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Tiffany Clare

The Secret Desires of a Governess

Available now from St. Martin’s Press
ISBN-10: 0312381840 | ISBN-13: 978-0312381844
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YEARNING FOR HIS TOUCH

From the moment Abby meets her new employer—the mysterious, brooding Earl of Brendall—she is appalled by his brutish manner…and even moreso by her own attraction to him. Has she lost her senses? As a governess, Abby has no choice but to play by the rules. But as a woman, she cannot deny the fiery sensations he ignites—or the fantasies he inspires…

BURNING FOR HER KISS

From the moment Elliott lays eyes on his new young governess, he knows he’s in trouble. Abby is intelligent, defiant, and utterly captivating, though Elliott must do his very best to resist her. But as the two grow closer, the passion burns hotter. Soon, the only thing that can destroy their love is the darkest secret of his past—and the secret desires of a governess…

Praise for The Secret Desires of a Governess:

With its irrepressible heroine, deliciously dark and dangerous hero, and suitably atmospheric setting, Clare’s latest impeccably written novel cleverly references the classic gothic romances of Victoria Holt and Madeleine Brent, while at the same time incorporating plenty of the steamy passion and lush sensuality found in today’s brand of sexy historical romances.

- John Charles, Booklist

With its brooding hero and dark backdrop Clare brings an updated gothic twist to her latest novel. By incorporating the themes and red herrings of a classic Victoria Holt or Daphne du Maurier, she entices readers to keep turning the pages to uncover the mystery and savor the highly sensual romance.

- RT Book Reviews, 4 stars

THE SECRET DESIRES OF A GOVERNESS was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Although Abigail and Elliott’s angsty romance takes precedence over the majority of the novel, this book contains many hidden treasures within its pages. Tiffany Clare took a historical romance novel and transcended genres by creating a compelling mystery within a romance.

- Fresh Fiction

Chapters One & Two

Chapter One


In the Kingdom of Brahmors, there was a young prince who lived under the shadow of his father’s rule. He wished to stand up to the king but the prince was young and did not bear the strength needed to do so. The land around the kingdom was sad and oppressed and the heavens no longer rained down atop the grains that sustained the land.
—From The Dragon of Brahmors

1848, Northumbria

Elliott Taylor Wright, the Earl of Brendall, stilled when he heard footsteps. A squelching wet sound drew nearer to his study. Definitely not a usual occurrence. He flicked his watch open: ten after nine. No one came up to the castle if they could help it.

Martha, his housekeeper, would be gone from the main house for the evening. She always made sure to put his son down at eight. That didn’t mean it couldn’t be Jacob wandering around, finding some sort of trouble when the hour was still early. If that were the case, the boy would find his bed before long.

Not worried about unwelcome guests, Elliott stood from his wide desk, papers scattered over the surface. He stretched his back then rubbed his eyes. He’d been looking over a stack of meaningless letters for too long and a break was in order, maybe even for the remainder of the night.

Striding toward the hearth, he picked up the poker and turned over the burning logs. The room was chilly and a bit damp. A lick of frost teased the air.

Elliott looked toward the door when another faint sound reached his ears. That was not his son; the tread was too heavy for a boy of eight years.

With the unlikelihood that the noise was his son . . . who could be wandering the castle? There were a handful of servants, but they rarely spent time in the main house this late in the evening. They had everything they needed at the keep—another building on the castle grounds. They left him well enough alone once the day closed. As he preferred.

It was possible someone was looking for him. And if that were the case, they’d know where to find him.

Except . . . the noise continued right on past his study.

He walked over to the door, slid it open soundlessly, and peered down the dimly lit hall.

A figure in white turned left at the end of the long corridor. The mud-caked hem of her skirts snapped with the twirl of her heel before she disappeared from sight.

Elliott stepped out of his study, shut the heavy door as silently as he had opened it, and followed the evening prowler. He was careful not to make too much noise. Padding quietly down the hall, he wondered when he should make his presence known. He was intrigued by the notion of having a trespasser.

