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Under the Pear Tree

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Under the Pear Tree

A Victorian Christmas Story

Julia Kelly

Copyright © 2014 by Julia Kelly

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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Contents

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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

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h1=. Chapter 1

December 24, 1883

“We could play charades,” suggested Lady Hawley.

“Mamma, we played charades last night,” said her daughter, Margaret, in an indulgent tone. “It wouldn’t do to bore our guests. Don’t you agree, Eleanor?”

“Hmmm?” Eleanor asked, for she hadn’t been attention at all. Instead she’d been trying her best not to let her eyes fall on Lord Michael Hawley. Normally his rather handsome face would be a pleasant distraction, but not now. Not on this very disappointing Christmas Eve. “I’m sure whatever you pick will be quite enjoyable.”

Of course he was the reason for her disappointment, she thought as the other ladies went back to discussing the night’s agenda. He was the reason for everything. Sitting in spindly chairs at ball after endless ball, she and her London friends liked to dream of the day she became Lady Hawley—something that her family’s annual trip to the Hawley family’s home had confirmed would never happen. Ever.

Despite wearing her best dresses and putting on her brightest smiles, the baron had been nothing but polite and warm to her, almost brotherly. One afternoon she’d spotted a tiny package under the tree with her name on the tag, and her hopes had soared. Perhaps Michael had thought of her after all. But by evening it was gone again, no doubt mistakenly labeled for her by one of the servants.

Eleanor was coming to accept that difficult truth that all Michael saw when he looked at her was the little girl he’d once fished out of Blackburn Pond after her youngest sister, Charlotte, planted a frog in the bottom of Eleanor’s rowboat. She’d capsized in all her humiliated glory as he and Julian lounged on the bank watching and laughing.

Now, Eleanor sat contemplating how she could quietly slip out of the drawing room and retire to her room. Perhaps she could beg off with a headache.

She nearly had her escape route planned when Charlotte called out from across the room, “Let’s have carols, Lady Hawley!”

“Charlotte.” Her voice was a low warning that did little to hide her annoyance at her sister’s imperiousness.

Margaret clapped her hands, “That is just the thing!”

“I think that carols would be a lovely way to end the evening. Miss Morris,” Lady Hawley said, “will you accompany us? We all know you excel at the piano.”

So does every other gently-born lady in Britain, she wanted to respond. But Eleanor rose anyway. When the Hawley matriarch asked something of you, you snapped to it.

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h1=. Chapter 2

A dull pang throbbed in Michael’s chest as he watched Eleanor move to take her seat at the piano. He raised a hand to surreptitiously rub at the spot even though nothing was going to ease the ache. The plain truth was that he wanted this woman. He’d wanted her since visiting the Morris’ after returning from his Grand Tour with Julian two long years ago. Eleanor had breezed into the drawing room fresh from a walk in the park, and his heart had dropped through the floor. He’d never quite found it again.

No doubt Mrs. Morris would be as overjoyed as Julian would be horrified if her eldest daughter formed an understanding with a baron, but Michael wasn’t so sure how the lady herself felt. With friends and family she was all warmth, her joy radiating out with such brilliance that it was a wonder every man wasn’t in love with her. Around him, however, her smile seemed brittle. She grew stiff, as though his very presence made her uncomfortable.

And yet, he refused to go down without a fight. In the pocket of his dinner jacket, he touched her present wrapped in red and gold paper. It was a frivolous thing, but the idea struck him a month before and he’d been unable to shake it. He’d told himself it didn’t matter whether it pleased her or not, but it did. It mattered more than anything in all of England. 

From his seat next to Julian’s, he watched Eleanor sit at the piano bench, the long skirts of her bustled dress fanned out behind her. Every instinct screamed at him to drag her up into his arms and finally claim her with a kiss. Enough of this waiting and watching, wondering if she could ever love him. He wanted answers.

Without another thought, Michael was on his feet and striding towards her. “Eleanor, you need someone to turn the pages for you.”

He hadn’t asked whether she wanted his assistance because he wouldn’t entertain the thought that she might banish him back to the corner of his own drawing room.

She didn’t look at him, instead turning her head slightly to expose the long, graceful slope of her neck. “Thank you.”

The rest of the guests began to gather around the piano. Michael slipped a hand back into his pocket and grazed her present with his fingertips again.

