It’s a dreadful thing, isn’t it, when one’s entire existence is wrapped up in the affairs of one’s father. Bridget had considered it, and considered it again, and decided that the fact that her father had gone bankrupt due to a bad investment was assuredly partially her problem, as it was tied up in her future as a potential bride, a potential wife—but more than that, she knew that his assured trek towards debtor’s jail, if he didn’t come through on his promise to pay the debts back, would truly impact the well-being of her family. Bridget had four younger brothers and sisters—Max, age 6, Nelly, age 11, Zelda, age 13, and Christopher, age 15, and none of them could work and bring in any kind of wage. It then fell to Bridget’s shoulders to do something, anything, to keep her middle-class family afloat.
She’d suggested this to her father, Henry Cottrill, several weeks before, when she’d found him drunken and brooding in his study in the wake of the letter from the debt collector. The letter had been stretched out on the desk before him, and the Scotch bottle was half-drunk, and her father’s eyes had glowed with the brevity of what he’d done. “Father. Let me work. Let me send home money. Please. It’s the only way.”
Her father had only given half-protests. After all, he would have had to have been a fool to insist not. Bridget was well-educated, patient, kind, and she was every bit the perfect candidate to be a governess for a well-to-do family. She caught wind of one such family that required a governess soon afterwards, and she sent a letter of application, which was accepted only days later. The wheels spun quickly, and very soon, Bridget found herself poised over her travel bag, packing up the various things she required for some time away. She was now only 22 years old—and she’d hardly spent much time away from her parents, beyond a month away a few summers previously, to visit her uncle and aunt in Bristol.
She heard the shuffle of feet from the door and whirled about to find little Max and Nelly, watching her as she stowed away the articles of her life. Max giggled, but Nelly’s face fell.
“Must you really go?” Nelly demanded. She stepped forward, showing herself to be every bit the wildly confident 11-year-old she was. Her dark blonde curls, similar to Bridget’s, swung across her red cheeks.
“What is this? I didn’t realize I was being spied upon,” Bridget said, forcing her voice to brighten. In this time of intense chaos, it was up to her to put on a wide grin, ensure her brothers and sisters that all would be well—especially since her mother had fallen to pits of depression, and her father rarely left his study.
Max cackled and rushed forward to draw his arms around Bridget’s waist. Bridget splayed her hand across his smooth curls, and her heart banged with sadness. “Don’t you worry yourselves,” she said, her brows high. “You know that I’ll be back in no time at all, don’t you? Perhaps you’ll be a bit older, a bit wiser—and a bit easier to handle.”
“Have we really been so terrible that you must leave?” Nelly asked, stitching her brows together.
Bridget recognized her mistake. She dropped on her bed—the very one she’d lain in since she was a young girl—and sighed. “Of course not, dear ones. But you know that I must take this position elsewhere. The Huntington family requires a governess.”
Max sniffed. His shoulders sagged dramatically, in the way only a young boy of his age could muster. Again, Bridget felt punched through the stomach.
“But can’t you be a governess somewhere closer?” Nelly demanded. “I know there must be positions close-by. Not all the way in Buckinghamshire. My, it’s half the world away!”
“The drama of this girl,” Bridget said, teasing her.
Of course, the reality of the situation—the dark corners of her father’s debt, along with the man Bridget yearned to run away from—shadowed her heart. She cleared her throat and insisted that the children sit on the bed while she finished the last of her packing. They did so, dutifully, and peppered her with continual questions about the children she was meant to care for at the Huntington Estate in Buckinghamshire. As far as Bridget knew, there were only two children—Kitty and Andrew, aged six and eight, respectively. Max was befuddled at this, stating that he, himself, was only six, and thusly required Bridget’s assistance and guidance more than strangers.
“Ah. If only it worked this way,” Bridget said, her voice heavy.
Bridget gathered her two travel bags and carried them down the rickety hallway and then down the steps, which creaked, showing the age of the house. Once she reached the foyer downstairs, she dropped the bags near the door and placed her hat on her head. It was early April, and the air contained a sinister chill, one that the weather refused to shake off. Once she swept her arms through her coat, she batted her enormous blue eyes down the hallway. The final goodbyes came toward her like a wild train, and she ached to miss them—as she sensed they would blow her right over.
