Lord John Hughan paced the area between his desk and chair. Though his footfall was muted by the lush Persian rug, his irritation could be felt. Writing had always been a passion of his, and he knew from a very young age that it would be a career choice for him. However, now having been given a deadline to find success in the venture, he found he had little, and possibly nothing, to say.
Lord John had only arrived in London a week earlier determined to prove his brother, the Duke of Ludford wrong. Second born to a disguised dukedom only ensured that next to no decisions in Lord John’s life would be of his own choosing if he hoped to keep his living.
Most often, fathers and elder brothers decided the situation of younger siblings in such a case. Ludford had been no exception. Usually, second siblings were pushed to clergy work or military life. Ludford had insisted on the latter owing to Lord John’s physique. The late Duke of Ludford, their father, had often commented throughout John’s youth that he was lucky to so clearly have skills blessed by God to be successful in life.
Despite a physical form that towered even over his older brother, Lord John had no desire to join the military. In fact, if the truth were told, he abhorred violence. His mother called it a gentle soul, and not with appreciation. His father had insisted that military training would root it out of him.
He wasn’t entirely sure that either opinion was altogether correct. Though he did not wish to fire a gun in the face of an enemy, he did not shy away from standing for virtue when the occasion arose. Likewise, he was sure that a stint in the military would never alter his opinions on where his true talent lay.
In black hessian boots, he marched silently across the floor, hoping that some change in his pacing might reignite inspiration within him. He paused at the window, pulling back the thick velvet curtain. The London streets outside were barely visible in the darkness. It had started to rain that afternoon, and like his missing creativity, it hadn’t let up once. Visual rings around the streetlamps gave the only view of the fashionable street’s inhabitants.
Despite the dismal weather, it was still bustling with activity. He let his mind relax and wander for just a moment. His gaze followed carriages rushing towards destinations and pedestrians struggling, head bent, against the storm.
His eyes focused on a particular couple that came into the light under a streetlamp just next to his garden gate. It was a woman heavily cloaked and soaking wet. He could see wisps of hair that dangled out from her downturned bonnet, dripping water at regular intervals. Gripped tightly by her hand was a small girl. She too had on a heavy cloak, though clearly much finer than the lady’s. The child’s one hand was gripped in her maid’s, the other was tucked tightly in a fur muffler hanging from around her neck.
The lady struggled to move forward in the heavy wet coat and dress while keeping the child at her side and a large carpet bag slung over her opposite shoulder. Lord John let his mind wander for a moment while he watched the two.
What could they possibly be doing out in a storm such as this? That maid is certain to meet hellfire when they return home to not care to protect the child against the weather.
As Lord John watched them, much to his astonishment, they paused just before his own house. Pulling a slip of paper from the folds of her dress, the maid studied it, looked at the house, and studied the writing again. Determined that she was correct, she pushed open the white gate and made her way forward.
Lord John was bewildered by this. He certainly was not expecting company. Few knew of his coming to London as he had made it a point to keep it to himself. He had hoped it would result in fewer distractions from his work. Even if his brother had told of his whereabouts to others, what purpose would a child have to come to him, and at such a late hour?
Lord John left the window and returned again to the space behind his desk. Instead of pacing as before, however, he situated himself in his high-backed leather chair. The knocking on the door followed by the high clicking of the housekeeper’s shoes told him he was to be interrupted. He wanted to at least appear that he was busy writing his latest manuscript, even if no words had found their way to the page tonight.
“Beg your pardon, sir,” a soft voice came through the door with a knock.
“Enter,” Lord John called in a voice that seemed as if he was deep in work.
Lord John set down his pen just as Mrs. Smith, the housekeeper, entered the room. He covered up his blank papers quickly so it appeared as though he were working hard.
“I am sorry to interrupt, but a curious visitor has come to the door,” Mrs. Smith informed him, with her hands presently placed in front of her.
“A visitor at this hour?” Lord John questioned, looking at his pocket watch.
He saw Mrs. Smith’s grey eyebrow raise in questioning, and he guessed his acting skills were very wanting. Lord John let out a breath as he pocketed his timekeeper.
