Handfasted (To Love a Governess Novella)

 

 

Handfasted

(
To Love a Governess Regency Novella)

 

 

By

 

Jane Charles

 

 

 

 

 

The characters, places and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or
dead,
is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

 

Handfasted

Copyright © 2011 by Jane Charles

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—withoritten permission.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Blackrig, Scotland

“Please, you must take me with you.” Katrina Clark ran after Lord Timothy Strotham.
 

He stopped in the middle of the street and spun on his heel to look at her. His green eyes grew hard behind the wire rimmed specticals and his jaw clenched before he spoke.
 
“It is highly improper. Your reputation would be ruined and, I have no wish to begin in a new town with the residents questioning my morality.” He pivoted and marched across the street.
 

“The residents of Middleton will never know.
 
Just leave me in Willanton and carry on.” Katrina clasped the letter tight, afraid the wind would pull it from her grasp. That parchment held the answers she hoped for, had been waiting for. Now, all she had to do was convince Strotham to help her, but that man was more stubborn than anyone she had met. And she’d met plenty of stubborn Scots since moving to Scotland with her father when she was fourteen.

“It is out of my way. I won’t even go through Willanton,” he called over his shoulder, not even bothering to turn and look her in the eye.
 

She would not be dismissed so easily.
 
“Only a few miles, barely an inconvenience.”
 
And if all goes as planned, you will be happy for the delay.
At least from what she understood, few men objected to seduction when there was no threat of a permanent commitment.
 
He would enjoy the dalliance (she hoped) and she would finally experience the things she read about and pictures she’d seen in the books she found secreted away in her father’s shop.

Strotham entered the tea house and Katrina followed him through the door.
 
The aroma of strong coffee along with fresh baked breads and cakes permeated the air. Katrina’s stomach tightened. She hadn’t eaten today and a hot cup of tea would take away the chill. But first, she needed to make Strotham understand.

The McGregor Coffee H and Tea Room came to be when Mr. and Mrs. McGregor couldn’t come to an agreement over a coffee house or tea room, and settled on both, which the residents now referred to as the tea house.
 
When he took his seat at a small table among the dozen throughout the room and noticed her, his face hardened again.
 
Mrs. McGregor was responsible for decorating and Strotham did look a little out of place at the small table, covered with a lacy cloth and the dimity curtain framing his blonde hair against the backdrop of a window.
 

He took the spectacles away from the green depths of his eyes. For a moment Katrina forgot to breathe.
 
Such beautiful eyes.
 
It was a shame he hid them behind glass, or perhaps it was safer for the female population that he did.
 
A golden lock fell across his brow and she wanted to brush it back into place.

Strotham pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and polished the lenses, ignoring her presence as she approached his table.
 
Though it was wise not to carry on this conversation in public, she had no other choice.
 
He certainly wouldn’t discuss it with her in private. She had already tried several times.

Without being invited, Katrina slid into the seat directly opposite just as he adjusted the rim of his glasses across the bridge of his nose. She leaned forward and continued in a hushed tone.
 
“You don’t understand.
 
I need to get to Willanton in ten days or I could lose the position.”

“I don’t see why you need to go anywhere, Miss Clark.”

She straightened. “What would you have me do?”

His hand rubbed over his chin as if he were giving it some thought. “I am sure there is something for you here.”

“You know there is not.”
 
No longer did she bother to speak quietly.
 
“I was a governess before my father died.
 
For the last two years I have run Clark’s Book Shop and Lending Library, until you . . .” She stopped.
 
It wasn’t Strotham’s fault the store had to be sold.
 
Once she took over after her father died the customers dwindled and eventually stopped coming in or renewing their subscription.
 
There was nothing for her to do but to sell the shop and the contents. Strotham had purchased most of those wonderful books and was taking them south.
 
“Before it had to be sold.”

“There are no governess positions available any closer?”
 

At least he didn’t suggest she open another shop.
 
