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Мортимер Кэрол

Not Just a Governess

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Chapter Four

‘She is merely ill from travelling in the carriage.’ Elena looked up at Adam apologetically as he opened the door of the carriage just in time for Amanda to lean out and be violently sick on his black, brown-topped Hessians already covered in dust from where he had ridden on horseback all day beside the carriage. ‘Oh, dear.’ Elena moved forwards on her seat to help her distressed charge down the steps on to the cobbled courtyard of the inn they were to stay in for the night, cuddling Amanda against her before turning her attention to those now ruined boots. ‘Perhaps—’

‘Perhaps if you had informed me of Amanda’s discomfort earlier it would not have come to this.’ Adam glowered down at her.

Elena gasped her incredulity at an accusation she believed completely unfair. ‘Amanda was perfectly all right until a short time ago and has only found this last few bumpy miles something of a trial. Also, my lord, as you had ridden on ahead I could not inform you of anything…’

‘Yes. Yes,’ Adam snapped, waving his hand impatiently. ‘I suggest you take Amanda upstairs to our rooms while I speak to the innkeeper about organising some water to be brought up for her bath.’

Elena kept her arm about the now quietly sobbing Amanda. ‘And some food, my lord. Some dry bread and fresh water will perhaps settle Amanda’s stomach before bedtime.’

‘Of course.’ Adam turned his attention away from his ruined boots to instead look down at his distressed daughter. Amanda’s face was a pasty white, her eyes dark and cloudy smudges of blue in that pallor, her usually lustrous gold hair damp about her face. Nor had her own clothing escaped being spattered, her little shoes and hose in as sorry a state as his boots. ‘There, there, Amanda, it is not the end of the world—You are soiling your clothing now, Mrs Leighton,’ he warned sharply as Elena ignored the results of Amanda’s nausea, moving down on her haunches beside the little girl and gently wiping the tears from her face with her own lace-edged handkerchief.

‘My clothes are of no importance at this moment, sir.’ Her eyes flashed up at him in stormy warning, before she returned her attention to the cleansing of Amanda’s face, murmuring soft assurances to the little girl.

Adam clamped down on his feelings of inadequacy. ‘I was merely pointing out—’

‘If you will excuse us?’ She straightened, obvious indignation rolling off her in waves. ‘I should like to see to Amanda’s needs before considering my own.’

A praiseworthy sentiment, Adam admitted as he stood in the courtyard and watched her walk away, her back ramrod straight as she entered the inn, her arms about Amanda.

Except for the fact that he knew that parting comment had been made as a deliberate set down for what she perceived as his lack of concern for his young daughter…

A totally erroneous assumption for her to have made; Adam knew his behaviour to be yet another example of his own lack of understanding in how to relate to a six-year-old girl, rather than the lack of concern Elena Leighton had assumed it to be. No excuse, of course, but Adam had no idea how to even go about healing the distance which seemed to yawn wider with each passing day between himself and Amanda.

Nor had the governess’s anger towards him abated in the slightest, Adam realised an hour or so later when she joined him for dinner in the private parlour of the inn, as he had requested when the maid went to deliver food and drink to Amanda. her eyes sparkled a deep and fiery green-blue as she swept into the room, with a deep flush to her cheeks and her whole demeanour, in yet another of those dratted black gowns, one of bristly disapproval and resentment—the former no doubt still on Amanda’s behalf, the resentment possibly due to the peremptory instruction to join him for dinner.

‘Would you care for a glass of Madeira, Mrs Leighton…?’ Adam attempted civility. Bathed and dressed in clean clothes and a fresh pair of boots, he felt far more human; he tried not to think about the fact that his man Reynolds was probably upstairs even now, crying as he attempted to salvage the first pair!

‘No, thank you.’

‘Then perhaps you would prefer sherry or wine?’

She looked at him coolly. ‘I do not care for strong liquor at all.’

Adam frowned. ‘I do not believe any of the refreshments I offered can be referred to as “strong liquor”.’

‘Nevertheless…’

‘Then perhaps we should just sit down and eat?’ He could barely restrain his frustration with her frostiness as he moved forwards to politely pull back a chair for her.

‘I had expected to dine in my bedchamber with Amanda,’ she stated.

‘And I would prefer that you dine here with me,’ he countered, looking pointedly towards the chair.

