He wants a wife…She plans to find him one!
The Governess and Mr Granville
Love Inspired Historical
Dominic Granville needs a wife—whether he wants one or not! And governess Serena Somerton intends to find one for him. A marriage of convenience would provide the wealthy widower’s five children with a mother’s tender care. And yet none of Dominic’s prospective brides can meet Serena’s increasingly high standards.
Dominic can’t imagine why his sister hired such an unconventional, outspoken governess. Yet Miss Somerton’s quirks can’t curb his growing interest in this spirited young woman. His imperfect governess could be his ideal wife…
Woodbridge Hall, Leicestershire, England, 1816
Dominic Granville seldom troubled himself with the running of his household. He had a spinster sister and a host of servants to take care of that. Besides, he had plenty to occupy him, between his land and its tenants. Oh, yes, and his children.
His assumption that things would continue very much as they had for the past five years had proved correct. Until today.
Until he’d opened the letter newly arrived from London, fixed with a seal of aristocracy that he remembered from his school days at Eton, but hadn’t had much occasion to see since.
Dominic reread the letter, penned in a firm, elegant hand. It said exactly what he thought it had on his first reading.
He tugged the bellpull behind his desk. While he waited for his butler, he scrutinized the letter a third time. How inconvenient.
“Sir?” Molson had a habit of materializing silently; somehow he’d opened the library door without Dominic noticing.
Over the years, Dominic had mastered the art of hiding his start of surprise, so now he looked up calmly.
“Is Miss Somerton in the schoolroom?” he asked.
“I believe, sir, Miss Somerton and the children are—” Molson hesitated “—in pursuit of lepidoptera.”
“Chasing butterflies?” Dominic said blankly. “Why?”
“Miss Somerton felt it was an occupation Masters Thomas and William should practice, sir. I believe she called it a lesson in nature sciences.”
“What about the girls?” Dominic asked. “Shouldn’t they be stitching something?”
“Misses Hester, Charlotte and Louisa are also pursuing lepidoptera.”
Dominic frowned. In the past three weeks alone, he’d had to send word to the governess that shrieking outside the library window wasn’t acceptable. That allowing the children to drink lemonade in the billiard room—which, technically, was forbidden territory—left a sticky residue everywhere. Both times, instead of contrition, her response had been to invite him to play with the children. Extraordinary.
When he’d found her timing the children as they slid down the banisters, his instinct had been to dismiss her on the spot. For his sister’s sake—Marianne had hired the woman, and would be distressed at having to replace her—he’d constrained his reaction to the delivery of a stern lecture about safe pursuits.
Maybe today’s letter was timely, after all. “Send Miss Somerton to me as soon as they come inside,” he ordered.
“Certainly, sir.” Molson’s confiding tone said he knew just why Dominic needed to see the governess. The butler glided from the room.
Dominic wondered if he was the last to hear the news. He seldom traveled to London these days, and didn’t read the society pages of the newspaper. Unlike his butler, apparently. He presumed Marianne hadn’t—
A scream from outside the library brought him to his feet. He strode to the door and flung it open.
The entrance hall teemed with people—all five of Dominic’s children, Molson and a footman on his hands and knees, grimacing as he groped behind the oak chest that had been in the family since Elizabethan days. A maid stood pressed against the wall, her hand over her mouth: she must be the screamer. The last participant in this pandemonium was the governess, Miss Serena Somerton, who was patting the maid’s shoulder.
“There, there, Alice,” she soothed. “It was only a lizard. It couldn’t possibly harm you.”
Which told Dominic all he needed to know. “Thomas,” he barked.
Silence fell, sudden and absolute.
Eleven-year-old Thomas stepped forward. “Yes, Papa?”
His twin sister, Hester, younger by thirty minutes, slipped her hand into his. Whatever trouble Thomas was in, Hetty would insist on sharing it. Which made it dashed hard for Dominic to discipline his son.
“Did you bring a lizard inside, Thomas?” he asked.
“Yes, Papa, but it was one I’d never seen before, and it was bright green and it looked right at me.”
“It’s very beautiful,” Hetty said loyally.
The younger girls, Charlotte and Louisa, nodded.