“I must confess I was at the window and saw them enter the garden. I’m sure you know I had no plans to receive company tonight. Did the visitors give names?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Smith said with a soft smirk on her lips. “They were a sodden mess, so I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty of showing them into the house. I couldn’t bear to have the little one in the rain any longer. The lady is a Miss Bridget Thatcher, and she brings with her a Miss Betsy Smelting.”
“Betsy? That is my cousin Frank’s daughter. Why on earth would she be here, and all on her own?” Lord John spoke though he more mused to himself.
As a lover of books and writing, he found nothing could stir the imagination quite like an unexpected mystery.
“Miss Thatcher gave me no reason for their arrival only that she has requested to speak with you, sir,” Mrs. Smith answered. “Should I show them into the drawing-room or keep them dripping in the hall?” she added to bring him back to the present from his sudden musing.
“Yes, of course. Show them in. Make sure Perkins has a roaring fire and does his best to dry their outer things. I will join them in a moment.”
Mrs. Smith nodded and turned to do his bidding. She was an able woman and had already ordered Perkins to prepare the parlour for the guests. She also knew well enough that Lord John Hughan had done little work on his manuscript since his arrival a week ago, this night being no exception. She had known Lord John since his early teenage years as he and his family returned to their London home quite often for the season. She rather hoped that this small distraction was just what he needed to alleviate the pressure that was so clearly keeping him from his work.
Lord John entered the parlour to find his two mysterious guests huddled in front of the fire. The lady was bent over little Betsy rubbing the child’s hands to bring warmth back into them. There was still a good deal of the lady’s hem darkened by water, and a small pool formed at her feet, supplied by sodden ringlets of hair dripping towards the ground.
“Do you suppose John will remember me?” the child asked.
“Of course he will,” the lady responded as she continued to warm the child by the fire. “Your parents spoke very highly of him. You may not remember as you were so little when he last saw you, but he loved you dearly. Your father said he often gave you horse rides on his back every night before bed when he came to visit you.”
“But I was not more than four when he saw me last,” Betsy answered, looking to the lady for confirmation in her surmise. “I have changed so much now that I am in my eighth year.”
Lord John cleared his throat, seeing that they had no awareness of his entrance, “You may be several years older now, but there is little chance I could ever forget such a sweet little girl.”
Betsy turned at the announcement, both of them slightly startled by the sudden male intrusion into their conversation. Betsy’s small face was still somewhat round in a babyish fashion. Though her golden blonde hair was wet and sticking to her, she had a rose to her cheeks that told him she was still very well despite the rain.
Betsy came rushing forward in her excitement and wrapped her little wet body around Lord John before he even had a moment to respond.
“Miss Betsy, please, have a care. Remember what we discussed,” the lady reprimanded though not at all in a harsh manner.
Betsy gave a gasp of remembrance before taking a step back to stand politely before the gentleman. She stood tall for just a moment before curtsying most politely.
“I am pleased to see you again, Lord John,” Betsy said in a memorised fashion.
Lord John bowed in like fashion, though struggling to keep a smile from forming on his lips, and responded in like greeting. Truly Lord John was astounded at how much the child had grown and changed. It had been at least four years since he had seen his very favourite cousin, Lieutenant Frank Smelting, his wife Elisabeth, and their little girl, but still, he struggled to grip how fast the time had passed.
“And I presume you are Betsy’s maid?” Lord John asked, turning his attention to the woman behind the child.
“I am her governess, Miss Bridget Thatcher. I was charged with seeing her safely to you, sir.”
“I am not sure that I could say your task was done quite well as you both are here at an extraordinary hour and nearly soaked through. Could you have not taken a care to hire a carriage.”
“I did, sir,” Miss Thatcher replied, raising her chin just slightly. “Unfortunately, the man must have misunderstood me and deposited us at the wrong address. He left before I could call him back. We have been wandering about the streets for the last hour or so, attempting to find your residence. It was impossible to hail another carriage in such a downpour. I am just glad that we found you in the end.”
“Well, in that case, I am glad to hear that it wasn’t a lack of common sense on your part that has caused such a dangerous situation for Betsy. Though I should not expect Frank to hire someone that he didn’t consider the highest quality, so I apologise for my accusation.”
“No apology necessary, sir,” Miss Thatcher replied.
