The Graysbrook Governess

CHAPTER ONE

Kathryn Dreyton wrenched her trunk out of the carriage and let it drop to the ground with a resounding thump. The footman had already placed her other four trunks on the stoop, and was nearly back into his seat before Kathryn had dragged the last of her things to the front door.

The driver, clad in his typical subdued black uniform, sat atop the carriage without a glance towards Kathryn.

Had everyone in the world turned their back on her?

If only she hadn't been so foolish, she would never have been miles upon miles away from home, without a soul in the world that cared about her. If she hadn't cried so many tears in the preceding weeks she may have sobbed aloud just then, but her eyes remained dry as she watched the carriage, and the last of everything she'd ever known, disappear out of the iron gates of Graysbrook.

She stood still for several more moments until the clip-clop of shod hooves faded away, leaving only the gentle spatter of raindrops.

She wanted to sit on the stoop and ignore the reality that would face her behind the solid oak entry door. She could close her eyes and dream of the high society world she'd come from, of the parties and dinners she'd enjoyed, of the trips to London and Paris and Venice. She'd forget that she was to become a governess for a family she knew nothing about, and instead dream of the dashing Aristocrats and suitors that her mother had paraded her in front of since the age of fourteen.

Before she could do such a thing, though, the door swung open, and Kathryn's first glimpse of her future lay in front of her.

"May I help you?" A thin, wiry man asked. He had a long crooked nose and fine, silvery hair. He looked altogether unwelcoming as he eyed Kathryn.

"Yes, I'm Kathryn Dreyton, the new governess." Kathryn stared at him a moment, then did an awkward half-curtsy. She'd nearly forgotten that etiquette as she'd known it would change. Though she was still a Viscount's daughter, she was also a governess, just a step above the servants.

"Very well. Please come in." He smiled then, and to Kathryn's surprise, it was a genuine, comforting smile that creased his mouth and brought a sparkle to his eye.

Kathryn stepped into the foyer and had to fight the urge to gawk. It was two-stories tall, with marble floors and white oak moldings that trimmed every door and window. There was a massive gray statue in the middle, a broad shouldered man on a rearing horse, his sword drawn for battle. Paintings adorned every wall, mostly scenery, with a few portraits interspersed.

The house may have been imposing, with all of its sharp angles and perfectly polished floors, but there were so many potted plants that she couldn't help but feel as if the home was warm and welcoming. Each crevice and shelf housed immense green foliage, some trailing to the ground from their place on the second story landing.

In all it was tasteful, classic, and reeked of money. It was the type of home that her mother and father would have salivated over.

"I'll have your things brought to your new room. If you'll sit in the salon, I'll ring for her Ladyship," the butler said as he pulled the double doors and propped them open. Kathryn nodded in his direction and took a seat in a high-backed chair near the door. It was even more uncomfortable than it looked.

She picked at her nails as she waited something she'd not done in quite some time.

She felt only nervous apprehension at the moments that were barreling towards her. She'd soon meet her new superiors and learn what sort of life she'd been forced into. She'd meet the children she was expected to educate, though she had little experience in teaching, save her own lessons when she was younger.

The sound of shoes clicking their way across the marble floors brought her back to the present, and she stood up to greet the woman who walked through the door.

She couldn't be entirely sure what she'd expected, but only that this woman was not it. The idea of a mother conjured up images of warmth, love and a generally pleasant person. The woman before her could be summed up in one word: severe.

She stood with such correct posture it looked almost painful, with squared shoulders and her chin slightly lifted. Her ice-blue eyes were nearly blank of expression, and her lips were set in such a firm line that it seemed to add years to her appearance. She was garbed in the latest fashion, the hem of her emerald dress slightly shorter and her neckline decked out in embellishments of vivid crimson. Everything about her was conservative yet fashionable, and it was easy to imagine her in the fray of every high society party that Kathryn had ever been to.