“Only, it escaped,” Thomas explained, as if Dominic might not have guessed.
Dominic rolled his eyes. “Did I not expressly forbid the bringing inside of wildlife because of the pain and inconvenience the household suffers when it escapes, as it invariably does? If my dogs can live outside, so can your lizard.”
A flicker of agreement crossed the face of Gregory, the footman, who was straining to reach farther behind the chest. Seven-year-old William sucked in a tiny breath—either in awe at his brother’s daring to disobey, or in fear of the consequences.
“Yes, sir,” Thomas said. “I’m very sorry.”
With a tiny jerk of his head, Dominic indicated the maid, still being thoroughly shoulder-patted by Miss Somerton.
“I’m very sorry, Alice,” Thomas said.
“I didn’t mind at all, Master Thomas,” the maid lied brazenly, eyeing Dominic as if he was about to take a switch to his son’s behind. “Like you said, it was very pretty.”
Thomas flashed her the charming smile that, more often than not, got him off the hook.
What discipline would Miss Serena Somerton employ against this offense? Dominic wondered. He turned his attention to the governess. Goodness, she looked as if she’d been dragged backward through a bush.
An assortment of leaves and twigs clung to the skirt of her pale gray dress. Her bonnet was decidedly askew, and although Dominic was no expert on fashion, he was fairly certain the blond tresses curled on her shoulders were meant to be inside the bonnet.
And she had a smudge on her nose.
The urge to restore order, to reach out with a handkerchief and wipe away that smudge, was almost overwhelming. But of course, he couldn’t do that.
“Children, could you all please go to the schoolroom immediately.” The governess belatedly recalled her duties. “We will sketch some of the butterflies we observed.” She held up a hand to forestall Thomas’s protest. “I’m sure that when Gregory finds Captain Emerald—” Captain Emerald must be the lizard “—he will take him outside.”
“You’ll put him somewhere safe, Gregory, won’t you?” Thomas pleaded.
“Yes, Master Thomas,” the footman said through gritted teeth.
Dominic suspected Gregory considered the safest place for the lizard to be under the heel of his shoe.
“Miss Somerton, may I see you in the library?” Dominic asked, as the children traipsed upstairs in a semiorderly manner.
“Certainly, Mr. Granville.” She took a step toward him as she began untying the strings of her bonnet, the brim of which had an unmistakable dent.
“I suppose you’ll want to tidy yourself first,” Dominic said.
She looked surprised, but said agreeably, “As you wish.” She lifted the bonnet from her head.
Alice shrieked; Molson made an exclamation, quickly muffled.
Miss Somerton turned to stare at them. “What’s wrong?”
“It appears, Miss Somerton, you have a lizard on your head,” Dominic said.
The green creature (emerald was a gross exaggeration) perched motionless, as if moving might reveal its location to people who hadn’t noticed it.
Dominic braced himself for the governess to fall into a faint; he would be obligated to catch her.
Instead, she stilled, not in panic, but in cautious relief. “Isn’t that just like a lizard?” she said. “I didn’t even feel it, the stealthy little creature!” She beamed at the butler. “Rather like you, Mr. Molson.”
So she, too, found the butler’s ability to materialize out of nowhere disconcerting? Molson appeared to take being compared to a lizard as a compliment; his countenance retained its butlerish impassivity, but his eyes twinkled. Had Dominic observed his butler’s eyes twinkling before?
“I don’t suppose you have a jar you could put over Captain Emerald, Mr. Granville?” Miss Somerton asked.
“No, Miss Somerton, I do not carry a jar on my person for the purpose of trapping lizards on young ladies’ heads.” Dominic stepped closer. “But if you remain still, I hope to pluck it from your hair. With your permission.”
It seemed to take her a moment to realize he was asking for that permission.
She smiled suddenly, but carefully, so as not to move her head. “Pluck away, Mr. Granville, please.”
Her blue eyes were alight with humor. Dominic found himself grinning in return; the situation was quite absurd.
Though Miss Somerton was of above average height, he still looked down on her hair, which was, he noted objectively, a color the poets called flaxen. He lowered his fingers in a pincer movement and grabbed the lizard.
“Ha!” he murmured under his breath.