Max and Nelly donned their own coats and scampered out into the front garden. Slowly, Bridget stepped towards her father’s study, located near the kitchen, and paused at the sombre closed door. She inched her knuckles over the wood and rapped, the sound echoing off the inner belly of the room.
Her father’s creaking voice came back. “Come in.”
Bridget drew the door open to find her ageing father, his glasses perched at the far end of his nose, and the hair leaking off the sides of his skull. He seemed to be engaged in reading the first page of the paper, yet had the air of having been on that particular page for quite some time. His blue eyes did not sparkle.
“Father, I’ve prepared my things,” Bridget said. “I think it’s time to walk to town and catch the coach.”
Henry Cottrill cleared his throat once more and bowed his chin to his chest. “It’s been a woeful few days, knowing that it’s soon your time to leave us, Bridget.”
Bridget didn’t wish to dally on conversations like this one. Her mind was made up—her time had come. “You know it isn’t forever, Father,” she returned, although she hadn’t a clue how long she would be away. “Father, I know only that I must contribute back to the family. You’ve given me so much over the years. I will not allow this family to fumble a moment more.”
“Resilience. Like I used to have,” her father said. He stood and walked towards her, his motions staggered. He stopped and gave her the first half-smile she’d seen in weeks. “The children will miss you so. I’ll miss you so. It won’t be the same here at the house without you. Of course, you know that.”
Bridget’s eyes fell to the floor. Before she knew what to say in such a moment of intense emotion, she heard her mother’s voice ring out from the kitchen. Bridget drew back into the hall to find her mother, Margaret Cottrill, amble from the kitchen fire, her cheeks bright, and her motions frantic.
“Is it time?” she blared, echoing what she’d only just said.
“Yes. I’m afraid it is,” Bridget returned.
Her mother’s hands fell to her sides. She scrubbed them with her apron and spun round to address the two older children, Zelda and Christopher, who read at the kitchen table, which overlooked the back garden.
“Children, it’s time to walk Bridget to the coach.”
Zelda and Christopher, who’d always had something of a special bond—one that Bridget had always been jealous of, given the fact that she’d always been the eldest and had had to take on a sort of adult role—gave one another a deep, meaningful look, and then snapped their books closed. Bridget wondered what on earth they thought about this entire affair, if they considered Bridget’s decision rash. There was very little her siblings could possibly understand about the given circumstances, and Bridget wasn’t to be the one to fill in their gaps. She didn’t wish her younger siblings to regard her father as anything but the stable provider, the man at the helm of their lives.
A strain filled the air, one that seemed impossible to tear through to say anything real. Her mother and father donned their coats and hats and kept their eyes to the ground. Zelda and Christopher seemed to do the same. Bridget opened the front door slowly to address Nelly and Max, who spun around, seemingly lost in the chaos of their game.
“It’s nearly time to go!” Bridget called to them.
But as she did, her eyes crossed paths with a pair of dark brown eyes, beaming out at her from the road. They were eyes she very much knew. Aaron Barlow had been her next-door neighbour since Bridget’s birth. He was 24 years old, a man she held countless memories with. And, in the course of discovering this position in Buckinghamshire, Bridget had been centreed on a single fact: as long as she was far away, she wouldn’t be required to marry Aaron Barlow, despite his intense wishes.
Aaron stepped into the front garden. His presence was startling, confident, the sort of thing that couldn’t be ignored. Nelly and Max’s smiles slid from their faces, and they pressed themselves into a tiny line and gazed up at him. Aaron paused and turned and gave them a slight smile—to his credit he had always appreciated her siblings.
“Good afternoon, Cottrill Family,” he said, his voice booming. “I suppose today is the big day. The day we lose our Bridget.”
Bridget stepped down the stairs and remained on the garden path. She felt her father press pass her and address Aaron, his hand outstretched.
“Good afternoon to you as well, Aaron,” her father said, his voice boisterous. “You’re looking quite well.”
Bridget detested this, a bit—when her father put on an act around strangers. Despite her and Aaron’s seemingly continuous bickering over the previous weeks, she’d never given Aaron a reason for her departure. She felt that informing Aaron of her father’s debts was an utter betrayal of her family. Besides, she didn’t trust Aaron. Not any longer. When they’d been young, he’d been one of her greatest friends, a boy who would have done anything to be with her, to play with her, to make her laugh. But in his older age, he’d shifted considerably. Bridget couldn’t attribute this shift to the romantic nature of their newer relationship. Rather, she’d felt a sourness within him for quite some time. He’d grown testy, had been fired from multiple positions—and had even taken to drinking and gambling. Although he still expected them to marry, and although some small parts of Bridget still did love him a great deal—especially after so much history—Aaron was part of the reason Bridget had willed herself so far away. Goodness, she had to run.
