Rules for a Proper Governess

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9780425266038: Rules for a Proper Governess
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Chapter 1

WINTER, 1885

His voice drew her, and Bertie wanted to hear more of it. She leaned forward in the balcony to watch the man standing upright and arrogant, one hand touching an open book on a table in front of him, the other gesturing as he made his argument.

The villains Bertie knew called the barrister Basher McBride, because Mr. McBride always got a conviction. He wore one of the silly wigs, but his face was square and handsome, and far younger than that of the judge who sat above him. A wilted nosegay reposed in a vase in front of the judge, both judge and flowers looking weary in the extreme.

The case had caught the attention of journalists up and down the country—the sensational murder of a lady by one of her downstairs maids. The young woman in the dock, Ruthie, had been accused of stabbing her employer and making off with a hundred pounds’ worth of silver.

Bertie knew Ruthie hadn’t done it. The deed had been done by Jacko Small and his mistress, only they’d set up Ruthie to take the blame for it. Bertie had known, had heard Jacko’s plans, but did the police listen to the likes of Roberta Frasier? No.

Not that Bertie was in the habit of talking to constables most days. She stayed as far away from them as possible, and her dad and Jeffrey, Bertie’s self-styled beau, made sure she did. But she’d tried for Ruthie’s sake.

Hadn’t mattered. They’d arrested Ruthie anyway, and now Ruthie would get hanged for something she didn’t do.

The handsome Basher McBride, with his mesmerizing voice, was busy making the case that Ruthie had done it. Ruthie couldn’t afford a defense, so she was here on her own in the dock, thin and small for her age, a maid who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bertie could only clench her fists and pray for a miracle.

Mr. McBride, despite his dire statements, had a delicious Scots accent. His voice was deep and rich, rolling over the crowd like an intoxicating wave. Even the bored judge couldn’t take his eyes off him.

Mr. McBride had broad shoulders and a firm back, obvious even in the black robes. He was tall, dominating all in the room, the strength in his big, bare hands apparent. He looked as though he’d be more at home out on a Highland hillside, sword in hand as he fended off attackers. One glare from those gray eyes, and his attackers would be running for their lives.

His accent wasn’t so thick Bertie couldn’t understand it, but his Rs rolled pleasantly, and his vowels were long, especially the Us.

“If your lordship pleases,” Mr. McBride said, his voice warming Bertie again, “I would like to call Jacko Small back to the witness box.”

Bertie swallowed, nervous. Jacko had already given evidence that he’d found the body in the sitting room of the London house, then seen Ruthie down in the kitchen, crying, with blood on her apron. The silver had been gone, and no one had found it, so Ruthie must have hidden it somewhere, hadn’t she? The police had tried to get its location out of her, but of course Ruthie hadn’t known, as she hadn’t stolen the silver in the first place.

The judge sighed. “Is it relevant, Mr. McBride? This witness has already told us his version of events.”

“One or two more questions, your lordship,” Mr. McBride said without hurry. “You will understand my reasons in due time.”

In duuui time. The vowel came out of his mouth with a round, full sound.

Jacko came back in, was reminded he was under oath, and faced Mr. McBride with all innocence on his face.

“Now, then, Mr. Small.” Mr. McBride smiled pleasantly, but Bertie saw a gleam in his eyes that was a cross between anger and glee.

Now what was he up to?

“Mr. Small,” Mr. McBride said smoothly. “You say you opened the door of the sitting room to find the lady of the house on the floor, her dress covered in blood. You’d been asked to refill the coal bin on your return from your day out and had gone up there to do so.” Mr. McBride glanced down at the notes on his bench. “That day was the seventh of July. The middle of the afternoon, in the middle of summer. Quite the warmest day anyone could remember, the newspapers reported. A bit too warm for a fire, wouldn’t you say?”

Jacko blinked. “Well . . . I . . . the nights were still nippy. I remember that.”

“Yes, of course. Bloody English weather. Begging your pardon, your lordship.”

People tittered. The judge scowled. “Please get on with it, Mr. McBride.”

