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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:11

He uncorked a bottle of wine and filled a large glass. A bit early in the day for burgundy, but what of it. He was, after all, in mourning. Might as well lift a glass to Millicent’s memory.

He’d downed half the glass in one swallow when he heard a light knock at the door. Not the door to and from the kitchen, but the door that opened onto the side street.

Chase cursed into his burgundy. That would be Colette, he supposed. They’d had their fun the other night, but apparently neither his well-established reputation nor the parting bouquet he’d sent had communicated the message. He would be forced to have “the talk” with her in person.

It’s not you, darling. It’s me. I’m an irredeemable, broken man. You deserve better.

All of it was true, as hackneyed as it sounded. When it came to relationships, sensual or otherwise, Chase had one rule.

Words to live by, words to make love by. Words to send wards to boarding school by. When he made promises, he only caused pain.

“Come in,” he called, not bothering to turn around. “It’s unlocked.”

A cool draft swept across his neck as the door opened, then shut again. Like the whisper of fingertips.

He took another glass and filled it. “Back for more, are you? Insatiable minx. I knew it was no accident you left your stocking here the other”—he turned, holding the wineglasses in his hands and fixing a roguish half smile on his face—“night.”

Interesting. The woman who’d entered was not Colette.

She was very much not Colette.

A small, dark-haired young woman stood before him. She clutched a weathered brown satchel in her hands, and her eyes held abject horror. He could actually watch the blood draining from her face and settling at the base of her throat as a hot, fierce blush.

“Good morning,” he said amiably.

In reply, she made an audible swallow.

“Here.” Chase extended his left hand, offering her a glass of wine. “Have this. You look as though you could use it.”

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It was him. She would know him anywhere. Those features were etched in her memory. He was indelibly handsome. Roguish green eyes, mussed dark hair, and that lopsided smile so seductive, it could steal a woman’s virtue from across a crowded room.

Alexandra found herself standing toe-to-toe (she was too small-statured to manage face-to-face) with the Bookshop Rake, in the flesh.

Sleeves rolled to the elbow, open shirt, no cravat . . . Alexandra dropped her gaze to keep from staring. Good Lord. Bare feet.

“I . . . I . . . Forgive me, I thought this was the servants’ entrance. I’ll leave straightaway.” She ducked her head to hide her face, praying he wouldn’t recognize her. If she left now, and quickly, this encounter might be survivable.

“You weren’t mistaken. It was the servants’ entrance until a few weeks ago. I’m adapting the space for my own purposes. A sort of gentleman’s retreat.”

She swept her gaze about the room. His “purposes” were easy enough to discern. Well-stocked bar. Plush chaise longue. Plum-colored velvet drapes. A rug fashioned from the hide of some shaggy beast. On the wall, a rack of antlers.

And there it was, the aforementioned forgotten stocking. Draped over one of the stag’s forked prongs like a white banner of surrender.

She’d wandered into some sort of pleasure dungeon.

Embarrassment seared her from the inside out. A sheen of sweat broke out on her brow. “I’m clearly intruding. I’ll return another time.” She tightened her grip on her satchel and attempted to sidle around him.

But he wouldn’t be sidled so easily. He was too quick, too tall. Too muscled and male. He slid sideways, blocking her path to the door. “Believe me, I am delighted to see you.”

I’d be delighted if you didn’t see me at all.

Alex shielded her face with one hand and slanted her gaze to a painting propped against the wall. It featured a woman bare to her skin, save for a strategically positioned fan. “I left a card last week. I meant to speak with your housekeeper about offering my services.”

“Then perhaps you could direct me to her.”

“I conduct all the interviews myself. Saves time, I find.”

She looked up in surprise. It was beyond unusual for the gentleman of the house to interview his own employees—let alone an employee whose sole duty would be to adjust the clocks to Greenwich time once a week.

“Forgive me. I’ve run ahead of myself.” He inclined his head in a perfunctory bow. “Chase Reynaud.”

Mrs. Alexandra Reynaud.

For the love of God. Stop.

He set aside the glasses of wine and wiped his hands on his trousers. “We can discuss your immediate employment. Make yourself comfortable.”

Alex would rather make herself invisible. She moved toward the windows lining one side of the room, partly wishing to disappear behind the draperies. But also because she was drawn by the glimmer of brass.