“Am I to assume from your cry of triumph, Mr. Granville, that you have Captain Emerald in your grasp?” Miss Somerton asked. “And that I am therefore free to move?”
“I have the creature, yes, but one of its feet has become tangled in your hair.” Dominic was suddenly aware he was closer than he’d ever been before to his children’s governess—and that he was touching her hair. Chaperoned by a butler, a footman and a housemaid, to be sure, but still… He wasn’t sure if this morning’s letter made the proximity more or less acceptable. “May I, er, attempt to extract it?”
“That would be an excellent idea.” She encouraged him in much the same tone she used with Thomas.
Which had the effect of removing any impropriety—which was good—but at the same time relegated her employer to the status of one of her charges.
Dominic narrowed his eyes and applied himself to his task. “By the way, I wouldn’t describe my earlier reaction as a cry of triumph, Miss Somerton.”
“My mistake,” she said demurely.
“You might hear such a cry from me in, say, the hunting field,” he continued, “but I scarcely think capturing a lizard is worthy of acclaim.”
“Slaughtering a large animal is a far more admirable achievement,” she said.
Dominic paused in his untangling to meet her eyes. They were wide and innocent.
He wasn’t fooled. No wonder his children were running wild! Their governess valued chasing butterflies and lizards over the academic and sporting pursuits essential to the life of an English country gentleman.
Dominic freed the lizard at last and took a relieved step away from her. “Gregory, could you take this and deal with it as you see fit?”
“Yes, sir,” the footman said with grim pleasure.
“Oh, Gregory, no,” Miss Somerton protested. “You wouldn’t harm one of God’s creatures, would you?”
Gregory looked uncertain at this invocation of the Deity. “It’s a pest, miss. And it frightened Alice,” he added virtuously.
“Only for a moment,” Alice said. A quelling look from Molson sent her hurrying toward the kitchen.
“Gregory—” Miss Somerton clasped her hands in front of her and gave the man a look so beseeching, Dominic was amazed the servant didn’t melt into submission “—I realize you’ve been grossly inconvenienced by Lieutenant—by this lizard. It definitely does not deserve your mercy. But Thomas is anxious to have it as a pet.”
When Gregory scowled at the mention of Thomas, she added quickly, “Hetty is, too. I’m pleading with you, for Hetty’s sake, to leave it in the stables. In a jar. With a few twigs and leaves for comfort. And maybe a fly or two—the common lizard eats invertebrates, so any insect will do. A worm would be wonderful, if you happen to come across one.”
As her list of demands grew more unreasonable, Dominic almost laughed. Clever of her to mention the blameless Hetty in her plea for a reprieve for the lizard.
And plea it was, since strictly speaking she couldn’t order Gregory to do as she wished. It was an awkward situation for Miss Somerton, Dominic realized. Since she was neither a member of the family nor a guest, she had no authority over the servants. But her status was unquestionably above Gregory’s…even more now than it had been.
“Unfortunately, miss, Mr. Molson would need to excuse me from my duties for me to perform such tasks.” Gregory directed a hopeful glance at the butler, clearly wanting permission to be denied.
“You may do as Miss Somerton asks, Gregory,” Molson said, and the footman departed in reluctant possession of one reddish lizard.
“I shall tell Thomas—and Hetty—the good news,” Miss Somerton declared.
“The library first, if you please,” Dominic said, deliberately forgetting his request that she tidy herself. If he waited for the governess to comport herself in a more orderly fashion, he would be here until midnight.
After Molson had relieved Serena of her dented bonnet, she preceded Mr. Granville into the library. She was conscious of him behind her, conscious of his innate authority and, also, something she feared was disapproval.
Perhaps he’d discovered one of those incidents that she’d decided wasn’t serious enough to report to him. In her opinion, the children were so courteous and well-behaved, few infractions were that serious.
Dominic Granville waved her to a seat. “Miss Somerton, you probably know why I wish to talk to you—”
“About Thomas going away to school?” she asked hopefully. “As I see it—”
“Not that.” He frowned as he settled into the studded leather chair the other side of the oak desk. “Obviously, Thomas will start at Eton in September, just as I did, and my father did before me.”
