MY FAIR TEMPTRESS: Governess Brides #8
From New York Times bestseller Christina Dodd comes MY FAIR TEMPTRESS, Book #8 of her most popular historical series, The Governess Brides!
Learn to Flirt in 10 Lessons or Less!
Miss Caroline Ritter, accomplished flirt, acknowledged beauty, and ruined gentlewoman, offers lessons to any rich, noble lord too inept to attract a wife. Discard silly affectations and garish clothing! Learn the arts of witty conversation, elegant dancing, equestrian feats and irresistible seduction at the opera! With Miss Ritter’s help, any awkward nobleman can become the most sought-after aristocrat at the ball!
Send your request to the Distinguished Academy of Governesses.
Please, absolutely no devastatingly attractive men with hidden agendas such as secret missions or vengeful plots against evil villains—specifically not Jude Durant, the earl of Huntington, the most handsome, the most covert, the most dangerous of all the aristocrats in Regency London.
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The Governess Brides was one of my most popular historical series and the longest running, and after six books I took a break to write other stories in other series. But the tales of young women who succeed in supporting themselves against all odds and in the end win everything — wealth, status, the man of their dreams and the best sex in the history of the world — always appeals to me (and apparnetly a lot of people) so it was a joy to return to The Governess Brides with this story, MY FAIR TEMPTRESS.
The Distinguished Academy of Governesses
Miss Caroline Ritter squeezed a handful of her damp, shabby skirt. “I need to procure some method of providing sustenance for myself.”
Adorna, Lady Bucknell, the proprietress of the Distinguished Academy of Governesses, folded her hands on her desk and gazed at the young lady seated before her.
Rather more forcefully, Miss Ritter said, “In other words, I need a job.”
Pinning her with a direct gaze, Adorna asked, “What are your accomplishments?”
Miss Ritter hesitated a telling moment.
Adorna tried to make it easier for her. “What do you do best?”
“Flirt,” Miss Ritter said promptly.
Adorna believed her. She had seen many a young lady come through her study at the Distinguished Academy of Governesses, all of them in need of assistance, but she had never felt such a kinship as she felt now for Miss Caroline Ritter.
This young lady was beautiful. Her smooth, tanned complexion reminded Adorna of the tale repeated about the Ritters — that four hundred years ago Mr. Ritter brought home a bride from some exotic locale, and since then the women of the family had been temptresses who led all men astray. Miss Ritter certainly fit the role; shecould accurately be described as the loveliest woman in England.
Leaning back in her chair, Adorna said aloud what she had been thinking. “I remember you. Three years ago you were all the rage.”
“And I’ve heard of you.” Caroline met Adorna's gaze directly. “You were the most famous debutante of all time.”
“So my husband says, but I tell him that is simply flattery.” Adorna allowed her mind to drift back thirty years to her debut. “Do you know, I had fourteen offers of marriage in my first Season?”
“That is extraordinary.” Miss Ritter modestly lowered her eyes. “I had fifteen.”
Ah. A rivalry. How delicious. “Four abduction attempts, two by the same man.”
“Only three abduction attempts, but all by different men.”
“And fifty-three stolen kisses.” This game amused Adorna. “I kept a tally.”
“I kept a tally, too, and I assure you, you’re far ahead of me in that contest.” Miss Ritter's mouth drooped in disappointment. “My chaperone was far too watchful until … she wasn’t.”
Lifting the bell at her elbow, Adorna rang and when the maid appeared, she requested tea be served. Returning to the matter at hand, Adorna said, “Unfortunately, Miss Ritter, there is very little call for such a talent as flirting.”
The girl fixed Adorna with her amazingly bright aquamarine gaze. “Please. Lady Bucknell, I truly have need of employment. You have a reputation of finding a position to fit every young woman. You must have something I can do.”
“Your circumstances are difficult.” Adorna’s sympathy was unfeigned. “I understand you were compromised during your debut season?”
Miss Ritter kept her chin up and a brave smile on her lips. “Not just compromised. Ruined.”