If she made dresses it would be perfectly proper to be a proprietor of such an establishment.
  pan>But to own and operate a book store was scandalous, at least to the residents of Blackrig. “No, there isn’t.”
 
Drat that man for not going along with her plans and being so difficult. There were some very good reasons she wanted Strotham to take her to Willanton and no one else, she just couldn’t voice the reasons to him, and certainly not in the tea house common room they were sitting in.
 
That would be scandalous.
 
As he would be passing near the very town she needed to get to in ten days, it was a reasonable request.
 

“Miss Clark, I cannot possibly allow you to accompany me in my carriage all the way to Willanton. That is at least a three day trip.”

Three days in which I could finally be alone with you and possibly explore the secrets of intimacy.
 
“No one will know.”

He arched a brow at her.
 
“The good people of Blackrig will know.”

“Very well.
I’ll simply take a public coach.”
 
It wasn’t much of a threat, but it was the only thing she could think of at the moment.
 

“You most certainly will not.”
 
Katrina looked up to find Mrs. McGregor standing at their table, one fist locked on her hip and the other hand holding a plate of biscuits.
 
“You are a lady.”

“My father was a shopkeeper.” Katrina rolled her eyes.

“His father was a baron. . .”

“And my mother’s father is an Earl.” As if it made her more important than anyone else of her acquaintance. Perhaps if she were in London such connections would be important, but she preferred being far away from that city and living simply as a bookshop owner’s daughter and sometimes governess.

“Why don’t you go to your grandfather?”
 
Strotham’s eyebrows rose in interest.

Is that all it took to get his attention?
Some connection to society?

“The baron died several years ago.
 
My uncle inherited, but I haven’t spoken to him since my father passed.”
 
She picked a biscuit up from the plate Mrs. McGregor placed in the middle of the table.
 
“Besides, the family isn’t well off, even if he does have a title. I would only be a burden.”

“I meant, your mother’s father.”
 
Strotham picked up his cup of coffee, blew into the contents before he took a sip.
 

Clearly the man didn’t know her family history.
 
Just the thought of seeing her grandfather caused her body to tense.
 
“If I were starving I wouldn’t go to that man for a crumb.”
 
Though she had never met her grandfather, she still grew indignant on her mother’s behalf. “He rejected my mother when she chose my father, a mere baron’s third son over the landed, future viscount he had picked out.
 
My mother chose love and her father never forgave her for not doing her duty for the family.”
 

Her tone must have been harder and
more bitter
than she realized because Strotham placed his cup back in the saucer and sat back.
 
“Very well, but have you considered he may have had a change of heart.”

“It doesn’t matter. He wasn’t there when my mother and father needed help and I refuse to acknowledge him now.”

“But, dear,” Mrs. McGregor interjected. “You can’t travel in a public coach. It is too dangerous.”

“What would you have me do, Mrs. McGregor?”
 
Katrina threw up her hands and looked up to the older woman. Did nobody understand her predicament?
 
She had few funds after she paid her debts with the money Strotham gave her for the contents in the shop.
 
“I cannot afford a carriage for myself, nor do I know of, or can afford, a companion.”

She tore apart the biscuit on her plate in frustration without taking a bite. She was no longer hungry.
 
“If Strotham doesn’t allow me to accompany him I will be unable to travel to Willanton in time for my interview and will have no opportunity to get another position as a governess. If I cannot obtain another position, I will soon be living on the street because the new tenants will take up residence in
my
house and in
my
bookshop in two weeks.”

“Oh, dear.”
Mrs. McGregor wrung her hands together.
 
“I don’t know of any solution to your predicament.”

Strotham unfolded the paper he carried in and opened it, hiding his face completely. He may be finished with the conversation but she was not.

“If Strotham would only let me ride along I wouldn’t be in a predicament.”

“He is right, dear.
 
What would the good people of Middleton think? He wants to open his own bookstore and if the townspeople thought ill of him, then he may not do a very good business.”

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