The Game and the Governess

BOOK: The Game and the Governess
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P
RAISE FOR KATE NOBLE

“Kate Noble brings the delicate elements of Regency England brilliantly alive with her prose.”


USA Today

“An extraordinary and unique romance worth savoring.”


Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
on
Let It Be Me

“The story’s prologue literally gave me goose bumps—goose bumps that never went away throughout the whole book. This is the kind of deep, touching read that romance fans search for. I have a new favorite author!”


RT Book Reviews
editor Morgan Doremus on Seal of Excellence pick
Let It Be Me

“Despite being a delight and thoroughly winning, the book is 300 pages of confirmation to what I’d suspected and now know: The Regency belongs to Kate Noble, and it’s in very, very good hands.”


All About Romance
on
If I Fall

“If Austen were alive and writing novels today, the result might be something exactly like
Follow My Lead,
a wickedly witty and superbly satisfying romance.”


Chicago Tribune

“Believable and captivating . . . an outstanding and memorable tale.”


Publishers Weekly
starred review on
Follow My Lead

“Clever and graceful . . . simply sublime.”


Booklist
on
Compromised
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To those who find happiness in the little things.
And to Harrison. For creating those little things.

       ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

T
his book only exists because of the support of many fantastic people. Annelise Robey at the Jane Rotrosen Agency is the best advocate I could ever have asked for. Abby Zidle and my new Pocket family have been incredibly welcoming.

Thank you to my fantastic writing group, the Shamers, in whose membership I am eternally grateful, and who have kept the snickering at my attempts to title my books to a minimum. Also, the community of fellow authors fostered by the Romance Writers of America has been such a huge gift to anyone attempting a career in this crazy genre.

And as always, endless thanks to my family—Harrison, Mom, Dad, Liz, Jake, Andy, Josh, Evie, Haley, Daniel, Harry, and Suzanne. I learn new things from you every day.

       PROLOGUE

T
he light on the floor slanted gray, another horrible dawn. But that was nothing new.

Every day of the last two months had been horrible.

However, today’s dawn was the last that Phoebe Baker would spend here, in her little room at the little, elegant school that had been her home for the past five years.

She was already awake. Already sitting on the bed, the gray wool cloak about her shoulders, covering up some of the unrelieved black of her gown. Which gown, Phoebe couldn’t tell. Was it the one that used to have the stripes? Or the little flowered cambric? It didn’t matter.

All the pretty pinks and yellows of her wardrobe were now this awful, inky black. The only one she had refused to dye was her soft blue ball gown. Her father had given it to her in one of his fits of generosity. Meant to be worn at her debut next year in London.

She would never go to London now. Never dance with young, handsome men. Never be a part of that world.

Who was she going to be?

How
was she going to be?

And whom would she share it with, now that her father was gone?

In some respects, Phoebe had been lucky. Her father had paid her tuition at Mrs. Beveridge’s School through the end of term, so she had been able to stay until now. And their house had been enough to cover his debts, so she was not responsible for any further monies lost.

Lost by his foolishness. Lost by his trusting nature.

Lost, she thought as she crumpled the brief note she had found among her father’s belongings on that last visit, because some men did not have the decency to clean up their own messes. They left them for others to deal with.

But even though she was able to stay at Mrs. Beveridge’s, everything had changed. People looked at her differently. Girls she had thought were friends began to shun her, refuse to associate with her, told by their parents and their teachers that she was no longer “one of them.” Like she was poison.

Also, her lessons had shifted course. Where she had once been one of the girls their painting master always held up as an example of good work, suddenly Miss Earhart asked her to step out and assist the younger girls with their reading lessons. Then, during the dancing hour, Miss Earhart had come in and requested that she help correct Latin slates.

But requested was the wrong word. “Demanded” was more like it. There were no apologetic smiles from Miss Earhart, no kindness within her. She simply commandeered Phoebe as she saw fit.

Funny. Phoebe had used to like Miss Earhart. Back when she had first arrived at the gawky age of twelve. She had been firm, but good to her.

But not anymore, apparently.

It didn’t take her long to realize that skinny, pinched Miss Earhart had been elected by the rest of the instructors to take care of the “problem” of Phoebe. To keep her away, out of sight. The hateful looks she got from the other teachers mirrored those of their students, and even the eponymous Mrs. Beveridge herself sniffed the air as if something had gone sour whenever Phoebe was near.

It made her hate Miss Earhart all the more.

But not nearly as much as she hated
him
.

Phoebe looked down at the note in her hand. The words she had pored over the past few weeks were among her few remaining possessions. She had sold most of her personal belongings at the school—hairpins, shoe buckles, frilly bonnets, her books. All gone to greedy girls for the coins she would need to feed herself, as soon as the houseboys came to throw her out on the street.

