Laura Lee Guhrke

New York Times Best Selling Author of Historical Romance

Governess Gone Rogue

    Lady Truelove may be London’s most famous advice columnist, but James St. Clair, the Earl of Kenyon, knows his wild young sons need a tutor, not a new mother. They need a man tough enough to make his hellions tow the line, and James is determined to find one.

     Miss Amanda Leighton, former schoolteacher and governess, knows she has all the qualifications to be a tutor. And while female tutors are unheard of, Amanda isn’t about to lose the chance at her dream job because of pesky details like that. If Lord Kenyon insists on hiring a man, then she has only one option…

     Jamie isn’t sure what to make of his new employee, until he realizes the shocking truth – beneath the ill-fitting suits, his boys’ tutor is a woman. An unconventional, outspoken, thoroughly intriguing woman. Despite Amanda’s deception, he can’t dismiss her when his boys are learning so much. Yet Jamie, too, is learning surprising lessons—about desire, seduction, and passionate second chances…

CHAPTER ONE, SCENE TWO

Those who wanted to be polite would have deemed Amanda Leighton a woman of the world. Those not so inclined to civility would have called her something else, something much less romantic.

Either way, facts were facts, and though by the age of twenty-eight Amanda had lived in two different countries, earned a university education, found a profession, taken a lover, and lost her reputation, she had not gained the one experience society deemed worthwhile for those of her sex. Amanda had never managed to acquire a husband.

But then, she’d never really been in search of one. Her mother had died when she was a young girl, and she’d been raised by her father, a university professor who had scorned the traditional, marriage-minded, downright silly scope of a girl’s learning, and who had personally given Amanda a first-class education worthy of any boy. More important, he’d taught her to take charge of her own destiny, not by the use of feminine wiles, but by the employment of her intelligence.

She’d become a teacher, and for the seven years since then, she’d earned her living with her brain. Sadly, not every employer understood that the rest of Amanda’s body wasn’t for hire. When Mr. Oswald Bartlett put his hand on her in a way no employer ever ought to do, Amanda had demonstrated her scientific knowledge of male anatomy with the use of one well-placed knee. She had also, unfortunately, lost her job.

Not that being governess to Mr. Bartlett’s four daughters had been a particularly exciting post. How exciting could it be to teach four girls how to speak French, waltz, and curtsy, especially when neither they nor their parent ever envisioned for them anything more? Still, her position with the widower had provided her with a roof over her head, two meals a day, and a miniscule, but steady wage.

Now she was unemployed, and thanks to the knee, she was facing the search for a new post with no letter of character.

Amanda leaned back in her chair, looked up from her now-cold tea, and realized that the waitress who had served her in such friendly fashion half an hour ago was now eyeing her with impatience. The goodwill she’d purchased at Mrs. Mott’s Tea Emporium with one cuppa and one Bath bun was clearly gone, but Amanda continued to linger. It was far too early to give up for the day and return to her tiny flat, but where could she go?

She’d spent the past month presenting herself at every employment agency in London, to no avail. Though all had been impressed by her university education, none had sent her to interview for any governess posts. Her baccalaureate from Girton College seemed breathtakingly impressive until each agency made the inevitable inquiries and learned what had happened to her after departing that lauded institution. Once they discovered she was the same Amanda Leighton who had once taught at Willowbank Academy, whose reputation had been tainted by scandal, their eagerness to find her employment went straight out the window, and who could blame them?

Willowbank was England’s most prestigious academic school for young ladies, but when one of its teachers took the son of the school’s most generous and influential patron as her lover, well, that was a scandal for the ages, especially when no wedding followed in its wake. Her days as a schoolteacher had come to an end, for who wanted to put their daughters in the care of a woman tainted by scandal? Only Mr. Bartlett had been so inclined, and his reasons for hiring her were now, in hindsight, dismally clear.

These days, she was down to tutoring a few people in her neighborhood, but that wasn’t enough to pay rent and buy food, and if her present state of unemployment continued much longer, her meager savings would be gone. Sadly, her prospects for respectable employment were dim, and growing dimmer by the day.