She frowned as she stepped forwards. ‘Thank you.’ She sat rigidly in the chair, her body stiff and unyielding, ensuring that her spine did not come into contact with the back of the chair.

Adam gave a rueful grimace as he moved around the table and took his own seat opposite her, waiting until the innkeeper himself had served their food—a thick steaming stew accompanied by fresh crusty bread—before speaking again. ‘Should I expect to be subjected to this wall of ice throughout the whole of dinner, or would you perhaps prefer to castigate me now and get it over with?’ He quirked one dark brow enquiringly.

‘Castigate you, my lord?’ She kept her head bowed as she studiously arranged her napkin across her knees.

Adam gave a weary sigh. ‘Mrs Leighton, I am a widower in my late twenties, with no previous experience of children, let alone six-year-old females. As such, I admit I know naught of how to deal with the day-to-day upsets of my young daughter.’

Elena slowly looked up to consider him across the table, ignoring his obvious handsomeness for the moment—difficult as that might be when he looked so very smart in a deep-blue superfine over a beige waistcoat—and instead trying to see the man he described. There was no disputing the fact that he was a widower in his late twenties. But Lord Adam Hawthorne was also a man whom senior politicians were reputed to hold in great regard, a man who ran his estates and a London household without so much as blinking an eye; it was impossible to think that such a man could find himself defeated by the needs of a six-year-old girl.

Or was it…?

He was a man who preferred to hold himself aloof from society.

From all emotions. Why was it so impossible to believe he found it difficult to relate to his young daughter?

Some of the stiffness left Elena’s spine. ‘I think you will find that six-year-old young ladies have the same need to be loved as the older ones, my lord.’

He frowned. ‘“Older ones”, Mrs Leighton…?’

She became slightly flustered under that icy gaze. ‘I believe most ladies are desirous of that, yes, my lord.’

‘I see.’ His frown deepened. ‘And are you questioning my ability to feel that emotion, Mrs Leighton?’

‘Of course not.’ Elena gasped softly.

‘Then perhaps It is only my affection for my daughter you question…?’

Her cheeks felt warm. ‘It is only the manner in which you choose to show that affection which—well, which—’

‘Yes?’

‘Could you not have hugged Amanda earlier rather than—’ She broke off, suddenly not sure how far to continue with this.

‘“Rather than…?”’ he prompted softly.

She took hold of her courage and looked him straight in the eye. ‘Amanda was upset and in need of comforting—preferably a physical demonstration of affection from her father.’

He looked obviously disconcerted with her candour.

Perhaps she had gone too far? After all, it was really none of her concern how Lord Hawthorne behaved towards his young daughter; she had briefly forgotten that she was no longer Miss Magdelena Matthews, the privileged and beloved granddaughter of a duke who was allowed to speak her mind, but was now an employee. And employees did not castigate their employers!

Elena lowered her gaze demurely. ‘I apologise, my lord. I spoke out of turn.’

Now it was Adam’s turn to feel discomforted. Elena Leighton’s disapproval apart, he was fully aware that he had difficulty in demonstrating the deep affection he felt for Amanda; she had been only two years old when her mother died and had been attended to completely in the nursery until quite recently. Not that Fanny had ever been a particularly attentive mother when she was alive, but she had occasionally taken an interest and showered Amanda with gifts completely inappropriate to her age, whereas, perhaps partly because of his experiences with Fanny, Adam now found it difficult to show that deep affection he felt for his six-year-old daughter. Which he knew was not a fault of Amanda’s, but due to his own emotional reserve as much as his lack of experience as a father.

He looked enquiringly at her. ‘I thought it normal for men in society to spend only an hour or so a day in the company of their female offspring?’

‘You do not strike me as the sort of gentleman who would be concerned as to how others might behave.’

‘Possibly not,’ he allowed slowly. ‘But I am often at a loss as to know how I should behave. Perhaps you might endeavour to help guide me, as to how a father should behave towards his six-year-old daughter?’

Elena blinked. ‘My lord…?’

Adam tried not to feel vexed at her surprise. ‘I am suggesting, as Amanda’s governess, that you might perhaps aid me in how best to take more of an interest in the happenings in my daughter’s life.’

