I never much liked coming into London, but business was business. A longtime acquaintance of mine and my family, Dorian Gray, had alluded to a proposition that I couldn’t turn away from, so I made the journey from my home in Edinburgh to the rather drab streets of London. Gone were the tall trees and brilliantly colored flowers blooming in the gardens of my family estate, replaced by the concrete jungle that was the capital of England.
The things I had to do to make money.
I looked out the window, losing myself in all the shades of gray. The sky was covered in clouds, the constant threat of rain always upon us.
My eyes flicked to a street sign. Malet Street. We were driving through the University of London campus.
I allowed myself to enjoy the impressive architecture of each of the buildings along the side of the road. The school had been founded in the mid-1800s and they had done much to keep the grandeur of the original construction. I squinted up toward the cloud cover, blinking several times as the sun broke through the thick haze. When I couldn’t bear the bright light any longer, I looked out the window and that’s when I saw a sight that would change my world forever.
Like an angel fallen from heaven.
From the moment I first laid eyes on Jasmina Harker, I knew she was mine. I didn’t know her name back then, but it didn’t matter. I’d find it. I wouldn’t stop until I did.
The sun streamed down from the break in the clouds, almost like a spotlight. She was with a friend, but I didn’t even glance at her long enough to notice her hair or eye color or even what she was wearing.
Jasmina became my entire focus.
Dark mahogany curls cascaded down her back, bouncing with every single step. I wanted to grasp it in my fist. I wanted to hear her quiet mewls of pain when I pulled it tight. Her pale skin practically glittered in the sunlight. It would mark so beautifully from nothing more than my hand. She laughed and threw her head back, her radiant smile holding me completely captive.
I rolled down my window, needing to see better.
Her richly colored caramel irises sparkled as she glanced over her shoulder, seemingly looking straight at me and directly into my soul.
It felt like destiny. In my heart, I knew that one day she would be mine.
She looked back toward the university building and jogged up the stairs, grabbing at her friend’s wrist and pulling her along.
I would see her again. I was sure of it.
I also knew that one day I would make her my wife.
I spent the rest of that drive thinking about her, not even noticing when we passed by St. James Street and drove into Piccadilly Square. I pursed my lips, immediately displeased by the choice in location for this introduction that Dorian had arranged for me. There was a homeless man on the corner pushing a cart, trying to escape the endless stream of tourists strolling up and down the sidewalks. When the car finally drew up in front of Barrington’s, I cringed a bit.
It was a public gentlemen’s club that was trying in some form to be like the much more magnificent private gentlemen’s clubs here in London, but they weren’t doing a good job, not even remotely.
With a sigh, I climbed out of the car. I looked around for a moment, adjusting my tie while I took in the seedy ambience of the entire place. My bodyguard climbed out of the passenger seat. In his hands were the funds to acquire a new product, all discreetly hidden in a black briefcase.
It was time to meet Edward Hyde.
Dorian had informed me that an acquaintance of his had provided several of my more lower-class colleagues with copious amounts of high-quality benzoylecgonine. When I had inquired if he had anything more exclusive than that, Dorian had arranged an in-person meeting. From the information I’d gathered beforehand, Hyde was a struggling university research scientist on a budget, but he was smart and inventive. I’d only gotten bits and pieces since then, but the drug he’d alluded to seemed especially promising.
If this turned out to be everything that I thought it might be, my clientele would be very, very pleased to pay whatever amount I asked for it.
I liked making money. I didn’t much care if it was done legally or illegally.
I walked in the door, nodding to the front desk attendant. I didn’t check in and she didn’t stop me. This place already knew my name.
I strode through the hall into the back room. There was a full bar and to the undiscerning eye, it would have appeared grand, but I saw through that façade. The wood was scratched in places, deep gouges that spoke to the kind of client they entertained here on occasion. It was unpolished. I could see a thick layer of dust on the upper shelves that would have never been allowed in the type of clubs I would have preferred to frequent.
This place wasn’t my choice though. It was Hyde’s.