Everyone who lived in the area was superstitious and thought his home to be haunted. Cursed since his mother’s death. Not a surprising assessment since his mother’s demise had come when she’d walked out into the sea; he was only a boy of seven at the time.

Elliott was curious as to why the woman was wandering his home. She would have passed the village long before finding her way here.

She was a tiny thing, probably a good seven or eight inches shorter than he was. Elliott studied her slender figure. Her hair was straggly and soaked right through; the pins had released a long braid to fall down to the middle of her back, and dripped a trail of rainwater down her skirts. He couldn’t make out the color, but he guessed a light brown.

Wetness clung to her like a second skin, making the line of her underthings beneath the worsted muslin visible to the naked eye. Not an ideal material for the unreliable climate in Northumbria. Her shoulders were narrow. Her waist couldn’t be more than what his two hands could wrap around.

Her skirt painted a muddy path along the hardwood floor with every step. The sloshing sound he’d heard earlier was still audible. It must be coming from her waterlogged shoes. She carried a dripping shawl over one arm, a valise in her other hand.

She turned down another corridor. Did she not realize she was headed back to the entrance she’d come through? She mumbled something under her breath, but either he was too far off to make out the words or she wasn’t muttering anything intelligible.

With no desire to wander the halls of the great house all evening, and curious to know who she was, he called out to her.

“I see few visitors here, madam.”

He set his shoulder against the darkly paneled wall and waited for her to face him.

She froze at his comment and turned with more grace than he thought possible in her sodden, bedraggled state. Raising a dainty chin, she narrowed her eyes, making tiny wrinkles form between her brows. Her features were clearer now that she stood next to a lit lamp on the wall.

She resembled a drowned rat. Better yet, a mutt left out in the rain that had done nothing more than roll in the mud and filth for the better part of a storm.

“You!” She pointed a castigating finger at him.

He raised a questioning brow. Who did the little witch think she was?

She seemed to think herself mighty important and marched right up to him, her chest rising furiously with every breath. He said not one word more as she seemed to size him up, her nose scrunching as though she would bare her teeth in a snarl.

How dare she treat him like a lesser in his own home. In the house she trespassed in.

“How is it you’ve found your way here?”

On closer inspection, she was unusually nice to look upon. Her complexion was clear, freckles dotted across her nose and the upper portion of her cheeks. Her lips, he imagined, were full. Right now, though, she pinched them tightly together, either in anger or to keep her teeth from chattering since the edge of her lips held a tinge of blue. How long had she been standing out in the rain to come to this state? It occurred to that he should offer her the warmth of a fire before he sent her on her way.

“I walked,” she spat like a feral cat.

He pinched his lips tightly together and swallowed his offer. It was then he noticed her eyes were as rich and clear a green as peridot, with the slightest hint of gold, and as fiery as her nature proved to be.

“I had to walk fifteen miles because no one arranged for a carriage. I couldn’t even hire a coach to bring me this far.”

Who was this woman to act so familiar with him? He didn’t know her. Didn’t recognize her. Did she require a warm meal and a place to sleep until the storm passed through? If that were the case, she went about it strangely. Snapping and snarling at the master of the house was no way to win a free meal and lodgings.

He looked her over once more. Even though it was damaged from the rain, her dress was well made and of a fine, expensive material. A lady would have traveled with a maid. A ladybird on the other hand . . .

Elliott crossed his arms over his wide chest at that thought. He watched her gaze flick to the open throat of his shirt, trailing lower to the exposed skin of his forearms where his shirtsleeves were rolled up. Then she met his gaze head-on, weariness making her lids heavy. She had traveled far by the looks of it.

“Madam, do you always address your betters in such a fashion?”

“How——how dare you speak to me thus. I’m here on your invitation!”

That gave him pause, and he stood away from the wall. He hadn’t invited a woman up to the castle for more years than he cared to count. When he wanted the company of a woman he rode over to Alnwick, one of the larger townships. But he’d been too busy over the past few months to indulge in a good tumble.