Her lips thinned so that they did not look in the least plump and inviting. ‘Are you laughing at me, my lord?’

His top lip curled back derisively in response to that. ‘I believe you will find, Mrs Leighton, that I rarely find reason to laugh at anything, so I very much doubt I will have made you the exception.’ He eyed her closely, no longer sure he had any appetite for the rich and meaty-smelling stew that had been provided for them.

He had actually been anticipating the evening ahead when he dressed for dinner earlier, could not remember the last time he had dined alone with a beautiful woman—apart from Fanny, whom he had despised utterly, when those rare evenings they had dined at home together had been more a lesson in endurance than something to be enjoyed.

Just as his grandmother’s dinner the evening before had been something to be endured rather than enjoyed!

Lady Cecily had totally outdone herself in that she had provided not one, not two, but four eligible young ladies for his approval. All of them young and beautiful—and all of them as empty-headed as Fanny!

He already knew that Elena Leighton was not of that ilk, that she was educated, learned and that he found her conversation stimulating. As he found her physically stimulating…Except on those occasions when she was determined to rebuke him for what she perceived as his lack of feeling for Amanda!

‘Perhaps we should just eat our dinner before it cools any further.’ He didn’t wait for her response, but turned his attention to eating the food in front of him.

Elena ate her own stew more slowly, aware that she had displeased him. Was he justified to feel that? She was, after all, employed to attend to his daughter, not to comment on his behaviour and attitudes.

Disconcerted at being summoned to join him for dinner, and the two of them sitting down to eat their meal together alone in this private parlour, she had again forgotten the façade of being the widowed Mrs Elena Leighton and instead talked to him as an equal, forgetting that she no longer had the right to do so.

If Adam Hawthorne were ever to discover her true identity, then no doubt he would not hesitate to turn her over to the authorities himself!

She placed her spoon down carefully beside the bowl, her food untouched. ‘I must apologise once again for speaking out of turn, my lord. It is not my place—’

‘And exactly what do you consider to be “your place”, Mrs Leighton?’ he rasped irritably as he looked across at her with stormy-grey eyes.

Elena chewed on her bottom lip before answering, once again disconcerted, this time by the intensity of that deep-grey gaze. ‘Well, it is certainly not to tell you how you should behave towards your own daughter.’

‘And yet you have not hesitated to do so.’ She gave a wince.

‘And for that I—’

‘Do not apologise to me a second time in as many minutes, Mrs Leighton!’ Adam pushed his chair back noisily as he stood up.

Elena looked up at him warily as he stood glowering down at her. ‘I did not mean to displease you…’

‘No…?’ His expression softened. ‘Then what did you mean to do to me, Mrs Leighton?’

Elena’s pulse leapt at the sound of that huskiness, the lacing of sensuality she heard underlying his tone, his piercing grey gaze now appearing to be transfixed upon her mouth. Disturbing her with sensations she was unfamiliar with.

Elena ran the moistness of her tongue nervously across her lips before speaking. ‘I do not believe I had any intent other than to apologise for speaking to you so frankly about what is a private matter.’

‘No…?’ He was far too overpowering in the smallness of the room. Too large. Too intense. Too overwhelmingly male!

She found herself unable to look away from him, her heart seeming to sputter and falter, before commencing to beat a wild tattoo in her chest. A fact he was well aware of, if the shifting of his gaze to the pulse in her throat was any indication. A gaze that slowly moved steadily downwards before then lingering on the ivory swell of her breasts as she continued to breathe shallowly.

As Miss Magdelena Matthews, she had of course attended assemblies and dinner parties in Yorkshire, as she had many other local social occasions. But her mother had unfortunately died shortly before her coming-out Season two years ago, and her grandfather had not been a man who particularly cared for town or London society, and his visits there had been few and far between, usually only on business or with the intention of attending the House of Lords.

As a consequence, even following her year of mourning for her mother, her grandfather’s preference for the country meant that Magdelena had spent no time at all in London, and so had not learnt how to recognise or to deal with a gentleman’s attentions. Indeed, Elena’s only experience with a gentleman of the ton was of such a traumatic nature that she had feared ever becoming the focus of a male ever again.

Except Adam Hawthorne did not incite that same fear within her…

Rather the opposite.

