Authors: Cheryl Bolen
"Everyone knows how devastated you were, my lord," she said in a sympathetic voice. "I certainly do not fault you for your grief. I only pray that time has lessened it so that now you will be able to address your children's needs more than your own."
Demmed impertinent female! So she thought him a selfish lout of a father! Like hell she didn't fault him for his grief! If that sanctimonious spinster had ever possessed the capacity to love as he had loved Diana, she would have some idea of the pain he had endured because no man would ever have reciprocated her affection. No man could be attracted to such an opinionated, outspoken woman who didn't even have the promise of a dowry.
"Forgive me," she said softly. "I had no right. I'm sorry I implied . . . I'm sorry for what I said. Please know that any offensive remarks were the result of my excessive fondness for your children."
He patted her hand. "I understand. It's rather as if you're one of my sisters. After all, we've been acquainted half our lives."
She looked pensively at him. "Though I hold you in great affection, I've never thought of you as a brother, my lord."
Great affection, my foot! Of course she did not feel toward him as she did toward her brothers. She loved her brothers, and George was quite convinced she despised him.
He drew in a deep breath. As much as it pained him to admit it, he had come to decide his children did indeed need Miss Spenser. And he was determined to have her. Even if he could barely tolerate the young lady, and even if he had no idea how to go about hiring her or keeping her under his roof. He again patted her hand that rested on his arm. "I have a proposition I wish to put before you, Miss Spenser."
She gazed up at him with an arched brow.
"My sister tells me you may be seeking employment."
She did not answer for a moment. Then, in a cracking voice, she said, "Yes, I shall."
"I shan't beat about the bush, Miss Spenser. I wish for you to come into my household and take charge of my children. They obviously adore you. I have no experience in such matters, but I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to entice you to come."
His stomach jumped nervously as he awaited her reply.
It was a long time in coming. "My lord, I cannot give you a response today. Your offer was completely unexpected. I must have time to think about it. There's no question of my affection for your children, but I must come to a decision which is beneficial to my own future."
"Of course." She wouldn't come. She hated him too much. She wanted no part of a future fraught with bickering between herself and her employer. He sighed again. "If you were to come into my employment . . ." He could not bring himself to say
for she was, after all, the niece of an earl. " . . . I should attempt to make myself more agreeable to you."
She laughed. "That's a very kind thing to say, my lord. Especially since I well realize how difficult that would be for you. Because of my abrasiveness."
Now he laughed, too.
Sally was touched that Lord Sedgewick insisted on walking her back to Blankenship House. He really must have a strong desire for her to come into his service, a prospect she found as flattering as it was perplexing.
When she arrived at Blankenship House, Glee was entertaining callers, and since Sally had no desire to make pleasantries while still trembling from Lord Sedgewick's proposal, she cried off, saying she had letters to write.
In the lovely room Glee and Blanks had provided for her, Sally flung her pelisse on the satin counterpane, stormed to the gilded vanity, and gazed into her mirror. Just as she suspected, she looked wretched. She should have curled her hair this morning. Had she known she would see
today, she would have.
But, she reminded herself, she could rest easy that he had no interest in her as a woman. Most likely, he had no interest in any woman. Any living woman.
Therein lay her dilemma. Though the viscount would never think of her as anything but a sister, she was not immune to his virile attractiveness. She could never be with him and not have the fact of his undeniable masculinity slammed into her. She turned away from the mirror and strolled to the window. In a town house, a window either looked out over a street or over an alley. A pity her window looked over the empty alley.
She turned away and came to sit on the edge of her bed. Closing her eyes, she visualized Lord Sedgewick as he had looked when he offered her the position in his household. The square cut of his jaw, the deep cleft in his chin, the masculinity in his deep voice, all these things had the power to reduce her to an adoring idiot.
