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Мортимер Кэрол

Not Just a Governess

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Chapter Two

One day later—Hawthorne House, May-

fair, London

‘Do not scowl so, Adam, else I will think you are not at all pleased to see me!’

That displeasure glinted in Lord Hawthorne’s narrowed grey eyes and showed in his harshly patrician face, as he heard the rebuke in his grandmother’s quiet tone. Nor was she wrong about his current displeasure being caused by her unexpected arrival; he had neither the time nor the patience for the twittering of Lady Cicely this afternoon. Or any afternoon, come to that! ‘I am only surprised you are visiting me now, Grandmother, when I know you are fully aware this is the time of day that I retire to the nursery in order to spend half an hour with Amanda.’

His grandmother arched silver brows beneath her pale-green bonnet as the two faced each across the blue salon of Adam’s Mayfair home. ‘And may I not also wish to visit with my great-granddaughter?’

‘Well, yes, of course you may.’ Adam belatedly strode across the room to bestow a kiss upon one of his grandmother’s powdered cheeks. ‘It is only that I would have appreciated prior notice of your visit.’

‘Why?’

He scowled darkly. ‘My time is at a premium, Grandmother, nor do I care to have my routine interrupted.’

‘And I have just stated that I have no wish to interrupt anything,’ she reminded him quietly.

‘Nevertheless, you are—’ Adam broke off his impatient outburst, aware that his grandmother’s unexpected arrival had already made him four minutes late arriving at the nursery. ‘Well, you are here now, so by all means accompany me, if you wish to.’ He nodded abruptly as he wrenched open the salon door—much to Barnes’s surprise, as the butler stood attentively on the other side of that door—for his grandmother to precede him from the room.

‘You really are the most impatient of men, Adam.’ Lady Cicely swept past him into the grand hallway, indicating with a nod that her paid companion should wait there for her return. ‘I do not believe even your grandfather and father were ever as irritable as you.’

Adam placed a gentlemanly hand beneath his grandmother’s elbow as he escorted her up the wide staircase, in the full knowledge that Lady Cicely’s overly fussy nature—to put it kindly!—had irked his grandfather and father as much, if not more, as it now did him. Nevertheless, his grandfather and father were no longer with them, leaving Lady Cicely alone in the world but for himself and Amanda, and so it fell to Adam, as the patriarch of the family, to at least attempt kindness towards his elderly relative. ‘I apologise if my abruptness of manner has offended you,’ he said.

His grandmother released her elbow from his grasp to instead tuck her hand more cosily into the crook of his arm. ‘Perhaps as recompense you might consider dining with me this evening…?’

Adam stiffened as he easily recognised Lady Cicely’s less-than-subtle attempt at coercion; he hesitated to call it actual blackmail, although he could not help but be aware of his grandmother’s recent attempts to introduce him to suitably marriageable ladies—suitable according to Lady Cicely, that was. Adam was having none of it. The ladies. Or the marriage. ‘I have to attend a vote in the House tonight, Grandmother.’ After which he fully intended to retire to his club for the rest of the evening, where he hoped to enjoy a few quiet games of cards and several glasses of fine brandy.

‘Then perhaps tomorrow evening?’ Lady Cicely pressed. ‘It is so long since the two of us spent any time together…’

Deliberately so, on Adam’s part, since he had realised what his grandmother was about. He had absolutely no interest in marrying again and his life really was now such that he had little time for anything other than his responsibilities to the House of Lords and his many estates. The dinners and balls, and all the other nonsense of the Season, held no interest for him whatsoever.

‘We are together now, Grandmother,’ he pointed out practically.

‘But not in any way that—never mind.’ Lady Cicely sighed her impatience. ‘It is obvious to me that you have become even more intransigent than you ever were!’

Adam’s mouth tightened at the criticism. Well-deserved criticism. But his grandmother knew the reason for his intransigence as well as he did; having been married for over two years, and so been dragged along as his adulterous wife’s escort to every ball, dinner, and other society function during the Season, and to summer house parties when it was not, Adam now chose, as a widower these past four years, not to attend any of them. There was no reason for him to do so. Most, if not all, of society bored him, so why would he ever choose to voluntarily put himself through those days and evenings of irritation and boredom?

Even so, he instantly felt a guilty need to make amends for the tears he now saw glistening in his grandmother’s faded grey eyes. ‘I may be able to spare an hour or two to join you for dinner tomorrow evening—’

‘Oh, that is wonderful, Adam!’ His grandmother’s tears disappeared as if they had never been as she now beamed up at him. ‘I shall make sure to serve all of your favourite dishes.’

