About the book
She is the only wish his soul would make…
Miss Alicia Sempill is left to fend for herself. With no family of her own, and with her last employment ending in scandal, she must find employment soon, even if it means working for a man that she has only heard horrible rumors about.
James Arvill, the Marquess of Warwick, has had to live with the Ton’s vicious gossip for years now. Rumored to have killed his own father to inherit his title, he is left raising his two mischievous siblings all by himself. So, when a bright-eyed governess enters his doorstep, he reluctantly hires her.
As much as the two try to keep their distance from each other, however, they are drawn together, unknowingly walking right into the wolf’s den. For the lovesick, the betrayed, and the jealous all smell alike…
A pale face stared back through the mirror, eyes dark and lips pursed into a frown. It was such an unfamiliar expression that the woman hardly recognized herself, save for those familiar green eyes staring back at her. When Alicia blinked, so did her reflection, and the spell shattered as she turned away.
"You'll do fine," Rachel said, perching on the end of the bed. She'd been there the entire day, murmuring reassurances into Alicia's ear the whole time. Even Rachel's calm nature didn't actually help but only worsened the nerves rolling in Alicia's stomach.
"I need this job," Alicia said softly, "If I don't find something soon, I'll lose the house; then where will I go? It isn't as if I have any family that can help." Hands curling into fists, Alicia forced herself to take a deep, drawn-out breath. It helped for as long as it took to catch herself in the mirror again. She was a mess. Nobody was going to hire her.
Rachel uttered a sympathetic sigh and reached out to squeeze Alicia's hand. Rachel's skin was always so soft. She used only the best lotions and moisturizers available. For a woman with not much more money than Alicia herself, she had expensive taste. Now, though, the softness of her skin sent a jolt of reassurance through Alicia. "Like I said," she repeated, "you'll do fine. This is the one; I can feel it."
"And how would you know?"
A shrug, an easy smile. "I don't, but something tells me that this is going to be a good day."
They had been friends for years; ever since Rachel moved into the house across the street and caught Alicia tumbling out of a tree at just eleven years old. Now they were both twenty-three, but little had changed. Alicia was still the worrier who somehow always got herself into trouble. Rachel was still the one to always offer reassurances.
"Do you think I look all right?" Alicia murmured, gesturing to her dark navy dress. It was drab and boring, but professional at least. Without a choice of clothing, it was the best she had managed to pull together. "I can wear a shawl since it's so gray outside - or should I take a proper coat? I have that blue pelisse Papa bought me for my twentieth birthday-" Grinding to a halt, Alicia took in a steady breath.
Expression twisting in sympathy, Rachel only sighed. "You're overthinking. The marquess won't care what you're wearing so long as your competent at the job. Which you are." Before Alicia could interject, she added, "I know you've never been a governess before, but you've got the spirit and the determination, and you're good with children. That's all you need."
Alicia wasn't convinced. Nothing that Rachel said was enough to do more than momentarily distract her from her darker thoughts. Alicia reached across her old vanity table for her hairpins, hoping that she could at least make her hair look nice to distract from her pale, nervous face. She bundled up reddish-brown hair and piled it into an elegant bun, which was about the only hairstyle she could competently do.
Rachel watched quietly the entire time, a kind smile on her features. "See? There's no need to worry. You have this under control."
Alicia wished she could believe that. Yet worse than her inferiority, worse than the concern of losing this job, was a second worry. "If I do get this governess position, I won't complain, how could I? But... have you heard the rumors?"
Brows furrowed, Rachel shifted forward on the bed until her legs dangled off the edge. Now she was intrigued; Alicia recognized that impatient look anywhere. "Rumors? Of course, I have - my sister was talking about it just last week."
"Right." Chewing on her lip was such a terrible habit, and yet Alicia found herself doing it anyway. By the time she reached the marquess' manor, they'd be chewed to shreds. She hadn’t even put on her shoes or finished her hair when she collapsed onto the bed with a dull oof. "Do you really think he did it? Killed his own father?"
"I don't know," Rachel replied, "but other people believe it."
As far as Alicia was concerned, rumors were just that; but they usually came from some kind of truth. She didn't want to work for a killer, no matter how desperately she needed the money. It was probably untrue, gossip spread by misunderstanding or even malice... but Alicia couldn't shake the thought from her mind.