All her father’s efforts, four years of university education, Tripos honors, two published papers, and seven years of teaching at one of England’s most lauded schools, all obliterated by one stupid mistake, and though she was glad her father hadn’t lived long enough to see it, she knew it shamed his memory. She also knew that mistake was one she ought never to have made. Aware, educated, with plenty of common sense and worldly wisdom, and yet, she’d fallen in love with a man because he’d said her eyes were like sunlight caught in the embrace of a dark forest. She’d never dreamed any man, even an aristocrat, could be so poetic. Or that she could be such a fool.

Amanda swallowed the last of her tea and glanced out the window again. Having pawned her watch a few days ago, she didn’t know the time, but it looked as if it was late enough that the evening papers were out, and she decided to see if any governess positions had been posted. Reading the papers without paying for them was tricky, but Amanda couldn’t afford to pay for them. The twelve pence in her handbag and the fifteen shillings hidden away in the tin under her mattress were all she had left.

If she didn’t find a post soon, she’d have to sell Papa’s books and her mother’s cameos. That would keep her in funds through autumn, but what would happen to her when winter came?

Fear shivered through Amanda, bringing her to her feet. Shoving dire thoughts of the future out of her mind, she put on her cloak, then took up the Bath bun that would be her evening meal, wrapped it in her handkerchief, and tucked it into her pocket. She paid her bill and left Mrs. Mott’s to find a newspaper seller, but she’d barely gone a block before the sign painted on a plate-glass window caught her eye, and she paused.

Deverill Newspapers Limited, the gilt lettering read. Publishers of the London Daily Standard and the Weekly Gazette.

Perhaps she was going about her employment search the wrong way, she thought, staring at the sign. What if, instead of looking through the posts being advertised, she placed her own advertisement, noting her credentials and offering her services as a governess? Mentioning Girton would gain her some inquiries, perhaps even some interviews, and if she could gloss over her past sufficiently, she might gain a post.

Action appealed to her far more than passively waiting for a job to come along, but another look through the window caused her to doubt the soundness of her idea, at least as far as this particular newspaper was concerned, for it seemed to be either going out of business or moving to a new location. Packing crates were stacked against the far wall and most of the furnishings had been removed.

Nonetheless, there was at least one person still on the premises, she noted, spying a tall man with blond hair who was rummaging through one of the crates that lay on top of the room’s only desk. He might be able to assist her.

She opened the door, and the man looked up, revealing a startlingly handsome countenance, but Amanda felt no jump in the pace of her pulse. Her affair with Lord Halsbury and the resulting disgrace had cured her of any romantic notions about men, handsome or otherwise, and besides, she had other priorities.

“Yes, miss?” He circled the desk and came toward her. “May I help you?”

“I’m not certain. I wanted to see about placing an advertisement, but—” She broke off and glanced around. “Is this newspaper out of print?”

“No, no,” he assured her, “though I suppose it appears that way at present. We are moving to larger premises today.”

“We?” Amanda echoed, noting his finely tailored suit as he halted before her. “You don’t look like a clerk or journalist.”

That made him laugh. “I imagine not,” he agreed, and offered a bow. “I am Viscount Galbraith.”

Amanda’s surprise deepened, and perceiving it, he laughed again, gesturing to the sign on the window behind her. “My wife, Clara, was a Deverill before she married me. She and her sister, the Duchess of Torquil, own this publishing company.”

“A business owned by women?” Amanda murmured, impressed. “That’s unusual.”

“They have a staff, of course, but everyone’s at the new premises just now, trying to get things settled before my wife and I leave for the Continent. I’m only here because I’ve lost my pocket watch, and my wife seemed to think she’d tossed it into one of these crates, so I’ve come in search.”

“Then I mustn’t keep you, my lord.” She gave a curtsy and moved to leave, but his voice stopped her.

“If you wish to place an advertisement, you can write it down, and I’d be happy to deliver it to a member of the staff.”

