Queen of the Garden of Girls, Part 35

Chapter Twelve continued

“Your mother is inviting me to tea this afternoon,” Elaina said as her eyes re-read the words for the third time.

“My mother is what?”

“Tea,” Elaina said, looking up at him. “Rose wants me to have tea with her. Just her and me. Should I be worried?”

Robert scratched at his ear, an uncomfortable look on his face. “I don’t know, Elaina. I really don’t.”

Elaina carefully laid the invitation alongside her plate. She pressed her fingers down firmly over it to stop them from shaking even a little. Rose hadn’t been particularly unpleasant, but neither had she been anything more than a frigid ice sculpture, which should have been redundant if she had been just as warm as ice.

The woman had been silent during breakfast, nodding only to Elaina once after taking her first bite of the freshly baked brioche. She had been so anxious about Rose liking it that she’d lapped up even that bit of acknowledgement. And then the woman had simply swept out of the room as soon as she had finished.

“Do you suppose she didn’t actually like the brioche?” Elaina asked, hating the twinge of sadness in her voice.

“It was delicious, Elaina,” Robert said quickly. “Look, I don’t know what my mother has planned, but I hope you know she can’t order your removal from the Hall.” He grinned at her. “Only I’m allowed to run my companions off.”

She shot him a confused look. “But I thought most of them left because your mother is insufferable.”

He nodded. “Yeah, that’s true. But she has never told a companion to leave. I have asked one or two to go, but it was mostly because I could tell they wanted to leave without looking bad. My mother has never made any woman’s life easy here, but she can’t order anyone to leave.”

“She’ll just make my life miserable.”

He shrugged. “You’re different. I wonder if maybe you’ve knocked her off balance. Or maybe she’s just stepping up her antics because you’re just that good.”

Elaina allowed a small smile to crack her nervous expression, though it felt like her heart was beating itself into a pretzel. “I suppose I’ll find out in a few hours.”

Robert smiled gently at her, his eyes earnest and kind as he placed a hand over hers, his larger hand obscuring the invitation she still pressed her fingers to. “Take the afternoon and enjoy the library. I have a few things to do with Nigel, so I hope you’ll find yourself lost in a novel until you have tea with my mother. I’ll see about having dinner arranged, and see what, exactly, the sous chef is capable of.”

Elaina nodded. As bumbling as Robert often was, he really was a sweet man. He was just a bit socially awkward. Well, okay, more than a bit, but it was still sweet. Most of the time.

Catch up on the story here.

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