"Alicia," Rachel chided, placing a soft hand on her shoulder, "you're doing that thing again; where you overthink and spiral into a panic."
"I'm not panicking," came her automatic response, only for her voice to pitch and waver. Okay, perhaps a little bit, then.
"Finish getting ready and come and eat something. I'll make us breakfast, okay?"
Although Alicia had no appetite, her stomach still grumbled in response at the prospect of a meal. Scowling at the floor, Alicia reluctantly agreed. "All right, but only something small. And coffee, please. I need to be awake."
Laughter spilled from Rachel's lips as she stood to leave, nodding in agreement. "Coffee it is, then. I'll see you in a few minutes." She threw open the bedroom door and wandered into the narrow hall, and then she was gone.
Now that she was alone, Alicia took the time to steady her breathing. She hadn't been this nervous for any other interview, and she’d had plenty. Except, she hadn't been so desperate before, and she hadn’t had to deal with the idea of working for a possible murderer. Even as she tried to disregard the thought, it lingered.
The marquess has two young siblings to think of. He wouldn't kill his own father. What a ridiculous thought! She reached for the last pin and shoved it into her hair with enough force that it scraped along her forehead, leaving a little trail of dull pain in its wake, and thoughts of the Marquess of Warwick momentarily left her mind.
Downstairs, Rachel was already making coffee, the strong scent wafting through the house.
They finished breakfast quickly, although Alicia only took two more bites before admitting defeat. If she ate too much, she only ran the risk of feeling ill before her interview, and she didn't want to imagine all of the things that could go wrong with that. Already, those persistent nerves were crawling up her throat.
"I could walk you to the manor, if you like?" Rachel suggested as she put the dishes into the sink. She wasn't dressed for the weather, having arrived only in a dress and no shawl, but the cold had never bothered her much.
Even so, Alicia shook her head. "Thank you, but I think I had better go alone. What time is it?"
Rachel peered into the living room through the adjoining door and announced, "Quarter past ten."
Alicia paled. Her blood ran cold. No, that wasn't right... when she had looked during breakfast, it had been nine o'clock, not ten. With wide eyes and a thudding chest, Alicia darted into the living room to see for herself. Sure enough, above the fireplace, the clock gleamed quarter past ten. How had she let this happen? She had been so careful, and she had woken up so early too. Yet there was no denying what the clock said, which meant only one thing; Alicia was late.
"I have to go," she gasped, spinning on her heel to run into the hall. Her shawl hung on the stair railing, and she snatched it up, tumbling to the front door and yanking it open. There was no time to get her pelisse coat or to fix her shoe; the button had come undone in her hurry.
"Wait," Rachel insisted as she appeared by the stairs, "why the rush?"
"I'm late. God, forgive me for being so utterly incompetent."
"Hey, calm down-"
There was no time for that. Alicia thought she had ages, but in reality, she should have left fifteen minutes ago. If she took the shortcut through town, maybe she could make it with a minute to spare... no, she couldn't afford to think of a plan. Alicia had to go. With a hasty goodbye thrown across her shoulder, Alicia darted down her front steps, lurched past the gate, arriving in the quiet street. Then she turned left, towards town, and disappeared.
The streets were always quiet at this time of day. Most of the men were already at work and the women at home with their children. People wandered through town, shopping or out to visit friends, but Alicia was thankful for the fact that nobody got in her way as she darted around corners and ran down streets. And while a few still paused to stare in wonder as she streaked past, nobody tried to stop her.
The marquess lived in Warwick Manor, as his family had for generations. It was situated near the center of town, yet still far enough away to offer privacy. Bordered by the woods on one side and a river on the other, it was known for its beauty. Despite the winding paths that Alicia was forced to take, it was also easy to get to. Alicia's shortcut thankfully took only fifteen minutes instead of the twenty-five it would have taken to go via the main streets.
Alicia careened to a stop outside of the enormous iron gates, gazing up at the manor in the distance. She was here, yes, but now she had to walk all the way through the gardens to get to the front door. Why did manors have to be so elaborate? Smoothing down her skirt, Alicia attempted to compose herself before striding past the gates and onto the path. Yet with every step, the house grew closer; and with every step, her nerves grew worse.
