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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:32

“Surely you didn’t stay every holiday.”

“Where would I have gone? I’d no family. There was one year another schoolgirl invited me to summer with her family at their country home. But in the end, it didn’t come to pass.”

She didn’t tell him the rest of the story. That the schoolgirl—Violet Liddell—had spent weeks describing all the wonderful things they would do together that summer. Picnics and buying ribbons in the village and staying up all night, giggling. Alexandra had dreamed of it every night for months, imagining all the adventures she and Violet would have together. What she looked forward to most wasn’t adventurous at all. Family dinners.

When the term ended and Violet’s parents came to collect her, Alex was waiting outside with her trunk, dressed in her best frock and beside herself with excitement for the journey. She waited to be introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Liddell, but that introduction never came. Instead, Violet turned to her with a cruel smile and said, “I hope you have a fine summer, Alexandra.”

And she climbed into her family’s carriage and left.

Alex would never forget the shame of lugging her trunk back up to the attic dormitory one step at a time, while the other schoolgirls stood by laughing. They’d known what was coming. They’d all known.

“Just promise me,” she said. “Easter, Christmas, summers. Don’t leave them there. They need to feel that they have a home.”

“Blast,” Chase muttered, turning toward the wall.

“I spied someone I know—and don’t particularly like.”

“Where?” Alex turned her head.

“Don’t look,” he hissed. “I’m hoping he didn’t notice me.”

She returned her gaze to what lay in front of her. “I’m hoping no one notices we’re staring at a blank wall.”

“Very well, have a look. But be casual about it. At the far end of the gallery. The shorter fellow compensating by means of an absurdly tall hat.”

Alex turned in place, trying her best to look aimless about it. Although she wasn’t certain it looked better to be aimlessly turning in circles than to be staring at a blank wall.

As she completed her circle, she caught sight of the man Chase had described. Her stomach churned.

“Tell me he’s not looking this way,” Chase mumbled.

“He’s looking this way.” Which meant Alex wanted to pick up her skirts and sprint in the opposite direction.

“Reynaud?” The voice carried from the other end of the gallery. “Chase Reynaud, is that you?”

Chase cursed under his breath. “No escaping it now.” He turned and raised his hand in a halfhearted greeting. “That’s Sir W—”

“Sir Winston Harvey.”

“I set the clocks in his house for three years.”

“Then you know he’s insufferable.”

Her skin crawled. “Oh, yes.”

In the distance, Sir Winston began taking leave of his current conversational partner—the quicker, presumably, to make his way down the length of the gallery to them.

“I’ll go to the girls,” Alex said. “They’ve moved on to the Grecian marbles.”

“No, stay.” He tugged her to his side, drawing her hand through his arm. “If you’re here, he won’t regale me with tales of his sordid brothel adventures. He seems to think I’ll be impressed.”

“I’d rather go with the girls.”

“What did he do?” He must have caught the tense note in her voice. “Tell me.”

“It was mostly just leering,” she whispered. “A pinch or two. You know, the usual.”

“The usual for him. Chase, it was years ago. He won’t even recognize me. Just let me go.”

But it was too late. The man was upon them now.

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Chase had never been one for committing acts of violence. He wasn’t opposed to a bit of vengeance, but somehow the opportunity had thus far eluded him. He always seemed to show up too late, after the damage was already done.

That was not the case today.

“Reynaud, you old cur. Haven’t seen you about the clubs much of late.” Sir Winston’s attention slid to Alex, and he raked her with a lecherous gaze. “Good to know you’re still in fine form. Who’s this?”

“I’m just the governess,” Alex quickly volunteered.

“You are not just the governess,” Chase corrected. “You are not ‘just’ anything.”

“Well, of course she’s not ‘just’ the governess.” Sir Winston gave him an unsubtle wink. “They never are, are they?”

Chase clapped the man on the shoulder, as if in appreciation of a good joke. And then, turning his back to the room, he drove his fist into the leering blackguard’s gut.

Sir Winston’s hat skittered across the floor.

The man himself was doubled over and groaning. “What the devil was that for, Reynaud?”

“You owe Miss Mountbatten an apology.”

“An apology for what?”

“For insulting her today, to begin. And for taking liberties with her in the past.”

“In the past? For God’s sake, man. What are you on about? I’ve never laid eyes on the chit in my life.”

Alex ducked her head, evading the gaze of the other museum-goers. She murmured, “I told you he wouldn’t remember.”