The Duke’s Last Governess (Preview)


Chapter One

 “So, now that we know how poetry works, I’d like you to write me a poem,” Sophia Fielding said to her young pupil, Adam, who sat listlessly at his desk eyeing her like she had two heads.

The lad wasn’t exactly thrilled with her, their subject of the day being poetry. He didn’t enjoy writing, which was an absolute pity, seeing as how he was fairly gifted when he gave it a chance. But his father, Baron Colshire—who was insistent on him pursuing a good education—wasn’t interested in him truly learning the arts, of course. Why would he be? The lord of the manor expected his son to follow in his footsteps. Baron Colshire emphasized a focus on arithmetic, wanting Adam to be able to successfully manage the taxes, fines and dues of the estate.

“Writing poetry?” Adam scoffed. “What will that teach me, miss?”

“It will teach you how to rhyme, of course!” Sophia insisted. “Plus, writing can be quite enjoyable.”

“For you, maybe,” Adam huffed, and Sophia stifled a laugh. “Men don’t write poetry, and certainly not heirs to barons. I don’t have time for any of that girly stuff.”

“You’re being silly,” Sophia insisted, handing him some paper and a quill. “As if barons have no life outside of their duties. Some of the best poets have been men, Adam. Quite a few of them were even part of the ton as well.”

“Name three,” Adam challenged, and Sophia buckled down and took the challenge.

“Lord Byron, John Keats, William Blake, William Woodsworth—”

“Alright, alright. Show off,” Adam joked, leaning back in his chair. “But I don’t even know what I should write about,” Adam said, shaking his head. “All these flowery words make my head dizzy.”

“It doesn’t have to be some grand, honeyed poem about love or what have you,” Sophia replied. “It can just be a poem about something you like.”

“Well, I like playing hockey with my friends outside when Father allows it,” Adam murmured, twirling the quill in his hand.

“That’s it then! Something you like and are passionate about, my dear. It doesn’t have to be some big, romantic thing. You can just write about things that inspire you. I like to write poems about gardening, myself. I’m not much for romance.”

“Fine,” Adam replied, resigned to his fate as the quill began to dance and bounce on the paper in front of him. A poem about hockey was a queer one indeed, but if that’s what it took to get the wheels turning, Sophia decided she would surely take it. It was almost comical to watch him. His concentration was so deep that his tongue waggled out the side of his mouth like an excited young pup.

“There!” Adam said as he handed Sophia his poem, looking quite proud of himself as she read it over out loud.

“Oh, how I would rather be, outside playing hockey. Scoring goals is so much fun. We keep playing until we’ve won. Sometimes we lose and but that’s okay, the game is quite exciting to play…Wonderful, Adam! The rhyming is very good!” Sophia said as she read over the parchment, pleased with the way that Adam was blossoming under her tutelage.

She had been with the Colshire’s for quite some time, teaching Adam the ins and out of the three R’s—reading, writing, and arithmetic. Adam himself was an incredibly bright child, and she enjoyed spending time with him, even if that was really her only social interaction.

“Now, wash up, I’m sure we are nearing suppertime,” Sophia said to Adam, hanging up his poem in front of his desk.

“Yes, Miss Sophia,” Adam said with a grin, seemingly proud that she’d thought it good enough to hang up. Sophia was a soft soul, and felt that no matter what, positive encouragement was the key to good education.

Adam scurried through the door, and as he did, another familiar face came in behind him. Mister Barringer, the baron’s faithful butler, wore his usual well-fitted black waistcoat, peppered trousers, and black dress coat.

“Ah, Mister Barringer, I wasn’t expecting you to be there. You nearly gave me a fright!” Sophia giggled, cleaning up Adam’s desk.

“My apologies, miss,” Mister Barringer replied. “But there is an urgent matter requiring your attention, I’m afraid.”

“An urgent matter?” Sophia queried, confused by the very phrase. Her chest tightened as she stood there, her brain scattering every which way.

“The baron would like to see you, miss,” Mister Barringer replied. Sophia noted he seemed to look almost forlorn as the words slipped from his tongue, unsettling her even further. She was merely Adam’s teacher, after all, and a baron had no time or use for conversing with a governess—as long as she was doing her job. Had she done something wrong?

