The Tempting of the Governess
His new governess...
Is getting under his skin!
Infuriating, impertinent... just some of the words Colonel Hugh Glendenning could use to describe Miss Olivia Overton! She's insisting he spend time with his orphaned wards–which has forced him to admit he's been keeping the world at arm's length since losing his wife and baby son. That's not all that's disturbing him. It's the new temptation Olivia's sparking in Hugh to enjoy life again–with her!
"A charming, character-driven romance...The Temptation of the Governess is an enjoyable read and one fans of historical romance should definitely consider checking out."
~All About Romance
"The Tempting of the Governess is a beautifully written and emotional romance."
~Roses are Blue, Book Blog
~Historical Novel Society
I am very sorry, Miss Overton, but…you have no more money.
Numb with shock, Olivia Overton walked slowly back down the stairs from the solicitor's office, his unexpected and horrifying news still echoing in her ears.
Reaching the pavement, she hesitated. The prospect of returning home to Upper Brook Street brought back all the unhappy memories of two weeks earlier, when she'd come in to discover her Mama expired upon the drawing room sofa.
Adding in the unpalatable fact that the home she'd occupied for more than twelve years now belonged to someone else, and she knew she couldn't bring herself to cross that threshold again just yet.
She'd go visit Sara Standish–and reveal her drastically changed circumstances to her best friend, the one person in London who would understand her shock, pain, and distress.
Thinking with gallows humor that she'd better enjoy the luxury of traveling by hackney before her few remaining funds ran out, she walked down the street and found a jarvey to convey her to Hanover Square.
A short time later, the butler escorted her to the Standish townhouse's small back parlor. "I'll send Miss Standish down immediately,"he whispered, his cautious glance toward the grand front salon letting her know that Sara's mother, who had long enjoyed being an invalid, must be reclining on her couch there, receiving friends conveying the latest ton gossip.
A ripple of anguish went through as she realized that the next likely topic of gossip would be her. Have you heard? That Overton girl has lost all her money! A shame she's so odd–and plain. No chance of her getting some gentleman to rescue her with an offer of marriage.
She took a deep, steadying breath. Ton gossip would soon be the least of her worries. Whatever she decided to do next, she would have very little time to figure it out–before her cousin Sir Roger and the new Lady Overton arrived in London to take possession of her house.
Too restless to take a seat, she paced back and forth in front of the mantel, halting when Sara appeared on the threshold. Taking one look at her face, her quiet, gentle blond friend came over and pulled her into a hug. "My poor dear! Have you been missing your Mama badly today?"
For a moment, Olivia clung to Sara, to the person who seemed her last safe haven in a suddenly chaotic and threatening world. "No more than usual,"she said, releasing her to take a seat beside her on the sofa. "Isn't it strange how you can live with a person for years, finding them an indifferent companion, sometimes even an annoyance, and yet miss them quite dreadfully when they are gone?"
Sara cast a glance toward the front parlor. "I understand completely. And Mama isn't even much involved in my life, having taken to her couch and delegated all responsibility for me to Aunt Patterson years ago. Whereas your mother actually dined with you and took you into Society with her."
Olivia laughed wryly. "A Society I never appreciated and whose rules and expectations I could not wait to escape. Ah, how I longed to leave the Marriage Mart for good, to set out upon our independent lives, and finally, finally be able to pursue what we feel is important."
"Praise Heaven, we won't have to wait much longer,"Sara said with feeling. "The Season is nearly over. Soon, we'll be able to move to our house on Judd Street and begin those new, independent lives! At least, when we do, your unfortunate loss means you won't have to suffer any further tears or lamentations from your family about having made a choice that will 'doom your matrimonial prospects and see you exiled from Society forever.'"
Enthusiasm shining in her eyes, Sara continued, "Only imagine, no longer being dragged out on pointless afternoon calls or having to attend endlessly boring evening entertainments! We shall be able to devote all our time to supporting Ellie Lattimar's school and working with Lady Lyndlington's Ladies' Committee. Think of all the letters we'll be able to write, urging support of the reform legislation Lord Lyndlington and his party are pushing forward in Parliament! Issues so much more important than the cut of a bonnet or the style of a sleeve, the only pressing topics being discussed by the ladies at the Emersons' ball last night. Ah, here's our tea. Thank you, Jameson."
"Lady Patterson asked that I inform you that she will join you in a few moments,"the butler said as he set down the tray.
Sara nodded, then rolled her eyes at Olivia as the butler walked out of the room. "If you have something important to say, better tell me before Aunt Doom and Gloom arrives."
Olivia uttered a laugh that sounded a bit hysterical, even to her own ears. "I'm afraid I do. Something of rather major importance. I visited Mr. Henson this morning to inquire about transferring funds for my part of the maintenance of our Judd Street house. Only to discover that…I have no money."
Sara angled her head, her expression puzzled. "You have no money? I thought that, though the trustees retained the management of them, you could draw on your funds at will, once you reached one–and–twenty. Indeed, I thought you had been doing so these last two years."
