Jane was much older than me. You could say I was going through a phase. Older women were simply much more appealing. My mother wasn’t happy, and that only further encouraged me. Jane was two decades older, quite matronly. She doted on me as though I were a favorite nephew. We passed many evenings with wonderful conversation. Sadly, she had word that her long estranged husband, who suffered from fugue, had turned up and wanted her back. I never heard from her again. I planted the Peace Rose in her honor. And I still hope to hear of her one day.
When Elaina failed to exit Roderick Hall, Lily and Camille went straight to the Lindens’ house. They didn’t expect their friend to magically show up, but her parents needed to know.
It was full dark before the house phone began to ring. Poppy and James Linden jumped at the sound and turned to look at each other. It rarely rang, so they often forget it was even there.
“Could it be Elaina?” Poppy asked as James went to answer it.
“Well, it wouldn’t be us,” Lily said, though her poor attempt at humor fell flat and she quickly averted her eyes to the tea cup in her hands.
James wandered back into the room, the phone pressed to the side of his head, his face creased in a frown as he listened.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked, tension evident in his quiet voice. “And you’re there because you want to be? Of course I’m concerned.” He sighed and ran a hand through his too long auburn hair, nodding as he did so. “I’ll pass it on. Elaina, good luck.”
“Well?” Poppy demanded as her husband ended the call. “What did she say?”
James very gently put the phone down on the coffee table, his eyes avoiding everyone else’s. “Elaina is Robert Roderick’s newest companion.”
“Elaina?” Lily screeched. “Are you sure?”
Camille frowned. “You’re sure you heard right? She just got out of a relationship with a rich guy. Why would she jump at being the companion of the richest guy in the area?”
Lily nodded, glancing at her friend. “And she didn’t go to become his companion. She said she was going to turn down his offer.”
While they were talking, James sat down beside his wife and took her hand. “I know. Elaina knew. She said they talked and came to an agreement.”
“An agreement that means she has to stay with him?” Lily asked.
“It is hard to believe,” Camille said. “Maybe he coerced her. It’s not unreasonable, considering the twisted family she was involved with for two years.”
James shook his head. “It was her choice. He gave her the choice. All she said is they reached an agreement and, for now, she will be staying with him. She couldn’t say anything more.”
“The non-disclosure agreement,” Lily said, nodding. “I’ve run into some of the former companions and they just said they had to sign NDAs before they could start their tenure as companion.”
Poppy squeezed her husband’s hand and studied his face. “She’ll be okay.”
He nodded, glancing up at her. His face was solemn, but it was clear he trusted his daughter. Other than the two years she had naively spent with Bradley Hunter, Elaina had always been level headed and always took her time making decisions. There was no way to contact her. They had to hope their daughter knew what she was doing.