Becky Thorn has been keeping a secret for more than seven years. A secret that, if found out, could destroy her. So before she gets too ensconced in London society, she accepts a position as a governess for a reclusive Viscount and his wife, far away from the ton.
Stephen Hastings, the third Viscount Hastings, is nothing short of perturbed when the tart Miss Thorn shows up on his doorstep. He is a man with little time and even less patience, who feels his pushover housekeeper is doing a fine job keeping his wards out of his hair. But Miss Thorn thinks differently and needles her way into becoming his governess, and eventually, the object of his affection.
Lady Isabelle Thornton stood at the back door of Blakeny House, her hand poised to knock, but her wrist refusing to go through with the movement. She didn’t care that the rain continued to soak through her dress even though she had a feeling it would take days for the thick, ugly material to dry completely. And Isabelle certainly paid no mind to the fierce grumbling in her stomach—the butterflies were far more bothersome than the hunger.
Or perhaps it was the heavy pit of grief that truly overrode any physical discomfort at the moment.
She tucked her bottom lip between her teeth and bit down. Hard. What was she doing here? She knew nothing of hard work, of being a lady’s maid or, God forbid, a scullery maid. What would it be like to be on the other side? To serve rather than be served? Would she ever be able to return to the station to which she’d been born?
Probably not. Not after what had happened. Not after…
Isabelle shook her head in a desperate attempt to toss the memories from her mind. If she dwelled on them, they would take her over, drown her in such despair she wouldn’t be able keep upright. But she needed to keep upright—she needed to survive. And Blakeny House was her only option right now.
She raised her fist again and this time, she did not hesitate to knock. Within moments, the door opened to reveal a thin, older woman, dressed much like her own housekeeper. Her hazel eyes crinkled at the corners as she took in Isabelle’s appearance.
“You must be here about the maid position,” she said with a smile. “Well, come on in, dearie. You’ll catch your death if you stand there much longer.”
Isabelle followed the woman through the small door and into a large, toasty kitchen. Her muscles, which she hadn’t even realized had been bunched with cold and tension, began to relax, as the warmth of the stove penetrated the thick, wet wool of her dress.
“Have a seat right there, miss, and I’ll be with ya in just a moment. Lady Grimsby will be wantin’ her tea now. Not usually my duty to deliver the tea, but since Sally up and left us to marry that Jimmy boy from Spitalfields, I’ve been doin’ near everything. It will be nice to have an extra pair of hands…”
The woman bustled from the kitchen, her arms laden with a heavy tea tray, and the swinging door came to a rest moments later. Isabelle stared unseeing at the door, her heart racing with fear, her mind jumbling with thoughts and images that would disturb a grown man. For a fifteen-year-old girl, they were almost unbearable.
She fought to concentrate on one emotion rather than the hundred that flowed through her at the moment. She chose the only one that would get her through this day, through the new life she’d chosen out of necessity: Hope. Hope that she was the first, if not the only one, to respond to the advertisement. Hope that her ruse would work, that she wouldn’t be recognized, that she would somehow be able to convince the kindly housekeeper that she was capable of doing a job she’d never even considered.
Hope that in time she would be able to erase the memory of her mother’s broken and lifeless body at the bottom of the stairs; the memory of her father at the top of the stairs, staring down at her with the same loathing and contempt he’d shown for her mother. Hope that her father would think her dead and not seek her out.
“All right, then!”
Isabelle jumped at the abrupt reentry of the housekeeper and sought to control her racing pulse once again.
“A bit jumpy, aren’t ya?” The older woman smiled at her and then set a plate of warm biscuits before her. “Perhaps you’re a bit hungry as well?”
Isabelle looked from the biscuits to the woman and back again, very aware that she was salivating at the mouth. She’d had little to eat since she fled her father’s Mayfair home in the dead of night, three days ago. But she wondered if this was a test. Her father had never taken kindly to the servants taking what was not theirs to take, and that included food that had not been rationed to them. Certainly, their servants had never enjoyed such delectable looking biscuits. Gruel and bread crusts were more like it.
“Well, go on before they turn cold,” the housekeeper urged, pushing the plate closer to Isabelle.
She couldn’t take any more. If she lost the position, it might very well be worth it. She reached for a biscuit but stopped when the housekeeper let out a loud “Oh!”
Isabelle looked up at the woman. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, taking her hand away and tucking it into the damp fabric of her skirt. “I didn’t mean to—”
“You’ll of course want something to wash those down with!” The housekeeper wasn’t even paying attention to her now that her head was buried deep in an ice chest. “They’re a bit rich—the kind that stick to the roof of your mouth.” She poured milk into a glass and slid it across the table to Isabelle. “Well, what are ya waiting for, dearie? You must be starving. Never seen eyes so round with hunger in my life.”
And with that, Isabelle dove into the warm biscuits, heedless of crumbs, uncaring if she looked like a rabid animal as she stuffed them into her mouth. All she cared about was the slightly sweet, buttery taste on her tongue and the empty feeling in her stomach that was quickly disappearing.
“There now,” the housekeeper crooned. “That’s better, isn’t it?”
Isabelle nodded, her mouth too full to speak. She took a swig of the milk and swallowed down the last of the morsels. “Thank you. I-I…suppose I was hungry after all.”
“Well, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself.”
Isabelle gulped over the sudden formation of a lump in her throat. What the devil was she supposed to tell this woman? She couldn’t very well say that she was the daughter of a highly regarded member of the ton. Or that she’d watched her father—that highly regarded man—only three days ago, shove her mother down a flight of stairs to her death.
Her heart ached at the thought of her mother and it was all she could do to focus on the task at hand. Somehow, someway, she must convince this housekeeper that she was an orphan, completely alone in the world, with not a penny to her name. And even more importantly, she needed to convince her that she could serve a tea tray and roll out biscuit dough, and whatever else might be expected of her now. Now that she was a servant.
Drawing herself upright on the stool, Isabelle held out her hand, and said, “My name is Becky Thorn, and I am a maid.”
After obtaining a degree in Vocal Performance from the Manhattan School of Music, and years of pursuing a career on the stage, Jerrica left the “glamorous” life of an actress in favor of writing romance. She continues to reside in the New York City area with her husband, cat, and precious daughter.