‘I said an hour or two, Grandmother,’ Adam repeated sternly.

‘Yes, yes,’ she acknowledged distractedly, obviously already mentally planning her menu for tomorrow evening. And her guest list. Some of which would no doubt be several of those eligible females Adam wished to avoid! ‘How is the new girl working out?’

‘New girl?’ Adam’s mind had gone a complete blank at this sudden change of subject, not altogether sure he understood the meaning of his grandmother’s question; surely Lady Cicely could not be referring to the woman he had briefly taken an interest in the previous month, before deciding that she bored him in bed as well as out of it?

‘Amanda’s nursemaid.’ Lady Cicely clarified.

Adam’s brow cleared at this explanation. ‘Mrs Leighton is not a girl, Grandmother. Nor is she Amanda’s nursemaid, but her governess.’

‘Is Amanda not a little young as yet for a governess? Especially when you know as well as I that society does not appreciate a bluestocking—’

‘I will not have Amanda growing up to be an ignoramus, with nothing in her head other than balls and parties and the latest fashions.’ Like her mother before her, Adam could have stated, but chose not to do so; the less thought he gave to Fanny, and her adulterous ways, the better as far as he was concerned!

‘—and you never did explain fully why it was that you felt the need to dispense with Dorkins’s services after all these years?’

Lady Cicely was slightly out of breath as they ascended the stairs to the third floor of the house where the nursery was situated.

Nor did Adam intend explaining himself now.

Having the nursemaid of his six-year-old daughter make it obvious to him that she was available to share his bed, if he so wished, had not only been unpleasant but beyond acceptable. Especially as he had never, by word or deed, ever expressed a carnal interest in the pretty but overly plump Clara Dorkins.

Now, if it had been Elena Leighton, Amanda’s new governess, then he might not have found the notion of sharing her bed for a night or two quite so unpalatable—

And where, pray, had that particular thought come from?

Since the death of his wife Adam had kept the satisfying of his carnal desires to a minimum, considering them a weakness he could ill afford. And, whenever those desires did become too demanding, even for his now legendary self-control, he only ever indulged with those ladies of the demi-monde whose company he considered he could stand for longer than an hour, possibly two. Less-than-respectable ladies, who expected nothing more than to be handsomely paid for the parting of their thighs.

Adam had certainly never so much as thought of forming an alliance with one of his own employees, hence his hasty dismissal of Clara Dorkins two weeks ago.

Admittedly Elena Leighton, Dorkins’ replacement, was quite beautiful in an austere way; she always wore her silky black hair secured in a neat bun at the slenderness of her nape, the severity of her black widow’s weeds emphasising the pale beauty of her face rather than detracting from it. Her eyes were a strange light colour, somewhere between blue and green in her heart-shaped face, and surrounded by thick dark lashes, her tiny nose perfectly straight above bow-shaped lips, her jaw delicately lovely, neck and throat slender. Nor did those severe black gowns in the least detract from the willowy attractiveness of her figure: firm breasts above a slender waist and gently swaying hips—

Dear God, he thought, appalled with himself. When had he noticed so much about the looks and attraction of the widow he had recently employed to tutor his young daughter?

Mrs Leighton…?’ his grandmother prompted curiously.

‘I believe she was widowed at Waterloo,’ Adam said distractedly, still slightly nonplussed by the realisation he had actually noted Elena Leighton’s physical attributes. The woman was his employee, for heaven’s sake, not some lightskirt he could take to his bed for a night and then dismiss. Moreover, she was a widow, her husband having died a hero’s death during that last bloody battle with Napoleon.

‘Old or young…?’

Adam raised dark brows. ‘I have no information whatsoever on the deceased Mr Leighton—’

‘I was referring to his widow,’ Lady Cicely chided with a small sigh.

Until this moment Adam had given no particular thought to Mrs Leighton’s age, but had assumed her to be in her late twenties or early thirties.

He scowled now as he realised, when he thought about it carefully, that it was the lady’s widow’s weeds which gave her the impression of age and maturity, that, in fact, she was probably considerably much younger than that…‘As long as Mrs Leighton carries out her employment to my satisfaction then I consider her age to be completely immaterial,’ he dismissed as he stepped forwards to push open the door to the nursery before indicating that his grandmother should precede him into the room.

Elena looked up from where she had been studying a book of simple poetry with her small charge, her expression one of cool politeness at the entrance of her employer and his paternal grandmother.

