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

Yes. Pushing aside a fold of aubergine velvet, she found confirmation of her hopes.

Since childhood, Alexandra had been fascinated by the night sky. Life aboard a merchant frigate didn’t offer many ways to amuse oneself after sundown. She’d borrowed her father’s spyglass so often, he’d finally given in and bought her one of her own. Here in London, she made do with a collapsible pocket telescope she’d purchased for sixteen shillings at a lens grinder’s shop. A hobbyist’s instrument.

This was, without question, the most astonishing object she’d ever touched.

Without thinking, she bent to have a look through the eyepiece. She found the instrument to be directed at an attic window of the house across the way. The servant quarters of a pretty young housemaid or two, no doubt.

Behind her, glassware clinked. She startled, jumping back from the telescope, knocking it on its swiveling mechanism, and sending it into a nearby vase, which she had to lunge to catch before it hit the floor. What a display of professional skill. Why yes, I’m here to offer my services handling intricate, expensive machinery.

“Forgive me. I didn’t catch your name, Miss . . . ?”

Her tongue was a sailor’s knot. “Mountbatten,” she managed. “Alexandra Mountbatten.”

Then he tilted his head and looked at her. Truly looked at her, with that same deep, searching gaze he’d given her in the bookshop.

Her heartbeat paused in anticipation.

Alexandra didn’t expect a confession of unrequited love, of course. At most, a simple Haven’t we met somewhere? Perhaps even Oh, yes. Hatchard’s, was it?

“Miss Mountbatten. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Oh. He had no memory of meeting her at all.

A stroke of luck, she told herself. If he did recall her, she would have lingered in his memory as a clumsy, stammering, bookish ninny, not an object of admiration. This was a boon, truly. Now she could cease wasting time thinking of him.

It would be completely irrational to feel disappointed. Much less hurt.

However, her powers of reason flew out her ear whenever this man was involved. She did feel wounded, just a little. Inside her, the sharp proof of her foolishness twisted and scraped at her pride.

He cleared the tea table of a candlestick with guttered tapers and two emptied brandy glasses. He whisked the forgotten stocking from the antler prong and—after casting about in vain for an appropriate place to store it—wadded it into a ball and stuffed it behind a pillow.

“I truly should go,” she said. “I seem to have interrupted something, and I—”

“You’re not interrupting anything. Nothing of consequence, at any rate.” He patted the back of an armchair. “Sit down.”

She numbly took the offered seat. He dropped onto the chaise across from her. From the way he sank into the cushioning, Alexandra suspected the upholstery had strained and bounced beneath many a torrid encounter.

In one last farcical swipe at decency, he ran a hand through his disheveled brown hair. “I’ve two that need looking after.”

Yes. Concentrate on the clocks. Those ticking things with dials and gears and numbers. They were how she made her living, and she’d been knocking on the door of every servants’ entrance in Mayfair to find more clients. She wasn’t here to gawk at the sprinkling of hair on his chest, or ponder the meaning of his black armband, or flog herself over silly fantasies that he would sweep her into his arms, confess his months of suffering for love of her, and vow to abandon his sinful ways now that she’d given him reason to live.

She slammed the lid on her imagination, buckled the strap, affixed a padlock, and then pushed it off a cliff.

This was just another business call.

He went on, “I can’t tell you much of their history. They’d been passed around by several different relations before they landed with me last autumn.”

Family heirlooms, then. “They must be precious.”

“Oh, yes,” he replied dryly. “Precious indeed. To be honest, I’ve no idea what to do with the two of them. They came along with the title.”

“The title?” she echoed.

“Belvoir.” When she did not respond, he added, “As in, the duke of it.”

A wild burst of laughter escaped her.

A duke? Oh, how Penny would gloat over having guessed that.

“Believe me,” he said, “I find it absurd, as well. Actually, I’m merely heir to a duke, for now. Since my uncle is infirm, I’ve been handed the legal responsibilities. All the duties of a dukedom, none of the perks.” He waved aimlessly in her direction. “Well, then. Teach me a lesson.”

“I . . . I beg your pardon?”

“I could inquire as to your education and experience, but that seems a waste of time. We may as well have a demonstration.”