His earlier thought that she might be a lady of the night would not quit his mind. She might do if she wanted to warm his bed. After a bath, this woman would clean up nicely.

Admittedly, she wasn’t his usual type. He didn’t like them to talk back.

But once the thought of this woman in his bed was in his mind, it stirred his blood. Before he even realized, he dropped his arms to his sides and took a step closer to her. Her eyes widened, smoothing all the creases from her pretty face.

He was half stiff when her hand came between them, pressing the tips of her chilled fingers against the exposed skin of his chest briefly before pulling away. The skin-on-skin contact did more than set fire to his arousal. Her cheeks and neck flamed a cherry red in the golden light around them. He wasn’t sure when he had last made a lady blush. It made his body taut with need.
He wanted.

Until she stuttered, “I—I’m the governess.”

The governess?

Elliott forced himself to take a step away from her. What was he thinking? Better yet, what was he doing? Obviously he wasn’t thinking at all about the consequences of his actions.

It was his turn to narrow his eyes. The housekeeper had been corresponding with someone, but for some reason he’d pictured the new hire to be an old crone. Much like all the other older women who had taken on the impossible task of teaching his son. This young woman, who couldn’t be a day over her eighteenth year, didn’t fit his image of a governess. How could one so young take on the task seasoned women had failed at?

“You’re the governess?” The disbelief and disappointment were evident in his voice.

“Yes . . . I put an advertisement in the Northern Times last month. I was asked to start immediately.”

And she looked ready to hit someone—whether from his briefly untoward behavior or from her uncomfortable, bedraggled state was hard to determine.

Damn it. What was wrong with him?

Furious didn’t even come close to describing Abby Hallaway’s current state of mind. Livid, manic, raged and infuriated weren’t strong enough words, either. Violent was an apt description. For the first time in her life, she wanted to hit something. Or someone. To say that her first day of employment had not gone as planned was an understatement.

Never mind that Lord Brendall’s staff had not arranged for a carriage after she’d given Mrs. Harrow the precise time of her arrival into Alnmouth railway station in a letter set for fast post more than a week ago.

Lord Brendall’s reaction to her had only made her night worse. The infernal man. If she wasn’t mistaken, he’d thought her no better than a common harlot before she’d blurted out the truth of her circumstance. She had barely kept herself from stamping her foot over his. At least he had the decency to take a step back with her admission.

Perhaps a gentleman hid beneath his wholly improper form. She’d never seen a man look and act so uncultivated in all her years. And to direct that incivility toward her was too shocking for words. The stark intent on seduction she’d read in his clear eyes was outrageous. Deplorable behavior on his part.

He stared at her in confusion. His eyes were rather striking: the lightest, eeriest blue she’d ever gazed into, like a cloudless summer day.

She had assumed he would be older—in his fourth or fifth decade. He wasn’t supposed to be near her own age. Or handsome for that matter.

Lord Brendall was a rather large man, bigger than her sister’s affianced, considerably greater in bulk than most she’d ever met in London society. It was quite an attractive feature, which she well knew she shouldn’t admit. He was tall, too. A couple of inches over six feet was her guess. His formidable height was topped with dark hair—black in the current lighting—that had the slightest wave to it. His face was shadowed with evening stubble, lines slashing down the middle to indicate he probably had dimples if he smiled.

For some reason, she doubted he ever did anything so common as smile. The cleft in his chin was slight. His lips were thin, the lower marginally larger than the upper, and she imagined she could fit the curve of her thumb into the enticing dip at the center of the top one.

Then . . . there was the rest of him. There couldn’t be a more fitting description than: a bear of a man. She doubted she’d be able to wrap her hands around the thickness of his forearm. That thought had more gooseflesh dancing up her cold arms. His shoulders were wide, and they weren’t soft and squishy to the touch, either, she knew because she’d pressed up against him. The man was like granite, only much warmer.

