Mr. Temps hid a smile. Did the young woman not realize how her eyes were practically shining as she took in their surroundings?
After telling herself to get over how beautiful the place was, Arabella worked hard to memorize everything she saw, hoping but failing to find some kind of escape route.
At the far end of the pathway, an impressive outline started to rise, and her eyes widened. She had braced herself for chains and dungeons, but what she was seeing right now—-
Her head snapped in Mr. Temps’s direction. “Is that where we’re going?”
Her confusion deepened, but she reminded herself to stay on guard even as the sprawling stone mansion ahead of them seemingly beckoned for her to come closer so it could welcome Arabella to its splendor.
“I hope you don’t mind we are entering through the back, mademoiselle. It is closer this way.”
Aurélien Sauvage’s butler was just so polite she couldn’t help but shake her head, saying, “You seem like a nice man, sir. Surely you must know I’m being held against my will.”
“I beg your pardon, mademoiselle?”
“I’m being held against my will.”
“My humble apologies. I didn’t quite catch that.”
Arabella said loudly and clearly, “I’m being held against my will.”
Mr. Temps shook his head sadly. “I still didn’t quite catch that, I’m afraid.”
Riiiiight. Arabella released a sigh, knowing when she was being stonewalled. If she wanted answers, asking questions obviously wasn’t going to be enough.
Upon reaching the twenty-foot tall back doors of the mansion, Arabella saw Mr. Temps pull out an iron key ring from his pocket. It contained a set of rusty skeleton keys, all of them about the same length as her index fingers. But most striking about them were their bows, shaped exactly like the rose found in the seal of the letter MDS sent.
A cold shiver skittered down her spine, and she instinctively hugged herself. Crazy or not, that rose was like an omen and a warning, a reminder that in this island, Aurélien Sauvage would be everywhere.
And there was no escaping him.
The heavy creaking sounds coming from the back doors being opened drew her out of her thoughts. When Mr. Temps apologized for the sound as they entered, she could only nod, entirely occupied with taking in the details of her gilded cage.
The back doors opened directly to what she imagined was the mansion’s main hallway, with its high ceilings and formidable length. Although most of the hallway was coated in darkness, light coming from the rows of Edwardian wall sconces on each side revealed a home of breathtaking beauty. The murals above her depicting whimsical imagery were reminiscent of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They were unquestionably lovely, but when combined with the bush sculptures of mythical figures, it did make one wonder. Could Aurélien Sauvage be so lost in his flights of fantasies that he no longer knew what was real or the difference between right and wrong?
Noted then, Arabella thought. She was up against a mysteriously reclusive French billionaire who might be a madman as well.
Arabella continued her perusal as Mr. Temps pulled the doors closed behind them. Every inch of the place was rich in history, and every piece of furniture seemed to be an invaluable piece of art. The intricately woven tapestries and rugs, mirrors framed in gold, paintings by the most famous maestros – all these things deserved light, not shadows, and turning to Mr. Temps, she couldn’t help asking, “Is the rest of the house as dark?”
“I am afraid so, mademoiselle.”
“I see.” Arabella mentally nodded to herself. It was confirmed then. Only a madman would want to hide such beauty in darkness.
As they walked farther down the hallway, Arabella Blume kept a steady stream of conversation, all the while looking for more escape routes. Mr. Temps knew this, but pretended not to notice. Her tenacity and steadfastness were quite admirable, and so the old man let it be, not wanting to ruin her fun. Sooner or later, she would come to realize that this mansion was no Disney castle. Following the attack, the master had turned the mansion into a fortress, one that could keep people in or out of it, depending on his whim.
From the main hallway, they went into the Great Hall, and from here they ascended a sweeping staircase that made Arabella think of Regency balls and noblemen and noblewomen falling in love—-
No, don’t let its beauty distract you, Arabella quickly warned herself.
When they reached the mezzanine, she saw that the staircase diverged into two paths, and Mr. Temps murmured, “This way, mademoiselle.” The butler had chosen the stairs on the right, and Arabella filed this away in her mind, just to be sure. She would need to figure out why she was being directed here and what was on the other side of the mansion.