By the time she had reached the front door, gaze fixed on the beautifully carved door knocker, Alicia wanted to be sick.
Yet she didn't even knock before the door swung open, revealing an enormous foyer in shades of white and cream. A grand staircase spiraled up to the next floor, decorated with dark wood and silver engravings. Everything about this manor was stunning, and every time Alicia looked, there was something new to see.
A cough alerted her to the presence in front of her. A tall man in a doorman's suit looked down at her, brows raised. "Can I help you, miss?"
"Oh, uh, good morning!" Alicia stuttered, and she was all too aware of how nervous she sounded. "I'm here to see Lord Arvill about the governess position?"
"You're late," the doorman said coolly, "Lord Arvill wasn’t expecting more people."
Already? Either very few women had applied for the job, or the interviews were so short that he barely spoke to them at all. Neither option reassured Alicia in the slightest, and her cheeks flared pink in embarrassment. "Please?" she asked quietly, "I don't wish to be a bother, but could you give me a chance?"
The doorman rolled his eyes. "It isn't up to me, miss. Come in and sit down, and I shall see if he wishes to speak with you.
When Alicia stepped inside, she was greeted with the true size of the foyer. It was enormous, the size of her whole house alone and then some. It wasn't completely barren, however. To her left, there was a collection of tall, plush armchairs and settees. As it was the only place to sit, Alicia could only assume this was where the doorman wanted her to go. Gently lowering herself into an armchair, she let her gaze roam.
"He will be with you shortly," the doorman announced, "May I have your name?"
"Oh. It's Alicia, sir. Alicia Sempill."
He nodded once and then retreated past the stairs and into a room beyond. In the silence, the closing door echoed into the foyer.
"Well," Alicia murmured to herself, "at least I'm here. That has to count for something, doesn't it?" It was no more reassuring than Rachel's words of encouragement, and Alicia's heart stuttered as she looked about. This was the home of a marquess. Of course, it was grand, but she had never felt so out of her depth in her life. She wasn't wealthy enough to attend balls or popular enough to be invited to parties, so this was her first experience somewhere so lavish. It was impossible to believe that people really lived like this.
After a moment of silence, the doorman reappeared. With his hands clasped, he was the embodiment of politeness, but Alicia didn't miss the strained expression on his narrow face. "Lord Arvill has decided that he will see you today, although he asked me to let you know that he doesn't abide by tardiness, miss."
"Of course." Alicia ducked her head, feeling that telltale blush creep across her pale cheeks once again. Even so, a rush of relief flooded through her, and she pushed back the desire to sigh. "Thank you, sir. Am I to wait here?"
"Until he summons you, yes. If you need anything, one of the maids will see to it."
There wasn't a single maid to be seen, but Alicia kept those thoughts to herself. It was enough just to be here, to be allowed the chance to prove herself. Anything else was simply an added bonus that she wouldn't take for granted.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I have other duties to attend to."
Alicia's throat dried up, and she couldn't say a word, so she settled for a curt nod and watched him go. He vanished through another door, the click of his shoes disappearing with him.
Biting down on her lip, Alicia turned to gaze once more around the foyer. A darkened hallway led left, and to her right were two more doors, firmly closed. An eerie silence settled over the house, and Alicia wondered just where everyone was. Perhaps, because of the interviews today, the staff had been asked to keep to themselves.
There was no more time to dwell on it, because at that moment, a door clicked open, and the marquess himself appeared.
The woman sitting across from James held a permanent scowl on her features, which were wrinkled into deep valleys and crevices. She had to be nearing sixty, and although James didn't want to be rude, he couldn't help but wonder how much longer she had left. Although going by her sharp eyes and ability to look at him as if he were dirt underneath her shoe, he decided that she was probably doing just fine.
"Harriet May, yes?" James asked coolly, regarding her with a blank expression.
"Yes, my lord. I heard about the governess position in the newspaper. Children need discipline, not to be left running wild like animals."
A pang of annoyance lit up James' chest as he sucked in a breath. He had mentioned only briefly that his siblings were on the rowdy side; this woman had no right to judge his family. He was a marquess, for goodness sake, and she didn't even know him. A headache was already forming in the back of James’ skull, and he pressed a hand against his left temple. "Mrs. May, do you have any experience with children?"