Oh, dear. That frown…she could think of only one incident he might consider that serious. “I should have made Charlotte confess to you herself, please don’t blame her for my error. But, Mr. Granville—” she leaned forward in her seat “—if Cook has dared call Charlotte a thief again, when she was acting purely out of Christian compassion, I—I—” She sputtered, outrage on Charlotte’s behalf causing words to fail her…but not for long. “I hope you will tell that evil woman she has overstepped the mark!”
Mr Granville rubbed his right temple. “It seems to me, Miss Somerton, that calling my cook evil might be overstepping the mark.”
“I apologize, sir.” She ignored the skeptical rise of one dark eyebrow. “However, Charlotte is the kindest—”
“What did she steal?” he demanded.
“A leg of lamb,” Serena admitted. “Technically only half a leg—we ate at least half of it for dinner on Sunday, you’ll remember.”
Mr. Granville took to rubbing his left temple, as well as his right. “If she was hungry, she could have asked for food, could she not?”
“She gave it to a beggar who came to the kitchen door. Mr. Granville, he looked starving!” Just thinking about the poor man brought tears to Serena’s eyes. “Cook turned him away, without so much as a crust.”
“That was wrong of her.” Mr. Granville had a reputation for giving to those in need; that encouraged Serena to hope for mercy.
“Very wrong,” she agreed. “Charlotte was in the kitchen at the time, and she took matters into her own hands. She grabbed the meat and ran after the man.”
Mr. Granville winced, doubtless at the thought of his nine-year-old daughter chasing a vagrant across his property.
“I agree, it wasn’t the most ladylike conduct,” Serena reflected. “But her sense of compassion is most commendable.”
“Did you punish Charlotte?” he asked.
“For giving to someone in need?” she said, shocked.
“She took the meat without permission.”
Serena bit down on a heated defense of her charge. “I told her she should have come to me, and I would have negotiated with Cook.”
“That’s not sufficient,” he said.
Serena had had very little conversation with her employer—she took her instructions, such as they were, from his sister, who’d hired her. But she knew he wouldn’t welcome the kind of robust debate that prevailed in the rectory at Piper’s Mead, her parents’ home. A pang of homesickness for her family stabbed her. She managed a stiff, “I apologize, sir.”
“Two apologies in the space of half a minute,” he observed. “It may interest you to know, the second was no more convincing than the first.”
Serena tried to look interested in that fact. The shaking of Mr. Granville’s head suggested she’d failed.
“Miss Somerton, deplorable though my daughter’s behavior is, that’s not why I summoned you.”
She opened her mouth; he held up a hand. “No, please, I don’t want to hear confessions of any more of my children’s escapades, or your inability to discipline them. I have received a letter from the Earl of Spenford.” He picked up a sheet of paper, and waved it at her.
“Oh,” she said, dismayed.
“I wasn’t aware Lord Spenford recently married your sister,” Dominic said. “You didn’t request leave to attend the wedding?”
Serena had rather hoped Mr. Granville wouldn’t discover that fact just yet. In theory, the financial repercussions of her sister’s marriage would be to Serena’s advantage—Lord Spenford would feel some obligation to support his wife’s sisters—but she refused to benefit from this change in circumstances until she was certain Constance was happy. At this point, she was by no means certain.
“The wedding occurred rather suddenly, due to the Dowager Countess of Spenford’s illness,” Serena explained. “There wasn’t time for me to journey home.”
“I see.” Her employer folded the letter and set it on the desk. “I don’t recall my sister mentioning your connection to the Spenfords. Are your families old acquaintances?”
In other words, how did a mere governess end up so well-connected?
“My father is the Reverend Adrian Somerton, rector of Piper’s Mead in Hampshire,” she said. “Papa was given his parish living by the Dowager Countess of Spenford, his patroness.” She hoped that would be enough.
“Somerton…” Mr. Granville drummed his fingers on the desk as he contemplated her. “I’m acquainted with Sir Horace Somerton, brother of the Duke of Medway.”
“Sir Horace is my grandfather,” she admitted reluctantly. Her father disapproved of any boasting of their high connections. We’re all equal in God’s eyes, he often said.
