The Tempting of the Governess is Julia Justiss’ second book in the Cinderella Spinsters series. I reviewed her first book, The Awakening of Miss Henley, last year and loved it — it even made my Best Books list for 2019 — and this second book promises to be just as good. –Keira
Infuriating, impertinent…are just some of the words Colonel Hugh Glendenning could use to describe Miss Olivia Overton. She’s insisting he spend time with his orphaned wards — which has forced him to admit he’s been keeping the world at arm’s length since losing his wife and baby son. That’s not all that’s disturbing him. It’s the new temptation Olivia’s sparking in him to enjoy life again — and with her!
Halting in the corridor several rooms away, Olivia raised a hand to lips that tingled in the wake of the Colonel’s nearness.
He had been about to kiss her — she was absolutely sure of it. Though everything within her had yearned to respond, some primitive sense of impending danger had sent her fleeing from the room.
Alarm coursed through her anew as she thought again about what she had nearly done. Or rather, what she had nearly let the Colonel do.
No man she’d ever waltzed with had affected her like the Colonel. Despite the mindless yearning that drew her to him, her limited experience hadn’t prepared her to know how to manage such powerful feelings.
Feelings that she, as merely an employee, absolutely could not allow herself to develop for her employer.
It was past time for her to return to her duties and forget she’d ever been granted the indulgence of dining with him, dancing with him…
‘Are you all right, Miss Overton?’
Startled, Olivia looked back to find Mr. Saulter hurrying after her, concern in his gaze. ‘Won’t you come into the dining room? Let me pour you some wine.’
Still too stunned to feel embarrassed, she let him take her arm and lead her into the silent room, where he swiftly relit several branches of candles on the table and sideboard before pouring them each a glass.
Motioning her to a chair, he said, ‘Please, sit and drink this. You’ve had…something of a shock, for which I fear I am mostly responsible.’
‘What just happened?’ she murmured as she seated herself — and was aghast to realize she’d uttered the question aloud.
Taking a chair beside her, Mr. Saulter gave a short laugh. ‘Something I should have managed better. You see, these last few days, Hugh has seemed so much more alive, so much more like the man I first knew in India, that I got ahead of myself. I was so excited to observe how he responded to you, I pushed him too hard. And was most unfair to you in the process. I assure you, he meant no disrespect!’
Feeling her face color, Olivia shook her head. ‘It wasn’t his fault. The dance — the music — I’m afraid I was carried away, too.’
‘Please, you aren’t the one who needs to apologize!’ Sighing, he continued, ‘I’ve observed what a great help you’ve been to him, taking care of his wards and easing him into shouldering a burden that can’t be anything but painful. I don’t think I’m in error in thinking you admire the Colonel and are concerned for his well-being.’
‘No, of course not. I wish to assist him in any way possible.’
Saulter nodded. ‘That’s what I thought. So believing that, I hoped you wouldn’t mind my encouraging his attraction to you. You can’t imagine how much it gladdened my heart to see him show signs of admiring, and coming to trust, another lady, after what he’s endured! I had begun to despair that he would ever get over Lydia’s betrayal and the manner of her death. After all, to suffer the pain and humiliation of having your wife run off with another man hard on the heels of losing your only son — I can’t even imagine the agony!’
About to take a sip of her wine, Olivia’s hand froze on the glass. ‘What?’ she gasped, certain she could not have heard Saulter correctly. ‘I — I thought his wife died shortly after the death of their son.’
‘Oh, she did—’ Saulter broke off abruptly. ‘D-Didn’t you assure me, when I enquired earlier tonight, that you were fully aware of the sad circumstances surrounding the tragedies that occurred to Glendenning in India?’
‘I… I know that his son died suddenly of a fever, and that his wife perished a short while later — that is all.’
Closing his eyes briefly, Saulter swore under his breath. ‘Then I’m afraid I’ve just been horridly indiscreet.’
Olivia shook her head, unable to make sense of it. She simply couldn’t imagine how any woman lucky enough to have won Hugh Glendenning’s love could have ended up betraying and abandoning him. ‘You can’t be telling me that the Colonel’s wife…left him?’
Catching herself, she added hastily, ‘I shouldn’t enquire further, particularly if you have pledged to keep silent about the matter. I’m just…shocked. And heartbroken for him. As if losing his son and wife alone weren’t enough of a blow.’
Grimacing, Saulter nodded his agreement. ‘Horrible, all of it. Having dropped such a lighted cannon ball to explode in your face, I suppose I can’t leave it at that. I’m not pledged to silence and, sadly, all the tawdry details were soon known to every Englishman and woman in the cantonment, and probably passed along to every English settlement from Delhi to Calcutta.’
‘How perfectly awful for him. I… I wouldn’t enquire, but knowing the circumstances surrounding the deaths of his wife and son would allow me to guard against inadvertently saying or doing something that would touch on that grief. By the way, as far as I can tell, no one in Somerset knows more about his wife’s death than that she passed away soon after their child died.’