She’d peg him for a common laborer if not for the finely cut shirt, trousers, and suspenders he sported and the air of command sucking all the warmth from the air around her. Her teeth chose that moment to chatter.

“I wrote to say I’d take the position immediately. As was requested of me. I sent a note for Mrs. Harrow to arrange for a carriage to meet me at the train station since I couldn’t make the arrangements myself on such short notice.”

He looked puzzled, the side of his mouth rising in a snarl-like fashion.

Abby had to close her eyes and take a deep breath as she counted to ten. She would not cry after the trials she’d endured on her trip north. She refused to show any emotion that made her seem weak. Yes, she was overset in her emotions—and rightfully so. It had been a very long, very cold day. The only thing that would make it better was a hot bath followed by equally hot soup.

“You didn’t receive my last letter, did you?”

He shook his head once. “I didn’t expect you. Nor do I think Martha knew of your imminent arrival.”

That was stating the obvious, since her feet and legs now ached something fierce from trudging fifteen miles through mud and rain. Her toes were icicles; she couldn’t even feel them. She’d never walked so far in one stretch before. Not in all her life. There were carriages to take a lady so far, or horses to ride. But no one had been willing to lend her a cart once they had learned she was in Lord Brendall’s employ. And who was Martha? Was that Mrs. Harrow’s given name?

“What is your name? I can’t recall.”

“Abigail. La—” She pinched her mouth together and bit the inside of her cheeks. She definitely was overtired to have almost let it slip that she was a lady. She inclined her head as a way of introduction. “Miss Abigail Hallaway.”

Finally, a gentlemanly reaction from him; he dipped his head in greeting. “Miss Hallaway. I’m sure you’ve concluded that I am Lord Brendall.”

“I have. I’ve been incredibly rude. Apologies, my lord.”
He said nothing in response. Just stared back at her. What a strange man he was. Did he not have the decency to ring for a servant or at least show her to her room? There was a curious glare to his eyes that left her speechless for some moments.

“I’d like to retire to my quarters, if you don’t mind. It’s been a hellish day.”

His head jerked up, and he seemed taken aback by her harsh wording. Wording a polite governess should never in a million years use. Curse her luck right now. Curse this whole day!

She gave an exasperated sigh, and added, “It’s been a difficult day, my lord. I am chilled right to the bone and liable to catch my death if we stand here and chat the remainder of the evening.”

She should guard her tongue better and be less snappish with his lordship, even if his manners left something to be desired.

“Yes, of course. You need to be shown to your room. If you require hot water, Martha keeps a pot on the stove in the kitchen. There is a hip bath tucked in there somewhere as well.”

Did the castle have no modern amenities? Was she really expected to bathe in the kitchen? Or as a servant was she expected to use a common facility? She’d save that question for later. It was trivial when she was chilled to the bone.

“Thank you. Will you ring a servant for me?”

She’d consider having a bath just as soon as she got out of her wet clothes.

“There is no one in the main house. The staff lives over in the keep. I don’t make them work past the supping hour.”

No servants in the main house? And six people living close by did not count. In this monstrous place, how could that be? How did the master of the house function on a skeleton staff?

She was too tired to question why he didn’t keep serving staff on hand. If he could not pay them—or her—she’d know soon enough. The worst that could happen was her going back home to her sisters and have to advertise for another position.

“Will you please show me to the keep so I might settle in? I assume that is where I will take my room?”

Before answering her, his gaze traveled the length of her from knotted hair to mud-covered skirt and feet with a scowl. Then his sharp blue eyes met hers. Yes, she was an awful sight to behold, but it couldn’t be helped. She glared at him for his rude survey of her person.

He said not a word as he turned around, grabbed a candleholder from a long side table in the hall, and lit it against another candle’s flame.

“You’ll be staying in the main house.”

He had said all the servants lived at the keep. Was the keep fully occupied? Or was she expected to stay close to her charge? Did that mean the child’s nurse wasn’t at hand?

She was too tired to barrage him with so many questions. Too tired to utter another word. She cared not where she slept tonight, so long as it was warm and dry.

