A Cradle of Wolves

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Chapter Eight: Charades.

The first thing Theo did when he woke up at his usual hour at six in the morning was check his email, hoping the list of investors had increased. He opened his inbox and scrolled down through all the emails. With a smile, he saw that most of the emails that occupied his inbox were indeed from prospective investors that were interested in Theo’s charity. However, one name stuck out from the rest: Jennifer Edmunds.

With a raised brow, Theo clicked on her corresponding email. In her message she expressed interested in his charity and wished to see him later that day. Theo replied in utter assent to her wishes. It hadn’t been five minutes later when she messaged back with a time and the address of her home. The message read: “12:30pm at 95 Providence Road. See you later?”

Theo smiled as he wrote back. “My presence there is already assured. See you then.” He set his phone down on his nightstand and got out of bed with enthusiasm. After he drew the curtains aside, letting the golden light of the morning sun in, he went to take a shower.

As he was putting on his finishing touches to today’s outfit, he became distracted by the ringing bell. “Coming! Coming!” he yelled as he came running down the stairs, annoyed at the incessant ringing. He opened the door; to his surprise it was Cristina and Tobias. They never rang the doorbell in such rude fashion before, so Theo instantly assumed that they were bringing him terrible news of some sort. “What happened?”

“Did you check your business email?” asked Tobias with a stressed edge to his voice.

“Yes, I did.” Theo gazed at his two visitors with a dazed expression. He invited them in before he closed the door behind them. “Was there something I missed? I checked my email today as thoroughly as usual.” Since Tobias was his personal assistant it was his job to check Theo’s business email just in case if Theo was too preoccupied with other things. If something went amiss in that inbox it definitely wouldn’t be Theo’s fault.

“Jennifer Edmunds wishes to see you and on top of that she also put in a considerable amount of money into the charity,” continued Tobias. He took a seat on one of the dining table’s seats. “Can you believe that? The daughter of Constance Edmunds helping out in the name of good will! What is this world coming to?”

“Don’t be so naïve, Tobias,” retorted Theo with a chuckle. He offered his guests coffee but when they kindly declined his offer, he recommenced his part in the conversation. “That girl is up to something. I have this strange feeling about it.”

Cristina broke her silence. “Perhaps she has the same feeling that you’re up to something as well. Even Tobias said it; she is Constance’s daughter after all. Like mother like daughter, goes the saying.”

“She can plan all she wants but she won’t get far.” Theo spoke sternly. He fixed his shirt’s leather collar and smiled wickedly yet handsomely at the thought of his enemies trying to take him down but failing in the process. “She invited me over and I’m going to take her invitation as an opportunity to infiltrate the estate.”

“Chances are they know who you are.” Tobias was more concerned than Theo on the matter.

“Obviously they know. They’re the ones that left me this mark,” he said as he ran a finger over the white scar on his cheek. “Everyone is oblivious to the fact that I was the one shamed on that Christmas except for the Edmunds.”

Cristina was taken aback by Theo’s rash comportment. It began to worry her a great deal. She met his steely gaze. “Just be careful. Who knows what Julian and Constance have waiting for you.”

Theo rolled his eyes and sighed. Their constant nagging was beginning to get tiresome. First, they didn’t want any innocents to get harmed and now they don’t want anything to happen to him. What was he supposed to do? Jennifer was considered an innocent but now she was involving herself in a battle that doesn’t pertain to her. Clearly, she’s not so innocent anymore. “Constance and Julian aren’t going to do anything to me. Tobias,” he began, “You’re a technological whiz, am I right?”

Tobias nodded but wondered where the question was coming from.

“I want you to take my phone and make it into some sort of conduit for a hack. Maybe through the Wi-Fi at the estate you can hack through their surveillance system. Can you do that?”

Tobias’s eyes widened behind his glasses. What Theo was asking of him was a great feat that he hadn’t mastered yet. “Well, I can try.”

“You better.”

