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Harlequin | Vicar's Daughter to Viscount's Lady
Buy a paper book. Courting the Nerd by RH Tucker. The Devils Daughter by Cilla Lee. Courting Gossip Courting 5 by Kimberly Dean. His Bluestocking Bride by Sally Britton. Be the first to reply. Sign in to Comment. Why hadn't she been told? If three likely more-experienced governesses couldn't handle the post, what made Miss Thorn think Jane could? Even the supremely confident glow in Fortune's eyes couldn't stop the sinking feeling in her stomach.
The butler answered before Miss Thorn could, his voice dripping ice. Doing it a bit brown.
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Jane clamped her lips shut to keep from stating the opinion aloud. She wasn't all that suited, having only cared for Colonel Travers's daughter for the last year, and she sincerely doubted dukes and duchesses were coming to blows as to who had the opportunity to hire her next. But the butler glanced between them, and Jane tried to look as qualified as Miss Thorn had described her.
It didn't help that she came no taller than the butler's rather impressive nose. Either she succeeded in looking proper, or the situation was more dire than she'd thought, for the man promised to return with an answer and left them in the courtyard. Miss Thorn strolled back and forth across the cobbles, black boots tapping, as their hired coachman climbed down to see to his horses.
The footman was eyeing Jane's meager trunk and worn saddle on the back of the coach as if wondering whether to port them into the house or heave them into the river with her alongside. The previous governesses were weak-natured, timid creatures, unable to stand under the demands of the position. Jane didn't question how she knew. Miss Thorn had been amazingly informed about Jane when she'd strolled into the coffee shop where they had agreed to meet the first time. She'd commiserated on Jimmy's death thirteen months ago and sniffed disparagingly at the way the colonel's wife had turned Jane out without a reference.
Perhaps Miss Thorn knew the family here better than Jane had thought. The cat certainly wasn't sure of her surroundings now. Her head snapped left, right, eyes narrowing and tail lashing back and forth, as if she suspected each of the servants of some nefarious purpose. A ladylike growl came from her throat as the butler returned, head up as if he wanted no one to notice how quickly he walked.
Neither looked amused by the prospect. Miss Thorn swept past him for the massive double-doors of the house, and Jane could only follow. The entryway made her rethink her opinion of Wey Castle. The flagstone floor felt firm, determined beneath her boots. Dotted with bronze scones that had once likely held flaming torches and hung with tapestries in rich reds and vibrant blues, the walls soared three stories to a ceiling painted with the hosts of heaven riding into battle.
The air hinted of beeswax polish and lavender sachet. It was all commanding with a touch of elegance. Her father would have been delighted to see her in such surroundings. He'd never understood why she'd run away to marry a cavalry officer. But then, for her and Jimmy, it had been love at first sight. They would have done anything to be together.
She wasn't likely to find a match like that again. The butler ushered them through another set of double doors on their left and into a large room that somehow managed to feel cramped. Jane stopped to glance around and up, hand clasped to her bonnet to keep it from sliding back on her hair. Every wall save the rear was lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, with more jetting out at right angles, giving the library the look of a maze.
So many books! Someone could spend a lifetime and never read them all, but what a wonderful challenge in trying. Books had been hard to come by in the field, closely guarded and shared only with trustworthy friends. This was true wealth. A mew from Fortune recalled her to her purpose. Jane lowered her head and made herself follow Miss Thorn and the cat deeper into the room.
In the center of the space, surrounded by padded Moroccan leather chairs, stood an elegant teak desk with curved legs. She couldn't recall ever seeing the surface of the desks in the officer's quarters; they'd always been eclipsed by the sweep of maps, dispatches, and scrawlings of the battle to come. This one was so clean she could see the inlaid pattern of ivory in the shape of a unicorn, one leg extended and horn down, as if bowing to someone. The light from the slim, north-facing windows made him seem no more than a tall shadow.