“I shouldn’t wish to give any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble. I’ll be going back to Fleet Street once I find my watch, and I can easily take your advertisement with me. I might even be able to supply you with writing materials.” He returned to the desk, rummaged through the crates, and pulled out a rumpled sheet of paper and a stubby lead pencil.

“Here we are,” he said, returning to her. “Not the best stationery, I fear, but it should serve the purpose.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, taking the offered paper and pencil from his outstretched hands. “You’re very kind. What is . . . the . . . ahem—” She broke off, her face heating, for she knew it was the height of vulgarity to discuss money matters of any sort with a peer, but she could see no other choice. “What is the rate for an advertisement?”

“The rate?” He gave her a blank stare for a moment, then he laughed, making it clear she hadn’t given offense. “Good Lord, I’ve no idea,” he confessed. “What do you think would be fair?”

“I don’t suppose free would be very fair, would it?” she quipped, but pride caused her to regret the half-joking words at once. “I wasn’t trying to cage,” she added at once. “I’m happy to pay the proper rate, of course.”

His keen blue eyes swept over her, surely noting the frayed hems of her cloak and skirt, but whatever he might be thinking, he didn’t express his thoughts aloud. “What if we say one halfpenny per word?” he asked. “With a three-day run?”

Even in her straitened circumstances, she could afford that, if she kept it short. Relieved, she gave a nod of agreement, and Lord Galbraith gestured to the long worktable beside the door, pulling out a swivel chair from underneath so that she could sit down.

“Now, if you will pardon me,” he said, pushing in the chair for her, “I must continue the hunt for my watch.”

He returned to the desk across the room, but he’d barely resumed rummaging through the crate before the door opened and another man came in, a man every bit as good-looking as the viscount, but as different from him as chalk from cheese.

Lord Galbraith had the countenance of a man who enjoyed life, a man of amiable temperament with an easy smile, a man whose fair coloring and flawless features seemed almost angelic.

There was nothing angelic, however, about the man who halted in the doorway. If this man had ever been an angel, he’d fallen a long time ago, and fallen hard.

Beneath the brim of a gray felt derby, his eyes were a clear, almost colorless green, the green of bottle glass—cool, translucent, and curiously devoid of any discernible emotion, softened into humanity only by the brown lashes that surrounded them, lashes that were long and thick and sinfully opulent.

There was nothing soft about the rest of his face, however. Its lean planes seemed to have been chiseled out of marble, as exquisitely sculpted and expressionless as any statue. There was a curious lethargy to his stance and an unmistakable weariness to the set of his wide shoulders, and to Amanda, it seemed a weariness of spirit rather than body. Though he was probably only a few years older than she, there were distinct lines etched into the edges of his mouth and the corners of his eyes, and though she couldn’t tell if those lines were borne of dissipation or suffering, they nonetheless told of a man who had seen it all and done it all and who wasn’t much interested in doing any of it again.

Those cool green eyes of his looked in her direction, then away at once, a glance devoid of any masculine interest. Most women would be insulted, she supposed with a hint of humor, but after Kenneth Halsbury and Mr. Bartlett, Amanda could only deem such indifference a relief.

“Ah, Jamie.” Lord Galbraith greeted the man in the doorway. “You received my note, I take it?”

“I did, and when I called at the new offices, Clara told me you’d come here, insisting I must speak with you at once. I’m dying to know what could be so urgent, so I came straightaway.” Despite this declaration, his drawling, well-bred voice displayed no curiosity.

“It’s about the boys.”

Something flickered in that weary, stone-hard countenance, a hint of life. He started toward the other man, his body moving with a sudden, disciplined energy that contrasted sharply with his former ennui.

“What about the boys?” he asked, his voice carrying a new urgency. “I’m almost afraid to ask,” he added as he halted across the desk, “but what do you know that I don’t?”

“They wrote a letter to the paper. I got it this morning.”

“My sons are writing to newspapers?” The man called Jamie relaxed, giving a laugh. “Is that all?”

