"I have family in Hendrick," Rome St. John said, stirring his tea thoughtfully. "I haven't been there in quite awhile."
Alina could hardly contain her excitement. "So you'd know people from there?" she asked.
"I know some," Rome replied. He took a sip of his tea and raised his eyebrows. "It's delicious, Miss."
Alina waved Rome's comment away. "Please, call me Alina."
Adding another lump of sugar to her tea, Alina leaned a bit closer to Rome and looked him in the eyes. "Would you happen to know anyone by the name of 'Miriam Fletcher'?"
Hesitating, Rome considered Alina's question before responding in the negative. "I'm sorry; I don't."
Alina's heart began to pound. She knew she ought to ask about Alexander Hale, but she wasn't sure if she could bear Rome's response. What if Rome had known Alexander and only had awful tales to tell? What if he himself had a bone to pick with Alina's precious villain?
"May I ask why you're interested in Hendrick?" Rome inquired. "You're not thinking of living there, are you?"
There was a long silence before Rome nodded. "Well, it's a good town. If I lived anywhere permanently, I'd want to live somewhere like Hendrick."
"Have you ever heard of Alexander Hale?"
Clearly surprised by the question, Rome sat back in his chair and bit his lip. Finally, he nodded, albeit slowly. "Yes, I knew of him," he replied. "I never met him in person, but my family spoke of him. He was..." Rome stopped and met Alina's eyes. "I understand you...knew him?"
Stiffening, Alina pretended to busy herself with the tea. "Yes," she finally said in a voice that made her nerves clear.
"I'm not trying to ask you things you aren't comfortable with, Alina. I only want to better understand why you're asking me these questions."
"Fair enough," Alina said softly. She averted her eyes and breathed out a long sigh. "For some reason, God placed Alexander in my life, and I want to know more about him. If God thought it was important that I know Alexander, then I want some answers. I want to know who Alexander was. Where he came from. Where I can know more about him."
"I'm afraid I can't give you many answers. I didn't ever meet Alexander personally."
"Perhaps some of the citizens of Hendrick can tell me more," Alina said. She realized how openly she was displaying her heart, so she shrugged and added, "I only want to know why God thought it was important for me to know Alexander in the first place."
How many times will I, in cowardice, deny my love for Alexander?
"Are you planning on going there?" Rome inquired, and his voice and expression grew suddenly hushed, if not awed.
"I might." No, that wasn't entirely truthful. "Yes, I am."
Without finishing his tea, Rome stood and turned his back to Alina, then turned again to face her. "Ah...I don't really know how to say this," he finally ventured.
"You can say what you'd like."
Rome took a deep breath. "For the past two weeks or so, I've felt God's calling to go to Hendrick."