It had been three days since Arabella had received the letter, two days since she had returned to the House of Sauvage, and one day since she had signed the contract they offered her.
And now she was here, Arabella thought numbly, her life forever changed. She glanced at her watch as the helicopter hovered over an island with rugged cliffs and woods that seemed to go on forever.
She mentally calculated the time it took to reach her destination as the helicopter started to descend. Thirty minutes, she thought. She was still in Europe then – maybe still in France even – but as for her exact location?
Pushing the mouthpiece down into position to make sure she was heard over the helicopter’s noise, Arabella asked, “What is the island called?”
The two pilots only answered her with polite smiles. Either they didn’t speak English, or they had been instructed to pretend otherwise.
A tall, bespectacled gentleman with silver hair and a benign-looking smile was waiting for them by the clearing, dressed in what could only be called…a suit. As the second pilot helped her out of the chopper, Arabella couldn’t help taking a closer look at their surroundings. There was nothing but woods around them. The wild and tangled type, the kind someone like the Blair Witch would absolutely adore.
And the old man trekked through it in a coat and tie?
It was all too strange, but the deafening sound coming from the chopper interrupted her thoughts. She whirled around and bit back a gasp. The pilots were already back in their seats, readying for takeoff.
No! Please! Don’t leave me! She wanted to cry the words out, wanted to run and beg the men to take her with them. But she could not.
In a few moments, the chopper was back in the air, its large, formidable-looking blades whipping in circles.
And now there was no going back, Arabella thought. From here on, a man named Aurélien Sauvage owned her, for the rest of her life.
MR. TEMPS WATCHED IN silence as the young woman silently but visibly struggled to accept her fate. His sympathy was with her, but his loyalty was with his master, and the latter’s orders to the household were quite clear.
Do not speak of the past. Do not interfere. And above all costs, do not let her leave.
None of it explained why Arabella Blume had come to join them on the island, but all of them had known better than to ask. Some things were better left unsaid. It was easier to pretend blindness that way.
After a sufficient time had passed, Mr. Temps stepped forward and said quietly, “May I help you with your belongings, mademoiselle?”
The young woman turned around with a shake of her head. “I only have this.”
“It is my honor to be of service, Ms. Blume.”
That he knew her name clearly astonished her, and Mr. Temps took advantage of her surprise by successfully prying the leather valise out of her hands. What an interesting piece of luggage, Mr. Temps thought. It was decidedly vintage, but not at all priceless. And it was very, very small. How could all of her belongings fit in it?
“You know my name,” Arabella said suspiciously. “Are you—-” She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “Are you Aurélien Sauvage?”
“No, mademoiselle. Please call me Mr. Temps. I have been serving the Sauvage family as their butler for almost three decades, as did my father in his lifetime and his father before him.”
“I suppose that’s nice,” Arabella allowed politely, “but it doesn’t really make me feel any safer.”
The butler acknowledged her words with a regal nod. “Understandable, mademoiselle. All the same, let me assure you that the staff has taken great care to make you feel most welcome.” Mr. Temps waved towards the direction of the woods. “If I may lead the way?”
No, you may not. That was what Arabella wanted to answer, but she was nothing if not practical and even if the old man was to let her stay, that would only lead to her death by starvation or God knew what.
Following Mr. Temps into the woods, she mentally prepared herself for a challenging outdoor battle, but it took only a few steps for her to realize that the woods were nothing but a smokescreen.
So that’s why the butler could walk around in a suit, Arabella thought with an inner grimace.
Hiding underneath the woods’ canopy of autumn leaves and meandering branches was a beautiful cobblestoned pathway that snaked down a sloping garden landscaped to perfection. There were flowers of every season and shade, bushes sculpted in the shape of unicorns and fairies, and here and there were stone benches resting under ivory-covered trellises. If her heart weren’t filled with so much pain and fear, she would have thought she had stumbled into Eden.
“It’s impressive, is it not?”