Soon.

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h1=. Chapter 3

Quiet had settled over Blackburn Manor by the time Eleanor opened the door of the room she shared with Charlotte and stole out into the corridor. Her back ached for she’d played late into the night. The merry little party sang every Christmas song and hymn she knew. “Deck the Halls”, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” even “Away in the Manger” although hardly any of them knew more than the first verse to the new carol. Despite her exhaustion, her whole body pulsed with energy.

She blamed Michael, of course. He’d stood so close to her, it was a wonder she’d been able to play at all. The scent of wool and spice enveloped her every time he reached over to turn the pages of her sheet music. Once he leaned a little too close and the cuff of his jacket brushed the bare skin of her neck. Awareness exploded through her body like fireworks, and her fingers missed a chord. She wanted to feel those sparks again.

Rather than stay in her room running through the evening over and over again in her head while her sister slept, she’d pulled on her dressing gown and slippers and escaped.

Eleanor stole along the corridor with nothing but the low flicker of gaslights to light her way to the library. There at least she could find comfort and distraction among the books. Softly, she twisted the doorknob and let herself in. The dying embers in the fireplace warmed the room, and the pine garlands that hung along the mantle scented the air. She closed her eyes to breath in deep. “Peace.”

“Is that what you’ve come looking for?”

Eleanor’s eyes snapped open, and she watched, stunned as Michael unfold himself from a wing-backed chair facing the fire. He wore no jacket or necktie. His shirt was undone at the collar, the sleeves pushed up to reveal forearms corded with muscle from years of riding.

It was all utterly indecent and thoroughly tempting.

Eleanor knew that she should turn around, march back upstairs, and hide under the counterpane. Instead, she swallowed her propriety and closed the door.

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h1=. Chapter 4

Michael had cursed himself when he’d been unable to separate Eleanor from her family at the end of the night. They’d tumbled upstairs in a ball of mirth, leaving him alone in the drawing room, her present still in his pocket.

But now she stood before him with her hair tumbling down her shoulders like a Burne-Jones painting, ethereal and angelic. She’d cinched her pale green dressing gown tight around her waist, but it gapped open a little at the top giving him a glimpse of the embroidered edge of a white nightrail. He wanted to slip his fingers along the edge and feel the smooth skin underneath.

He shook his head to clear the fog of lust clouding his mind. “Were you unable to sleep?” he started again.

“Perhaps I’m too excited for Christmas Day,” she said.

He grinned. “At least you’re wearing slippers this time. I remember one year you were caught creeping downstairs in bare feet to look at the tree.”

Her nose scrunched up. “How was I supposed to know that your father would keep to his early riding schedule even on Christmas?”

“He was like that.”

Her face softened, and she looked up at him through thick, black lashes. “I’m sorry to have mentioned him. It must be difficult.

He shook his head. “We miss him, but we have your family with us.”

“And we make a cacophony loud enough to distract anyone. I do apologize,” she said in a wry tone as she brushed an errant strand of hair away from her face.

They stood there, the air humming with unspoken tension. Her state of dress was just this side of respectable, and he wasn’t much better. It should be so easy to just kiss her and find out whether she welcomed it, but there was something he had to do first.

Screwing up his courage, he stepped forward. “Eleanor, I have something for you.”

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h1=. Chapter 5

Eleanor froze as she watched Michael pick something up off of a low table next to his chair. It was a small, flat package wrapped in red and gold striped paper. The same one she’d spotted that afternoon and hoped was from him.

He held the present out, standing close enough that she could see the shadow of his beard coming in. She wanted to feel the rasp of his whiskers against her fingers. She could too if only she reached across the gap between them.

“I’ve been waiting to give this to you, but we’re so rarely alone,” he said, saving her from herself.

Excitement bubbled up in her. “Michael—”

“Take it. Please.”

She took the package, undid the gold ribbon bow that held the paper together, and opened the box. Nestled on a bed of white tissue was a thin golden twig with a pin affixed to the back of it. Her heart beat a little faster. He’d given her a broach. A lovely broach.

“Do you remember coming to Blackburn Manor one summer when you were just sixteen?” he asked.

She turned the piece of jewelry over between her fingers. “Of course.”