Lord John could easily see that this lady was of a good sense of mind despite his first assumption and understood his own concern for the child. He invited both of them to sit, Miss Thatcher insisting that Betsy take the sofa closest to the fire without hesitation, and studied the lady for a brief moment.
She was dressed in not a fine dress, but one taken care of to look nice. It was of a solid grey fabric covering almost every inch of her body down to the wrists and ankles. Her hair was pulled back in a tight chignon with what he had guessed was once properly placed ringlets around her face. Her face itself was kindly looking though not the most handsome he had seen in his life. It had a slightly angular shape with a pointed chin and a sharp nose. Still, her eyes, large as a doe, were soft blue-green against the harsh lines giving her a sweet and kindly aurora.
“Perhaps you could make it clear to me why Frank felt the need to send his daughter and governess to me?”
Lord John never expected those eyes to grow bigger, but they seemed to double in shock at his question.
“Did you not receive the solicitor’s letter? It was sent just over a week before our arrival.”
“I am afraid I received no such letter. Is there something wrong?” Lord John asked, starting to get a sense of foreboding.
Miss Thatcher glanced at the child seated next to her, with a look of pain at having to repeat the words of the letter in Betsy’s presence.
“Lieutenant and Mrs. Smelting are…they are…” Miss Thatcher had trouble producing the words.
“Mama and Papa have gone to heaven,” Betsy finished solemnly.
“What? How?” Lord John blurted out. Looking at the child, he corrected himself, “Never mind that. What is to become of sweet Betsy?”
“You see, that is why we are here, sir. Lieutenant Smelting made it very clear in his will that his final wish is that you would take charge of Miss Betsy. As I have been with Betsy for the last three years, she knows me well. I thought it was only fitting that I stay with her for as long as I’m allowed.”
Miss Thatcher finished her words, putting an arm around the girl’s shoulders. Betsy cuddled up to her comforting embrace effortlessly. Lord John could easily see that the love between the two was much more than merely a teacher and student.
Lord John tried his best to process all this information as quickly as possible. He understood that, naturally, Betsy would be sent to a member of the Hughan household. Frank Smelting was the only son of Lord John’s Aunt Agatha. She was the sole younger sibling to his father, the late Duke of Ludford.
Lord John, his elder brother the duke, and their young sister Agatha, named after their aunt, were the only family Betsy had to his knowledge. What was most perplexing to him was that Frank had decided to turn the child over to him and not his brother. Surely such a thing would be expected in the situation. Not to mention Lord John was a man of little money at present. He had no title of his own, no relative looking to pass along an inheritance. By all accounts, he was the least likely to secure a respectable upbringing for Betsy when compared to the duke.
He was once again brought back keenly to the fact that he had a year left of allowance from his family before he was forced to choose a life of his brother’s choosing or quite possibly destitution in the life of his own choosing.
“Are you not sure that Betsy is to be the ward of my brother, the Duke of Ludford? Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to have Betsy with me, but I fear a grave mistake has been made.”
“I know the situation is slightly peculiar, but Lieutenant Smelting was quite clear that he wished you to be Betsy’s guardian. I know it is a lot to take in all at once,” Miss Thatcher added quickly. “I had hoped you would have made time to process the information as it was laid out in the letter. I had no idea this would be the first you hear of it.
“If you would like, Betsy and I will return to our lodgings until you are prepared to further discuss the matter.”
“It is far too late at night for you to be returning anywhere. I wouldn’t dream of risking even the walk to a carriage for Betsy in this weather. I am not entirely in a position to be taking on a ward at the present time, but clearly Frank wished it, and I won’t disregard it without consideration.
“I will have a room aired for you both for the night. If it is most convenient for you, Miss Thatcher, would you be willing to stay on here with Betsy, or do you already have other employment lined up?”
“Actually, Lord John,” Miss Thatcher said, sitting up a little straighter and fidgeting with her hands. “I have no future arrangements made at present. I rather hoped to continue to stay with Betsy if it were at all possible. I have several letters of recommendation that I am happy to give you,” she added quickly.
“That won’t be necessary, I trust Frank’s judgment. Understand, however, that I cannot promise you anything permanent. I must first sort out my affairs and decide what accommodations will be in Betsy’s best interests.”
“Of course, I understand, sir,” Miss Thatcher responded visibly relaxing.
