A few minutes after leaving the wall behind, I left the cover of the trees and caught my first sight of the manor house itself. Needless to say, as a fifty room mansion of limestone fronted with soaring columns, the place looked suitably striking, and not just a little imposing. I could feel my pulse hammering as I steered my car along the circular drive and put it into park.
It took some time sitting in my seat staring at the grand building before I had summoned enough courage to step out of the car and make my approach. “Nothing ventured…” I mumbled, counting each step I took in an effort to keep myself distracted as I ascended the stone stairwell. Without allowing time to lose my nerve, I reached out and rang the bell. I wiped sweaty palms on my pant legs while I waited for an answer.
My thoughts of “maybe no one's at home” were dashed away as the heavy door swung open with a creak of complaint. The silver-haired bespectacled man who stood revealed on the other side wore a gray vest over a white shirt, dark dress pants, and black shoes that gleamed. He couldn’t have looked more like a modern day butler had he tried. “May I help you?” he inquired, his tone polite.
I introduced myself and presented him with the lie I had been practicing during the drive, and hoped I sounded sincere. I finished with, “And so I've come to check up on Cassandra and the baby. Are they at home?”
I must have been pretty convincing, or at least that’s what I though at the time, because the butler immediately stood aside and ushered me in. “Right this way, please, Miss.”
Beyond the doorway stretched a vast foyer with a floor of marble. Across from the entrance a sprawling staircase swept up to the second floor. I was duly impressed, but had little time to gawk as the butler led me down a dim passage off of the great hall. He stopped in front of a doorway and indicated that I should pass through. “If you would be so kind as to wait in the parlor, Miss. I shall announce your arrival.”
The room I had been shepherded into appeared just how I would picture a parlor to look. A striped sofa stood against one wall, flanked by gleaming end tables with curved legs. Two armchairs were arranged along the opposite wall. An ornamental rug spread beneath my feet. The room was all bold colors, greens and reds and blues. A large canvas depicting a stag hunt hung on one wall, a painting of the ruins of a castle overlooking the sea on another. I thought to myself, When I get myself out of this situation I've blundered into, I can tell people I was actually inside a real-life parlor, like straight out of a romance novel.
I heard footsteps approaching and spun around. The tread was heavy and purposeful, and I began to suspect the truth before my eyes confirmed it. The person who appeared in the doorway was not Cassandra, but her brother.
Victor flashed his teeth at me as he stepped into the room, but the look in his eyes brought goose bumps to my flesh. “Miss Cassidy,” he announced. His hands were clasped behind his back and this time he offered no handshake. “We have been expecting you.”
The stories and excuses fled from my mind. “Expecting me?”
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