Chapter Twenty-Two, continued
Lily couldn’t help it; she had too much nervous, anxious energy to burn to not prowl around Poppy’s front garden.
“It’s like a fortress,” Lily exclaimed, waving her hands. “They didn’t even want to hear that trouble is brewing and it involves the Hall.”
Poppy looked up at her, the sparkle she usually had while gardening completely absent from her eyes. “Lily, you did your best. We either have to hope Roderick Hall is better protected than we think and they already know or that Brad will lose steam. And hope my little girl is okay.”
Lily shook her head vehemently. “I can’t just sit and wait. It’s making me nervous.”
“We can tell,” Camille called out, popping her head up from over a bush she was trimming. “But Poppy is right. We’ve tried. We can’t do anything else.”
“I just wish we could talk to Elaina. She’s been gone for months!” Lily flopped down onto a patch of green lawn just as a black car pulled into the driveway. “You expecting anyone?”
“No,” Poppy said slowly, rising and pulling her gloves off. “James is tinkering around in the house. He didn’t mention anything about company.”
As the car pulled to a stop, Camille joined Lily and Poppy. All three women stared at it, one with cautious hope, one with curiosity, one with apprehension.
It seemed to take forever for the back door to open. A large woman in a black suit emerged and looked over the three women. Her facial features didn’t change, but she did mutter something before turning and holding out a hand to someone else in the car.
“Thank you,” Elaina’s voice called as the suited woman helped her out. “This dress is so cumbersome.”
The woman finally cracked a tiny, almost nonexistent smile. “Not a problem, Miss Elaina.”
Poppy’s hand blindly reached out and grabbed onto Lily’s wrist as a voluminous sapphire skirt swung out of the car. Lily quickly wrapped her free hand around Poppy’s, giving it a tight, excited squeeze. She could feel the coiled tension in Poppy’s body, but the woman accompanying Elaina didn’t look like she’d welcome anyone swarming over her charge, though Lily was oddly relieved to not recognize the woman.
Elaina popped out of the car with a soft sigh that quickly turned to squeals of delight right before she pelted over and threw her arms around her mother’s neck. The large skirt of her ballgown forced Lily and Camille back a couple of steps, but Lily was glad to share a relieved look with Camille over the mother and daughter.
“Are you back?” Poppy asked, pulling away to look over her daughter as only a mother would.
“I have three days,” Elaina said, her own eyes studying her mother.
“Three days?” Lily burst out. “That’s it? And then you’re going back?”
Elaina pulled away from her mother to tightly hug Lily. “I’ve missed you, Lily.”
“She’s right, you know,” came Camille’s calm voice.
“Thank you, Camille!” Lily burst out, pulling away and planting her hands on her hips. “What gives, Elaina? You’re gone for months. Months! And now you show up to say you’re only here for three days? And then what? Do you go back and we hope there will be another time we’ll get to see you for three days? Or maybe it’ll be two. There are an awful lot of rumors about Rose Roderick going around and none of them are kind.”
Elaina sighed. “I’m sorry, Lily. I know you deserve an explanation. Could we just not do this in the driveway?” She waved over towards the woman in black. “This is Marie. She’s my security guard.”
Lily’s eyes narrowed. “Security guard or jailer?”
Her eyes turning serious, Elaina linked her arms with Lily and Poppy, leaving Camille and Marie to trail after them. Lily couldn’t help but feel a little petulant, and more than a little upset about how blase Elaina was acting, but she was also curious. More than a little curious. And worried. Was Elaina back because her warning had somehow reaching inside the Hall?
“Guard and friend,” Elaina said as they entered the house. “After all the trouble Robert and I put to her, and how patient she was with us all the time, she deserves to be called friend.”
“Protector,” Marie piped up as she prowled around the living room, examining the windows and gardens for as far as she could see before drawing the drapes. “Mrs. Roderick has put Elaina’s care in my hands and I intend on ensuring she makes it back to Roderick Hall in one piece.”
Elaina nodded as Lily turned to her and burst out, “Explanation, Elaina. Now.”
“Of course. Well, the short story is I’m to be the next Mrs. Roderick.” She shook her head. “There’s quite a story behind it, but Rose, for many very good reasons, is wary of letting it out of the Hall. Suffice it to say, it is safer for her and Robert and, now, me at Roderick Hall. At least, until Robert and I are married.”
“You’re engaged,” Poppy said, almost on a sigh.
“Well, not yet, Mom. I’ve told Robert I’m expecting a proposal when I return.”
“But what’s with this three day business?” Lily demanded.
“I’m not lying, Lily. It is currently quite dangerous for me to be out of the Hall considering I’m to be Robert’s bride, which, considering how long I was there for, is probably known by everyone by now. Rose was very kind to give me leave for three days.” Elaina’s eyes flicked over to Marie. “Under an eagle eye, of course.”
“Of course,” Marie repeated. “There’s a man. An older man coming up to the house.”
“That’ll be James,” Poppy said, popping up. “My husband. I was wondering where he’d gotten off to.”
The door to the backyard opened and slammed shut, permitting a soft whistle alongside heavy steps. Marie took three long strides towards the sound while Poppy scurried after her. Lily glanced over at Elaina, who only stood and smoothed down the front of her voluminous gown.
“Woah! Who are you?”
“Marie. Who are you?”
“What? I own this house. Who are you? Poppy, what’s going on?”
Marie turned to Poppy, her stern expression completely unchanged. “Is this your husband?”
Poppy offered her husband a feeble smile. “Yes. This is James, Elaina’s father.”
Marie looked him up and down, taking in the dirt stains on his pants and one side of his shirt. He held a pair of scissors in one hand and a handful of bright crocuses. With a curt nod, though, she turned and let him pass.
James eyed her as he edged past before planting a kiss on Poppy’s cheek. But his eyes quickly lighted on Elaina, who rushed over for a hug.
“Really? You’re back?”
“Well, not for long, Dad,” Elaina said, pulling away. “I’m only here for three days.”
“Three days! That’s not long. Are you still a prisoner there?”
“Not a prisoner, Dad,” Elaina said, somewhat pointedly. “Robert and I are planning on getting engaged soon and Rose agreed it’s been far too long since I’ve seen my family and friends. She let me out for three days, but then I need to return for my protection and to start planning the wedding.”
James put a hand to his head, the one with the flowers. Lily quickly nipped forward and grabbed the shears from his hands, though neither father nor daughter noticed her. She stepped back to Camille and handed the scissors over for Camille to set them on a table.
“Wedding? My little girl’s getting married?” A grin split his face. “And not to Brad, thank goodness!”
That sent a bolt through Lily and she latched onto Camille’s arm. But Camille had also gone rigid and, as their eyes met, they knew they had no choice. No matter how much the Linden family deserved a happy albeit short family reunion, they had more pressing matters.