Chapter 4: Domination
“I wish you would decide whether or not you want me to speak.”
Her attack was still spoken as sweetly as her only other utterance earlier in the day. Roderick felt the embers of her words singe his ego, but remained composed. He deserved that one, after all.
“I have a very strict order for my servants, a way of flawless organization,” he began, resting his moist palms on his trouser-hidden knees. “However, I do not know anything about you, and am curious to learn more.”
Aleksia straightened at the word ‘curious’. Roderick noticed her cheeks flush.
“What do you care to hear?”
Her response was challenging, as if provoking him. However, Roderick knew his anger would only fuel her. He maintained eye contact, and answered her quickly.
“Where did you learn to speak English so well?”
“I was educated.” Aleksia hesitated after her answer, breaking eye contact momentarily.
“Please, do not tell Danjel. He does not know.”
Roderick swelled with gratification, determining he now had the upper hand. However, Aleksia did not seem to cower, nor plead further. She again head his attention steady.
“Danjel does not seem.. well educated, in any manner.” He paused to see if his insult would evoke any emotion from her. She shrugged her brows ever so slightly.
“How did such an unlikely marriage come to be?”
Roderick was prying far beyond his boundaries, and he knew it. But Aleksia was not defending them. She leaned forward, a lock of hair falling forward from behind her ears.
“Life is different in Sweden. Our women are not your English.. harlots, is the word?”
Roderick sneered at her insult to English women, and began to tap against the soft fabric of the loveseat with the tips of his anxious fingers. Aleksia now looked to the door, her eyes widening in surprise. Before Roderick could respond, a third person joined in.
“You have a letter from Mrs. Blackwood, Sir.”
It was the valet, Mr. Locke. Roderick dismissed him with a sweep of his powerful arm, gesturing his disinterest in addressing mail. Mr. Locke, quite used to Roderick’s dismissal of answering mail, had already turned to leave before the gesture was even made. Aleksia sat back in the chair now, a glint of curiosity awakening in her expression.
“I have not had the pleasure of serving your wife, Mr. Blackwood.”
Here again, her tones were afflicted by sarcasm just a degree short of being disrespectful. It seemed she knew how far she could go without being reprimanded. Roderick, however, was not biting. He was tiring of her loathsome conduct.
“Mrs. Blackwood is my mother, Mrs. Eld. If there were a missus, it would be the task of a lady’s maid to serve her, not a mere house maid.”
Hearing the insignificance of her position within the Blackwood home brought Aleksia down from her esteem quickly. Her face drained of its previously wicked vibrancy, and was now left ghastly. Roderick took this as his opportunity to instill her place here, and put an end to any future disruptions. As he learned forward once more, he held her eye contact so severely that her own began to water in grief of her defeat.
“Please ensure you know well your place here, Aleksia. Once you do, I think you will find it a wonderful place.”
Aleksia released eye contact promptly after this and stood, exiting the room quickly after the most polite nod she could muster. Her gait indicated her sour feelings towards Roderick, and although he was now free to bask in the glory of his dominance, he didn’t feel so grand. The entire conversation was petty, and to say he had won such an insignificant squabble was surely not triumph. He adjusted himself uncomfortably, his attention turning to the portrait of Alexander who, although inanimate, seemed equally disappointed.
Roderick was very close with his brother at one time. Alexander being the older, he looked up to him fervently. Alexander was brilliant, a man successful in both wealth and romantic escapades. A true rake in every sense of the word, but no one would dare speak it. For in many aspects of life, he was also kind and merciful, as any good Gentleman should be. As their parents thought he should be, and thought Roderick should be. And, eventually, how Roderick thought he should, himself, be.
Of course, the righteous paths of life were not so evident for him. Without the brilliance of Alexander to guide him, he could only decide for himself how he would embrace success. To be certain, his own success was grand in its own right, but different from Alexander’s success. Perhaps he’d forgotten the benevolence of his great brother, or the loyalty to the family’s estate and title. It was a shame in the eyes of many that Roderick confined his success to his perceived ‘freedom’ from the monotonous duties as a Blackwood son.
His parents, especially his mother, turned a nose to his success and constantly urged him to fulfill his duties as a son and Gentleman. And that is why when Roderick arose after an hour of clouded thought, he took the letter addressed with deceiving elegance and tossed it in a drawer to be forgotten. With a grand house smiling proudly on such an awe-struck community, run smoothly by obedient servants, why should Roderick long to be Alexander any longer? He had his own ideas of success, and to him, they were worthy enough.
A few days had passed since his unpleasant encounter with Aleksia, and Roderick was feeling much better. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Eld were causing him problems of any sorts, work-wise or mentally, and he’d all but forgotten the newest of his staff. Summer was coming to a lengthy close, the warmer days drawn out and unwilling to buckle to Autumn’s demands. At length, the people of Gloucester seemed to be taking advantage of Summer’s hospitality, their spirits giddy and their energy spending.