Without another word, he headed down the hall she’d just come from. He did not offer to take her lone bag, as most gentlemen would do. But she kept forgetting, she was the hired help now, not a lady. She’d left that honorary title behind two days ago.

Chapter Two

When the prince was of age, he wished to marry the local wise woman’s daughter. The young prince loved her and wanted her always at his side, but the king refused the union.

—The Dragon of Brahmors

As Lord Brendall took her up a wide set of stairs, Abby couldn’t help but scowl at his back. His white shirt stretched taut over the defined muscles of his shoulders. She also couldn’t help that her gaze slipped to his buttocks, which appeared quite firm under his trousers.

Her head tilted to the side as she watched the material tighten, then slacken with each step he took. The man should have the decency to wear a jacket; he probably turned many a lady’s eyes with his form alone.

The light-veined marble of the railing was cool under her bare hand. She’d taken her gloves off on entering the house and stuck them in the side of her valise since they were soaked right through. Her foot snagged on the lip of the step while staring at his enticing backside and she tripped forward on the stairs. At least she had the good sense to grasp the rail tighter to keep herself upright.

He turned to her with a sharp, disapproving frown. She swallowed against the nervous giggle that almost es­caped her throat and forced her gaze to her surroundings as she took the next stair, then the next.

She shouldn’t admire her employer’s buttocks. But she’d always appreciated brawny men. They were so dif­ferent from the simpering society gentlemen she was used to. Powerfully built men seemed so raw and untamed. Dark and dangerous. And so very much a man compared with the effeminate peacocks who tried courting her on every trip she’d made to Town with her sisters.

Abby shook her head and focused on the large picture frames lining the wall with what had to be images of long-ago relatives. The eldest portraits were near the bot­tom. Seventeenth and eighteenth century by the style de­picted in the oil paintings. One was of a man wearing a white wig, green hunting coat, and tan breeches. He held a gun over his lap, and he sat astride a great white war horse. The man had a carriage of command about him. Two Brit­tany spaniels stood next to the horse, tails erect, their heads high like their master. A grandfather or great-grandfather, she guessed.

Halfway up, there was a beautiful woman wearing a clean Grecian style, the white sprigged muslin gathered and cinched enticingly under her breasts, her dainty feet peek­ing out from beneath the hem of the frilly dress. Her dark tresses were coiled in the fashion of a few decades past. Quite possibly it was an image of Lord Brendall’s mother.

On the first landing hung a great large tapestry. The lady was dressed in a medieval burgundy-colored gown. Thin braids bound her hair back from the face, but the rest of her golden tresses fell well past the flare of her hips. There was a spark of mischief in her eyes, as if the mysterious lady held a secret from the observer. It was a newer piece, not actually of the time period it depicted since the woven threads seemed to be in pristine condition.

She turned to ask Lord Brendall who the woman was, but he’d already taken the second flight of stairs, forcing her to cease her curious study of the paintings to keep up with him.

The higher they climbed, the more tired she felt; it didn’t matter that it wasn’t more than a dozen steps to each landing. It had been such a long day. She doubted she’d be able to drag herself back downstairs to the kitchen for a hot bath. She just wanted to strip out of her wet, sticky clothes and climb under a multitude of warm, dry blankets.

A small pang of longing for the comforting arms of her sisters stabbed at her heart. She did her best to ignore it, but it wasn’t easy. She was on her own in the world now. It was always meant to happen this way. Her sisters were enjoying marital bliss with babies probably not a year off.

That was never the life she’d envisioned for herself. It seemed so meaningless, so dull to fall into the trap of mar­riage and then the heaps of children that were sure to follow. And she certainly didn’t want to be the spinster aunt caring for her sisters’ children. That was not her idea of a fulfilling life. She wanted more than that for herself. Needed more than that. She wanted to be an independent woman. It started here, at Brendall Castle. And by God, she’d do whatever was in her power to make it work.

To her surprise, they stopped on the second floor. “Is the nursery on the second floor?”

