“They’re not ready to be young ladies. They’re girls. They need to play, and they’ve forgotten how.”
“They need to learn their lessons. Letters, numbers, stitching samplers with misshapen flowers and dire Bible verses.”
“They are learning.” She directed his attention to the world map on the wall, where a series of pins guided a string from England to the West Indies. “We’ve plotted a course to Tortuga. There’s geography.” From there, she walked to the slate and pointed to a stack of figures. “Calculated the length of the journey, how many days it will take. How many rations we’ll need aboard. That’s arithmetic. I’ve even taught them a bit of French.”
Chase read aloud from the board. “‘Donnez-nous le butin, ou nous vous ferons jeter par-dessus bord.’ What does that mean?”
She hedged. “Hand over the booty, or you’ll walk the plank.”
“Millicent’s dead,” announced Daisy. “It will have to be a burial at sea.”
Chase rubbed his temples. “Right. This little game of yours stops. At once.”
“If I’m the governess, I must be allowed my own methods.”
“I’m your employer. You’ll do as I instruct.”
“Or what? You’ll hire another of the candidates queuing up for the post?” She made an exasperated gesture. “I’m succeeding where all the others have failed. How many is it you’ve been through again?”
“Fifteen,” he replied. “But I can always find the sixteenth. London is rife with women who’ll happily submit to my wishes.”
“No doubt it is. I’m not one of them.”
They stood locked in a stalemate. Dangerously close together. Perhaps it wasn’t that he was unwilling to step aside. Maybe he didn’t want her to get away.
Maybe he wanted her closer.
No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than he got his wish. He felt a tight cinch about his rib cage. She made a startled cry.
In the space of a moment, they’d grown very close indeed. Indecently close. Chest-to-chest close. And if not for a few layers of fabric . . . the kind of closeness that meant skin on skin.
Baffled, he attempted a self-protective step in retreat. A force resisted. “What the devil?”
His hellion wards collapsed on the bed with laughter.
He looked down. They’d been tied together with a length of rope. Tied and knotted, it would seem. Apparently while he’d been lost in her fiery eyes, the girls had managed to loop a rope about the two of them—and then cinch it tight.
“You little . . .” Chase wriggled, attempting to turn and chastise them. He succeeded only in craning his neck. “Come back here at once.”
“Daisy, do you think there’s cake in the kitchen?”
“I heard there’s jam, as well.”
The girls linked hands and skipped toward the door.
“Don’t you dare.” Chase hopped in their direction, dragging Miss Mountbatten with him. “Get back here, or I’ll—”
Or he’d what? Shut them up in the nursery? Send them to bed without their tea? He’d tried all those punishments, to no avail. His well of threats had run dry.
“Rosamund!” he bellowed.
“Oh, I answer to Sam now.”
“Sam? Where did this come from?”
“It’s right there in my name. Ro-SAM-und.”
“You can’t answer to Sam. That’s absurd.”
“It’s not absurd at all. Ask Miss Mountbatten. Her friends call her Alex. I want to be called Sam.” She beckoned to Daisy. “Come along. The kitchen is just waiting to be plundered. Maybe there’s custard.”
They disappeared, shutting the door behind them.
Chase strained in the bindings, attempting to wriggle loose. His movements only seemed to make the ropes tighter.
To add to the predicament, all that wriggling began creating other problems. Virile-man-with-a-functioning-cock problems.
Be calm, he told himself. This was hardly his first time dealing with an unwanted cockstand. He could coax it down.
Cricket. Think about cricket. That’s what they say, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, Chase didn’t know much about cricket. His knowledge began and ended with heavy balls and long, rigid bats—not particularly helpful right now.
“How the devil did they manage to do this?” he asked.
“Knots were among our pirate lessons.”
He rolled his eyes. “Of course they were.”
“They’re an essential part of seamanship,” she said, as if this should be an acceptable excuse. “I’ll have us out of this in a trice. They’ve only learned the simplest types so far, and they made the mistake of leaving me one hand to untie it.” She moved her free hand along the rope lashing them together. “Now where is the knot?”
“At the small of my back, unfortunately.”
She had her arm around him as far as she could reach. As if they were locked in an embrace.
“Just a little further. Aha.” Her fingers traced the contours of the knot where it lay against the small of his back. “A simple reef knot. I’ll have it loose in moments, if I can just . . . find the proper . . . angle.”
She moved up and down, sliding along his body to angle for a better grip. If he had any hope of subduing his swelling erection, it quickly evaporated.