(Chapter Three continued)
Robert stood watching from his study. He saw Elaina’s fright, the gathering of girls, and the long minutes of words being exchanged. He tapped his foot impatiently, wondering what was going on down there. It had never taken a girl so long to run into the Hall and throw herself at him.
It was then that he knew he’d chosen correctly for the first time in eight years. This girl, the one with the book, the one arguing with Nigel, was the one.
He watched with interest as the girl declined Nigel’s hand and instead walked beside him. As she neared, he wished there was more lighting in the garden. He only knew she was short and dark haired. Not that looks mattered to him, not after eight years of too many girls. But he was a guy, and he was curious.
The girl and Nigel passed from view as they entered the Hall. Usually, they would take a sharp right followed by another sharp right straight into the receiving room. No tour of the Hall, no opportunity to glimpse the opulence and majesty of the imposing prison. Just a long hall lined with doors.
This girl, though, would get to enter the entrance hall and head up the wide staircase. She would come face to face with three people staring, unsmiling, at her before Nigel swung open the door to his study. She would see the entrance fountain, the majestic vases brimming with fresh cut flowers, the portraits and landscapes painted by masters, and displays of interesting wood figures his father used to collect.
Robert paced restlessly as he waited. He clasped his hands behind his back and shook his long hair from his face, flexing his shoulders as he did so. This could be it. She could be the one, the key to his freedom. He needed to be careful.
The lights were lit and glinting off the brass. The tiny pink cakes had been relocated. The curtains had been drawn. The room was ready to receive her, his future bride.
He heard footsteps and Nigel’s low voice. Robert took his place in the middle of the room, trying hard to swallow his heart back into place.
The door silently swung open, admitted a young woman, and promptly closed.
Seconds ticked by as they stated at each other. Two eyes stared with interest and two stared back warily.
He knew what she saw. A slim guy with long hair, wide eyes, a slightly too big nose, and, hopefully, a well-chiseled jaw. He wasn’t remarkable. His mother was a beautiful delicate rose, but his father had been plain and hard working.
Robert was also painfully aware of what he saw, and was afraid it didn’t bode well for him. Her arms were tightly clasped to her chest, her book sandwiched between. Her fingertips were white and her elbows stiff. Shorter by a foot, she stood still with her head tilted up at a slight angle. Her nose was dainty, but her lips were pressed tightly together and the skin around her eyes were tight.
“If you don’t mind,” she said softly, but clearly, “my feet hurt and I hope it wouldn’t be improper for me to sit.”
Her words jolted him into action. He felt like a spring as he moved forward quickly, taking her elbow and ushering her to the couch. But he didn’t miss the flashes of fear, indignation, and surprise on her face.
Robert gave her a few moments to settle herself as he poured tea for both of them and perched at the other end of the couch.
“I want to be clear,” she said. “I only agreed to come up here so I could politely decline your invitation to be your companion.”
Robert’s hand faltered and he almost missed the dainty saucer as he put his cup down. Decline? No girl had ever declined him.
He lifted his eyes to meet hers. He saw she held her chin up and had her hands tightly folded on top of her book.
This wasn’t going to be easy.