Queen of the Garden of Girls, Part 60

Chapter Twenty-Two, continued

“Elaina,” Lily called out, breaking the happy chatter filling the room while Marie ghosted from corner to window, ever observant.

Still smiling, Elaina turned to her friend. Lily faltered. Elaina was so happy. She was about to become engaged to the shut-in, but, if she was ready and willing to return, he couldn’t be that bad. Or could he? After all, he’d dressed her up in a ballgown.

“Are you happy with Robert?” she asked instead, earning a quick jab and questioning wide-eyed stare from Camille.

Elaina’s features softened. “I am, Lily. He’s sweet and funny.” A dreamy smile lit up her face. “The first day I was there, he presented the most amazing library I’ve ever seen and didn’t complain once when that was the only place I wanted to be. He’s a little socially awkward, but very honest. We’ve had a lot of fun together.”

“Even though you were forced to stay?”

“I wasn’t forced to stay,” Elaina said, not meeting anyone’s eyes as she moved to sit. “Robert had a proposition, one I couldn’t turn down. We made an agreement, and I stayed. And fell in love.”

“What kind of proposition?” James thundered.

“Not a bad one, Dad,” Elaina said. She shook her head. “I’m bound by an NDA to not reveal anything. At least, not yet. But it would benefit both of us, so I couldn’t turn it down.” She lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Besides, it’s not like I had anything waiting for me. No boyfriend. No job. Not even an interview.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Poppy said as she sat beside her daughter and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “We’re just glad you’re back. There’s a lot we don’t know and understand, but I don’t want to waste the three days you have with us. Now, is changing out of this thing an option?”

Elaina laughed. “For some reason, this is what Robert’s mother dresses all of the companions in. I only wore it home because I didn’t have any other clothes. Rose offered to call in Clarice, the seamstress, to make a few normal dresses for me, but that would have just delayed my homecoming. I am, actually, looking forward to seeing my own closet again.”

Camille was squeezing her arm, seemingly sending a Morse code to her, but Lily had never learned Morse code. Still, she was sure she could guess what Camille was trying to tell her.

Lily took a deep, noisy breath, drawing everyone’s attention, even Marie’s raptor gaze. “I’m afraid we might not have the time.”

“What do you mean?” Elaina asked, frowning.

Lily sat down and patted the cushion next to her. With narrowed eyes, Elaina shuffled over, effortlessly sweeping her gown around her while her mother went over to her father. Camille sat on Elaina’s other side, letting her parents whisper quietly to each other, unreadable but serious expressions on their faces as they traded nervous glances with Lily and Camille.

With a deep breath, Lily took hold of Elaina’s hand.

“Uh-oh,” Elaina said, raising a brow. “This must be serious.”

“It is,” Lily said gravely. “Are you truly happy with Robert? At Roderick Hall?”

“Yes. Of course I am. In three days I’ll be heading back and he’s been ordered to make the promised proposal to me. Once we’re married, Roderick Hall will open again and we’ll no longer need to stay cooped up there. Lily, what’s going on? You’re never this serious.”

“Elaina, I’m afraid Brad isn’t out of the picture.”

Elaina blinked. “Are you crazy? Of course he is! I never want to see him again.” She smiled. “Though I’m sure it’ll put him in a right tizzy when word gets out I’m marrying the wealthiest bachelor around instead of the second wealthiest.” Her smile vanished. “Not that I care, but I know he and his snake of a mother do.”

“Brad hates that you dumped him. More, he hates that you’re Robert’s companion. The fact that you’ve spent more time as his companion than any other woman has infuriated him.”

“Lily,” Elaina whispered, her eyes growing wide. “What are you telling me?”

“Roderick Hall is in danger,” Poppy burst out.

Lily nodded, tightening her grip around Elaina’s hand to draw her attention back. “It’s true. Camille and I were there. Brad is rallying as many former companions and hopeful companions as he can. They’re planning on storming the Hall. We don’t know when, but he’s definitely gearing up for something soon.”

“Have you notified the Hall?” Elaina asked.

Lily shot a glare over Elaina’s shoulder at Marie, who was speaking quietly through her earpiece. “I tried. They wouldn’t hear me out.”

“Roderick Hall is perfectly safe,” Marie said stiffly. “Whatever this man has planned, it won’t breach security.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Lily shot back. “You don’t know Brad.”

Elaina gripped Lily’s hand. “Are you sure?”

Lily’s face softened and she nodded. “We haven’t been able to get a message through to you, so we’ve been rounding up as much information and as many rumors as we can. It definitely sounds like he’s planning something, and it won’t be small.”

Elaina turned to Marie, who shook her head and gave the tiniest of shrugs. She squeezed Lily’s hand again. “Thank you, Lily, for always watching out for me. But I do have to put my trust in Rose’s security team.

Lily nodded solemnly, though her eyes were still troubled. “Of course. I’m just glad I got the chance to let you know.” She shot a glare over at Marie, who was no longer looking in their direction. “Finally.”

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