“It seems Lord Ambrose likes roses,” I say, running the tip of my finger along a velvet petal.
“I do not believe Lord Ambrose has an opinion on them,” Madame Regina answers. “He rarely comes in here.”
“Oh.” I turn, looking at them all. “Then why…”
“His younger brother is fond of them,” she says, and for the first time, her voice is truly abrupt. “Come with me. I’ll show you where to fill the watering can.”
I look around, realizing it will take me all day to water this many plants.
Regina walks to a fountain at the center of the conservatory. From its center, water spills into a large raised pool, where white and orange fish swim.
“What are they?” I gasp, certain I’ve never seen anything like them in my life.
“Koi,” Madame Regina says. “Water is fed into the fountain from an underground aquifer. They don’t mind the cold temperature.”
I watch the fish for several seconds, enchanted.
“The watering can is there.” Regina nods toward the small tin container at the fountain’s edge.
“This?” I pick it up and give her an incredulous look. “At most, it looks as if it holds two cups of water.”
“Do you have something better to do with your time?”
I hold the watering can under the spigot in the raised pool, showing her I’m willing to work.
“I will leave you to it,” the housekeeper says, and then she exits the conservatory.
Soon, I slip into my task, deciding there are far worse chores than tending flowers. Grandmother loved her roses—she spent hours fussing over them every day. It brings back pleasant memories.
But by the end of the day, my feet are tired from standing, and I’m feeling every lost minute of sleep from the restless night. The sun has shaken off the clouds, and its afternoon heat beats in through the glass, warm enough I feel like I’m going to wither before the plants.
When Regina finally comes to fetch me, I gladly leave, dreading the moment I must return tomorrow.
“I’ve instructed the dressmaker to go to your room,” she says as I follow her out of the conservatory and into the dry, cool manor. “Let’s not make her wait long.”
I hurry to keep up, stifling a yawn behind my hand.
“Regina,” a man says when we turn the corner, eyeing me as he smiles at the housekeeper. He’s tall and slim, with long, pale blond hair and light gray eyes that are a touch unsettling. He’s dressed in a rich sapphire jacket, with a golden pocket watch chain hanging from the breast pocket.
Like the maids we saw earlier, he was in the foyer when I begged Lord Ambrose to let me stay.
The man steps directly in the middle of the hallway, blocking our path.
“Hello, Ian,” Regina says briskly, nudging me to the side so we may pass the man.
“I have yet to officially meet the young woman,” he says as he subtly blocks our way once more. He smiles at me, but it’s a calculating look. “What, exactly, is your relationship to Brahm?”
“Lord Ambrose,” Regina corrects sharply. “And there is no relationship. For the time being, Alice simply works in the manor.”
The man laughs, stepping forward as if he means to take my chin. “If Brahm has no attachment to her, I would be glad to take her in.”
As if appearing out of thin air, Lord Ambrose steps around me from behind, putting himself between the man and me. “I do not like to share, Ian. I believe you know that.”
I stare at the back of the marquis’s deep red jacket, my heart beating like I was just cornered by a predator. Lord Ambrose is close enough I could touch him, his broad shoulders blocking the disconcerting Faerie from view.
“I’m well aware.” Ian laughs. “But if you get bored of her, I’ll take her off your hands. And I must wonder, if you’re so eager to protect her, why not tether her and claim her for yourself?”