Adorna hated to press her, but if she was responsible for placing the young lady into a household, she had to know the circumstances. “By a married man. Lord Freshfield is very handsome.”
“Very handsome, indeed. He could turn a girl’s head.” Miss Ritter's eyes froze to the color of the winter sea. “But not to that extent, my dear Lady Bucknell. I was a foolish girl, but not a wanton.”
That was the damning part of the tale Adorna had heard. That Miss Ritter had been infatuated with Lord Freshfield. That she had encouraged him to behave badly. But Adorna well knew how gossip twisted the truth. “I’ve met Lord Freshfield and he’s not an admirable character, scarcely fit for society much less the company of a young lady.” Shrewdly, she added, “I hope he hasn’t bothered you since.”
“We no longer move in the same circles. We never shall again.”
Miss Ritter hadn’t really answered the question, Adorna noted. So Lord Freshfield had not only destroyed her life, but now sought to destroy her innocence. That man was nothing but blond hair and smiling teeth held together by his own imagined allure.
“He hurt my reputation, but my father is the one who ruined me. My father’s dearest wish is for a title. He said my stupidity ruined those chances.” Miss Ritter's mouth was the kind of mouth men convinced themselves signaled the soul of a seductress. Yet if those same men saw its intelligent quirk right now, they might be cautious, even frightened, for she appeared both savagely amused and furious. “My mother was from Aquitaine in the South of France. Her family has written repeatedly asking that I come to them. But my younger sister … she needs me. We visit every chance we get, when my father goes out. She’s lonely. She’s only fourteen years old. If I could take her to Aquitaine …”
Adorna gestured in the maid who carried the tea tray, and listened.
“Which is silly. I can’t make enough to support myself. But I must stay here in London, for although she has enough to eat and shelter over her head, doesn’t a girl need kindness and encouragement and, most important, love, to develop?” Miss Ritter seemed to be repeating a conversation she had often had with herself. “Mama died when I was that age, and how much more terrible for Genevieve that she lost her Mama, then five years later, she lost me. I can’t leave.”
Adorna led the way to the chairs by the fire. She waved Caroline to the settee close to the fire, then seated herself opposite. She examined the platter of foodstuffs and dismissed the maid. Taking one of the plates, she asked, “Lemon cakes, Miss Ritter?”
Miss Ritter's eyes glowed. “Yes, thank you, I love lemon cakes.”
Adorna placed a lemon cake on a plate. “Cinnamon biscuits?”
Stripping off her gloves, Miss Ritter said, “Yes, thank you, I love cinnamon biscuits.”
“Yes, thank you, I love —“
Removing a few items off the heaped platter for herself, Adorna placed the platter close to Miss Ritter. It was easier that way. She poured tea, added milk and sugar, and extended the cup. “What have you done to support yourself?”
Miss Ritter put down the cup. “I have sewed.” Leaning down, she rummaged in the large valise she carried with her and produced a sealed paper. “Here’s an affidavit from Madam Marnham, noted seamstress, confirming the dates of my employment. I have worked in the kitchens of Lord Barnett.” She produced another letter. “Here’s an affidavit from the chef also confirming the dates of my employment. I have taught singing and pianoforte, and for that I have a sweet recommendation” — she handed it across — “from Mrs. Charlton Cabot explaining why she had to let me go. Poor woman. She felt so guilty, but I quite understood.”
Adorna waved Miss Ritter to silence and broke the seals. As she examined the letters, a pattern became clear. Miss Ritter had tried to find employment on her own, but she was dreadful at sewing and cooking and teaching. Yet her employers had loved her and gave lengthy explanations about their reasons for releasing her from their employ. In truth, she was only good for one thing — flirting.
Now she sat and stared at Adorna. Her bonnet was frayed, her hem was frayed, her composure was frayed. The finger of one glove had a hole, badly mended, her lips were chapped from the cold, and her dress had been turned too many times. Something had to be done.
“Very well.” Standing, Adorna went to her desk. Digging down to the bottom of the employer requests stacked on her desk, she found the one she wanted and pulled it out. She re-read it, and nodded. “Miss Ritter, I have the perfect position for you.”