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

“Too late, miss. You can cross again when the boat comes back.” He moved to push off with the oar.

“Please.” She was begging now, her voice cracking. “It’s urgent. I must get off the boat. I . . .”

“Sit down, woman,” he barked, bracing his oar to push off.

Alex was frantic, wild. She scrambled atop the rail of the boat, wavering on her toes. The other passengers cried out in alarm as the boat tipped to one side. The boatman gripped the hem of her frock, attempting to yank her down into the boat. His grasping only increased her desperation.

She quickly judged the distance between the wherry and the dock. She could make it, she thought, but only if she jumped.

Her judgment wasn’t faulty. If not for her boot slipping on the wherry’s edge, she would have made the jump cleanly. Instead, she plunged into the water with a splash, gasping as she went and catching a foul, wretched mouthful of the Thames.

When she surfaced, a man on the dock caught her under the arm, pulling her up and helping her scramble out of the river.

On the dock at last, she sputtered and choked with relief.

That’s when she noticed it had gone missing. Her satchel. The chronometer. When she’d tumbled into the river, it had fallen from her grip and sunk into the depths.

Her livelihood, gone.

A sob wrenched from her body, like a droplet wrung from damp cloth.

One more thing the water had taken from her. It was the insatiable monster in her life. Jonah’s whale. Devouring everything she loved, but spitting her back out, again and again, more lost and lonely than ever.

And once more, there was nothing to do but pick herself up and start over.

“Well? What do you think?” Chase spread his arms and turned slowly, putting on a display of his unfinished apartment. “I’m remaking it into a manly retreat.”

Barrow stared at the shambles of what had formerly been the housekeeper’s quarters. “Where are Mrs. Greeley’s things?”

“I’ve moved her to a bedchamber on the second floor. Far superior accommodations.”

“Dare I ask the reason behind this renovation?”

Chase went to pour them two tumblers of brandy. “Until Rosamund and Daisy go off to school, I need somewhere to escape.”

“A grown man escaping from two little girls. Now that’s rather pathetic, isn’t it?”

“Come now. I don’t know what to do with children. There’s no point in troubling to learn. I’m not going to sire any of the grimy things. Even if I wished to marry, there’s no use searching for a wife. You’ve laid claim to the best woman in England.”

John Barrow Sr. had been Chase’s father’s solicitor, and from the time Chase and John Jr. had been boys, it was understood they would continue the family tradition. Also understood, but never spoken of, was the reason why. They were half brothers. Chase’s father had impregnated a local gentleman’s daughter, and his loyal solicitor had taken it upon himself to marry her and raise the child as his own.

So Chase and John had grown up together, sharing both tutors and paddlings. Squabbling over horses and girls. Despite the disparity in their social ranks, they’d maintained a close friendship through school and beyond. A damned lucky thing, on Chase’s part. Now, with a dukedom at stake, he needed a trusted friend to help manage the estate.

“How is my godson?” Chase asked. “Speaking of grimy things.”

“Charles is living up to his namesake, unfortunately.”

“Ah. Charming every woman in sight.”

“Lying about while everyone else does the work.”

“I’ll have you know,” Chase said indignantly, “I have been hard at work during your absence. Witness the renovation in progress around you. I built that bar myself, thank you very much. It only needs a few coats of lacquer. And if that’s not sufficient for you—in the past week alone I’ve gone through a decade of bank ledgers, given seven orgasms, and interviewed five governesses. And no, none of the governesses were recipients of the orgasms, although a few of them looked as though they could use one.”

“Five candidates, and you didn’t find one to hire?”

“I hired each and every one of them. None of them lasted more than two days. In fact, the latest didn’t even make it past the nursery door. A pity, too. I had hopes for her. She was different.”

Normally, Chase was the one coaxing women to leave. He wished he’d been able to make Alexandra Mountbatten stay.

Barrow peered at him. “That was odd.”

“That’s not odd at all. Not lately.”

“Well, it was the tone of the sigh. Not weary or annoyed. It was . . . wistful.”

Chase gave him a sidelong look. “I have never been wistful a day in my life. I am entirely devoid of wist.” He tugged on his waistcoat. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an engagement this evening. The women of London can’t pleasure themselves, you know. I mean, they can pleasure themselves. But on occasion they generously let me have a go at it.”