He’d shown her down a hall with half a dozen doors. All insignificant, all the same.

Lord Brendall turned up the latch on the old-fashioned darkly stained oak door. Pushing it open, he motioned with his hand that she should enter. “This will be your room. It’s where all the governesses have slept,” he said.

“The nursery is not used. It’s in another wing of the castle that has not withstood time.”

There definitely couldn’t be a nursemaid if she was to be on hand for the child at all times.

It didn’t surprise her that part of the castle lay in disre­pair, either. Not so uncommon in the larger, older estates scattered throughout England. She’d have to explore the grounds tomorrow with her charge. The overall condition of the house might tell her a lot about the family and about his lordship.

She approached Lord Brendall warily before peering inside. It was a good-sized room—not as big as the one she had occupied at her sister’s house, but decent enough. The damask bed hangings were dated. A heavy brocade curtain covered the lone window in the room. The can­dlelight held forth by his lordship illuminated the gold-and-blue motif inlaid on the heavily woven material. The walls were papered in gold and light blue.

She stepped inside to further inspect her new surround­ings. The door shut behind her and Lord Brendall was gone a moment later. She heard the click of his booted feet as he walked away from her room. His steps faded before she could figure out which direction he went in.

Did he head to his own room for the evening—which she wasn’t sure was even in this wing of the house—or did he make his way back down to the main floor? It didn’t matter. There was a wide comfortable-looking bed calling to her with its layers of blankets and pillows of varying shapes and sizes.

Setting her valise on the writing desk, she opened it and pulled out her night rail and dressing robe, the only articles of clothing she’d been able to carry with her. What a shame that the sole dress she had was the one currently stick­ing uncomfortably to her. Hopefully it would be dry by morning and she could brush out the caked-on dirt before making her way back to the train station to pick up the rest of her luggage.

Stripping down to her unmentionables, Abby opened the wardrobe in the hope of finding a few pegs inside. To her surprise, there were more than a handful of dresses hang­ing neatly along a wooden pole. How strange to find clothes in here when this was a room designated for the hired help.

Stranger yet, the dresses were not a governess’s. Rub­bing her fingers over the soft material, she knew they were of fine silk and twilled muslin. She’d ponder why they were in her wardrobe later. Riffling through the clothes, she found some empty hangers.

Now that she wore next to nothing, she realized how cold the room was. Making her way to the fireplace, she set the logs inside, opened the flue, and struck the flint that was stored in a box on the high mantel. It took her a couple of tries to get the wood lit, but she managed. Her first task as an independent woman accomplished, she warmed her hands by the flames that licked up the logs. Pulling off the rest of her damp clothes, she set them on a chair close to the fire so they would dry quickly.

Donning her night rail was the last thing she remem­bered before waking to a frigid room. Her cheeks were frozen where they were exposed to the night air. She stared around the dark chamber, making out bits of white molding against the papered wall. Had it not been so chilly, she’d have opened the curtains to let in the moon­light. If it happened to be this cold at the beginning of the fall season, what would the winter months bring?

That familiar ache of homesickness sent an unpleasant shiver through her body that had nothing to do with the winter-like air and everything to do with being away from her sisters. She didn’t want to believe that her hasty action in removing herself from under her sisters’ noses might have been the wrong decision.

She had to believe this life would be better than living under the pressure of watching her sisters—with their beloved husbands—building families that no longer in­cluded her.

She wanted the old days back. The time when it had been the three of them and no one else. Selfish of her to think that way, but it was that way of thinking that made her realize she had to move on. Permanently, temporarily, she didn’t know for how long, just long enough to carve her own way in life. Enough time to decide what she wanted to do for the rest of her days since her fortune wouldn’t come to her until her twenty-fifth birthday.

Unless she married before then.

What an utterly depressing thought. She had rejected the very idea of marrying any of the boring gentlemen of London society long ago. Actually, she’d decided against marriage at her very first ball.