The warmth she detected in the grey softness of his gaze, as he continued to watch the rise and fall of her bosom, filled her with unaccustomed heat. Her heart once again fluttered wildly and caused her pulse to do likewise, and her breasts—those same breasts he continued to regard so intently—seemed to swell and grow, the rose-coloured tips tingling with the same unaccustomed heat, making the fitted bodice of her gown feel uncomfortably tight.

It was an unexpected, and yet exhilarating, sensation, every inch of her skin hot and almost painfully sensitive, and she felt almost light-headed as she continued to shyly meet his gaze through the sweep of her dark lashes.

Adam had no idea what he was about!

The fact that he had anticipated enjoying Elena Leighton’s stimulating presence for a few hours, her obvious intelligence and sensitivity, did not mean he had to take their relationship any further than that. Indeed, he would be foolish to ever think of doing so.

Not only was she a splendid addition to his household, in that she appeared to have already developed a very caring relationship with his young daughter, but she was in his employ. And whilst some of the male members of the ton might feel few qualms in regard to taking advantage of their pretty and young female household staff, Adam had certainly never done so. Not even at the worst moments of his marriage to Fanny had he stooped to seeking comfort or solace from one of the young women working in any of his own households. Nor was it his intention to start now with this one.

He straightened abruptly. ‘I suggest that we eat the rest of our meal before making an early night of it.’ Adam gave a pained wince as her face became a flushed and fiery red. ‘By that, I meant, of course, that we should then retire to our respective bedchambers.’

‘I did not for a moment suppose you meant anything other, my lord,’ she answered sharply.

Adam pulled his chair out noisily and resumed his seat. ‘Good,’ he growled, more than a little unsettled himself, both by their conversation, and the things which had not been said…

Thankfully Amanda seemed to have recovered fully the following day as they resumed the last part of their journey, the weather warm enough that Elena had been able to lower the windows and so allow some air into the carriage, and also making it possible for Amanda to poke her head out of the window when she saw something that interested her.

Lord Hawthorne had been noticeably absent when Elena and Amanda ate their breakfast earlier in the private parlour of the inn and he had again ridden on ahead once they resumed their journey, no doubt anxious to arrive at his estate so that he might begin to deal with whatever business had brought him to Cambridgeshire in the first place.

Elena sincerely hoped that it had nothing to do with his wishing to avoid her own outspoken company.

She had woken early this morning to the sounds of certain other inhabitants of the inn already being awake: the grooms chatting outside in the cobbled yard as they fed the horses prior to travel and the sounds of food being prepared for the guests in the kitchen below.

A quick glance at the neighbouring bed had shown that Amanda was still asleep, thus allowing Elena the luxury of remaining cosily beneath her own bedcovers for a few minutes longer, as she thought of the time she had spent alone with Adam Hawthorne yesterday evening.

It had taken only those few minutes’ contemplation for Elena to convince herself she had imagined the intimate intensity of his gaze, both on her lips and breasts; her employer was not a man known for displaying desire for women of the ton, let alone the woman who was engaged to care for his daughter.

‘Is it your intention to spend the evening, as well as all of the day, seated inside the carriage, Mrs Leighton?’

Elena’s cheeks were flushed as she came back to an awareness of her present surroundings, looking out of the open carriage door to see Lord Hawthorne standing outside on the gravel looking in at her mockingly. While she’d been lost in contemplation, the carriage had come to a halt in the courtyard in front of two curved-stone staircases leading up from either side to the entrance of Hawthorne Hall. Amanda had already stepped down from the carriage and was even now skipping her way up the staircase on the left to where the huge oak door already stood open in readiness to welcome the master of the house and his entourage.

Elena stepped slowly down from the carriage to look up at the four-storeyed house; it was a grand greystone building, with a tall, pillared portico at the top of the two staircases, with two curved wings abutting the main house, dozens of windows gleaming in the late evening sunshine.

It was, Elena noted with some dismay, a house very like the one at her grandfather’s estate in Yorkshire, where she and her mother had moved to live following the death of Elena’s father, and where the late Duke of Sheffield had met his end so unexpectedly two months ago.

‘Mrs Leighton…?’

She smiled politely as she turned to look at Hawthorne. ‘You have a beautiful home, my lord.’

For some inexplicable reason Adam did not believe her praise of Hawthorne Hall to be wholly sincere. Indeed, the strained look to her mouth and those expressive blue-green eyes convinced him of such.