“All?” Galbraith echoed. “You don’t even know what they were writing about.”

“Does it matter?” Jamie’s wide shoulders gave a dismissive shrug. “It’s one of their pranks, obviously. One of their more harmless ones, thank God.”

“You may not retain that opinion once you know what it’s about. And I don’t think it was a prank.”

“My sons are seldom serious about anything, Rex. They adore practical jokes. Why do you think they chew up and spit out their nannies with such exhausting frequency?”

“They wrote to Lady Truelove, asking for her advice on how to find a new mother.”

“What?” He stiffened, and even in profile, Amanda could see the amusement vanish from his face, replaced by dismay. “But they know I’ll never marry again. We’ve discussed it.”

“They seem to harbor hope your mind can be changed on the subject.” Galbraith reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “Read for yourself.”

“How can you be sure this is from my sons?” Jamie asked as he took the letter and unfolded it. “Did they sign it?”

“Only with the moniker, Motherless in Mayfair,” Galbraith answered. “But they included a return address so that Lady Truelove could reply, and unless you’ve moved out of the duke’s town house in the last day or two, or someone else’s motherless children have moved in, this letter was definitely written by your boys.”

“Of all the ridiculous, harebrained schemes they’ve hatched—” He broke off with a sigh, bent his head, and read the letter, then looked up again. “That tears it,” he said, tossing down the sheet in obvious exasperation. “I’ve had enough. I’m sending them to school.”

“Isn’t that a bit drastic? Writing to an advice columnist isn’t the most egregious thing they’ve ever done.”

“If by that you mean it’s not as bad as the time they set off firecrackers in the drawing room and caught the curtains on fire,” their father said dryly, “or when they put itching powder in my valet’s linen, I suppose I must concede the point.”

Amanda pressed her lips together to stifle a laugh. An enterprising pair of young men, she thought. Though also a bit naughty, it seemed.

“Still,” their father went on, “I suppose it’s a good thing they chose Lady Truelove as their confidante. Had they written to some other newspaper’s advice columnist, you wouldn’t have seen it and it would have been published.” He doffed his hat, tossed it on the desk, and raked a hand through his tobacco-brown hair. “I shudder to think what society’s reaction to that would have been. Motherless in Mayfair, twin boys who need a mum because they’re tired of all the nannies . . . everyone would know at once it’s my sons.”

“The boys do have something of a reputation with nannies.”

“A letter like that printed in the paper doesn’t bear thinking about. I’m the target of enough debutantes as it is.”

“A fate worse than death,” intoned Galbraith.

Jamie paid little heed to his friend’s amused rejoinder. “Few bothered with me when I was only the second son. As a mere MP with a modest income, I impressed no one, but now—” He broke off with a humorless laugh. “It’s amazing how much more appealing I am now that I’m next in line to be the Marquess of Rolleston. Poor Geoff hadn’t been gone a month before young ladies were commenting on my lonely widower’s life. The last thing I need is their pretenses of concern for my poor motherless boys, who are so desperate for maternal affection that they’re writing to newspapers.”

“No harm was done. Surely you’re not serious about sending them to school because of this?”

“Why shouldn’t I send them?” Jamie countered, a defensive note in his voice. “God knows, they’ve done enough to deserve it. And the timing’s ideal now that their latest nanny’s gone.”

“Another nanny already? What happened this time?”

“The same thing that always happens. They made the poor woman’s life a torment, and she decided she’d had enough.”

Amanda raised an eyebrow. Heavens, what did these boys do to their nannies? Given the firecrackers and the itching powder, she supposed anything was possible, but she had no opportunity to speculate on the topic, for Galbraith spoke again.

“The autumn term at Harrow has already begun.”

“They could still be admitted, if Torquil puts in a word.”

“Given that our brother-in-law is a duke as well as a Harrow man himself, I’m sure you’re right, but sending the boys in the middle of term would be terribly hard on them. Why not just engage another nanny?”

“After seeing a dozen nannies come and go during the past three years, I am forced to concede that no woman I could hire is capable of managing my sons.”

