Authors: Mia Caldwell
The next couple of hours found me with my hand hanging out of the car
window, letting the wind run through my fingers, the wide open sky looming
above us. It was the first time I had a chance to breathe in I don’t even know
how long, so I took as many deep and desperately needed breaths as I could get.
Agent Wilson kept glancing over at me from the driver’s seat. I knew I
probably looked crazy, almost like a dog with its tongue wagging in the breeze.
But I didn’t care.
I had to admit that the trip to wherever our final destination was,
was a sight for sore eyes. The crowded lanes of traffic from the city had given
way to twisty roads that seemed to go on indefinitely. The countryside was
breathtaking—like something I had only seen in pictures and paintings. There
were rolling hills topped with small farms and pretty little lakes that reflected
the late morning sky. I couldn’t believe I’d been living in a city of concrete
and metal when this whole time there was something out there that looked like
The roads were getting even narrower, and a few times Agent Wilson had
to wait for others to pass the road on the opposite side, so as to not graze
Those big honking SUVs that
we love in America wouldn’t stand a chance around here,
A faint mountain range was detectable through the morning haze, way
off in the distance.
thought. I had no idea there were mountains in France, which made me feel silly
I watched as the edges of them became sharper in contrast with the
sky, the clouds above them seeming to just sit there, without moving. I wanted
to keep my eyes on them, but between the music that Agent Wilson turned on in
the tiny car, and the abundantly clear jet lag I was suffering from, I could
barely keep my eyes open.
By the time I did manage to open them back up, we were just getting
ready to drive through an honest-to-God mountain tunnel. You know those ones
that you always see in the Roadrunner cartoons—the ones that the coyote is
always painting on the rocky mountainsides, hoping for the bird to crash into?
Yeah, just like that, but without the wacky Acme products.
The lights that dotted both sides of the tunnel made me dizzy as we
flew past them. I rubbed my temples, trying to fight the yawn that was coming.
Jesus, how did anyone travel internationally and deal with this?
When we came out the other side of the tunnel I gasped. It was like
being transported to a new world. The rolling hills were now paired with craggy
rocks covered in the same moss and lavender that were also hanging from
different stone buildings on one of the hillsides. Off to the right of us was a
tiny village, where all of the houses and a church had matching high-pitched
red-tiled roofs. They looked as though they had been there for centuries.
Perhaps they had.f
We were going down into the valley that lay between the smaller
mountains. There were a few more farms there, spread out and covered in all
sorts of different crops. Some had wheat fields, others had fields of brightly
colored flowers. The cows that were moseying around one of the open grassy
fields are what really threw me for a loop.
See, I had never been outside of the New York/New Jersey area. I’d
never even been to upstate New York, where I knew it looked much closer to this
than Brooklyn ever would. I wondered if we would be stopping along here, somewhere.
Maybe I’d be working on a farm from now on. Maybe I’d be the one milking those
cows in the morning.
We passed right through, just as we had been doing.
“How much further?” I asked, reaching forward to pull out my
chapstick. I knew one thing—my lips were already feeling the change in
“We’re right around the bend, actually,” Agent Wilson answered
sounding amused and pointing to where the road ahead turned from paved to dirt.
I raised my brow.
As we made the hairpin turn to the right, I thought my eyes would pop
out of my head. There, about a mile down, was the beginning of the longest
driveway I’d ever seen in my life. The driveway was paved with a smooth
sand-colored material, and along it on both sides were beautiful small
rosebushes and thin yet bushy tall trees of the deepest green. The kinds of
trees you only see when a professional landscaper is being paid tons of cash to
maintain the grounds.
“Oh my word,” I whispered, catching glimpse of what was at the end of
the driveway, and where we were clearly headed.
It was a castle. A real, freaking Disney-princess castle. With blue
circular turrets topped with sky-high spires, millions of windows, and
immaculate architecture. I could not believe my eyes.
“Most of the French châteaux along the Jura mountain range are named,
but for some reason this one isn’t,” he said, mostly to himself.
“Ow,” I said, rubbing the skin on my arm where I tried to pinch
myself. This couldn’t be real. There was just no way.
Wilson chuckled at me. “Believe it, Miss Jackson. At least for now. This is
your halfway house, where you’ll be staying until you’re on your feet. The feds
are putting together a case, and we need you to stay put and stay out of sight
until you can testify.”
I was so enthralled at the idea of staying somewhere that looked like
this on the outside that I completely forgot to make a comment about him
showing a smile for the first time since we met. I couldn’t speak.
When we pulled up to the front entrance, a middle-aged man in a very
clean butler’s uniform opened my door, taking my hand to help guide me out.
“Mademoiselle,” he mumbled, tipping his hat to me, before going around
to the trunk of the car and grabbing the rest of my things.
I blushed, unsure of what to reply with. I didn’t really know French,
so I just gave him a smile and some semblance of a curtsy. That’s what people
did here in Europe, right? I hoped I wasn’t expected to give him one of those
weird two-cheek kisses.
“Wait here, Bree,” Agent Wilson said, before heading through the sandy
brick arches and into the entry way. I fought the urge to frown at the name and
distracted myself by looking at the rest of the house.
House? No, this ain’t no house. This right here is a castle.
