Abigail was another older woman. This time, there wasn’t such a huge age difference. She was only ten years older. She was a teacher who had just been laid off, very sweet and very obviously a Kindergarten teacher. Sometimes she treated me like a child, and now I understand why she was single. But she was nice and a lot of fun. Painting was her thing, so we spent a lot of time with paints and easels. I can’t say any of my works were masterpieces, but she was good for the soul, always encouraging. I was sad when she left, but her soul was too fragile for my mother’s will. Perhaps as a bit of irony, I planted the Touch of Class rose for her. I later heard she returned to a Kindergarten classroom.
Elaina was surprised to see Robert lounging against the wall across from the room she had been given. The morning sun poured into the hallway from her open door as her windows faced east and offered a sweeping view of the private gardens.
“Are you well-rested?” Robert asked as Elaina pulled a light sweater over the simple blue dress she had found in the wardrobe. He gestured at her clothes. “Don’t worry if they don’t fit right. We’ll have a tailor in later today to start on some clothes for you.”
Elaina nodded. Retrieving her own was out of the question. The dress fit well enough, but was slightly too big in a few areas. It wasn’t the kind of dress she wanted to meet Robert’s imposing mother in, but, apparently it was tradition.
Robert pushed himself away from the wall and gallantly offered his arm. “Let me show you to the dining room.”
She nodded and slipped her arm through his, hoping it wasn’t far. She hadn’t eaten anything at the garden party, and her stomach had been too nervous for her to eat anything after agreeing to be Robert’s companion. After signing the paperwork, Robert had shown her to her room and she’d said good night, wanting some peace to contemplate her new situation.
“I’ll be meeting your mother today?” she asked.
He nodded, a bit stiffly, she thought. Was Robert wary of his own mother, too? This didn’t bode well.
“At some point, yes. My mother makes it her habit to never be consistent. I’m afraid you’ll have to anticipate her popping up at any time. Though there is an unspoken rule that she never disturbs the companion during the night.”
Elaina gave a strangled, nervous laugh. “I can’t imagine how terrifying that might be.”
“She used to check on me in the middle of the night when I was a child. Even though she’s my mother, it still scared me silly to see her looming over me in the dark.”
Elaina smiled faintly. “What do I need to know about her?”
“Her mission is to make my companion’s life miserable. She’s ordered me to find a companion so I could find a wife. The catch is she must also approve of the woman, so she makes her life difficult to test her. My mother will never be consistent. What was fine one day will no longer be tolerated the next. She won’t abuse you, but she’ll make you question yourself.”
“I think that’s a form of abuse, too,” Elaina said dryly.
Robert shrugged. “It’s all a game to her.”
“Well, after spending two years dealing with Bradley’s mother, I think I might be able to handle her.”
He gently placed his free hand over hers as they descended a staircase. “I don’t know how long she’ll keep it up. No companion has lasted longer than four months.”
“I’ll do my best, Robert, but I can’t make any promises. Of course, I want to see you free of your mother’s control, and help you acquire your inheritance, but I must also take care of myself.”
He nodded. “Of course, I understand. I wouldn’t ask you to suffer. But, if anyone has the potential to withstand my mother, I think it’s you. I never knew Mary-Grace well, but I remember she was extremely domineering and manipulative.”
“You’re not wrong.”
“Then I think you’ll be fine.”
“I wish I had as much confidence as you do.”
He smiled at her. “I know my mother. I’ve watched her for eight years. She’ll do everything in her power to break you, but, if you could stand two years with her social rival, I think you’ll be fine.”
“Again,” she said as he ushered her into a surprisingly normal dining room, “I wish I had as much confidence as you do.” She gestured at the simple square table with the plain white tablecloth. “I wasn’t expecting anything so…normal.”