Sighing, Abby sat up to lean against the stack of warm pillows at her back. She should add more logs to the fire. Unfortunately, that required getting out of bed.

Pulling the uppermost blanket around her shoulders, she made her way to the fireplace. There were no more logs in the iron rack. Even if she didn’t want to leave the room, she had no choice since the fire had to be built up again.

With a heavy sigh, she rummaged through her valise in the dark, found a pair of dry slippers, and put them on. Hardly warm enough, but they’d do for wandering around the house. She squeezed the material of her clothes hang­ing over the back of the chair. They were still damp and too cold to wear yet. Hopefully this wasn’t a sign of how her day to come would play out. She did not want a repeat of yesterday.

Opening up the chest of drawers, Abby found a che­mise. She shook it out and held it up in front of her. It looked about her size. Maybe a bit short and a bit wide for her, but it would have to do. Taking out a bar of soap and other personal items, she found some linens in the ward­robe and then left the bedchamber in search of the hip bath his lordship had mentioned on her arrival last night.

Elliott’s night had been sleepless, so he’d decided to get up despite the fact that the sun had yet to crest the hori­zon. There wasn’t much sense lying abed thinking about the governess all wet and shivering. Wanting to warm her in more ways than one.

He scratched at his unshaven jaw and wished he could focus on something else. He’d busy himself in his study till it was light enough to go and fix a few more of the fallen stones on the west wall with Thomas.

Intent on scrounging up some food in the kitchen, he was brought up short by a soft but colorful curse. Miss Hallaway was a curious creature. For a proper governess, she seemed rather accomplished in using a number of expletives even he didn’t know the meanings for.

Heat spilled from around the open crack in the kitchen door, and he peered into the dimly lit room. A candela­brum was set on the cutting table; the lit wickers of the candles gave the room an ambient glow. The old hip bath was set near the woodstove, steam rising from the surface. There were a number of items set on the floor: a folded stack of clothes, soap wrapped in paper, a counterpane from the bedroom fallen in a heap on the floor.

Once he realized that Miss Hallaway wore nothing more than a night rail and dressing robe, exposing the clear outline of her willowy figure, he was helpless to move away from the door. Elliott swallowed tightly at the sight of her slender beauty.

There was a slight roundness to her breasts shadowed beneath the white material. Her waist was tiny without the cinching of a corset so many women relied upon.

A long, silent huff of air escaped him and he grasped the door frame to stop himself from moving forward.

She pulled her braid forward and loosened the strands by brushing her fingers through the long tresses. He still couldn’t tell the color of her hair in the dimness of the room, but he could see that it was a light shade. Brown, he decided, since he preferred brunettes. It was incredibly long. Fanning around her like a curtain of wavy silk right past her elbows, and just past the slight flare of her hips.

She leaned forward, her hair stirring the surface of the water as she tested the temperature with her fingers. He could imagine the feel of her fingers on his body caress­ing him in the same way she gently swirled them over the surface of the water.

With a sigh, she stood and shed her robe, and then his thoughts narrowed down to only her. Her arms were as milk white as the rest of her. Smooth and perfect-looking. Elliott itched to touch and caress her with his rough hands.

He should leave her to her privacy, as a gentleman would. He was no better than a blackguard. No better than his conniving father, because for the life of him, he couldn’t walk away. This desire he had for her was new and unsettling for him, and something he didn’t want to deny him­self just yet.

Perhaps the attraction was that she wasn’t a normal governess. Not compared with the last. This one swore—crudely. She was younger than the batty crones and other women who’d tromped through his and his son’s life over the last few years. And, he could admit, she wasn’t hard on the eyes. Not in the least.

Releasing the buttons at her throat and down the center of her chest, she pulled the garment over her head and dropped it to the floor. Elliot closed his eyes and tried to inhale the breath that had been punched right out of his lungs. The next time he saw any garment flutter over her head and to the floor, he vowed to be the one removing it.

Shit.

He had to stop thinking that way. Had to stop thinking about her that way. Had to walk away before he did some­thing stupid.

