(Chapter Four continued)
“So, what would you like to talk about?” she asked.
Robert took a moment to slowly stir some sugar into his tea. From the way his forehead creased, she was content to stay quiet and let him mull his words over. It was oddly refreshing to be in the company of a thoughtful and transparent man.
“I had hoped you could help me,” he said at last.
She jerked in surprise, nearly sloshing her tea all over her book. “Me? How could I help you?”
“The short story is that marriage will free me from this prison.” He quickly held up a hand as a look, something like consternation and indignation, on her face stopped him. “Let me just finish, please.”
“I’m not quite ready to settle down,” she said warily, “but I’ll listen. I agreed to an hour.”
He nodded to her, his face serious. “Thank you. See, when my father died, my mother was afraid someone was after us. After all, my great-great-grandparents founded this city and we are the wealthiest. It wasn’t a hard conclusion to come to. Sadly, she was wrong about his death, but I don’t have the heart to tell her he died trying to prevent his mistress from committing suicide.
“My mother doesn’t know about the mistress, which is why she thought someone was out for the family. So, she turned me into a shut in. I could have freed myself by telling her about the mistress, but the lady was always kind to me, nicer than my own mother. I used to fantasize about my father divorcing my mother and marrying his mistress. I didn’t want to bring my mother’s wrath on that kind lady.
“Over the years, it’s just gotten easier to go along. This way I can protect Elise, the mistress, and retain control of my father’s business. My mother doesn’t know it, but a stipulation in my father’s will that was purposefully hidden from her states that I shall wholly inherit everything once I’m married.
“My mother’s idea of finding a companion and future wife for me fit in perfectly. Unfortunately, my mother is not too unlike Brad’s mother and hasn’t made it easy for me to find someone.”
Robert looked up at her. “It’s become something of a game with me trying to see what will and won’t push her buttons and how long the poor young lady lasts before collapsing. I’m not saying it isn’t twisted, but, after eight years, I am getting tired. I’m tired of this constant parade of girls who only see dollar signs.
“So, when I saw you with a book, I knew you were different.” He shrugged, offering her a rueful smile. “I hoped you were a similarly searching soul, wanting something more. I suppose I was wrong.”
Elaina settled the tea cup on her book and stared into its brown depths. Idly, she wondered what was up with all the brown.
“After talking with you,” he continued ,apparently unaware of where her mind lay, “I think you would be perfect, what with your, ah, recent experiences.”
She smiled at his attempt at tact and looked up at him, brown crowding in at the edges of her field of vision.
Robert was shaking his head. “I’m just sorry being my companion doesn’t appeal to you. If it makes any difference, though, I could offer you whatever your dream is.”
It was tempting. So tempting.
He gestured at her book. “An unlimited library, any book you desire. Your own bookstore, or the chance to work in a library.”
She involuntarily jumped at that, and his eyes lit up.
“If you help me free myself from my mother, I promise you a position at the library.”
He was looking at her, studying her with such hope. It was impossible for her to hide what she thought of that. It would be a dream come true. A dream for a dream. She would just have to marry the guy and put up with his mother.
She studied him back. He had such childish hope on his face. He was so open and transparent. She was charmed by how upfront and blunt he was. It was different, refreshing. He was so unlike Bradley.
Her heart pounded as it realized what her brain was thinking. Could she do it? Could she sell her soul for her dream job? Or would it just be helping out someone who could become a truly wonderful friend?
To be sure, she wasn’t even in lust with him, but she believed the best kind of love flourished from friendship.
“I will not sell myself,” she said. “If I agree, we do this properly. We get to know each other. We become friends. If we do happen to fall in love and decide to spend the rest of our lives together, then we may marry. I warn you, my family has not seen a divorce in generations and I won’t be the first. Otherwise, I demand the same opportunity as every other girl to simply walk out of this place.”
Robert’s smile couldn’t have been wider and brighter. He eagerly reached for her hand and pumped it enthusiastically.
“Thank you, Elaina. Thank you so much. I sincerely hope neither of us regrets this.”
With a faint smile, she gingerly extracted her hand. “Me, too. By the way, what’s with all the brown?”