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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:38

The pride and love in his voice was too much for her. She turned away from the railing, overwhelmed. Within moments, he was bounding up the stairs to join her on the balcony.

She held him off with an outstretched hand. She was almost afraid to ask it, but she had to know. “What about the Cave of Carnality?”

“Ah, yes. That. Sadly, the Libertine Lair is no more.”

“Did you give the space back to Mrs. Greeley?”

“No, no. The girls helped me convert it. It’s now the Pirate Palace. One that occasionally serves as a general surgery.”

She laughed a little, picturing it.

“They miss you so much. But I miss you more.”

Alex’s eyes were stinging. She blinked furiously. She wanted so desperately to believe in him, believe in this. But she’d grown mistrustful of her heart.

“Here, let’s do this your way.” He took a few steps toward her and gathered an armful of books from a nearby shelf. “We’ll make two piles. For and against marrying me. We’ll start with ‘against,’ because those reasons are easy to name. Terrible reputation. History of rakishness. Poorly behaved in museums.” He piled book after book on the stack, with an increasingly absurd list of supposed detractors. So many that he had to empty a second shelf.

“I might as well add a book for every time I let you down.” With a heavy sigh, he topped the stack of books with a half dozen or so more. “There. Anything else you care to add?”

After consideration, she placed one more on the pile. “Antlers.”

He nodded. “I don’t know how I missed that. Now, the ‘for’ column.”

Alex had already started that stack in her mind. His wicked sense of humor. His protective, caring nature. The way he took an interest in things just because they interested her. She didn’t suppose he’d leave “astonishing in bed” off the list.

Instead of beginning a second pile on the floor, however, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small package. He held it out to her. “I love you. That’s the sum of it, really. Can it be enough?”

She took the package from him, unknotted the lavender ribbon, and pushed aside the tissue. Inside, she found a small book, bound in blue calfskin. She turned it over in her hands to read the embossed title on the spine.

Messier’s Catalogue of Star Clusters and Nebulae.

Alex looked at him, stunned. Her mind ran wild with all those familiar fantasies. All her dreams of his keeping the book tucked next to his heart and looking for her around every corner. Until he found her again, declared his love, and begged her to become Mrs. Bookshop Rake.

“Have you been carrying it around all this time?” she asked.

“Why would I do that?”

“I . . . don’t know.”

“I took the first one back to Hatchard’s last autumn, in case you looked for it again. Also because I’d no idea what to do with the thing. I ordered this copy a month or so ago, and I meant to give it to you then, but between you finding a comet and me making a first-rate ass of myself, it slipped my mind until today.”

Well, that was a significantly less romantic story, but one that made her heart soar just the same. Because it was undoubtedly real, and entirely Chase.

She ran her hands over the binding and lifted it to her nose to breathe in the new-book smell. “It’s beautiful.”

“You’re beautiful.” He reached for her, laying a tentative caress to her cheek. “I wish I could promise to never, ever hurt you. But I’m new to this whole love and commitment business. I’m bound to cock it up from time to time. What I can promise is that I won’t give up. Not on you, not on myself. Not on us. You taught me that.”

“I can’t believe you listened.”

With a lopsided, charming smile, he pulled her close, drawing her into his arms. He looked at her with warm green eyes—truly looked at her—the way people rarely did, because it meant allowing the other person to truly look at them, too.

This time she didn’t feel like the only woman in the universe. Or the only woman in the world, or even the only woman in the bookshop.

She felt like the woman in his arms, and that was enough.

“Alexandra. My friend, my lover, my love. Come home.”

“Oh, Alex.” Penny lifted her head from the telescope. “It’s so beautiful.”

Alexandra laughed. “It’s a tiny sky smudge.”

“But it’s your sky smudge,” Chase said.

Alex corrected him. “Ours.”

Her friends were trying so very hard to seem impressed with her speck of light, bless them. To Alex, it didn’t truly matter if they understood. It mattered that they were there.

Everyone was there. The little sky-gazing picnic in Bloom Square had grown into a proper garden party. Even better, a family party.