His eyes snapped open again when she sank deep into the water with a heavy sigh. Her shoulder blades and the upper half of her arms were exposed to his gaze when she gathered her hair to one side.

He had to walk away.

When women became involved with Wright men, it seemed to end in madness and death. The last woman he’d cared for was dead, the circumstances surrounding her death just as strange as his mother’s final walk into the North Sea.

Still, he couldn’t move away from the door. Head tilted to the side, she wet her hair and lathered soap into it from a small container. The smell of crushed flowers made its way to his nostrils. It seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place the fragrance. Her fingers were slow and methodi­cal as she combed them through the wet strands. He’d been so entranced by her every move that he hadn’t ex­pected her to dunk her whole body beneath the water to wash out the soap.

When she came back up, she reached over the lip of the tub to grab one of the folded linens on the floor. All the breath left his lungs when the deep rose tip of her breast pearled on being exposed to the air. His mouth watered to taste her. To suck that firm peak into his mouth and lave it. His hand gripped so tight around the frame of the door that it groaned in protest.

He couldn’t continue to torment himself like this.

He’d definitely been too long without the company of a woman. So why in hell couldn’t he leave her in peace?

She hummed something while she rebraided her hair. Nothing identifiable, but something low and melodic. He must have been standing there for some time without re­alizing it, like an asp charmed by her music. He shook his head like a bloody mongrel—which he was, considering his inability to leave her be—and forced his grip to loosen from the door frame.

Elliott found a shred of decency niggling at his mind and grasped the thin threads before they escaped him. Finally, he managed to turn away from the kitchen. He headed toward his study and away from temptation.

Hard labor was the only thing bound to clear his mind of Miss Hallaway and rid him of the stiffness beneath his trousers. He’d have to take better care not to find her un­aware again. It wasn’t fair to her. And she most certainly wouldn’t appreciate the kind of thoughts running through his head right now.

Abby paused with one foot on the edge of the bath, her ear tilted toward the door. Was that noise a creak in the floor? Was someone up and about in the house?

Stepping completely from the water, she grabbed up the folded linen and wrapped it around herself as she dripped her way over to the kitchen entrance. The door was cracked open the tiniest amount. She furrowed her brow. She’d definitely closed the door behind her. Hadn’t she? She stuck her head out from the warmth of the kitchen and peered down the dark hall. No one to be seen any­where. No moving shadows. Just stillness.

It was an old house. It was bound to make strange noises.

Shutting the door firmly, she dressed with quick efficiency. She was reluctant to leave the warm sanctuary the kitchen had blazed into now that the woodstove was go­ing strong.

It had to be coming up to five in the morning, so the cook should be here any moment. Were governesses re­quired to help with the preparation of breakfast? She hadn’t a clue. She had limited experiences with govern­esses. Her own father had taken it upon himself to edu­cate her once her mother had died.

There was a bucket under the table. Filling it with the water from the hip bath, she took it to the door that led outside. It was a heavy door to pull inward, but once it was open, she made quick work of tossing all the water into the gardens.

Abby warmed herself by the fire once more before gathering up her belongings and finding her way back to her room.

If she recalled correctly, the child she was to instruct was eight. She’d ask Mrs. Harrow, the woman who had corresponded with her, what learning tools would be available to her. Her first priority of the day—after a warm breakfast—was to retrieve her luggage from the train sta­tion. She’d have to wear one of the dresses she’d discov­ered in the wardrobe.

She found her room with better ease than she’d found the kitchen. Shutting the door behind her, she looked at the logs aflame in the fireplace. Her breath froze in her lungs as she peered around her shadowed room looking for any imposing figures, any moving silhouettes. She exhaled once she concluded she was alone.

Who had lit her fire? Was there a maid already in the house? Surely it hadn’t been the lord of the manor? If it had been Lord Brendall, she’d have to make sure he under­stood he couldn’t enter her private bedchamber whenever he pleased.

Want to read more? You can read the first three chapters over on Heroes & Heartbreakers (log in required.)