(Chapter 6 continued)
Robert laughed as he held out a chair to her, the one facing the door. “My mother’s idea. The women usually expect the grand dining room with the mile long table, extravagant foods, and servers at five foot intervals. This is her way of bringing them down a notch.”
Elaina raised a brow as he sat across from her. “If you ask me, that sounds smart. After all, we’re here to keep you company, not bask in the throes of luxury.”
He paused as he unfolded the simple paper napkin. “You and my mother might have more in common than we think.” He gave her a wry smile. “I don’t know if that bodes well for you, me, or her.”
“All three of us, if you’re lucky.”
“Yes, you’re right,” he agreed as a willowy middle-aged woman entered, drawing Elaina’s attention.
She was dressed simply in an olive green blouse and a white pencil skirt. Sensible black flats softened her quick steps. Her graying dark hair was pulled back into a tight knot at the base of her neck. In her hands were a basket brimming with pastries and soft breads and a large platter bearing fruits, parfait glasses of yogurt and granola, and hard boiled eggs.
Without thinking, Elaina was on her feet and unloading the platter from the woman’s hands, saying, “Here, let me help you.”
Surprised, the woman easily gave it up and watched with hawk eyes as Elaina carefully placed the heavy silver tray in the middle of the table, ensuring the glasses neither fell over nor clinked together.
“I’m surprised,” Robert said dryly. “Usually you go for the glass serving dish.”
The woman sniffed as she took a seat. “Esther broke it yesterday.” She turned to face Elaina as the young woman resumed her seat with a carefully blank expression.
Elaina had never seen Rose Roderick before, but, as soon as she had taken a look at the woman’s face, she knew. Robert had gotten his sky blue eyes from his mother. And she looked enough like the woman in the portrait near Robert’s study.
She hadn’t been sure if Rose serving them herself was a test, but she wasn’t one who enjoyed being served. Going to a restaurant made her squirm uncomfortably. Besides, Robert had mentioned his mother wanting to take the women down a notch. Surely she couldn’t find fault with Elaina helping her.
“So, you are the new companion,” Rose said, her voice crisp, as she looked Elaina over.
Solemnly, Elaina nodded. “I’m Elaina, and I’m very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Roderick.”
The woman waved a hand, revealing rings set with sparkling gems, and turned away from her. “No need to be so formal. You may call me Rose. Only the servants call me Mrs. Roderick.”
“Duly noted,” Elaina murmured as she smoothed her napkin across her lap with slightly trembling fingertips.
“Well then,” Rose said briskly, “eat up, you two. I imagine it will be a busy day of you two getting to know each other.” She turned back to Elaina. “You’re free to wander the property. Should you go too far, security will step in and escort you back to the Hall.”
Elaina nodded. “I understand. Thank you.”
Rose eyed her, looking her up and down. Her eyes were quick and her lips pressed into a thin line. “Well, I’m glad there’s still one family in town that still teaches manners.” She rose and smoothed down her skirt. “I will see you later.”
Almost as quickly as she appeared, Rose was gone and the door was swinging closed.