HERO COME BACK: Governess Brides Novella
Bestselling author Christina Dodd brings you, “The Third Suitor,” a novella of The Governess Brides…
Hoyden heiress Lady Jessie Macmillian must choose a husband from among three suitors, but a surprise awaits her … and Harry Chamberlain, the gentleman-spy who falls into the web of tangled courtships.
(You’ll recognize Harry from LOST IN YOUR ARMS.)
In my novella in HERO COME BACK, Harry Chamberlain from LOST IN YOUR ARMS makes a reappearance, but this time rather than playing a secondary character, he’s the hero of his own romance!
WILDBRIAR INN, ON THE COAST OF DORSET, ENGLAND, 1847
Leaning over the high porch railing, Harry Chamberlain looked down into the flowering shrubbery surrounding his ocean front cottage and asked, “Young woman, what are you doing down there?”
The girl flinched, stopped crawling through the collection of moss, dirt and faded pink blossoms, and turned a smudged face up to his. “Sh.” She glanced behind her. “I’m trying to avoid one of my suitors.”
Harry glanced behind her, too. No one was there.
“Can you see him?” she asked.
“There’s not a soul in sight.” A smart man would have let her go on her way. Harry was on holiday, a holiday he desperately needed, and he had vowed to avoid trouble at all costs. Now a young woman, dressed in a modish blue flowered gown, came crawling through the bushes, armed with nothing more than a ridiculous tale, and he was tempted to help. Tempted because of a thin, tanned face, wide brown eyes, a kissable mouth, a crooked blue bonnet and, from this angle, the finest pair of breasts he’d ever had the good fortune to gaze upon.
Such unruliness in his own character surprised him. He was, in truth, Edmund Kennard Henry Chamberlain, earl of Granville, the owner of a great estate in Somerset, and because of the weight of his responsibilities there, and the additional responsibilities he had taken on, he tended to do his duty without capriciousness. Indeed, it was that trait which had set him, eight years ago, to serve England in various countries and capacities. Now he gazed at a female intent on some silliness and discovered in himself the urge to find out more about her. Perhaps he had at last relaxed from the tension of his last job. Or perhaps she was the relaxation he sought.
In a trembling voice, she pleaded, “Please, sir, if he appears, don’t tell him I’m here.”
“I wouldn’t dream of interfering.”
“Oh, thank you!” A smile transformed that quivering mouth into one that was naturally merry, with soft, peach lips and a dimple. “Because I thought that’s what you were doing.”
Harry winced. “A good shot.”
“I’ll be on my way,” she whispered, and started to crawl forward. “Warn me if he appears before I am away.”
Harry nodded and looked around. His cottage afforded him a lovely view of the white sand beach, where waves rolled in eternally, soothingly, blessedly. Chalk cliffs rose on either side of the beach, and there the waves battered the rocks. The piercing cry of terns could be heard as they dove for smelt, and a breeze ruffled his dark hair, carrying the scent of brine and freshness. He wanted to sink back into the porch swing, to stare out at the ocean … to stretch his aching shoulder where the bullet had torn through muscles and bone, and wonder what next he would do with his life. Instead he looked down. The girl was still there, struggling to unhook her bonnet from one of the stiff, clinging branches. “Take it off,” he recommended.
“I can’t. The ribbon is knotted.” She jerked at the bonnet.
He heard a ripping sound. Another shower of petals fell off the rhododendrons, her bonnet dropped in the dirt and a mass of curly blonde hair tumbled around her shoulders.
“Good God,” he whispered. In an instant, the fall of hair transformed her from a frightened English girl to a kneeling houri, waiting to service her master.
He shook his head to dispel the vision. Obviously, he’d spent too much time among the sheiks and Bedouins of the East if he were imagining erotic tableaux here in the heart of sunny Dorset. And obviously, he’d spent too much time alone if he lusted after such a hoyden. He needed to do something about his condition. Take a mistress, perhaps. Or accede to his mother’s wishes and take a wife. Or both.
Unaware of his wandering thoughts, the girl picked up the bonnet and stared at it. “Oh, dear. Miss Hendrika will be most unhappy about this.”
He didn't want to ask, but the habits of a lifetime were too strong. “Who is Miss Hendrika? Where is Miss Hendrika?”
“She’s my chaperon. And she’s at the inn, finishing her breakfast.”
“Ah.” The inn stood behind the cottage at the very top of the hill overlooking the beach, a white painted, two story affair that looked like a larger version of his cottage, with a porch that ran the length of the building and chairs and rockers set out for the guests. That was from whence the girl had undoubtedly come. “Aren’t chaperons supposed to … chaperone?”
“She’s rather old and a little dotty, and truth to tell, I think my stepmother told her not to bother chaperoning me too closely in hopes one of the suitors would compromise me.”
That frank speech settled it. This girl lifted the malaise which had plagued him since he’d been shot, and she would have to sit with him for at least a little while. Harry descended the steps and reached into the shrubbery, offering his hand. “Come up on the porch and explain.”
She eyed him doubtfully.
In a commanding tone, he said, “Really. I must insist.”
“So I noticed.” She crawled out and stood, brushing at the dirt caked on her knees and once again affording Harry a lovely view of her bosom. “But Lord Jenour-Redmond will certainly see me if I remain.”
“Jenour-Redmond?” Harry knew him, and he could scarcely credit that that witless, graceless marquess was a suitor for the hand of this vivacious girl. “Why him?”
In a voice overflowing with tragedy, she confessed, “I have a fortune.”