Excerpt from The Defiant Governess
Jane found that she was curious to finally meet the marquess. She knew his house, his lands, his possessions, his dependents and his servants. From that she had formed a very definite picture of him.
And now she was to meet him in person.
She finished sponging the hem of her gown, for she had decided not to change into her better grey merino one, but to remain in the distinctly less flattering shade of brown. As she regarded her reflection she almost grimaced at the plain, rather unattractive face that peered back at her.
But, she sighed, it had been decided that it was best to look as unremarkable as possible—not that it seemed to matter here at Highwood. Well, the hairstyle certainly accomplished that, along with the walnut leaf rinse which had dulled her once glorious hair to an insipid shade nearly as ugly as that of the dress.
She picked up a pair of spectacles from the dresser. Though only made of clear glass, they added an even dowdier touch to her appearance. She had made sure to wear them occasionally around the house so everyone was used to seeing them on her. Propping them firmly on the bridge of her nose she felt ready to meet His Lordship. Now, if she could just remember to squint...
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. Mrs. Fairchild had left nothing to chance. She dutifully followed Glavin downstairs to the library.
The marquess was standing with his back to her, seemingly engrossed in the blazing hearth, when Jane quietly entered the room. She stopped near the threshold, not merely out of deference but out of surprise. The gentleman before her was over six feet tall, with long legs, narrow hips and a broad, muscular back, accentuated by the snug cut of his elegant swallow-tailed coat of claret superfine. There was a lazy, cat-like grace that radiated from his person, as well as something that hinted at a veiled power beneath the lean, hard body. Thick dark hair—not grey, very dark—fell to the back of his collar while his shirt points were moderate, allowing him to turn his head with ease. Her surprise turned to shock when he did so.
Those sea-green eyes!
"You!" she blurted out.
"Please take a seat—Miss Langley, is it?" he said coolly, neither his voice or expression giving the slightest acknowledgement that they had ever laid eyes on each other before. He motioned to an armchair while he seated himself at a massive oak desk facing her.
Jane sat, too stunned to say anything.
Lord Saybrook let the silence last what seemed to be an interminable amount of time before continuing.
"I must congratulate you on your progress with my ward during the short time you have been here. He seems to have actually learned something."
She had recovered her wits enough to detect the faint note of sarcasm in his voice. "I take it you have no high opinion of governesses then, my lord?"
"No," he admitted. "I do not. Most of them I have met have been either vapid or cruel But you appear to be neither."
Jane kept her eyes focused on her primly folded hands resting in her lap. How was one to respond to such a compliment, if compliment it was?
"With such an opinion, I wonder that you would bother hiring one at all," she said softly.
"It is necessary," was the curt reply. There was another silence. "I have also found my ward to be more... lively. I take it I have you to thank for this as well?"
Jane couldn't resist the opening. "Oh, it is really nothing, my lord. Children naturally respond to a little love and attention." She smiled innocently. "His name is Peter, by the way—in case you have forgotten."
A flush stole across his face, she noted with satisfaction, and his jaw set grimly. So, she had managed to effect a crack in his icy manner. But when he spoke, his voice was quite even.
"You may go now."
Without any further ado, he turned his attention to the papers on his desk.
It was Jane's turn to feel the heat of anger. To be dismissed like a... a servant! But as soon as she thought it, the very irony of the situation nearly made her smile in spite of herself. She rose silently and left the room, conceding the last word to him. After all, he had had an unfair advantage in the meeting. But she felt she had held her own, and even scored a hit herself.
Yet the whole meeting had infuriated her, only serving to confirm her suspicion that the marquess was a cold, hard man. When she reached her own chamber she was still fuming over the bored, sardonic look on his face, the way his eyes raked over her as if they didn't even see her. She made a vow that he would never intimidate her as he seemed to have done to the rest of the household. Not that it mattered. From what she understood, His Lordship never stayed more than a week or two at a time. But if he wanted to cross wills with her, she was ready!