‘That’s a mercy anyway. I’d halfway feared Hugh had imprisoned himself here, refusing to see any of the neighbors, to avoid the scandal.’
‘I’m not acquainted with any of the gentry in the neighborhood, so I can’t say for sure about them, but none of the long-time retainers at Somers Abbey are aware of it, I’m certain.’ Travers couldn’t have assured her of the Colonel’s undying love and loyalty to his wife had she known of it, Olivia thought.
‘Very well, with the goal of having you avoid any missteps, I’ll give you the bare details.’ After taking a long pull on his wine glass, Saulter said, ‘Not that Glendenning ever discussed it with me, but it had become obvious for some time before his son’s death that all was not well between him and his wife. Lydia…never adjusted to living in India. The smells, the insects, the wild animals, the unintelligible languages and strange customs of its people — all the foreignness that made the land so fascinating to her husband and me made her anxious and fretful. In those last months, she often complained publicly that Glendenning neglected her. Not that she lacked for companionship, not when even the plainest European females are besieged with invitations to dance or play cards or stroll about the cantonment. I think… I think the death of their son was simply the last straw for her and Hugh was too submerged in his own grief to be able to help her.’
‘How sad for them both.’
Saulter nodded. ‘In any event, she persuaded one of her most fervent admirers to run away with her, intent on returning to England. But the rivers, always treacherous, were swollen from the monsoon rains. Somewhere on the trip downriver, the boat capsized. There were no survivors.’
‘Awful,’ she murmured. ‘Simply awful. I can’t imagine how he managed to keep going.’
‘I have to admit, I worried for a while that he might put a pistol to his head. Instead, he pushed everyone away, refused to attend any social functions, even with the officers of the regiment, and buried himself in his work until he was notified of his brother’s death and was obliged to come back to England to claim his inheritance.’
‘Where he once again buried himself in his work.’
‘Yes. He…he does admire you, Miss Overton. And I can see that he has begun to trust you, at least in the matter of his wards. I can only beg you to proceed…kindly with him. As for the debacle of that waltz, I’d be willing to bet he hasn’t touched a woman since the last time he embraced his wife, and — well, a man is a man. But Glendenning is a man of iron will. He wouldn’t have lost control of himself if he hadn’t…let down his guard around you. Please remember that and don’t judge him too harshly.’
‘I can only repeat, he wasn’t the only one…letting down his guard,’ she said ruefully. ‘This does…somewhat complicate things moving forward.’
Saulter sighed. ‘I’m afraid my little trick with the waltz may have made things awkward for both of you.’
‘Well, we shall simply have to get beyond it,’ she said briskly. ‘Much as I’ve enjoyed your company, I think it best if I resume my place as the governess of the household and no longer dine in your company.’
‘Although I am most unhappy with that proposal on my own account, I have to admit, that would probably make it easier for Glendenning. For both of you.’
She nodded, despite the protest rising within her. But she squelched it. She needed time to think through the implications of the horrifying truths she’d just discovered before she could chart out how best to go forward while causing herself and her employer the least amount of embarrassment.
‘Then I shall finish my wine and bid you goodnight, and goodbye, Mr. Saulter. I truly have enjoyed our evenings together.’ She smiled ruefully. ‘Save for the last little bit tonight.’
‘Not nearly as much as I have enjoyed them, I assure you, Miss Overton! These evenings and also the chance to meet Hugh’s charming wards yesterday. What sweet girls they are! Finally, you must let me apologize again, as I shall do to Glendenning, for thrusting you into so uncomfortable a position.’
‘Apology accepted.’ Taking the last sip of her wine, she set down the glass. ‘Let me thank you again for trusting me with a full account of the Colonel’s losses. Goodnight, Mr. Saulter.’
‘Goodnight, Miss Overton,’ he said, rising as she did. Just before she reached the threshold, he said, ‘I do hope my…unfortunate revelations tonight haven’t altered your opinion of — or will alter your behavior around — the Colonel.’
She shook her head. ‘I can only admire him more for enduring what he has suffered. And I assure you, he will never receive the merest hint from me that I am aware of the true circumstances of his wife’s death.’
‘Thank you, Miss Overton. You are a princess among women.’
The princess whose time at the ball was over, she thought as she made her way upstairs to her chamber. Back to her rags and ashes…and thinking through how she was to meet the Colonel again without her cheeks flaming at the wanton encouragement she’d given him for that kiss that never happened.
She wasn’t sure what pained her more — returning to the loneliness and isolation of her governess’s life or being cheated out of the kiss she’d wanted so badly.
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About the Author:
Long before embarking on romantic adventures of her own, Julia Justiss read about them, transporting herself to such favorite venues as ancient Egypt, World War II submarine patrols, the Old South and of course Regency England. Soon she was keeping notebooks for jotting down story ideas. When not writing or traveling, she enjoys watching movies, reading and puttering about in the garden trying to kill off more weeds than flowers.
Where to Find Julia: