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

“I’m miserable,” Chase agreed. “So, so miserable. Also ashamed, regretful, desperate, ready to grovel on hands and knees.”

“Don’t forget ‘in love,’” Penny said, smiling.

Lord bless Lady Penelope Campion for her indefatigable faith in romance. She had the most open, generous nature imaginable. Chase recognized the quality, because she was the sort of woman he’d always kept at a distance. A heart so completely unguarded was more easily bruised than a ripe summer peach. Someday, he would sit her down and give her a word of caution about being too trusting with devilish gentlemen.

Nicola finally answered his question. “Alexandra isn’t here.”

“When will she be back?”

“She won’t be. Not for some time,” Nicola said.

Lady Penelope’s reply was cut short. From throughout the house, what seemed like hundreds of clocks began to chime the hour. And naturally, the hour would be noon.

Within that minute of bonging and clanging, Chase imagined a hundred dire endings to Penny’s sentence.

She’s gone to the docks to catch a ship.

She’s gone to the Philippine Islands, to find her mother’s family.

She’s gone to grab the tail of her comet and soar away to a planet that deserves her.

She’s gone to someplace, anyplace where you aren’t, you contemptible bastard.

It didn’t matter, he vowed. Wherever she’d gone, Chase would follow her, find her, pledge his love, and beg her to come home. Nothing would deter him. There was no journey too far. No obstacle too great.

“She’s gone to stay at Ashbury House,” Penny finished. “Across the square. Ash and Emma leave for the country tomorrow. They’re taking Alexandra with them.”

Ashbury House. Brilliant.

He would have rather gone to Malta.

Chase’s reception at Ashbury House was as he expected. And, quite honestly, no worse than he deserved.

The duke grabbed Chase by the lapels and slammed him against the wall.

“Listen, Ashbury. I know she’s furious with me, and for good reason. But I’m trying to make it right. Just—”

“I warned you,” the duke said in a fiendish whisper. “I told you what would happen if you hurt her.”

“Yes, I recall,” Chase choked out. “Something about my ballocks, a closet, and a demonic cat.”

“Oh, that’s only to start,” the duke growled low. “You clod of wayward marl.”

“I don’t have to stand for this.” Chase shrugged off Ashbury’s grip. “And I don’t need your permission to speak with Alexandra. You’re not her keeper.”

“I’m her friend. And you are not her anything.”

The words gutted him. Ashbury might be correct, but Chase had to see this through to the bitter end.

“That’s for Alex to decide.” Chase sidestepped him and lifted his voice. “Alexandr—ack.”

Ashbury tackled him from behind, wrestling him down to the carpet and clapping a hand over Chase’s mouth. “Shut up, you blackguard,” he snarled quietly. “Not another word. Or a set of shredded ballocks will be the least of your problems.”

Good Lord. Could there be anything worse than shredded ballocks? His stones retracted into his abdomen at the very mention. Chase could imagine only one sort of pain that could possibly eclipse that prospect.

Losing the love of his life.

Chase planted his boot on the floor, levered for the advantage, and flipped them both. He straddled Ashbury’s chest and stared down at his scarred face. “I’ve given you the benefit of the doubt on Alex’s account, but now I’m angry. I may not have a bloodthirsty cat, but I know a girl who can make a small bowel obstruction look like an accident, and I have a great deal of experience giving eulogies.”

Chase planted his hand on Ashbury’s face. By pushing the duke’s head into the carpet pile, he lifted himself just enough to call out. “Alex!” he shouted. “I need to speak with y—”

A set of duke-ish, entitled teeth sank into the heel of his hand.

Chase jerked his hand away, and Ashbury made use of the momentary confusion to reverse the power once more. Scrabbling with knees and elbows, they rolled across the carpet no fewer than three times before colliding with a table.

Unhappily, Chase ended on the bottom of the tussle. Ashbury’s knee sank into his gut. “God Almighty, man,” Chase said. “What the devil’s wrong with you? Besides all the obvious things.”

“You veriest varlet.” Ashbury lowered his mangled face to within an inch of Chase’s nose. “This. Is. Nap. Time.”

Chase was nonplussed. “What?”

The duke rolled aside, resting on his elbow as he worked for breath. “My infant son is currently upstairs, sleeping for the first time in nineteen hours. The only thing keeping me from disemboweling you here in the entrance hall, you cream-faced rooting hog, is that you’d probably wake him with all your sniveling and sobbing for mercy.”

Somewhere upstairs, a thin wail pierced the silence.

Ashbury closed his eyes. “I hate you.”

“Just let me speak to Alexandra.” Chase stood and straightened his coat.