Everyone has a type, and if yours just happens to be a dashing older gentleman (who usually come fully equipped with flexed jaw muscles and handsome salt and pepper beards) then this list of romances is right up your alley!
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Lady Alicia Ashbourne wrung her hands nervously. "Luke, I have wonderful news. We have found a governess for Emma. She's a splendid young woman; intelligent, beautifully mannered ... perfect in every way You must meet her at once and see for yourself."
Lord Lucas Stokehurst, the marquess of Stokehurst, looked up with an ironic smile. "So that's why you invited me here this afternoon. And I thought it was for my charming company."
For half an hour he had been plied with tea and small talk in the drawing room of the Ashbournes' Queen's Square estate. He had been close friends with Charles Ashbourne since their days at Eton. Charles was a sociable man who had the rare gift of always seeing the best in people -- a gift that Luke did not share. Discovering that Luke would be in London for the day, Charles had invited him to take tea when his business was concluded. As soon as Luke entered the drawing room, he had known from the Ashbournes' expressions that they were going to ask a favor.
"She's perfect," Alicia repeated. "Isn't she, Charles?"
Charles agreed with enthusiasm. "I would say so, m'dear."
"Since you had such poor luck with the previous governess," Alicia continued, "I've kept an eye out for a suitable replacement. You know how fond I've always been of your daughter, and since she has no mother of her own ..." She hesitated. "Oh, dear. I didn't mean to remind you of Mary."
Luke's dark face was expressionless. Several years had passed since the death of his wife, but it still hurt to hear her name. It would hurt until the day he died. "Go on," he said evenly. "Tell me about thisparagon."
"Her name is Karen Billings. Although she has lived most of her life abroad, she recently decided to make her home in England. She's staying with us until we can find her suitable employment. In my opinion, she's mature enough to provide the discipline Emma needs, but also young enough to befriend the child. I'm certain that once you meet her, you'll see how right she is for the position."
"Fine." Luke finished his tea and shifted on the brocade settee, stretching his long legs. "Send her references to me. I'll look through them when I have time."
"I would, but ... there's a little problem."
"Little problem," Luke repeated, lifting one dark brow.
"She has no references."
A touch of color rose from the lace collar at Alicia's throat. "She prefers not to answer questions about her past. I'm afraid I can't tell you the reason. It's a very good reason, though. You must trust me on that point."
After a short silence, Luke began to laugh. He
was a handsome man in his mid-thirties, with black hair and vivid blue eyes. His face was more notable for its masculinity than its beauty with a stern mouth and a nose that was well-shaped but a little too long. The smile he wore most often was that of a man who mocked his own importance. He had an air of cynical charm that others strove to copy. When he laughed, as he was doing now, the laughter never quite reached his eyes.
"Enough said, Alicia. I'm sure she's a fine governess. A treasure. We'll let some other family have the good fortune of employing her."
"Before you refuse, you must at least talk to her-"
"No," he said flatly "Emma is all I have. I want the best for my daughter."
"Miss Billings is the best."
"She's your latest charity project," Luke countered sardonically.
"Charles," Alicia pleaded, and her husband joined in the debate.
"Stokehurst," he said mildly, "what harm would it do to meet the girl?"
"It would be a waste of time." There was no mistaking the finality in Luke's tone.
The Ashbournes exchanged a glance of dismay Gathering her courage, Alicia approached him in a few halting footsteps. "Luke, for the sake of your daughter, won't you meet this woman? Emma is twelve years old ... on the verge of some rather wonderful and terrifying changes. She needs someone to help her understand herself and the world around her. You know I would never suggest someone who was unsuited for the position. And Miss Billings is such a special person. Let me run upstairs and fetch her. I promise it won't take long. Please."
Luke scowled, pulling his arm away from her hand. In light of her insistence, he couldn't very well refuse. "Bring her down before I change my mind.,
"You darling man." Alicia hurried out of the room, the elaborate draperies of her skirts swishing behind her.
Charles went to pour him a brandy. "Thank you. It's kind of you to indulge my wife in this matter. I don't think you'll regret meeting Miss Billings."
"I'll meet her, but I won't hire her."
"You might change your mind."
"Not a chance in hell." Luke stood and made his way past a multitude of tables cluttered with handmade ornaments and posy vases. He joined his friend at the carved mahogany sideboard and accepted the brandy snifter. Gently he swirled the amber liquid and gave Charles a wry sideways smile. "What's going on, Charles?"
"I don't really know," came the uncomfortable reply. "Miss Billings is a complete stranger to me. She appeared on our doorstep a week ago. No belongings, no baggage, not a shilling as far as I can tell. Alicia welcomed her with open arms, and won't tell me a deuced thing about the girl...
What People are Saying About This
Charming...I enjoyed it thoroughly.