A cool politeness, which she hoped masked the fact that she had heard herself become the subject under discussion by grandson and grandmother before they entered the nursery. And that she had tensed warily at that knowledge…

She had hoped the fact that she was the widowed Mrs Elena Leighton, employed by the cold and unapproachable Lord Adam Hawthorne as governess to his young daughter, would be enough to ensure that she escaped such curiosities. But she could see by the assessing way in which Lady Cicely now viewed her that, in that lady’s regard at least, this was not to be the case.

Elena resisted the instinct to straighten the severity of her bun, or check the fall of her black gown, instead straightening to her just over five feet in height as she stood up to make a curtsy. ‘My lord.’

‘Mrs Leighton.’ Lady Cicely was the one to smoothly respond to her greeting, his lordship’s expression remaining coldly unapproachable as he stood remotely at his grandmother’s side.

Elena had already ascertained, before deciding to accept her current employment, that the chillingly austere aristocrat was a man who chose not to involve himself, or his young daughter, in London society, preferring instead to utilise his time in politics or in the running of his country estates. An arrangement that suited Elena’s desire—need—for anonymity perfectly.

She had to admit to having been a little startled by this gentleman’s dark, almost satanic handsomeness at their initial interview, having had no idea until that moment that Adam Hawthorne bore the dark good looks and muscled physique of a Greek god: fashionably styled dark hair, equally black brows over those dark-grey eyes, high cheekbones either side of a long patrician nose, sculptured and sensual lips, his jaw square and uncompromising, with not an ounce of excess flesh on his tall and muscular frame—as evidence, surely, that he did not spend all of his time seated in the House of Lords or behind the mahogany desk in his study…

But after only five minutes in his company that day Elena had also realised—thankfully!—that not only was he the most haughtily cold and unapproachable man she had ever met, but that he did not even see her as being female, let alone have any of the lewder thoughts and intentions towards her that another male employer might have shown to the woman he was to employ as his young daughter’s governess.

Elena now clasped her trembling hands tightly together in front of her, as the warmth currently engulfing her body forced her to realise that was no longer the case, as Lord Hawthorne’s narrowed grey gaze slowly perused her from head to toe in what was obviously a totally male assessment. ‘Lady Cicely.’ She nodded a polite greeting to the elderly lady. ‘Stand up and greet your greatgrandmother, Amanda,’ she instructed as she realised her young charge was still seated at her desk.

Elena had found it strange at first to realise that there was none of the spontaneity of affection in this household that she had been used to during her own childhood, Lord Hawthorne spending only half an hour of each day with his daughter, and even that was usually spent in discussing and questioning what Amanda had learnt during her lessons.

Consequently, Amanda became a quietly reserved child whenever she was in her father’s company, the perfect curtsy she now bestowed upon Lady Cicely also reflective of that reserve.

‘Great-Grandmama.’

Which was not to say that Elena did not see a different side of Amanda when the two of them were alone together in the nursery, Amanda as full of fun then as any other six-year-old.

Tall for her age, Amanda’s face already showed the signs of the great beauty she would become in later years, her eyes a deep blue, her cheeks creamy pink, her little mouth as perfect as a rose in bud, her hair the colour and softness of spun gold. Amanda looked especially enchanting today in a deep-pink gown that perfectly complemented the fairness of her colouring.

A look of enchantment totally wasted upon her father as he stood across the room, his attention focused on Elena rather than his daughter. The same gentleman whom Elena, after only a week spent in his employment, considered to be utterly without any of the softer emotions.

Which was why she now found the intensity of his regard more than slightly unnerving, as if those deep-grey eyes were seeing her as a woman for the first time…

And Elena had no wish for any man, least of all Adam Hawthorne, to see her as anything other than his mousy and widowed employee. Any more than she wished to acknowledge him as being anything more than her employer, even if he was devilishly handsome…

She straightened determinedly. ‘I will leave the three of you alone to talk whilst I go and tidy Amanda’s bedchamber. If you will all excuse me…’ She did not wait for a response before hurrying from the schoolroom.

Only to find that she was shaking so much by the time she had reached the safety of Amanda’s bedchamber that she had necessarily to sit down for a moment in order to attempt to regain her senses, pressing a trembling hand against her rapidly beating heart as she fought the rising panic at the thought of Hawthorne seeing her as a woman rather than an employee.

Circumstances had conspired to leave Elena completely alone in the world, and necessitating that she go out to work in order to support herself, and so surely making her life already desperate enough, precarious enough, without the added burden of the sudden interest of the forbidding and forbidden Lord Adam Hawthorne?