She had a certain well-schooled beauty to her; it was as though she'd taught herself how to look elegant so many times that it became second nature. Still, she seemed cold and unwelcoming, and a knot of tension twisted its way through Kathryn's stomach.

"Miss Dreyton, I presume?" Her ladyship's voice was feminine but not soft; her words articulated but not warm.

"Yes, my lady. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," Kathryn said, just as eloquently as she'd been taught. She added a curtsy, as graceful as she could manage.

"Likewise, I'm sure. Let's hope you last longer than the others," she said, with that same detached coolness that was making Kathryn uneasy. "Dinner shall be served in two hours. As it is the only meal the children take with the adults, I shall expect you to be present- not as a guest, but as a chaperone."

Kathryn gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to say what she wanted. Instead, she replied, "Of course, my lady. I'll not entertain any fanciful notions above my station."

"Good," the lady said, already halfway out the door. "Woods? Show Miss Dreyton to her room."

And with a flourish of her emerald skirts, she was gone, crossing the foyer and disappearing behind an imposing oak door.

Let's hope you last longer than the others.

They were troubling words, and prompted so many questions that Kathryn felt queasy about it all. In truth she knew little about the position she'd been forced to accept, save the fact that the children were ages 7 and 9, and she was to be their governess.

She felt so isolated and friendless that she wanted to beg them to send her home.

Not that it would make much difference. Her father had sworn he'd never wanted to see her again. He'd hardly looked at her since he'd said such poisonous words, and her hopes that his temper had simply gotten the better of him faded away to the realization that he meant what he'd said. He hated her, and her mother was so embarrassed she likely hoped that no one would even remember she had a daughter at all.

Kathryn followed Woods, whom she discovered to be the Butler, up the elegant stair case and down a long hall, lined with doors on each side. The paintings and d├ęcor became less ostentatious as she neared the end of the long wing, and she came to realize the doors housed quarters for the less honorable guests.

Heaven forbid she stay in luxurious quarters and begin to have, as she'd said, "fanciful notions above her station." She'd only said the words because she knew what her Ladyship had been thinking, and by voicing them herself she'd avoided having to hear them spoken in the condescending fashion that was sure to become the marchioness's calling card.

Despite her initial reservations, however, the quarters were more than sufficient. While the furniture was modest, the room was nearly as large as the one she'd had back home, with a window seat so filled with pillows she was certain she wouldn't be able to sit on it without knocking a few to the floor. The lower half of every wall had a deep stained wood paneling trimmed in a thick, triangular molding that created an understated yet elegant look. A single painting hung opposite her bed, and the scene on the canvas reminded her so much of home that a pang of longing hit her hard in the stomach. It was a simple scene of a stream twisting through a meadow, but she stared at it until Wood's cleared his throat and broke her reverie.

"Are the quarters to your liking, Miss Dreyton?" he asked.

Just to be smart, she wanted to ask him if it really mattered what she thought, if there was a second room waiting for her if she didn't like the first. She didn't, because she knew the truth. She was an employee, not a guest.

"Yes, they're more than sufficient. Thank you."

He nodded and walked to the door, then at the last minute turned to face her. "They're not as bad as they seem, Miss Dreyton. Just misunderstood."

Kathryn nodded quietly, and the two of them simply stood in front of one another in a comfortable silence as a few seconds ticked by. She could see by his expression that he was waiting for her, waiting for the questions and the worries to come tumbling out of her mouth. She must have been a sorry sight to warrant such a paternal response, but his compassion was welcomed.

"What did she mean when she said 'the others?' " she finally asked.

She watched woods fiddle a bit with the silver button on his plain black jacket, and then his gaze rose until it met hers. "There've been three Governesses so far this year. You're the fourth."

"I see." Kathryn sensed that he didn't want to indulge any more details, and for her own sanity she didn't want to know. She'd assume they were incompetent, and leave it at that. To hear him plainly say that Lady Graysbrook was difficult to please was unnecessary.

"I'll call on you at dinner time."