“As are you, good sir,” Aaron returned to her father.
“To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?” her father said.
Aaron’s eyes shifted toward Bridget. She glared back.
“I wished only to say goodbye to your daughter,” Aaron said. “What an unhappy time it is for all of us. I wouldn’t have thought for a moment that your daughter would find a way away from us. Could you have imagined it?”
Henry let out a chuckle, one that Bridget necessarily found false. Aaron’s eyes returned to her, and he stepped around her father and said, “Bridget, I don’t suppose we could have a word?”
Bridget yearned to tell him to leave her, not to make this more difficult for both of them. But her mother and father’s eyes burned towards her, making this final demand, and Bridget agreed with a soft nod. She and Aaron walked to the left, towards the large oak tree that branched towards the April sky, its leaves shaking in the chilly breeze. Bridget crossed and uncrossed her arms. She felt Aaron’s rage emanating off of him like a wave. Her family remained near to the door, her father and mother stationed together, and the children in the grass.
“What is it, Aaron?” Bridget whispered, willing him to leave her.
“What sort of tone is that?” Aaron demanded. “Bridget. It’s utterly wretched that you’re doing this. After all, we’ve been through.”
Bridget bit her lower lip, then said, “Perhaps if you had made a few different decisions throughout the years of our lackluster courtship, I might have made up my mind differently.”
Aaron groaned and rolled his eyes. “How idiotic that sounds, Bridget. Truly it does. We’ve known one another since before we can remember anything else. Will you actually throw that away? For a governess position?” He chortled, and Bridget glared at him. His laughter grew menacing. “Bridget, you know very well my intentions towards you. I want nothing more than to make you my wife. And Bridget—”
Bridget pulled herself away as he tried to touch her elbow. She prayed her parents hadn’t seen her action, yet felt a sincere dissatisfaction at the prospect of his skin on hers. She glowered at him.
“Bridget, I’m begging you. Don’t go. Don’t go to Buckinghamshire. We require you here. Your siblings. Me. The family we could build together …”
As he spoke, Bridget’s heart again felt squeezed. For sincerely, she’d spent many hours of her teenage youth dreaming up the family she and Aaron might have created. How she’d loved him as a younger girl! Yet his anger still wafted up behind his eyes, and she felt that at any moment, it would rear its head.
“Aaron, you know I cannot marry you. I’ve told you of this,” Bridget said.
Aaron’s face clenched tight. “I’ve warned everyone in the area. Everyone. I’ve told them that if they come near you, attempt to court you—”
“You’ll what?” Bridget demanded. “You threatened their lives? That you’d beat them? How wretched of you, Aaron. Don’t you see that this is entirely what I wish to abandon …”
Still, her voice remained low to ensure that her parents didn’t yet hear. However, the temperament between the two ex-lovers was very much apparent, and she felt the apprehension from her family. She backed away, distancing herself from this wretched man. How horrendous it was that times could change so quickly. Her father—now broke. Aaron—now an angry drunk, apt to destroy her if she remained there too long.
No, off to Buckinghamshire. This was the only way.
“Goodbye, Aaron,” Bridget said, her voice firm and a bit loud, to declare her means to leave to her family. “I wish you nothing but goodness.”
“You must wait …” Aaron blurted. He reached out once more, with that frantic energy Bridget knew would only end in disaster. Just in the nick of time, she drew towards her family, avoiding his touch, and gazed at her father, her eyes smarting with tears.
“Are you all ready to walk me to the coach?” she asked, her voice breaking.
“Are you finished?” her mother asked. She seemed almost dazed, as though she wasn’t fully aware of what had occurred between Bridget and Aaron. “We can wait a few moments more …”
“Mother, it’s quite all right,” Bridget said, sniffling. She turned swiftly and sped down the path, out towards the road, a trek she’d taken thousands and thousands of times throughout her life. How remarkable that this was the final time for a while.