“You used to sit under a pear tree and read,” he said in a rush as though he, Lord Michael Hawley, was nervous. “The tree was dying and had to be removed this autumn, but I asked the gardener to keep a little bit of it for me. I had it made up into a broach because it reminded me of you.”

She blinked in surprise, hardly knowing what to say. It was such a little thing, and yet for him to remember…

“Michael, it’s beautiful,” she whispered.

He looked almost bashful now. “I hoped that you might like it.”

She let out a low, long breath. Then, before she could stop herself, she went up on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. Her lips brushed his skin, and she started to pull back but his hand caught her around the waist. He gathered her to him, tilted his head just the slightest bit to the left, and finally—after years of hoping he would—he kissed her.

Michael’s lips worked over hers as she melted into him. He tasted like nothing she’d imagined. He was cool and fresh, and she opened for him just a little more so he could run his tongue over hers. The sensation left her just a little drunk on something she didn’t know the name of. When he finally let go of her she had to lean into him for support.

“Was that okay?” he asked, his thumb coming up to trace the line of her jaw. She nudged her cheek into his fingers until his palm opened.

“That was exactly what I wanted for Christmas.”

A low chuckle rumbled in his chest. “I’ve waited far too long to do that.” Joy filling her so fully that she felt as though she might float out of the room. “I think I’ve loved you from the moment I saw you eating berries with your book beneath that tree.”

Her breath caught in her throat. He loved her? All of those nights wondering if he would ever look at her as anything but Julian’s sister evaporated. Toying with the fabric at his collar, she confessed, “I’ve loved you from afar for so long.”

He dropped a kiss to her forehead. “I wasn’t so very far away.”

Her fingers clutched at the fabric. “It didn’t feel that way.”

That earned her another kiss, this one as breathless as the last.

“I want to court you, Eleanor,” he murmured against her lips. “I would marry you tomorrow if I could.”

“On Christmas Day?” she asked with a smile.

He laughed. “Happily, but not without dragging the archbishop out of bed for a special license and risking gossip. I want everyone to know how proud I am to have you for my wife when we wed. I don’t want there to be any doubts that this is a love match.”

She tilted her head to one side, contemplating his proposal as he ran his finger down the length of her neck. “Julian will be horrified.”

“Julian will learn to like the idea. He’ll have to,” he said pulling her even closer to him. “Tomorrow I will ask your father’s permission, and if he agrees we can be engaged soon.”

Eleanor shot him a look. “Don’t believe for a second that Mother will stand for being left out of that conversation.”

He chuckled. “I learned long ago to fear the wrath of Mrs. Morris’ displeasure as much as my own mother’s. I will ask both your parents and then you can make up your mind about me.”

This. This moment was the happiest she’d ever been. All of the disappointment and waiting, the wondering and doubt fell away. All she knew was what it felt to be in the arms of this man—the man she loved.

She draped her arms around his neck and tilted her head back to smile at him. “Michael, I made up my mind about you a long time ago.”

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Get started reading her charming, sexy Governess series.

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Or read the first in her fast-paced, steamy Game Changer series.

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h1=. Sneak Peek of The Governess Was Wicked

Keep reading for a sneak peek at the first book in Julia Kelly’s Governess Series

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The Governess Was Wicked

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Out now from Pocket Star Books!

CHAPTER ONE

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If a lady is expected to be well educated, her governess must be even more so. If she is kind, her governess must possess an angelic quality. Nothing flusters the ideal governess or makes her misspeak. She is the very picture of propriety and generosity.

Miss Carrington’s Guide for Governesses

NOVEMBER 1856

Elizabeth bolted up in bed, her heart beating out a violent rhythm. Someone was in her room. A small blond someone holding up a candle and peering at her from the edge of her narrow bed.

“Cassandra, what is it?” she asked in a rush, both fear and relief pumping through her veins.

“Juliana is sick again.”

Elizabeth let her head drop back to the pillow, closed her eyes, and prayed for strength. She loved them dearly, but these children were going to be the death of her. Death from sleep deprivation. Surely that was a recognized medical condition.

“If Juliana is coughing again there is very little I can do,” Elizabeth said, hoping that would satisfy Cassandra—all she wanted was to remain huddled deep in the warmth of her little bed.