She nodded at him and he left her, shutting the door behind him with a decisive click.

Kathryn walked to the window seat, threw all of the pillows to the floor, and descended onto it. She pulled her feet up as well, and after curling her arms around her knees leaned into the leaded glass window.

It wasn't as if she planned to sit and wallow in her grief for weeks on end or that she simply couldn't get over her own self-pity. She was stronger than that. In fact, the last several days she'd remained perfectly composed. She busied herself with packing her things and gathering some books she thought may be useful in her new position. She'd resigned to her fate.

Somehow, though, she hadn't expected this sense of complete solitude to overtake her.

It is one thing to be truly alone, but it was quite another to feel alone in a room full of people. She had a terrible feeling, after her meeting with the Marchioness, that her existence at Graysbrook would be just that.

Kathryn lifted her forehead from the cool glass of the window and looked across the room. Her trunks lay scattered about near the opposite wall. She stared at them for a moment, wishing she could ignore them and the world that they signified, but then stood with a heavy sigh and set about unpacking.

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Kathryn walked into the dining room and inhaled the scent of roasted duck that wafted off the platters on the table. It smelled delicious, but her nervous stomach rebelled against the idea of eating.

"Miss Dreyton, please meet your new charges, Emily and David."

Kathryn turned towards the empty sound of her Ladyship's voice, and then saw the children standing beside her. They smiled politely at her, but before she could say a word David had already turned and was taking his seat.

"You're pretty," Emily, the youngest, said. She had dark hair like her mothers, tied back in a navy colored bow.

"Thank you, Miss Emily." Kathryn said with a gentle smile.

"You're supposed to say that I'm pretty," Emily replied with a frown.

Kathryn creased her brow in confusion and looked at her ladyship for guidance, and to her surprise the woman was looking at her with such cold, steely eyes she felt as though she'd wronged her daughter.

"You're very pretty," Kathryn responded with uncertainty.

As if she'd passed the test, Emily flounced to her chair, and her Ladyship's chin rose up a notch in approval.

A sliver of worry sliced its way through her, but she shoved it aside, and moved around the table to a seat across from Lady Graysbrook. It was then that it dawned on her that her Ladyship had taken a seat at the side of the table, and not at the head.

In fact, she wasn't even seated next to the head, but rather in the middle, which was odd, when one thought about the rules and etiquette that pertained to the situation. The lady of the house was supposed to sit in a chair that would signify her position within the household, but then she supposed families could do whatever they pleased behind closed doors. Kathryn took the seat across from her, in the between the children. David was already playing with his fork, clacking it against everything within reach. Emily, on the other hand, was slumped over and quiet, picking at the lace edges on the hem of her skirt. The navy fabric was wrinkled and dirty, though Emily didn't seem to notice.

All the while the Marchioness was ignoring their ill manners, instead sitting with such posture she looked fit for a throne.

Kathryn realized, as she looked at her, that the Lady would likely be a ravishing beauty if only she smiled. Everything about her exuded elegance and fashion, from her thick curled lashes to her perfectly matched gemstones. She had the sort of good breeding that produced refinement of the features- high cheekbones, long elegant fingers, and a thin, slightly pointed chin.

In fact, the more Kathryn looked at her, the clumsier she felt. The Marchioness was the sort of woman that could make all others around her acutely aware of each shortcoming.

Kathryn's hair was brown, but not the same deep chestnut shade of her ladyship's. Instead it was light and lifeless, save the few blonde highlights that came out in the summer months. As it was nearly November, they'd all disappeared, which meant her hair was just boring and mousy.

And her dress, which had seemed perfectly fine until now, felt shabby and plain. It lacked the tiny rosebuds that were embroidered along the neckline like her ladyship's dress. It wasn't just the right shade of crimson to bring color to her cheeks.

Thankfully, before she could further degrade herself, the door swung open, and in walked a gentleman as though he owned the world.

