Mirabelle shouldn’t have been at the garden party. She was just passing through town. Of course I didn’t know that, but she made it clear she could and would only stay for a few days. I was desperate for some company other than Mother’s and Nigel’s, so I agreed and we spent a pleasant two days wandering the Hall and just chatting. I planted the __ for her. Just to be respectful.
Robert was giving her funny looks, but it wasn’t her fault the wardrobe was only stocked with fancy dresses. She’d pulled out the least fancy one she could find, one that looked like it had been hanging for ages, but it was still a fine silk dress. Rose clearly had a certain idea of how Robert’s companions were to dress and comport herself.
Thinking of Rose, Elaina realized she actually hadn’t heard or seen the woman in almost two full days. Robert only changed the subject whenever she asked.
“What?” Elaina said defensively, folding her arms over her chest. “At least it’s maroon.”
He was still eyeing her with a funny look on his face. But he did hand her a paint roller.
She shook the thing in his direction. “Perhaps you should tell your mother you’d like your companions to dress in more than fancy ball gowns.”
Robert laughed. “Oh, I’ve talked to her.” He smiled at her. “She hasn’t bothered you, so I think we might be able to get away with having the seamstress come back and make you some pants or something.”
Elaina cocked her head to the side and lifted a brow. “Speaking of your mother, where has she gone?”
She saw his shoulder jerk a bit, but, at the same time, he moved to open a can of paint and pour it out into a tray, his feet rustling and crunching against the plastic covering everything but the walls. He turned his face away from her, pretending to be intently pouring the paint out.
“Gone?” he echoed. “Nowhere. You know Mother never leaves the Hall.”
“I haven’t seen her.”
“This is a big place, Elaina.”
He stood and straightened with a sigh. “Look, I talked to her, okay? We had a chat and it wasn’t really friendly. I don’t know what my mother is up to, but I made myself clear. I want her out of our way.”
Elaina frowned. “Why on Earth would you do that?”
“Because she’s trying to run you off, just like every other girl. Mother wants to see me married, but to a woman of her choosing. I’ve had enough of her running my life. I made it clear she wasn’t to get involved this time.”
“No, Elaina. I’ve had enough. I’m a grown man.” He laughed, short and low. “I let my mother rule my life because I was young and still lived in fear of her. But you standing up to her made me realize maybe I can, too. After all, she can’t run me out of here.”
“What’s stopping you from walking out of here right now, then?”
“Well, for one, security.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “I tried that once, a few years ago. My mother bruised my ears.” His smile vanished. “There are a lot of particulars, a lot of details you don’t know, things I can’t tell you here, or even right now.”
She frowned and propped her hands on her hips. “If I’m going to marry you, you can’t keep things from me.”
“Look, it’s not that I want to keep anything from you. It’s just that this house has ears, and there are things that, under no circumstances, can get back to my mother.” He took a deep breath. “I have something to show you. Later. Much later. But I’ll tell you then. Okay?”
Elaina narrowed her eyes slightly at him, but, at his pleading look, she nodded and dropped her arms. She turned to the roller clasped in one hand and then eyed her dress.
“No use waiting, then,” she said, determination laced through her words.
She heard Robert chuckle behind her as she went for the tray full of maroon paint and rolled the roller around in it. She ignored him, and hoped for the best. After all, she’d never painted anything in her life. She’d hated finger paints as a child and hated the smell of paint as she got older and had been handed a brush. Her teachers had stopped short of forcing her to paint, so she hadn’t actually ever painted anything.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect, does it?” she asked as she set to work on a wall, randomly rolling one way and then another.
Robert stepped up beside her, rolling his brush with ease. “Not at all. I can always cover it up with a painting.”
“Good to know,” she muttered.
Catch up on the story here.