“Oh, sorry, I’m Rhys.” He touched his chest, gesturing to himself, and turned back to Finn. “We weren’t expecting you this soon.”
“Things happen,” Finn explained noncommittally.
“I’d really love to stay and talk, but I just came home for lunch, and I’m already running late on getting back to school.” Rhys glanced around and looked at us apologetically. “Elora is down in the drawing room. You can get yourself there, right?”
Finn nodded. “I can.”
“All right. Sorry to rush out like this.” Rhys smiled sheepishly and picked up the messenger bag lying by the front door. “It was really nice meeting you, Wendy. I’m sure I’ll be seeing a lot more of you.”
Once he hurried out the door, I took a moment to take in my surroundings. The floors were marble, and a giant crystal chandelier hung above us. From where I stood, I could see the breathtaking view through the windowed back wall of the house. It was floor-to-ceiling glass, and all I could see were the tops of trees and the river plummeting below us. It was enough to give me vertigo, and I was on the other side of the house.
“Come on.” Finn walked ahead of me, turning down a decadently furnished hall, and I scampered after him.
“Who was that?” I whispered, as if the walls could hear me. They were lined with pictures, a few of which I recognized as being painted by master painters.
“Yeah, I know, but . . . is he my brother?” I asked.
“No,” Finn replied. I waited for more, but apparently that was all he would say on the subjet.
Abruptly he turned and entered a room. It was the corner of the house, so two of the walls were entirely glass. One interior wall had a fireplace, and hanging above it was the portrait of an attractive older gentleman. Books lined the other interior wall. Elegant antique furniture filled the room, and a velvet chaise lounge sat poised in front of the fireplace.
A woman sat on a stool in the corner, her back to us. Her dress was dark and flowing, just like the hair that hung down her back. A large canvas was set on the easel before her. The painting was only partially finished, but it appeared to be some kind of fire, with dark smoke filtering over broken chandeliers.
She continued painting for several minutes while we stood there. I glanced over at Finn, but he just shook his head, trying to quiet me before I voiced a complaint. His hands were clasped behind his back, and he stood rigidly straight, reminding me of a soldier.
“Elora?” Finn said cautiously, and I got the sense that she intimidated him. This was as unnerving as it was surprising. He didn’t seem like he could be intimidated by anyone.
When she turned to look at us, I forgot to breathe. She was much older than I had expected, in her fifties probably, but there was something stunningly elegant and beautiful about her, particularly her large dark eyes. In her youth she had probably been unbearably attractive. As it was, I could hardly believe that she was real.
“Finn!” Her voice was angelic and clear, and her surprise was endearing. With a graceful move, she swiftly stood up, and Finn did a small bow to her. It confused me, but I clumsily tried to copy it, and this caused her to laugh. She looked at Finn, but gestured to me. “This is her?”
“Yes. It is.” There was a hint of pride in his voice. He had brought me here, and I was starting to realize that I must have been a very special request.
When she moved, she looked even more poised and regal. The length of her skirt swirled around her feet, making it seem as if she floated rather than walked.
Once in front of me, she inspected me carefully. She seemed to disapprove of my pajamas, especially the dirt stains on my knees I had sustained during the fight, but it was the bruise on my face that caused her to purse her lips.
“Oh, my.” Her eyes widened with surprise, but her expression lacked anything resembling concern. “What happened?”
“Vittra,” Finn answered with the same contempt he had used when speaking that term before.
“Oh?” Elora raised an eyebrow. “Which ones?”
“Jen and Kyra,” Finn said.
“I see.” Elora stared off for a minute, smoothing out the nonexistent wrinkles in her dress. Sighing tiredly, she looked to Finn. “You’re sure it was only Jen and Kyra?”
“I believe so,” Finn said, thinking hard. “I didn’t see any signs of others, and they would’ve called for backup, had there been any to call. They were quite insistent on taking Wendy. Jen got violent with her.”
“I can see that.” Elora looked back at me. “Just the same, you are lovely.” She sounded almost awed by me, and I felt a blush redden my cheeks. “It’s Wendy, isn’t it?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I smiled nervously at her.
“What an ordinary name for such an extraordinary girl.” She looked displeased for a moment, and then turned to Finn. “Excellent work. You may be excused while I talk to her. Stay close by, though. I’ll call when I need you.”
Finn did another small bow before leaving the room. His level of reverence made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure how to act around her.
“I’m Elora, and I won’t expect you to call me any different. I know you still have so much to get accustomed to. I remember when I first came back.” She smiled and gave a light shake of her head. “It was a very confusing time.” I nodded, unsure what else to do as she gestured expansively to the room. “Sit. We have much to talk about.”
“Thanks.” Uncertainly, I took a seat on the edge of the sofa, afraid that if I really sat down on it I would break it or something.
Elora went to the chaise lounge, where she lay on her side, letting her dress flow around her. She propped her head up with her hand and watched me with intense fascination. Her eyes were dark and beautiful, but there was something familiar about them. They reminded me of a wild animal trapped in a cage.
“I’m not sure if Finn has explained it to you, but I am your mother,” Elora said.
It was impossible. I wanted to correct her. There must be some mistake. Nothing as stunning and elegant as that could spawn me. I was awkward and impulsive. Her hair was like silk, and as it had been pointed out to me before, my hair was like a Brillo pad. I couldn’t be related to her.
“Ah. I see he did not,” Elora said. “From your bewildered expression, I take it you don’t believe me. But let me assure you, there is no mistaking who you are. I personally chose the Everly family for you and delivered you to them myself. Finn is the best tracker we have, so there is no way you could be anyone else but my daughter.”