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SEDUCING THE GOVERNESS
by Margo Maguire

Genre: Regency Period, England, Historical Romance

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The horseman saw Mercy a moment too late and his horse reared, throwing him into the muddy road.

Somehow, she managed to stay on her feet, but gave a startled cry. As soon as the massive horse had ambled away, she collected herself and called out to him. “Are you injured, sir?”

He sat up gingerly, and when he shoved his hat off his face where it had slumped, Mercy noticed his scars. One side of his face had been injured – probably burned. A thick webbing of damaged skin marred the peak of his cheek and his brow, and clouded the eye in between. Likely he had not seen her in the road.

Mercy could not imagine what cruel fate had marred such a striking face. His nose was nicely shaped, his jaw square and strong, and slightly cleft, indicating a more potent masculinity than she’d encountered in any other man. His lips were neither too thin nor too full, but were stretched into a solemn line that indicated a fair degree of irritation.

Fortunately, he did not look at her, but scowled and reached for his ankle through his highly polished Hessians. And as he did so, Mercy wondered if her conscience would allow her to slip away without further congress. Without offering her assistance.

“Aye,” he muttered. “Injured.” His tone was wry, as though such a simple mishap could hardly be called an injury. He gave an incredulous shake of his head, then tried to rotate his foot, but grimaced with discomfort.

She took a step toward him. “Sir…”

He glanced up and caught her eye. Mercy stopped in her tracks and held her tongue, doubtful that he was a man who would willingly accept assistance.

“A mild sprain, I think.”

“Oh dear.”

 A muscle in his jaw tensed. “You’ll have to help me take off my boot.”

“I beg your pardon?”

His voice was stern and his words carried the tone of command. “The boot must come off now, else the swelling will prevent it coming off later. Come here.”

He glared at her with his good eye, its clear gray color going as dark with annoyance as the murky storm clouds above. “Do you plan to stand gaping at me all afternoon? I am quite certain I cannot be the only one who hopes to get out of the weather sooner rather than later.”

Mercy gave herself a mental shake. She had no business ruminating upon his beautiful, scarred face or allowing the rumble of his deep, masculine voice to resonate through her, clear to her bones. He was an overbearing boor, in spite of his pleasing features, and the sooner she was done with him, the sooner she could be on her way.

“You would not be in this position had you taken more care around that curve.” Mercy nearly clapped her hand over her mouth at her rude retort. But he was not her father.

She raised her chin a notch and mentally dared him to reprimand her.

“You’re an expert at riding, then?” He did not bother to hide his sarcasm.

Mercy let out her breath when he did not retort as her father would have done. “Hardly.”

She glanced about for an optimum spot for her bags and set them down. Swallowing her misgivings, she approach the man once again. “But I know the difference between good common sense and foolhardiness.”

He made a rude noise. “Like stepping into the road in front of a galloping horse?”

“I did not hear you coming after that last bunch of ruffians rode past.”

He waved off her words. “I haven’t got all day.” He raised his foot in her direction.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to manage on your own, sir. It is hardly proper—”

“What are you, a priggy society miss?” he said roughly, giving her the once-over with a critical gaze. “Give the boot a good heave and be quick about it.”

“I am no prig, sir.” But even as she denied it, she wondered if it were true. Was she a prig?

No. She was a well-bred lady who knew better than to dally with a handsome rogue on an isolated stretch of road.

“Then kindly give me a moment’s assistance,” he said impatiently, “and I will depart your precious piece of road.”

Mercy had never felt so awkward in her life, though she found it oddly invigorating to speak her mind for a change. After years of responding so carefully to her father and every other member of the parish, Mercy’s tongue felt surprisingly loose with this stranger.

She placed her gloved hands on the boot and pulled, ignoring the ignominious position in which she found herself.

“You’ll never get it that way. Turn around,” he ordered.

“How am I to—”

“You’ll have to take my foot under your arm and—”

She dropped said foot and he grimaced in pain. “I’ll do no such thing.”

“You’ll barely have to touch me, I promise you.” Mercy detected a hint of amusement in his tone. He was actually enjoying this. “I’ve done this many times before. Go ahead. Turn around.”

She huffed out a harsh breath and did as she was told, gingerly taking his foot in hand once again.

 She jerked the boot away while he leaned back and pulled in the opposite direction.

“You have a very fetching backside,” he said, just as the boot came off. Mercy lost her balance and took a few quick steps forward, landing in a deep puddle in her path, destroying her shoe.