Note: And, with this post, I am off for the next few days to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family, but will be back on Monday. To my fellow Americans, happy Thanksgiving! To all my international friends, um, happy Thursday through Sunday!
Chapter Seventeen, continued
Robert cursed as he looked into the library. It was the first place he thought of looking this time and she wasn’t there. He hissed to himself and stalked up towards her suite. But it proved to be just as empty as the library.
He slid his hands into his hair and grabbed on, his brain too frustratingly slow to come out with an answer. Roderick Hall was enormous. It would take him ages to look through all the rooms. He hadn’t even been into every room. There were some that had always been locked up, but at least he could rule those out. The grounds were even more extensive, and there was the forest part of the property rested on.
The grounds. Could Elaina have wandered into the Garden of Girls? She’d said she had found Rose there, so maybe she’d gone back.
Robert shot off down the hall. It was the only likely place he could think of. Why she’d be there, he had no clue, but it was a beautiful day.
He raced out of the Hall and across the lawn to the hedges. He slipped quietly into the garden and slowed to a walk, keeping his eyes peeled for a lovely young woman in a ball gown.
But he didn’t see anything. Didn’t see any movement. With every step he could feel his frustration mounting. If she wasn’t in the garden, where else could she be? They hadn’t wandered the grounds together; she could have gotten herself lost anywhere.
Or maybe she’d simply walked out of the gates and he’d never see her again.
The chill down his spine almost had his knees buckling. He’d hoped they were building something together. But he had been unnecessarily harsh on her.
“I’m over here,” Elaina’s soft voice suddenly called out.
His breath catching in his throat, Robert whirled and found her nestled into a bench set under an arch heavy with peach and deep red blooms. Her forest green gown was spread out around her, but she pulled one side closer to herself, making room for him. Her eyes were guarded as he approached, but she was keeping the rest of her features open.
He almost fell to his knees and begged her to forgive him and his hard words. But her eyes didn’t demand it, her movements clearly indicating she expected him to sit beside her.
“Nigel found me,” Robert said as he settled nervously beside her.
“He said he would.”
Robert took a deep breath. Her eyes weren’t focused on him; her face wasn’t even turned in his direction. It helped him breathe easier, but it also made him nervous.
“I’m sorry, Elaina. I’m sorry I accused you of lying.”
She shook her head slightly. “Don’t be, Robert. It hurt, but I understand. She’s your mother. This is your life, has been your life. To have it turned on it’s head…” She trailed off and shook her head. “I’ll admit the force you spoke with surprised me since you’re the easiest going guy I’ve ever met, but I do get it.”
Robert bowed his head. “I still owe you an apology. I shouldn’t have treated you like that.”
“No, you shouldn’t have, but I really do get it, Robert. Just…try to be more levelheaded in the future.”
She couldn’t see it, but he still gave her a crooked smile. “So, you’re willing to stick with me?”
“Well, don’t tempt me, but, yes, I find your company strange and refreshing. But I must admit a part of me has started to care about you and your mother. I must be crazy, but, after everything we’ve gone through…I really appreciate your openness and how you always try to patch things up.”
“I do that a lot, don’t I?”
“Well, it’s not your fault you were locked up for eight years.”
Robert screwed up his face. “Yeah, about that. Nigel told me some interesting things. Apparently, it wasn’t really my mother’s idea, but something about my dad’s death made it necessary.”
Her head turned so fast he almost asked if she had whiplash. Her lips were vaguely moving, but didn’t seem capable of forming any words.
He held up a hand and shook his head. “He couldn’t tell me anything else. He said it’s my mother’s story to tell. But his death made us, my mother and me, have to stay locked up in Roderick Hall.”
“But…but what about all the companions and…and finding a wife?” Elaina stammered.
Robert sighed. “Look it’s complicated. I don’t really get it. Apparently, I need a wife if I ever want to leave this blasted place again and my mother thinks she can relinquish power whenever she wants to, but that’s not the way it works. It’s some family secret or something.”
“So you do still need a wife?”
He shot her a small, teasing smile, though he couldn’t help glancing over at her a little shyly. “Is that relief I hear?”
Elaina playfully pressed her lips together, but her eyes were still soft. There was a flash of hesitation on her face, and then she reached out and gently took one of her hands between her own. She didn’t say anything, but her soft touch was all the reassurance he needed.
“My mother isn’t here, for how long I don’t know, but maybe we can get Clarice back here and make you more suitable clothes?”
Elaina looked down at her dress. “I’ve kind of grown accustomed to them. They’re a little unwieldy sometimes, but they function. Besides, who knows how long your mother will be gone for? She could be back tomorrow. I’d rather not waste time getting measured for new clothes your mother will just burn, but spend it getting better acquainted without her watchful eye.”
He wasn’t sure, but it felt like his smile brightened his face. At least, it had him sitting a little taller. “The grounds are extensive. I’d love to show you around. I haven’t been around them much beyond this garden, but I remember a little lake or a pond or something with water, at least. Part of a forest is on the grounds, too, and some smaller gardens I vaguely remember. If you know how to ride, we can easily get around.”
She smiled. “It’s been a while since I last rode, but, if you have a gentle mare, I’d be delighted.”
Catch up on the story here.