He
had done this. The Earl of Ashby. He had let this happen to her father, warning him too late, taking no precautions to protect those less fortunate than himself.

If she had told anyone of her hatred of a man she’d never met, she would have been informed it was ludicrous, irrational. But then again, she had no one to confide in.

Besides, there was no one else left to shoulder the blame.

Suddenly, she was overcome with the desire to make
him feel as terrible as he was. Overcome with the need to spit in his face, and make him recognize that other people existed in the world. That actions—or lack thereof—had consequences.

She stood abruptly, marching over to the little desk under the window. It was stocked with paper and fresh ink, as all the rooms were at the school. The supplies might have been placed there for the rich, spoiled girl who would occupy the room next, but at this moment, they still belonged to Phoebe. She lit a candle—the weak light of dawn not enough for what she must do. She sat. Placed pen to page.

Sir—
This will be a short letter. I have little time to write and not much to say. Other than . . .

Phoebe was just signing her name at the bottom when the knock came. It was short, direct. It did not frighten, but it offered no sympathy. Nor did the woman who let herself inside.

“Miss Baker,” Miss Earhart said calmly, “it is time to go.”

Phoebe sprinkled the sand on the page, folded it neatly, and wrote the direction—as best she could guess—on the front.

“Phoebe,” Miss Earhart repeated. “Did you hear me?”

“Yes, Miss Earhart,” Phoebe replied obediently. “As you said, it is time to go.”

Phoebe took the candle in hand, let its wax drip onto the paper, making a seal. Finally, she rose from her desk and turned to face the cursed woman.

Miss Earhart stood in the center of the room, her stillness presenting an outward sense of calm that made Phoebe want to rage and scream. But there was nothing to rage and scream about anymore.

Behind the teacher stood two houseboys. Gruff and mute, ready to force her out if she put up any resistance.

“Where are they taking me?” Phoebe asked, nodding to the two menservants.

“They will drive you as far as the Brighton Road in the cart. There is an inn at the cross-section,” Miss Earhart answered evenly.

Ah yes, the inn. Where parents stayed while visiting their daughters. Phoebe would not be able to afford a single night there with the coins in her pocket, such did the innkeepers gouge their patrons.

“And where do I go after that?”

“Wherever you like,” Miss Earhart answered.

And that was the difficulty. Phoebe had nowhere to go. Her father’s relatives were thousands of miles away in America. She had never met them. She would have to write, tell them of his death. And her mother’s family would sooner spit on her than take her in.

She must have looked pitiful, because for the first time in the past two acrimonious months, Miss Earhart showed her some pity.

“If you find you do not know where to go, I have a suggestion.” Miss Earhart reached into the folds of her school-issued plain gray gown. “This is the direction of a family near Portsmouth. They are in dire need of a governess for their three little girls, and asked me for a recommendation. I told them about you.”

Phoebe’s head whipped up. “A . . . a governess?”

“You are good with the younger students. I have written you a fine reference, and I forced Mrs. Beveridge to do the same. They are expecting you. If you want the position, that is.”

“I . . . I don’t understand.” Phoebe looked down at the note in Miss Earhart’s hand. “What do you mean you
forced
Mrs. Beveridge . . . ?”

Miss Earhart just snorted. “If it was up to her, you would have been thrown out two months ago. You’re lucky to have stayed here this long—I taught you what I could in that little time.”

Phoebe felt the ground spinning. Then suddenly, everything locked into place. She had been pulled out of her beloved painting lessons, out of dance class, not as punishment, not to be kept away from her former friends. Instead, it had been to learn something far more valuable.

How to teach.

And Phoebe instantly knew how far she had fallen in the world. She was not a pampered, loved daughter destined for a shining future. No. She was destined to be a governess.

Her eyes fell to the letter in her hand. Her knuckles went white she gripped it so tightly.

Her life, altered irrevocably. Because of one man’s carelessness.

“I know this is not easy,” Miss Earhart said, taking a quiet step forward. “You are one of the few young ladies to graduate from this school with the knowledge that life is rarely easy. Or fair.”

A hysterical sob escaped Phoebe’s lips. She stifled it ruthlessly.

“Your security . . . your
future
is up to you now. No one else will look after you. You must be strong. It is the only way through this.”

“Through this,” Phoebe repeated dully. “Does that mean there is a way out of this darkness?”

“Of a kind,” Miss Earhart said, hesitant. “It will get easier. With time. And one day you will realize that this new self you have become is not so bad. You may even find some happiness in it.”

BOOK: The Game and the Governess
13.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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