Mr. Granville blinked. “So your father is the nephew of the Duke of Medway? Does my sister know? Why on earth are you working as a governess?”
She clasped her hands demurely, in the dwindling hope it might make her look more governess-like. Her prospects here at Woodbridge Hall looked increasingly dim. “Miss Granville is aware…it came out in conversation one day. But, sir, my father became estranged from most of his family the moment he took his holy calling more seriously than they would have liked. Before I was born, my parents spurned London society in favor of a simpler existence.”
“You will forgive my intrusion into your affairs—” that was an order, not a request, Serena noted “—but if even if your father is estranged from the Medways, your family is surely not destitute.”
“Our circumstances are comfortable,” she said, embarrassed.
“So why do you need to work? Surely the life of a governess is not comfortable.”
“I love my work,” she said, surprised. “The children are wonderful, and Miss Granville is kindness itself.”
At the mention of his sister, he gave her a sharp look. Some people considered Miss Granville a little odd; Serena wasn’t one of them.
Serena carried on. “But in answer to your question, my father has recently been in disagreement with his bishop. Papa favors the preaching the Word to people wherever they may be—in the fields, if necessary. The bishop sees his approach as Methodism, and is afraid Papa will create disunity in the church. Which he never would—” aware of rising indignation in her voice, she took a moment to calm herself “—but he worries the bishop might remove him from the parish.”
If that happened, her parents would lose their home and livelihood.
“And that’s why you sought this position?” Mr. Granville asked.
“I don’t want to be a burden on my parents if their circumstances change,” she said, which was the truth, but not the entire truth. That had been the impetus for applying to be a governess, but not the reason she’d accepted this post over the two others she’d been offered. “I should explain, I’m the oldest of five sisters.”
Many fathers would consider five daughters a burden. Serena’s parents made it clear their girls were their joy. They’d never exhorted them to find husbands, though as Papa had said when she was home at Christmas, “If God should provide wonderful husbands for any or all of you, my dears, I will not quarrel.” Serena hadn’t been able to discern from her parents’ letters what they thought of Constance’s marriage. Whether Lord Spenford was “wonderful.”
Mr. Granville leaned forward, steepled his fingers. “Miss Somerton, you must see it’s impossible for you to remain a governess now that you have an earl as brother by marriage.”
She lowered her eyes. He was right. But this wasn’t just about what society considered proper, or even what Lord Spenford considered proper. She grasped the edge of the desk and said, “Mr. Granville, please don’t say I must leave.”
He eyed her encroaching fingers warily. “Of course you must.”
“Sir, the children need me. It’s been such a joy to teach them, to see Thomas develop his interest in nature, and Hetty learn to form her own opinions.”
Mr. Granville looked doubtful of the joys of both of those. She considered telling him the truth: that when Marianne Granville had explained how the children had lost their mother, and their father (she implied) had grown distant and cold, Serena had seen the possibility for a second chance for this family. A chance for the widowed Mr. Granville to put behind him the mistakes he’d made out of grief. To start afresh with his children. Serena, who knew about making mistakes, would help him. And just maybe, she would earn her own fresh chance.
But it was difficult to explain all that without causing offence. Better just to talk about the children. “Then there’s Charlotte’s wonderful—”
“Compassion,” he inserted. “Yes, so you said.”
She beamed at him. “And William. He was so shy when I arrived, but just the other day he took the starring role in a drama we created.”
“Really?” Mr. Granville might well be surprised: his second son was notoriously bashful. “That drama lesson wasn’t, by any chance, at the expense of something more useful?” he asked. “Arithmetic, for example?”
“Of course we do arithmetic,” she assured him. “But I’m thrilled to say, William positively relished the limelight in our drama.” One only need look at the crippling shyness of Marianne Granville, Mr. Granville’s sister, to see that helping William become more sociable was of far more use than advancing his already excellent arithmetic. “The fact that he got to brandish a carving knife for much of the last scene was a useful incentive,” she recalled fondly.
Alarm flashed across her employer’s face, reminding her of that day he’d scolded her for letting the children slide down the banister. What child wouldn’t eventually take advantage of such smooth, tempting banisters? Far better to do it under her supervision. She moved swiftly on. “And Louisa.” She felt her face soften at the mention of the youngest Granville. “As long as she has someone to hold on to, she’s the happiest girl in the world.”
