Determined to help her oldest sister make ends meet, Louise Potter accepts a governess position in the northern part of England. If this means accompanying an older gentleman on his travels, then she will.
There’s only one problem: Louise is about to discover that her travelling companion is not the elderly man she expected, but rather seduction itself…
Alistair Langley has no desire to share his carriage with his niece’s newly hired employee. But the matron he expected to find at his door is instead a beautiful young woman, one he knows he can’t travel alone with. After all, he’s going to visit his brother who is pressuring him to marry and produce a Langley heir–or be cut off from inheritance. When he confides in Louise, together they form a plan. But the closer they become, the more temptation beckons…
Until finally a choice must be made: Love or money? Or is it possible to have both?
Lowering the letter she’d been reading, Louise Potter held the expensive sheet of paper between her fingers and glanced at both of her sisters in turn. “I have been accepted for the position. Lady Channing would like me to start immediately.”
“That is what you wish to do, is it not?” Josephine asked. At six and twenty, she was two years older than Louise and six years older than their youngest sister, Eve.
“It certainly is a welcome opportunity.” With the townhouse serving as their only inheritance, and Josephine working hard to make ends meet for all of them, Louise wanted to find a way to help her older sister. As a result, she now had the chance of becoming a governess to three young children. “My only regret is I shall miss Christmas with the two of you.”
“Perhaps the countess will allow you to see us on that particular day?” Eve suggested.
Louise bit her lip. Her employment would require a major move, which was something she hadn’t yet mentioned to either of her sisters. “I’m afraid not. If I’m lucky, I shall be able to come to Town during the spring and part of the summer while the Season is underway. Otherwise, most of my time will be spent near Whitehaven.”
Her sisters stared at her. “I forget where that is,” Eve finally said.
“I believe it is in the north,” Josephine told her.
Louise nodded. “It is indeed.”
Eve’s mouth dropped open. “But then we shall never see you again!”
“As I mentioned, I might return to Town once Parliament opens and the Radcliffe family chooses to relocate to their London home.” She paused to consider their unhappy faces. “Unless I decline the offer and remain here. I can do so if you are loath to see me go.”
“No.” Josephine quickly smiled, though the effort did appear slightly strenuous. “You have been given the chance to accept respectable employment with a highly regarded aristocratic family. Neither of us will stand in your way.”
“Are you certain?” Louise was beginning to doubt her own resolve.
Travelling north had seemed like a grand adventure until she’d told her sisters about it. They’d never been apart before, and since their father’s death, they’d been especially dependent upon each other, not only to get through the grief, but also to find a way forward in the following whirlwind of chaos.
Louise’s grandfather had been the third son of an earl. As such, he’d gone into law and had eventually, upon his death, left his thriving practice to his son. But he had not been as skilled a barrister as his father, nor did he have a head for the business. After he lost a string of cases, clients had chosen to seek counsel elsewhere. As time had progressed and the funds had dwindled, the larger houses had been sold and the meeker residence where Louise and her sisters now lived had been purchased instead. But even this house would be lost to Louise and her sisters unless a decent income could be secured. Especially since their uncle, the current Earl of Priorsbridge, had neglected to take on his responsibility as their guardian.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for you,” Josephine said. Meeting Louise’s gaze, she did not need to say the money her work would produce could ease their concerns. Instead, she asked a practical question. “When do you intend to leave?”
“Tomorrow.” Knowing how surprising this comment was, Louise hastened to say, “The countess has offered conveyance if I do. It seems her uncle, Lord Alistair, will be travelling up then as well, so it has been suggested we go together for practical reasons.”
“I suppose doing so would provide you with a better carriage for such a long journey,” Josephine said. “But is it wise for you to travel alone with a man whom you’ve never met before?”
Louise made a face. “At my age?” She shook her head. “You know as well as I that I am almost as firmly on the shelf as you are. And since I am not a young lady with marriageable prospects but rather a soon to-be-governess, I dare say no one will think much about it. Not to mention this uncle must be at least fifty years old considering the countess’s age.”
“How can you possibly know her age?” Eve asked. “It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing she would share in her letter to you.”
“Quite right,” Louise told her, “but her eldest son is eleven, so I can make an intelligent guess.”
“I suppose that is true,” Josephine murmured. “Which means you’re probably right about Lord Alistair. Besides, I doubt the countess would suggest his escort unless she was sure you’d be safe in his presence.”
Louise agreed. “It is settled then?”
“I believe so.” Josephine said.
Her remark propelled Louise to hug both her sisters. She then hurried on through to her room and pulled her valise out from under the bed. It was time for her to start packing.
Enjoying a last minute brandy in his study, Alistair Clay Hedgewick, considered his niece’s request to bring her new governess with him to Whitehaven. He groaned at the prospect of it–of having to spend a week with a middle-aged spinster instead of alone in his own company as he’d been expecting. Dreading it, he took another sip of his drink. It was a bit early in the day to be imbibing, but under the circumstances he felt he needed the fortification before setting out in another half hour.
He glanced toward the clock on the fireplace mantle. An hour had passed since he’d sent his carriage to collect her, so she should be arriving at any moment. A knock sounded at the door, and Alistair called for his butler to enter.
“My lord,” Mr. Fox said while maids and footmen scurried around behind him, gathering last minute items in need of packing. “Miss Potter has arrived. Would you like me to show her in?”
Alistair considered the question. He could hardly say no, could he? It was tempting since doing so would allow him that extra half hour of peace before embarking on a journey that would force him to stay on his best behavior. Taking his shoes off and relaxing his feet would not be possible. Nor would sleeping, since he had no desire to snore in her presence. In fact, he was giving up a great deal of comfort for a woman he’d never met and did not care about.
“Very well,” he sighed, before downing the rest of his drink and rising. He might as well meet his travelling companion, he reasoned, since it was the polite thing to do. Like it or not, he always strove to do what was right and play the part of the well-mannered gentleman, no matter how impractical or aggravating it could be. His behavior, however, reflected not only on him but on his entire family, and being called to task by his brother was something he always tried to avoid.
Mr. Fox returned. “Miss Potter,” he said, before stepping aside so a slim woman, wearing a grey gown and a matching pelisse, could enter. On her head, she wore a straw bonnet beneath which he was able to spy a golden display of neatly combed hair. But what shocked him the most was her face, because it did not belong to the middle-aged, rotund matron he’d envisioned, but rather to the angelic youthfulness of a woman in her prime. More than that, she was the perfect picture of beauty, her delicate features lending an elegance even the highest ranking ladies of society lacked. Her eyes, he noted, were a bright glow of hazel while her lips, parting now with undeniable surprise, were the sort men dreamed of in their wickedest fantasies.
Aware he was staring, he gathered his wits, schooled his features, and stepped toward her. “Miss Potter, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
She gaped at him. “Are you Lord Alistair?”
“The one and only.”
She shook her head. “You can’t be.” Glancing around as if seeking another gentleman, she gradually returned her gaze to him when none was to be found. “You…you…” Waving her hands as if hoping to fashion the necessary words, she finally blurted, “You are twenty years younger than you ought to be!”
She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor’s degree from Parson’s School of design, but most impressive of all – she’s been married to the same man three times, in three different countries and in three different dresses.
While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion – writing.
When she’s not busy, dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading. She currently lives on the East Coast.