Elena was only too well aware that many gentlemen took advantage of the charms of the unprotected females in their household. Indeed, her own cousin—

She would not…could not think about it. Even to think of what that worm—for she could never think of him as a gentleman!—had done to her was enough to make her feel ill, the nausea rising even now inside her—

‘Are you quite well, Mrs Leighton…?’

Elena stood up so swiftly at the unexpected sound of Hawthorne’s voice that all of the blood seemed to rush from her head, rendering her slightly dizzy and causing her to sway precariously on her ankle-booted feet as she reached out blindly for the back of the chair in order to stop herself from falling.

But not quickly enough, it seemed, as he crossed the room in three long strides to take a firm grasp of her arm, allowing her to feel the warmth of his long and elegant hand through the thin silk of her black gown. ‘My lord?’ Elena looked up at him warily, her breath catching in the back of her throat as she realised how close he was standing to her.

A closeness she had not thought she would be able to tolerate from any man. So close that Elena was aware of, and yet not overwhelmed by, how much larger and taller he was than she. So close she could see the circle of black rimming the deep grey of his eyes…

They were, Elena acknowledged as she found herself unable to do any other than continue to stare up at him, the most beautiful eyes she had ever beheld: a deep-smoky grey, with that black rim about the iris, his lashes dark, long and silky.

‘Mrs Leighton?’ Adam returned softly, frowning slightly as he realised he could smell the citrusy perfume of lemons in her silky dark hair.

Just as he had become aware, having studied her closely in the nursery a few minutes ago, that she was far from being in her late twenties or early thirties, as he had originally assumed her to be. Indeed, she looked possibly one and twenty at most now that he was standing so close to her and really looking at her intently; the alabaster skin of her face and throat was absolutely smooth and flawless, those wide blue-green eyes seeming to possess an innocence as she gazed up at him warily, her slender figure also seeming that of a young girl rather than a mature woman.

His mouth tightened along with the hold he had upon her arm.

‘Exactly how old are you?’

She blinked long dark lashes. ‘How old am I?’

Adam’s jaw tensed as he nodded. ‘A simple enough question, I would have thought.’

She moistened rose-coloured lips with the tip of her tongue before answering him. ‘Simple enough, yes,’ she confirmed huskily. ‘But is it not impolite to ask a woman her age? I also fail to see the relevance…?’

Adam’s mouth thinned at her continued delay. ‘You will allow me to be the best judge of that and please answer the question!’ He had little patience at the best of times—and this was far from the best of times; he disliked, above all things, being lied to, and he was very much afraid, that if Elena Leighton had not lied to him outright, that she had at least been economical with the truth.

‘I—Why, I am—I am…’ Elena paused to flex her nape where it ached from staring up at him for so long, as she weighed up the possibility of this man believing her if she were to lie and claim to be five and twenty, an age that surely even he would consider to be sensible. If untrue. ‘I am one and twenty.’ Almost. Well…in eight months’ time, her birthday falling on Christmas Day, her family having always ensured in the past that they were treated as two separate occasions. Not that there would be any celebration of that event this year, for the simple reason Elena had no family left with whom she wished to celebrate…

‘One and twenty,’ he repeated evenly, his long and elegant fingers slipping down her arm until they firmly encircled her wrist. ‘That would place you as being a mere nineteen when you were widowed and began your employment as tutor and companion to the Bambury chit, is that correct?’

Elena gave an inward wince at this reminder of the reference she had presented to the employment agency some weeks ago, when she had gone to them seeking a placement in a respectable household. A reference, having had no previous experience in employment of any kind, Elena had necessarily to write herself…

She met Adam Hawthorne’s scathing gaze unflinchingly. ‘That is correct, yes. If you are not satisfied with my work, then I am sure that—’

‘Have I said that I am not?’

Her chin rose slightly. ‘You implied it.’

Those chiselled lips curled slightly, into what could have been a smile, but was more likely, in this gentleman’s case, to be a sneer. ‘No, my dear Mrs Leighton, I implied nothing of the sort,’ he drawled. ‘Perhaps it is a guilty conscience which now makes you assume so?’

Elena’s heart skipped several of those guilty beats as she looked searchingly up into Lord Hawthorne’s hard and unyielding face; those grey eyes were narrowed to icy slits, the skin stretched tautly over high cheekbones, deep grooves having appeared beside his nose and chiselled lips. It was the face, Elena acknowledged warily, of a gentleman one did not cross. Not unless one wished to experience the full onslaught of what she believed would be his considerable wrath.

