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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:30

“They’ve been through so much already. To thrust them into the unknown again, just when they’ve begun to feel safe . . .”

“I’d do my best to advocate for them. But in the end, the decisions wouldn’t be mine.”

“I know. And it isn’t only being uprooted that would devastate them. They adore him.”

“As do we all.” He sighed. “God knows why. He’s such a horse’s arse.”

“He truly is.” A hot tear spilled down her cheek.

Mr. Barrow reached for her hand. “All this talk will likely come to nothing. He won’t go easily. At school, he was always scrapping with the other boys. Most of the time, in my defense. Mind, he wasn’t purely motivated by brotherly love. He copied all my schoolwork. Without me, he never would have passed an exam. But he knows how to put up a fight.”

“Right now he’s fighting with both hands tied behind his back.” Alex sat forward, determined. “We have to even the odds somehow. We can’t just sit by and watch.”

“All the usual remedies have failed. Bleeding, purging, sweating him out, starving the fever . . . Nothing the doctors have tried has helped.”

“Then we send the doctors away,” she said firmly. “Whatever we try, we can’t possibly do worse.”

He looked at her and nodded in agreement. “Very well.”

Alex drew to her feet and peeled the heavy wool blanket away from his body. “We have to bring down his fever first. Cool compresses, tepid baths. And he’s been sweating so much, he must be miserable with thirst. We should be spooning him all the broth and tea he’ll take.”

“I’ll ask Elinor about an aromatic poultice for his chest.”

“My wife. Perhaps you’ll meet her someday. The two of you would get on well.” He lifted Chase’s head so Alex could place a cool cloth beneath his neck. “Chase and I were born only three weeks apart, less than one year after his parents married. That alone should tell you how much my natural father valued his wedding vows.”

“That must have been difficult for you.”

“Not really. I had the better half of the bargain. My father stepped forward to marry my mother and raised me as his own, with love and principles. There wasn’t any affection in the Reynaud house.”

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Alex paused. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because when it comes to love, Chase has no idea what the devil he’s doing. He’s brilliant at caring for others. He’s bollocks at letting others care for him.”

Of course. Of course he was. For weeks, she’d been needling him to express love for the girls—but she’d been taking the wrong tack. Chase needed to believe he deserved their love in return.

But before all that, he needed to not die.

“Well.” She plumped his pillow decisively. “He’s going to be cared for now, whether he likes it or not.”

Chase drifted in and out of consciousness. Gentle waves lapped at his body. Fresh, cool water trickled between his lips. Soothing murmurs came and went. The scents of herbs and lemon hovered about him. And orange flowers. Always orange flowers. As if he were floating in a sea of Alexandra. Or drowning in it. He couldn’t tell.

He woke in the morning—it had to be morning, what with the light stabbing him square in the eye—to find her asleep at his bedside, head buried in her arms.

“Chase?” She lifted her head. “Chase.” She pressed the back of her hand to his brow. When she spoke, her voice cracked with emotion. “Thank God.”

“I told you I wasn’t ill.” He struggled to a sitting position. “I suppose I just needed a good night’s sleep.”

She blinked at him. “A night’s sleep?”

He rubbed his eyes and cursed. “Don’t say you let me sleep through a full day and a half. Good Lord.”

“Chase, it’s been a week.”

“A week? That’s impossible.” He noted her tangled hair and the dark circles haunting her eyes. “What happened to you?”

“If you think I look dreadful, you should see yourself. You had pneumonia. You were burning up with fever for days. No fewer than three physicians waited on you. You had everyone so worried.”

“You needn’t have been worried. I’m fine.”

He scratched his jaw and found it thick with whiskers. A week. Bloody hell. He swung his leaden legs over the side of the bed and prepared to stand. He could do with a wash and a shave. Perhaps then he’d feel human again.

“Don’t you dare.” She laid her hand flat on his chest. “You’re not yet ready to stand.”

“I can determine that for myself, thank you.” He brushed away her hand. Planting his feet on the floor, he shifted his weight off the bed and stood. For a fraction of a second, anyhow. Then his knees buckled, and he found himself seated on the bed again, with black and white dots swimming before his eyes. “I’ve determined I’m not yet ready to stand.”