Off to the side, I saw Dorian. His suit was decadent among the rest of the rather mundane off-the-rack polyester suits that were in the room with us. He was sipping a glass of wine. Knowing him, it was probably an impeccable vintage. I wouldn’t make the mistake of asking him about it. I didn’t have time for the full explanation today.
Beside him was another man in a tailored suit coat. He was sipping a glass of bourbon. He met my gaze with a confidence I didn’t expect from a man like him. Most people were afraid to look me directly in the eye.
I took a seat beside them, cocking my head and appraising them both.
“Interesting location,” I said, raising my eyebrow and sitting back in the upholstered chair along with them. At the very least, the chair was comfortable. I’d give them that.
“Hyde likes the ambiance.” Dorian gestured between us. “The Count, meet Mr. Edward Hyde. Hyde, meet The Count.”
I nodded in Hyde’s direction. He returned the gesture, lifting his drink in greeting. An attendant came by, offering a drink and I waved him away. I didn’t have time for this. I leaned forward and rested my elbows on my knees.
“I have other meetings this evening, gentlemen. Shall we get straight to business?” I asked impatiently.
Dorian smirked and rose beside me. “Introductions having been made, I hope you will both excuse me. I have a more pressing engagement.” Dorian bowed his head politely, but I knew enough about him to see that familiar spark in his eye. He had a reputation here in the city. Some would call it a disreputable one, but not me. He just knew how to use his money and use it well.
Dorian leaned against my chair.
“Can I trust him?” I asked, keeping my voice under my breath so that Hyde could not hear.
“Maybe, but where would be the fun in that?” Dorian grinned.
“Perhaps. Thank you for the introduction. Enjoy your rather pressing engagement,” I smirked.
“I plan on it,” he smiled. I watched him leave the room, wondering what sort of trouble he’d gotten himself into this time. Finally, I turned my gaze back to Hyde.
“You have what I came for?” I asked pointedly.
He reached into his pocket, pulling out a vial full of thick dark crimson liquid and a single piece of paper. I glanced at them both longingly before meeting his gaze once more.
“Business before pleasure,” he grinned.
A man after his wallet. I could respect that. I had barely raised my hand before my bodyguard scurried to my side and presented the briefcase, opening it slowly and showcasing the stacks of pound notes neatly wrapped inside it.
My staff was well trained.
“One million, as agreed,” I offered.
“And now to the pleasure,” he beamed, passing the vial and paper to me. I took them both eagerly. I angled the sheet of paper into the light, scanning over the detailed formula with interest.
Yes. This was exactly what I was looking for.
“What is it called?” I asked.
With a name that unique, there was no doubt in my mind that he was a scientist after all. On the open market, I might simply call it ‘Blood.’ The rich would take to it well.
“Fitting. And the results?” I questioned.
He drained his glass of bourbon and stood up. His chest rose and fell and for just a moment, I was left with the distinct impression of a monster trying to break free of his cage, but then he buttoned his suit jacket and took the handle of the briefcase into his fist. He gripped the handle a bit too tightly, and I saw the whites of his knuckles in the process.
I knew instinctually that he wasn’t used to that kind of money. He met my gaze and he smiled, his entire expression going dark.
“Let’s just say anyone who takes it will feel like a different person.”
I closed my fist around the vial.
A dove flittered by the window of the train, its pure white feathers a picture of innocence among all the smoke and grit of the station. The quiet rumble of the engines starting up made me jump. I pressed my hand over my heart, closing my eyes as I tried to shake off this strange feeling in my chest.
I wasn’t sure why I was so nervous. This was just a normal work trip. If anything, it was the chance of a lifetime.
I’d only just gotten my real estate license a year ago. Through some miracle, a massive firm hired me and took me under their wing, teaching me the ropes even though I struggled meeting their quota from time to time. I wasn’t bad at my job, but I wasn’t extraordinary by any means. I told myself I could learn, and each day I was getting a little better. Then, early last week, my boss had called me into his office.
