Chapter Seventeen, continued
Nigel found Robert furiously pacing in his maroon study. He had to admit it was better than brown, but not much of an improvement. Still, it had been good for his young master, and the lady he was courting.
“Did you know?” Robert demanded as soon as Nigel had slipped into the room. He came to stand in the middle of his study, his hands clenching and unclenching. “Did you know?”
“That your mother knew about Colette?” Nigel asked mildly.
Curtly, Robert gave a single nod before whirling away to resume pacing. He stalked back and forth like a small storm, threads of fury rolling off of him. Hurt and betrayal mingled as well, but the anger was overpowering.
Nigel understood. Robert had lived under his mother’s thumb for eight years thinking he was protecting Colette. If it was true she knew about her late husband’s mistress, Robert could no longer be sure why they had been shut up in the Hall for years, why his life had turned into what it was. He was no longer protecting anyone, had never protected anyone.
Nigel steeled himself. The truth would hurt his young master, could potentially see him cut to ribbons and Elaina cast out when the young woman was just starting to fall for Robert. But it was now Robert’s right to know.
“Yes,” Nigel said softly.
Robert whirled on him, his face ashen, his hands finally falling limp as he stared at the truth he didn’t want to acknowledge.
“Then,” Robert began.
“Please sit,” Nigel said kindly.
A numb expression on his face, Robert collapsed onto the sofa, now reupholstered to match the walls.
“Can you explain it to me, Nigel?” Robert asked hoarsely.
“I can tell you what I know. The rest of the story will have to come from your mother.”
“I’ll take whatever I can.” He paused. “And make it quick. I ought to apologize to Elaina before she runs off.”
“I don’t think that’s likely, but, yes, that would be wise.”
“Colette?” Robert prompted, clearly not willing to think about his current companion.
“It’s no secret your parents never loved each other. It was an arranged marriage.”
“I know that,” Robert said crossly.
Nigel nodded. “Very well. They had a duty. The gravity of that duty is not for me to tell. It isn’t my right. But they did care about each other. Not enough to fall in love, but enough for mutual respect.
“It was your mother who brought Colette to the Hall. She was your nanny when you were very young. That’s why your memories of her go back so far.” Nigel paused and licked his lips. “There’s a reason why you saw her as your mother instead of Rose, but that’s for Rose to tell you.”
“I’m beginning to sense that’s going to be a theme,” Robert said drily.
“Please, Robert, I can only give you so much.”
Instead of responding, Robert turned away and waved a limp hand for Nigel to continue.
“You were a young boy when your father and Colette fell in love. Your mother knew, Robert. They had an arrangement, one they weren’t willing to tell you about. It worked. Until it didn’t. Your mother blamed Colette for your father’s death. There was a…fallout as a result, one Rose had to patch up.” Nigel shook his head. “It’s because of that fallout that the two of you have been virtual prisoners at Roderick Hall.”
Robert looked up, his eyes wary. “And how do the companions figure in? Or was that just my mother’s loony idea?”
“You need a bride,” Nigel said simply. “You need a bride in order to see freedom again.”
“My father’s will. The part my mother isn’t allowed to know about.”
“Rose doesn’t know the…particulars…of how things work,” Nigel said, clearly struggling with how much to reveal. “Your father did leave her in charge. She just thinks it’s until she’s ready to hand over power. It, er, doesn’t quite work that way. But it’s not her place to know that. It’s a sort of family secret, one passed between blood relatives only.” He offered a tired smile. “It goes back generations.”
“But my father didn’t tell me anything.”
“He didn’t live long enough to.”
Robert scrubbed his hands over his face and let out a long groan. “Secrets on top of secrets.” He abruptly turned and glared up at Nigel. “Secrets you know, but I can’t.”
Nigel winced and linked his hands behind his back. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Robert stood and walked past Nigel. “Then I guess it’s just me and Elaina. She’s even more clueless than I am.”
Nigel didn’t turn when Robert slammed the door closed. His shoulders sagged and he let out a long breath. It felt good to let some of the truth out, to fix some of the lies, but he was right: it was Rose’s tale to tell.
Catch up on the story here.