“She keeps making funny noises,” insisted the child in her matter-of-fact way. Cassandra was the sort of girl who stared at people perhaps a little too long and asked many more questions than her mother, Mrs. Norton, thought proper. She spent her days absorbed in books far beyond her elder sister’s care or comprehension, and no doubt would one day nag her little brother’s tutors for instruction in Greek and Latin. Normally Elizabeth rather liked the little girl’s oddities, but it was Godknows-what-hour in the morning and this was the third nighttime ailment Juliana had mysteriously contracted in as many weeks.

All of the past illnesses had required quite a bit of fussing and very little recovery time. How convenient.

Still, it was Elizabeth’s responsibility to look after the girls. On her tiny bedside table, underneath a volume of Mr. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair she’d just picked up from the circulating library, sat a copy of Miss Carrington’s Guide for Governesses. Hers might not be as well thumbed as the stern Carrington sisters, who ran the agency that had placed her with the Nortons, might like, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t recite the book’s main edict from memory.

“A governess’s duty first and foremost is to the young ladies she teaches.”

That, coupled with the deep affection she felt for the girls, was the reason she’d continue to repeat this tiresome routine that had cropped up just six months after an heir to the family’s soap fortune had been born. At least Juliana hadn’t taken to pricking Master George with a pin or otherwise tormenting her infant brother.

With a sigh, Elizabeth pushed back her blue quilt and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She slid her feet into the slippers lined up next to her nightstand and pulled on her father’s old dressing gown that she kept draped over the foot of the bed for warmth. Her toes were always cold and the extra layer helped stave off the chill when her water bottle cooled midway through the night.

She yanked the belt of the dressing gown tight as Cassandra scampered out of the room. The girl’s candle illuminated the way through the darkened nursery that had been Elizabeth’s home for the past six years. This room, with its green-and-white wallpaper and big bay windows looking out over Onslow Square, would continue to be the center of her world until Cassandra was old enough to wear her hair up and marry. Then Elizabeth would return to Miss Carrington’s Agency in search of another position. That was the thing about being a governess—her path was very clearly laid out. She would oversee a girl’s education, and quietly wait at home to hear about her presentation before the queen and her first balls. Then, with any luck, a proposal would come, and when a successful marriage had been brokered, she would pack her things and start the cycle all over again.

The family names might change as the years went by, but the rhythm of Elizabeth’s life was already set. That is, unless she lost her position.

It was a very real fear that was never far from her thoughts. Miss Carrington’s book made it clear that a governess was never her own mistress. She had to be perfect in every way—disciplined, restrained, and dignified—because she was entirely susceptible to the generosity or wrath of her employer. And with the Nortons, one never really knew where one stood.

Elizabeth walked into the girls’ bedroom just as Cassandra announced to her sister’s prostrate form, “I brought Miss Porter.” Juliana groaned, and Elizabeth planted a hand on either hip, assessing the situation with the expert eye of a woman who’d been here several times before. The scene was well constructed, but not entirely convincing. The bedsheets were tangled up between the girl’s legs and her cheeks were an angry pink, yet not a hair was loose from her braid. It was as though the girl’s vanity wouldn’t allow her to fully commit to what experience told Elizabeth was probably a ruse.

Still, she had pink cheeks . . .

The risk of fever was very real, and Elizabeth knew to treat every possibility of illness as serious until proven otherwise.

Without even looking down, she shot out a hand to stop the Nortons’ middle child in her tracks. “Stay back, Cassandra. I don’t want you catching whatever ails your sister.”

As quick as could be, the nine-year-old ran across the room and scrambled up onto a rocking chair in the corner to watch with curious blue eyes.

Elizabeth placed a hand to Juliana’s forehead. It was hot, though not alarmingly so. Still, sweat glistened over the girl’s brow. Guilt crept into her thoughts. Perhaps Juliana really was in discomfort.

“How long have you been feeling poorly?” she asked.

“Since after supper,” the girl whispered.

She frowned. She’d spent the entire night with the girls, save an hour when two of the housemaids helped them with their baths. That was when she shut herself away in her room, opened Vanity Fair, and let herself fall into the wicked but enticing life of Becky Sharp. Becky had only spent a short time as a governess—smart woman—and Elizabeth was desperate to know how the novel’s heroine would handle her latest turn of fortune, for, good or bad, Becky was determined to make a future for herself that extended beyond a nursery’s walls. It sounded nothing short of thrilling, and an undeniable work of fiction.

