The Highlander and the Governess Excerpt
Everything will be all right.
Frances Goodson suppressed the tremor of nerves in her stomach, uncertain whether it was panic or luncheon that roiled within her now. But she stiffened her spine and reminded herself to find her courage. It didn’t matter that she was alone or that her family had turned their backs on her. She had an offer of employment and a roof over her head. Surely it would be enough.
The agency had trained her to be an excellent governess, although this was her first position. She had never expected to choose this path, but when a lady became destitute, there was no choice but to resort to desperate measures. At least being a governess was somewhat respectable, even if it was not the life she had planned.
Frances prided herself on her education, and she felt confident that the Laird of Locharr would be quite pleased with her work. His daughter would become the toast of London after the young girl completed her lessons in etiquette—she was convinced of it.
She gripped her hands together before smoothing the grey bombazine dress she wore. Her blonde curls had been tamed and pressed inside a matching grey bonnet, and she looked all the world like a virtuous woman. No one in Scotland would know about her past. This was a new life for her, a new country, and a new beginning.
It was a pity that her new beginning involved torrential rain. It slapped against the windows of the coach in punishing sheets of water. Scotland was rather formidable, so it seemed. A heavy mist lingered in the air, obscuring her view. Even so, she would not let the terrible weather dampen her mood. She tried to imagine a blue sky with puffy white clouds, for surely it could not rain all the time.
The coach pulled to a stop in front of the laird’s castle, and Frances craned her neck to look at the grey stone fortification. It looked like something out of a haunted fairy-tale. She counted seven towers nestled at even intervals around the castle, with arched windows and parapets. Best of all, it overlooked the sea, resting atop a cliffside. She’d never expected Lachlan MacKinloch to own a castle of this size. It was far larger than she’d imagined, and she was beginning to wonder exactly how wealthy the Laird of Locharr was.
Although her heart was pounding out of anxiety, another part of her was delighted to live in a castle—even if it was only for a year or two. How many young ladies could boast of such a thing? Not many, she’d wager.
Frances let her imagination take flight as she envisioned giving history lessons in a room with stone walls and perhaps a medieval suit of armour in the corner. Or, if the laird’s daughter did not care for exciting stories of knights and battles, perhaps she could give the young lady botany lessons in the garden. She smiled at the thought, hoping his daughter would be a sweet girl, eager to learn.
That is, if he had a daughter.
A spear of uneasiness thrust into her stomach. She hadn’t really considered the possibility of a boy. The agency had been vague about her pupil’s age, saying only that the laird required an experienced governess who could train a student in manners and etiquette of the London ton. Surely, he meant a daughter. Frances was one-and-twenty herself, but she had been brought up as a well-bred young lady. Her mother had drilled her in all the lessons necessary for finding a good husband. She was completely confident in her ability and knowledge, even if she had been unable to use it for her own purpose.
Frances supposed it was possible that the laird had a young son who was not old enough to be sent off to school. She had no information about the child, but that didn’t matter. She had prepared for anything, and the agency had given her a trunk filled with borrowed books for all ages.
The coachman opened the door and held out an umbrella for her. Frances took a deep breath, gathering command of her nerves. She straightened her posture and raised her chin, hoping that if she behaved in a confident manner, her courage would return. ‘Thank you,’ she told the coachman as she took the umbrella.
The gravel was soft beneath her feet, and she was careful not to step in any puddles. Behind her, the coachman followed with her bags. She didn’t see a servants’ entrance, but instead walked up the main stairs. It was possible that inquisitive eyes were watching her from the windows.
Frances knocked at the door and waited. It took some time before the door opened, and she saw an elderly footman with snowy hair and a white beard. ‘Are ye lost, then, lass?’
She straightened and said, ‘I am Miss Frances Goodson, the new governess. The Laird of Locharr sent for me. I have come to instruct his daughter.’ Frances forced a smile on her face, clenching her shaking hands.
‘The laird has no daughter,’ the footman replied.
Oh, dear. Panic caught her in the stomach, and Frances blurted out, ‘Then he must have a son in need of my tutelage?’
‘The laird has no children. I’ll bid ye a good day and be on your way, Miss.’
