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Castle Lehr. She couldn’t believe she was here. Inside the walls lay the perfect blend of history and eighteenth century beauty. And she wasn’t just talking about the structure itself.
The owner of the castle had long hidden himself away behind the reinforced walls, and she’d been the only reporter thus far to have been granted an audience. Fortune had smiled upon her. Her hands tingled as Abby climbed the stone steps leading up to the double, wooden doors gracing the entrance.
She’d read about the expansive structure with its limestone, but it was the inside she wanted to see. She’d been salivating at the prospect of catching a glimpse of the castle’s glitter and beauty since she’d suggested this assignment to the senior editor of “Life Abroad” magazine. The owner’s agreement to take her on a tour had been a definite bonus in her book. With each step, she silently congratulated herself that she’d made it this far without turning back. For some unknown reason, nerves had kicked in the second she’d boarded the plane for England.
As she reached the top of the stairs lined with potted delphiniums, one of the doors creaked open. Eyes wide, she leaned in toward the opening. “Hello?”
Eyes the color of mud peered out at her.
Abby gave a little yelp and stumbled backwards. “Hello?” she murmured again. “I’m Abby Baker and I…”
The door opened wider before she could finish her sentence and a portly man wearing a knee-length waistcoat and buckled shoes positioned himself just across the threshold. “Welcome.”
Abby hesitated before stepping inside. “I’m not ordinarily so jumpy. It was probably the movie I watched last night.” She clutched her leather bag closer. “All about ghosts and the like.”
“No ghosts live inside Castle Lehr. I am Mr. Hiller, and on behalf of His Grace, the Duke of Lehr, I welcome you.” Hiller bowed low.
“You mean a Duke lives here, too?” Abby couldn’t believe her good luck. Talk about a story! “I couldn’t have planned this better, but, correct me if I’m wrong, aren’t the titles just a formality now?”
The look on Hiller’s face told her she’d tapped a nerve. His round nose wrinkled, and his skin reddened to the shade of a ripe apple. “Indeed, no, Madam. The Duke’s title is one of great importance and is his rightful inheritance.”
“Ah.” She figured she better just leave it at that as she didn’t want to get escorted out before the interview even began. “I thought I was meeting the owner of the castle, some guy by the name of John Hiller.” Her lips pursed. “Oh. That would be you.”
“That is correct, Madam. I am the Duke of Lehr’s butler, having served under His Grace for the past twenty-five years.”
She hitched the strap of her purse further up her shoulder. “So is the Duke the owner then? Is that why he wants to see me?” She shivered at the prospect of meeting a real Duke.
“Yes, Ms. Baker, and the Duke enjoys good company.”
“How does he know I’m good company? I could be a thief or an escaped criminal.”
Mr. Hiller smiled—a mere twitching of his lips. “My employer has a sixth sense about the people he invites into his home. Now, if you’ll follow me.”
Abby ignored the warning bells clanging in her head and kept pace.
* * * *
“I’m in another world.” She circled the room Mr. Hiller had left her in, her arms held wide. She certainly couldn’t be faulted for the supposition.
Adorned with Italian old master oil paintings, the walls had been painted a soft cream which offset the nine feet tall ceilings which bore an artist’s depiction of Piero della Francecsa’s The Flagellation.
“Whoever painted that was amazing,” she whispered, unable to take her eyes off the work of art.
“Miss Baker,” Hiller’s voice had her jumping, and she spun around to see the man bowing low at the waist. “May I present the Duke of Lehr.”
Had anyone ever said no to that question? Was it even a question? She swallowed a hysterical giggle. But the moment the Duke approached, all thoughts disappeared.