excerpt

The Defiant Governess

Book One—Lessons In Love

When the high-spirited Lady Jane Stanhope finds herself facing a marriage ordered by her father, she flees home, disguises herself as “Plain Jane” and lands a governess position to the ward of the reclusive Marquess of Saybrook.

Winning the love of the shy little boy is easy. Dealing with his brooding uncle is far more challenging. But their sharp verbal duels slowly mellow into friendship—and then a more dangerous attraction. Now Jane is caught caught between desire and her deception, for the most a titled lord can offer to a mere governess is ruin.

Secrets and scandal. Does she dare believe that love can overcome the obstacles keeping two wary hearts apart?

EXCERPT

The day of the fair dawned bright and clear. Jane smiled as Peter tried to contain his excitement. High boots, proper breeches and a velvet collared riding jacket had been unearthed from one of the myriad trunks in the attics. With his carefully combed hair and neat cap the boy was the picture of a little gentleman. Mrs. Fairchild and Cook, as well as Henry, had been let in on the plan and were as excited as Peter. They fussed over him throughout the meal, assuring him that he would acquit himself splendidly.

They were all careful to remain in the kitchen to avoid the off chance of running into His Lordship and giving away the surprise. It seemed like ages, thought Jane as she smoothed the skirt of her gown—oh, what she wouldn’t give for a proper riding habit—before Henry knocked at the scullery door to tell them that the master had ridden off and the coast was clear. It had been arranged that he would accompany them to the fair so that she would be free to seek out Lord Saybrook. Their horses were already saddled, and Jane was relieved to see that Peter’s pony, Tarquin, was as placid as ever, having sensed none of the nervous excitement in the air that was making the other mounts tug restlessly at the reins held by one of the grooms.

She was also happy to see that Peter showed no hesitation or last-minute nerves as Henry lifted him into the saddle. There was only a look of anticipation on his face. Jane too, felt caught up in the same mood. Lost in her own reveries, she barely took notice of the spirited banter between Henry and Peter. It was only with a start that she realized they had arrived at the fair. They halted near a large paddock where the riding competition would be held. She guided her horse next to Peter’s and, leaning over, she put her hand over one of his small ones. She looked into his eyes and smiled, then gave him a squeeze.

He smiled back at her.

She dismounted, leaving her horse and Peter in Henry’s care, and walked toward the crowd of people milling around the rough stage erected for the fair. It should be no trouble to find Lord Saybrook—she had already seen the big black stallion tethered away from the other horses.

Indeed it was no trouble at all. A quick glance showed the top of his brushed beaver hat towering above the group of local squires with whom he was engaged. She noted the lazy way he leaned against the stage, his carved whip tapping his polished boot as if to punctuate his boredom as he listened to the conversation. Now and then he would smile faintly and reply to some comment, but for the most part he stood silent, aloof.

A rustling at the podium indicated that the local parson was preparing to deliver his little speech, so the group of gentry began to drift away from the stage to take up position with the rest of the crowd. Jane took the opportunity to approach Lord Saybrook.

“Excuse me, my lord.” She stepped directly in his path so he was obliged to stop.

“Ah, Miss… Langley.” It was said as if he was struggling to remember just who she was. He gave her a pointed look, taking in her dowdy gown, unflattering bonnet and most particularly the spectacles perched on her nose. “Pray, what is it?”

Despite herself, Jane felt a flush of embarrassment steal over her in response to his scrutiny. It quickly turned to anger. Damn the man, she fumed. How did he always manage to irritate her so quickly? But remembering her purpose, she reined in her temper and spoke.

“It is your ward, Peter, sir. He is to ride in the children’s competition.”

Saybrook’s eyebrow shot up. “You must be joking, Miss Langley. Peter is terrified of horses.”

“Was,” corrected Jane, a little more sharply than she intended. “Peter was terrified of horses, as was only natural. But he has overcome his fear. It would be… very much appreciated if you would be present to watch him.”

