Queen of the Garden of Girls, Part 36

Chapter Twelve continued

Elaina had done as Robert had suggested: she’d lost herself in a book. She’d become so lost that, by the time her head had emerged, she’d had exactly five minutes to get to Rose’s study for tea. She’d gasped and flung herself from the plush armchair, hoping fervently her hair wasn’t too untidy and her green gown not too wrinkled.

Rose was, of course, perfectly coiffed and attired. Elaina couldn’t help but feel like a scullery maid next to her. But Rose only glanced over her with her usual cool expression before silently indicating she should take the seat opposite her at the dainty round table.

While Robert’s study was dark and weird with all the brown, Rose’s was bright and airy. It was an interesting counterpoint to the lady herself, who was more ice that soft pastels and golden afternoon sunlight. Tasteful miniature paintings hung on the walls and fresh flowers filled the corners. The room was clearly more inviting than its inhabitant. Elaina wasn’t sure if she should feel at ease or as stiff as a board.

“This is a, er, lovely room,” Elaina said nervously as she spread an ivory linen napkin across her lap as Rose had done.

Rose only lifted an eyebrow and inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement. Then, without asking, she lifted the pale pink teapot and tipped it to fill the matching teacup before Elaina. Tiny plates gently sprinkled with small cookies and even tinier iced cakes dotted the table, but Elaina felt too nervous to eat anything, much less drink the tea. But, when Rose touched her lips to her tea cup, Elaina did the same and took a tiny sip of the peach tea.

Rose waved a hand over the table. “Help yourself.”

Her stomach tightening into a knot, Elaina gave a faint smile and hastily plucked a small cookie with a dot of chocolate on top. Under Rose’s intense scrutiny, she took a nibble before placing it on the edge of her saucer. As brave as she felt around Robert, how she felt in his mother’s presence without a buffer was quite another thing.

Rose lifted a delicate eyebrow. “Not hungry?”

Elaina forced her fingers to be still in her lap. “I, er, had a large lunch.”

“I see,” Rose murmured. She took another sip of tea before replacing her cup and saucer on the table. “Tell me, Elaina, how have you and my son been getting on?”

“Robert is exceedingly kind and generous,” Elaina said carefully.

“I understand you have been spending a great deal of time in the library.” Clearly, Rose was not one to play about.

Elaina swallowed hard. “Yes. Yes, we have spent a considerable amount of time in the library. We both enjoy stories.”

“Is that so?”

“As a matter of fact, he told me a fairy tale while I was preparing dinner last night.”

Rose paused for a fraction of a second. It was so quick Elaina wasn’t sure if she’d seen it correctly. “Oh? Which one?”

“The mermaid.”

“Ah,” Rose said as she sat back in her chair, her arms resting on the chair arms and her wrists dangling. “That was always one of his favorites. Tell me, Elaina, what did you think of the story?”

“Oh, well, I think I quite like the idea of the prince and the mermaid being able to be together.”

“Well, I should hope so.”

Elaina blinked. “Excuse me?”

Rose waved a hand. “It’s a much nicer ending, don’t you think?”

“Oh, er, yes. Yes, it is.”

“I hope you’ve been enjoying your time as my son’s companion. But, tell me, Elaina, what, exactly, were you doing just before joining me for tea?”

Catch up on the story here.

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