Slowly, her father, her mother, and her four siblings followed after her, padding down the path. Christopher and her father grabbed her bags, which she’d forgotten in her rash run from Aaron. And soon, they were nearly a quarter of a mile from the house, the house she’d grown up in—and the one she’d regrettably forgotten to glance back at on her way out. She brought the image of the house to her mind, and she shook with sadness, apprehension, knowing that her image left out several pieces. How much would she forget over her months away? When would she find time to return?
And when she did return, what would she be like, then? Would she see Aaron as a viable option, after spending so much time away? Would she be beaten down, fatigued, after so much work as a governess? She prayed for strength, yet wasn’t sure how much of it she could expect within herself.
After a few minutes, her heart slowed, and she was able to strike up conversation with her family once more. They kept to light topics, things that didn’t fully matter in the grand scope of their lives. Her mother asked her which of her dresses she’d packed and bemoaned the fact that she hadn’t brought her “most beautiful” dress. Of this, Bridget said, “Oh, it’s quite all right, Mother. I don’t suppose I’ll be doing much socializing.”
“Perhaps not,” her mother said, sounding regretful.
“Quite a journey you’re about to be on,” her father said. “Two days, it’ll take you. Correct?”
“That’s right,” Bridget affirmed. “Hardly been on a coach at all. Let alone … two days of travel!”
Nelly burst into tears upon this admittance. Bridget stopped, dropped down, and brought her hands over little Nelly’s, drawing them away from her wet eyes. “You mustn’t be sad or frightened, Nelly,” Bridget said. “Truly. I’ll be gone for only a short time, and before you know it, I will have returned …”
Together, the family paused and watched as Nelly dropped her hands. Her bottom lip quivered just one more time. She seemed to illustrate what everyone in the family felt. Even Christopher seemed sallow, dark.
“We’ve only a bit of time left before the coach,” Henry offered finally, perhaps fulfilling his role as this father-figure, a man meant to keep track of his family and their whereabouts. Slowly, the family turned back down the path and padded the rest of the way towards the coach, which laid in wait for Bridget’s arrival.
Bridget hugged each of them tenderly, taking an extra moment with her mother, who, she’d felt, had become merely a shell of herself in recent months. When she drew back, she peered into her mother’s eyes, wishing she could say all the things she wanted to. Wishing she could tell her how much it mattered to her that she loved Henry Cottrill, despite everything, despite his arrogance and his ability to put the family in near-ruin.
Instead of this, however, her mother reached up and tucked a little curl behind Bridget’s ear and whispered, “Are you quite sure you don’t wish to marry Aaron, my love? He really would give you a nice life.”
The comment nearly enraged Bridget. She swallowed, blinked, and whispered, “Mother, do you really think I should? After everything he’s done?”
Her mother gave a light shrug and took a slight step back. “He could be very good to you.”
“Mother …” Bridget trailed off, lost in thought. I cannot live in the “could be” of that world. I cannot live knowing that Aaron would be off drinking, gambling away our savings. I cannot give him children who he would eventually destroy with his temper. I cannot.
But instead of saying these words, Bridget grabbed her things and gave a final nod to each of her siblings and her father. She spun around and passed her travel bags off to be stored. Then, she boarded the coach, with her eyes focused ahead. When she sat in her seat, she again stared straight ahead, willing herself not to look back. She didn’t wish to see the cries of her younger siblings, didn’t want to know her father’s sadness as she finally drifted away. However, her name rang out from Zelda’s lips, just as the coach cranked forward, and Bridget drew her head around and found her entire family waving their hands wildly, as though they might never see her again. Bridget’s eyes smarted with sadness. She pressed her hand against the glass and watched as her family faded into the distance until Bridget was forced forward, on a journey of discovery, of money, of a life she’d never dreamed of. How difficult it all was. And how terribly her heart ached.
Oh, but wasn’t it marvellous to travel across the country? Bridget had only gone once to Bristol, and the trek up to Buckinghamshire took a full two days, with a brief interlude at an inn midway through the journey. She met another young woman named Gretchen on the ride, who was poised to visit her sick mother in East London. Gretchen had recently married a man who had an estate near to Bridget’s family’s house, although Bridget had never met the man personally. Midway through the second day, however, their conversation fell to the topic of Aaron Barlow himself. Bridget, shocked that the young woman knew him, gave herself away very soon.
“You’ve lost all the colour from your face!” Gretchen said, drawing her hand over her lips. “I don’t suppose you know Aaron as well?”
“He’s a friend of your husband’s?” Bridget asked, her voice catching in her throat.
