Chapter Twelve continued
Elaina’s hands automatically flew to her hair, which hung down around her shoulders in soft tangles, clearly not recently brushed. Her stomach turned over, the nibble of the cookie suddenly not sitting well. She really should have paid closer attention to the time. She couldn’t bring herself to look directly at Rose’s face, afraid of what she would see.
“Well, uh, Robert thought a quiet afternoon in, um, the library would be good for me. You know, especially since he was busy this afternoon. He thought it might, er, help calm my nerves.”
“And has it?”
Elaina giggled a little. “Well, I did lose myself in a book.”
“That is quite plain to see.”
The small smile on Elaina’s face was wiped clean off and her back stiffened, her eyes widening slightly at the same time.
Rose took a leisurely sip of her tea before replacing the cup with a sound clink. Elaina waited expectantly with no fewer than a few dozen tendrils of fear looping around in her stomach. She was really glad of having only had a nibble and a sip!
“Elaina, I don’t believe I’ve made myself clear in what I expect from my son’s companion and future wife,” Rose said, her voice clipped. “Let me be clear about it now.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Elaina squeaked out.
“My husband’s great-great grandfather founded this town almost single-handedly. We continue to be the wealthiest family and the family with the most at stake here. I know it may sound strange since Robert and I are kept here for our own protection, but we have quite a lot at stake in this place, quite a few fingers in just about everything.” An odd smile twisted Rose’s lips for a split second. One blink of Elaina’s eyes and it was gone. “Even Mary-Grace is subjected to being at my beck and call. After all, it is myself who issued her family the loan they needed to get started.
“What I am trying to tell you, Elaina, is that I expect my son’s wife to be a lady in every sense of the word. One day, it will be safe to reopen Roderick Hall. One day, it will be your duty to oversee parties and soirees and board meetings. You will be running this household and you and Robert will share the task of not running the family business to ground. Am I clear so far?”
Elaina swallowed hard, her hands clasped so tightly together she was afraid she was going to break her own fingers. “Yes, ma’am.”
Rose gave a sharp nod. “Good. Then you see why your frivolous activities and childish antics have no place here. You will have staff to assist you in the simple day to day task of staying alive. You will not have time to fill your head with silly fantasies. You will be a very busy woman, Elaina, and I expect you to comport yourself in that manner.
“You and my son have this…period of courtship to get to know each other and decide if you’d like to marry.” Rose’s lips twisted once again, but were quickly smoothed out. “Considering his history, I doubt anything more than this is likely, but I am tired to women traipsing through with no idea what lies ahead of her should Robert propose. I mean to rectify that this moment, with you.
“You and my son seem to be quite fond of each other. Perhaps you will be his wife, perhaps not. Either way, I would be remiss in my duty as his mother, the matriarch of the Roderick family, and the leader of my late husband’s empire if I do not prepare you for what will be expected of you should our heirloom ring find its way onto your finger.
“Take your time; get to know each other. By all means paint that atrocious brown room of his something more palatable. But know I will be looking for signs of a woman who can take my place.”
Rose eyed Elaina for a long moment, as though she were expecting some kind of response or reaction, but Elaina felt too frozen to do anything but stare at her with wide eyes. She had thought she was starting to get somewhere with Robert’s mother, was starting to find her feet, but Rose clearly felt otherwise. Or perhaps Elaina simply didn’t know what it meant to be a member of the upper crust despite her past with the Hunter family.
Or maybe Rose just expected more from her because of her past with the Hunter family.
But, before Elaina could unfreeze even a small part of herself, Rose gave her a crisp nod before abruptly rising and sweeping out of her own study.
Catch up on the story here.