The Governess's Earl (Grace-by-the-Sea #4) - Regina Scott

Chapter One

Castle How, Grace-by-the-Sea, Dorset, England, early September 1804

He might be earl, but he would never be his father.

Standing in his dressing room of the castle his family had used as a hunting lodge, Drake, Earl of Howland, pulled away from the well-meaning attentions of his new valet. Pierson had been, until recently, a moderately successful under-footman, but Drake’s former valet had refused to leave London for the wilds of Dorset, and promoting Pierson had meant one less servant he would have to discharge.

If his cravat looked as if it had been trod upon by a herd of hungry hippopotami, that was a small price to pay for household harmony.

Somewhere a door slammed, and Drake flinched, imagining the fit Miranda was likely throwing in front of some unfortunate maid.

“Too tight, my lord?” Pierson asked, pale blue eyes liquid with anxiety as he gazed at the ruined cravat.

“It’s fine,” he assured the manservant yet again as he regarded himself in the standing mirror. Pierson had combed his blond hair back from his face and trimmed the ends to rest neatly above his ears on the sides and collar at the back. Few would notice that one sideburn was slightly shorter than the other. Then too, few here in the little spa village of Grace-by-the-Sea would notice that he was wearing the same waistcoat as the day before and the day before that.

Did Pierson have some sort of affinity for the striped wine-colored silk? He would have to remind the fellow he possessed several waistcoats, in different colors and textures, as well as more than the brown breeches Pierson persisted in pairing it with. At least his wardrobe hadn’t had to be sold at auction like their townhouse and country estate. Then again, what did it matter what he wore? It wasn’t as if he had anyone left to impress.

A knock sounded at the dressing room door. Pierson froze, eyes wide in indecision. A footman answered doors. But a valet? “Should I…?” he started.

“Please,” Drake said.

As soon as the servant turned, he snatched a different coat off the hook and shrugged himself into it.

Pierson opened the door, then scuttled back like a crab on the shore so that Jonas, the family butler, might enter. Now, there was a fellow designed to impress. Black hair pomaded in place around an impassive face, the butler advanced into the room with stately tread. He was the third butler that Drake remembered, the other two having been discharged by his father for not representing the House of Howland with sufficient aplomb. No one would ever level such an accusation at Jonas. Drake suspected that spine, which never bent, and that air of command stemmed from the days his butler had served under General Cuyler.

Now Jonas stood just behind Drake, his head only an inch or two higher, and kept his grey gaze respectfully in the middle distance until Drake recognized his presence.

“What is it, Jonas?” he dutifully asked.

“The next candidate has arrived for her interview, my lord.”

Another one? Already he was regretting putting the advertisement in the Upper Grace Gazette for a governess for Miranda. She had pouted for hours when she’d learned he intended to locate someone to care for her. And he’d sat through four interviews so far, finding any number of reasons why not one of the women was clever enough, devoted enough, and kind enough to see to his daughter’s needs.

He eyed the butler. “I don’t recall scheduling an interview for this morning.”

Jonas kept his gaze over Drake’s left shoulder. Why did he still feel a touch of impatience? “Nevertheless, Miss Denby is waiting downstairs in the study.”

“Perhaps a cravat pin, my lord?” Pierson fussed. “Or a different coat?”

Drake waved him back. “I am sufficient, thank you. Jonas, you may tell Miss Denby I will be right down.”

Now that regal face hinted of disapproval, dark brows gathering over his long nose. “I’m sure Miss Denby will be willing to wait until you are pleased to see her, my lord.” He remained still. Drake nodded. He inclined his head and left.

This Miss Denby would have had to wait on his father’s pleasure. How he had relished any display of power—making the staff wait, making callers wait. Making Drake wait. He would never be his father—the fact had been drummed into him since birth.

And he couldn’t mind in the least. The real question was—was he enough to be the earl?

“Boots, perhaps?” he suggested to Pierson, who immediately went to fetch a shiny black pair.

He found