“Yes. Since they were children, I suppose …” Gretchen said. She adjusted her hands across her lap, seeming to digest what to say next. “When we were introduced, I was, quite frankly, a bit confused. My husband, he’s a gentle, marvellous man, and Aaron … Oh, but apologies if you are quite good friends with him! I know very little, and my husband tells me even less. Everything I’ve learned about Aaron I’ve picked up through the gossip of the surrounding villages and towns.”
Bridget’s eyes scanned the horizon line. It was perhaps two in the afternoon, and they still had four hours until their arrival in Buckinghamshire. With every moment that passed, they drew further and further from Aaron, from her past.
“He used to be quite a kind man,” Bridget whispered, her voice catching. “I have countless memories of the two of us. We were just children, and we played endlessly, laughing so loud I thought my smile might break my cheeks. But something shifted in Aaron …”
Gretchen’s face turned down. “You’re Bridget. You’ve told me your first name. But not your second. You must be the Cottrill woman. Aaron has spoken about you to my husband. Stating that you’re his …”
“You mustn’t hold anything back from me,” Bridget affirmed. “Anything that you say now will create a greater distance between myself and Aaron, in my heart of hearts. And this is what I want more than anything.”
Gretchen’s eyes closed. Her hands shook a bit as she said, “He seems to think he has some kind of ownership over you. The way he described it, in my husband’s ears—it was preposterous. Almost evil. And …” Again, she paused, her hand splayed over her cheek. “I think it very brave of you to leave the situation in which you’d found yourself. Goodness, I don’t know what I might have done in your circumstances.”
It was the only push that Bridget needed, the final confidence in her choice that she required to step out of the coach upon their arrival. Once she’d arranged for her travel bags, she stood, adjusting her hat, while Gretchen searched the sea of people for a sign of her mother’s stable boy. Bridget, too, had a carriage awaiting—had been told to find it at the far end of the coach station, on the right, helmed by a stableman named Colin. When Gretchen found her mother’s stable boy, she rushed back to give Bridget a final hug and to whisper in her ear, “You’re going to be all right.”
Bridget carried her travel bags herself, down the long line of waiting coaches to find the very final one on the right. At the top sat a gaunt-looking stableman, hunched over, rubbing his palms together against the chill of the late April afternoon. His eyes found hers down below, and he bellowed, “I don’t suppose you’re the young governess I’m meant to be hunting for?”
A feeling of fear overtook Bridget’s belly, her legs. She nodded and mustered up a small smile. “I suppose you’re Colin?”
“That’s right,” Colin affirmed. He brought his wiry body down from the seat and snapped the travel bags into the belly of the carriage. He then assisted Bridget into the carriage itself, doing so as if he’d brought in countless women—all upper class—into that carriage, one after another, for years upon years. “I trust your journey was comfortable?”
“Yes. Quite,” Bridget said, her voice tight with the lie. For how on earth could her journey have been anything but monstrously uncomfortable? Two days in a coach!
“Very good. The Duke will wish to hear that himself. I understand he was a bit anxious, hiring a woman from so far away, what with all the possible women in the nearby city. However, your application seemed, to him, the best, I suppose. That’s the rumour snaking through the estate.
As Colin spoke, he leaned into the carriage, the door still wide open, and beamed up at her with intense eyes. He felt oddly too close to her, although Bridget also had the sense that he’d spent the past several hours alone and waiting for her, and wanted to appease him. Perhaps the man was simply lonely.
“How far is the estate?” she asked, grateful that her voice had a bit of strength to it.
“About 20 minutes, I suppose,” Colin said. The twinkle in his eyes faded, and he sat back, closed the door, and hopped onto the driver’s seat. With a little, “Giddyup,” he shot the horses forward and eased the carriage around the still-waiting ones.
Bridget leaned back in the carriage, exhaling slowly, grateful for a moment of privacy. She felt oddly mucky, fatigued, and her dark blonde curls didn’t fall correctly after a full day of travel. She yearned to ask Colin about the family, as she suspected people like Colin were the ones most in the know about any such high-status family. However, she sensed that hollering up to him, asking questions, would have made things increasingly awkward. She kept her mouth sealed tight and gazed out the window, watching the moors flit past—long fields, glossy with newly bright green.