Cristina shook her head. She was wholly baffled by what Theo had in mind. “Now you’re planning on spying on these people 24/7?”

“No, Cristina. I’m simply getting things done,” Theo curtly retorted. “We spent a year getting ready and planning. It’s time we get this over with,” then he spoke directly to Tobias, “What I want is for you to go through any discussions on camera that Julian and Constance might have had some time before Christmas. What they did to me took some planning and I want the footage of that,” he turned to gaze at Cristina, who had gotten pale from concern, “Does Constance have a diary of some sort?”

“Yes, she has a diary for every year,” Cristina put a hand on her hip. She gave Theo a look that demanded for answers, “Don’t tell me you’re going to steal one of her diaries.”

Theo nodded, unabashed at his intention. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to steal the diary that pertains to the year that she framed you, specifically speaking.”

Cristina and Tobias exchanged fretful glances. They thought Theo was crazy!

Tobias gulped nervously. “If I do manage to hack into their surveillance system, you’ll want me to delete the footage of you stealing that diary, correct?” he asked apprehensively. Beads of sweat began to glisten on his bald ebony forehead.

Theo smiled at Tobias. I’m glad he’s catching on, he thought.

Cristina took the black rosary that hung around her neck. She handed it to Theo and closed his fingers over the rosary, pressing them tightly around it. “Please I beg you that after this you’re not going to do anything crazy again.”

Why should I take orders from someone who I feel is lying to me about her past, Theo wanted to say but couldn’t. A part of him felt that she was being honest to him one hundred percent, but doubt lingered within him. Not only did he want Constance’s diary to help Cristina, but he also wanted to confirm who she really is. Sometimes Theo wondered if she really was Mr. Clearwater’s first wife and not just some lunatic using him as a tool for mindless vengeance. Yet just as he doubted her, she also doubted him as well. At times Cristina wondered if Theo really was capable of going forward with their plan in a safe, calculating manner.

Theo accepted the rosary and wore it under his fitted button-up shirt. They had nothing more to say to the determined young man after Cristina and Tobias spilled their concerns. They left him alone and hoped for the best in his wild excursion. One thing they failed to understand was that Theo wasn’t only going to the Clearwater estate to do what he had in mind but to also see Benjamin and Marie Edmunds—the two kindest people he had ever met besides Helen.

The sun was at its highest when Theo arrived at the Clearwater estate. He glanced at his clock and saw that it was 11:55am as he stood on the very steps where he was humiliated and thrown out. Now he stood there as a reinvented young man of society instead of a pauper. He faced the two double doors with their silver knockers. He decided not to knock or ring the doorbell yet. It was only 11:57am. He turned to gaze at the blue sky ahead and the green fields that surrounded the suburbs.

A hawk bayed in the sky before it swooped down to catch a mouse in the fields. The hawk flew away with half of the mouse’s body while the other half fell back to the ground. There it would decompose and provide nutrients for the soil. The hawk, intent in his own survival and natural greed, scooped that mouse for itself only for it to be ironically cut in half by its beak. The other half would now supply the soil just as much as the other half would supply the hawk. Predators hunt their prey, a most tragic event indeed, but sometimes they unknowingly contribute to the natural order of things by supplying others unintentionally. The night of his humiliation was a similar event. The Edmunds had only torn him Theo half, but the other half that remained supplied him with the motivation to transcend.

The time was 11:59am. Theo averted his eyes from any distractions and musings that the natural world provided. It was going to be 12:00pm in less than thirty seconds. He rang the doorbell once. Instantly the two doors opened to a recognizable broad foyer that was filled with the aroma of flowers. Orlando widened his eyes in shock when he realized that it was Hunter who had rung the bell.

Theo smiled and stepped inside. His icy eyes met Orlando’s. “My name is Theo von Draken and I’m here at Miss Edmunds’ behest.”