Lord John studied them both for a second longer before coming to his feet. At least one decision could be made tonight, while many more would still need working out. Ringing the bell on the side table, Mrs. Smith immediately appeared. Lord John suspected that she had been waiting outside the door, attempting to hear who the mysterious visitors were.
“Betsy and Miss Thatcher will be staying with us. Will you please have the blue room aired for them. I’m sorry to say that the house only has one guest room ready,” Lord John added towards Miss Thatcher.
“We are very grateful for it and know we will be quite comfortable together.”
Lord John smiled, relieved at Miss Thatcher’s willingness to adapt to the situation.
“I presume you have more than just the one carpetbag?” Lord John asked, eyeing the luggage next to the lady. She nodded in affirmation. “I will have Perkins retrieve it in the morning from your lodging. Mrs. Smith here will see you to your room.”
“Come my little one,” Mrs. Smith said in a happy tone holding a hand out for Betsy, “We will make sure your room is alight with fire and the bed warmed with the biggest hot pan we can find.”
Betsy looked up at Miss Thatcher for assurance, who nodded her approval. Happily, she took the housekeeper’s warm grasp, and together they started out of the parlour.
“Thank you for letting me stay with her, even if it is just for a brief time. She has lost so much of all she knew. I just want to help her in any way I can.”
“And I am sure your presence is a pillar of normalcy in her current turbulent situation. I have no wish to take that from her if I can help it,” Lord John paused, ensuring that Betsy was up the stairs and out of earshot. “Her parents, if I may ask?”
“Mrs. Smelting wasn’t feeling well. It was suggested that they spend some time in Bath. They were only meant to be gone for a month or two. There was a carriage accident. I am not entirely sure on all the details, only that it happened on a road parallel to the ocean cliffs. The carriage was sent down the cliffs, and neither survived the fall.” Miss Thatcher spoke softly, struggling to hold back the tears in her eyes.
She sniffed once before adding, “I wish such a thing had never happened to them. They were such good loving people, to each other and to Betsy. It’s all been quite a nightmare I can’t seem to wake up from.”
Lord John, despite having just met the governess, felt a strong desire to go to her and comfort her in her grief. Still, his propriety got the better of him, and he remained standing where he was.
“Yes, this is quite a tragedy that I don’t think I have yet fully processed. Frank and Elisabeth were two of the best people I knew.”
Bridget Thatcher did her best to keep a smile on her face and a cheerfulness in her tone as she settled Betsy into their quarters for the evening. Though on a fashionable street and of a good size for the circumstances, the London home didn’t seem to host is occupants very often as of late.
“Only the one room is ready for guests,” Mrs. Smith had explained in a slightly apologetic tone. “I had hoped to encourage Lord John to prepare a few of the other rooms in case of visitors, but he would not have it. Lord knows what we will do if His Grace or even the dowager duchess herself come to stay.”
“I am sure they will be more than satisfactory for our needs,” Bridget assured the housekeeper. “The possible company you speak of, that is Lord John’s older brother and their mother?”
“Yes, do you know them? Perhaps you met them during your time at the Smelting residence?” Mrs. Smith enquired as she opened the door just to the right at the top of the stairs.
“No, I’m afraid I never had the pleasure. Mr. and Mrs. Smelting only spoke of them in passing as far as I heard, and don’t know much about them,” Bridget stated, entering the room.
She took a pause to look around the quarters. Betsy immediately went for the bed, which took up a good portion of the room. She was quickly reminded that her skirts were still wet, and if she would like a warm bed tonight, she should keep away from it for now.
Bridget was happy to see the room was already filled with warmth from a glowing fire in the hearth. A steaming water basin waited for their use while a maid tucked a warm bedpan beneath the cover’s folds at the base of the mattress.
“This is Mary. If you require anything, she will be happy to fetch it for you,” Mrs. Smith said, motioning to the girl, who looked to be not more then sixteen.
Mary bobbed her respects and quickly left the room.
“She’s a shy thing, but she does good work,” Mrs. Smith confided in Bridget. “Now, things are a bit relaxed at the moment with just Lord John present. Breakfast can be had downstairs when you choose, as long as it’s before eleven o’clock. I should warn you that if the duke or his mother decide to spend time here, things will be on a tighter schedule.”