I spent the whole morning stressing about my progress, that I wasn’t fast enough or personable enough, that I hadn’t listed and sold enough properties to be worthy of working at the firm. Much to my surprise, however, he’d called me in because I had been specially requested by their biggest and most respected client.
Around the office, the client simply went by the nickname ‘The Count.’ His full name was Dmitri Alucard, but through some historical event, he carried the title of count. Rumor had it an ancestor of his had been a political ally of Henry VIII and had been granted not only titles, lands, and money, but the use of his many wives too.
He was a real estate tycoon with more money than anyone on our client list by far. Honestly, he was probably richer than ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the world. He bought and sold properties like it was going out of style. For as long as I worked there, there wasn’t a week that went by without him buying and selling a new mansion, house, or plots of land.
And he wanted me.
My boss thought he was thinking of selling his fifteen-hundred-acre estate just outside of Edinburgh. The count had personally requested me. Not only that, but he’d arranged and paid for the trip without even knowing if I would say yes.
To be honest, saying no wasn’t even an option.
If I could land this listing, I would be something at this firm. I could grow, maybe even get a promotion. It was only the beginning and who knew where my career would go after this. The possibilities were endless, and I would not, could not pass that up.
So here I was, sitting in my own personal private suite on the most expensive train in the country about to take the ten-hour trip from London to Edinburgh. I glanced out the window at the stormy clouds. Several fat drops bounced off the glass and I sighed in relief.
Made it inside just in time.
The train started to chug away from the busy station. Outside my window, one man lifted his suitcase to block the rain, dashing under the overhang as the sky started to open up. Pouring rain sluiced across my window and everyone still standing outside raced as fast as they could to take cover. A loud crack of thunder broke overhead.
A second later, a bolt of lightning hit the metal on top of the station roof, lighting up the night like it was the middle of the day. When it faded, it somehow turned so pitch black that even shadows ran from sight.
Feeling uneasy, I stood up and pulled the red velvet curtains closed with a shiver. Storms had always made me feel unsettled. There was something about the wildness of them that scared me, and I’d never been able to shake it.
With a deep breath, I settled back onto the plush bench seat. The velvet lining matched that of the curtains. There was a television in the corner and a single bed opposite me that was covered in luxurious fabrics that emanated first class.
I’d never been in anything like it. The level of detail was so incredibly ornate. Every wooden surface was carved beautifully, probably by hand. The fabrics and pillows were elegant and luxuriously soft. The sheets on the bed probably cost more than I made in a week.
I felt like I should be doing things that rich people do, but to be honest, I didn’t know what those were. There was a chilled bottle of champagne on ice situated on a small table alongside an extravagant charcuterie board loaded with various meats, fruits, and cheeses. There was a bowl of caviar, a small container of honey, and a few different condiments that I couldn’t quite identify by sight.
My stomach rumbled.
I got up and picked up the bottle, noticing it was already uncorked. I poured myself a small glass and popped three ripe raspberries into it. I took a sip and moaned.
That was definitely top shelf.
I poked around at the food, eating my fill and luxuriating in every jaw-dropping delectable bite. I didn’t even want to hazard at what such a spread would cost.
The count had said he’d take care of my every need. If he wasn’t supposed to be a business associate, I might have thought it romantic in an old-fashioned way.
The storm raged on outside and I wanted nothing more than to settle into the comfort and safety of the far too comfortable-looking bed. I hastily changed into my pajamas, feeling as though someone was watching even though I was all by myself. With a shiver, I jumped into bed and grabbed the cabin controlling tablet off the nightstand. I toggled it on, dimming the lights a bit and turning on the television in hopes of drowning out the storm outside. I didn’t turn it up too loud, not sure how noise would travel in the train car.
I didn’t want to get a knock on my door after disturbing the neighbors.
