(Chapter 7 continued)
“I’ve heard you dated Bradley Hunter,” Rose said abruptly, flatly.
Startled, Elaina lifted her eyes from where she was watching Clarice stick pins near her waist. “Yes, I did. For two years.”
“Missed the lifestyle of the wealthy, did you?”
“No,” Elaina said, almost too fast. “Not at all. I like a quiet life.”
“And yet here you are, companion to my son, the heir to the largest fortune around.”
“It was neither my intention nor my idea. My friends thought I needed a diversion from job hunting, so talked me into joining them yesterday. I never thought Robert would choose me.”
“Yet he did.”
Elaina had no response. Robert had chosen her. She knew why he had. She didn’t think she should tell his mother about their conversation. After all, she’d promised not to breathe a word of it.
“You must be used to things like this,” Rose said, nodding to Clarice. “I imagine Mary-Grace would have made sure you dressed properly.”
Elaina couldn’t help but purse her lips a little at that. “That’s true.”
Rose’s eyes missed nothing. “You did not enjoy it.”
“Mrs. Hunter was, um, much more vocal than you,” Elaina said carefully. “No one could please her and she made her thoughts known.”
Rose sniffed. “I suppose she should be excused as she’s new to money.”
Again, Elaina had nothing to say. Fortunately, her attention was temporarily diverted by Clarice, who was having her raise both arms out to her sides.
“Let me make one thing clear, Elaina. My son is free to choose whom he wishes as his wife, but life will go much easier for him and for her if I also approve.”
Elaina met Rose’s eyes, her face serious. “I agree. My mother likes to tell me you don’t just marry the man. You also marry his family. I have no wish to be…a disliked daughter-in-law. Neither do I have a wish to be rushed into marriage. You have my word, Rose, that I will never marry your son for everything that comes with him.”
Rose’s expression never changed, but she gave a curt nod and left the room. The tension went with her and Elaina’s spine sagged a little.
Clarice tutted and stepped back, shaking her head as she draped her measuring tape around her neck. She crossed her arms and eyed Elaina as Elaina took a few breaths. The chandelier’s light glinted off her violet hair as though there were sparkly strands in it.
“Would you like to take a few minutes?” Clarice asked, her face relaxed now that Rose was gone.
Elaina met her eyes. “She has the same effect on you, doesn’t she?”
“It’s different,” Clarice said softly. “I’ve worked for Mrs. Hunter, a few months before you started dating her son, I believe. She may have been vocal about everything she didn’t like, but Rose’s disapproval is quieter and deeper.”
“I’ve noticed,” Elaina said dryly. She took a deep breath and straightened her spine, lifting her arms out to her sides. Clarice dipped her head in silent acknowledgement and went back to work. “How long have you been working here?”
“I wouldn’t exactly say I’m employed by Rose, but she hires me to dress most of the companions. Sometimes she’ll disapprove of one of my dresses and will hire another seamstress for the next companion, but she always comes back to me.”
“She sounds manipulative.”
Clarice looked up from pinning up a hem. “I think of her as protective. Her husband was killed and the murderer was never found. She only has Robert left.”
“What does that have to do with you?”
“She’s hurting, Elaina. She’s seeking perfection where there can be none.”
“You don’t think I’ll last.”
Clarice gave her a sad smile. “Most girls ask me if I think they’ll be the last one. They’re eyes will be wide and bright. They gobble up the delights this place as to offer. They never ask if I think they’ll last. You seem to be coming into this with open eyes. Do you want to last?”
Elaina licked her lips. “That’s a little up for debate right now. Robert and I are just starting to get to know each other.”
Clarice nodded and went back to work. “I think you know to be wary of Rose. But, I promise you, she isn’t as scary as she seems.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Elaina murmured as her eyes strayed to the closed door.
Hop on over here to catch up on the story.