No children? Before she could make sense of that, the footman started to close the door. No—she could not let him throw her out. Not until she had answers. Frances stuck out her foot to hold the door open. From her pocket, she withdrew the letter she had received from the laird and held it out. ‘Then please explain this to me, sir. I have travelled hundreds of miles to be here, and if there has been some mistake, I need to know what has happened.’
The footman took the letter, but before he could unfold it, a voice commanded, ‘Let her inside, Alban.’
Frances didn’t stop to wonder who had given the order, but she closed the umbrella and stepped across the threshold. Her gown was damp from the rain, and she tried to smooth it as she gathered her composure. Then she squared her shoulders as the laird approached.
Lachlan MacKinloch was the tallest man she’d ever seen. Judging by his broad shoulders and raw strength, he looked like an ancient warrior more accustomed to wearing chainmail than a kilt. His brown hair was unfashionably long and rested upon his shoulders. There was a faint tint of red to it, and his blue eyes stared at her as if he didn’t quite know what to make of her. Across his cheek, she saw an angry jagged scar. It made him appear more of a monster than a man, but she forced herself not to look away. From his fierce scowl, he appeared to be accustomed to frightening others.
Frances didn’t know what was going on or why this man had hired her. If he had no children, then the footman was right—there was no reason for her to be here. She couldn’t, for the life of her, understand what had happened.
Her errant thoughts were distracted by his attire. He wore a blue-and-green-striped tartan coat over a white shirt, a blue waistcoat with brass buttons, and another blue and green kilt with a leather belt that slung across his right shoulder down to his left hip. A blue bonnet rested upon his head. His stockings were also tartan, bold and fitted to his muscular calves. There was no denying his Scottish heritage. In his demeanour, she sensed stubbornness and a man who always got his own way.
She remembered her manners and sank into a curtsy. ‘I am Frances Goodson, the governess you sent for.’
He regarded her when she stood and commanded, ‘We will have words in the drawing room.’ Without waiting for her to agree, he walked away.
Frances stared at the laird, wondering exactly what sort of position she had accepted. A sudden wariness seized her, and she questioned whether his intentions were nefarious. But then, she was far away from London, and it was too late to leave now. Better to follow him and discover why he had hired her. Perhaps there was another child in need of her help.
With a quick glance behind her, she saw that the footman had slipped away, allowing them privacy. It wasn’t at all proper to be alone with the laird, but perhaps Locharr didn’t want the servants to eavesdrop about the reasons for her employment. Even so, she kept the door to the drawing room wide open in case she needed to call out for help.
It was a lovely room, exactly the sort she might have chosen herself. The curtains were a rich sapphire, and the white wallpaper had scrolls of matching blue. The furnishings were creamy white with rococo gold. Two of the windows in one corner were made of stained glass with blue birds and flowers. The laird stood in front of the window, staring outside at the downpour. For a long moment, he said nothing.
Frances wasn’t certain if she was expected to sit or stand, but she couldn’t resist the urge to sit upon one of the gilded chairs. She straightened her spine and cleared her throat. ‘I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Locharr. But I must admit, I am rather…confused as to why you have employed me as a governess if you have no children.’
He stood at the window for a while, and she had the sense that he was choosing his words carefully. ‘Show me the letter, Miss Goodson.’
She gave it to him, not really understanding why he wanted to see it. Unless someone else had sent it instead?
The laird’s expression turned grim, and he crumpled the letter, tossing it into the hearth. ‘I am sorry you made such a journey. My mother wrote the letter, not me. But you may stay for the night and be on your way in the morning.’
All the air seemed to leave her lungs. ‘Why—why would she send the letter? I don’t understand.’
The laird crossed the room and stood by the window. ‘I didna hire a governess. But my mother apparently believes I need help.’
Dear God. She had been hired to tutor a grown man. The very idea rattled her composure, making her question what to do now. She couldn’t possibly be a governess to the laird, as wild and untamed as he seemed.
But then, the idea of going home was far worse. The thought of enduring another journey by coach for a second week, made her stomach twist. And worse, her mother would sigh and claim that Frances was, yet again, nothing but a disappointment and a failure.
