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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:34

She looked down at the river. The Thames flowed like a river of ink beneath them, dark and silent. Ominous.

“You can still change your mind,” he said.

She shook her head. “You sent the carriage on without us.”

“So I can hire another.”

“No. We’ll take the skiff.”

This night, this journey—it was what she’d been working toward all this time. She wasn’t going to allow irrational fears to stand between her and that goal.

Chase boarded the craft first, then extended a hand to help her do the same. The closer she inched toward the edge of the dock, the more furiously her heart thrashed about her chest. Her tongue felt coated in sand.

“Don’t look at the water, Alex. Look at me.”

She obeyed. What with the darkness, the black of his pupils had swallowed up all of the dazzling green. There was no charm in his gaze; only sincerity.

“Take my hand,” he said, “and I promise I won’t let go.”

She reached out to him. His hand took hers, and the clasp felt natural, easy. After all, they’d been holding hands every morning for weeks.

His other hand gripped her forearm, and he helped her into the boat. She made an ungainly landing in the craft, and the skiff rocked to and fro. Panic fluttered in her chest, but it didn’t have the chance to grow proper wings. Chase caught her by the waist and tugged her down onto the bench. His arm slid around her back, drawing her close.

The boatman pushed away from the pier.

And then they were drifting. Bobbing on the waves, unmoored.

“I have you,” Chase murmured in her ear.

“I know.” Her dry throat worked to swallow. “I know.” She twisted her hands together in her lap. “I shouldn’t get my hopes up. There are so many observers not only in England, but on the Continent. Really, what are the chances I spotted it first?”

“And that’s if it’s a comet at all. I could be wrong.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Exactly. So this will probably come to nothing anyway.”

He nodded. “You’re probably right.”

She looked askance at him. He wasn’t supposed to be agreeing with her.

“I mean, what kind of career plan is comet hunting?” he scoffed. “Not a very realistic one.”

She stiffened. “It is a realistic one, even if it’s uncommon.”

“Oh, truly. Name one woman who actually makes her living as an astronomer.”

“Miss Caroline Herschel.”

“Fine. Name two women who make their living as astronomers.”

“Miss Caroline Herschel and Mrs. Margaret Bryan. And if you require three, Mrs. Mary Somerville, by way of mathematics,” she replied hotly. “That’s only in Britain. Gottfried Kirch in Germany had three sisters and a wife, all of whom were astronomers. In France, you have Marie-Jeanne de Lalande, and Louise du Pierry taught astronomy at the Sorbonne. Shall I continue?”

“Please do,” he said. “Twenty more, and perhaps I’ll be convinced.”

Alex bit off her reply. The amused gleam in his eyes gave him away. “You’re doing this on purpose. Starting an argument to distract me.”

He didn’t deny it. “It seems to be working.”

A wave lifted the boat, and then dropped it just as suddenly.

Alex’s stomach pitched and rolled. She turned to bury her face in his chest, but her forehead plunked against something solid.

“Sorry. I’d forgotten that was there.” He reached into his coat and withdrew a flask—a significantly larger one than he usually carried. He offered it to her. “Here, it’s for you.”

“That’s kind of you, but I don’t think I could stomach any brandy right now.”

“No, no. It’s water. Thought you might need it.” He pressed the flask into her hands. Keeping one arm lashed about her waist, he used his free hand to unscrew the silver cap before tucking it away in his pocket. “There. Take a good draught.”

She stared at the glimmering silver, too overwhelmed to speak.

For thirteen years, she’d avoided boats. She’d taken the long way around so many times, spending countless hours and precious shillings to quiet her fears. She’d confined herself to England, making her home in an unfamiliar country rather than returning to the homeland of her father or her mother. Insurmountable terror had made her its captive.

Now, at long last, she’d faced the fear and embarked on this most terrifying of journeys . . . only to find the purest, most perfect safety she’d ever known.

Oh, how she loved this man.

Alex wasn’t thirsty any longer, but she held on to his flask for the remainder of their short voyage, keeping both hands wrapped about the cool silver. She traced the monogram with her fingertip over and over, following the dips and loops of the engraved scrollwork R.

When they reached Greenwich, she handed it back. “Thank you.”

He capped the flask and tucked it away. “You’re even braver than you are beautiful.” He kissed her on the forehead. “And though I’ve no right to be, I’m excessively proud.”