Bridget nodded her understanding. Though she had never met the duke, and gleaned little from the Smeltings, Bridget had overheard the staff discussing his character. The Duke of Ludford was said to be a very stern man who took little time in pleasure and kept his responsibilities in the highest regard. Though these descriptions were not altogether slanderous or harmful towards the duke, Bridget had always sensed some fear in the way the staff spoke of the man. She was sure that he must be a very demanding and intimidating person to cause such a reaction in those who barely knew him.
“I’m not entirely sure we – well, at least I – will still be present should the time come, but I thank you just the same for the information,” Bridget responded before bidding the housekeeper goodnight.
It was the first time she gave voice to the uncertainty of her situation a loud. It felt as if a rock sunk to the pit of her stomach at the notion. As of yet, Bridget had had very little time to consider her own circumstances and instead had focused all of her attention on seeing to the needs of Betsy.
With the same notion still at the core of her being, she forced a pleasant smile to her face and hurried the child over to the basin to wash and prepare for bed.
Betsy had always been such an easy good girl. It was no surprise that even in such strange circumstances she quickly readied herself, slipped between the covers, and fell fast asleep. Bridget took the time to curl and ribbon the girl’s damp hair before bed, and now brushed one of those fallen ribbon curls from the child’s sweet face. She looked as much an angel in sleep as she did during the waking hours.
Having put the child to bed, Bridget made her way to the only seat in the room, which she had placed next to the fire. Her hair was still matted to her face, hem still sodden and chilling her stocking legs. She sat in this condition studying the flames as she deeply pondered her future for the first time.
Naturally, if Bridget had any say in the matter, she would stay with Betsy. She had started with the child three years ago, but in Bridget’s mind, there were so few happy memories before this. Betsy had been her first pupil since leaving her training at Miss Heartfelt’s Seminary for Pious Young Ladies.
Even at the thought of the place, Bridget unconsciously tugged on the long sleeves of her dress. It was no surprise to Bridget that she had so little fond memories before Betsy. She had arrived at Miss Heartfelt’s when she was only six and had never seen the outside world again until her twentieth birthday, and subsequent employment acquired.
Bridget was sure that her hesitancy in leaving Betsy was more to do with the fact that she feared to return to a life of misery, sadness and constant railings from superiors. She did her best to assure herself that families like the Smeltings with children such as Betsy were not the anomaly but the norm. She was sure to find another employment and love the child and enjoy her time just as much as she had done with them.
Hesitating in her thought, Bridget looked back at the sleeping child. In all honesty, she wasn’t sure if that notion was altogether right. Even worse, if it was, she wasn’t entirely sure she would still be willing to give up Betsy despite having other good prospects.
She was sure that her desires to stay with Betsy were purely selfish. Yes, she was the only living soul left from Betsy’s past life, and Bridget liked to think that made her a necessary comfort. But the reality was that she was at the place her parents knew she would be best looked after. The child’s expression at seeing Lord John was proof enough to Bridget that Betsy’s new life would have just as much joy and happiness as her past.
Lord John seemed to keep well-meaning staff who knew the family well and already started to warm to the little girl. Bridget knew that of all the possible situations after the death of parents Betsy had been one of the few to end up in a good place.
That being said, it was still a strange situation that the child had been given to Lord John to look after and not the dowager duchess or her eldest son, the duke. Certainly, propriety would suggest that one of them would be most suited to ensure the best life for Betsy.
Bridget took a moment as these thoughts raced through her mind to consider what she had surmised of Lord John so far. His unseen person had been the focus of many of her nights since the Smeltings’ death. She had heard enough about him from her employer to have a relatively good image of him in her mind’s eye.
Still, even with the physical and character description formed from the Smeltings’ observations, it had not entirely done him justice. Bridget was not sure she had ever seen a man so tall and imposing at first glance. With broad shoulders and thick muscular arms, he had moved surprisingly smoothly as he had entertained his two guests in the parlour.
Even his face, though Mrs. Smelting had described it as handsome, had been a distracting difference from the image in her head. He had the angular facade that could only be rivalled by Greek and Roman Gods. In fact, she had been utterly surprised that he was unattached once gazing upon him. She was sure many ladies of the Ton would have tried to alter that despite being an untitled lord.
