Alina Lehrer shook off the unbidden memory. Everything’s okay. I’m safe here. She took a deep breath, then moved her gaze slowly around the living room of her townhome condo in Chicago’s Oakland neighborhood. From her viewpoint on the white leather sofa, everything seemed to be in its proper place.
The impressionist painting behind her hung high on the light gray wall with its bold blues and greens practically jumping out of the frame. It made a pleasing focal point, bringing together all the colors in the room. Her potted white orchid stood tall and delicate in the corner next to the pale blue armchair. She paused to close her eyes and inhale its sweet fragrance. Feeling a bit calmer. Next, she settled her gaze on the vase of fresh-cut flowers placed perfectly in the middle of her reclaimed wood coffee table, centered in front of her sofa. Perhaps it was indulgent, but buying fresh-cut flowers from the nearby farmers’ market was her weekend guilty pleasure. A slender blue and white lamp, topped with a shallow, drum-shaped white lampshade, sat in the middle of the square, marble-topped end table. Her gray oak floor gleamed from a recent polishing.
Everything was in order—better than usual—since she’d been cleaning non-stop since the incident. Why did she care so much about having everything in its place? When everything else goes to shit, you need an anchor, something stable, reliable. Home was that place for her.
She held great pride in the home she made for herself. It represented her hard-won independence. Five years ago, living here had been a pipe dream. For the first time in her life, she’d gone against her parents’ wishes. She’d rejected an arranged marriage to Dr. David Laurent, who, ironically, became co-owner and in-house psychologist at her self-improvement business, Vibrant Life Incorporated. Her lips curled into a proud smile. I accomplished so much by deviating from the planned path. Except— Her smile vanished. Finding romantic love. And, you know, restoring my family’s heritage.
But things were on the brink of change. Not the chance for romantic love. She sighed. It was about restoring her family’s heritage. The elegant book in her hands could be the key. She already knew it confirmed her lineage. What else might it contain? Yet, she hesitated. After everything she’d been through—literally staring down death and surviving—and she cowered now, at the sight of a mere book. She couldn’t even work up the courage to open it. All these years. Hiding in the shadows. Her shoulders drooped. I cannot fail. Not when I’m so close. The uncertainty of not knowing seemed preferable to chancing another disappointment, especially when there was so much hope riding on her, on this, the first new lead in ages.
Hope was a dangerous thing. For many years her family, the rightful heirs to the fairy monarchy, had clung to the hope of regaining their stolen crown. She had grown up on these stories, fairy tales if you will, first, as bedtime stories. Then as history lessons at fairy school. Regardless of location, the story remained the same. The Delafontaines had been betrayed. She would never admit it to her family, but she sometimes wondered if they had deserved it. With the way they were treated, the wizard rebellion made sense. Perhaps her family had mistreated the Bauers in the same manner. Power had a way of corrupting. She would never know for certain. The last of the Bauers was—she gulped—dead. Unless you counted the old woman’s daughter, but she didn’t seem to want anything to do with the monarchy. It had stolen as much from her as it had Alina.
Hope. Her lips curled in disgust. She could see it shining in her mother’s eyes. Except hope wasn’t the right word. Hope suggested possibility. Even without proof, her mother had stubbornly held onto the dream, like it was the most important thing to her, never doubting she’d see it come to fruition. Yet, the realm of possibility hadn’t even been a remote factor until—