The Governess's Earl
January 25, 2021 (in ebook and print from Edwards and Williams)
Rejected by the man she loved, quick-witted bluestocking Rosemary Denby is determined to win the position of governess to the temperamental Lady Miranda, daughter of the Earl of Howland. Surely helping another young lady find the joy in learning is just what she needs to regain her confidence.
Drake, Earl of Howland, is struggling to find his footing as a widowed father, new earl, and suddenly penniless owner of the castle near the cozy spa village of Grace-by-the-Sea. But the new governess has him even more off balance. He loved once and saw his wife die in childbirth. The more he learns about Rosemary, the more he begins to wonder whether he can open his heart again. As danger once more draws closer to the castle on the headland, he and Rosemary must work together to keep the village and his daughter safe. Could his bluestocking governess be the one to teach him a lesson, in love?
This sweet, clean Regency is the sequel to The Artist's Healer. Grace-by-the-Sea: Where romance and adventure come home.
Four stars! "I love a good Regency and Regina Scott does one well. Her Grace-By-The-Sea series is very interesting! I have grown so fond of the inhabitants of this little village." Susan Snodgrass, on Goodreads (used with permission)
Castle How, Grace-by-the-Sea, Dorset, England, early September 1804
He might be earl, but he would never be his father.
Standing in his dressing room of the castle his family had used as a hunting lodge, Drake, Earl of Howland, pulled away from the well-meaning attentions of his new valet. Pierson had been, until recently, a moderately successful under-footman, but Drake's former valet had refused to leave London for the wilds of Dorset, and promoting Pierson had meant one less servant he would have to discharge. If his cravat looked as if it had been trod upon by a herd of hungry hippopotami, that was a small price to pay for household harmony.
Somewhere a door slammed, and Drake flinched, imagining the fit Miranda was likely throwing in front of some unfortunate maid.
"Too tight, my lord?" Pierson asked, pale blue eyes liquid with anxiety as he gazed at the ruined cravat.
"It's fine," he assured the manservant yet again as he regarded himself in the standing mirror. Pierson had combed his blond hair back from his face and trimmed the ends to rest neatly above his ears on the sides and collar at the back. Few would notice that one sideburn was slightly shorter than the other. Then too, few here in the little spa village of Grace-by-the-Sea would notice that he was wearing the same waistcoat as the day before and the day before that.
Did Pierson have some sort of affinity for the striped wine-colored silk? He would have to remind the fellow he possessed several waistcoats, in different colors and textures, as well as more than the brown breeches Pierson persisted in pairing it with. At least his wardrobe hadn't had to be sold at auction like their townhouse and country estate. Then again, what did it matter what he wore? It wasn't as if he had anyone left to impress.
A knock sounded at the dressing room door. Pierson froze, eyes wide in indecision. A footman answered doors. But a valet? "Should I…?" he started.
"Please," Drake said.
As soon as the servant turned, he snatched a different coat off the hook and shrugged himself into it.
Pierson opened the door, then scuttled back like a crab on the shore so that Jonas, the family butler, might enter. Now, there was a fellow designed to impress. Black hair pomaded in place around an impassive face, the butler advanced into the room with stately tread. He was the third butler that Drake remembered, the other two having been discharged by his father for not representing the House of Howland with sufficient aplomb. No one would ever level such an accusation at Jonas. Drake suspected that spine, which never bent, and that air of command stemmed from the days his butler had served under General Cuyler.
Now Jonas stood just behind Drake, his head only an inch or two higher, and kept his grey gaze respectfully in the middle distance until Drake recognized his presence.
"What is it, Jonas?" he dutifully asked.
"The next candidate has arrived for her interview, my lord."
Another one? Already he was regretting putting the advertisement in the Upper Grace Gazette for a governess for Miranda. She had pouted for hours when she'd learned he intended to locate someone to care for her. And he'd sat through four interviews so far, finding any number of reasons why not one of the women was clever enough, devoted enough, and kind enough to see to his daughter's needs.
He eyed the butler. "I don't recall scheduling an interview for this morning."
Jonas kept his gaze over Drake's left shoulder. Why did he still feel a touch of impatience? "Nevertheless, Miss Denby is waiting downstairs in the study."
"Perhaps a cravat pin, my lord?" Pierson fussed. "Or a different coat?"
Drake waved him back. "I am sufficient, thank you. Jonas, you may tell Miss Denby I will be right down."
Now that regal face hinted of disapproval, dark brows gathering over his long nose. "I'm sure Miss Denby will be willing to wait until you are pleased to see her, my lord." He remained still. Drake nodded. He inclined his head and left.
This Miss Denby would have had to wait on his father's pleasure. How he had relished any display of power-making the staff wait, making callers wait. Making Drake wait. He would never be his father-the fact had been drummed into him since birth.
And he couldn't mind in the least. The real question was-was he enough to be the earl?
"Boots, perhaps?" he suggested to Pierson, who immediately went to fetch a shiny black pair.