“I…. I…. I’ll go tell her that you’re here. In the meanwhile, make yourself at home,” Orlando had said with a wavering voice. The two of them turned towards the living room at the very moment when Amy was walking out with an empty silver platter, which she almost dropped when she laid eyes on Theo.

Theo shot the girl a condescending look that made her hurry away from his sight as if she had seen a ghost. The butler opened the two French doors of the living room to let Theo step inside and closed them when the young man proceeded inward. Theo was hoping to have the living room all for himself for at least a minute while Jennifer came to greet him, but he found himself a pleasant surprise waiting for him.

“Aren’t you looking nice? Did you get your blazer from the swap-meet?” remarked a spiteful woman who sat in the middle of the brown leather couch that faced the entrance. She bore a detestable expression while her eyes burned with fury.

“No, I did not but I see that’s where you got your manners and hospitality from.” Theo made himself at home and sat on the couch on the opposite side, facing her.

On the table in the middle of the room was set a pitcher of tea and two empty cups with a small plate of stacked sandwiches. Constance grabbed the pitcher and poured a cup of tea for the guest of the estate.

Theo pressed his lips tightly before he chuckled. “Thank you but I don’t drink the cheap kind.”

Constance looked up at him, flaring her nostrils. She clenched her teeth together as she held the cup of tea next to her lips. She was about to speak when the living room door opened. Jennifer stepped in, attired in equestrian fashion and smiling in utter joy. Her round cheeks flushed with excitement while her brown pig-tails bounced up and down with each step.

“I see you’ve met my mother already,” observed the girl who spoke with complete bliss.

“Yes, she’s a delight,” replied Theo with a smile but without taking his scornful gaze away from Constance as he sat across from her.

Constance took a quick sip of tea before she spoke. “Jennifer, honey, are you sure your guest wants to ride the horses?”

“Oh, I don’t mind at all.” Theo smiled at Jennifer, assuring her that whatever they were going to do was not going to bore him.

“There you have it mother! Theo von Draken wants to go riding with me.” Jennifer held her gloved hand out and Theo took it. The two of them departed from the living room, leaving Constance alone with her reeling thoughts and boiling rage.

The door that connected the living room with the music room opened; Julian stepped in. His white teeth shined brightly when he smiled as he looked at his sister astutely. He knew what she was thinking and dared to answer her burning questions. “Theo von Draken literally sat in front of you, smiled, and got away with it!” He picked up a sandwich and threw it in his mouth. He wiped away the rogue bread crumbs that had taken refuge in his beard after he devoured the sandwich.

“They’re going horse-back riding,” Constance said to herself before she pleadingly looked up at Julian. “If you really know what I’m thinking you wouldn’t be here right now. You’d be getting a rifle instead!”

Julian didn’t need to be told twice about what he had to do. He hurried upstairs to the study where Mr. Clearwater kept all of the firearms in a safe. Only Constance and Mr. Clearwater knew the combination—that was until she shared the combination with her brother of course.

Theo had never been out in the backyard of the Clearwater estate until now. He really never had a chance to go out there when he worked at the estate not only because he was supposed to be with Marie Edmunds all the time but also because he found no incentive to be out in the endless back of the estate. The word ‘backyard’ was clearly an understatement. It always seemed like Mr. Clearwater owned a few acres of land because Theo barely saw the white fence in the distance that separated the tycoon’s territory from another’s. In reality, the man owned many, many acres of land.

Theo followed Jennifer down the steps. When they arrived at the bottom they stood in front of a long, broad pool. Beyond in the far distance Theo saw the stables and an extensive forest beyond it.

“Maybe one of these days you can come over for a swim,” Jennifer spoke. She turned towards Theo with a coquettish smile.

Yea so Constance can drown me or attempt to do so, thought Theo with an edge of dark humor. “I would love to,” he replied with a warm smile.

