Louisa had been sweet. She was quickly toppled by my mother, but at least my time with her was full of innocence and a bliss I hadn’t know for a long time. She was fanciful, which was fun, but Mother was not amused. She went running from the Hall in tears and I never saw her again. I planted the ____ in her honor.
“Nigel, have you seen my mother?” Robert asked.
Nigel, in the middle of pouring out some tea for Elaina as she situated herself at the dining table, glanced up with a flick of his eyes. He finished filling the delicate cup and then settled the teapot back on the table before straightening.
“Your mother informed me she would be away for some time.”
Robert visibly startled and Elaina’s eyes shot over to Robert and then Nigel. She’d only just spoken with Rose the night before and had been hoping to get some more information from the woman on what she’d said.
“My mother is away?” Robert asked, a deep frown carved into his face. “My mother doesn’t go anywhere. Do you mean she has retreated to another area of the Hall and wishes to be left alone?”
“No,” Nigel said. “If I had meant that, I would have said it. I mean your mother is no longer in the Hall, nor is she anywhere on the estate.”
“But Mother never leaves,” Robert said dumbly.
A strange prickle ran down Elaina’s spine. She remembered Rose had told her to enjoy this time with Robert. In light of her disappearance, was this Rose’s way of giving her blessings to them? After all, the woman hadn’t wanted her and Robert to make whatever mistakes Robert’s parents had made. Not that Elaina could even guess at them.
Elaina looked up from the napkin she had been fiddling with while deep in thought. Her gaze ran smack into Nigel, who was giving her one of his probing looks. A start shook through her and her breath caught when the man gave her a single slight nod before turning and whisking out of the dining room.
Her eyes landed on Robert, who was frowning fiercely into his French toast. His fork was carving shapes into the surface.
“Robert?” she asked tentatively.
He looked up at her. She’d never seen him look so puzzled, so baffled before. Her time with him had been anything but normal, full of perplexing things that had him as startled as her.
“Where could my mother have gone?” he asked, worry suddenly filling his eyes. “You don’t suppose she’s ill, do you?”
Elaina took a deep breath. She had meant to tell him about her conversation with Rose, but later on after getting some kind of confirmation of what she thought Rose had meant. Now it seemed she really hadn’t misheard.
“I don’t think so, Robert. I, ah, had an interesting conversation with your mother last night?”
“Another interesting conversation?” he said, his expression darkening for a moment before turning to confusion. “Last night? When last night?”
Elaina shook her head. “Quite late, after we both retired to our rooms. I was still awake, so was sitting by the window, staring at the hedges now that I know what’s on the other side. I saw a figure walking towards them. It looked like a ghost. I didn’t think, Robert, I just rushed out there. It was your mother, and she was walking around the rose garden. She told me to walk with her and then she told me she thinks I’ll be your last companion and wants us to make sure our bond deepens. I…I think she’s given us her blessings.”
“I think she’s bowing out, letting us really get to know each other on our own terms.”
“And she had to leave for us to do that?”
“You have to admit it hasn’t been easy with her breathing down our necks,” Elaina said, raising a brow at his reaction. “I thought you would have been happy.”
“I mean, yes, yes, I am happy she’s not interfering, but did she really have to leave?”
She shrugged, lowering her eyes for a moment. She could understand his disbelief. It had been eight years since Rose had left Roderick Hall. Now was an odd time for her to do so, especially without having told her son, who was still confined to the place.
“That’s not all she told me, Robert,” Elaina said softly, her eyes firmly trained on the strawberry parfait before her.
“What did she tell you?” Robert whispered when she didn’t go on.
Elaina swallowed. “She knew about Colette. She also had her own affairs.”
The crash of a chair startled her and her head jerked up to see Robert standing over her. A furious glower was on his face, his eyes fiery, his fists clenched at his sides.
“You’re lying,” he seethed,
Elaina blinked at him, her hands pressed to her chest. She had never seen Robert like this, had been sure he was too even-tempered, and, honestly, resigned, to react this way.
“No,” she stuttered. “Your mother told me. Last night.”
His eyes narrowed. “And now my mother is away.”
Elaina wasn’t quite sure how this had gotten so far out of hand. Robert looked about ready to hit something. Or someone. She swallowed hard and reached out a placating hand.
“Please, Robert, how could I lie?”
“You must have told her about Colette.”
“I didn’t,” Elaina insisted. “She knew. She said she knew.”
“Conveniently, my mother is not here, so I can’t confirm with her. I trusted you, Elaina.”
“Robert,” she whispered as he turned and stormed out of the room.
“I will speak with him.”
Elaina screamed at the sound of Nigel’s voice coming out of nowhere. He quickly reached out a hand and gently placed it on her shoulder. Her wide eyes met his solemn ones and he offered a small smile before following Robert out of the door.
Catch up on the story here.