A portly gentleman with wispy grey hair and a reddened face that bespoke of too much claret was gesturing at Saybrook with the tip of his fancy cane. Beside him, two ladies looking dreadfully out of place in the latest London fashions added their smiles to the gentleman’s entreaties.
Saybrook nodded his greetings. “Thank you, Miss Langley. Now, if you will excuse me.” He turned and walked to meet the other group.

Jane could barely restrain from directing a kick at his well-tailored rump. Dismissed again in such an insolent manner! Well, at least she had accomplished her task. It was really of no consequence how he treated her as long as Peter was happy.

The parson had begun to speak and she remained where she was, casting a sideways look every so often at Saybrook and his friends. After exchanging pleasantries, he had gracefully stepped into the proffered space between the two ladies. On second glance one of them appeared much older than the other.

Mother and daughter, she guessed. Or mother, daughter and father she added to herself. No doubt they were angling after the marquess, judging from the effusive smiles and simpering manner of the ladies. With his title and lands he would be quite a catch on the Marriage Mart. The fact that he had been abroad for so long accounted for the fact that she had not known who he was.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the crowd beginning to move off as the parson finished his speech. The smell of savory pies filled the air, as did the lilting notes of the fiddlers. Farmers drifted to the exhibition of livestock while their wives and children clustered around displays of ribbons and sweets. Jane stayed where she was. She had always enjoyed the sights and sounds of a country fair and was now taking a moment to drink it all in. And of course she had to admit that she wanted the satisfaction of seeing the haughty marquess accede to her request.

To her shock, however, she saw him move off with the gentleman and two ladies, not in the direction of the riding but towards an area where long trestle tables had been set up next to a group of laughing farmhands dispensing ale and mulled cider. She remained rooted to the ground for a moment, unable to believe that anyone could be so selfish and cruel. In her mind’s eye, she could picture the look of dejection on Peter’s face, the slump of the frail shoulders so used to disappointment.
It goaded her into action.

With nary a regard for the propriety of her actions she hurried after His Lordship’s party. Coming up close behind them, she called out firmly, “Lord Saybrook, may I have a word with you—in private, if you please.”

All four people turned around, different degrees of surprise registering on their faces.

The gentleman frowned at Jane’s temerity while his wife exclaimed,” Well, I never… Who is this woman?”

Saybrook had a faintly sardonic smile on his face as he seemed to ponder just how great a scene Jane would cause if he refused her request. “My ward’s governess.”

“Such manners! Turn her out instantly,” said the woman as if Jane wasn’t there. “I shall be more than happy to give you my recommendations—”
Saybrook interrupted her. “I trust you will excuse me for a moment.”
The woman sniffed in the air and turned on her heel, taking her husband by the arm. As the younger woman turned as well, Jane realized with a start that she knew her. Lady Matilda Farrington. A flighty, insipid girl now entering her second Season. Jane had seen her at various routs and ball, and of course Almack’s, and had disliked her instantly. The girl was one of those creatures who flirted shamelessly with gentleman with a title, young or old. There was no need to fear recognition, however. Lady Matilda didn’t even deign to look at her as she lifted her elegant skirts and swooshed after her parents.

Saybrook followed Jane a little way off, out of hearing of anyone around them. Still white hot with pent-up anger, Jane launched into a tirade with not a thought as to what she was saying.

“It is beyond belief,” she hissed, “that one man can be so selfish, so unfeeling, so… monstrous! Whether you choose to treat your acquaintances and your servants with disdain—oh, I see the haughty sneer on your face—is entirely your own concern. But that you would deliberately hurt a child is outside of enough! Are you too blind to see that Peter is craving for your notice, for your approval, though Lord knows why! If you don’t take a few minutes of your precious time to do your duty as a guardian…” She was so beside herself that she didn’t know quite how to finish the sentence. “Oooohh,” she sputtered, “If I were a man, I’d horsewhip you!”

Saybrook had gone rigid and his face was absolutely drained of color.
“And you needn’t bother telling me I’m turned out!” she added. “I will pack immediately.”

Turning on her heel, she stalked off, not bothering to note the marquess’s reaction. Now that she had vented her anger she felt drained, almost too weak to walk. But she took a deep breath and kept her chin up, refusing to let him see her waver.

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