Leslie was a poor choice, but Mother forced me to pick someone. How was I to know she was only making sure her little sister stayed out of trouble, and was a lesbian?! Well, things weren’t as awkward as I thought it would be, and I would have liked to be pen pals, but Mother refused to entertain that kind of relationship. I planted the __ for her, and hope she is well.
Robert wished she wasn’t going. After having her as his constant companion for months now, not having her around was making him feel empty. She was shooting glares at him, but he couldn’t stop getting in her way. Unintentionally.
“Robert,” Elaina said, hands on hips and voice exasperated. “For goodness sake’s, it’s only three days. You must know I’m dying to see my parents and my friends again.”
“I’m going to miss you.” He didn’t mean to whine, but something about her leaving was making him feel like a petulant child. After all, women only left when they’d had enough. “You will come back, right?”
He could see her soften, and it brightened his heart. She approached and wrapped her arms around him, resting her head against his shoulder. His arms hugged her tightly, until a small squeak escaped her, followed by a soft laugh.
“Of course I will. We have a wedding to plan, and there’s no way I’m letting your mother have the reins.”
He squeezed her again, unable to voice the joy that brought him. He didn’t like that she took a step away to finish preparing for her departure, but he quickly reminded himself she’d said “wedding.” Though something gave him pause.
“Is that a proposal?” he asked.
Elaina gave him her impish grin, the one that made her eyes sparkle. It tugged an answering smile from him.
“Don’t be silly, Robert,” she playfully admonished. “Considering you must have spent much of the past eight years knowing you were going to eventually marry one of your companions, I think you must have spent some time thinking about how you would propose to her.” Her smile widened. “I’m expecting it when I return.”
His smile answered hers and he swept her an elegant bow. “Then your wish is my command.”
She lifted one brow, pausing as she pulled on her shoes, a pair of ballet flats Rose had graciously offered considering she had kicked off her own heels and left them under the dining table. As far as Robert was aware, they were still under there.
“Not a wish, Robert,” she said, a singsong lilt to her voice. “I said I’m expecting it.” She stood and slid her arm through his. “Now, I believe you’ll be escorting me to the door.”
Robert’s eyes turned serious as he reluctantly led her from her room. “I’m going to miss you.”
She squeezed his arm and leaned against him for a moment. “I’m going to miss you, too. Please don’t worry, Robert. I will be back.” She smiled up at him. “It’s only three days. I’ll be back before you know it.”
When a companion usually left Roderick Hall, she went running or storming out or simply walked out the door. Elaina, giving smiles and kisses, didn’t know anything was different when he handed her into the private car his mother had hired. Now that her son had finally found someone, Rose wasn’t taking any chances. In the backseat with Elaina was one of Rose’s most trusted security guards.
“Nigel,” Robert said when the butler approached once the car was out of sight, “where is my mother?”
“In her study.”
“I hate to do this, but could you get started on the weeding without me? I’d like to talk to her.” He turned and clapped Nigel on the shoulder. “But don’t worry. I’ll join you soon enough. With everything wilting and dying, it’s definitely a two person job.”
Nigel bowed. “Of course, Robert.”
With a quick glance back down the drive, Robert sighed and headed back inside, trying to remember it was only three days. Elaina would be back before he knew it. He hoped.
Rose was humming when he walked into her study. Her hair was still down and she was twirling a lock around her fingers. If she weren’t poring over her usual binders and piles of paperwork, he would have mistaken her for a princess in a tower, especially in her flowing blue gown. Just older.
“Mother?” Robert ventured.
Rose looked up sharply, her eyes taking a moment to focus on him. “Robert. Has Elaina gone already?”
“For three days.”
She frowned at his low, soft tone. “I could have given her a week. A month.” She shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter because, once you’re married, both of you will be free to travel to and from.”
Robert dropped heavily into a chair. “That’s one thing I don’t understand, Mother. Why have we been locked up here? Now that I know you know what really happened, I don’t get it.”
Rose shifted in her seat and slowly drew herself up. “I wasn’t lying, Robert. It was for safety reasons. People from here are not the only ones who became stuck in another world. There are many creatures and citizens from the other world that have been trapped here for the past eight years. They can’t touch the magic of the other world here, so the fear was that they would attack or, worse, coerce you into marriage so you would be able to reopen the portal.
“Elaina will be fully escorted by Marie for the next three days for her protection. By now everyone must know she’s more than just your most recent companion. What anyone will do to her, I have no idea, but my duty now is to protect her as much as you. But, when you’re married, the portal can be reopened and all the danger passes.”
Robert frowned. “And how will I know what to do? Dad’s dead.”
Rose bowed her head. “Yes, I know. I know the basics, but I’m afraid a lot of it will be up to you.” She gestured to the mass of papers filling her desk. “I’ve been going through every scrap of paper here and there’s not a single sheet of instruction. As the wife of the last Gate Keeper, I have a personal key that allows only me to travel back and forth, but I don’t know how you will do it. Your father simply made it work.”
She sighed heavily. “But that’s not what really worries me. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” She shook her head. “People have become too curious now that Elaina has been with us for so long. There’s some woman who’s been coming every few days, begging to talk to Elaina, to know Elaina is okay.” She pinned Robert with a hard gaze. “Do you know anything about that?”
Robert blinked in surprise. “Am I supposed to? Other than Elaina and all the other companions, I have no idea who’s out there any more.” He shrugged. “At least it’s not Brad.”
Rose’s lips twisted in distaste and she flicked a pen across her desk. “That was one good thing about being locked up here. Not having to mingle with that family. The gall of that woman…”
“Mother,” Robert said.
Rose pressed her lips into a thin line. “Can’t be helped. Now, I believe today is your day for weeding your garden?”
With a sigh, Robert rose. “It is. I should go help Nigel.”
“Is Elaina any good with plants?”
Robert laughed and shook his head as he left.