When a Duke Loves a Governess (Unlikely Duchesses #3) - Olivia Drake
“Wait until you hear the news,” Lady Farnsworth said to a friend who had just entered the millinery shop. “The Duke of Carlin has lost yet another governess.”
Mrs. Ludington gasped. “Why, this one cannot have been in his employ beyond a week.”
“Four days. My cousin lives near His Grace in Grosvenor Square, you know. This very morning, her maid spied the woman departing Carlin House with portmanteau in hand.”
Tessa James shamelessly eavesdropped from behind the counter. A threaded needle gripped between her forefinger and thumb, she craned her neck to peer past an arrangement of hats. Both ladies were regular patrons of the shop. As they chatted, Lady Farnsworth preened at her aging reflection in the mirror, while Mrs. Ludington tried on a rust-colored toque over her salt-and-pepper curls.
Tessa knew the women only by sight since Madame Blanchet trusted no one but herself to wait on the aristocratic customers. The shopkeeper hovered near the ladies, making suggestions and offering oily praise. Amid the colorful bonnets on display, Madame Blanchet in her severe black gown resembled a raven skulking in a garden of spring flowers.
“Zis chapeau is très magnifique,” she said, encouraging Lady Farnsworth to try on another bonnet.
Tessa curbed the urge to step out from behind the counter and direct the woman to a more flattering style, since the mass of yellow-dyed ostrich feathers made her pudgy features appear sallow. If it were her shop, she would use tact and diplomacy to ensure that every lady walked out looking her very best.
But she was not the proprietor. She lacked the means to set up an establishment of her own. At least as of yet.
A few minutes ago, she’d been called out here to do a minor alteration. It was a welcome escape from the cramped workroom where she and two other employees labored from dawn until dusk. Each hat required hours of toil from start to finish: the shaping of the buckram base, the assembling with wire and crinoline tape, the attachment of the lining, and the addition of trims.
Over the past eight years, Tessa had mastered all the skills of the trade. She had filled a notebook with her own sketches, too, although being allowed to actually make those hats was another matter. Madame preferred ornate monstrosities festooned with ribbons and lace, feathers and birds, silk flowers and papier-mâché fruit. Consequently, the shop was frequented by elderly ladies who had grown up in an era of elaborate powdered wigs.
But times had changed. The current fashion trended toward the elegance of simplicity—a taste shared by Tessa. A few days ago, she finally had been allowed to create one bonnet of her design. How proud she’d been to put it on display yesterday. And how dismayed to learn that—
A prickling sense of being observed alerted her to Madame Blanchet’s sharp black eyes glaring from across the shop. Her toadying way with the patrons didn’t extend to the staff. Tessa felt sure that Wellington himself could be no stricter a general than Madame.
Hastening to appear industrious, she poked the needle into the stiff interfacing of the bonnet. As much as she’d love to give the woman a piece of her mind, Tessa could ill afford to lose her position. It paid little enough as it was. Every farthing she could scrimp went into the tin box kept hidden beneath a loose floorboard in her tiny flat. Every penny put her one step closer to achieving the dream of one day being a shop owner herself.
For now, she must grit her teeth and oblige her employer by altering this bonnet, the very one Tessa herself had designed. It had a wide chip-straw brim with a gentle pouf of sky-blue satin at the crown. The matching ribbon that crisscrossed the straw was anchored in place by a delicate satin rosette. She had intended the stylish confection to frame the features of some lovely young lady.
Instead, Lady Farnsworth with her multiple chins had cooed over the hat. The woman then had insisted on ruining its elegance with the addition of three huge bunches of pink rosebuds, and Madame had fawningly acquiesced. In one fell swoop, the bonnet had gone from being a work of art to just another overdone atrocity. Tessa’s only consolation was being able to listen to the conversation as she halfheartedly stitched the silk flowers into place.
“Carlin must be frightening away his governesses,” Mrs. Ludington was saying. “Surely a man cannot spend so many years sailing around the world to remote lands