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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:37

“You must have done something truly horrid, then.”

He nodded. “That’s the sum of it, yes.”

“So that would mean . . . the only choice is to move forward and try to do better?” Her voice was smug.

“Don’t make me regret this guardian business already.”

She lowered her voice in imitation of his. “No taking it back now.”

He sighed, exasperated. “Are you going to keep throwing my words back at me?”

“Then I promise to be a perfect young lady.”

“Brilliant.” She scrambled out from under the table. “I have some half-embroidered serviettes you can finish.”

Even Nicola’s biscuits weren’t enough to soothe a broken heart.

Which was why Alexandra was currently sitting in the breakfast room of Ashbury House, with an entire toffee cake on a plate before her, and one solitary fork.

She dejectedly poked holes in the cake and took the occasional lick of icing. Emma paced the floor nearby, making cooing noises at the fussy babe in her arms. Breeches, the feline terror, was having one of his good-natured days. He rubbed against her ankle, purring.

Alex was surrounded by her dearest friend, a baby, a cat, and a cake. “Really,” she declared, “who needs men at all?”

“It seems we’ll have a new one in the neighborhood any day. Someone’s finally let the house on the corner.”

“The one next to Penny’s?”

“Yes.” Emma stood and walked to the window. “Workmen have been coming and going all week. The rumors passed through the servants say he’s a gentleman of some sort, but no one knows anything else. Whoever he is, I’d wager the poor fellow has no idea what he’s in for. I hope he doesn’t mind goats in the back garden and otters in the rain barrel.”

“Well, right now I only have eyes for one gentleman, and that’s the young Marquess of Richmond.” Alex scooped the crying baby from Emma’s arms. “I’ll take a turn. Have some cake.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you something,” Emma said. “Ash and I would love it if you’d be Richmond’s godmother.”

Alex was stunned. “Really?”

“I’d love nothing more, but I was christened Catholic, and I don’t practice anything lately.”

“Khan will be godfather, and he’s Muslim. Considering that my father was a vicar and the worst sort of hypocrite, and that Ash is Ash, we aren’t ones to stand on ceremony.”

“Will the clergyman allow it?”

“The Ashbury estate provides his living. He’ll be persuaded.”

“Then I’d be honored.”

Transferring the baby to one arm, she used the other to hug Emma in joy. And then, as she clung tight, the embrace became one of despair. At last, the tears she’d been holding in began to flow.

“I’m sorry.” Alex sniffled as she pulled away from the hug. “You already have one crying soul to soothe. I don’t mean to be another.”

“Don’t be absurd. Cry all you like.” Emma took the baby back and settled in a chair, unbuttoning the front of her morning gown. “I only wish I could mend it by feeding you, or changing your clout.”

“I just feel so foolish. I let myself believe he loved me, and that we’d be together forever. One day later, it all fell apart.”

“Perhaps it can be pieced back together. You know he loves you.”

“That’s not the problem. He’s bollocks at letting anyone love him in return.”

As she watched Emma nurse her baby at her breast, a tiny fist squeezed at her heart. She’d never expected to marry, never truly dreamed of having children at all. But now a longing had been opened in her. Those hopes of children had hollowed out a bit of her heart and made a home there. Now the hopes had vanished, but the space remained, empty and aching. Right next to two empty niches labeled Daisy and Rosamund, and the small cavern she’d blasted out to make room for Chase.

They heard the ring of the doorbell.

“Khan will answer it,” Emma said. Then she added in a low voice, “Maybe it’s him.”

“It’s not him,” Alex said aloud.

Inside, of course, her thoughts were a riot. What if it was him? It could be him. Did she want it to be him? Maybe he’d beg her to come back. Maybe he’d have a diamond ring in his pocket, and he’d go down on one knee and ask her to marry him.

And then take her up on his unicorn and ride into the sunset, she supposed. Really, Alex.

Khan, the butler, appeared in the doorway. “Your Grace, there’s a woman at the door collecting subscriptions for a charity fund.”

Alex took up the fork and dug into her cake.

See? Her mind had betrayed her again. She simply didn’t trust herself any longer, not where Chase was concerned. She had to fight her way through the pain and emerge stronger on the other side. Otherwise her longing for him would chip away at her heart, bit by bit.