She tried to remember the exact words he had used. The chief enticement Lord Sedgewick had dangled in front of her—having charge of both his children—was tempting, to be sure. She had not been able to bear the idea that another woman would supplant her, and she had worried that the other woman would not love the children as dearly as she loved them.
Sally also reveled in the notion of turning out that grim-faced old stick, Hortense. The children had enough to overcome without having such an overbearing curmudgeon lording herself over them.
Sally smiled as she thought about the many fun things she could do with the children. She should put aside her feelings toward their father and tell Lord Sedgewick she would be honored to be given the responsibility of his children's care. After all, they needed her, and they loved her. As she loved them.
That she could even hesitate over the decision made her feel wretchedly guilty.
But she must make a rational decision, not one based on emotion. If she were not acquainted with Georgette and Sam, what would she do? No question about it, being a governess was far more flexible than teaching in Miss Worth's School for Young Ladies. Her exposure to society and her choice in clothes alone would be much broader were she to accept his lordship's offer. She had no doubts that Glee would continue to treat her as a cherished friend, rather than as her brother's servant. In his household, too, Sally would be treated with the respect due to one of her station—except, of course, when she was embroiled in one of her arguments with Lord Sedgewick. For despite his promise to get along better with her, she knew she was vinegar and he was water, and the two could never mix.
She was in an utter quandary. Were she to follow her heart, it would only be trampled on by the man she had loved always. She was not sure she could stand to be close to him, knowing a love between them could never be. At least if she went to Miss Worth's she could attempt to put memories of Lord Sedgewick behind her. If that were possible. Even during the three years of his marriage, she had never been able to gaze upon his golden good looks without suffering pain. Pain for that which could never be.
Then a most alarming notion crowded into her brain as she sat there on the bed, kicking off her satin slippers. Were she to turn him down and he engaged another genteel woman . . . what if the
woman had designs on George, er, Lord Sedgewick? What if the other woman seduced him?
Sally's heart drummed madly. How she detested that woman who did not even exist! She could not allow such a circumstance to occur.
Of course, there were no assurances that when his heart mended, George would not remarry. A woman of good birth who possessed both beauty and hefty purse might well capture his heart. Sally needed to face the likely possibility.
Now, though, she would put up her hair in curl papers because she would be going to the Upper Assembly Rooms tonight. And even though Lord Sedgewick no longer danced, he did come there to try his luck at hazard and cards, and he did partake of refreshments. And she wished to look her best in case he happened to glance upon her.
* * *
Since her husband now preferred the card room with George over dancing with his wife, Glee no longer cared for dancing. But for Sally's sake, she suffered stepped-on toes from her husband's chums, Appleton and the twins, who made certain neither she nor Sally lacked for partners at the Assembly Rooms that night.
Sally was well aware that Glee had hopes Sally could live happily ever after with one of Blanks's bachelor friends. They were all perfectly amiable, but thankfully none of them had yet to become enamored of her. Which was a very good thing, since she would never have been able to return their ardor.
After the tea break, Sally saw Lord Sedgewick. He strode past the card room, which was quite a departure from his usual habits. Her gaze riveted on him, she continued to watch his progress. He was coming to the ballroom! Her heart began to beat erratically, her hand flying to smooth her hair. Not that she expected him to give her a glance.
But to her complete surprise, he walked straight to her and bowed. "Would you do me the goodness of standing up with me this set, Miss Spenser?"
Her eyes round, she nodded. Lord Sedgewick was undoubtedly foxed. She could smell the port on him, and she could see the glassiness in his reddened eyes. And it hurt her dreadfully whenever she discovered he was back soaking, soaking to mend his wounded heart.
Her stomach flipped when he took her hand and possessively led her to the dance floor. When they faced each other in the longway, he nodded. "May I say you look lovely tonight, Miss Spenser? I rather prefer your hair curled."
She vowed to curl it the rest of her days. Even if his drinking upset her, she could not deny that the effect it had upon him left her very merry indeed.