“O-oh,” Sophia said, throwing some scraps of paper in the bin and wiping her hands nervously on her dress. “Where is he?”

“The drawing-room,” Mister Barringer replied. “And do hurry, Miss Fielding. He doesn’t like it when anyone dawdles.”

Sophia gave Mister Barringer a quick nod as she felt her stomach twist and turn into knots. The walk to the drawing-room felt like it took a hundred years. As she got there, she saw the baron sitting by the fire, the light from the flames dancing off his pointed nose and indented chin as he casually sipped his wine.

“M-My lord,” Sophia stammered. “I was told you wanted to see me.”

“Ah, yes, Miss Fielding, do come in and have a seat over there.” Baron Colshire waved with his hand to an empty chair in front of him, and Sophia felt heavy as she sat. “You and I have a matter that needs addressing. A bittersweet one, at that.”

“Have I done something wrong, sir?” Sophia replied, a lump forming in her throat.

“Not at all,” the baron replied with a smile. “In fact, you’ve done quite the opposite. Adam is doing so well scholastically. He shows me all the amazing work you two have done, and his marks are extraordinary.”

“Why, thank you, my lord. I do try my best. Your son is a very gifted child.”

“Indeed,” the baron said with a nod, taking a sip of his drink. “That is why this moment is a bit poignant, my dear. You see, I will be enrolling Adam in boarding school early, as he is way ahead of most boys his age. I think it would do him some good to get in there, learn more structure and manners, especially as he is my heir.”

The baron’s words droned on, but Sophia felt like she was miles away, her heart dropping into the pit of her belly. He was sending Adam off a whole year early, something that Sophia had not expected nor accounted for. She’d squirreled away as much money as she possibly could, but there was no way that she could possibly afford to move out on her own on such short notice.

“He will be leaving once the school year starts, so, not much longer to be quite honest. Though not to worry—you have been exceptional, and I will give you only the best of references!”

Though she knew the baron meant well, she couldn’t help but feel frustrated. How could the baron, after all her years of service, just drop her so quickly? Without so much as care or thought to where she would go or what she would do? It just seemed so…cruel.

“Thank you,” Sophia replied, bowing her head in respect, though in her head she screamed and cried and carried on in a very unladylike way. “It has been a pleasure teaching your son.”

Before the baron could say anything else, she turned on her heels and headed to her bedchamber, resisting the urge to slam the door as she flopped onto her bed. Sophia grabbed her pillow and held it tight, sobbing into it so no one else could hear her tortured wails. She lamented over what exactly she would do. It wasn’t like governess jobs just fell in one’s lap, and with no time to line up her next position, there would be a gap in employment…and that meant no money.

After her father’s untimely death eight years ago, Sophia had been left with not a penny to her name—despite her father’s prestigious position in life. He had been a well-known solicitor, working with many of the ton and common folk alike. Her mother, too, had passed years ago, not surviving her birth. Even so, she didn’t want to be a burden on what family she did have left.

So much for being independent, Sophia thought to herself as she begrudgingly got up, went to her desk, and began to pen a letter to her aunt and uncle. Though she felt in her heart she didn’t want to go back—not that her aunt and uncle were bad people, nor would they mind having her around to help, but she enjoyed her own sense of liberation and self-sufficiency—she knew she had no choice. Plus, the embarrassment of it all was far too much to bear. To be sent home, jobless, without any sort of prospects?

How absolutely pitiful.


Chapter Two

Ethan yawned as he sat up and stretched. Pulling back the covers, he was met with the cold chill of the morning air. Another dreary day out there, Ethan thought to himself, sighing as he stared out the window. Another night, another vicious dream that woke him over and over, haunting him the moment he closed his eyes. But there was no time for crawling back in bed. There were ledgers to be gone through and things to be taken care of, and a duke had no time to sleep in. Regardless of the lack thereof the night before.

He rifled through his closet and got dressed, trying to shake off the nightmares that were still fresh in his mind as he glanced himself over in the mirror. His eyes looked hazy, purple-rimmed and puffy as he fixed his high collar, and he frowned as he combed through his messy, ash blonde hair.

“At least no one of note will have to see me like this,” Ethan mumbled to himself before walking down the hallway towards his office, almost running over the maid as he lumbered warily along.