I sipped my drink nervously. I filled it once more as I flipped through the movie options, settling on a silly comedy I’d seen once before in hopes of lightening my mood. It didn’t really work, but soon enough the hour grew late, and my body finally decided to grow tired. I dimmed the lights even further, setting my glass aside for the night and curling up with the hope of getting some sleep.
It was a fool’s hope.
The lightning outside kept flashing so bright I could see it even though my eyes were closed.
The thunder was so loud that it made my heart stop with every rumbling crack.
The rain couldn’t seem to choose which direction to fall and kept pelting the window so hard that I thought it would break.
The gusts of wind outside howled noisily, rocking the train this way and that while we propelled down the tracks.
I don’t know when I fell asleep. Honestly, I don’t know if I really did. The rocking of the train faded away and suddenly I was on a ship somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, rocking back and forth, but that wasn’t the worst of it.
There was no one else on that ship. No one at the helm. No one minding the sails or anything. I was completely alone, and a storm was breaking overhead.
The rain pelted down on my skull, icy cold droplets rolling down my back and I shivered.
Bright yellow eyes leveled with mine, sharp and intent. I swallowed, realizing for the first time that I was tied to the mast. I struggled, pulling my arms back and forth as I tried to break free. The eyes drew closer and closer. The predatory gaze never left mine.
Finally, the beast treaded near enough for me to make out that it was a giant black wolf. More pairs of eyes appeared all around him. They stopped only feet from me, licking their chops and stepping back and forth as though they were waiting for a specific moment to attack.
I swallowed hard, overcome by fear.
The black wolf cocked his head and time seemed to go on and on. Then he lifted his nose into the air. All around him, a chorus of chilling howls echoed, growing louder with every passing second.
I jerked backwards and I started to fall.
I opened my eyes only to find myself in the bed on the train. I could feel the scream dying in my throat. My heart pounded frantically and I gulped in several mouthfuls of air as I tried to get a hold of myself.
It was just a nightmare. That was all.
I was staring up at the ceiling when the same chorus of wolf howls started to echo all around me once more. In a panic, I sat up and jerked my head around, looking for the source.
Fuck me. It was the television. There was a wolf documentary that had started playing for whatever reason. With a groan, I laid back, turned the television off, and placed the tablet back on the table instead of beside me in bed where I couldn’t accidently hit it again. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
The sound of the train horn woke me up early in the morning, indicating that it was time to start my day no matter how terrible the night.
When I’d emerged out of the Edinburgh station, there was a private car waiting for me. The driver took my bags, loaded them, and opened the door as I climbed into the backseat of his blacked-out Rolls Royce. I slid my fingers along the luxuriously soft leather as the car pulled away. The drive to the count’s estate wasn’t very long, but it was beautifully pristine in a way that London often didn’t showcase. The grass felt greener, the trees older and fuller, the blooming spring flowers brighter. I spent the entire ride just admiring the scenery out the window.
When the car pulled up to the Alucard Estate, I gasped. I’d been to several older homes here in England growing up, but this one was somehow grander than all of them. In some ways, it reminded me of Sudeley Castle outside of Gloucestershire, with its breathtakingly beautiful gardens and rolling green acres. My driver opened the door and I stepped out, fully taking in the magnificently unobstructed view of the whole estate.
Alucard Estate was a castle. There was no other way to describe it. It was built sometime in the 1400s, but much to my chagrin, many of the records of the property had been lost. Back then, it would have undoubtedly been a castle in its own right, and since then it had simply grown bigger. I recognized a few different architectural nuances indicative of later eras, notably the Victorian-style spires at the top of the main structure. The windows were rectangular, rather than arched, which gave the whole structure a more modern feel, late 1800s at least. There were carved statues everywhere, including a pair of gargoyles on either side of the stairway of the front door as well as several more up on the top of the pointed towers. The castle itself was at least three stories tall, four in several of the taller towers.
It was beautiful in its authenticity, a gothic masterpiece that had been impeccably cared for over the course of hundreds of years.
The driver strode toward the massive wooden door without saying a word. Not knowing what else to do, I followed him. He carried my bags up the stairs, using the giant metal knocker to announce our arrival.