No. These might not be the circumstances she had imagined, but she intended to make the best of them. She had the knowledge he needed, and there was a chance—only the barest thread of a chance—that she could stay here. But only if she handled the matter in the right way.
‘I am so sorry if my arrival was a surprise to you,’ she apologised. With hesitance, she added, ‘Might I ask…what sort of help does your mother think you need?’
He didn’t answer for a long moment but continued to stare out the window at the pounding rain. His silence stretched on between them, making her feel as if a departure in the morning was inevitable.
‘Is your mother here, Locharr?’ she ventured. Perhaps the matron could help her decide what to do next.
‘Nay. She’s travelling. I dinna expect her to return for another month.’
‘Oh.’ Frances stood from the chair, wondering what to do now. Her position here was tenuous, and clearly, the laird did not want her. There was nothing else, save to beg for another chance. She went to stand beside him, hoping her pleas would help in some way. His physical presence intimidated her, and the scowl only accentuated the fierce scar on his face. His hair was ragged, as if he’d cut it himself. There was a feral quality to this man, and she wondered if he had shut himself away from the outside world.
‘I realise that you do not want me here,’ she murmured. ‘You should know that this was to be my first position as a governess. I may have journeyed here under the wrong circumstances, but I really do wish to help. Would you consider granting me one day? And if I am of no use to you, I will return to London without argument.’
He turned to stare at her. ‘I don’t need a governess, Miss Goodson.’
Her heart was pounding with fear, but she forced herself to meet his blue eyes. ‘No. But I desperately need this position. It’s all I have left.’
There was an invisible battle of wills between them, but she kept her gaze fixed upon his. Let him throw her out if that was what he wanted. But she would not surrender this task without a fight of her own.
At last, he admitted, ‘I am getting married in London in three months’ time.’
It was all Frances could do to keep her expression neutral. ‘My felicitations on your impending nuptials, then. Your bride will be fortunate to live in such a beautiful castle.’
‘I’ve no’ seen her in ten years,’ he admitted. ‘Our marriage was arranged by our fathers.’ He crossed his arms, his mouth a tight slash of annoyance.
‘Do you…not wish to wed her?’ Frances ventured.
‘I’ll wed her,’ he answered. ‘It matters not to me. She can do as she pleases, once the vows are said.’ There was a dark shadow to his words, and Frances wondered if he intended to abandon his bride. Her mind started to piece together his circumstances. If he was going to travel to London in three months for his wedding—and his mother had hired a governess to help him with his manners—then undoubtedly, Lady Locharr believed her son would frighten the bride. He was a beast in need of taming, and Frances understood all too well that society would ridicule anyone who did not inherently understand the rules.
Whether he wanted her help or not, he needed her. But like Scheherazade, she would have to earn her place, one day at a time. ‘How long has it been since you’ve visited London?’
‘Four years. I’ve no’ left Scotland since my father was buried.’ In his voice, there was a raw note of pain, and she studied him more closely.
‘I am sorry for your loss,’ she said quietly. ‘Might I ask the name of your bride? If you don’t mind revealing it, that is.’
He shrugged. ‘Lady Regina, daughter of Ned Crewe, the Earl of Havershire.’
Oh, dear. Frances had met the lady once, and the tall beauty was proper and cool in her demeanour. Rather like a statue of ice. Scandal would never dare to touch a woman like her, and Lady Regina had turned down countless suitors—even a duke. Why then, had her father settled for a marriage to a Scottish laird? It made little sense.
The Laird of Locharr appeared to be slightly older than herself, but his rigid demeanour would terrify most of the London ton. As the son of a Scottish landowner, someone must have taught him manners, long ago. But perhaps he had forgotten his etiquette.
It was likely that his mother had enlisted her help, to ensure that Locharr would not be embarrassed by gossip.
Rain droplets pounded the window overlooking the garden, but while he continued to stare outside, she stared at him. Lachlan MacKinloch really was quite a handsome man, in spite of the scar. If he cut his hair and chose different clothing, he would indeed catch any woman’s eye.