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Her first thought was that he didn't look like a duke. Dukes should be hard, ruthless. Like some of Jimmy's commanders, they would bark orders, issue demands. This one had broad enough shoulders, but there was a stillness about him in his navy coat and tan breeches, like a lion about to leap. His warm brown hair was swept back from a heart-shaped face, and his eyes, like jade, narrowed. Kimball," he said. His voice was precise, polished, like the shiny top of his desk.
Kimball as governess for your three daughters," Miss Thorn said, one hand resting on Fortune's grey head as the cat draped along her other arm. Jane glanced up to find him smiling pleasantly. Very likely that was all it took. A gentle hint, a whiff of the power behind it, and everyone must do his bidding. Clearly, he expected the same from Miss Thorn.
Miss Thorn did not seem inclined to oblige. A gentleman will want to ensure that the woman hired to care for his heirs is suitable. Something flickered across his face. Dukes could not like being scolded, however veiled in polished prose. He spread his hands, the movement controlled, effortless.
She chose your agency, Miss Thorn. I accept Mrs. Kimball on your recommendation. Said in that steely voice, the question begged heresy. The butler's nose was distinctly out of joint as well at the slight to his master.
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Miss Thorn merely seated herself in one of the leather chairs, as if she were the hostess. We have much to discuss. Jane took the chair closest to Miss Thorn. Fortune was wiggling, and she held out her hands to the cat. Miss Thorn released her hold, and Fortune arched up. Jane tensed. This was it. He'd order them from his castle, or worse, confine them in the dungeons. All good castles must have dungeons. She edged forward on the seat, ready to bolt and take Miss Thorn and Fortune with her, if needed.
Fortune stalked up to the duke and paused, tail lashing. The duke stared back, unmoving. Jane counted off the seconds. Fortune rolled over on her back and offered him her belly. Her purr echoed against the bookshelves. Shall we begin negotiations? Negotiations, the woman said, as if she would settle for nothing less than unconditional surrender. Alaric Dryden, Duke of Wey, had never met anyone like her, but he began to hope Mrs. Kimball had similar confidence.
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She was certainly sturdier looking than the last three governesses. He'd only glimpsed them on occasion. They had been willowy, elegant things, not unlike Miss Thorn, but with decidedly more submissive demeanors. The only thing remotely submissive about Mrs.
Jane Kimball were her large brown eyes, reminding him of the little does that wandered the island on which the castle was built. She'd have to have more cunning than a doe if she was to deal with his mother.
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Despite his admonitions, Her Grace persisted on ruling over the nursery and schoolroom, as if no one could care for her granddaughters as well as she could. As she had not been a particularly doting mother, he found her sudden interest in the girls difficult to credit.
What more do you require? He wanted to smile along with it. Miss Thorn leaned forward. Kimball was watching her as if she wasn't sure what the woman would do next. Alaric shared her concerns. Kimball will be caring for your daughters," Miss Thorn said. Kimball started. Had she never devised a curriculum before? She seemed young for a widow, perhaps a few years his junior. Had her husband been a great deal older or died in some accident?
Not that it was any of his business. A logical suggestion.
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His daughters seemed to change each time he saw them. He was kept apprised of every other area of his responsibility, by his steward, land agents, solicitor in London, the directors of the charities he supported, the prime minister. Why not his children? His mother could relay anything of import. Miss Thorn's purple-blue eyes pinned him in place. She will take her direction from you. Anything else leads to anarchy.
Kimball blinked as if surprised by this revelation as well. Had the two women even discussed this situation? He had assumed an employment agency screened its clients closely. Perhaps he should be the one asking the questions. He returned Miss Thorn's forthright gaze. There was something vaguely familiar about the woman, yet he did not recall dealing with the Fortune Employment Agency before. Most of the castle's staff came from the island, and his mother or Parsons, their butler, saw to the hiring.
He wasn't entirely sure why his mother had placed her trust in Miss Thorn. Kimball's qualifications or experience makes it important that she deal directly with me? Kimball put in helpfully. He sat back. He was used to determining the course of action, issuing orders, and seeing his will carried out.
What was it about these women that so disarmed him? The cat slipped down into his lap and cuddled against his chest. Of course, Mrs. Kimball might well have reported to his master of horse.