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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:28

Not to mention—if the Duke of Ashbury meant to convince her Chase was a villain, he ought to have sent someone else. Someone without a history of inspiring wildly untruthful rumors.

“Reviled throughout London, hm? Sounds remarkably like someone else I know. And dearly care about. A duke who not so long ago skulked about London styling himself the Monster of Mayfair.”

“That’s entirely different.”

“And yet the rumors were equally contrived and false.” Alex shook her head. “You know, you two have so much in common. You ought to be friends.”

“We are nothing alike,” Ash sputtered.

“No one could possibly confuse us,” Chase agreed.

“Of course not,” Ash continued. “One of us is a repulsive monster, and the other was scarred at Waterloo.”

She spoke over their protests. “You should see yourselves. You’re giving me identical scowls right this moment.”

“I am not scowling,” the two men said.

For her part, Alex couldn’t resist a smug smile. “Well, you seem to share one thing in common—the belief that I can’t be trusted with my own decisions. Ash, you don’t need to worry. You know I’ve always been the most sensible of the group. I have a good head on my shoulders, and I keep my feet on the ground. I can take care of myself.”

“You don’t have to remain here with him, Alex. Come stay with me and Emma. We’d be happy to have you. And if you’ve developed a sudden passion for child minding, we can put you to work.”

“I truly appreciate that. But I can’t leave without completing the job I was hired to do. The girls need me. More to the point, they need him. He isn’t . . .” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “He isn’t what others think. He isn’t what he thinks.”

“Please send my love to Emma and the babe. And my congratulations to the proud father, as well.” She kissed his cheek. “Go home to your family.”

At last, he relented.

Chase opened the front door in a clear invitation for the duke to leave.

Before departing, he addressed Chase. “If you hurt her, in even the slightest way, I will eviscerate you.”

“I mean it, Reynaud. In fact, gutting would be too good for you. I will subject you to my cat.”

“Your cat?” Chase laughed. “To mewl at me, I suppose.”

“Trust me. We’re not speaking of the average cat.”

Alexandra spoke up. “I can attest to this.”

“I’ll strip you bare, tie your hands behind your back, smear salmon on your manly bits, and lock the two of you in a wardrobe. Once he’s clawed your ballocks to shreds, I’ll crush whatever remains of you to a bloody, formless pulp.”

“Good Lord.” Chase sounded a little awed. “That’s remarkably vivid. Did you plan all this out just for me, or do you keep a list of gruesome threats to use as the occasion arises?”

“Just stay away from her, king of codpieces.” He grabbed Chase by the front of his shirt. “Or I will make you wish you’d never been born.”

Chase shrugged off Ash’s grip. “Too late on that score.”

Once the Duke of Arse-bury finally left and took his feline torture plans with him, Chase turned to Alexandra. He crossed his arms. “Well, I hope that puts paid to the matter. Are you convinced?”

“Convinced of what, precisely?”

“That I am the worst of all possible guardians. That it doesn’t matter what I wish to do, or even if I love those girls. If I care about them, I should not, must not take the responsibility of caring for them.”

“Oh, that? No, I’m not convinced of that at all.”

He smacked his hand to his forehead and groaned. “Alexandra, come along. I couldn’t even look after a twenty-year-old young man. This wasn’t a case of my cousin falling into a bit of youthful mischief. I failed to keep him alive.”

Her look went soft, and her voice went softer. “Chase, I’m so sorry.”

“Damn it, do not be sorry.”

“Why shouldn’t I be sorry? You lost your cousin in an act of tragic violence. It’s natural to feel sympathy.”

“Were you not listening? I gave my word to my uncle. I promised I’d keep close watch on him. I broke that promise—in the worst possible place, at the worst possible time. He was stabbed outside a gaming hell and bled to death in the alley. Alone. And where was I? In a seedy inn, in bed with a woman whose name I did not know. So don’t make excuses for me.”

She took a step in his direction. “I’m—”

“I mean it.” He held her off with an outstretched hand. “Don’t do it, Alex. Don’t try to hold me with my head in your lap, and kiss my tortured brow and stroke my hair, and tell me I’m blameless and misunderstood.”

Her nose wrinkled. “I hadn’t intended to do any such thing.”