She had, she realised with a sinking heart, been lulled into a false sense of security these past twelve days of only seeing her employer for the half an hour or so he spent in the nursery with Amanda each day, occasions when Elena more often than not excused herself and left father and daughter to their privacy. Consequently, to date he had been a remote figure, a haughtily autocratic gentleman who appeared to have more than a little difficulty relating to his young daughter, and as such did not impinge greatly on her own routine and life in the schoolroom.

The gentleman who now regarded her so intently did not appear in the least remote, in regard to her at least. Indeed both he, and his questions, were far too close for comfort. To the point that she felt decidedly overwhelmed by the proximity of that deceptively hard and muscled body. Standing so close to her own as he was, she was able to feel his warmth and smell his deliciously spicy cologne…

She straightened to her own full height, ignoring the fact that she barely reached his broad shoulders as she met that piercing grey gaze unflinchingly. ‘I am sure that if you care to check the reference I supplied from the Bamburys you will find it all completely in order.’

And it would be; Elena may be newly cast out upon on the world, but she knew for a fact that a young and widowed Mrs Leighton had acted as tutor and companion to Fiona Bambury before the family had departed for warmer climes at the start of the year, the doctor having recommended as much for the benefit of Lady Bambury’s weak chest, from which she had suffered greatly during the harsh English winter. Mrs Leighton, having had no wish to move to the Continent with the Bambury family, had chosen to leave their employment and remain in England.

Except Elena was not, in fact, the aforementioned Mrs Leighton…

‘Indeed?’ Adam murmured softly.

‘If you would care to release me…?’

‘Certainly.’ The grip he had maintained about her wrist had not been in the least incidental, or an act of intimacy. Rather, it had allowed him to feel the leap in her pulse when he had questioned her as to whether or not she suffered from a guilty conscience.

Adam was now even further convinced that this woman was indeed hiding something. Quite what that something was, he had no idea as yet. But he had every intention of finding out. At the earliest opportunity. After all, he had entrusted this woman with the day-to-day care of his young and impressionable daughter.

Adam looked at her down the length of his nose. ‘I must return to the schoolroom now, but be aware I do not consider this conversation over.’

She gave a slight nod in acknowledgement. ‘As your employee, I of course await your further instruction.’

Now there was something to contemplate. Having Elena Leighton—the young and extremely beautiful Elena Leighton, the widowed Elena Leighton—awaiting his further instruction…

Adam pondered the dilemma of what he might choose to instruct her to do first. That she take the pins from that unbecoming bun and release that abundance of silky black hair, perhaps? Or that she unfasten those widow’s weeds and reveal the fullness of her breasts to him? Or perhaps he would enjoy something more personal to himself?

His gaze moved to the fullness of her lips. What, he wondered, would it feel like to have Elena Leighton on her knees before him and those lips skilfully wrapped about his engorged length? Teasing him, testing him, satisfying him?

Damn it all! What was he thinking?

He was not a man to be led about by that part of his anatomy. If his ill-fated marriage to Fanny had succeeded in nothing else, then it had served to cure him of that particular folly!

Adam stepped away abruptly, a nerve pulsing in his tightly clenched jaw. ‘We will talk of this further tomorrow.’ He gaze swept over her coldly before he turned on his heel and strode from the room, closing the door forcefully behind him.

Elena staggered back to collapse down on to the chair once more, her breathing fast and shallow, her heart beating erratically in her chest as she endeavoured to calm herself and the panic which had engulfed her, and which she had tried her best to hide, when he had touched her.

She had no idea what had happened to bring about that sudden conversation with him, or the subject of it. Why he had chosen to follow her to Amanda’s bedchamber at all even, let alone take hold of her wrist, albeit gently?

What she did know, from the tenor of his questions, and the merciless coldness in his eyes before he left so abruptly, was that he was not a gentleman who would easily forgive being deceived. As Elena had deceived him from the first…

For not only was her name not Elena Leighton, but she was not a widow either—indeed, she had never been married.

Nor had she ever been tutor and companion to Fiona Bambury, the real Mrs Leighton, after leaving the Bamburys’ employment, having decided to move to Scotland to care for the elderly parents of her deceased husband.

All of which Elena knew because she had been acquainted with the Bamburys, their country estate some twenty miles distant from her own grandfather’s home, the couple occasional guests at his dinner table, as Elena and her grandfather had been occasional dinner guests at theirs’.

Because her name—her true name—was not Elena Leighton, but Miss Magdelena Matthews.

And she was the granddaughter of George Matthews, the previous Duke of Sheffield, and the young woman whose disappearance, so quickly following her grandfather’s funeral, still had all of society agog with speculation…

.

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