“Oh, my apologies, your Grace,” Adele, his late wife’s former lady’s maid apologized.

“No, no, it’s my fault,” Ethan replied with a weak smile. “My head is a bit in the clouds today, I’m afraid. How are the children doing this morning?”

“Quite well, your Grace. They are working with the governess as we speak.”

“Excellent,” Ethan said with a smile. The triplets were his only real source of happiness anymore. Jacob, Jane and Julia were the lights of his life. They reminded him of the late duchess every time he looked at them, all of them born with her ebony locks and jade green eyes. They were a loveable though a mischievous lot, but he hoped that, with a woman’s touch, their unruly behavior could be stifled.

“Is there anything I can get you?”

“Hmm…some tea might be nice,” Ethan replied. “Hopefully the warmth will perk me up.”

“Yes, your Grace.” The maid bowed as she ran off to fetch his tea. He set up in his office and sat down, rifling through the pages of mess on his desk.

“Had I really left it like this last night?” Ethan asked himself, shaking his head. “It’s no wonder I’ve been having nightmares when I leave one here right in front of me.” Ethan began sifting through the pages, reorganizing the mess, and then going through the newest ledgers to check profits and calculate expenditures.

“Here’s your tea, your Grace,” the housemaid said as she returned, setting the small, steamy cup upon the duke’s desk.

“Why, thank you, Adele,” he replied as he took a sip, relishing the taste. “You make a perfect cup every time.”

“Only the best for you, your Grace.” Adele smiled. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Not unless you know how to go through these ledgers,” Ethan said with a laugh, taking another sip of his tea. Adele was a good maid—a great one, even—but she seemed to always be hovering. Always a worried look on her face as if he might break at any moment. Sometimes looking at her made his heart hurt, making him want to rid his world of yet another reminder of what had been lost. However, he knew that wasn’t the right thing to do, and a rather illogical, emotional thing to do at that. She was still good at her job, and good maids were hard to find.

“Mmm…that’s not my area of expertise,” Adele said with a soft beam, shaking her head.

“I thought not,” Ethan replied. “Has the laundry been done?”

“No, sir,” Adele said with a frown. “I’ll get right on it.” As Adele’s shoes clicked into the distance, Ethan went back to looking over the profit margins for the lands that were part of his estate. He sighed as he went through the numbers, making sure everything appeared to be on track. Ethan was so tired that the words and numbers seemed to blur together, and for a moment, he debated heading back to the comfort of his chambers.

A while later, footsteps echoed in the hallway and he sighed as he heard them coming towards his study. While he appreciated Adele taking him into consideration more since his wife’s death, sometimes her fussing became a bit too much for him.

“Adele, I told you I don’t need anything else,” Ethan called out from his seat in response to the knock at the door, his eyes never moving from the papers in his hand.

“Well, sir, it is I who needs something from you, actually.” Ethan spun around in his chair, surprised that his butler stood before him instead of the late duchess’s wayward maid.

“What seems to be the trouble, Mister Pembrooke?” Ethan asked, curious as to why the butler had come to his study. Mister Pembrooke wasn’t one to just come in willy-nilly. He was a very professional man, even on the rare occasions that he and Ethan had drinks together in the drawing-room when everyone else was asleep. He’d been the family’s butler for as long as Ethan could remember. With Ethan’s father gone, he’d become closer than one should to the help. Had it not been for Mister Pembrooke, Ethan may have crumbled completely long ago. The pressures of the dukedom and the loss of both his father and his wife were harsh burdens to bear.

“Well, your Grace, I am sorry to disturb you, but the governess is currently lugging her trunk towards the door.”

“Whatever do you mean?” Ethan asked, stunned at the information. “Why would she possibly be leaving?”

“It’s the triplets, your Grace,” Mister Pembrooke stammered. “They’ve gone unruly again. Miss Guinevere is beside herself this time, and she’s claimed she wants nothing more to do with the position.”

“Damn it,” Ethan groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. He could only imagine what they could have done now to chase yet another governess off. This was the fourth one in a years’ time, in fact. “Do you think I can save this one?”

“I’d say that’s very unlikely, your Grace. She wishes to give her resignation face to face.”