She sensed he would do well by Betsy but had no idea if that would include her staying in the child’s life. Would the living of one such as he provide the means to have a governess for the girl? In all honesty, Bridget would even be willing to take a severe cut to the generous pay Mr. Smelting had given her, if only it meant that she could stay with Betsy.
It may only be that her fondness and attachment to Betsy was nothing more than that of a governess and her first pupil. Still, Bridget was almost sure that her love for Betsy was far more profound than that.
Finally, she settled herself to the realisation that no amount of thought or speculation would qualify her inevitable questions, at least not tonight. She rose from the chair and prepared herself for sleep. Opening the carpetbag, she pulled out the few precious objects Bridget had insisted to not leave their side throughout their travelling.
First, she removed the small portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Smelting and placed it on the little table next to the bed where the child would see it. Then she lifted out a silk handkerchief that Mrs. Smelting had often kept on her person. Bridget rolled it open to check its contents. It contained a pearl necklace, matching pearl earrings, and a gold ring with a small blue sapphire.
They had all belonged to Mrs. Smelting. Upon learning of their demise, a series of events took place in rapid succession. Firstly, the house and its belongings were to be claimed by their closest living relative, the Dowager Duchess of Ludford, Mr. Smelting being the son of the dowager’s older deceased brother.
The shock of learning that Betsy would not also be given to the dowager or the duke and was instead to leave and find a place with Lord John had sent actions into motion on Bridget’s part.
Outside of Bridget’s personal belongings and Betsy’s nursery, all of the possessions were expressly to remain in the house. Having grown up herself with no memory of her own parents or even a trinket or image to remember them by, Bridget couldn’t bear to allow the same to happen to Betsy. So in secret, she had taken the folding portrait and the jewellery from the Smeltings’ private quarters. Bridget hoped that when Betsy grew older, she could pass on the belongings that had been cherished by Mrs. Smelting.
It was a risky action to take. In some eyes, Bridget might be stealing the items, the necklace and ring of which she was sure had a reasonable sum of money attached in value. Bridget pacified these fears with the knowledge that she was doing what she knew in her heart was best for the child. As long as she kept their presence a secret and secured until Betsy was old enough to take possession of them, she was sure no one would be the wiser to their removal.
Placing the jewellery, wrapped again neatly in the handkerchief, back into the bag, she removed her own precious possession. It was a silly thing, really. It was nothing more than a rag doll. However, it was the only possession she had to her name when she entered her seminary and again when she left it.
After a moment’s consideration, she set it down next to the portrait and climbed into bed. Automatically, Betsy snuggled up close to her governess, sighing in contentment. Bridget smiled, kissed Betsy on her forehead, before settling herself down for a well-needed rest.
“How to Claim a Governess’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Ever since her parents died, Bridget Thatcher has been left destitute and determined that she will never find happiness in her life. Having been left with no choice, she becomes a governess to earn her living. Fortune smiles on her, though, when she is assigned to a little girl that quickly warms her broken heart. Life takes a terrible turn when the child’s parents die, and she is tasked with bringing the girl to her new and mysterious guardian. Even though she can’t stop thinking about him ever since she met him, she knows that she has to put love aside and stand by the little girl who needs her more than ever. Will she manage to protect the lonely child and win a place to her charming guardian’s heart? Would life finally hand her a happy ending?
Lord John Hughan is running out of time, as he has only one year to prove to his brother that he can succeed as an author or else he will lose his inheritance for good. It doesn’t seem his life could get any more complicated until a strange woman appears on his doorstep with the orphan that has been left in his custody. With each passing day, he becomes very protective to the little girl, and he finds himself drawn to the most loving governess he has ever seen. But his family’s constant deterrents will make his life a whirlwind, forcing him to reach decisions that will deeply hurt his heart. Will John manage to keep both ladies safe? In the end, will he follow his heart and make his dreams come true?
Though the timing is all wrong, Bridget and John cannot turn their back to their growing affection. However, Bridget carries the guilt of a secret that could rip all her happy dreams, if ever discovered. Will John and Bridget claim each other’s heart before the last rose petal of their love falls? Will they become the parent figures that the lovely girl deserves and heal her broken heart?
“How to Claim a Governess’s Heart” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.