(Chapter One continued)
There was a time when Elaina would have done anything to live in the center of the city, away from the quite suburb she’d grown up in. Her life had been quiet and dull, though she had been comfortable. At least, until she went away to college in a major city and newfound friends had shown her everything she had missed out on during her childhood. When she moved home, living downtown had been a no-brainer.
Which was why she was surprised when no pangs of sorrow hit her as she drove away from the cold glass office building that soared into the sky, falling just short of the building that housed Roderick Enterprises. Instead, relief washed over her and the tension melted from her body with every second. Her face relaxed into a smile as the buildings spaced out and became cozy homes, and trees and bushes began to outnumber the pedestrians.
Her childhood home was neat and quaint with climbing vines, a peaked roof, and a cobblestone driveway that still threatened to rattle her teeth from her head. Her mother, an avid gardener, had transformed the front lawn into a flowering oasis full of color.
Just as she pulled her car to the side of the driveway, the blue front door sprang open and her two best friends rushed to greet her.
Diminutive and almost pixie-like with short blond hair and big blue eyes, Lily didn’t let her short legs stop her and reached Elaina first. Concern was painted across her delicate features and she closely studied her friend as she grabbed Elaina’s hands.
“Did it go okay?” Lily asked, anxiety lacing her voice.
Lily was the one who had spent the past two years pointing out everything that was wrong with Bradley, and continually warned it wasn’t fated to go well. But Elaina, lover of books and the unrealistic, had only brushed her off, her head so fogged up with happily ever afters that she refused to listen to her lifelong friend, the girl who knew her better than she did.
“Well, she’s still in one piece,” Camille pointed out as she reached them, her hands casually tucked into her pants pockets.
Tall and willowy, the one-time model towered over her friends. She and Elaina had met three years before when Elaina had started working for the magazine. Back then, she’d been almost painfully thin with long red curls and luminous green eyes. Now she sported gentle curves, a brunette bob, and her natural hazel eyes. But she still walked with a sashay Lily constantly tormented her about.
Camille tilted her head slightly, her quick eyes latching onto Elaina’s tired face. She tsked and shook her head. “Poor darling, you used up all your bravery facing him.”
Lily’s face darkened into a scowl as Camille herded them to the front door, her hand still gripping Elaina’s. “You know, this is all your fault. If you hadn’t struck up a friendship with Elaina Bradley might never have noticed her.”
“Stop,” Elaina said before the old argument could be revived. Her voice was tired and instantly shut up her friends. “It’s over and I’m out of a job. And my own home, for that matter.” As she passed over her parents’ threshold, she muttered, “Should have held out for that library job.”
As soon as the front door closed behind the three women, Elaina’s mother rushed over from the kitchen. Petite, Poppy Linden was shorter than her daughter, but her air of authority easily made up for her lack of height. She reached up to cup Elaina’s cheek, dark eyes meeting matching dark eyes.
Elaina offered her mother a small, tired smile as the older woman studied her daughter’s face. “I’m sorry, Mom.”
Surprise flashed in her mother’s eyes before she turned and led the way into the living room, home to the most comfortable and well-worn furniture Elaina knew. It had been her father’s, and every piece was older than his relationship with his wife.
“Sorry about what?” her mother asked in her brisk voice as she gathered a tray of pastries from atop a high table.
Elaina, Lily, and Camille settled themselves on the couch of faded green velvet as Mrs. Linden placed the tray on the coffee table beside glasses of ice cold lemonade. Lily had yet to release her hand and, even though it was starting to sweat in her friend’s grasp, it was too familiar and comforting for Elaina to want to pull away. Instead, her fingers curled tighter around Lily’s, who squeezed back while her eyes debated the cranberry scone and the chocolate frosted brownie.
Camille muttered a few words before leaning forward and placing both on a small plate. She thrust it at Lily, rolling her eyes at the young woman who could eat anything and everything and still never reach an even hundred pounds.
Lily stuck out her tongue, but it didn’t stop her from taking a massive bite of the brownie. Elaina smiled and relaxed, finding she had missed these exchanges the most during her ill-fated relationship.
Across the low table, Mrs. Linden’s eyes studied the three of them, her hands resting peacefully in her lap. Elaina sorely wished for the same composure, envying her mother’s hard earned quiet authority.
“I should have listened to all of you about Bradley.”
“Nonsense, dear,” her mother said dismissively. “You are young. Young people are allowed to make mistakes. Otherwise, how will you ever learn? Tell me, though, do you still think working for a magazine is your dream?”
Her mother’s words cut her to her core. Growing up, Elaina couldn’t get enough of books. She carried them everywhere, and the library’s head librarian had offered her volunteer positions throughout her high school years. Both she and Mrs. Linden had been disappointed when Elaina had taken the magazine job, but Elaina hadn’t known Penny had her working hard to make a position available to her.
Mrs. Linden saw her daughter’s flinch. “As I said, young people are allowed their mistakes.” Her eyes cut briefly to Camille, who shifted slightly next to Elaina. “As long as you learn from them.”
“Yeah, well, that hasn’t stopped the entire local population of unmarried women,” Lily said around a chunk of scone.
“Yes, well,” Mrs. Linden said briskly, “people must also hold onto hope.”