"I have four of my own, all adults now, and they grew up into good, respectable people." She sounded so offended at the very concept that James thought otherwise, even though he had only asked a simple question.
He was starting to wish that he had turned her away at the door, but she had been the only one to show up for the governess position, and his options were slim. Slim being the kind way to put it. Injecting false cheer into his voice, James asked, "And have you ever cared for other people's children?"
"No, but my methods are simple. A strict schedule, good education, and a slap around the ears if they misbehave."
James felt the blood drain from his face. Never, not once in their entire lives, had his siblings been hit. Not by his father and certainly not by him. If only Edwin was here, he was so much better with people...
"It sounds harsh," Mrs. May continued with a firm nod, "but it has to be done, my lord. Children can't grow up believing that the world revolves around them, you know."
He liked her less and less with every word she spoke. Already, he was resisting the temptation to ask her to leave. He hadn't even wanted to hire a governess in the first place and was only trying to do so because it was becoming clear he had no choice. James had to wonder if it was worth the hassle.
"Mrs. May," he said calmly, even as irritation rose in his chest, "if you are going to be governess for my siblings, you will follow my rules. I will explain it all should you get the position, but you are not to lay a hand on either of them." His voice took on an icy tone, but he couldn't help it; nor did he make much of an effort to control it, either.
Mrs. May sat up in her chair, back rigid, and let out a huff. "With all due respect, my lord, you must not know what is best for these children, otherwise you wouldn't look to hire another to care for them."
James felt his eye twitch; it was a nervous habit that he couldn't control, the eyelid flickering over his bright blue gaze. "With all due respect," he repeated back to her, "this is my family, not yours, and I won't have you disrespecting me in my own home."
Although she paled, Mrs. May didn't flinch nor apologize. He had to give her credit for that, at least, considering that usually, his harsh glare was enough to send people running. Really, he should have been grateful that she arrived at all. Most people weren't willing to go near Warwick manor; considering most of the town thought he was a murderer and all.
Shaking his head free of those thoughts, James straightened in his seat. "Now, you said that you had four children of your own - where are they now?"
"Why do you need to know, my lord?"
Oh, she was giving him a headache! This whole ordeal was like pulling teeth - painful beyond belief - but unfortunately necessary. "So that I might have an idea of how you raised them and have an expectation of how I should assume Jenny and Samuel will turn out, should I hire you."
Her watery blue eyes narrowed; her arms folded stiffly across her chest. "I can assure you they all have high-paying jobs in good fields and that I raised them to become only the best. I don't accept less than perfection, you see."
That wasn't the answer he had asked for, but James had resigned himself to the fact that he was wasting his time. He didn't want this woman, all harsh edges, anywhere near his siblings. He had hoped for someone soft and kind, with the patience of a saint - not some old woman who thought she was doing a service by acting rudely under the guise of discipline.
"Well, Mrs. May, thank you for coming in today. I have your address, and I'll be in touch via letter as soon as I've made my decision."
She looked about the room with a raised brow, wispy and white. "Really. I thought I was the only one to arrive?"
"I'm expecting more later," he replied evasively. Then he stood, gesturing to the study door with one sweep of his long arm. "Now, I would hate to take up more of your day, and I'm a very busy man myself. The doorman will see you out."
Mrs. May grumbled as she hauled herself to her feet. So unsteady were her spindly legs that James reached out to help, but she waved him away with a scowl. "I'm perfectly capable, thank you."
That was hardly the way to speak to someone of his standing, but James was so thankful to see her go that he couldn't even muster the energy to care. She wandered into the foyer, careful of the slippery tiles. When the doorman, Archie, offered assistance, she waved him away too.
Allowing the door to fall closed, James returned to his desk. The room overlooked the garden outside, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows that provided the perfect view of the beautiful flowerbeds filled with half a dozen different kinds of lavender. Usually, watching the scenery eased him, but now it was almost impossible to manage even a smile. He wasn't going to hire Mrs. May, that much was obvious, but if not her, then who? Nobody else had turned up for the position, and with each passing day, it was more and more difficult to control his unruly siblings.