Frances was beginning to consider the prospect. Tutoring an unmarried man was scandalous, yes, but they were in Scotland, away from the rest of society. No one would know of her efforts to transform him.
Her heart softened at the thought of helping the laird win the heart of Lady Regina. If he allowed her to help him, he could become one of the most well-mannered gentlemen in London—a suitor Lady Regina would be proud of.
‘Would you grant me one day to help you?’ she asked. ‘If my instruction is not of any use, I promise, I will leave.’
He expelled a heavy sigh. ‘As I’ve said, I have no need for your instruction, Miss Goodson. My mother made a mistake.’
Frances’s brain was spinning with frustration, but she forced herself to remain calm. ‘Let us start with the evening meal. I will watch you eat.’
‘I ken how to eat,’ he retorted.
‘I will need to speak with your cook to ensure that several courses are served. In London, you will be expected to attend supper parties where Lady Regina is in attendance. There are subtle ways to ensure that she is enjoying herself.’
He eyed her as if she’d spoken a foreign language. ‘Why would I care?’
Frances steeled herself against his annoyance. ‘If your bride is happy, then you will enjoy a pleasant marriage. This arrangement might be a moment of joy in your life.’ She offered him a bright smile, but the look in his blue eyes narrowed upon her. For a moment, she felt like a deer staring back at a wolf, half-afraid of being devoured.
‘Alban will show you to a room where you can rest before supper tonight. Then you will depart in the morning.’ He started to turn, but she felt the need to correct him.
‘Locharr, you should acknowledge a lady with a nod before you depart. Or a bow if she is of a higher rank. Lady Regina will expect you to know this.’
His expression held a wicked gleam, but he gave a sweeping bow that almost felt like mockery. Frances bobbed a curtsy, but inwardly wondered how long he would allow her to stay.
Two hours later
Lachlan wanted to cheerfully murder his mother. Why would she hire a governess for him? Did she think he was a baw-heided lad of six? He saw no reason to bring Miss Goodson all this way for naught. It irritated him that Catrina had interfered in their lives like this.
He had kept himself apart from the world for the past two years, since Tavin had died, and he preferred the isolation. His wounds from the fire had healed but not the guilt in his heart. For a time, he’d forgotten about the arrangement, until Lady Regina’s mother had written to him, asking him to come to London. The countess had explained that the wedding could take place in May, if he had no objections.
The thought of marriage made him feel nothing at all. It was an arrangement, and he saw no need to court Lady Regina. He intended to arrive in London, arrange for the licence, and be done with the wedding. Why, then, had Catrina intervened? Did she think he would behave like a foppish gentleman, with his hair tied in a neat queue, bowing before his bride-to-be? Damned if he would embarrass himself in such a way.
The governess sat across from him in the dining room, braving a smile. He had to admit that she was bonny in her own way. Her hair was pulled into a tight topknot, though the blonde curls were escaping in soft tendrils around her face. She had green eyes with flecks of brown in them, and they reminded him of a river—beautiful with a hint of mystery. Her grey gown, however, was worn and colourless. It was too short for her, and he noticed several seams that revealed where she’d mended it. It’s all I have left, she’d said about the position. And aye, it might be true that she needed the work.
Miss Goodson had chosen a chair near his, and beside her, she had brought a sheet of paper, along with an inkwell and a pen.
‘Do you always bring a pen and paper to the dinner table?’ he remarked. ‘I didna think that was good etiquette.’
She brightened. ‘You are correct, Locharr. Under normal circumstances, I would never do such a thing. However, I intend to take notes on what lessons you’ll need. That way, I can be of use to you.’
‘You’re no’ staying,’ he pointed out. ‘I am granting you a meal, but there’s no need for notes. I ken how to use a fork.’
Miss Goodson set down her pen and took her napkin, folding it in her lap. ‘Of course, you know that. But there is still a great deal to learn about etiquette in London. There are many unspoken rules.’
Lachlan eyed the door, wondering if it had been a mistake to allow Miss Goodson to join him at supper. He was accustomed to taking a tray alone in his room. It had been years since he’d had a formal meal, and he wasn’t about to change his habits.