Amanda’s amusement deepened, and she wondered what this man would do if she piped up, declaring his contention totally wrong and demanding the chance to prove it as the boys’ next nanny. A tempting idea, but after a moment of consideration, she discarded it.

Though she was in desperate need of a job, it sounded as if this man’s misbehaving sons would soon be off to school, and no nanny would be required. And, as she had so recently discovered, working in a widower’s house put a woman in a very vulnerable position. Amanda slid a glance over the powerful frame of the man by the desk, concluded that he wouldn’t be as easy to incapacitate as the stout, middle-aged Mr. Bartlett, and decided she wasn’t quite desperate enough to put herself at risk of a man’s unwelcome advances again.

She forced her attention to her own task, and the voices of the two men faded as she stared at the blank sheet of paper before her. “Post wanted,” she scribbled. “Girton-educated woman seeks position as governess. Sober and respectable.”

She paused over the last word, biting her lip. Respectable? Such a lie, that, but what else could she say?

As she grasped for an additional word or two that would put her in the best light to potential employers, the viscount spoke, his insistent tone breaking into Amanda’s thoughts.

“Be honest, Jamie. Is school really the best solution? Or is it simply the most expedient?”

“Careful, Rex,” Jamie answered, and though his voice was light, there was unmistakable warning beneath the words.

Galbraith, however, did not take heed. “I realize being in the Commons takes most of your time. And it’s understandable that you want to keep occupied. Losing Patricia must have been a devastating blow, but it was devastating for the boys, too.”

“Do you think I don’t know that?” Jamie countered, his voice suddenly fierce. “Damn it, Rex, I know you adore giving out advice to all and sundry these days—”

Galbraith suddenly coughed, interrupting his friend’s irritation, and it was a moment before Jamie continued, and when he did, it wasn’t to chide his friend for offering advice. “At this point, I see no reason not to send them to school. They’re old enough to go.”

“Barely. And are you sure they’re ready for Harrow?”

Jamie gave a short, unamused laugh. “Better to ask if Harrow is ready for them. I shall be lucky if they last a term without being expelled.”

“You miss my point. Are they ready from an academic standpoint?”

Those words struck a chord, Amanda could tell, for Jamie muttered an oath and looked away.

“It would be difficult,” he admitted after a moment. “Nannies have managed to teach them the rudimentary subjects, of course—spelling, arithmetic, penmanship, a bit of French . . .” He paused, grimacing. “It’s not much, I know.”

“Not enough to prepare them for Harrow and Cambridge, certainly.”

“One can’t really expect much more from a nanny. And no woman can prepare a boy for Harrow and Cambridge anyway.”

Amanda barely managed to suppress a derisive snort. Heavens, if she’d believed such claptrap, she’d never have applied to Girton, much less graduated with honors. And Girton, she longed to inform his lordship, was a Cambridge school.

Before Amanda could give in to the impulse to say any of that, however, Jamie spoke again.

“What they need, I suppose,” he said slowly, “is a tutor.”

With those words, Amanda’s indignation vanished, and her chest tightened with longing. If only she could be a tutor.

Unlike governesses, tutors were men, and therefore, they were allowed—even expected—to teach subjects of substance, like mathematics, science, and history, not just French and how to waltz and curtsy.

But there was no point in wishing for such a post, so Amanda forced her attention back to her task. She read over her advertisement, added the address of her lodgings and a request that any interested parties write to her there, then she put down her pencil, satisfied. All that remained now was to pay for the ad, but when she looked across the room, the two men were still deep in their own conversation.

“Yes, but Jamie, it’s clear they wrote to Lady Truelove because they want a mother. Need one, too, if their behavior is anything to go by.”

“They had a mother, one mother. And she died. Any stepmother would never be anything but a second-rate substitute. They don’t need that.”

“But what about you? Do you ever stop to consider that a wife might be what you need?”

“That’s rich, coming from you, last season’s most notorious bachelor.”

“But I’m this season’s most happily married man.”