That wasn't to say that they were bad children. Samuel was sweet and generous when he wanted to be. It was just a shame that he loved to cause so much mischief. Jenny was no better, so full of energy that getting her to sit still was nearly impossible. Yet James knew them to be intelligent, gifted children who only missed their parents and didn't know what to do now that they were gone.
Squeezing his eyes shut against the oncoming headache, James took a deep breath to try and calm his thudding heart. He wouldn't allow himself to panic. What good would that do? He just had to try again and again until he found somebody trustworthy and kind enough for his siblings. And if that didn't happen... well, he would worry about that when the time came and not before.
A knock at the door alerted James, and his head darted up. "Come in." Who was it now? He had specifically asked not to be interrupted today.
The doorman, Archie, slipped inside. The door clicked closed behind him, but not before James caught sight of a dark-haired figure in the foyer. "There's a woman by the name of Alicia Sempill here to see you," Archie said softly, "about the governess position, my lord."
"Oh." Brows furrowed, he cast his blue gaze to Archie. He was getting old, but he was still a loyal employee and had been here since James' father, Richard, had been marquess. He knew how things worked here, and if he was willing to interrupt James despite specific orders, well, this Alicia Sempill must have been worth it.
"I know she's late, my lord, but she asked me to let you know she's here. She seems quite desperate, in fact."
Well, that wasn't too surprising. Nowadays, there were only two types of people to interact with James. Those who were desperate enough not to care about the rumors or those who were too stubborn to care. If Mrs. May was the latter, then Alicia was the former.
"Tell her I'll see her shortly," James instructed with a sigh, "but I don't appreciate her turning up so late. If it had been another five minutes, I'd have turned her away."
"Of course," Archie said smoothly, "I know you do so hate when people can't keep time. I shall tell her right away."
James watched as he slipped from the study and back into the cold foyer. He caught another glimpse of the mysterious Miss Sempill too - dark hair in a high bun and fair, delicate skin. She was surprisingly young for someone wanting to be a governess, and James couldn't help but wonder what had brought her to apply for such a position. Especially one here, no less.
Then the door closed, and he was alone again. Truthfully, after the disaster of Mrs. May, James wasn't sure if he could face another interview. Jenny and Samuel were upstairs now, in the playroom right above him. He couldn't hear their feet pounding on the floor or their laughter as they concocted some new mischief, but he knew they were there. It was where they spent most of their days when they weren't being homeschooled.
Well, he couldn't put off this interview forever. As much as he would have liked to, it was rude to keep someone waiting, even if they did arrive late. It was something he would have to mention; to make it clear that it was unacceptable. He hoped that Miss Sempill was at least polite.
Straightening his back, James flicked a strand of short black hair from his eyes and squared his shoulders. The least he could do was make himself presentable. Then he slipped from behind the desk and strode to the door, hand curling around the handle.
When it swung open, he was greeted by the empty foyer. Even in summer, it was always cold, the enormous space drafty even when there was no breeze. Today, it left a chill in the air that made him shudder, and he hoped that Miss Sempill wasn't too cold from waiting out here.
A moment later, her eyes landed on him. They were a bright, clear green visible even from this distance and shone in the dull light from the chandelier. Miss Sempill wore a simple navy-blue dress with long sleeves and a modest neckline, although it hugged her slender figure nicely as she hopped to her feet.
"My lord," she curtsied and spoke quietly, her voice barely even echoing in the large entrance. "It's good to meet you. I apologize for not turning up on time, but-"
"We can talk about that later," James cut in and led her to the study. She perched on the massive armchair that Mrs. May had recently vacated.
"Now," James said stiffly, "let's begin."
"Do you have any children of your own?"
Heat gathered on Alicia's cheeks as she ducked her head. Straight to the point, then. "No," she replied softly, showing her hands, "As you can see, I'm unmarried."
Lord Arvill had such bright blue eyes they almost seemed to glow, especially in the light provided by the enormous windows behind him. Although the sky was still dull, the sun peeked from behind the clouds enough to give his skin and eyes a healthy glow.
"Any siblings or cousins? Perhaps you looked after your neighbor’s children in the past?"
Alicia knew where this was going, and already nerves swelled in her stomach. "No, my lord. I've never looked after children before, but I'm a quick learner and I promise I can do whatever you need. They're your family, and I'll follow your direction."