“You say in your statement that you saw quite a lot of blood,” Mr. McBride said, not missing a beat. “On the sofa, on the floor, smeared on the door panels and on the doorknob.”

“’Sright.” Jacko put his hand to his heart. “Gave me a turn, it did.”

“So you fled the room and went down to the kitchen, where you saw the accused wearing an apron stained with blood. She says she got the blood on her because she thought she’d help out the cook by stuffing the chickens for dinner. The chickens were still a bit bloody, and she wiped her hands on her apron. Correct?”

“It’s what she said, yeah.”

“Now, I need your help, Mr. Small. I must ask you a very important question, so think hard. Was there any blood smeared on the doorknob of the door to the back stairs?”

Jacko blinked again. He obviously hadn’t rehearsed this question. “Um. I don’t think so. I can’t be sure. Don’t remember. I was, you know, in a state.”

“But you remember distinctly the blood on the doorknob in the sitting room. You were quite poetic about it.”

More titters. Jacko looked flustered.

What the devil was Mr. McBride doing? Bertie’s gloved hand tightened on the railing. He was supposed to be proving Ruthie did it, not that Jacko lied. Which Jacko had, of course, but how did Mr. McBride know that?

Besides, it wasn’t his job to expose Jacko. Bertie knew from experience that courtrooms had procedures everyone followed to the letter. It was as if Mr. McBride had stepped onstage and started playing the wrong part.

“Was there blood on the doorknob to the back-stairs door?” Mr. McBride repeated, his deep voice growing stern.

“Um. Yeah,” Jacko said. “Yeah, now that I recall it, there was. Another big smudge, like in the sitting room. I had to touch it to open it. It were awful.” A few of the jury shifted in their seats in sympathy.

“Except there wasn’t,” Mr. McBride said.

“Eh?” Jacko started. “Whatcha mean?”

“The door to the back stairs, or the green baize door as it is also known, had a broken panel. It had been taken away, since it was a quiet day, to be mended. There was no door that day, not for you to open, nor for the maid to smear blood on.”

“Oh.” Jacko opened and closed his mouth. “Well, I don’t really remember, do I? I was, watcha call it . . . agitated.”

“Though you remember in exact detail the placement of every item and every bloodstain in the sitting room. The accused says she didn’t see you at all that day, and never knew about her employer’s death until the police arrived. I’m going to suggest you went nowhere near the kitchen and never saw the accused. I suggest you left the sitting room and the house entirely, returned later, found the police there, saw them taking away the accused and her bloody apron, and came up with the story about seeing her.”

Jacko looked worried now. “Yeah? And why’d I come back, if I’d killed the old bitch?”

The judge looked pained. Mr. McBride’s eyes took on a hard light. “You knew that if you’d disappeared entirely, you’d be screaming your guilt. I suggest you left to dispose of the silver and returned as though you’d been gone all day. And never did I suggest, Mr. Small, that you committed the murder.”

Rustling and muttering filled the courtroom. The judge looked annoyed. “Mr. McBride, do I have to remind you that the witness is not on trial?”

“No, he’s not,” Mr. McBride agreed. “Not yet.”

Another round of laughter. Jacko’s face was shiny with sweat, although it was nippy in here on this winter day.

“I am finished with the witness, your lordship. In my summing up, I will be putting the case that what we have here is not a conniving young woman who killed her employer, smeared blood all over the room, and then remained quietly in the kitchen with an apron covered with the same blood—and, I might add, no time to dispose of the missing silver. I am instead going to put forth my belief that another person must have had much better opportunity, and strength, to commit the crime, and that we are coming dangerously close to a miscarriage of justice. Perhaps your lordship would like to retire briefly and prepare for my outrageous statements.”

The judge growled as laughter began again. “Mr. McBride, I have warned you about your behavior in my courtroom before. This is not the theatre.”

Oh, but it was, Bertie thought. Only the play was real, and the curtain, final. Mr. McBride knew that too, she sensed, despite his jokes.

