The Wicked Governess

By: Mary Lancaster
Blackhaven Brides Book 6

Chapter One

Caroline Grey hurried into the empty schoolroom. After the excitement of yesterday’s wedding, she had allowed her pupils a day of rest and expected no interruptions.

Sinking into the chair normally occupied by Lady Maria, the eldest of her three charges, she tore open her mother’s letter. But if she had hoped to chase away her unaccountable blue devils with cheerful news from her family, she was doomed to disappointment.

The cottage was cold, apparently, and coals expensive. The roof had sprung a leak, and no one would fix it for less than an extortionate fee. In the circumstances, it was no wonder that Eliza had taken herself off to Edinburgh for a fortnight to visit a friend. Poor Peter had developed the worst cold of his short life, and the doctor’s fee needed to be paid from the few pennies left. Her mother claimed none of that mattered to her, only it broke her heart when Peter cried for Caroline. In short, could she please send another few shillings.

Caroline closed her eyes. She would lay money on her sister Eliza having left because of Peter’s cold. She could never deal with illness. It irritated Caroline but hardly surprised her. She could even forgive the fact that Eliza’s trip had no doubt led to the money shortage, and that there would therefore be no new winter boots for Caroline this year either. After all, the old ones could be repaired again. What brought the helpless tears to her eyes was Peter’s illness and not being there when he cried for her. Churned with anxiety and longing, she laid her head on her arm and wept.

“Miss Grey? Where are my sisters?”

With a gasp of dismay, she sprang to her feet, hastily dashing her sleeve across her face as she spun to see her employer in the doorway. He should not even be here!

Lord Braithwaite had left the castle for London first thing that morning and taken his mother with him.

“My lord!” she exclaimed. “I did not expect… Has something happened?”

“Wretched coach broke a wheel not half an hour from here. We had to walk most of the way back until we could borrow another conveyance.” He peered at her. “Miss Grey, are you quite well?”

“Oh yes, perfectly,” she assured him, with another surreptitious swipe at her eyes. “I’m afraid I allowed the girls a morning away from lessons. After yesterday, they were too excited to settle, and I’m afraid they have probably gone to visit Lady Serena, I mean Lady Tamar, though—”

“Miss Grey,” he interrupted, frowning as he walked across to her. “What has upset you?”

Inevitably, his kindness produced another flood of tears which she tried in vain to swallow back down.

“Oh, it is nothing,” she whispered. “Merely, my little nephew is ill, and I feel helpless, but I’m sure it is not serious, so truly, this is silliness.” Drawing a shuddering breath, she again wiped her eyes.

The earl, who was normally aloof if civil, presented her with a handkerchief and a sympathetic smile.

“We all worry about distant family,” he assured her, and gave her shoulder a kindly pat.

“Miss Grey,” uttered a quite different voice from the doorway, icy with barely suppressed fury.

Caroline jerked away from the earl in what must surely have looked a guilty manner.

Lady Braithwaite, the mother of the earl and of Caroline’s pupils, swept into the room and deliberately closed the door.

“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded.

His lordship cast his eyes to the ceiling. “Of what mother?” he asked impatiently. “Miss Grey has been upset by news from home.”

“And that necessitates you sending your sisters away and cuddling her with the door closed?” her ladyship snapped.

“Oh for the love of… Mother, the door was not closed!”

“Then how come I had to push it open?” she retorted.

“The window is open.” Caroline gestured toward the open casement. “The draught must have blown the door. Forgive my weakness, my lady, my lord. If you will excuse me, I—”

“Society is unforgiving, Miss Grey,” the countess interrupted. “And where my daughters are concerned, I do not allow myself the luxury of ignoring appearances. Whatever the truth of your grief—or your designs upon my son—you are dismissed.”

Caroline’s mouth fell open. Her ears sang with shock. She barely noticed Lady Braithwaite’s regal exit, merely stared after her, speechless.

“Braithwaite!” the countess snapped.

The earl swore beneath his breath. “Excuse me,” he said grimly to Caroline. “Wait here.”

As he strode after his mother, Caroline doubted she was capable of doing anything but staying where she was. Slowly, she sank back into Lady Maria’s chair, wondering how on earth this could have happened.

From nowhere, from nothing, she was without a home, a post, a future. Without a reference, she had little hope of a respectable position in another household. She would have to spend the last of her money journeying to her mother, and then who would pay Peter’s doctor…?

This is not fair!

But she’d known for a long time that life was rarely fair. Not to the powerless.

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