They walked around the calm pool as they headed towards a long building made out of brick with a tiled roof: the stables. The closer they got the stench became rustic. Theo wished they had stayed somewhere away from the stables. Having a picnic under a pine tree at the edge of the property sounded like a much better idea. Theo missed the smell of damp grass and pines they left behind on their way to the stables. Those delectable aromas were now overtaken by the scent of horse shit. Theo wrinkled his nose but managed to keep a smile.

Jennifer held his hand lovingly as she opened the door to the stables with her other free hand. The horses neighed at her presence while the pigeons that rested on the wooden beams above flew away through the open windows.

“Hey Jennifer,” greeted Benjamin, who stood in front of a pile of hay with a rake in hand. It was a quick greeting, so he didn’t notice who stood behind her. He went back stabbing the pile of hay without another thought.

“Get Thunder and Bolt ready for me, please,” Jennifer commanded airily.

The flash of extremely new and lavish clothes followed with the sensual odor of a fine perfume made Benjamin finally look at Jennifer’s guest. He dropped his rake and stood somewhat paralyzed when he noticed that it was none other than Hunter, who was now a completely changed man, that stood next to the girl. Benjamin discerned with a furrowed brow that Hunter’s eyes no longer bore kindness but a sense of retribution. Hunter, in his guise of Theo von Draken glowed portentously and enigmatically like an eclipse. There was something dark about it him and it made Benjamin shudder.

“Oh, and by the way meet my friend Theo von Draken,” included Jennifer. “I think he’s going to be riding Bolt.”

Benjamin wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “Bolt? Isn’t that a bit dangerous?”

“Did I ask you to question me?” she rejoined brusquely.

Theo flashed a quick glare at the girl. He didn’t like the tone she had with Benjamin. “What’s wrong with Bolt?”

Jennifer waved the matter away and followed Benjamin, who was taking the two horses outside by their leather halters. “Bolt acts up whenever he hears a loud noise like thunder.”

“Luckily there aren’t any clouds in the sky,” Theo said with a small laugh. The horse he was designated to ride was a muscular white stallion with a shining black mane. Muscles bulged from every corner on the horse’s body. He sure looked menacing and even more, Theo thought he saw a scowl coming from the horse’s sharp black eyes. I don’t think he likes me that much to begin with.

The horse Jennifer was on was nicer than Theo’s. For one, he didn’t give Jennifer attitude. Secondly, it wasn’t bulging with muscles. Despite the menacing vibe that Bolt emitted, Theo and Jennifer strode through the property on their horses quite peacefully. At first Theo and Jennifer didn’t speak much so they rode in awkward silence.

Theo glanced up at the sky and exhaled. “It’s a beautiful day,” he began with the most generic of topics: the weather. It was truly a beautiful day though. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was at its highest but since it was winter, it wasn’t warming much.

“I agree,” Jennifer replied. She made her horse turn towards Theo so she could face him as she spoke. “I invited you over not to only talk about business but also about a matter that is of great importance to me.”

Theo raised a brow and leaned forward. He was all ears.

“This girl in my sorority, Mary Beth, is super awful. She’s marrying the hottest and richest guy in all of Old Willow and she’s always rubbing it in my face,” she proceeded. Her tone changed drastically when she spoke of this Mary Beth—it was filled with discord. “I want to beat her.”

Theo acted like he was invested in the conversation when he really wasn’t. He gave a her a supportive look of concern, beckoning her to continue. “How are you going to manage that? Sabotage her wedding or something?”

Jennifer shook her and smiled triumphantly. “Nope. Since you’re all the rage thanks to yesterday, I want to marry you. Or at least get engaged. I want Mary Beth to die of jealousy because my husband is richer and hotter than her husband.”

Theo had never thought he would come across someone so vain but here he was riding a horse with the Queen of Ineffectuality. All she wanted to do was make her sorority sister feel jealous? And for that very reason she wanted to marry her worst enemy? All of this was just a front, a charade. Her real motive was hidden behind her ridiculous jealous façade. Theo knew what she really wanted. She wants me close to her so she can beat me in my own game, he chuckled inwardly, as if she’s ever going to beat me.

