In fact, the post offered few advantages, save one.
“I’ll pay you handsomely,” he said. “An astronomical sum.”
“There’s been a mistake. I came to offer my services as a timekeeper. I’m not a governess. I’ve no training, no experience. And governesses are gently bred women, aren’t they? I don’t meet that qualification, either.”
“I don’t care if you’re gently bred, roughly bred, or a loaf of brown bread with butter. You’re educated, you understand propriety, and you’re . . . breathing.”
“I’m certain you’ll find someone else to fill the post.”
“The post has been filled. And vacated. And filled and vacated several times over. Sometimes multiple times in one day.”
You’re not doing your offer any favors, Reynaud.
“But you’re not like the rest of those candidates,” he hastened to say. “You’re different.”
Here was a woman who’d just schooled him within an inch of his dignity. She thought him a crude, unintelligent layabout. A paltry excuse for nobility and a waste of good tailoring. Miss Mountbatten—quite wisely—wanted nothing to do with him.
And Chase was positively desperate to keep her near.
The desire rising in him wasn’t physical. Well, it wasn’t entirely physical. She was pretty, and he appreciated a forthright woman who knew what she was about. But mingled with the attraction was something more. A wish to impress her, to be worthy of her approval.
She made him want to be better. And wasn’t that an ideal quality in a governess? He had to keep this woman in his employ.
“It’s only for the summer,” he said. “A year’s wages, for a few months of work.”
“I’m sorry.” She sidestepped him and continued down the stairs.
“Two years’ wages. Three.”
Chase caught her at the door. “It comes down to this. Those girls need you.”
He waited until she looked at him, and then he reached into his arsenal of persuasion.
A hard swallow, indicating a manful struggle with emotion.
An intense, searching gaze.
The husky whisper of a confession.
“Miss Mountbatten.” Hell, why not go for it all? “Alexandra. I need you.”
There. That line worked on every woman.
It didn’t work on her.
“No, you don’t.” A flash of irony crossed her face. “Don’t worry. You’ll forget me soon enough.”
And then she did what Chase yearned to do, often. She flung open the door, fled the house, and didn’t once look back.
Two hours later, Alexandra found herself standing on a Billingsgate dock.
The June morning was soaked with sunshine, but she’d left Mr. Reynaud’s house in a mental fog. Her distraction was such that she’d made two wrong turnings on her well-trod path to London Bridge, and now she had missed the noon coach to Greenwich.
The rational solution was to take a wherry down the Thames. However, the mere sight of the boat sent an irrational shiver rippling down her spine.
I can’t. I just can’t.
But what were her alternatives?
If she risked waiting for a later coach, the bridge would be madness, crushed with carts going nowhere. She’d never make it home before dark.
She could call off the journey entirely. However, calibrating the chronometer once a fortnight was her signature promise to customers. They paid for precise Greenwich time, and she delivered it, without fail.
Just do it, she told herself. It’s time to move past this, you ninny. You were raised on a ship, after all. A merchant frigate was your cradle.
Yes. But it had nearly been her coffin, too.
Nevertheless, here she stood ten years later. Alive. She could survive a brief jaunt down the Thames to Greenwich.
As the boatman loaded bundles and helped passengers into the wherry, she hung back, waiting until the last possible moment.
“Are you coming, miss, or ain’t ye?”
“I’m coming.” Alex accepted his hand and boarded the boat, wedging herself on a plank between two older women and settling her satchel on her lap.
When the boatman cast off the ropes mooring the wherry to the dock, she decided to set her mind on something else. Now that she knew better than to fantasize about Chase Reynaud, a good portion of her brain was suddenly available for other pursuits. Naming all the constellations bordering Ursa Major, perhaps.
Drat. Too easy. She rattled through the list in moments—Draco, Camelopardalis, Lynx, Leo Minor, Leo, Coma Berenices, Canes Venatici, Bo?tes—and there her concentration fractured. Once the first oar hit water, she couldn’t piece a single thought together.
She balled her hands in fists and dug her nails into her palms, attempting to distract herself by means of pain. That didn’t work, either. She felt nothing but the lift and roll of water beneath the craft. That terrifying sensation of coming unmoored. Drifting untethered.
No. She couldn’t do this after all.
Alex pushed to her feet, making her way to the edge of the boat. They hadn’t yet pushed off. Still just a foot from the dock. “Wait,” she told the boatman. “I’ve just recalled something. I need to disembark.”