Ethan groaned as he stood up from his chair, pushing it back and then brushing past Mister Pembrooke and through the door. What had the children done this time? Put a frog in her teaching bag? Glued her to her seat? A million different pranks whirred through his mind as he reached the door. He spotted Miss Guinevere standing there in her usual black dress, uncharacteristically wearing a hat.

“Good morning, your Grace,” the older woman said, her bottom lip trembling as she appeared to hold back tears.

“My apologies, Miss Guinevere. I don’t know what they’ve done now, but I can assure you we can fix it.”

“There is nothing left to fix, your Grace. Those children are unteachable. They’re unruly and, dare I say it, possessed!” Miss Guinevere yowled, catching Ethan off guard.

Surely, they were quite the handful, Ethan thought to himself, but possessed?

“Miss Guinevere, I understand you are quite upset. I know my children aren’t perfect, but that sounds a bit…mad.”

“I’m the one who’s mad?” the governess wailed as she took off her hat, revealing the atrocity the triplets had committed. “They waited until I slept and then took the craft scissors. They butchered my hair! I look absolutely hideous!”

Ethan stood there bewildered at Guinevere’s once long, flowing, peppered locks, which were now shorn. The cuts were all uneven, going every which way, all in varying lengths

“Oh…good lord…” Ethan gasped, putting a hand to his mouth. The triplets had really done it this time, and if word were to get out about their impish deeds, they may never see another governess again.

“And that’s not all,” Miss Guinevere spat, opening up her case and taking out two dresses, which had notably been her favourites. “They shredded these to ribbons!” she whimpered, throwing one of them at him. As he held it up, the light from the doorway exposed every little slit and hole as she shook the other at him furiously. “These children don’t need a governess; they need a beast handler!”

“I can replace those,” Ethan replied, clearing his throat and trying to think of a way to get her to stay. “I can also double your pay if you stay on with us.”

Ethan’s mind zoomed, trying to think of ways to get her to stay. He needed a governess to teach the children, to help keep them in line so he could continue to do his work. Although he loved his children dearly and cherished the time he did get to spend with them, balancing the running of the dukedom with being a single father was far too much for his plate. They desperately needed the guidance only a woman could give.

“You cannot replace those dresses. My mother made those for me before her death. And stay? With these monsters? I think not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall take my leave. I have to see if I can fix this absolute tragedy upon my head. Good day, your Grace.”

With that, Miss Guinevere slammed the door before Ethan could get another word in edgewise, causing him to flinch as he hung his head in defeat.

“I tried to warn you, your Grace,” Mister Prembrooke chimed in from behind, and Ethan rolled his eyes.

“You didn’t tell me it was that bad,” Ethan groaned, throwing the tattered dress to the floor in frustration as he caught a glimpse of the three troublemakers peering from around the corner. Ethan shot them an annoyed look and the children fled, their little feet scurrying as they ran to their rooms and slammed their doors shut. He considered following after them but was so flabbergasted and exasperated that he thought better of it.

“I didn’t realize it was that bad, your Grace, I swear it. I just assumed it was another one of their foolish games that set her off. Not…that,” Mister Pembrooke replied.

“Ahhhh!” Ethan breathed, stamping his foot angrily as he ruffled his hair. “Now what am I to do? This is the fourth one just this year!”

“Well, I can try my hand at helping with the children, if it settles your nerves, your Grace.”

“No, no,” Ethan sighed. “I need you here keeping an eye on the other staff. You don’t have time for other things. Though I guess I’ll need you or Adele to watch them in my stead, seeing as how I’ll have to go to the employment registry to find another governess.”

“Of course, your Grace.”

“I imagine I can only hope that they have someone available immediately. With any luck, I won’t be long. Until then, keep this place together for me, will you?”

“Yes, your Grace,” Mister Pembrooke said with a bow as Ethan went back to his desk, once again attempting to go through the ledgers before his trip to London.

Quite the hitch this puts in everything, Ethan thought to himself, quite the hitch indeed. He wasn’t exactly sure how he would keep a governess, when and if he got someone else to come in. Not with the way the children were acting. He could only hope that by some act of God there was some woman out there whose will would outweigh the children’s determination.

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