Jamie made a dismissive sound between his teeth. “You’ve been married a week. I hardly think it counts.”

“But it does, Jamie, because I know how lucky I am. My friend,” he added, his voice turning unmistakably grave, “Patricia’s been gone over three years, and you’ve been living like a monk ever since she died. And now that you’re in the Commons, you’re also working like a dog. Wouldn’t coming home to a wife be an agreeable thing after your long, hard days at Westminster? And it would be good for the boys, too.”

“Enough.” Jamie’s voice had not risen, but nonetheless, the word was like the crack of a whip in the nearly empty room. “I am not remarrying. Ever. I neither want nor need a wife, and the boys will have to accept that.”

Galbraith merely grinned in the wake of this unequivocal declaration. “You’re so out of temper these days. You may not need a wife, my friend, but you clearly need a woman. Badly.”

“Unless said woman is willing to offer herself up for an hour or so at some pleasure palace, I’m not a bit interested.”

With those words, Amanda’s cheeks began to burn, making her appreciate that though she might be a woman of the world, with both her innocence and her reputation lost to history, she was still capable of being embarrassed.

She gave a prim little cough, and the two men glanced in her direction. They looked away at once, but it was clear from their fleeting expressions of surprise that they’d completely forgotten she was in the room.

There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Jamie reached for his hat. “The only thing I need is a tutor who can prepare my sons for Harrow. I’d best get on with finding one.”

“I’m sure Merrick’s Employment Agency can provide you with some applicants. And I’ll ask Clara’s staff to place an ad for the post in our papers, to watch for tutor positions wanted, and to inform you at once if they see anything pertinent. Would Tuesday suit for conducting interviews?”

“Yes, though how the servants will manage the boys in the interim, I can’t imagine. Now that the rest of the family has decamped to the country, my valet, a footman, and the assistant cook are the only ones in the house. By the time Tuesday arrives, the twins will have run them all ragged, poor devils.”

“You could watch the boys yourself, for a change. Parliament’s in recess now.”

“Which doesn’t mean I’ve any free time.” Jamie picked up the letter his sons had written and shoved it into his breast pocket. “I’m off tomorrow for Windermere’s Friday-to-Monday. We’ve got to hammer out the details of my education bill. Colonel Forrester is insisting we make changes or we won’t have his support. And then, I have to spend a few weeks in York—”

“You’re always off somewhere when Parliament’s not in session. That’s half the reason those boys of yours are always in trouble.”

“I’ve had enough lectures from you, Rex, so do something useful before you and Clara go off on honeymoon, and help me find a tutor, will you?”

With that, Jamie donned his hat, gave a nod of farewell to his friend, and turned to depart.

Amanda quickly lowered her gaze to her advertisement, pretending vast interest in reading it as he walked past her toward the exit. I could apply for that post, she thought in vexation as the door closed behind him, if only I were a man.

Women, alas, could not be tutors, not to boys. It wasn’t done. And social conventions aside, she wasn’t willing to subject herself to the risk of unwelcome advances from a widower, even a grieving one who seemed uninterested in making any. And the widower in question didn’t believe a mere woman could manage his sons, so he’d never hire her anyway.

Galbraith’s steps sounded on the floorboards, approaching her, and Amanda came out of her reverie with a start.

“My apologies for ignoring you, miss,” he said, halting beside her chair as she stood up.

“No need to apologize, my lord.” Amanda handed him her ad and the borrowed pencil, then reached for her handbag. “One ha’penny per word, I believe you said? For three days?”

When he nodded, she opened her bag and extracted the nine pence required for her advertisement. “Will it be possible to insert this in the next three issues of the London Daily Standard?” she asked, placing the coins in his palm.

“Of course.” He glanced at the sheet of paper in his hand, then back at her. “Given your university education, I’d already have a post for you if you were a man,” he said, smiling as he looked up. “How unfortunate that a woman can’t be a tutor.”

“Yes,” she agreed with feeling, and turned away. “Very unfortunate.”