The governess appeared entirely too cheerful, as if she thought she could talk her way into becoming his tutor. There was a brightness about her, of a woman filled with joy and enthusiasm. Perhaps she thought it would change his mind about sending her away. Far from it. It made him want to push back, to behave like a wicked barbarian. And so he glared at her, letting her glimpse his bad mood.
‘Is something the matter, Locharr?’ Miss Goodson appeared concerned. ‘You seem angry with me.’
Good. His plan was working.
‘It doesna matter what I think of you. You’ll be gone, soon enough.’ He kept his tone deliberate, not bothering to be nice. It would be cruel to lead her on, to let her think she had a chance of staying—even if she did need the position to support herself.
Miss Goodson’s expression dimmed, but she picked up her pen once more. They waited for Alban to bring in the food, but there was nothing yet. The clock ticked away a few more minutes, and finally, Lachlan called out, ‘If you dinna bring the food out soon, Alban, you’ll have to fetch shovels to bury us! For we’ll both be dead of starvation!’
Miss Goodson’s eyes widened at his shouting. Her pen scratched rapidly over the paper, but she did not correct him. Aye, he knew he wasn’t supposed to bellow for his servants, but Alban might not hear the bell. The elderly man’s hearing had worsened over the years.
His younger footman, Gavin, entered the room, carrying a tureen of soup. He plunked it down on the table and ladled out a healthy serving to Lachlan before he turned to Miss Goodson. She did not say anything, but Lachlan corrected the footman, ‘You should be serving the lady first, Gavin.’
‘I’m sorry, Locharr. Miss Goodson.’ The footman gave a slight bow and took the tureen away.
Lachlan eyed the soup, waiting for her to eat first. The governess was staring at him. When it became clear that she was not going to taste the soup until he did, he picked up his spoon and took a small sip.
‘Very good,’ she said.
‘I wasna going to pick up the bowl and drink it,’ he told her.
There was a veiled smile playing at Miss Goodson’s lips. ‘No, of course not.’ She wrote another note on the paper and then set her pen down. ‘I can tell that you have had some instruction, Locharr. Your table manners are not bad at all. They only need some minor adjustments.’
‘Which are not your concern,’ he reminded her.
‘It could be.’ She smiled at him, and the encouragement in her eyes caught him unawares. For a moment, he watched her eat. Her hands were small and delicate, her motions graceful. There was a strand of curling blonde hair that had slipped free of her chignon, and it hung against her neck. Although she had done nothing untoward, there was something about a good girl that made him want to discover if there was more beneath the surface of propriety.
‘Why did you seek work as a governess?’ he asked. Miss Goodson was quite pretty, with the fresh face of innocence. Surely, she could easily find a husband. Why, then, had she travelled alone to Scotland?
‘Poverty is an excellent motivation for employment,’ she answered. Though she spoke with a lightness of mood, he believed there was far more to her story.
‘You were a lady once, weren’t you?’ he predicted.
Her face flushed, but she did not answer his statement. Which meant it was likely true. If she had fallen upon difficult times, being a governess or a wife was her only option. It seemed that Miss Goodson was a woman of secrets, and Lachlan wondered what they were. He supposed he would never know. He reached for his goblet of wine and drained it.
She eyed him and bit her lower lip. Then she frowned and dipped her pen into the inkwell, writing furiously.
Aye, it wasn’t right for a man to finish his wine in one gulp. Even so, he couldn’t deny the urge to tease her. He reached for the decanter and poured himself another glass. There was a pained look in her river-green eyes, and she bit her lip, drawing his attention to its fullness. She was a bonny lass, indeed. Whether she knew it or not, Miss Goodson was a danger to herself. She might be posing as a governess, but this young lady was a walking temptation.
‘Would you be wanting some wine?’ he offered, holding out the decanter.
‘No, thank you. I do not partake in spirits,’ she answered. ‘And next time, you should ask your butler to pour the wine. Or a footman.’ She dipped her pen in the inkwell and wrote a few more sentences on the scrap of paper.
‘If I waited for them, we’d have no food,’ he pointed out. ‘They’re no’ exactly making haste to get here.’