Olivia's smile turned bitter. "So I had. Except now, it appears, the trustees have 'managed' me right out of my inheritance. They invested both interest and capital in a canal project that has just gone bankrupt. All I have left in the world, apparently, is one hundred pounds in the London bank."
For a moment, fury consumed her that, while she, as a single female, had not been considered competent to manage her own funds, the supposedly wiser and more experienced male trustees had been free to gamble her money on a risky project.
The solicitor might be apologetic.
She was destitute.
Sara's eyes widened and her mouth opened in shock. "That's… all? One hundred pounds?"
"Between me and penury. And to make the situation even sweeter, Mr. Henson said that Sir Roger, who now owns the Upper Brook Street house, wants to take possession–immediately."
"Oh, Olivia,"Sara whispered, taking her hand and squeezing it. "I'm so sorry. What are you going to do?"
"That's what I must figure out. All I know for certain–and I am sorry, too, Sara–is that I will not be able to join you in the Judd Street venture."
Sara sat silently a moment, her expression growing more and more appalled as the implications of Olivia's changed circumstances registered. "No, of course you can no longer contribute. But perhaps all is not lost. Perhaps I could–"
"No, Sara, we discussed this. The expense of maintaining a separate establishment wouldn't be possible without an equal contribution from both of us. And even if you could manage the finances without me, I couldn't let you do that."
"Hmf,"said the stout dowager entering the room. "You'd do better if you both abandoned that foolish idea and got yourself husbands, like sensible females! As for you, missy,"she said, turning her gimlet stare upon Olivia, "I heard you recently turned down Lord Everston. Silly girl! Don't you realize how rich he is?"
"There should be more to life than having a rich husband whose money you can spend,"Sara objected.
"You're going to give me some drivel about mutual respect and intellectual companionship?"Lady Patterson said. "I guarantee you, a handsome income and a steady supply of fashionable gowns and bonnets is far more lasting."
"Lord Everston is pushing fifty and only wanted a wife to watch over his household and seven children,"Olivia retorted. "Preferably a plain, older spinster who would be grateful enough for his proposal that she'd overlook his gambling and his mistresses."
"As long as the settlements guarantee the wife a good income, she'd probably be happy to leave intimate matters to his mistresses,"Lady Patterson said.
"That may do for some, Aunt,"Sara said in her soft, placating voice. "But not for us."
"The more fool, you,"Lady Patterson retorted.
"I should probably leave you…and go do some hard thinking,"Olivia said with a sigh.
Sara pressed her hand again. "If there is anything I can do…"
Her brows creasing, Lady Patterson looked from Sara to Olivia. "What is going on, if I may ask?"
Much as Olivia hated to confess her private tragedy to anyone but Sara, Lady Patterson had been kind to her, and in truth, a much more careful chaperone than her own mother. Nor was she a tale–teller. And in any event, gossips would get ahold of the news soon enough anyway. After all her efforts on Olivia's behalf, Lady Patterson might be offended if she learned of it second–hand, rather than from Olivia herself.
"To reduce it to the bare essentials, Lady Patterson, Mr. Henson informed me today that I am penniless, my inheritance lost by my trustees in a risky investment. He'd known about the bankruptcy for several weeks, but wanted to give me some time to recover from the sudden loss of my mother before he told me. However, as my cousin, Sir Roger, who now owns the Upper Brook Street house, wants to move in with his new bride immediately, I must decide in short order what to do."
Lady Patterson stared at Olivia thoughtfully for some minutes, then nodded. "Then I will waste no words telling you what a tragedy that is or how sorry I am, both of which are obvious. If you want my opinion, I think you should approach Lord Everston. I'm sure he'd renew his offer. Granted, marrying him isn't the solution you would have wished, but it will guarantee you a handsome income and a respectable position for the rest of your life. Perhaps even an enviable one, since Everston will almost certainly predecease you."
"So after avoiding a marriage of convenience these last five years, I should now marry a man I neither like nor respect, hoping he will stick his spoon in the wall soon enough that I will have time left to do what I want with my life? That's assuming, since I no longer possess even a modest dowry to bring to the union, he would be willing to settle a 'handsome sum' on me."
"Your solicitor would insist on it, and Everston would agree,"Lady Patterson replied. "He's well–enough off, even with all those offspring to fund, and he's Everston. Since he insists on wedding a gently–born lady of good family, he doesn't have many choices."
"That's true,"Sara observed. "Practically every female he considers worthy of bearing his name has already refused him."
"At least you'd have a home and money of your own,"Lady Patterson argued. "With your inheritance gone, you'll have to abandon that Judd Street scheme anyway. Marrying Everston is better than going begging to Sir Roger, leaving you always dependent on his charity. Or canvassing your distant relatives for a home, sinking you to that worst of lowly situations: an indigent, unmarried female, shuttled from household to household to care for sick children or querulous elders."