He found Miss Denby seated in one of the heavy-armed chairs in the study. Felicity had laughed at the pretentious red and black dragons entwined on the velvet seat, but then again, his late wife had had a way of making the darkest day seem bright.
He made himself smile at the waiting lady. "Miss Denby. Forgive me for keeping you."
"Punctuality is a prize few attain," she replied, and he had to stop himself from apologizing again. Odd. She wasn't imposing or stern-faced. Indeed, her gown of sea-green wool was tailored to a trim figure, and the patterned shawl over her shoulders might have graced any young miss in London. The only things about her that were the least intimidating was the way her warm brown hair had been pulled back into a severe bun behind her head and the lorgnette hanging from a black ribbon about her neck, as if she would raise it to her clear blue eyes to study his character.
But he was the master here, the one intent on hiring a governess. He would be the one asking the questions.
"Indeed," he said, taking the seat beside her. "Is punctuality a lesson you generally impart to your charges?"
She regarded him. "I have no need to impart it, my lord. My charges are seldom late."
Slippery. He kept the smile on his face. He'd learned a few tricks from his father, after all. Never let your guard down. Never allow them to become aware of your indecision. "I see. I assume you brought references to such, from previous employers."
She clucked her tongue. "I would never advise making assumptions on such short acquaintance."
Drake opened his mouth, then shut it again. What was it about this woman that put him in so defensive a position?
He gathered his dignity with difficulty, raising his chin and squaring his shoulders. "Exactly how much experience do you have as a governess?"
She glanced up at the ceiling as if counting the beams that crossed it. "Six years, three months, and eighteen days."
Well, that was something, both the amount and the precision. Though she must have started rather young. She could not be much beyond five and twenty. "And how many charges have you schooled during that time?"
Drake raised his brows. "One?"
She cocked her head. "Yes. I distinctly said as much. Have you a difficulty with hearing or recall?"
Though the question was said with all solicitation, it was still just this side of impertinent.
"One child is insufficient experience for this position," he explained.
Her eyes widened. "But you only have one child. Why would you need a governess with experience schooling more? In any event, if you require additional evidence as to my capabilities, I started the dame school in Upper Grace and developed its curriculum before leaving it in my older sister's capable hands."
So she hadn't actually taught there either? He felt as if the bookshelf-lined walls were closing in around him. "Miss Denby, you seem unsuited for the role of caring for my daughter. She has been through a great deal for having only attained nine years. She requires encouragement, nurturing."
"Precisely why I applied," she insisted. "Lady Miranda and I have much in common. She lost her dear mother a year ago, I understand. I lost my father when I was eight."
The memory of Felicity's death was all too vivid. He would not have wished such an experience on any child. "My condolences."
She did not pause to acknowledge his comment. "Furthermore, through a change in circumstances, Lady Miranda finds herself in a new home in a new location. I too had to leave our home in Kent for Dorset to live with my uncle after my father's death."
Perhaps she had something to teach after all. He leaned forward. "How did you manage?"
She spread her hands. "As you can see, I grew into an educated woman capable of managing her own future. I would like to help Lady Miranda reach a similar happy state."
Felicity would approve. She had refused to hire a nanny or governess, preferring to care for Miranda herself. He had never seen such love and devotion, even if she tended to let their daughter do whatever she liked. He had been desperately trying to act in her stead for the last year.
Now that he was earl, he no longer had the luxury of spending all his time with his daughter. He must find a way out of the financial chasm his father had dug for them, do his duty in Parliament when it started up again in the fall, and help his cousin James safeguard the village from the impending French invasion. Why, a French ship rested in the caverns below the castle even now, waiting for someone. Therefore, another must step in and care for Miranda.
Could Miss Denby be exactly what he needed?
Rosemary Denby counted off the seconds. The new Earl of Howland must grant her the position. Truly, what other recourse did she have near Grace-by-the-Sea? She hadn't the ever-pleasant aspect of a spa hostess to serve in the Grand Pump Room in the village, and her highly competent sister-in-law Jesslyn held that position in any event. The local fathers were distressingly uneasy with a young, unmarried woman teaching their sons, so she had yielded her place at the dame school in Upper Grace to her older, widowed sister, Hester. And she would never have the patience to work in a shop.
"I don't understand why you must work at all," her mother had lamented only this morning when Rosemary had begged the gig to drive herself to the castle. "Your uncle left us with enough income that we need never worry."
"It isn't the income, Mother," Rosemary had tried to explain. "Hester has the school and little Rebecca; you have uncle's properties to manage. I just want something of my own."
Her mother's face had bunched. "And a husband won't do?"
The words had been like a lash across her back. As if she hadn't attended nearly every assembly the last four years, accepted the attentions of any number of shopkeepers and farmers in Upper Grace, the young officers stationed at West Creech. The one man she'd hoped, prayed, might be interested had made it abundantly plain she was not the woman for him.
"I'm not certain I wish to be a wife, Mother," she'd said. "And there are few gentlemen here interested in taking a bluestocking for a bride."
