It Started with a Scandal(6)

By: Julie Anne Long



He stopped drumming his heels. “Why, Mama?”

“Because the gentleman knows we’ll do the best job caring for the house and for him, and I shall make a handsome salary. And we’ll have rooms just as lovely as this one, and you’ll even have one of your own. It will be better and so much fun.”

Jack took this in thoughtfully.

“It was better when Charybdis lived here, anyway.”

They’d shared this small room at the very top of the house. The teacher who had last occupied it married a marquess, of all things, and had taken her soft and temperamental cat, Charybdis, with her.

“Will we be able to see the stars?”

“Most definitely. We can watch the stars through our windows there, and maybe in the spring go outside at night to watch them, too.”

If she lasted in the position that long.

By God, she would last that long.

“He’s large? Is he a giant? Has he a goose what lays golden eggs?”

It was typical of Jack to sound hopeful, rather than concerned, about the prospect of a giant. She suspected he got that sort of courage from her, given that his own father was hardly an example of it. Then again, she’d never thought of herself as particularly courageous until Jack had come along.

And now he was her courage.

“A goose that lays golden eggs is how we’d say it if he did have one, but he does not. He’s quite imposing.” She never chose smaller words for Jack when she could find a grander, better, more specific one, because he was clever and he adopted new words the way some ­people adopted puppies or kittens. “He’s grand and wealthy. Not quite as grand and wealthy as the one on the beanstalk. He’s a prince, however.”

Now, in the dark of her room, the title struck her as almost absurd. Not even in her wildest imaginings had she ever gone to work for a prince of any kind.

Then again, she would never have imagined what had happened with Edward Blaylock.

Or Jack.

Jack took this with equanimity. He was a child, and as far as he was concerned, anything could happen. He hadn’t yet had the word “impossible” inflicted upon him. A unicorn could appear in the garden and he wouldn’t make a fuss. He’d ask to bring it a carrot.

“If he’s prince, will he be king?”

He ought to be, with an ego like his, Elise thought. Perhaps that was the trouble. All that power flowing in his blood, built up over generations, and currently no place to wield it except upon household staff.

Her predicament (the word she had come to prefer in her mind, rather than “circumstances”) had turned her into quite a philosopher, when by nature she’d always been a pragmatist. For instance, one allegedly wasn’t rewarded for all of the good one did until one departed the Earthly Plane. But if you committed one (albeit epic) transgression, a lifetime of damnation seemed required. Surely she was a cautionary tale for all those unruly young ladies at Miss Endicott’s academy, and they ought to have kept her on as a teacher for that reason alone?

She’d tried that logic on Mrs. Endicott, who was accustomed to Elise’s leaps of reasoning and usually enjoyed them.

Alas, there had been nothing either of them could do this time. Elise had been Elise one too many times; she’d said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and the wrong person had been subtly, nastily vengeful. It didn’t matter a whit that Elise had been in the right.

And Elise, pragmatist to the bone, had understood this. It had likely only been a matter of time, anyway.

Mrs. Endicott had called in a favor from a particular Redmond family member who’d felt he owed her a favor—­she’d been under great pains not to say which Redmond—­and was able to secure Elise an interview for this position.

And this housekeeping position for the surly prince was all that remained between Elise and destitution and a life she refused to imagine.

Because she couldn’t go home again.

If she was careful, Lord Lavay need never see Jack at all. The servants quarters and the rest of the house were parallel worlds. Some underservants of larger houses lived a lifetime without ever seeing the lord of the manor.

“He’s not that sort of prince, Jack. The sort who will become king. But he is very important and he has chosen us, which is an honor. He knows we will do the very best job of caring for his house. And for him.”

“Is he nice?”

She quirked her mouth wryly.

But here in the dark, with the person she loved most in the world and the promise of a roof over her head for at least another fortnight, it was easier to be charitable. But now she wondered whether the prince had ducked his head to allow her to turn a scorching red and subtly fall apart without a witness. Though such graciousness seemed at odds with his otherwise pitiless scrutiny.

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