He turned to look at the house with critical eyes, looking for flaws and finding none. All was completely in order. As it should be, considering the wages he paid his estate manager.

He turned back to Elena Leighton. ‘Then do you suppose we might both be allowed to go inside it now?’ he prompted drily.

‘Of course.’ She nodded distractedly, her smile still strained as she preceded him up the stairs, her dark curls hidden beneath another of those unbecoming black bonnets, her black gown reflective of that drabness.

A drabness that suddenly irritated Adam intensely. ‘If I might be allowed to speak frankly, Mrs Leighton?’ He fell into step beside her as they neared the top of the stairs.

She glanced up at him. ‘My lord?’

‘I intend to ask Mrs Standish to arrange for a local seamstress to call upon you at her earliest convenience.’

A frown appeared between the fineness of her eyes as she came to a halt at the top of the staircase. ‘Mrs Standish, my lord?’

Adam had spent all of his adult life answering to that title—but it had never before irked him in the way it did when this woman addressed him so coolly!

Which was utterly ridiculous—what else should she call him? She was not his social equal, but a paid servant, and as such her form of address to him was perfectly correct. Should he expect her to call him Adam, as if the two of them were friends, or possibly more? Of course he should not!

He scowled his irrational annoyance. ‘She is the housekeeper here and as such in charge of all the female staff, and consequently the clothing they are required to wear within the household.’

Elena’s expression became wary. ‘Yes, my lord…?’

Adam sighed. ‘And I am tired of looking at you in these—these widow’s weeds.’ He indicated her appearance with a dismissive wave of his hand. ‘I shall instruct Mrs Standish to see to it that you are supplied with more fitting apparel.’

She raised surprised dark brows. ‘More fitting for what, my lord?’

Oh, to the devil with it! Another of those questions this particular woman seemed to ask and which took Adam into the realms of the unacceptable.

As it did now, as he instantly imagined Elena Leighton as his mistress, all of that glorious ebony hair loose about her shoulders, her naked body covered only by one of those delicate silk negligees Fanny had been so fond of parading about in. Not black as with Fanny, but rather white or the palest cream, in order to set off the almost luminous quality to this woman’s ivory skin and allowing the tips of her breasts to poke invitingly and revealingly against that silky material. What colour would her nipples be? he wondered. A fresh peach, perhaps? Or, more likely, considering the colour of her lips, a deep and blushing rose—

His mouth tightened with self-disgust as he realised that he had once again allowed himself thoughts of this woman that were wholly inappropriate to the relationship that existed between the two of them. ‘For spending so many hours a day with a six-year-girl who has already suffered the loss of her mother, without your own clothing reminding her of death on a daily basis,’ he rasped harshly.

‘Oh!’ She gasped. ‘I had not thought of that! And I should have done so. I am so sorry, my—’

‘I believe I have already made clear my feelings regarding this constant and irritating need you feel to apologise to me for one reason or another.’ Adam looked down the long length of his nose at her.

‘But I should have thought—’

‘Mrs Leighton…’ He barely controlled his impatience at her continued self-condemnation. Damn it, he had thought only to get her out of those horrible clothes—Well, not exactly out of them—Oh, damn it to hell! ‘Mrs Leighton, I am tired and I am irritable, furthermore I am in need of a decent glass of brandy, before sitting down to enjoy an even more decent dinner cooked by my excellent chef here, before then spending a night in my own bed!’

She blinked at his vehemence. ‘I—please do not let me delay you any further.’

‘If you will excuse me, then? Jeffries will see to it that you are shown the nursery and schoolroom as well as your own bedchamber.’

‘As you wish, my lord.’ Her lashes lowered with a demureness Adam viewed with suspicion.

‘It is indeed as I wish.’ He scowled, adding, as she made no further comment, ‘Goodnight, Mrs Leighton.’

‘My lord.’ She nodded without so much as glancing up.

Adam gave her one last irritated glance before entering the house, pausing only long enough to hand his hat and cloak to the patiently waiting Jeffries, before striding down the hallway to his study without so much as a second glance.

Where, Adam sincerely hoped, he would not be haunted by any further lascivious thoughts about the widowed Mrs Elena Leighton.

.

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