When the set was finished, he put a hand to her waist and whispered into her ear. "Oblige me by strolling the octagon with me."
Too nervous to find her voice, she nodded and let him lead her to the adjoining chamber. When they reached the octagon, he offered her his arm, and she placed her hand upon it, fervently hoping he would not notice its trembling.
"I am prepared to do whatever it takes to secure you for my children," he began.
She had not known he valued his children so highly he would stoop to beg the outspoken Miss Spenser to come and live in his home. "Surely, my lord, you have not given your proposal significant reflection. Have you not considered how . . . how forthright I am in my . . . my criticism of you? I am persuaded you could not above half tolerate my tart tongue."
He threw his head back and laughed.
Which once again reminded her of his inebriated condition. "Even tonight," she said, "I am powerless to prevent myself from chiding you."
He gazed at her with dancing eyes and a crooked smile. "Chiding me for what?"
"For drinking so heartily when the evening is still so young."
He came to an abrupt stop and gave her an icy glare. "My drinking is none of your concern, ma'am."
Despite that her breath grew ragged, she forced a retort. "As your children's champion, I should be concerned over anything that would lessen your ability to be an exemplary father."
He continued to glare at her. "Am I given to believe that if you came into my service you would intend to govern me in the same manner you would the children?"
She couldn't answer him. For neither as his children's governess—nor as his sisters' friend—had she the right to berate Lord Sedgewick. But, as his children's governess, she knew she would never be able to hold her scathing tongue.
"Answer me, Miss Spenser," he said harshly.
"I have no right to reprimand your behavior, my lord."
He laughed a bitter laugh. "But you would wish to do so, would you not, Miss Spenser?" He gazed at her with his watery, red eyes.
She slowly nodded.
"Then I suppose you are right," he snapped. "Such an arrangement would never work."
Her heart sank. The matter was now out of her hands, and she wished it were not. She instantly regretted she would never have the pleasure of being governess to his children, never have the opportunity to live under his roof, never be able to see his face that she loved so dearly every day.
He offered her a stiff arm. Her eyes became watery as he walked her back to Glee and took his leave.
Immediately, she worried that in his rage—and in his cups—he would storm to the card room and play foolishly and lose everything he possessed. And it would all be her fault.
She almost went after him, to try to change his mind, but she realized it was for the best that she not come into his service.
When the Assembly Rooms closed at eleven, Glee went to the card room to find Blanks but was told he and George had left. "Oh dear," Glee said to Sally, "I suppose the stakes weren't high enough here for them. I do hope my brother doesn't lose his head."
Sally set a gentle hand on Glee's arm. Glee had no fears Blanks would lose his fortune, for her husband's pockets were enormously deep, but Sally knew Glee was upset that Blanks was spiraling downward with George. There was little doubt that the two men would drink heavily and game heavily well into the morning. A pity. Both men had been such happy homebodies . . . before Diana died.
Neither Sally nor Glee talked during the carriage ride back to Blankenship house. Glee was as morose as Sally, who took little consolation in the fact she and George had come to the right decision. Why could she not have taken the position and kept her mouth closed? Her wretched tongue had ruined everything.
* * *
The following morning Sally wrote her letter of application to Miss Worth's and, with heavy heart, posted it. Since she knew from Glee that Blanks—and therefore George—had not come home until very late, Sally decided to go see the babies. She had no fears of having to face their father.
On the way to their town house she stopped and bought a comfit for each child. When she arrived in the nursery, the children flew into her arms. She bent down and hugged each of them, then gave them their sweet. From the corner of her eye she saw Hortense's disapproving glare.
"'Twill make 'em sick," the sourpuss said.
Sally turned to her and smiled graciously. "Should you wish to take off an hour or so, I would be happy to mind the children." A pity The Curmudgeon could not permanently leave, Sally thought, though surely Hortense must hold the children in deep affection. After all, they had been in her care since the day they were born.