Christian continues to drive past single-story, well-kept, clapboard houses where kids play either clustered around their basketball hoops in their yards or cycling and running around in the street. It all looks affluent and wholesome with the houses nestling among the trees. Perhaps we’re going to visit someone? Who?
A few minutes later, Christian turns sharply left, and we’re confronted by two ornate white metal gates set in a six-foot-high, sandstone wall. Christian presses a button on his door handle and the electric window hums quietly down into the doorframe. He punches a number into the keypad and the gates swing open in welcome.
He glances at me, and his expression has changed. He looks uncertain, nervous even.
“What is it?” I ask, and I can’t mask the concern in my voice.
“An idea,” he says quietly and eases the Saab through the gates.
We head up a tree-lined lane just wide enough for two cars. On one side, the trees ring a densely wooded area, and on the other there’s a vast area of grassland where a once-cultivated field has been left fallow. Grasses and wildflowers have reclaimed it, creating a rural idyll—a meadow, where the late evening breeze softly ripples through the grass and the evening sungilds the wildflowers. It’s lovely—utterly tranquil, and suddenly I imagine
myself lying in the grass and gazing up at a clear blue summer sky. The thought is tantalizing yet makes me feel homesick for some strange reason. How odd.
The lane curves around and opens into a sweeping driveway in front of an impressive Mediterranean-style house of soft pink sandstone. It’s palatial. All the lights are on, each window brightly illuminated in the dusk. There’s a smart, black BMW parked in front of the four-car garage, but Christian pulls up outside the grand portico.
Hmm . . . I wonder who lives here? Why are we visiting?
Christian glances anxiously at me as he switches off the car engine.
“Will you keep an open mind?” he asks.
“Christian, I’ve needed an open mind since the day I met you.”
He smiles ironically and nods. “Fair point well made, Miss Steele. Let’s go.”
The dark wood doors open, and a woman with dark brown hair, a sincere smile, and a sharp lilac suit stands waiting. I’m grateful I changed into my new navy shift dress to impress Dr. Flynn. Okay, I’m not wearing killer heels like her—but still, I’m not in jeans.
“Mr. Grey.” She smiles warmly and they shake hands.
“Miss Kelly,” he says politely.
She smiles at me and holds out her hand, which I shake. Her isn’t-he-dreamily-gorgeous-wish-he-was-mine flush does not go unnoticed.
“Olga Kelly,” she announces breezily.
“Ana Steele,” I mutter back at her. Who is this woman? She stands aside, welcoming us into the house. It’s a shock when I step in. The place is empty—completely empty. We find ourselves in a large entrance hall. The walls are a faded primrose yellow with scuffmarks where pictures must once have hung. All that remains are the old-fashioned crystal light fixtures. The floors are dull hardwood. There are closed doors to either side of us, but Christian gives me no time to assimilate what’s happening.
“Come,” he says, and taking my hand, he leads me through the archway in front of us into a larger inner vestibule. It’s dominated by a curved, sweeping staircase with an intricate iron balustrade but still he doesn’t stop. He takes me through to the main living area, which is empty, save for a large faded gold rug—the biggest rug I have ever seen. Oh—and there are four crystal chandeliers.
But Christian’s intention is now clear as we head across the room and outside through open French doors to a large stone terrace. Below us there’s half a football field of manicured lawn, but beyond that is the view. Wow.
The panoramic, uninterrupted vista is breathtaking—staggering even: twilight over the Sound. Oh my.
In the distance lies Bainbridge Island, and further still on this crystal clear evening, the settingsun sinks slowly, glowing blood and flame orange, beyond Olympic National Park. Vermillion hues bleed into the sky—opals, aquamarines, ceruleans—melding with the darker purples of the scant wispy clouds and the land beyond