Life didn’t work like that for the Elizabeth Porters of the world.

“Why didn’t you say anything after supper?” she asked, brushing her thumb over the girl’s forehead, trying to smooth away the furrow there.

“I didn’t want you to be angry with me.”

The little tremor in Juliana’s voice cut through her. Perhaps she was being too hard on the girl. But there was good reason to be suspicious. Her charge had feigned illness too many times, necessitating too many late-night calls from Dr. Fellows. At the end of all of those visits, the physician’s diagnosis had been the same: an acute attack of amateur theatrics.

Elizabeth had scolded Juliana for her selfishness the last time, informing her that Dr. Fellows had far better things to do than be dragged from his bed in the dead of the night for nothing.

Juliana had pouted and whined that she was truly ill, only to make a miraculous recovery in time to accompany her mother on a rare visit to her cousins, the Braithwaites, the following day. The eleven-year-old already showed signs of growing into a masterful manipulator—heaven help the bachelors of the [_ton _]when she came out in a few years’ time. Heaven help her governess until her wedding day.

“Juliana, it’s time to go back to sleep.” Elizabeth moved to tuck her in. “If you’re still feeling poorly in the morning, I’ll send Jeremy for Dr. Fellows. I’m sure your mother will welcome the chance to speak to him as well.”

The thinly veiled threat hung in the air. Juliana did not heed it.

“I feel so cold,” said the girl, shivers beginning to rack her slight body.

There it was again, the doubt and guilt that Elizabeth would feel if by some small chance the girl was actually ill.

Hesitating a moment, she picked up Juliana’s wrist. She recalled with precise detail the time two years before when Dr. Fellows had pressed two fingers to her own wrist to show her how to test a pulse.

Elizabeth suppressed a little shudder and tried to focus on her task rather than the delicious memory of being touched by that man, but it was impossible not to remember the way his elegant yet callused hands had felt against her skin. She remembered wondering what sport he indulged in that gave him those hard ridges on his fingertips and the pads of his knuckles.

Elizabeth shook her head. Now was not the time to think about Dr. Fellows’s hands—or any man’s hands, for that matter.

Focusing on her task, she counted Juliana’s pulse. It was quick and strong, exactly as the doctor said it should be.

“Can you tell me what exactly hurts?” Elizabeth asked with a frown.

The girl squirmed a bit and cast her head to one side, refusing to speak. She arched an eyebrow. Chattering teeth aside, this had gone too far.

“Juliana, if you’re fibbing I’m going to be very cross.” Just then, Juliana leaned over the bed and vomited all over Elizabeth’s slippers.

“That’s disgusting,” announced Cassandra from her perch.

The girl sounded more fascinated than revolted. If only Elizabeth could say the same.

“Cassandra, ring the bell for Mr. Crane,” she said, the sour smell wafting up to her nose to make her own stomach turn.

“Quickly, please.”

Cassandra climbed down and yanked on the long velvet pull, no doubt thrilled at the chance to help.

A few moments later, the butler appeared, fully dressed despite the late hour. Mr. and Mrs. Norton must still be out for the evening. Thank goodness for small miracles.

“Mr. Crane,” she said with as much grace as a woman standing in last night’s supper can muster, “would you be so good as to send word to Dr. Fellows that Miss Norton is ill?”

The tall, stocky man raked his eyes over her, his look of icy disdain telling her exactly how he felt about sick children—and her for that matter.

“I’ll send Jeremy for Dr. Fellows,” said the butler. He paused, swaying a bit so that she couldn’t be certain whether he had the vapors or if he’d been pilfering the spirits again.

“Are Mr. and Mrs. Norton back from the Clyvedon ball?” she asked.

“No.”

“Then I don’t see any reason to alarm them unnecessarily, especially at this late hour.”

“Quite.”

“Oh, and Mr. Crane, perhaps a chambermaid or two could see about this mess. I imagine it’ll be too large a job for just one.”

Right on cue, Juliana vomited again.

Never before had Elizabeth seen Crane move so fast.

Stepping out of her slippers with a little chuckle, she stripped back the sodden bedclothes and pulled the fresher top sheet from Cassandra’s bed. There was little she could do but make Juliana as comfortable as possible.