Roderick decided to take a stroll down the road, albeit stuffy beneath the many layers of clothing which assured his wealth. His walk was accompanied by many adjustments of his hat and coat, providing just a moment of air to cool him. Still, he enjoyed the quiet of the town’s outskirts, the views of his neighbors’ charming houses, and the ability to escape from the loneliness of his large house. It wasn’t until now that Aleksia’s mocking of his lack of wife began to bother him. The house seemed frighteningly solemn these days, something that the cheer and chirp of a wife could surely abolish.
As he made his way back to the house, he decided to extend his stroll to the garden. He hadn’t been in it much during the summer, but his guests (few than he’d like) assured him the flowers gave it the most heavenly scent. He smiled softly to the memories of earlier visits from friends of his, their little parties and short travels. He often thought he should send invitations more, to bring more life to the house. However, many of his friends were now married, and had business of their own to occupy them.
A gentle, soothing hum lured him from his recollections as he neared the garden. His heart slowed to the melody, his entire body relaxing and his curiosity piqued. Subconsciously, he recognized the hum, but his mind rejected the realization. Slowly he peaked around the column of the vine-embraced arch entrance, and he released an afflicted exhale.
Aleksia was gathering variety of stemmed flowers, likely to rejuvenate the vases throughout the house. She now had proper-fitting attire which, although was in no way suggestive, flattered her feminine figure. Her hair, nearly glowing golden beneath the high sun, mimicked a halo framing her content face.
Feeling improper due to his spying, Roderick hesitantly entered the archway and cleared his throat to announce his presence. Aleksia looked to him with faint surprise, but she didn’t stop her duties. She did, however, cease her humming. He now felt the ongoing tension from their bickering days before, and something within him begged to make amends. He approached slowly, adjusting his vermillion necktie consciously.
“Good afternoon, Aleksia.”
She offered a very plain smile, and a generous bow of her head, but continued to work. She now continued to hum, as if it would prevent Roderick from continuing. He was not, however, discouraged. After a few moments, he gained the courage to apologize.
“I am very sorry about my behavior before. I believe I spoke carelessly.”
His throat felt tight, and after offering his apology, he stuffed his hands into his coat pockets. Aleksia eyed his hands, before again focusing on her work.
“You apologize a lot, sir.”
Her proper form of address was not as sweet as he’d imagined it would be when he demanded it of her. Additionally, her statement stung like a wasp. She was right, and it meant he had been acting foolish. He’d been avoiding his rough behavior, and pretending he was justified in his actions. However, in four words, Aleksia made him realize what an ass he’d truly been, and not just to her. He thought now of his mother’s letter shoved in the drawer.
“I have been ill tempered, and it is inexcusable. I hope you can see me now as a friend, rather than a master.”
“Why do you meddle with that watch so much?”
Roderick was stunned by her question. She gave a nod to gesture to his right hand which was grasping his pocket watch tightly. He hadn’t even noticed he was doing it, and to be called out made it hard for him to answer. He swallowed to try to calm his tight throat, taking the watch from his pocket and examining it.
“It was my brother Alexander’s watch,”
He rubbed a thumb over the A.B engraved on the back. Aleksia stopped working when she heard his answer, pulling her basket of flowers close and searching his face apologetically.
“The portrait in the parlor is of him. A great man.”
“I’m sorry, sir. It was completely out of—“
“Roderick. I’d like to just be Roderick, to you.”
Aleksia looked confused, and Roderick nervously shoved the pocket watch back into his coat. In an effort to break the uncomfortable silence, she smiled slightly and nodded in agreement.
“If that’s what you’d like, Roderick.”
Hearing her say her name with her dulcet voice electrified him, and he abandoned his gentlemanly demeanor to one more amicable.
“It’s just right. I mean to say, ‘sir’ does not sound.. it’s not right..” He found the courage to look into her face again, and he found she was much more receptive now than days before. It encouraged him, and in one look he found more inspiration than he’d ever hoped to feel before.
“Not from you.”
Perhaps it was the heat of the afternoon sun, but Roderick swore he caught Aleksia’s cheeks flush. She looked away and began to pick flowers again, leaving him longing for her to speak again. In an emotional rush, he reached out and grabbed her cheek. She jumped, and instinctively grabbed his hand, looking into his eyes with an uncertain fear. But she was calmed by the way he looked back, his expression gentle and his eyes inviting.
Time seemed to be lost, but in reality only a few seconds passed before he removed his hand and turned to leave. He felt wired from the emotional strings Aleksia had plucked, her docile demeanor dominating his rugged individuality. Never before had he touched a woman’s face in a setting other than his bed, and never before had it any meaning. He clenched that hand as if it had been shocked, the same hand he used to caress his brother’s watch.
He entered the house in a burst as if he were suffocating and passing through the doors would relieve him of his grief. He startled a house maid in the process, and the force of the doors swung open nearly shook a painting from its place.
He was now entirely sure what he felt for Aleksia was far beyond irritation or concern, and beyond that wildly inappropriate. He was clearly enamored by a house maid, a married one at that. The shame for his feelings only fueled its fire, however. It should have been no wonder; Roderick never wanted a boring, simple life, neither in business nor relationships. Perhaps his only attraction to her was that she was forbidden, or perhaps there was more.
Either way, he came to realize hiring Danjel and Aleksia was a mistake, one which needed to be rectified immediately.
However, more pressing matters delayed his determination.
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