“I’ll help you. But it will come with a price,” Theo finally spoke.

Jennifer widened her eyes in utter satisfaction. The fool accepted the proposal just like that! “Name your price.”

“You put in a considerable amount of money into my charity. I wish that you do so until we are engaged,” continued Theo. It was a good way of draining her economically. Draining her economically meant hurting the Edmunds since it was obvious that Jennifer was living off of her hefty million-dollar allowance.

They shook hands to seal the deal. The two of them continued riding their horses, each with a smile dancing on their lips. Theo was one step closer into achieving his ultimate goal while Jennifer was barely beginning her pursuit in bringing him to the murderous hands of Constance and Julian.

Suddenly a loud bang resonated through the still air as they headed back towards the stables. Its echo was even worse since the same bang echoed ten times just as loud in the flat landscape. Bolt, the horse that Theo was riding, became frenzied from the sudden sound. It leapt here and there while Theo held onto the saddle.

“Oh my god!” cried Jennifer as she backed away with her horse. “Bolt, stop that!”

Bolt ceased his frenzy but when he stopped, he stood on his two hind legs and threw Theo off his saddle. Theo landed in a puddle of mud on the ground with a crashing splash.

Jennifer got down from her horse and hurried to the puddle where Theo lay in. He was completely covered from head to toe in mud. “We have to go back to the stables and get you washed.”

Theo got up and wiped some of the mud off his face. His blazer was definitely ruined but at least everything else wasn’t. He followed Jennifer back to the stables where they were greeted by Benjamin’s shocked exclamations.

“I told you riding Bolt wasn’t going to be a good idea!” began Benjamin, throwing his rake aside and hurrying to see if Hunter was okay.

Theo shrugged. He smiled underneath all the mud. “It was thrilling at least.”

“A car probably backfired, or a hunter is practicing his aim. After all open season is around the corner,” assured Jennifer even though she sincerely doubted a car would backfire that loudly. When the boys said nothing in return to her assumption she smiled and ignored the matter completely. “Give me your clothes and I’ll tell Amy to put them in the washer and dryer. You don’t mind if you stay at the estate for an extra hour or two?”

Theo took everything off, including his underwear behind a small door in the shower room that was reserved for any worker in the patio. Jennifer’s eyes wandered over the door that covered him from the waist down. She held her hand out and took his clothes, all the meanwhile having a hard time keeping her eyes off of him.

Benjamin looked once, but rather quickly. “I think he’s my size. So, can you tell Amy to bring me a shirt and some shorts.” His cheeks flushed with color for some odd reason once Jennifer was gone. Perhaps it had gotten a bit hot?

The water from the small shower head ran down Theo’s body, washing away the mud that was clinging onto his chiseled chest and abs. Outside the door, Benjamin waited for Amy to come with some spare clothes for the naked perfection on the other side of the door.

“I have my own place and everything,” Theo started after he shut the water off. He stood on the other side, leaning towards Benjamin with his arms resting on top of the small door that came down to his waist. “And I want you to come live with me. You won’t have to do anything laborious. You’re pretty much going to be taking a vacation for a while until I get you a job at my office, which I’m about to open soon.”

Benjamin was taken aback by Theo’s abrupt proposal. He looked about, unsure of what to answer to such a kind gesture.

“Please. Nothing good awaits you here. I’m sure you’re with Amy still, a girl whom you do not love. This family treats you like shit most of the time probably. Overall you’re not living your life to the fullest.” Theo took Benjamin’s hands in his, holding them imploringly. “I’ve been so lonely ever since the last day I saw you. I’ve missed you and Marie Edmunds and…” Helen, he wanted to say but couldn’t because the mention of her could potentially scare Benjamin away from accepting his proposal. Theo was sure that Benjamin wanted to feel like a first priority and not a second choice.