“That’s mine,” Cassandra said from across the room.

“I promise I’ll make sure your bed is set to rights again,” she said as she tucked the sheet around Juliana.

When Elizabeth finished, she found Cassandra standing at the edge of Juliana’s bed, her two tiny hands wrapped around the jug of water that usually sat on a stand in the corner. A fresh bit of linen hung from her arm, nearly dragging on the floor.

“So you can clean the sick off your feet,” said the little girl.

Touched, Elizabeth took the cloth and dipped it in the jug of water. “That’s very thoughtful of you. Thank you.”

Cassandra wrinkled her nose. “It smells.”

She smiled. “That it does. Now, why don’t you find the book we were reading so we can keep your sister calm while we wait for the doctor? And a bucket. I must find a bucket.”

A few minutes later, with the rocking chair dragged up to Juliana’s bed but kept well out of range, she settled Cassandra on her lap and opened One Hundred Cottage Stories for Girls. They read, trying to pass time until the doctor arrived, only stopping when the patient needed to cast up the contents of her stomach.

Had Juliana not been clinging to a spare chamber pot, the scene would have been positively domestic. Except these weren’t Elizabeth’s children. The familiar, dull ache that throbbed low in her chest every day pulsed again. When she first became a governess, she’d hoped it would someday disappear. Instead, she’d learned that she could suppress it but never fully be rid of it. Family, home, children—they were all things she could never aspire to. She didn’t want the life of a novel’s heroine. Not really. What she wanted was these quiet little moments with her own children.

She tried her best to shake off her sadness. Things could be far worse. They had been far worse.

Nearly a decade ago, during the first month of her first, and only, modest season, her beloved father had been ripped from her without warning. She could still feel the shock of one of his lieutenants telling her that he’d fallen from his horse. Then came the waves of crushing grief for the man who had played both mother and father all her life.

After a week, another shock—perhaps the biggest of all.

The honorable army captain, idolized by his daughter, had not been so honorable when it came to his creditors. As soon as his lieutenants lowered his casket into the muddy ground, his tailor, butcher, and landlord all came to Elizabeth’s door, clutching bills in their hands as they each paid their condolences and then brought up the matter of her father’s accounts.

And then there were the IOUs from gentlemen who’d told her that her father had been a dab hand at cards. Still, no man can win every time, they’d said. The only differences between these men and the tradesmen were the cut of their coats and the fact that they’d arrived during calling hours.

Captain William Porter had left his orphaned daughter two hundred pounds plus an annuity of twenty pounds a year. Elizabeth had gathered up his bills, cried, and then paid off every last cent of his debt. It had cost her dearly in more ways than she cared to admit.

With nothing more than her wits to recommend her, it was work or starve. So she made a choice. She chose survival and took a position teaching the fourteen-year-old daughter of a local lady of quality—a girl just three years her junior. She’d been a governess ever since.

Elizabeth had spent the last nine years in limbo—no longer the lady her education and upbringing had prepared her for, but not a servant either. She belonged neither upstairs nor downstairs. Her world was the nursery where she taught, slept, and took her meals alone. To dream of a life any larger than that would only end painfully. It was for that reason that she must stop the little flutter of her heart every time she sent Jeremy to fetch Dr. Fellows. Yet despite possessing all of the common sense in the world, she couldn’t help it.

The Edinburgh physician was a handsome man with dark hair cut short—functional rather than fashionable. He had clear hazel eyes and a mouth that smiled easily and laughed freely. When he became excited by some medical diagnosis, he would bounce on his toes. A string of Latin words would tumble from his lips until he’d abruptly stop himself, blush, and explain to her exactly what he was going on about. Those were the moments when she couldn’t help the way her heart swooped low in her chest.

Dr. Fellows was a deceptively dangerous man. He wasn’t slick and charming like the bearded men with carefully oiled hair Mrs. Norton entertained when her husband was at his office. He was kind and sharp, easy with his wit and never condescending. He was the sort of man Elizabeth could imagine forgetting herself with. But a governess could never forget herself, no matter how much she wanted to.

Dangerous indeed.

With a sigh, she glanced at the book in her lap and found she was at the end of the chapter. “Juliana, would you like me to read another?”

The girl nodded weakly and closed her eyes.

Elizabeth wished she could do the same.