But perhaps a governess.
And so she had brazened her way into this interview, claiming an appointment the earl had never made. So what if she'd only ever cared for her niece, Rebecca? She remembered what it was like to be a girl whose world had suddenly been upended. Her uncle had encouraged and supported her dreams of learning. She could pass that along to another. It seemed her best objective in life.
"I can see you are passionate about your profession, Miss Denby," the earl said, leaning toward her. He looked so much like their magistrate, Mr. Howland-same golden blond hair waving back from a strong-jawed face, the same piercing blue eyes. But the magistrate was all cool logic and determination. If she had been forced to find one word to describe his cousin, the earl, it would be…
"I live to serve, my lord," she assured him, leaning toward him as well.
The way he held his slender body-controlled, still-told her he was not convinced. "But Lady Miranda, I have been informed, can be a challenge."
"A challenge I welcome," she promised, fingers closing around her lorgnette.
They were nearly nose to nose now, and she caught herself holding her breath. Still he studied her. Would he see more than the fathers who had rejected her as a teacher? Would he see more than Captain St. Claire when he'd refused her admiration?
The click of the door sent them both upright in their seats. A blond-haired girl flounced into the room, ruffled pink muslin skirts dancing about her matching kid-leather slippers.
"There you are, Father," she declared as if he were late for some state function. "You said we could visit Mr. Carroll's Curiosities today and pick a new book. I'm ready."
"So I see," her father said with a fond smile. "I will take you when I have finished my interview with Miss Denby."
Lady Miranda glanced her way. Rosemary knew that set to her chin, that light in her hazel eyes. On any given day, she might have seen such an attitude in her own mirror.
"But I want to go now," Lady Miranda said.
Lord Howland looked to Rosemary. She did not so much as straighten a finger. This was a test. She had never failed one yet.
"Certainly you should go now," Rosemary said. "All your father has to do is agree to hire me as your new governess."
Her father frowned.
So did the little girl. "But I don't need a governess."
"Now, Miranda," her father started.
She turned to put both hands on his arm and gaze up at him beseechingly. At least Rosemary had never stooped so low, but then, she'd seldom had to do more than argue with her uncle. He had been one to appreciate logic.
"But Father," Lady Miranda wheedled, "I only want to be with you. I love you."
His face melted. Truly, it was an extraordinary sight. Any resemblance to their stern magistrate vanished. In its place was a man who cared: deeply, desperately. A man who would have done anything to see his daughter smile.
And the little wretch knew it.
"I love you too, Miranda," he murmured. "And I want you to grow up into the accomplished woman your mother hoped you would be. That's why I'm searching for the perfect governess."
Such a creature did not exist. No one was perfect. But Rosemary knew she could do good in this house. Er, castle.
"I don't need a governess," Miranda repeated, and now her face and tone were mulish.
"Ah," Rosemary interjected, lifting her lorgnette to her nose and gazing at the girl through it. "Then you know the difference between elephas and crocodylus."
The girl turned her way. "No. I don't know what they are."
And didn't like that. Good.
The earl was watching her again. Rosemary tried to focus on Lady Miranda.
"I'd be delighted to explain," she told the girl. "My uncle, Flavius Montgomery, the famous geologist, taught me everything he knew. I can tell you why fossils appear in limestone and where the ancient elephants lived in this area." She leaned closer to the girl and lowered her voice. "I can even lead you to their last remains."
Hazel eyes met hers, calculating, curious. "I'd like that. What about mathematics?"
"The square root of twenty and four is approximately four point eight nine eight nine eight."
She swung her gaze to her father once more. "You didn't teach me to do square roots. Is she right?"
"Yes," he said, lips hinting of a smile. "And square roots might be a bit beyond your skills at this point."
"Nonsense," Rosemary and Lady Miranda said at the same time.
Lady Miranda beamed at her. "I like her. Hire her, Father, so we can go."
"There's a bit more to hiring than merely giving my word," he told his daughter. "We must agree on when she starts, her salary, half days off, and requirements for room and board."
"I'll start tomorrow," Rosemary said as fast as she could, lorgnette slipping from her fingers. "I can bring my things and spend the night tonight. I'll accept twenty-five pounds per quarter. Sunday after services and Wednesday evenings off. A bedchamber and sitting room here at the castle with meals with the family most days. And I dress as I like. No uniforms."
"Fine," Lady Miranda said. She grabbed her father's hand and gave it a tug. "Now, come along, Father."
He rose slowly, but his gaze was on Rosemary. "Ask Jonas to fetch you a bonnet, Miranda," he said, and she released him to scamper from the room.
He waited for Rosemary to rise, then closed the distance, and she had to lift her lorgnette once more to stop herself from falling into the blue of his eyes.
"I am devoted to my daughter, Miss Denby," he said, as if she could have had any doubts on the matter. "As you can see, I deny her little. So, I will agree to your terms, but only for the next fortnight. You will have to prove to me you can do this job. And I won't be nearly as easy on you as I am on my daughter."