‘Be that as it may, if you are a guest at a supper party, wait for the servants to pour the wine.’
A few minutes later, Alban brought out the next course. It was a mutton pie, and Lachlan cut into it with his fork, while steam rose from the pastry crust. Miss Goodson was still writing furiously, in between bites of her own meal. What could she be worked up about now? He’d done nothing wrong.
Finally, she set down her pen and took a sip of water from her glass. ‘How long ago was this marriage arranged with Lady Regina?’
He stabbed the crust with his fork and brought up a bit of mutton and gravy. ‘Our fathers went to school together and were good friends. They spoke of it for years, though ’twas only in jest. After my father died two years ago, Havershire wanted to fulfil Tavin’s wish. We set the wedding date for this May.’
At that, she set down her fork. ‘Without asking Lady Regina? And you haven’t seen her in ten years?’ Her expression was aghast.
‘Nay. But she’s an obedient lass.’
Miss Goodson took a bite of her mutton pie, but he could see her thoughts turning over the matter. ‘Why would you agree to marry a woman you haven’t seen in that long?’
Because it had been his father’s greatest wish. Lachlan had wanted to give that gift to Tavin, even if he hadn’t been able to save his life. A dark twist of guilt rose at the memory, prickled with grief. He didn’t want to marry anyone, and he knew he was hardly a fit candidate for a husband. Lady Regina would be horrified by the sight of his scarred face. But if he fulfilled his father’s last desire, at least it was one thing he could do for the man.
‘As I said before, Lord Havershire and my father wanted to unite our families together.’
‘Even so, why would you agree to wed her without meeting her first?’ Miss Goodson enquired. ‘You might not like her any more.’
‘I like the twenty thousand pounds her father has promised.’ Lady Regina’s dowry was money he needed, because repairing a five-hundred-year-old castle was costly. The offer of marriage was a welcome means of absolving him from financial ruin, for he hadn’t realised how deeply Tavin MacKinloch had fallen into debt. Lachlan had already cut back on as many expenses as possible, but he didn’t want to dismiss any of his staff. They needed their wages, and he’d do whatever he had to if it meant protecting his clansmen.
‘That is a great deal of money,’ she agreed. ‘But I don’t understand why Lord Havershire would offer so much.’ She set her fork down and pondered a moment. ‘Lady Regina has plenty of suitors. She simply turns them all away.’
‘Because she’s promised to me,’ he countered.
‘She doesn’t want to marry anyone,’ Miss Goodson predicted. ‘I have met her on several occasions. They call her the Lady of Ice.’
Lachlan didn’t concern himself with his fiancée’s reluctance. There was no reason for her to raise objections to the marriage—particularly since he intended to let her live her life as she chose.
‘Lady Regina values a gentleman with manners,’ Miss Goodson warned. ‘If you wish to marry her, you will need to make a good impression. I could help you with this.’
‘I’ve no need of your help.’
But the young woman ignored him and held out her list. ‘I’ve written down possible lessons for you. Dining, dancing, conversation, and so on.’
Dancing? Lachlan despised dancing, and he would never engage in such a pastime. ‘I won’t be dancing, Miss Goodson.’ He loathed the very thought.
‘Oh, but you must. At a ball, you will be required to dance with Lady Regina. Only once, of course, but it is necessary to making a good impression upon her.’
Lachlan would rather cut off his thumbs than dance in public. ‘I willna make a fool of myself.’
‘Of course not,’ Miss Goodson answered. ‘I will ensure that you are well prepared. And you may find that you enjoy dancing. It can be delightful.’
‘You won’t be here to give any lessons,’ he reminded her. ‘The coach will be here first thing in the morning.’
‘But I just thought that—’
‘You’ll find another position,’ he said. The last thing he wanted was a woman staring at him and making lists. ‘I don’t need you. I don’t want you here.’
She grew quiet, and the melancholy on her face made him feel like he’d just killed her cat. It took an effort to stop from apologising, though he hadn’t been the one to hire her. This was all due to his mother’s meddling.
‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. Her river-green eyes gleamed with unshed tears. ‘It’s just that, I had such hopes.’
