The slow descend of the earl made the pressure increase exponentially. It was as if he wanted to vent all his displeasure on Katherine solely by this deafening silence. When he reached the last step, Katherine felt as if a ton of pressure was pushing her down towards the floor.
Yet she persisted. She might not be able to raise her head and stop her legs from trembling though. Biting her lower lip, she told herself that her dress was only the fist try. She didn't know his preferences yet, so she couldn't act to fulfill them. Trial and error. Make it better next time. And she still had an whole hour to find at least one thing he liked. Now was her chance. Wasting even one second of that precious time on self-pity over her failure was dumb.
The last thought spurted her courage. No time for hurt and anxiety. Act now.
"Milord." She curtsied. "Thank you for coming."
Silence again, as he stared at her with his deep red eyes, giving no indication that he wanted to talk with her.
Suddenly, Katherine's anger spilled over and a bitter comment slipped past her lips: "If milord can't even be polite, I might decide that it isn't worth me working for a meeting."
She regretted her words the instant they left her mouth. Damn, her temper had gotten the better of her again!
Finally, the stone showed a reaction. A narrow smile split the surface but it was one of the kind which made you shiver. "And I could decide your work is not worth me giving you lodging. Better not force your luck."
Giving in to the threat, Katherine forced a smile and a sweet voice. "A bad joke, milord. How could I not be satisfied with your presence? It is such an honor to spent time with you."
The earl felt a flash of surprise facing her shamelessness. She obviously didn't like his attitude but forced herself to speak these honey-sweet words nonetheless. Her struggle was a little amusing.
In a slightly better mood, the earl decided to help her out this once. "You wanted to see the garden, right?"
Surprised, Katherine nodded. "If you don't mind, milord. My maid told me it is really beautiful."
"I don't mind." He simply said and advanced towards the door. His action left Katherine somewhat at a loss, for a proper gentleman would have offered his arm to the lady to escort her outside.
"I don't have the whole day." the earl reminded her from outside the door.
With knit brows Katherine followed up. She couldn't decide if he was deliberately annoying her or it was simply the way he was.
The garden wasn't decorated in any way. For a while they just strayed between the flowers silently. Once in a while, Katherine peeked at the face of the earl discreetly.
At the dinner she didn't get the opportunity to study his face and as long as he stared at her, she would be scared stiff by his presence. Now, however, as his attention wasn't on her, she realized how handsome he was. His face wasn't rough and hard as his presence suggested, but of a strangely cold beauty. Hazel was exactly right: his eyes were the drops of blood on a snow-white field. Even his hair was white.
The longer she looked at him, the more she felt like she'd seen his face before but she couldn't remember, when. Well, maybe it's just my subconsciousness reconstructing his face by piecing together all I saw at the dinner, she shrugged it off. It had to be like this.
The earl noticed her subtle glances and worried a little bit. Even if Sams magic could change some of his features like the hair and eye color, it wasn't perfect. But, he soothed himself, up till now no one ever noticed so why should she?
Maybe she likes me, he thought and smirked. It lasted only for a second though, as he remembered that it wasn't a good thing for anyone to like him. No, it really was a bad thing. Dangerous even.
He created more distance between them by walking faster. He shouldn't have allowed her to meet him again, he really shouldn't have. Didn't he know she was trouble already? Why make it harder for both of them?
Huffing, Katherine tried to catch up with him but failed. Her face darkened. "Hey! Can you please slow down?"
The earl stopped abruptly. After all, he realized, he couldn't offend her completely. So he decisively put the blame on her. "If you're this slow, you won't see much in one hour."
"I'm not planning to see the whole garden in one hour anyway. That would be a ridiculous thought!", she explained incredulously.
By touring it yesterday she'd realized how gigantic the garden really was. It was impossible to see all of it in a day, much less an hour.
"Just a bit further. I let them set up a table there. Maybe we should bring a bunch of flowers with us to decorate it. Would you help me choose them here?"
It wasn't a spontaneous idea to select the flowers last-minute. Anni said that doing something together with him would make the conversation less awkward. Katherine thought, choosing flowers was simple enough to not be rejected by the earl.
And she was right. Letting his gaze wander over the field, the earl nodded. "I don't mind."
"Great!", she smiled. Finally a success! Because she set her eyes on the flowers right afterwards, she didn't see the short falter in the earl's movement as well as the troubled expression right afterwards.
It was the middle of spring, so the perfect time for flowers. Although Katherine didn't knew all about it, she had a light grasp on the flower-language. She didn't want to pick the ones with heavy meaning by mistake. After contemplating for a while she pointed at the orange tulips indicating fascination. "I'd like some of those. And what do you think of those?"
The second choice were chamomiles. They might not be the most pompous flowers, but they looked nice and had a good smell. Furthermore, they stood for hope and healing, two things which would come handy for her.
Seeing her so happy, the earl felt the itch to tease her again. Before knowing what he did, he shook his head. "They are so plain. Wouldn't these be better?"
With a stoic face he pointed at the daffodils next to the chamomiles.
Katherine contemplated that men normally didn't know flower language, so she shouldn't take it as affront that he choose the flower indicating egoism. Regardless, she didn't want to take it. "No, I don't really like yellow flowers. Better take the peony?"
"Didn't you want me to help you choose? If not the daffodil, we can take the columbine instead.", he retorted without a change in his cold face.
Katherine's mouth twitched. You want to tell me I'm weak? Even if she knew, he didn't know the flower language, it still made her upset. Very well, she thought. You were the one who started this!
"Of course, if you want them. But they don't fit with the tulips so well. I'll take the garden diamond then." Garden diamond to say 'I despise you'.
"They are not even blooming yet. It's the same with the gladiolus, sadly." 'Stop being so proud'.
The answer matched so good, that Katherine's eyes went wide. For chance, did he know the flower language, too?