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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:36

She turned away from him, swiping her nose with her sleeve in an effort to hide her tears.

Chase went down on his hands and knees to join her under the table.

Steady, he told himself. Don’t frighten her.

She needed assurance, and he had to provide it—even though he’d never felt less sure of himself in his life.

“Daisy’s fine,” he said. “She’s fine.”

“She was screaming. I heard it.”

“The physician had to set her arm back in place, but it’s done now. All splinted and bound. Now it only needs time to mend. In a few months she’ll be good as new.” He put a hand on her back. “It wasn’t your fault. Do you hear me? It was an accident. You aren’t to blame.”

“You can’t expect me to believe that. Of course it’s my fault. I told her to climb out the window. She wouldn’t have fallen if not for me.”

“Very well, then. Perhaps it is partly your fault. But it’s partly mine, too. I should have made you feel safer to stay.” Chase made himself as comfortable as possible in the cramped space, bending his legs until his knees touched his chest. “I’m going to tell you a story.”

“One of those improving tales with morals? No, thank you.”

“It’s a sad story, actually. No happy ending.”

In clear, simple terms he told her about Anthony’s death. He left out the more scandalous details, naturally. But the gist of the story remained the same.

“I promised to take care of him,” he finished at length. “And I wasn’t there when he needed me.”

She didn’t reply, and he didn’t want her to feel she ought to. She was ten years old, and he was here to console her, not the reverse.

“When you and Daisy came into my care,” he went on, “I didn’t believe that I could be a good guardian. I’d failed my cousin already. What if I failed you, too? That’s why I planned to send you to school at the first opportunity. We’d all be better off that way, I told myself.”

She rearranged her legs within the cramped space. “Are you sure you weren’t right?”

“I’m not right very often, so the chances are against it.” He exhaled, releasing all the air in his lungs. “To be honest, Rosamund, I was terrified. It wasn’t only that I’d failed Anthony. I missed him, terribly. I was afraid of losing someone else. I didn’t want to care about you.”

She sniffed. “I didn’t want to care about you, either.”

“Much as I tried to avoid it, however, it seems I’ve come to love you and Daisy both. Very much. When you were missing, I was frantic. All I could think about was how empty the house would be with you gone. How empty my life would be.”

“I was thinking about how empty our stomachs were, and that I should have brought more sandwiches.” Her chin met her knee. “Or that we should never have left at all.”

He smiled a bit. “We are quite the pair. What are we going to do with ourselves?”

“Here’s what I think. There’s no going back to change the past. If we allow our mistakes to consume us, we’re stuck in one place—and it’s not a good place to be. Believe me, I spent years there. I know. The only choice is to move forward. Try to do better. I may not be a perfect guardian. You may not be the perfect wards. But if we love each other and keep trying our best, perhaps we’ll manage.” He added, “Mind you, we’ll all need to make a greater attempt at acceptable behavior—in public, at any rate. But I’ll try if you will. What do you say?”

She was silent. He could sense her struggling. She didn’t want to admit she needed him, or anyone.

“Blink once for yes, twice for no.”

Instead, she leaned into his shoulder.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” He wrapped his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. “That’s it, I hope you realize. No taking it back now.”

She lifted her head. “Where’s Miss Mountbatten gone? She took her things. Did you sack her because we ran away?”

“She was hired to teach you and Daisy for the summer, and the summer’s come to an end. That’s all. But you and Daisy are invited for tea at Lady Penny’s house every Thursday. You’ll see her there.”

Rosamund leveled a doubtful gaze at him. There were hours of interrogation in those eyes. The girl could break hardened spies.

“Very well, that’s not all. We had a falling-out.”

“Can’t you go apologize to her?”

“Not this time, I’m afraid.” Not yet.

It will be too late, she’d told him. It would be too early, as well. If he had any hope of ever regaining Alex’s trust—and her love—he had to prove he deserved it. Not only to her, but to himself.