‘Go home, Miss Goodson. Your family can take care of you now.’
She shook her head, gripping her napkin. ‘I cannot go back to them.’
‘Why?’ He levelled a hard stare at her.
Her expression grew strained, as if she didn’t want to speak of it. After a pause, she said, ‘It’s complicated.’
He could tell she was trying to avoid the topic by any means necessary. But her past intrigued him, and he pressed further. ‘Are they cruel to you? Or violent?’
She shook her head but kept silent. He found himself wanting to know more, despite her reluctance. At last, he offered, ‘If you tell me the truth about why you don’t want to return home, I will grant you a second day here.’
Hope dawned in her green eyes, and her mouth softened, almost in a smile. She said, ‘As you guessed earlier, I wasn’t always a governess. My father was a baron.’
‘Then why would you seek employment?’
‘The desire to eat,’ she admitted. ‘My father disappeared one afternoon with his mistress. I never saw him again, and he left us destitute.’ She took a sip of water and said, ‘My sisters were already married, and I had no wish to be pitied and live with them. I had a good education, and so I decided to put it to use.’
‘What of your mother?’ he asked. ‘Why not go and live with her?’
Her expression tightened. ‘Suffice it to say, I preferred supporting myself without relying upon anyone else. I might have been arrested for murder, had I stayed with my mother.’
He could understand her desire for independence and respected it. If she were sent home, it would make her feel like a failure, though it was through no fault of her own.
‘One more day then,’ he repeated. ‘And I will have the coach take you wherever you wish to go, after that.’
She paused a moment and said, ‘Whether you believe it or not, I can help you. Especially in understanding the complexities of the London ton. It’s very different from Scotland.’
He was well aware of that, though he cared little about London mannerisms. ‘And you know this by being here a matter of hours?’
She nodded. ‘Indeed. Scotland is breathtaking. Whereas in London, I prefer to hold my breath.’ A spark of humour creased her mouth with a smile. ‘But all that aside, I am going to prove to you that I can be the most useful governess you’ve ever had.’
‘You’re the only governess I’ve ever had,’ he pointed out. But in Miss Goodson’s face he saw a stubbornness that revealed an inner strength. This was not a woman who would falter in the face of adversity. And though she was young, he found that he respected her mettle.
‘I look forward to our lessons.’ Her eyes were bright with interest, and he felt the need to correct her.
‘I’ve offered you one day. But I’m no’ going to spend hours learning about forks or God forbid, dancing.’
There was a gleam in her eyes as if she’d accepted the challenge. ‘One day, Locharr. And you’ll see everything I can teach you.’
‘Alban will show you to your room,’ he said. ‘You’ll want to sleep, and I may see you in the morning, after I’ve returned from riding.’
Her face held such wistfulness, as if she wanted to say something but held herself back.
Against his better judgement, he asked, ‘Do you ride?’
‘I do love it,’ she admitted. ‘Though it has been a few years since I’ve had the opportunity.’ From the expression on her face, she was itching for an invitation.
‘If you’re wanting to go riding, I’ve no objection,’ he said.
Although he had no desire for company, he supposed there was no harm in her taking one of the mild-tempered horses and trotting around the castle grounds. It would make it that much easier to say farewell the next day, knowing that he’d given her that consolation.
‘I am so grateful, Locharr,’ she breathed, a light shining in her eyes. ‘Is there someone who could chaperon us?’ she asked. ‘Alban, perhaps?’
Us? He had no intention of riding with her. But he supposed he could ask his footman to accompany Miss Goodson on her ride.
‘I will ask him,’ he promised. ‘Whenever you’re wanting to go on your ride, just ask Alban, and he’ll see to it that you have a horse.’
Her face dimmed slightly. ‘I thought you might accompany me. To show me the surrounding area and tell me about it.’
‘Alban can do the same. I intend to leave at dawn. Alone.’ He preferred riding when it was quiet outside. It gave him the chance to inspect his land and make his plans for the day.
‘A true gentleman would wait upon the lady,’ she chided.
Lachlan shrugged. ‘Then, ’tis a good thing I am no’ a gentleman yet.’
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