His eyes narrowed in thought, and for a moment, Alicia thought she had said something wrong. Then he hummed appreciatively and scribbled something down on the paper in front of him. From across the enormous, wide wooden desk, she didn't have a hope of reading what it was. "You are aware that most governesses have their own style of child- rearing? While they take note of what it is the family wants, of course, they usually follow their own style and rules."
Alicia flushed hotly, wishing the floor would just open up and swallow her into its maw. At least, then she wouldn't have to go through the embarrassment of looking so incompetent. This was exactly what she had feared, and yet Rachel had told her not to worry!
"Am I to assume that you've never had this position before? I did think you looked awfully young, Miss Sempill."
She wanted to sink into her seat and disappear but forced herself to stay professional. No matter how embarrassing this was, it was still her last shot at getting a much-needed job. Without this, she'd soon be on the streets; a thought that made her stomach turn. "No, my lord, I haven't, but I believe the best tactic for unruly children has to be patience and kindness to teach them the right way to behave." After all, wasn't that how her own parents had brought her up before their deaths?
"And where have you learned this belief?"
The questions kept coming, and although she should have expected it, it still had Alicia's mind stuttering to keep up. She must have seemed so ridiculous to him, a child pretending to be a nanny. "Well, my own parents believed that harsh punishment only promoted guilt and mistrust. My Papa brought me up with kind words and comfort, and he never had to lay his hand on me." She paused, lip caught between her teeth. "I'm sure it doesn't work for everyone, but it worked for me."
Another low hum, blue eyes drifting down as he took another note. Lord Arvill's voice was deep and smooth, like the most expensive coffee, and some of the tension eased from Alicia's shoulders as she listened to his soft mutterings. "I think," he said after a moment, "that I agree. I don't believe in raising a hand to children. My father was always soft with me, and I think I turned out decently. If Jenny and Samuel had the chance to be reared by him, I'm sure they would have been the same."
Alicia nodded mutely. Her words had dried up, and she didn't dare speak in fear of saying something wrong. She could not risk messing this up, and she had learned that the best way to avoid that was to speak only when directly addressed. The less she said, the less room there was for error.
There was a beat of silence while Lord Arvill wrote, broken only by the scratch of his pen against the parchment. Then he glanced up, and his gentle smile made Alicia's chest flutter. "You've never worked with children before, but I can already see that you have a passion for it. To me, that's the most important part. Now, if you work for me, it will be strict hours, often long. Are you all right with that?"
Alicia didn't suppose she had a choice. She would work twenty-four hours a day if she had to, just to get this job. She would work until she passed out from exhaustion, just to prove herself worthy of working for the Marquess of Warwick.
Although, a little part of her mind reminded her to think about those rumors. Are you sure you can trust him?
With some effort, Alicia pushed those thoughts aside. It was ridiculous to think this man had killed his own father, especially considering how he spoke about his family. His eyes lit up when he spoke about his siblings, and the gentle smile on his face was the sweetest that she had ever seen.
"I'm happy with whatever hours you give me, my lord," she replied sweetly, feeling that anxiousness stir inside of her. Even though she had begun to settle, she couldn't get completely comfortable until she knew the job was hers. If it was hers. "I will do whatever you need, whenever it's needed."
"Good," he murmured, and his lips quirked into another little half-smile. "You’ll have a room on the premises if offered the position, of course, but be advised that my brother is due home from his travels soon." His eyes flickered to the door as if expecting him to appear. "We don't always get on, but I assure you he isn't any trouble. He never stays long anyway..." trailing off, Lord Arvill uttered a sigh. He seemed to snap back to himself, though, blinking at Alicia as if only just remembering she was there. "Anyway, I have a few more questions and things to discuss before making any decisions."
Her chest lurched, and Alicia nodded perhaps too vigorously, her bun tugging loose. A strand fell in front of her eyes, and she hastily swiped it away. Hopefully, she at least didn't look too disheveled after practically running the entire way here. Although her breathing had long since returned to normal, she still felt the uncomfortable cling of sweat despite the chill.