The door opened quickly as if they’d timed out how long my journey would take to the exact minute of my arrival.
A man in a formal suit answered it, bowing his head respectfully at my presence.
“Miss Jasmina Harker,” he greeted, sweeping his hand aside and beckoning me to enter. “Welcome to Alucard Estate. My name is John Renfield. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Thank you, Mr. Renfield.”
“Please, call me John,” he assured me. He opened the door wider, and the driver carried my bags inside the foyer. He nodded before leaving the way he’d come. I walked inside and John shut the door behind me.
I blinked several times.
It was remarkably dark despite the massive windows that I knew were a significant feature. There was an enormous gold chandelier above my head, its flickering lights a crown of dimly lit candles casting an ominous glow in the oversized entryway. The stairwell was beautiful, likely carved by hand hundreds of years ago. It was worn in places and pristine in others, but it was timelessly crafted and painstakingly cared for. There were several paintings along the walls, but as my gaze lifted to take in the luxurious interior, it was drawn to the landing as if it had a gravitational pull all its own.
The count was standing there, as if he had been waiting for me and me alone. He didn’t glance in the butler’s direction, not even once.
I gasped; the brown of his irises was so dark it almost bordered on black. His beard covered the entirety of his chin. There was a thick tuft of it under his lower lip. His moustache was well groomed, as was the short mane of hair that adorned his head. It was the color of rich dark chocolate and the sudden yearning to run my fingers through it came over me.
I ignored that.
He had the face of a man who deserved to be king, and a certain weariness in the shadows of his eyes of a man who carried the weight of the world. I knew from the talk at the office that he was in his late thirties, but the instant his gaze landed on me, I was reminded of someone much older. His handsomeness was timeless. The power radiating from him felt dangerous.
Maybe it was just that he was a rich man, and he was used to getting what he wanted. He certainly dressed that way. His suit was just as pristine as the rest of the house, the darkest black. The burgundy tie around his throat was silky, the pattern reminiscent of a gothic candelabra and it was alluringly beautiful.
I swallowed heavily. Along with the power that drew me in, there was something else. An air of seduction surrounded him, and my gaze dropped to his full lips.
I shouldn’t be thinking about kissing him. I should be focused on selling his house.
“Welcome, Jasmina,” he purred, and my heart pounded wildly in my chest. His voice was smooth as velvet. There was a slight hint of a Romanian accent, but it was very subtle. When he spoke again, I tried to pinpoint it, but it had seemingly disappeared. He didn’t introduce himself, but he really didn’t need to.
“I hope the journey from London went smoothly. I heard there were several storms along the way,” he continued. I got the unmistakable feeling that he knew that it had been a terrifying ride, even though a part of me knew it was wholly irrational to think that.
“There were,” I said simply, smiling warmly as he came down the stairs. He approached me and it was as if the shadows followed him to me.
I shook my head.
Get it together, Jasmina. Sleep deprivation is not a good look on you.
He held out his hand, taking mine and shaking it heartily. His grip was strong. I kept my expression masked, but when he released me, my hand was a little sore.
“I’m sure you’re hungry. I delayed breakfast long enough to allow for your arrival. John will bring your things upstairs while you accompany me to the dining room,” he explained. I glanced nervously at the butler who had already taken my bags in hand and was moving quietly around us. I watched him climb the stairs for the briefest moment before I turned back to the count.
He was even more impressive up close. He towered over me by more than a foot. I’d always been on the shorter side, standing at no more than five foot one. He had to be six foot three. I had to look up to his face. His dark irises sparkled with amusement as though he knew what I was thinking.
Gently, he took me by the upper arm, sliding his hand around to my upper back. There was a slight forcefulness to his guidance that I brushed aside. Dropping my eyes to the floor, I let him lead me down the hall for a bit.
