hat and, as was her usual, an unsettling smile.

Rosamund slashed her blade through the air. “Fire.”

From behind them, Miss Mountbatten made a series of the most fantastic noises. A boom, then a whistled glissando, followed by a rumbling crash that she accompanied with a brisk shake of the bedpost.

The girls gave a rousing cheer.

“Dead-on hit to the broadside,” she declared. “Bring the ship about and ready the plank.”

Rosamund yanked on a curtain tie, and a white “sail” unfurled from the top of the bed frame. Meanwhile, Daisy reached for a board that looked to have been ripped from a crate and cobbled together with rope.

“Ready for boarding!”

She scrambled from one bed to the next and held the cutlass to Millicent’s throat. “Hand over the plunder!”

Chase had seen enough. “Ahem.”

All three of them froze. Four, if he counted Millicent. The room went silent, save for an audible gulp from Miss Mountbatten.

“What is going on here?” he demanded.

Daisy spoke first. “Millicent’s been wounded.” She drew the “blade” across the doll’s neck. “Kerchief, please. She’s losing a great deal of blood.”

Chase ignored the doll’s death throes and stalked across the room to have a word with his governess.

“I can explain,” she said.

“The girls and I . . . Well, we’re playing a game, you see.”

“You weren’t hired to play games.”

“But this is an educational game.”

“An education in cutlasses?”

She bit her bottom lip. “Only partly.”

Her eyes flitted toward the slate, and he followed her gaze. “Piracy?” He read the word aloud with horror. “You’re instructing them in piracy.”

“It isn’t how you’re thinking. I—”

Chase caught her by the elbow and guided her to the far side of the room. He needed space to berate her properly. “You are meant to be teaching them to be proper young ladies.”