A Scarlet Kiss(3)

By: Heidi Lowe


"They are," he said, a distant look in his eye. "Worse, possibly. Thank God they don't spend a lot of time at the house."

"Will they be there when we arrive?"

"No. You'll see them later. Maybe." He shrugged. "Who knows, who cares?"

I gave him a dubious look, thinking to myself, Great start to the holiday.



The drive from Heathrow to Merrick took a little under an hour. As the signs welcoming us into the county of Buckinghamshire whizzed by, anxiety filled me like never before. Everything just looked so...English. Like I'd stepped right into Downton Abbey or some other period drama. Outside of the capital, London, fields and greenery abounded. The air smelled fresher here, too.

The driver turned down a narrow lane, past huge, resplendent detached houses, each one seemingly bigger than the one before it. The place looked like money, old money. Nobody who lived here worked regular jobs or knew what it was like to worry about how they would pay the mortgage from one month to the next. Tucked away from the main town center, away from the common folk.

"You live around here?" I gawked at Marcus, managing to pull my gaze from the scenery outside my window.

"Lots of people live around here," he mumbled, shifting slightly.

"Yeah, lots of filthy rich people! How much would a house around here cost?" In my wonderment, it didn't occur to me that my continued mentioning of his wealth would make me come off as shallow. Which wasn't me at all. Hey, I was the girl who picked up pennies on the street, for God's sake. The girl who frequented thrift stores. Money didn't impress me.

"I'm not sure. Our house has been in the family for centuries, so..." He scratched at his messy locks, pushed strands behind his ear.

I opened my mouth to give an estimate – based on absolutely nothing but my limited experience with real estate, having my father as reference – but the car stopped at a gate. The driver rolled down his window, pressed a card to the entry system, and seconds later the metal gates whirred and slowly opened to let us in.

Everything happened in slow motion. From our entrance onto the grounds, to the unfolding of what lay beyond the gates. The stables came into view first, causing me to gasp and nearly choke on the air. The gravel driveway went on forever as we cruised up to the entrance of what I was certain was a castle. A looming, imposing manor more grand than anything I had ever seen stood before us, surrounded by several smaller buildings. Beyond the stables, I got a glimpse of the gardens. Yes, gardens plural.

Vivu cut the engine.

"We're here," Marcus announced, his voice slightly uncertain. So too were his eyes when they met mine. He flinched a little.

My mouth remained agape, speechless. I couldn't form words to make a sentence, so I simply stepped out of the car, thinking that this was all a mirage that would disappear once I was able to see it clearly. Nope. The house only seemed to grow more humungous in size. Huge French windows, lush ivy crawling beautifully over the brown stone walls, a detached garage that looked the size of an Olympic-size swimming pool. Across from the main house sat a large annexe building.

"Hey." I felt Marcus's hand against my back, smelled his spicy cologne. "Say something, Jenna."

"Like what?" I was still trying to figure out how to feel. My emotions were all over the place.

"I don't know, anything. You're mad at me, aren't you?"

My glare spoke where I couldn't.

Vivu brought in my case, and Marcus took my hand luggage from me. Inside, the opulence made me gasp again. Nothing could have prepared me for any of this. Antiques, paintings of battles and regal-looking men and women, all of whom looked alike. The staircase wound, the wooden balustrades were gilt.

"So you do live in a castle," I said, shaking my head at Marcus, whose guilt was written all over his face. He'd deliberately kept this from me, hadn't warned me about what I was walking into.

"Don't be upset that I didn't say anything earlier," he pleaded, turning his mouth down to look as pitiful as he could.

"Oh, I'm not upset...I'm furious!"





TWO



The French armoire in our bedroom smelled centuries old, and had that sturdy antique look and feel to it. You know, built to last – the kind of thing that survived long after its creator had perished. It was the only antique in the room, however, I was surprised to see. Everything from the bed to the windows was modern, and gave a nice contrast against the backdrop of the original features of the house.