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

A demonstration? Did he want to know how clockworks operated? Perhaps he meant the chronometer. She could explain why it kept the right time when clocks could lose several minutes a day.

“What sort of lesson did you have in mind?”

He shrugged. “Whatever you think I might need to learn.”

Alex couldn’t hold it in any longer. She buried her face in her hands and moaned into them.

He leaned toward her at once. “Are you ill? I do hope it’s not typhus.”

“It’s disappointment. I expected something different. I should have known better.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “What precisely were you expecting?”

“You don’t want to know.” And I don’t want to tell you.

“No, you don’t. You really, truly don’t.”

“Come now. That kind of protestation only makes a man more intrigued. Just have out with it.”

“A gentleman,” she blurted out. “I expected you’d be a gentleman.”

“You weren’t wrong. I am a gentleman. Eventually, I’m going to be a peer.”

“I didn’t mean it that way. I thought you’d be the respectable, considerate, honorable kind of gentleman.”

“Ah,” he said. “Yes, that was a mistaken assumption on your part.”

“Obviously. Just look at you.”

As she spoke, her gaze drifted downward, toward his broad shoulders. Then toward the rumpled linen of his shirt. Then toward the intriguing wedge of masculine chest exposed by his open collar. The skin there was smooth and taut, and the muscular contours were defined, and . . .

And she was openly staring now.

“Look at this place. Wineglasses scattered on the table. Perfume still lingering in the air. What kind of gentleman conducts an employment interview in this . . .” She indicated their surroundings, at a loss for the word. “. . . cave of carnality?”

“Cave of Carnality,” he echoed with amusement. “Oh, I like that. I’ve a mind to engrave that on a plaque.”

“So you understand my mistake now.” The words kept pouring out of her, rash and unconsidered, and she couldn’t put them back in the bottle. She couldn’t even find a cork. “When I opened the door, I was fool enough to expect someone else. A man who’d never allow a lady to wander London with only one stocking and call it ‘nothing of consequence.’ Stockings are of consequence, Mr. Reynaud. So are the women who wear them.” She made a defeated wave at his black armband. “All of this whilst you’re in mourning.”

“Now that, I can explain.”

“Please don’t. This lesson is cruel enough already.” She shook her head. “Then there’s the telescope.”

“Hold a moment.” He sat forward. “What has a telescope to do with anything?”

“That”—she pointed with an outstretched arm—“is a genuine Dollond. A forty-six-inch achromatic with a triple object-glass of three-and-three-quarters-inch aperture. Polished wood barrel, brass draw tubes. Capable of magnifying land objects sixty times over, and celestial objects to one hundred and eighty times. It’s an instrument most could only dream of owning, and you’re letting it gather dust. It’s . . . Well, it’s heartbreaking.”

Heartbreaking, indeed.

In the end, Alex had only herself to blame. All the clues were there. His dreadful taste in books. His charming grin that made promises no man could intend to keep. And those eyes . . . They held some kind of potent, brain-addling sorcery, and he went about jostling young women in bookshops without the decency to keep them hidden beneath a wide-brimmed hat.

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Her only consolation was that he’d forget this conversation the moment she left, just as he’d forgotten her before.

“Thank you, Mr. Reynaud. You’ve given me a much-needed lesson today.” She released a heavy sigh and tipped her gaze to the wall. “Antlers. Really?”

After a prolonged silence, he whistled softly through his teeth.

She rose to her feet, reaching for her satchel. “I’ll show myself out.”

“Oh, no, you won’t.” He stood. “Miss Mountbatten, that was capital.”

“Absolutely brilliant. I would very much like to engage your services.”

Perhaps she had this all wrong. Maybe he was not the Bookshop Rake after all, but the Bookshop Madman.

Then he went and did the most incomprehensible thing yet. He looked into her eyes, smiled just enough to reveal a lethal dimple, and spoke the words she’d stupidly dreamed of hearing him say.

“You,” he said, “are everything I’ve been searching for. And I’m not letting you get away.”

“Come, then. My wards will be delighted to meet their new governess.”

Alexandra was speechless.

“I’ll show you upstairs.” In a display of masculine presumption, Mr. Reynaud took the satchel from her grip. As he relieved her of its weight, his hand grazed hers. The fleeting brush of warmth pushed her brain off balance. He turned and walked to the back of the room. “This way.”

She shook life into her frozen arms and followed. How could she do otherwise? He’d taken her satchel—and with it her chronometer, plus her ledger of clients and appointments. Her livelihood was literally in his hands.