Chapter Eleven continued
Elaina took a hasty sip of her ice cold water. Then her eyes wandered back to where Robert was still poking at his food.
“It’s not poisoned, you know,” she said, perhaps a little too rudely.
He started slightly before looking up with a sheepish look. “Sorry, Elaina. I’m just lost in thought.” He took a sip from his own glass. “I apologize for not being a good dinner companion.”
Elaina closed her eyes briefly. “Just tell me why we can’t paint your study a lovely shade of blue or green.”
Robert sighed. “I just can’t. It doesn’t feel right.”
“I swear, Robert,” she said, her voice soft, but perfectly even, “you and your mother are going to drive me out of my mind. I can see now why every other companion has fled this cursed place.”
His eyes flew open in shock and he hastily reached out his hands to grab one of hers, his sleeve trailing through his uneaten dinner. “No, Elaina, please.” He squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry. It’s just old habits. I don’t know how to, I don’t know, be normal? I don’t know how to do conversation or friendship.”
“That is startlingly obvious,” she stated, her eyes softening a little. “But, if we’re ever going to be married one day, I think you should stop hiding things from me.”
He bit his lip, his eyes wavering from hers for a moment. But then he nodded, a jerk of his head one way and then the other. Slowly, he withdrew his hands from hers. “Yes. Yes, of course.”
Elaina eyed him for a few moments, waiting for him to speak, but he didn’t seem like he was going to start talking any time soon. Pressing her lips together in irritation, she moved back to her dinner, stabbing a little too fiercely at her chicken breast.
“It used to be black,” Robert said suddenly, making Elaina pause and glance over at him. He, though, was slowly sawing away at his chicken leg, carefully separating the meat from the bone. “After my father died, Nigel and I decorated it in black and gray. To mourn him, I guess. A few years ago, I decided it was time for a change, but white seemed like too great a leap. It made me wince to think about it.”
“The room is a way for you to process your father’s death.”
He looked up at her, his head tilting up quickly with a sharp wrench of his neck. Surprise was in his eyes, and she was convinced he hadn’t even known what he was doing.
“You’re not ready for the pastels because your father’s death left so much sadness and hurt.” She shook her head. “I understand now, Robert. Your father must have been very important to you, extremely beloved.” She cocked her head. “I feel honored that you want to let me in. I suppose that should make me feel reassured that you value me as more than just a companion.”
“Well-I-yes, of course,” he spluttered. “I mean, you are to be my wife one day, yes?”
She smiled softly. “We’re still seeing about that, Robert. I do have a few reservations about you,” she said as she turned back to her dinner, “but I think you’re progressing nicely. I’m sorry I spent so much of our time recently just reading books. I’m just so amazed at the collection you have here. But I promise to do better.”
Robert gave her a crooked smile. “Don’t worry. I know you really want that library job.”
She shrugged as she tried to fight down the rising heat in her cheeks. “You want something, I want something. But perhaps we shouldn’t discuss that here.”
He gave a quick nod. “You’re right. This isn’t the right place.”
Elaina gave him a faint smile. She felt like a terrible person for using him, but wasn’t he using her as well?
“You know, maroon might be a good choice,” she said casually. “It’s a lovely brownish red shade.”
Catch up on the story here.