“You are, however, correct that I would like to recess briefly to gather my thoughts,” the judge said. “Bailiff, please see that Mr. Small does not leave.”

The judge rose, and everyone scrambled to their feet. The judge disappeared through the door into his inner sanctum, the journalists rushed away, and the rest of the watchers filed out, talking excitedly.

Bertie looked over the railing at Mr. McBride, who’d sat down, pushing his wig askew as he rubbed the sunshine-colored hair beneath it. The animation went out of his body as the courtroom emptied, as though he were a marionette whose strings had been cut.

He glanced around and up, but not at Bertie. Mr. McBride looked at no one and nothing.

Bertie was struck by how empty his face was. His eyes were a strange shade of gray, clear like a stormy morning. As Bertie watched, those eyes filled with a vast sadness, the likes of which Bertie had never seen before. His mouth moved a little, as though he whispered something, but Bertie couldn’t hear what he said.

Bertie remained fixed in place instead of nipping off for some ale, her hand on the gallery’s wooden railing. She couldn’t take her eyes off the man below, who’d changed so incredibly the moment his performance had finished.

Mr. McBride didn’t leave his bench until the judge returned, and the courtroom started up again. Then he got to his feet, life flowing back into his body, becoming the eloquent, arrogant man with the beautiful voice once more.

The judge signaled for him to begin. Mr. McBride summed up his case so charmingly that all hung on his words. The jury went out and returned very quickly with their verdict about Ruthie, Not guilty.

Ruthie was free. Bertie had hoped for a miracle, and Mr. McBride had provided one.

After much hugging, Ruthie left Bertie and went home with her mum. Bertie found her dad and Jeffrey waiting for her outside the pub across the street. They were furious. Jacko was Jeffrey’s best mate, and Jacko had just been arrested for murder and taken away by the police.

“’E’s to blame,” Jeffrey said darkly, jerking his chin at Mr. McBride, who was walking out of the Old Bailey, dressed now in a normal suit and coat. Once again, Bertie noted how Mr. McBride had changed from a man who commanded a room to a man who looked tired of life.

The afternoon was cold, darkening with the coming winter night. Bertie rubbed her hands together in her too-thin gloves and suggested that her dad and Jeffrey take her into the pub and buy her a half.

“Not yet,” Bertie’s dad said. “Just teach ’im a lesson, Bertie. Go on now, girl.”

Girl, when she was twenty-six years old. “Leave him alone,” she said. “He saved Ruthie.”

“But got Jacko arrested,” Jeffrey growled. “Whose side are you on?”

“Jacko killed the woman,” Bertie said. “He’s a villain; he always was. I say good on Ruthie.”

Jeffrey grabbed Bertie by the shoulder and pushed her into the shadows of the passage beside the pub. He wouldn’t hit her in public—he’d take her somewhere unseen to do that—but his hand clamped down hard. “Jacko is my best friend,” Jeffrey said, his breath already heavy with gin. “You get over to that fiend of a Scottish barrister and fetch us a souvenir. We deserve it. The traitorous bastard was supposed to take Jacko’s part.”

Jeffrey’s grip hurt. Bertie knew if she protested too much, both Jeffrey and her dad would let her have it. But she couldn’t do this.

“That fiend of a Scottish barrister is very smart,” she argued. “He’ll catch me, then I’ll be in the cell with Jacko, waiting to go before the magistrate.”

Bertie’s dad leaned in, his breath already reeking as well. “You just do it, Roberta. You’re like a ghost—he’ll never know. And if he does see you, you know what to do. Now get out there, before I take my hand to you.”

They weren’t going to leave it. In their minds, Mr. McBride was the villain of the piece and deserved to be punished. If Bertie refused, her dad would drag her away and thrash her until she gave in. If Mr. McBride went home while Bertie was taking her beating, her dad would make her wait here every afternoon until Mr. McBride returned for another case.

Either way, Bertie was doing this. One way would simply be less painful than the other.

Bertie jerked free of Jeffrey’s hold. “All right,” she snapped. “I’ll do it. But you’d better be ready. He’s no fool.”