Benjamin took his hands back from Theo’s soothing grasp. “If you have someone else living with you then you don’t have to inconvenience them with my presence.”

Theo shook his head. “No, it’s not like that. It’s complicated. I’m looking for someone that meant quite a lot to me and I haven’t found her yet. There’s enough room for her and you in my house, I promise. Just please come with me.”

Benjamin averted his light blues eyes away from Theo. “You don’t get it. I grew up here and when my grandpa died Mr. Clearwater was kind enough to hire a nanny to take care of me. Constance has been nothing but nice to me. I wasn’t raised as a servant; I was raised as part of the family.” He turned his back on Theo and sighed quietly so Theo wouldn’t hear the despair that came with his exhalation. He really did want to accept Theo’s proposal, but he was attached to the Edmunds…

Theo gulped nervously, afraid that he was going to be rejected by Benjamin. “You have until six in the evening to make up your mind,” he said.

Amy came into the stables with the spare clothes in hand just as Theo had finished speaking. She grimaced at Theo and noticed the lamentable expression that her boyfriend bore. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked with a scowl.

“Nothing,” Benjamin breathed out.

Amy grasped his arm, pulling him close to her. “Tell me now.”

Benjamin freed his arm from her capricious hold and walked away.

Theo caught the clothes that the miserable girl had thrown at him. He smiled at her as he dressed himself. “Your little relationship is as fake as the necklace you’re wearing.”

“Look who’s talking about fake,” she shot back with a small laugh.

“You have Benjamin black-mailed. His body language says it all. He needs liberation from you and I’m going to give it to him.” He pushed open the small door and walked out fully clothed. What is she using as leverage against Benjamin, he wondered?

From a distance he saw Benjamin walking pensively towards the estate with his chin down. Theo quickly ran to catch up with him. When Theo approached him, he wrapped his arm around Benjamin’s shoulder, smiling gleefully.

“It’s a yes or no answer. Simple as that,” Theo continued in hopes of persuading Benjamin in doing the right thing.

One side of Benjamin’s lips curved into a meek smile. “Alright I accept your proposal.”

“Perfect!” beamed Theo.

The two young men opened the door to the house with smiles on their faces. It was all fun and games until someone had caught them in their moment of bliss.

“I see the two of you have gotten fairly acquainted.” Jennifer stood next to the door that led to the dining room. Her arms were folded across her chest as she held Theo’s newly washed clothes.

Quickly Theo took his arm away from Benjamin’s back. He blushed slightly. “That was quick,” he said with a chuckle, concerning the amount of time it took for his clothes to get washed and dried.

“State of the art washer and dryer,” retorted Jennifer. She handed his clothes back. “You can go and change in the restroom upstairs. It’s the third room on your left.”

Theo immediately made his way upstairs once he took his clothes back. As he made his way upstairs, he thought about how Jennifer’s sudden appearance surely startled him. It was as if she was waiting for him to enter the mansion. She also didn’t look too pleased about Theo becoming friends with Benjamin. Theo realized that showing his affability towards the blond young man was his mistake. How could he have done such a thing under the roof of his enemies where he was constantly being watched? He should have restrained himself from showing any regard inside the house. But he was so overtaken with elation due to Benjamin’s response that he had forgotten where he was and who inhabited the premises. It was foolish, he admitted, and he shouldn’t have let his emotions get to him.

Him almost being caught was a problem for another time. Theo had reached the second floor of the estate. He was just a few steps away from accomplishing the day’s task: to steal Constance’s diary that recounted the events that transpired sixteen years ago. He hastily made his way across the hall and into the restroom that Jennifer indicated to him. There he changed into the clothes he was wearing when he came to the estate and folded Benjamin’s spare clothes that were loaned to him. He set those spare clothes on the counter top in the restroom, leaving them there for Amy to pick up. After all, Benjamin wasn’t going to be wearing that itchy cotton shirt and those loose shorts anytime soon.

