Queen of the Garden of Girls, Part 40

Chapter Thirteen, continued

In hindsight, he should have checked the library first. It would have saved him a lot of walking around. He knew the Hall was massive, but wandering around it trying to find one young woman made it seem bigger. Of course, he should have remembered which young lady was in residence. It would have made things so much easier.

Robert had expected to find Elaina’s nose buried in a book. Instead, she was seated, with her hands folded in her lap, her eyes fixed on the wall of books before her. He blinked in surprise, wondering how long she was going to sit there before she selected her next book.

“Elaina?” he ventured softly as he approached her.

Stiffly, almost robotic, Elaina turned her head to look at him, not a single trace of surprise in her eyes or on her face. Instead, she looked a little empty.

“Oh no,” he said softly, sinking down to settle himself on the floor beside her. He took one of her limp hands between hers. “My mother got to you.”

“She was very clear on the type of lady she expects to be your wife,” Elaina said softly, an odd dusty quality in her voice. Had she been here long enough to start inhaling the dust?

Robert raised a brow. “She was, was she?”

Elaina nodded stiffly. “A woman such as myself should not consider herself in the running to be your wife.”

Robert scowled. “Don’t be ridiculous, Elaina. My mother may be crazy, but I am the one who gets to propose to whomever I choose. She may not like it, but she must live with my choice.” He grinned. “It was in my father’s will. He actually left her a note to remind her to leave me alone and let me marry whom I wished.” He shrugged. “She’ll try to interfere, but we both know I’ll make her life hell if she tries to shoo away the woman I want to marry.”

“It seemed more like the other way around.”

“My mother has been in power around here for too long. That’s why we, er, made the, you know.” He cleared his throat. “I’m done with it, and I really believe there’s something special about you.” He flung out an arm towards the books. “If reading makes you happy, it makes me happy. I like an educated woman; makes conversation much more exciting. Please, Elaina, please read to your heart’s content.”

She put her head down quickly, but not fast enough for him to not see the twinkle of a tear in her eye. Her chest rose and fell on a deep breath, and he lifted his hand to wrap it back around the one he still held. He gave her a gentle squeeze before slowly withdrawing. She wasn’t looking up and he felt strange, as though he were intruding on a private moment she needed to herself.

Elaina didn’t move as he rose. Awkwardly, he gently patted her shoulder. His eyes swept around the library, hoping she could find happiness, if only in this room. His mother wasn’t easy to live with, but he knew he had to make sure Elaina felt comfortable if he was going to persuade her to stay. Besides, he had his hobby; she needed her own.

“I mean it, Elaina,” he said softly. “The library is yours. If you must make someone here happy, make it be you. Don’t worry too much about my mother. She’ll come around.”

Robert hesitated, then leaned down and gently pressed a kiss to her temple. Then he moved away quickly, his cheeks beginning to flush. He was halfway to the door when he heard Elaina’s soft, “Thank you.”

He turned slightly, just enough to see her, her head still tilted down, her hands still in her lap. “Think nothing of it.”

He paused for a moment longer, but she didn’t move, so he left the library and quietly closed the door behind him. Once out in the hall, he took a deep breath and clenched his fists. It had been a long time since he’d had to have a conversation with his mother, but Elaina was worth it, and not just because marrying her would solve so many problems for him. But because she was sweet and thoughtful and certainly too smart for him.

Catch up on the story here.

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