While his wife could only be described as severe, he had a casual air about him that contrasted with her so greatly it was as if they signified night and day. He wore pantaloons rather than breeches, and Kathryn was certain she had never seen such casual apparel on a man during the dinner hour. His waistcoat was finely made but loosely tailored, as though it hadn't been made for him at all, but that he'd pulled it out of some random closet at a party and taken home some other poor chaps' coat. His hair was a vivid blonde, his eyes chocolate, and his skin olive.

What was most welcome though, was his smile. As soon as his eyes had met hers the edges had crinkled upwards as his mouth curved into a grin.

"You must be the new governess to our children," he said as he took his seat. Her ladyship opened her mouth to speak, as if she meant to formally introduce the two, but the man waved her into silence. "Lord Michael Belmoor. And your name is?"

"Kathyn Dreyton, my lord," she replied, as politely as she could.

"Very well. I hope that you will have much success with the children."

He said it with such a lustrous sparkle in his eye, that she wondered what could possibly be so humorous about it. Before she could ponder it a moment longer he turned his attention to his wife.

"Where's Graysbrook?" he said impatiently.

Kathryn furrowed her brow. What did the man mean by that? He was Graysbrook.

"I haven't the foggiest of a notion. He should have returned nearly an hour ago."

To this Kathryn inhaled sharply, now more confused than ever. She looked back and forth from man to wife, trying to figure out what their words meant.

It was then that she realized the largest chair, with its ornately carved armrests, still sat unoccupied opposite Lord Belmoor.

This explained why he hadn't introduced himself as Lord Michael Belmoor, Marquess of Graysbrook.

He wasn't the Marquess at all, which meant that her Ladyship was not the Marchioness. There was a third man to this puzzle, one that Kathryn hadn't expected.

"You don't mean to wait for him, do you?" he said with great impatience.

"It would be poor manners to do otherwise." They glared at one another, and Kathryn couldn't help but surmise that there was little love lost between the two. Perhaps it had been an arranged marriage, like most were, and they were ill suited for one another.

Before they could argue further, the door swung open once again, and a man with hair as dark as a raven entered. He had a commanding presence, from his broad shoulders and powerful physique to his square cut jaw. He was dressed so formal Kathryn thought he wouldn't be out of place at any given soiree of high society. He wore riding apparel, and though the top of his black boots was shiny, the bottom had gotten a bit dusty, as though they were polished and then he'd taken a walk down a dusty pathway. His navy jacket, with its shiny brass buttons, looked so perfectly tailored to his body she thought it would take him many moments and the help of a valet in order to shrug into it.

This was Lord Graysbrook.

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Alexander Thornton-Hawke, Marquess of Graysbrook, was in a foul mood.

He was late for dinner, and punctuality was a trait of great importance to him. A gentleman didn't keep others waiting, family or guests alike. If it hadn't been for his horse coming up lame, he would have been home with nearly an hour to spare. Instead he'd walked, unwilling to sacrifice his favorite Cobb mare for his own comfort.

As a result his tall boots had rubbed his ankles, and he was sure his hair had been thoroughly mussed by the wind that had gusted through the bare trees that led the way to Graysbrook. In the summer months they provided great shelter, but they'd all but finished dropping their leaves for the season, and the wind whipped through their empty branches with little trouble.

When he walked into the dining room he saw his family sitting in silence, the food steaming on platters in front of them.

"I hope you've not been waiting long," he said as he made his way to the head of the table. He was halfway there when he stopped as his gaze met a pair of unfamiliar blue eyes. The woman they belonged to was a riveting young lady, clad in a subdued navy gown that nearly matched the deep color of her eyes. Her dark blonde hair was swept into an understated bun, but even in her efforts to look informal he could see that she bore resemblance to every noblewoman he'd ever seen.

Blast his sister, but she was playing matchmaker again. She'd invited young women to dinner before, but usually with her family in attendance. She'd never been so bold as to invite a single young woman to dinner unchaperoned. This time she'd gone too far.