Legitimately a castle.
I stood there dying to get a better view of the grounds alone, not to
mention whatever else was going on inside the place. There were other buildings
that looked slightly newer than the centuries’ old look of the castle. From
what I could tell, one of them was actually full of horse stables.
But nothing beat what I saw when I turned my attention back to the
front of the castle. Down the small set of wide steps came a man that was so
ridiculously attractive that I was
I had actually died and gone to Heaven. These past two months were a dream—I
had really been shot that night in the hotel, and I was finally living it up.
He was tall and lean, with his light brown hair perfectly styled and
clean-cut. Even from way over there, I could tell he had a strong jaw line with
one of those dimpled chins. He looked like a younger professional who had just
stepped out of a board meeting after winning over the billion-dollar client.
The man stood there with his hands casually in his pockets, leaning
more to one side. Even though I hated using the word, I had to admit that he
definitely had swagger. The kind that the movie stars had during the Golden Age
Behind him, Agent Wilson followed, holding a thick file in his hand.
The man turned toward him and firmly shook his hand, the two of them having a
conversation in fluid French.
Agent Wilson nodded his head and came up to me, pulling me into a
brief and awkward hug. “All right kiddo, I’m done here for now. I’m going to be
coming to check up on you in two weeks’ time, okay?”
My mouth dropped open, and I fought the panic that was rising in my
throat. As beautiful as this place was, I couldn’t imagine being dropped off
and told ‘good luck.’
“That’s it? That’s all? Aren’t there more security measures than a
simple ‘hey, howya doin’?” I demanded.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I checked in with my superiors, and
everything is good to go here. Mr. Malveaux here does lots of work with the
U.S. government. He’s had his home open for witness-protected people for five
years now. You can trust him. I do.”
I glanced over his shoulder, looking at the handsome man who was now
smiling at me. I bit my lip, wishing I wasn’t so paranoid about everyone’s
intentions now. My life was one big ‘what if’ now, and I hated it.
“Okay.” I nodded, sighing to myself. “I get it. But . . . for
cautionary purposes, is there a way I can contact you, or hell, anyone else?
Y’know, just in case? I think it would make me feel a lot better.”
“Sure thing. There’s a cell phone in the bag I provided you. I expect
you to set up the fingerprint scanner so no one else can use it. I have my
personal number and a couple other important ones in the contact list. Just
make sure to keep a good eye on it. And you can always call if you need to, for
Well, that wasn’t too bad.
“That makes me
feel a little better. I guess I will see you in two weeks, then?”
“Two weeks. Until then, get some rest. Mr. Malveaux will be a big help
to you as well, so make sure to use his knowledge. He’ll be the one helping you
to secure employment and blend in with the locals.”
I looked at Agent Wilson and Mr. Malveaux, then looked down at myself
pointedly. “Blend in?” I couldn’t help but chuckle. “No offense Agent, but I
hardly think a young black woman is going to blend in with the locals. Isn’t
the French countryside where all the rich white people buy a second vacation
home or something?”
He shook his head, rolling his eyes. “You’ll do just fine, Miss
Jackson. France is a country full of diversity.”
And with that, he gave me another quick nod and hopped back into the
small rental car and drove off. I stood there watching as he left, suddenly
feeling even more alone.
Behind me, Mr. Malveaux loudly cleared his throat.
“Mademoiselle Jackson? Are you hungry?”
I blinked my eyes, trying to see if Mr. Malveaux was really just that
handsome, or maybe I was just imagining things at this point. Who knew?
He looked at me expectantly, a polite smile crossing his face as I
took way too long to finally answer him.
“Um, yes. Sorry . . . yes, I’m actually pretty famished. It was a long
drive. Actually, it’s been a long couple of months.”
My eyes nearly bugged out of my head as I realized I was saying way
too much. Great, I’m such a genius when it comes to first impressions.
“Please, follow me. We have a full kitchen, and my head chef is still
on staff for the rest of the day. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind preparing something
for you,” Mr. Malveaux said.
Geez, even his accent was enough to make me drool. When he turned to walk
away, I followed, discreetly checking to make sure that I wasn’t doing just
Being impressed by the natural surroundings of the castle was one
thing. But once I set foot inside the place… it was like I was Cinderella.
The entryway was expansive on its own. It wasn’t too wide but had a
domed ceiling, with many doors leading off both the left and right sides. Where
the architectural beams met in the point in the middle the dome, there was an
enormous chandelier dripping with thousands of crystals. I looked down at my
feet and realized that I was walking across a complex design of white and gray
tile that expanded out in a circle, surrounded by darkly veined marble floors.
In front of us was the largest staircase I had ever seen, complete
with the red carpet in the middle of the steps, centered and going all the way
up. There was lovely dark wooden furniture that looked like it belonged in a
museum scattered throughout the room, complementing all of the matching wooden
I let out a low whistle, shaking my head. “And this is your home?”
Mr. Malveaux chuckled to himself and tilted his head to the side
slightly, looking as though he was trying to figure me out.
Good luck with that, honey.
“It is. It’s also the home to my staff on hand, or at least a few of
them. If you’d like, I can give you a little tour and a brief history of the
château on our way into the kitchen,” he offered.
“Sure, I’d like that.”