Chapter Eleven continued
The dining room was brightly lit and full of the delicious scents of dinner when they walked in. Elaina felt her shoulders relax a smidgen as she took a deep breath of freshly roasted chicken. But Robert’s still stiff posture quickly brought her back to reality.
The table had been set for three, but one plate had already been filled, the chair before it slightly askew. A chicken leg had been picked clean and a few half-eaten root vegetables littered the plate. A wine glass held the remnants of a red wine and red lipstick. A glass dish clearly bore the marks of a trifle eaten and savored as only a few traces of whipped cream lingered.
“I thought,” Elaina began, her voice catching in her throat.
“She had urgent business to attend to,” a voice said from behind them.
Elaina tried her best to stifle a scream as she turned around. Robert was a bit more poised, keeping his lips clenched together.
“What kind of business, Nigel?” Robert asked, his brow furrowed.
The butler gave a shrug. “That would be for your mother to tell you, if she is so inclined. She sent me down here just a few minutes ago to excuse her absence.” Nigel turned his eyes to Elaina, his expression unreadably formal. “She deemed the meal acceptable.”
Elaina’s heart plummeted. “Acceptable?” she whispered. “That’s all?”
Robert lifted a hand to gently squeeze her arm. “Don’t worry, Elaina. For my mother, acceptable is pretty darn good.”
“Oh,” she said, her shoulders relaxing.
Nigel glanced between them before bowing his head slightly. “She sends her apologies and has requested brioche with jam for breakfast.”
Robert’s spine stiffened and he angrily stepped forward. “Elaina is not a cook to be ordered around. Mother has always taken her liberties, but I will draw the line here.”
Elaina quickly reached out a hand. “I don’t take any offense, Robert.”
He turned his head to her and she could see his nostrils flaring and his eyes burning. “You should, Elaina. You should not let her treat you like that. You’re not a servant. Making dinner is one thing, taking a breakfast request is another.”
“Nonsense, Robert. If Rose is to be my mother-in-law one day, I will probably be expected, by both herself and myself, to cook for her once in a while, at least. She is assessing my cooking skills. Just in her own way.”
Robert shook his head. “Don’t do it, Elaina. Don’t let my mother have her way any more than she needs to. She runs everything here; don’t let her run you, too.”
“She’s not,” Elaina said firmly. “Nigel said she has ‘requested’ brioche and jam. That’s hardly a lot of work. Yes, the bread does take some time, but I enjoy being in the kitchen, and perhaps you could show or learn some kitchen skills of your own.”
Robert opened his mouth, but had nothing to say, so snapped his jaw closed and turned on his heel. Elaina and Nigel watched him stalk into the dining room and sit with his back to them.
Catch up on the story here.