“She sounds clinging,” Mr. Granville said.
“She’s five years old,” Serena pointed out. “Sir, it would be a very bad idea for me to leave now.”
“Bad for them, or for you?” he asked. “Frankly, Miss Somerton, it sounds as if you’re having the time of your life, while my children may or may not be learning anything.”
She gasped, shifted in her seat. Just in time, she refrained from leaping to her feet in self-defense. The kind of reaction Mr. Granville wouldn’t appreciate. Instead, she pressed her slippers firmly into the carpet, anchoring herself. “I report regularly to Miss Granville on my curriculum and the children’s progress. She has always expressed her satisfaction.”
It was both true and, Serena hoped, a tactical masterstroke. Mr. Granville was inclined to let his sister have her way. “But I see my role as more than that a teacher of reading and arithmetic,” she continued.
“I would hope,” he said “the curriculum of which you boast also includes French for the older children. And sketching and the like for all of them.”
Maybe she could just hint at her deeper purpose.
“When Miss Granville appointed me,” Serena said, “she told me the children were worried they might forget their mother. Yet they were afraid to talk about her.”
Mr. Granville’s jaw—strong, with a tendency to square when he disapproved—showed definite signs of squaring. “That’s absurd. My sister shouldn’t have said such a thing to you.”
“The reason they were afraid to talk about your late wife was a sense that you discourage such conversations,” Serena persisted. Oh, this confrontation was long overdue! And now, under pressure, she was making a hash of it. She should have asked to see him months ago, and approached him with a carefully reasoned argument as to how he could improve his children’s happiness.
“I see no reason to wallow in things we cannot change,” he said. Both tone and glare were designed to intimidate.
So it was a blessing that she’d been raised to disregard intimidation in the pursuit of right.
“Naturally, Louisa doesn’t remember her mother at all,” she said, “since she was just a babe when…and William also has no recollection. I’ve made a point of asking the older children to share their memories with their younger siblings.” As a concession she added, “Without wallowing, of course.”
He opened his mouth, but he seemed oddly stunned and didn’t speak.
Serena pressed on. “While the children still miss their mama, they’re happier for being able to talk about her. French and arithmetic are certainly important, and I believe I do an excellent job in academic matters. But I count influencing your children’s happiness as the greatest achievement of my tenure here.” She’d noticed, even in her brief observations of him, that he deflected anything that smacked of emotion. His children deserved better.
“That’s enough,” he growled. “Miss Somerton, I don’t doubt that in your own woolly-headed, parson’s daughter-ish way, your intentions are good…”
She gasped. “Woolly-headed?” She could not, of course, take offence at being called parson’s daughter-ish. She was proud to be that.
He ignored her. “But regardless of your calling, you cannot stay on as governess. I will inform Lord Spenford by return mail that your employment has been terminated. You will leave by the end of the week.” He pressed his palms into the desk, and stood.
She was forced to look up at him. “Is that your last word on the matter?” To her annoyance, her voice held a tiny quaver.
“Because I should point out—”
“That was my last word,” he reminded her.
She sagged. Twice, she opened her mouth to raise a fresh objection, but Mr. Granville kept his gaze on her until, under that dark intensity, she subsided completely.
He observed her capitulation. “That will be all, Miss Somerton,” he said, sounding satisfied for the first time since she’d walked into this room.
Serena remained in her seat, not moving, considering what to do for the best. Father, guide me, please.
“You may go, Miss Somerton,” Mr. Granville reminded her. He cleared his throat. “Thank you for your service. I do appreciate your fondness for my children.” He smiled, a little grimly perhaps, but it appeared he intended encouragement.
Inspiration struck, though she suspected it had more to do with her prayer than his smile.
She smiled back, as she rose from her chair. His gaze dropped, and it seemed to Serena that he scanned her from top to toe.
“Mr. Granville,” she said. Her voice was clear and composed. Much better.
He brought his gaze back to her face as he moved around the desk. “Yes, Miss Somerton?”
“Would you consider marrying again?”