"Couldn't she stay with us?"Sara said, looking to her aunt.
"Please, don't even ask, Sara,"Olivia said before Lady Patterson could answer, tears pricking her eyes. "Your are a darling to want me, but…but I don't want to become your dependent, any more than I wish to rely on Sir Roger or some other relative."
"Then it must be Lord Everston,"Lady Patterson said. Her voice softening, she continued, "I understand you have your pride, dear, and I respect you for it. But you have few alternatives."
"If the choice is between tending sniveling brats or drooling centenarians,"Olivia said, thinking rapidly, "I'll take the brats. And if tending them is to be my lot, I'd rather make use of my elevated education and become a governess. Oh, I know, I'd only earn a pittance–but the money would be mine. Not available for trustees to lose or a husband to spend on his fancy women. And I wouldn't have to become intimate with Everston to earn it."
"Please, don't do anything hasty!"Sara said. "Couldn't you reconcile it with your conscience to stay with us, just until Emma and Lord Theo return from Italy? I'm sure, among the three of us, we could work something out. Become a governess in some out–of–the–way manor in the back of beyond, and you may be lost to us forever."
"It's always possible I could find a position here in London."
"In London–where you would inevitably run into the friends of your employers, all of them well aware of your humiliating loss of status?"Lady Patterson said. Olivia sighed. "Not London, then." Having her acquaintances looking down on her with scorn and pity would be intolerable.
Her mind whirling, Olivia felt driven to halt the dizzying, out of–control spin of her life by making a decision, here and now.
It wasn't as if her options would change upon longer reflection.
A lady's only other alternative was to become some genteel female's companion. Not being much given to taking orders, it would probably be preferable to earn her pittance as a governess, where she would be giving them.
So, it appeared, a governess she would be.
She'd always longed to be independent, in charge of her own destiny, not forced to depend upon a father or brother or husband. Well, this ironic twist of fate had certainly granted that wish, she thought blackly. Just not at all in the way she'd envisioned.
"A position as a governess in an out–of–the–way manor might be preferable,"she said, pulling herself from those reflections to confirm her decision. "Lady Patterson, do you know of an agency to which I could apply for such a position? And would you be kind enough to write me a character?"
Lady Patterson sat quietly for a moment. "I suppose there isn't time for me to inquire among my friends and relations to discover someone in need of a governess."
"Lady Overton could show up on the doorstep of Upper Brook Street tomorrow."
"Surely you could stay with us long enough for my aunt to find you a position with someone she knows,"Sara pleaded. "Somewhere we'd be assured you would be treated with kindness and respect."
Though touched by her friend's concern, Olivia said, "Sara, I know you mean well. But can you even imagine how it would be? Everyone in Society would know. I wouldn't be invited anywhere. I'd have no funds to borrow books or even for the paper and ink we use to write letters for the Ladies' Committee. I'd have to hide myself here just…existing. Suspended in some awful void between the life I've always known and the reality of my life now. I…I don't think I could bear it. Since the break must happen, I'd rather it be swift and clean."
Her eyes filling with tears, Sara nodded. "I suppose I can understand. I just…hate to lose you."
Unable to respond without giving in to tears of her own, Olivia pulled her friend close for a hug. For a long moment, they clung together.
Pushing away the friend who, for the first time in their lives, was unable to help her solve a dilemma, seemed to symbolically echo today's events in her life.
"Well, I'd best go and pack up my things. Lady Patterson, if you would be so kind as to give me the name of that agency?"
Even Sara's gruff aunt had tears in her eyes. "I'm afraid I've forgotten. Let me go to my sitting room and ask my maid, and I'll send you a note. I am sorry, my dear." After rising to give Olivia a quick, most unusual hug, the older woman walked out.
"Promise me one thing,"Sara insisted as she escorted Olivia to the door. "Don't accept a contract for more than six months. You know the three of us–you, me, and Emma–have always been able to solve whatever problem has arisen in our lives. I don't expect that will change just because Emma married Lord Theo. Promise me, when they return from their Grand Tour, you will come back to London and let us all reexamine your situation, together."
Olivia knew that, unless some unknown benefactor had left her funds of which not even the family solicitor was aware, nothing about her circumstances would change in six months. Nor would she be any more able to accept charity from Emma than she could from Sara. But her friend looked so distraught, silent tears slipping down her cheeks, that Olivia didn't have the heart to refuse her.
"Very well. I'll not sign a contract for employment that lasts longer than six months, and I promise to return to London and speak with all of you when Emma and Lord Theo come back from Italy."
In the hallway, the two clung to each other, Olivia fighting back tears once more after being informed by the butler that Lady Patterson had ordered the family carriage to bear her home.
Perhaps her last journey as a well–born member of Society.
"Don't you dare leave London without saying goodbye!"Sara said, giving her one last hug.
"I will let you know my situation as soon as everything is arranged,"Olivia promised. Then, as the butler held open the door for her, she walked out of her past and grimly set her face toward the future.