Along the way, I slyly studied the beautiful tapestries and paintings that lined the walls. There were several with slightly religious connotations, but only in their depictions of the suffering and wickedness that came with sin. Many of them were clearly centuries old. One section of the hallway had a mass of portraits, all of which resembled the count in small ways, so I assumed them to be his ancestors. I didn’t ask their names. We were moving too quickly for that.
Polished silver accents were engraved into the beautifully stained wood trim that lined the halls. The walls appeared to be freshly painted, a soft creamy white that would do well on the market. There was so much character everywhere I looked.
Creating the listing for this place would be so difficult. There were so many details to note that paring them down was going to be an exercise of its own.
I would worry about that another day. For now, I was just going to enjoy everything this historical estate had to offer.
Dmitri led me into the dining room. I gasped as soon as I walked inside.
The amount of grandeur rendered me speechless. It was something out of a castle of old, almost as though the old kings had used this place only days ago to host a royal banquet, maybe announcing a wedding or the acquisition of new lands or the advent of a new alliance.
The dining table was massive, meant to host well over thirty people at a time. I’d never seen anything like it. It was made of real wood, mahogany by the looks of it. The rich stain brought out the rings of the trees the planks had been hewn from. Silver and gold inlay lined the sides.
It cost someone a lot of money a long time ago. They didn’t make anything like it anymore.
There were only two place settings: one at the head of the table and the other right next to it. The amount of covered silver platters on the table was in direct contrast to this.
He led me inside and steered me toward the seat to the right. He pulled out my chair like a perfect gentleman, and I took a seat. Only when I was settled did he push my chair in and take his place next to me.
John appeared seemingly out of nowhere. He gently knocked my hand away when I reached for one of the lid handles, uncovering it himself.
There was a smorgasbord of foods. Omelets. Crepes. Pancakes. Waffles. All things that emulated an American breakfast, which I hadn’t expected in a place like this. There were plates that were more indicative of a typical English breakfast, including beans, toast, tomatoes, potatoes, bacon, eggs, black pudding, as well as some rather delectable-looking mushrooms, but I found my gaze drawn to a plate of French toast covered in caramelized bananas that I’d only seen once before on an overseas visit to New York City.
“This is an incredible amount of food,” I murmured.
“I wasn’t sure what you’d like, so I had the kitchens make a little of everything so that you could enjoy a filling meal after such a long trip.” The count sat back as John prepared his coffee, only leaning forward to take it into his hands when the butler had finished and moved away.
“Do you see anything that you’d like?” John asked. Politely, I asked for the French toast that had caught my eye and he served me the whole plate. He asked me several questions in preparing my coffee, how much creamer, how many sugar cubes, if I wanted a dash of cinnamon on top. When I took my first sip, I had to stop myself from moaning with pleasure at the delicious brew. Sweet. Bitter. And utterly perfect.
“Thank you, John,” I said as he moved aside to serve the count. He covered his plate in mostly English-style breakfast foods. Dmitri took a small jar of what appeared to be cherry preserves and spread them over a piece of wheat toast. He took a bite, and the red jam marked the side of his mouth, looking a lot like blood for a second before he wiped it away. He chewed silently, watching me and I felt the need to speak to cover up the overwhelming silence.
“I very much appreciate your generosity in bringing me here to Alucard Estate. It is really as beautiful as all the articles said it would be,” I began.
“It takes a lot of upkeep, but I take pride in maintaining my family’s home,” he replied.
“I hear it was given to the Alucards by Henry the VIII in the 1500s,” I answered, hoping he would tell me more about the history of the place.
“It was. Much of the paper trail around the origins of this place has been lost through one natural disaster or another, but my family has passed the stories down through generations. My ancestor, Demetrius Alucard, escaped Romania during the year of 1514.”
“There was a revolt led by peasants against the nobility in his home country of Transylvania. He came here and befriended the king. Rumor has it he was involved in the match between the king and Anne Boleyn, but there’s no evidence or sources to confirm that. Throughout the king’s reign, it is said that Demetrius was involved with many of the king’s tumultuous relationships, along with several acquisitions of land and money with the help of funds from him.”