"I don't wish for details, because it simply isn't my business, but I need to know if there's anything in your life that could impact your ability to do this job." A deep breath, his eyes fixed on Alicia. "I won't stand for drama or excuses, nor will I allow my staff's personal lives to get in the way of their job." His earlier smile had vanished, and Lord Arvill was all business once again.
Alicia winced under his harsh gaze. She bit down on her lip but forced herself to meet his eyes. There was nothing in her life that could influence her. Since the death of her parents, the days had begun to stream into one. There was nothing to break up the monotony. Her life was, suffice to say, dull. She didn't say as much, of course, only murmuring, "No, my lord. I am happy to dedicate myself to these children, and I will keep my personal life completely separate."
Another scribble on the parchment, although Alicia noticed that no other papers were lying around. It suggested that he was taking notes on her alone, and truthfully, she didn't know what to make of that. Was it a sign that she did better than the other candidates? Or was it simply just a matter of looking professional? For all she knew, he wasn't writing notes at all, and it was simply for appearances.
Wincing, Alicia cast her gaze outside instead. The gray clouds were slowly drifting past, having cleared enough to give the barest hints of the blue sky. What sunlight managed to filter through was weak, but it still cast a beautiful glow across the garden. The garden itself was magnificent, stretching on for miles and miles in every direction-
Head snapping towards Lord Arvill, Alicia felt her cheeks heat up. "Oh, I'm sorry - I was simply admiring the gardens. They're beautiful."
His expression softened, shoulders slackening. "They are, aren't they? The gardeners do most of the work, of course, but in the past, my father used to enjoy tending to the flowers in spring."
"That sounds lovely," Alicia replied - and she meant it. She had fond memories from before the death of her Mama, gardening together. They had spent hours in their little patch of land at the back of the house, planting flower seeds and vegetables and all sorts of things. Neither of them were good with plants, though, and most died by the end of the year. Still, it had been nothing if not exciting to watch the flowers grow.
"If you get the position," Lord Arvill said cautiously, as if too afraid to tell her outright that it was hers, "then you'll have free rein of both the manor and its land. However, the children aren't allowed to go alone; there's a lot of space for young children to get lost, even if they insist that they know the gardens as well as the house. Which brings me to my next point," he continued, his intense blue eyes fixed back on Alicia, "Expected duties. You will be expected to know where they are at all times, even if they insist it isn't necessary. They are to have arithmetic lessons in the morning, reading and writing after lunch, and exercise in the afternoon. Following that, they are to wash and change for dinner, after which you will be dismissed. I would appreciate it if you could teach them history as well; is that something you can do?"
Her education wasn’t as sharp as it could have been as she had only attended public school for the first few years. Papa had decided when she was seven that homeschooling was the way to go; after which, she had picked up learning tremendously fast. "I believe I can teach them the basics of English history, yes."
"What about geography?"
Alicia deflated, feeling disappointment fill her chest. "I'm afraid not, my lord."
His frown was gentle but still enough to make Alicia wince and shrink back into her seat. There goes my chance, she thought bitterly, and I tried so hard, too.
Except he didn't end the interview then, just like she expected. Instead, he simply shrugged his broad shoulders and said, "Well, never mind. I can always hire a specialist teacher for geography lessons. I don't expect you to know everything, Miss Sempill."
She tried to utter thank you, but all that left Alicia's lips was a drawn-out sigh of relief. Perhaps things weren't so terrible after all. In fact, she could almost let herself believe that things were going well.
"One last question," Lord Arvill said after a moment. He pushed the papers away and folded his arms, leaning across the desk to look her directly in the eyes. Alicia couldn't look away, and his intense expression never wavered. "Would you like to meet the children now?"
Oh. That was all? She thought that he was going to berate her or ask an impossible question that she couldn't answer. This, she could deal with. "I would love to," she replied, putting every ounce of false confidence into her voice. It didn't hurt to try, did it?
Lord Arvill stood, brushing invisible creases from his trousers. "They're upstairs in the playroom, which is coincidentally next to the room you will be using for lessons." He gestured to the door. "Now, they've never had a governess or even a nanny before, so I can't say for sure how they will react. I hope you understand that this will decide whether I hire you or not."
Alicia nodded as she scrambled to her feet, almost tumbling over her skirts in the rush. She was only trying to impress - but perhaps she was trying too hard, and only making even more of a fool of herself in the process.
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