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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:25

Maybe—just maybe—somewhere in those shelves was her lost copy of Messier’s Catalogue of Star Clusters and Nebulae. The book he’d absconded with after their collision in Hatchard’s. The one she’d imagined him to have kept tucked in his breast pocket for months, desperately hoping to see her again.

At the memory, she inwardly cringed.

She began her search on the lowest shelf, scanning the full breadth of the bookcase before working her way upward. By the fourth shelf, she was straining on tiptoe to make out the titles. The fifth—and topmost—was hopelessly beyond her reach.

She looked about for a book stair or stepstool, but her search proved fruitless. Undeterred, she pushed an ottoman toward the shelves and climbed atop that.

Alexandra lost her footing on the ottoman. Her hands closed on the bookshelf. For a moment, she dangled, feet twisting in the air. There was only one option—to let go and drop to the floor. Her body would survive the fall, even if her dignity didn’t. It was only a matter of two feet to the ground.

Go to it, then. The longer you dangle, the more ridiculous you look.

However, in the same instant that she released her grip, the shelf—already groaning with books—caved under the added weight of her body.

She fell to the carpet in a heap. And then a shelf’s worth of books fell atop her.

Alex curled into a ball, tucked her head beneath her crossed arms, and waited for it to be over. She winced as volumes pelted her from above. A few of the weightier tomes landed with a force hard enough to make her yelp.

At last, the blows came to a halt.

She cautiously lifted her head and peered upward. Perhaps the bookcase had vomited up the last of its leather-bound knowledge.

No. It hadn’t. There was one book more. A formidable, encyclopedia-sized volume bound in crimson leather. And as she watched with horror, it slid off the unhinged walnut shelf—plummeting directly toward her head.

Alexandra ducked, squeezed her eyes shut, and braced herself for the worst. However, instead of the skull-crushing thwack of oblivion, she heard only a soft thud.

“Good God. Tell me you’re alive under there.”

“I am,” she said weakly. Though she rather wished she weren’t. As deaths go, it would have been a kind one. There were worse ways to meet one’s demise than being buried alive in literature. Daisy could have named dozens of them.

As she attempted to sit up, Alex found herself aided by a large, strong hand hooked under her upper arm.

He cast aside the book he’d caught, and Alex watched it land atop the heap. He must have caught the thing an instant before it bashed in her brains.

It wasn’t an overstatement to say he might have saved her life. At the very least, he’d saved her a splitting headache.

He crouched before her. “Anything broken?”

He searched her gaze. “What month is it?”

“And what day of the week?”

“How many tiny buttons on the back of your frock?”

“I don’t know. Who counts such things?”

He shrugged unrepentantly. “I do.”

“Of course you do.” She tucked a stray wisp of hair behind her ear. “I’m fine, thank you. You merely startled me.”

“I expect so. Chase Reynaud, in a library? Searching for missing estate ledgers, no less? Who wouldn’t topple with surprise.”

“I didn’t mean to say—”

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He brushed off her attempt at an apology. “I’ve also been drinking wine and entertaining a great many impure thoughts, so it’s not a complete break with character.” He lowered his voice to a teasing murmur. “If you were looking for the erotic novels, they’re hidden behind the books of sermons.” He nodded toward the opposite side of the library. “Second shelf from the bottom, over there.”

Her cheeks flushed. “I wasn’t looking for those.”

“I wouldn’t think less of you if you were. I read them all the time.”

“I don’t think they’d suit my purposes today. I was searching for new reading material for the girls.” She knelt and began to gather the fallen books.

He joined her in the effort. “Why? I purchased a great many books for the schoolroom, months ago.”

Yes, I know. I was there, in Hatchard’s. You made me drop all my books then, too. I was probably even wearing the same frock.

Alex absorbed the timely reminder. No matter what they were doing in the dark of night, nothing else had changed. They had a temporary physical arrangement. She mustn’t hope for anything more.

“Rosamund’s read all the books ten times over, and Daisy needs something different. Something suited to her interests.”

He stood to have a look at the broken shelf. He teased the splintered wood with his thumbnail. “Rotted through,” he pronounced. “I’ll have to replace the plank.”

“Good. Then I needn’t apologize. Instead, you can thank me for finding your next project.” She drew to her feet. “Look,” she said, flipping through the plates of a human anatomy book. “This would be perfect for Daisy, budding physician that she is.”