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Мортимер Кэрол

Not Just a Governess

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Chapter Five

‘I believe there has been some sort of mistake…’ Elena viewed with consternation the brightly coloured materials the seamstress had laid out on the chaise in the bedchamber for her approval. They were predominantly green and blue, but there was also a cream silk and a lemon, all with matching lace.

Mrs Hepworth was aged perhaps thirty and prettily plump, that plumpness shown to advantage in a gown of sky blue in a highwaisted style that perfectly displayed her excellence as a seamstress. ‘Mrs Standish was quite specific in her instructions concerning which materials I should bring with me for your approval, Mrs Leighton.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Oh, yes, I am very sure of Mrs Standish’s instructions, Mrs Leighton,’ the seamstress confirmed cheerfully.

And Mrs Standish, as Elena knew, had received her instructions from the infuriating Lord Hawthorne…

‘Come,’ Adam instructed distractedly as he concentrated on the figures laid out in the ledger before him. The study door opened, then was softly closed again, followed by a lengthy silence. So lengthy that Adam was finally forced to look up beneath frowning brows, that frown easing slightly as he saw a flushed and obviously discomforted Elena Leighton standing in front of his wide mahogany desk. ‘Yes…?’

She moistened her lips. ‘I am not disturbing you, my lord?’

‘I believe you have used the wrong tense, Mrs Leighton—you have obviously already interrupted me,’ he drawled pointedly as he leant back in his chair to look across at her.

He had seen Amanda only briefly these past two days, and her governess not at all, having been kept busy dealing with the myriad of paperwork involved in running the estate. He frowned now as he saw the governess was still wearing one of those unbecoming black gowns that so infuriated him. ‘Has Mrs Standish not yet engaged the services of a seamstress—?’

‘That is the very reason I am here, my lord,’ she rushed into speech. ‘I fear there has been some sort of mistake. The seamstress brought with her materials that are more suited to—to being worn by a lady than a—a child’s governess.’

Adam arched one dark brow. ‘And is that child’s governess not also a lady?’

‘I—well, I would hope to be considered as such, yes.’ Elena looked more than a little flustered. ‘But the materials are of the finest silks and of such an array of colours, when I had been expecting—I had expected—’

‘Yes?’

She bit her lip. ‘I had thought to be wearing serviceable browns, with possibly a beige gown in which to attend church on Sundays.’

Adam gave a wince at the thought of this woman’s ivory skin against such unbecoming shades. ‘That would not do at all, Mrs Leighton.’ His top lip curled with displeasure. ‘Brighter colours, a deep rose, blues and greens, are more suited to your colouring, with perhaps a cream for Sundays.’

Exactly the colours, Elena realised, that the plump Mrs Hepworth had just laid out for her approval.

‘And I am not a churchgoer,’ Adam continued drily, ‘but you may attend if you feel so inclined.’

‘But is it not your duty to attend as—?’ Elena broke off abruptly, aware she had once again almost been inappropriately outspoken in this man’s presence. Inappropriate for the widowed Mrs Elena Leighton, that was. Which, considering she had not set sight on, nor heard sound of Adam Hawthorne these past two days, she probably should not have done.

‘You were saying, madam?’

‘Nothing, my lord.’ It really was not her place to rebuke him for not attending church, even if she knew her grandfather had made it his habit to always attend the Sunday service. Not because he was particularly religious, but because he maintained that conversation afterwards was the best way to mingle with and learn about the people who lived and worked on his estate.

‘This reticence is not what I have come to expect from you, Mrs Leighton,’ he drawled mockingly.

‘No. Well…’ She pursed her lips as she thought of the past two days, the time that had elapsed since she had last irritated him with her outspokenness. ‘Perhaps I am finally learning to practise long-overdue caution in my conversations with you, my lord.’

Adam stared at her in astonishment for several seconds before he suddenly burst out laughing. A low and rusty sound, he acknowledged self-derisively, but it was, none the less, laughter. ‘Did you tend to be this outspoken when you were employed by the Bamburys?’ He continued to smile ruefully.

‘I do not understand.’

Adam knew Lord Geoffrey Bambury slightly, from their occasional clashes in the House in the past, and knew him as a man who believed totally in the superiority of the hierarchy that made up much of society; as such Adam did not see him as a man who would suffer being rebuked by a servant, which the other man would most certainly have considered Elena Leighton’s role to be in his own household.

He shrugged. ‘I merely wondered if I was the exception to the rule as the recipient of this…honesty of yours, or if it is your usual habit to say exactly what is on your mind?’

‘Oh, I do not believe I would go as far as to say I have done that, my lord—oh.’ She grimaced. ‘I meant, of course—’

‘I believe I may guess what you meant, Mrs Leighton,’ Adam said. ‘And as such, I should probably applaud your efforts at exercising some discretion, at least.’

‘Yes. Well.’ Those blue-green eyes avoided meeting his amused gaze.

‘You were about to tell me my religious duty, I believe?’ he prompted softly.

Too softly, in Elena’s opinion; she really did seem to have adopted the habit of speaking above her present station in life to this particular gentleman! Perhaps, on this occasion because she was still slightly disconcerted by the sound and sight of his laughter a few minutes ago…

He had informed her only three evenings ago that he found very little amusement in anything, and yet just now he had laughed outright.

Even more startling was how much more handsome, almost boyish, he appeared when he gave in to that laughter.

She swallowed before speaking. ‘Of course I was not, my lord. I just—I merely wondered if attending the local church would not be of real benefit to you, in terms of meeting and talking with the people living on your estate and the local village?’

‘Indeed?’ The suddenly steely edge to his tone was unmistakable.

Elena felt the colour warming Her cheeks. ‘Yes. I—I only remark upon it because I know it was Lord Bambury’s habit to do so.’ Her grandfather and Lord Bambury had discussed that very subject over dinner one evening at Sheffield Park…

Adam raised dark brows over cold grey eyes. ‘And you are suggesting I might follow his example?’

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