Huntington Estate appeared on the horizon about 25 minutes after their departure, just as Colin had said. It was an enormous, dark and brooding mansion, there between countless walled gardens and enormous oak trees that flitted about in the breeze. Bridget’s eyes grew to the size of saucers as they approached. The carriage headed towards the stables, and when it halted, she found herself still frozen, gazing at the largest house she’d ever seen. It seemed improbable that this was now her home. It seemed better suited to an entire colony of humans, rather than just one family.
Instead of waiting for Colin, Bridget flung the carriage door open herself and hopped down onto the soft soil. The space around the mansion seemed eerily quiet, although her ears hunted for any sign of birds or screeching children. Colin joined her, grabbed her bags, and gave her a half-shrug.
“Do you want to stand out here staring at it all day, or would you like to go inside?”
Bridget grimaced and stepped forward. Colin lurched in front of her, and together, the two snaked up the path towards the front door, where, just before they reached it, a butler drew open the door and delivered a deep bow. The butler seemed about 55 years old, regal-looking, with a long nose, and he introduced himself as William.
“You must be Bridget Cottrill,” he said. His voice was deep and even, something easily fallen into. “Welcome to Huntington Estate. We’re pleased to have you.” He took the two travel bags and directed Colin back to the stables. When he cleared the porch, William closed the door and let out a little sigh. “You must excuse Colin. He means well, but I imagine that he wasn’t the most pleasant man to have met upon your arrival. I’ve explained this to the master, but it always seems that Colin is the one chosen for these affairs …”
Bridget’s smile grew warm. She sensed her attitude shifting. “He was really quite all right. I’m just grateful to be here after such a long journey.”
“Right. Well. Let me show you to your room so you can freshen up prior to meeting the family,” William said. He strode towards the large and royal-looking staircase, over which hung several paintings of people who had assuredly long-since died and left the Huntington Estate to their offspring. Bridget had hardly been within spaces such as this, and she felt as though she’d entered the pages of a storybook.
“Your bedroom is closer to the servants,” the butler stated. “Just a floor down from my quarters, if you require anything from me.” He strolled down the second floor, eastern wing, and led her towards a corner door. Upon their arrival at the bedroom, they discovered a maid performing the finishing touches to it—fluffing the pillows, ensuring the blanket overtop was smoothed down.
“Greetings, Mrs Rogers. It seems that our new governess has arrived, all in one piece,” William said.
The woman seemed late-50s, early-60s, perhaps, with shockingly white hair and round cheeks. She turned her eyes to Bridget and smiled softly, tilting her head. “Goodness, aren’t you beautiful?”
Bridget’s cheeks burned. She stepped forward and removed her hat. “Thank you for preparing my room, Mrs Rogers.” She curtsied and turned back to watch William drop her travel bags on the floor.
“I must attend to other duties, Miss Cottrill,” William said. “I trust that this suits you?”
“Of course,” Bridget said. Her voice wavered a bit, but she ensured to maintain her smile. “Thank you for your wonderful welcome, William.”
William’s feet creaked down the thick wooden floorboards as he swept back towards the foyer. Mrs Rogers kept her steady gaze. “Oh, darling. You really do look quite exhausted.”
“It was a two-day trip,” Bridget said. She kept her chin high, resenting that she looked so fatigued. “I’ve never travelled so far from home.”
“I expect so. I haven’t taken a trip like that since I was a girl myself,” Mrs Rogers said. She cackled and added, “As you can imagine, that’s been quite some time. Now, darling, let’s unpack your things, shall we? And you’ll need to freshen up to meet the Duke and Duchess, and, of course, the children. You’ve worked as a governess before?”
“No …” Bridget said, feeling her cheeks burn yet again. “I’m quite educated, however, and always suspected that this sort of position would be well-suited for me.”
Mrs Rogers paused and gave her a look, one that Bridget found difficult to read. “And you didn’t think to marry, have children? I’m sure many women your age are doing just that, aren’t they?”
Again, Bridget was forced through thoughts of Aaron, the life she’d assumed for so long she wanted. She cleared her throat and said, “Unfortunately, there weren’t any men that I really wished to spend my life with.”
Mrs Rogers gave a rueful chuckle. “I see. You’re one of these fashionable girls who wish to follow their heart? In my day, a woman married whoever wanted her first. It was an act of safety. It ensured that you had someone to care for you, for your children. We didn’t have the time to think about whether or not we wanted it …” She placed her hands on her hips and tilted her body a bit, arching her brow. “But I suppose you’ve found your own way to care for yourself, haven’t you? A governess position.”