“Like I said, he’ll never see ya,” her dad said. “You’ve got the touch. Go on with you.”

Bertie stumbled when her dad pushed her between the shoulder blades, but she righted herself and squared her shoulders. Taking a deep breath, she walked steadily toward where Mr. McBride stood waiting, his sad face and empty eyes focused on something far, far from the crowded streets of the City of London.

Sinclair McBride pulled his coat close against the icy wind and drew his hat down over his eyes.

Remember Sir Percival Montague, Daisy? he asked the gray sky. Well, I potted him good today. Old Monty was nearly rubbing his hands, wanting to pronounce sentence of death on that poor girl. Bloody imbecile. She was no more guilty than a newborn kitten.

The sky grew darker, rain coming with the night. So damnably cold here, not like the blistering heat of North Africa, where Sinclair had done his army time. His younger brother, Steven, was always trying to talk Sinclair into traveling with him—Spain, Egypt, back to Rome at least, where winters were balmy.

But there was the question of Andrew and Caitriona, Sinclair’s very interesting children. Sinclair couldn’t bring himself to foist them on Elliot and Juliana while he traveled the world. His brother and sister-in-law were starting their own family, their own life, and needed time alone. Take them with me? Sinclair had to smile. Wouldn’t that be an adventure?

Sinclair imagined his two terrifying bairns on trains, carriages, carts, all the way to Italy. No, not the best answer.

Thinking about Andrew and Cat helped him avoid the one thought Sinclair had been trying to banish all day. Now as he stood in the cold, waiti...

Présentation de l'éditeur :

TO KISS A THIEF…
 
Scottish barrister Sinclair McBride can face the most sinister criminals in London—but the widower’s two unruly children are a different matter. Little Caitlin and Andrew go through a governess a week, sending the ladies fleeing in tears. There is, however, one woman in town who can hold her own.
                                                                                                               
Roberta “Bertie” Frasier enters Sinclair’s life by stealing his watch—and then stealing a kiss. Intrigued by the handsome highlander, Bertie winds up saving his children from a dangerous situation and returning them to their father. Impressed with how they listen to her, Sinclair asks the lively beauty to be their governess, never guessing that the uncoventional lady will teach him a lesson or two in love.

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Jennifer Ashley
Edité par Penguin Putnam Inc, United States (2015)
ISBN 10 : 0425266036 ISBN 13 : 9780425266038
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Description du livre Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. État : New. 173 x 107 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. TO KISS A THIEF. Scottish barrister Sinclair McBride can face the most sinister criminals in London--but the widower s two unruly children are a different matter. Little Caitlin and Andrew go through a governess a week, sending the ladies fleeing in tears. There is, however, one woman in town who can hold her own. Roberta -Bertie- Frasier enters Sinclair s life by stealing his watch--and then stealing a kiss. Intrigued by the handsome highlander, Bertie winds up saving his children from a dangerous situation and returning them to their father. Impressed with how they listen to her, Sinclair asks the lively beauty to be their governess, never guessing that the uncoventional lady will teach him a lesson or two in love. N° de réf. du libraire ABZ9780425266038

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Jennifer Ashley
Edité par Penguin Putnam Inc, United States (2015)
ISBN 10 : 0425266036 ISBN 13 : 9780425266038
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Description du livre Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. État : New. 173 x 107 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. TO KISS A THIEF. Scottish barrister Sinclair McBride can face the most sinister criminals in London--but the widower s two unruly children are a different matter. Little Caitlin and Andrew go through a governess a week, sending the ladies fleeing in tears. There is, however, one woman in town who can hold her own. Roberta -Bertie- Frasier enters Sinclair s life by stealing his watch--and then stealing a kiss. Intrigued by the handsome highlander, Bertie winds up saving his children from a dangerous situation and returning them to their father. Impressed with how they listen to her, Sinclair asks the lively beauty to be their governess, never guessing that the uncoventional lady will teach him a lesson or two in love. N° de réf. du libraire ABZ9780425266038

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