I found myself hanging onto his every word in utter fascination.
“Did your family ever talk about any particular stories about the relationship between Demetrius and Henry?” I asked. I finally took a bite of my breakfast. I’d been too engrained in his story to even think about eating a single bite until then.
“There’s one about a rather wicked night when the two of them shared a young maiden from court,” he answered.
I blushed hard at the insinuation. Thankfully, he changed the subject.
“They both had a strong love for brandy, so much so that Demetrius started making some of his own stock for the two of them. We still produce the plum brandy he made back then today. That recipe is probably one of my family’s most prized possessions,” he continued.
“I’d love to try some,” I replied.
“It’s wonderful before bed. I’ll have John prepare some for you tonight.”
I ate several more bites of my breakfast, chewing thoughtfully. I didn’t want to press the reason for my visit, but I wanted to know why he’d brought me here in the first place. This property was a piece of history. There was such revelry and appreciation in his voice when he talked about it. Did he actually want to sell it?
I sipped my coffee, trying to fight the pull of exhaustion from such a terrible night’s sleep. Despite all my effort, I yawned so widely that my eyes watered.
The count chuckled softly. “Why don’t you finish your breakfast, and I will walk you to your chambers so that you can have an afternoon respite? This evening, John will take you on a tour of the grounds,” Dmitri smiled.
“Will you not join us?” I asked.
“I have business elsewhere this evening. Tomorrow, we will meet again,” he answered.
I didn’t think to press any further. A man didn’t get to his rank in life without hard work.
“I will look forward to it,” I smiled.
We made small talk for the rest of breakfast. I ate my fill and tried a few bites of several other dishes before I yawned once again, and the count announced that he should take me upstairs. He swept me out of the dining room and up the grand staircase. He led me down a long hall all the way to the end to a red-stained wood door. He opened it with a flourish.
“I picked this room for you myself,” he explained.
“Yes. The view out the window into the gardens is stunning. The property has ten different gardens, but this one is by far the largest and most colorful of them all. I thought you might enjoy that,” he continued.
“I will,” I answered quickly.
“One more thing, Jasmina. Please keep to your chambers at night. Your safety is paramount to me, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if anything happened to you,” he said softly, his tone deadly serious.
“Am I unsafe here?” I asked quickly, furrowing my brow in confusion. The property was pristine, heavily wooded, and mostly rural. What possibly could hurt me here—a pack of wolves or maybe a fox?
“Recently, there have been several sightings of armed men on the property. I have been unable to track them down or verify my staff’s claims. Just in case, I would like you to stay up here where it’s perfectly safe,” he explained.
“Don’t worry. I’ll have all I need right here,” I replied.
“The phone by your bed dials straight to John’s cell. If you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask,” he offered.
“That will be perfect,” I smiled.
“Enjoy your rest, Jasmina. It’s been lovely meeting you.” He bowed his head.
“You as well.” I returned the gesture. He stepped out, turning on his heel before he walked down the hall. I watched his confident stride, feeling both insanely curious and mildly terrified of so grand a man.
I thought about his warning to stay in my rooms at night. I was too tired to really think about it then, though, so I turned around and really got a look at my bedchambers for the very first time.
The canopy bed was enormous, draped with beautiful deep purple cloth that spoke to the royalty that probably stayed in this room over the many years of its existence. I touched the velvet fabric, remarking over the other glorious pieces in the room. A Queen Anne dresser. A Victorian desk. So many pieces of history in one room.
The property was worth millions. I couldn’t even begin to price out the furnishings inside it.
I stripped down to my underwear and dug out a pair of pajamas from my bags. I dressed quickly before I slipped into the remarkably soft bed and closed my eyes.
I slept for several hours, waking up only when the sun was beginning its downward arc through the sky. Its light pierced through the window, shining like a beacon upon my face.
I peeked out the window and a bit of movement caught my eye. I turned my head, watching as the count climbed into a private car. It drove down the driveway and disappeared from sight.