He gestured wildly. “Her arm is broken!”
“Her arm is broken. But she is going to be fine.”
He shook his head and went to the study, fishing the key from his waistcoat fob to open the money box. He counted out banknotes. “Five per week. Two hundred at the end of the summer.” He squared the stack. “There. That’s two hundred and fifty. Your wages.”
“Chase, don’t do this to them. Don’t do this to me.”
He flung the keys down with a clatter. “I have to do this. My mistake was believing, for even one moment, that I could do otherwise.”
Alexandra claimed to be sensible. Practical. Straightforward. Chase had wanted to believe that, too. He’d almost been convinced that she saw him. Truly saw him, for everything he was and everything he wasn’t, and that her mirror-finish eyes reflected everything he could become.
But that had been an illusion. Today was the proof he needed.
She would keep fooling herself that he was a better man, and she would persist in telling him the same. No amount of argument or evidence on his part had convinced her otherwise. She wouldn’t see reason, and that left him only one way to get the message across.
He had to wound her. Deeply.
Even if it left him gutted and bleeding, too.
“I should never have suggested we marry. It was my mistake.”
“Why are you doing this?” Her voice was shaky now. “I know what we shared last night. I know you love me. Perhaps you’re too frightened to face it right now, but that doesn’t change the truth.”
“Even if I do love you, it doesn’t matter. I’m Rosamund and Daisy’s guardian, and I’m going to be Duke of Belvoir. I need to be heeding those responsibilities. As it is, I’m barely skating the boundaries of good society. Think of how it would damage the girls’ prospects if I married so far beneath me.”
“Beneath you? You’re being absurd, Chase. I know you, of all people, don’t believe that.”
“Everyone else will. And the Sir Winston Harveys of London will make sure no one forgets that you were once ‘just’ a governess.”
“I’m not ‘just’ a governess. I’m not ‘just’ anything.”
He pushed the banknotes toward her. “As of this moment, you’re not a governess at all.”
A tear formed in the corner of her eye. It clung to her eyelashes, wobbling there. She didn’t do him the mercy of dashing it away. She let it fall, and he watched it trail down her face.
Chase wanted to rip his own heart from his chest and hurl it into the fireplace. For all the good the thing did him, he might as well be rid of it.
She ignored the heap of banknotes. “I don’t believe for a moment that you meant anything you just said. I know you better than that. You’re a good man with a loving nature. But even if I can dismiss your words, that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.”
“Take the money, Alexandra. The telescope, as well. I’ve no need of it.”
“I don’t want your money. As if it’s some even trade for your heart?”
“To be honest, I think you’re coming out better in the bargain.”
She shook her head. “Tomorrow, or the day after, or maybe next week, you’re going to wake up and realize what an idiot you were, and you’re going to want to make things right with me. I’m telling you now, it will be too late. This will be the last time I raise my hopes, Chase. The last time I dare to dream of a future with you, only to watch those dreams dashed.”
He looked her square in the eye and nodded. “Good.”
As it happened, it didn’t take even an hour for Chase to realize he’d been an idiot. There was no excising these girls from his life.
When the time came to set Daisy’s arm, Chase had to pin her down with his body so the doctor could do his work. She screamed with the pain and struggled to get away. He would have gladly broken his arm and both legs if it meant he could suffer the pain instead. It was the most wrenching thing he’d ever done, but he would not have allowed anyone else to do it in his place.
At last, it was over. Daisy fell asleep, exhausted from the struggle. Chase was equally spent. He showed the doctor to the door, peppering the man with so many questions, he turned and looked to Chase as if to say, Don’t you know anything?
No. When it came to this guardian business, he truly did not. But he was going to have to learn.
What came next? Supper, baths, stories? Some other loving ritual absent from his own youth, and therefore completely foreign to him? He didn’t suppose wine was on the list, unfortunately. Not yet, anyway.
He heard the sound of sniffling coming from the dining hall. He bent to peer under the table. “Rosamund?”