Dr. Edward Fellows stretched his neck against the stiffness of his high shirt points and tried his best to squash the anticipation rolling through him. No man should be this pleased to be roused from his bed and forced to dress in the middle of the night, but he could hardly help it. He was about to see her. He followed the Nortons’ butler up the familiar stairs and down a long corridor. It was a routine he’d performed several times over the past few weeks that should be tiresome by now, yet he couldn’t help the little smile that crossed his lips.

Crane opened the door, flooding the darkened nursery with lamplight. Through the open inner bedroom door, sitting next to Miss Norton’s bed in a rocking chair with Miss Cassandra on her lap, was Elizabeth Porter. He sucked in a sharp breath and gripped the handle of his medical bag a little tighter.

She wore a wine-colored dressing gown more suited for a man than a woman over a white night rail that bore little embellishment as it poked out of the folds of her lapels. Her long hair snaked down her back in a thick, dark braid so that only her heavy fringe was free. Society might favor blondes with impossible waists and porcelain skin, but he would forever swear that Miss Porter was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.

And that was part of the problem. She wasn’t merely a woman. She was something otherworldly sent to torment him every time he tended to the Norton family, for he could never touch her.

Not that he should even be entertaining those thoughts. He was supposed to be counting down the months until he’d sail to America to start a hard-won fellowship he’d prepared half his life for. He should be wrapping up his practice in London, saying good-bye to all but his most delicate patients. Instead, he found himself loath to sever ties with anyone, because that would mean he’d have to stop treating the Norton family and kill any hope of seeing her again.

Miss Porter looked up from the book she held. The flickering lamplight illuminated the exhaustion around her eyes, but she offered him a small smile nonetheless.

“Dr. Fellows,” she said as she stood, easing a nearly asleep Miss Cassandra off her lap and settling her into the chair in her place.

That was when he noticed Miss Porter’s feet. Her bare feet.

“Miss Porter,” Edward said with a little swallow. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the exposed feet of a woman who was not a patient. It was not a particularly seductive part of a woman’s body—not like the slope of a calf or the curve of a lower back—but, on her, a bare foot seemed thoroughly erotic.

Edward slammed the door on that thought. Desperate to scrub his mind clean, he turned to the best distraction he knew.

The skeleton of the foot consists of three parts: the tarsus, metatarsus, and phalanges.

“How’s the patient tonight?” he asked, feeling a little more in control. Latin had a way of doing that to a man.

Miss Porter crossed her arms over her chest and glanced down at the girl. “A new development this time—Miss Norton is retching.”

He looked down at her exposed toes and swallowed hard.

Again.

The tarsal bones are— What are the tarsal bones? How do you not remember this? You’re a physician.

“Am I to understand that explains your lack of slippers this evening?”

One side of the lady’s mouth quirked up. “You missed a rather violent attack, I’m afraid.”

The tarsal bones are the calcaneus, talus, cuboid, navicular, and the first, second, and third cuneiforms. Breathe, you idiot.

He set his medical bag deliberately on a chest of drawers and unsnapped the top. “Has Miss Norton been out of bed?”

He stole a glance as Miss Porter shook her head. “Her sister woke me.”

If only I could have been the one to wake you.

Edward stilled. Miss Porter was a lady with a quiet but fierce intelligence. A gentleman doesn’t think of ladies in such a familiar manner. The problem was that she didn’t make him feel like a gentleman. Most of the time he wanted to push her against a wall and suck on those lush lips until she whimpered.

He dreamed of sliding his hands up her legs to the spot where her garters tied off and stocking met bare skin. Then higher, higher until his fingers found—

Five months. That was all he had to get through without defiling a perfectly respectable woman. If he couldn’t do that, he was a lout.

Dipping his head to hide his face, he rearranged his expression and pulled out his stethoscope. It was one of the new binaural models, and he’d been yearning to use it ever since he’d purchased it earlier in the week. If the bones of the foot couldn’t keep his mind off the proximity of Miss Porter, perhaps a new toy would.

She stepped aside as he approached Miss Norton, leaving only the trail of her clean soap smell behind. Norton’s Soap, naturally.

“Now, Miss Norton, perhaps you can tell me what’s the matter,” he said as he knelt down.

“I feel so ill,” the girl sobbed before dry heaving over the side of the bed. If there had been anything left in her stomach, it would’ve been all over his lap by now.