Bridget felt a bit slack-jawed from this woman’s seeming insistence that she understood Bridget’s mind, her reasoning. Her mind raced, hunting for something, anything to say, something to assure Mrs Rogers that she wasn’t some idiot, youthful girl.
“Anyway, here. Your room, all ready for you,” Mrs Rogers said. She spread her arms wide and gestured to the spotless room, with its large windows that reflected back a gorgeous view of the gardens below. “I dare say you won’t have much time to spend here, but it really is one of our more fantastic rooms. The furniture is largely antique and has been a part of this house for over 100 years. The paintings are all mostly of the Duke’s great aunt, a truly beautiful woman who died when she was no more than 25 years old.” Mrs Rogers gestured toward the portraits near the water basin, a beautiful raven-haired woman with cat-like green eyes and a mysterious smile.
“How dreadful,” Bridget murmured.
“Truly,” Mrs Rogers said, almost disdainfully. “Huntington Estate is filled with ghosts like her. Not to say it’s actually haunted. Just that it’s seen countless families, countless deaths. It seems to pile up with memories.”
Bridget stepped back, feeling the weight of these stories. How could she possibly fit inthis world, not knowing anything about it?
“But the children. They’re quite all right, aren’t they?” Bridget asked. “I’ve come all this way, and I know very little. Only their names. Kitty and Andrew. Aged six and eight, respectively.”
“They’re just children. Not so difficult. Occasionally too loud, too messy. Quite bright, though, I’d say.” Mrs Rogers sniffed and turned back into the hallway. “Dinner will be served in an hour. I know that the Duke and the Duchess and their children plan to meet you at that time. I advise you to freshen up.”
Suddenly, Mrs Rogers whipped forward, grabbed the door, and drew it closed. Left alone again, Bridget dropped on the edge of the bed and splayed her hands over her cheeks. A small sob escaped her throat. When she blinked back up, she gazed into the green eyes of the great aunt’s portrait, so long dead. Had this been her bedroom? Would Bridget ever know anything about her, beyond her death and her beauty?
Bridget could imagine why Mrs Rogers had treated her in this manner. After all, the woman had surely been a part of Huntington Estate for decades, had seen the various tides, the new employees come and go. She probably assumed Bridget not up to the task; perhaps she assumed that no woman could possibly be. There was no way Mrs Rogers could have known how pointed her comment about the potential of marriage and family truly was—how it drudged up inner sadnesses and aches that Bridget didn’t wish to endure.
She simply had to keep her eyes forward, not give Mrs Rogers or Colin or even William any sense that she wasn’t “up” to this life. She had to prove herself.
Bridget removed her travel dress and stood in her petticoats before the mirror. With tender motions, she scrubbed her arms and neck and armpits and flung a brush through her blonde curls, finally creating an appropriate shape. She felt time dripping away all too quickly. When dinner approaching, she buttoned herself into her dinner gown—light pink, with a large flowing skirt, and much of her neck and chest bare, then opened the door and inhaled sharply. In only a few moments, she would meet her employer, the children, the rest of the family. Everything hinged on these next moments. She was terrified.
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Bridget Cottrill has never wished for this horrific reality; abandoning her life, her family, and everything she’s ever known. Eager to change her circumstances, she decides to depart for Buckinghamshire to take upon a governess position, but a great surprise awaits her; trying to escape from her cruel and deviant lover, Aaron Barlow, she will end up into another man’s arms. Graham will steal her heart from the very first moment. When their sizzling passion becomes undeniable, will the fiery Bridget manage to find true love?
Being the eldest son of the Duke of Huntington, Graham is the sort of man who never bothered himself with frivolous courting. When he meets the new governess of their family, he’s faced with something powerful, life-altering; emotions he could never have foreseen. The whip-smart and bright-eyed Bridget immediately steals his heart, but this union is something the Duke would never approve of. Will Graham be able to prove that their love is meant to be?
When the Duke’s priceless heirloom is ripped from his study during a ball, it’s obvious to everyone that Bridget is the thief. Now, she must prove her innocence both to Graham and the Duke himself. Their journey to discover the true thief will slowly lead them to a burning affair that will tear their worlds apart. Will they let each other close enough to fight together for their love? Will they survive to meet the passionate future they could have together?
“A Night With a Ravishing Governess” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.