"Dear sister, you didn't tell me we had a guest this evening," he said as he turned to his sister with a glare.

She opened her mouth as if she had a tart reply, but then closed it for a moment. "She's not a guest, my lord. She's the new governess. Miss Dreyton, please meet Lord Graysbrook."

She stood, which was an awkward feat with her chair pushed so far in, and did a curtsy. "How do you do, my lord."

He tipped his head at her to be polite, and then took his seat as she found hers again. He motioned towards the servant standing near the wall, and the man stepped forward and removed the sterling lid to each platter. Steam swirled out, carrying with it the scent of roasted duck and spices.

Dinner started out as it always did, but pandemonium ensued after a few moments passed, and rather then giving the new governess a helping hand, he decided to observe.

"Mama, I want dessert," Emily said, dropping her fork to the plate with a clatter.

"You may have desert when you're through eating."

David joined in, only he dropped his fork clean to the floor. "No. I want cake."

Miss Dreyton looked thoroughly befuddled through it all, and he was certain she couldn't decide whether to ignore the exchange or try to smooth things over. Alex sat back into his chair, quietly chewing his food while watching the new governess with a keen eye.

"Emily, David, you'll need to eat your dinner first. Dessert is only for good little boys and girls that finish their meals," she said sweetly, but he could see that she was worried already. She was gripping her own fork with such pressure that her knuckles were turning white.

David knocked his knee against the bottom of the table and then squealed in such a manner he sounded more animal then boy. He yanked himself up onto the chair until he was kneeling and began to reach towards the Chocolate iced cake in the center of the table.

"David, you can not possibly eat cake right now." Kathryn was clearly trying her best to remain calm, but her voice cracked a bit, and her face was becoming flush with embarrassment. By now Emily had decided that her older brother was brilliant, and she was moving around the table to the empty chair next to him, climbing up onto it in order to reach the forbidden dessert.

Deciding he'd had enough, he turned and stared at his sister and waited for her to rescue Kathryn, whom was certainly not prepared nor equipped to deal with two unruly children within hours of her arrival.

"It's alright, Miss Dreyton. Let them eat it," she finally said, waving her hand dismissively.

Instead of the relief he'd expected to see, she looked incredulous.

In fact, the more he watched, the more he could see the anger that boiled beneath the surface.

Interesting.

"My lady, if it is all the same to you, I'd like to remove the dessert from the table. The children can go without it tonight."

Lydia narrowed her eyes at the governess, and now Lord Graysbrook was thoroughly intrigued.

No one dared cross Lady Belmoor. She was a force to be reckoned with, especially when it came to her children. One look at her clenched jaw sent most shrinking away. "The children are not to be punished, unless I say so. Should they misbehave and I see it fit, I'll tell you. They're good children, and they don't need to be treated unjustly."

It was a scene that had unfolded more than once in the past year, with each successive Governess doing no better than the last. Two yielded quickly, while the other argued to the point that Lady Belmoor simply fired her on the spot, on her very first day. It was a situation that was less than favorable, but his sister had such a soft spot for her children that no one could talk sense into her.

He tried to look only mildly interested, but in truth he was waiting impatiently for Kathryn's answer. She was staring so keenly at her ladyship, with an expression so unreadable, that it was difficult to know what she would say next.

"With all due respect, my lady, I can not do such a thing. To allow the children to get away with their actions will only bring them to be ill-mannered as adults."

"I'm sure they'll be fine. Just give them the dessert," she insisted.

The women stared at one another for several long moments. The only sound in the room was that of Lord Belmoor, who was carrying on with his dinner as though he hadn't a care in the world.

He couldn't help but feel a surge of disappointment as he watched Kathryn give in. She told Emily to return to her seat, and then stood and served them each a slice of chocolate cake.

For just a moment, he'd thought that his sister had found a governess with a little bit of spark.

Alex turned back to his meal, wondering if the new governess had any idea of the job she had in front of her. The last three certainly hadn't.