Theo opened the door to the restroom, poking his head out in the hallway. He glanced left and right to make sure no one was coming. All he heard was the ticking of the Victorian clock at the end of the corridor. Perfect. Now all I have to do is get inside the master bedroom, he thought. Luckily the master bedroom was located right in front of the second guest restroom where Theo was at. The master bedroom’s door was ajar and not a sound was heard within the room. Could Constance be napping or was Mr. Clearwater reading? Nonsense. The wicked don’t rest and Mr. Clearwater was at work. Theo left the restroom, crossed the corridor, and stepped into the master bedroom.

The master bedroom reeked of Constance’s strong perfume. It was all so much that it was dizzying at first. The colors in the room were very autumnal; It felt like Theo had stepped into a meadow in autumn covered with yellow, brown, and red leaves. Instead of a meadow covered in leaves Theo was in a room with two dark cherry wood nightstands on either side of the bed and a polished wooden vanity table by the window. The two chairs in the room were of a brown fabric while the settee at the end of the bed was made out of dark red cloth. The only thing that stuck out amongst all the autumnal colors was the bed, which had white pillows with a black cover. The simplistic colors and design of the bed was the only evidence of this bedroom also being Mr. Clearwater’s bedroom.

Theo was completely lost in this room. He never had to clean it or enter it when he worked at the estate. Where could I find a collection of diaries, he wondered with his chin in his hands as he looked about pensively. Next to the vanity table was an aged wooden chest with no padlock. Theo could start from there and so he did. He went over to that aged chest and opened it, hoping it wouldn’t creak as he threw the lid back. Inside were countless of diaries with light blue leather covers. On the spines of each was engraved in golden lettering the year of which a diary was associated with.

He searched for the diary of sixteen years ago, finding it three rows to the bottom. Theo tried not making a mess since any error could be traced or thought of as suspicious. He put the diaries he moved back into their place and hoped Constance wasn’t going to come looking for it any time soon. After closing the lid of the trunk, Theo got on his feet and exhaled in satisfaction as he held the light blue leather diary in his hands. An air of victory surrounded him, knowing that he held the key to all the answers in his hands.

“Constance are you in your room?” a voice spoke out in the distance in the hallway.

Theo’s eyes widened; his heart began to race. The person who had spoken was Julian; his footsteps got closer and closer to the master bedroom by the second. Theo threw himself on the floor and rolled underneath the bed. From there he saw Julian’s boots come into view outside of the room.

“Hmm, she didn’t tell me she was going out,” the man had said to himself as he stood outside the room.

“Mr. Edmunds, do you need anything?” Another voice rang from the other side of the corridor. Instead of menacing, this voice was exceedingly bothersome.

“Ah, Amy. Did Constance tell you where she was going?” Julian set the butt of a rifle on the ground.

A rifle, Theo realized in revulsion. The bang that had echoed outside didn’t come from a car that had backfired as Jennifer assured. That bang came from the rifle that Julian had with him. Theo was sure of it! What a coincidence that just as Theo was on a horse, which was highly sensitive to loud noises, a shot rang through the air. Jennifer was definitely doing her job of bringing his head to her vicious mother and uncle. However, Theo wasn’t going to let her succeed. She failed today and she would continue doing so.

“She said something about going to a notary in the city,” replied Amy in the utmost servile of tones.

Julian smiled as his eyes glinted knowingly. He knew exactly why Constance had gone to see a notary. “Very well then. Go tell your grandma to prepare me something delicious.” After the girl had nodded and left his sight, Julian finally stepped into the room. He began to pace around slowly, surveying the room almost. The stomp of his boots made the floorboards underneath tremble. As he walked, he tapped the butt of his rifle on the ground. Had he suspected that there was an intruder in his sister’s room? After charting the room, Julian left.

Theo waited until the sound of the man’s heavy boots were heard descending the stairs. He got out from underneath the bed and exited the room. He breathed a short sigh of relief once he was out.

