After breakfast, Rowan was once again summoned by Ms. Daley. As Sophie led him through the halls to her bedroom, his chest was heavy with anticipation.
She was seated on a balcony just outside her bedroom, casually attired and reading a novel. It appeared, by its cover, to be a romance novel of the bodice-ripper variety set in Victorian times. She sat in the sunshine while she read, but a large-brimmed hat kept her face in the shadows.
When she heard Sophie and Rowan entering, she turned and looked, standing from her seat and approaching. Sophie silently disappeared from the room, and when Rowan noticed that he was alone, he became even more nervous.
However, Ms. Daley simply extended a hand and said, “We weren’t properly introduced last night. I am Ms. Sara Daley, née Aglio. And you are Mr. Rowan Harding, if I am not mistaken. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
She extended her hand as if it were to be kissed, and Rowan complied, bending down and kissing the top of it.
“You must think me a terrible host. My behavior last night was unconscionable. I was so tired that I, unfortunately, did not pay proper heed to the niceties and formalities of hospitality. It is customary for new guests to be shown around the estate, and I will do that promptly. Do you have any objections?”
“No, ma’am,” Rowan said.
“You’re not a man of many words,” she said, chuckling slightly to herself. “Follow me. And yes, that is an order.”
She began with the various rooms of the upper story, the guest rooms and bedrooms, and then took him down to the main level, to the dining room and family room and library and solarium. And all the while, she talked and asked questions.
When she asked where he was from, Rowan explained, “I’m from Virginia.” She was surprised by his lack of accent, and he said, “I’m really from DC. My mom lives in Lorton, which is a suburb. There’s a world of difference between there and Richmond.” She asked about his mother, and he said, “She works for the Feds in the HHS as some mid-level bureaucrat in the Global Affairs office. My dad lives in Charlottesville and works at UVA. I don’t see him much.”
“Is your father a professor?” she asked.
“No, maintenance,” he said. He said it with a smile as if it were amusing, and Ms. Daley laughed with him.
“A respectable profession,” she said. “My father had a similar role. He was superintendent at an apartment building. A large and rather upscale one. It gave us a place to stay and a respectable address. It was also a great place to study the wealthy, to see how they acted, dressed, talked, moved. I don’t think I’d be where I am today, if it weren’t for my father’s job. But here I am monopolizing the conversation.”
They just then arrived at the basement, and she said, “Here’s swimming pool and gym, both of which you’re more than welcome to use.”
It was a large room single room with a moderate-sized pool in the center and several pieces of heavy equipment, including a complex home gym, some free weights, a stationary bike, a treadmill a rowing machine, and more.
“Wow, this is perfect,” he said. “Can I use this in the morning?” She nodded, and he added, “Early in the morning? Like 5:30?”
“You deprive me of the opportunity of watching you exercise,” she said. “That is to say, I exercise too, and it’s nice to have company. But of course, you can use it whenever. I may even drag myself out of bed to join at that ungodly hour.”
Rowan actually didn’t like what she said, and in a moment of boldness, he told her, “I like my privacy.” After he said it, he second-guessed himself and thought he shouldn’t be making demands concerning the use of her equipment.
She deliberately misunderstood his questions and said, “I can make sure that you I do have some privacy when we’re down here.” She reached out and touched his cheek while she said this, staring into his eyes. Rowan did not reciprocate, lowering his eyes and only sporadically looking back at her. Her actions made him uncomfortable. She then added, “That reminds me. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. You’re a terrible lover. It’s excusable due to your inexperience, but you’ll need practice. Tell Sophie to take care of you. She’s the best of them.”
She said this all rather nonchalantly, but Rowan was quite appalled. “I can’t do that!”
Ms. Daley looked at him severely and imperiously. “You can and you will,” she ordered.