Vanessa Ashley felt herself qualified for a position as governess, until offered the position at Falconbridge Hall. Left penniless after the deaths of her artist father and suffragette mother, Vanessa Ashley draws on her knowledge of art, politics and history to gain employment as a governess. She discovers that Julian, Lord Falconbridge, requires a governess for his ten-year-old daughter Blyth at Falconbridge Hall, a huge rambling mansion in the countryside outside London.
Lord Falconbridge is a scientist and dedicated lepidopterist who is about to embark on an extended expedition to the Amazon in search of exotic butterflies. An enigmatic man, he takes a keen interest in his daughter’s education, but Vanessa feels that he may disapprove of her modern methods. As she prepares her young charge to enter into the modern world, Vanessa finds the girl detached and aloof.
As Vanessa learns more about Falconbridge Hall, more questions arise. Why doesn’t Blythe feel safe in her own home? Why is the death of her mother, once famed society beauty Clara, never spoken of? And why did the former governess leave so suddenly without giving notice?
Lord Falconbridge put down the butterfly under-glass he had been examining and pushed back his leather chair, rising to his feet. As she edged closer, he donned his coat and came to shake her hand. “Miss Ashley.”
“How do you do, my lord?”
He motioned her to sit then sat himself.
He would be in his mid-thirties, she guessed. His good looks made her feel even more untidy. His dark hair swept off a widow’s peak, and he had a deep cleft in his chin. He removed his glasses, and his eyes were a similar bright blue to the butterfly. Dark brows met in an absent-minded frown as if she was an unwelcome distraction. “Welcome to Falconbridge Hall. I hope you had a good journey?”
“Yes, thank you, my lord.”
“You’ve come quite a long way. You must be tired.”
“I broke my journey with an aunt in Taunton, my lord.” Her aunt was quite elderly, and Vanessa had slept on the sofa, but she didn’t feel at all tired. She expected fatigue would strike once the initial rush of excitement had faded.
“My sympathies for your loss, Miss Ashley.”
“You have had no experience as a governess, I believe.”
“Do you like children?”
“Very much, my lord.”
“Then you have had some involvement with them.”
“Yes, I was very fond of my neighbors’ children. I minded them quite often as their parents were both in business.”
“You had no opportunity to marry in Cornwall?”
“I had one offer, my lord.” The widowed vicar, Harold Ponsonby, had offered, in an attempt to rescue her from the heathenish den of iniquity in which he found her.
He eyed her. “And you refused him?”
Might he think her imprudent? “Yes.”
“Do you have a particular skill, Miss Ashley, which you can impart to my daughter?”
“No, my lord.” She drew in a breath. She had not expected such a question. “Sadly, I did not inherit my father’s artistic talent, but I have my mother’s enquiring mind and her interest in history and politics.”
“Politics?” He stared at her rather long, and she wished again that she’d had time to tidy herself. “We shall see how you get on. The rest of the day is your own. We will discuss your duties in the library tomorrow at ten. Mrs. Royce, my housekeeper, will show you to your room.” With an abstracted glance at his desk, he rose and went to pull the bell.
The mahogany desktop was completely covered with pens and papers, a microscope, a probe of some kind, a set of long-handled tweezers, a large magnifying glass and a small hand-held one, tomes stacked one on top of the other in danger of toppling, and the butterfly in its glass prison, its beautiful wings pinned down, never to soar again. Caught by its beauty and premature death, Keats’s poem Ode to a Grecian Urn, rushed into her head. “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought…As doth eternity.”
The viscount swiveled, and his eyebrows shot up. “Pardon?”
Vanessa jumped to her feet as heat flooded her cheeks. She’d said the words aloud. She must have had too much sun. “Keats, my lord.”
“Are you a devotee of the Romantics?”
“Not especially.” Annoyed with herself and, irrationally, with him for pursuing it, she said, “Forgive me, it was a random thought.”
He folded his arms and studied her. “You are given to spouting random philosophical thoughts?”
She tugged at her damp collar. “Not usually. I’m a little tired, and it’s been so hot.”
“The author deserves high praise for her ability to capture the reader’s attention and engage one in both the mystery and the romance of this delightful story!” – Margaret Faria — InD’Tale Magazine
“Ms. Andersen’s star quality is truly her superbly strong and interesting main character, yet her descriptions are worth notice as well. “…rode around the estate enjoying the titter of swallows in the trees, past the gnarled old apple trees, the grass dotted with fallen fruit after the harvest…” The genteel old world aura is enjoyably supported in the most subtle ways throughout. Oh, but a tiny, almost unnoticed thread of disquiet twists its way through the tale. The thread regards a ‘captive’ beauty and that too, is worth waiting for. It is a curiosity, but also, perhaps, ominous. Vanessa’s life will go on an unpredictable course…Author Maggi Andersen never disappoints in the wonderful romance, that truly transports readers to this other, older world. Reading this novel is sitting down hoping for a proper tea and being served fruit cake along with the plum jam and scones. My recommendation: put this right to the top of your reading list.” — Long & Short Reviews