“What were you doing in that room?”

Theo whirled instantly just as the person behind him spoke. Luckily it was only Marie Edmunds. Theo smiled nervously but she wasn’t smiling at all. She flashed him a demanding look, one that necessitated an answer to her question.

Marie Edmunds wheeled in front of him, making her way towards her room. She made a gesture with her right hand, beckoning Theo to follow her into her room—a room that had become a sanctuary for Theo during his employment at the estate. Theo knew the drill when they reached her room. He closed the door and locked it as always.

“I’m still waiting on your reply,” the old matriarch had begun, “I really didn’t want to believe you were a thief but right now I’m not so sure.” Her eyes became fixed on the diary which Theo was holding. He was so bewildered by Marie Edmunds’ unexpected manifestation that he didn’t even put the diary under his shirt and in between his back and pants.

“This diary,” he began as he held the subject of the conversation, “Will prove to me that Cristina isn’t lying to me and it will lead us to her missing children.” He became curious when Marie Edmunds said nothing in return to his reply. He furrowed his brow and shook his head incredulously. “Don’t tell me that you think Constance and Julian had no part in what happened to Cristina? If they were capable to do what they did to me I’m sure they did the same, if not worse, to Cristina. She told me that she even proved her innocence to you.”

Marie Edmunds nodded. “You do not need to explain to me. Cristina told me everything when she was released from imprisonment before she got married with that rich proprietor, who may rest in peace. I know my children are capable of very cruel things. I saw what they did to you on Christmas and I know that they framed you for petty theft. Luckily you weren’t put in jail.”

“If you knew about Cristina’s innocence why did you tell me a different story when you explained to me the history of the Clearwater business and the current state of affairs?” Theo recalled the day when Marie Edmunds first took him under her wing. She told him a different version of the tale; a version where Constance and Julian were innocent, and Cristina really did kill her eldest child. How come she didn’t tell him that extra bit where Cristina believes she was framed by Constance and Julian?

“Because I had just met you and I wasn’t sure you were going to become the man that you are now. One cannot go spouting the truth freely. After a while I told Tobias and Cristina about you and they became interested. They wanted me to become your benefactress, but Constance and Julian intervened unfortunately. Ironically you got a benefactress either way,” Marie Edmunds explained. She took the diary from his hands and flicked through the pages before handing it back to Theo. “Take this and don’t bother in returning it. I wish you the best, Theo.”

Theo smiled. He was glad that Marie Edmunds was an understanding woman. She urged him to leave her room before anyone thought his absence downstairs was suspicious, which it probably was already.

“Are you okay?” asked Jennifer with fake concern when Theo appeared downstairs after a long while of being absent.

“I think I had something rotten in my breakfast this morning.” Theo walked towards the living room, ready to leave the estate. He had overstayed his welcome and he didn’t want to be there any longer.

“I hope you feel well. I’ll give you a call or send you a text later.” Jennifer opened the door to kindly let Theo out, but Theo stood still, looking at someone behind her back. She raised a brow before she turned to see who he was gazing at.

It was Benjamin, who was smiling with two suitcases in each hand.

Jennifer saw the two suitcases and was immediately dazed. “Do you mind explaining to me what those are?”

“Theo offered me a job at his house, and I accepted.” Benjamin lied. He was no longer going to be working strenuously as he was told. He had grown accustomed to his labor, but Theo insisted that he wanted Benjamin under his roof as a guest of honor instead of the help.

Jennifer rolled her eyes as she hid her disappointment. She was somewhat saddened to see Benjamin leave but not as much as a particular other would be. She knew who else would be devastated by the young man’s departure—someone other than Amy. “Alright then, carry on. Don’t forget to give us a call or stop by to give us a visit sometime.”

Benjamin said his farewells to the girl. The front doors of the estate closed in front of them and with that cue, Benjamin left with Theo to his new home.

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