“I can see that,” he said with a smile. “When did it start?”

“After Miss Porter put me to bed.” Her eyes shot up to her governess before quickly adding, “But I started to feel sick just after supper.”

He looked to Miss Porter for clarity.

“Bedtime was around nine o’clock. Supper ended at seven,” she said, pushing a stray strand of hair off her face. “I felt her forehead before we sent Jeremy to fetch you. It wasn’t alarmingly warm, but she was bathed in sweat.”

“And when did Miss Cassandra wake you?” he asked.

“What time is it now?”

“Half past two.”

She closed her eyes a moment. “Perhaps a half hour ago? No more than forty-five minutes, surely.”

Dry heaving after forty-five minutes. A sweat but no alarmingly high temperature. He must be cautious when facing a potential fever because infections could ravage a patient’s body and mind, but with this particular patient he had his suspicions that something else was afoot.

“Do you feel feverish now, Miss Norton?” he asked.

Her eyes shifted around the room, landing everywhere but on him. “I do.”

He sat back on his haunches. He would bet five pounds that this was a case of psychology rather than physiology, for the little girl was telling bald-faced, unashamed lies.

“Miss Porter, a word, please.”

She nodded, and he followed her out of the room and into the dimly lit nursery, closing the children’s door behind him slightly.

“What do you think, Doctor? Is there any real danger?” she asked, pulling the edges of her dressing gown up around her throat. He wondered if she only now realized the impropriety of the situation he’d been very aware of since he’d entered the room.

She was hardly dressed, and he was in a full coat and collar. The thought sent blood rushing to his cock, and he shifted as it stiffened against his trouser leg. He prayed that the low light hid his growing arousal.

“I think the only danger is that neither of us shall get much sleep tonight,” he said.

Her eyes widened and cheeks flushed as he realized the accidental innuendo in his words. “That is to say— What I meant was—”

“That both of us were called away from our beds for no good reason. Yes, I understand, Dr. Fellows.”

He nearly sighed in relief. It didn’t matter that some people looked askance at governesses; to him she was a gentlewoman through and through. He would never dream of propositioning her in such a disrespectful manner. Miss Porter was what he wanted, but she wasn’t what he needed.

He needed to figure out a way to stop her nightly invasion of his dreams, wicked with her black hair hanging loose around her face and her olive skin temping him to taste. All he could hope was that putting an ocean between them might stop the little voice that kept urging him to one day reach out and haul her to him.

“You believe that Miss Norton is faking illness again,” she said, breaking into his thoughts, “but I assure you that my ruined slippers believe it to be very real.”

He watched as an idea dawned across her face. “Unless . . .”

He clasped his hands behind his back and bounced forward on his toes. “Does the household keep any syrup of ipecac on hand?”

“I really couldn’t say.”

“Well, shall we go see?”

“I wouldn’t want to keep you here any longer. I’m sure you must be wishing for your bed.”

This was his excuse to bow out and head home. An excuse he should take. He should absolutely not, under any circumstances, accept an offer to spend time rooting around cabinets in the dark with the woman he desired.

“I think that two sets of eyes will be better than one. Don’t you, Miss Porter?”

The Governess Was Wicked to fall in love with the rest of Elizabeth and Edward’s love story.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. About Julia Kelly

Julia Kelly is the award-winning author of sexy historical romances about smart women and the men who love them. She also writes fast-paced contemporary sports romance as Julia Blake. She picked up her first romance novel and the bad habit of reading well past her bedtime when she was thirteen. Years later, she decided to try writing books of her own and never looked back.

An Emmy-nominated TV producer and recovering journalist, Julia has called Los Angeles, Iowa, New York, and England home. She never met a pair of stilettos she didn’t love and still stays up too late reading.

The Matchmaker of Edinburgh Series

The Look of Love

***

The Governesses Series

The Governess was Wicked

The Governess was Wanton

The Governess was Wild

One Week in Love Series

Seduction in the Snow

The Wedding Week

One Week in December

The Game Changer Series

(Writing as Julia Blake)

Changing the Play


Under the Pear Tree

  • Author: Julia Kelly
  • Published: 2017-07-31 11:20:17
  • Words: 7193
Under the Pear Tree Under the Pear Tree