Authors: Mia Caldwell
Man, he wasn’t kidding. With the kitchen being all the way to the one
side of the castle, we nearly toured the entire house.
“… and this is actually one of my favorite rooms. It’s known as
le chambre de musique
. The music room.
Every now and then when I get the chance I like to come in here and play a few
scales on the
,” he said,
pointing to the mini piano in one corner of the large room.
I walked over to it, testing out the keys on my own. I had always
wanted to learn how to play the piano, but growing up in my neighborhood… it
just never happened. My daddy and mama were too busy working their jobs or
fighting with one another, and the money was never really there. As I trilled
my fingers down the line of keys I felt a certain sadness.
I wasn’t bitter, in fact I was pretty lucky to have a relatively
stable family. Plenty of my friends couldn’t say the same. Sometimes though, if
I was being honest with myself, I did feel a twinge of jealousy for those who
had more than we did. Of course… I would’ve given all of that up if I could
just have my family back…
I cleared my throat, trying not to dwell on the past. It never did me
any good—that was for sure.
“Do you play, Mademoiselle. Jackson?”
Mr. Malveaux was standing pretty close behind me, catching me off
guard. I quickly pulled my hand away, both blushing and cringing at the same
time. All I could think about was how I wished I could just chuck the name
away. I had always liked my own, and for some reason I felt the need to tell
him. He was on the government’s payroll, so it wouldn’t hurt, right?
“No, but I’ve always wanted to. And you can call me Amira. If you
don’t mind. It’s my real name. Amira Kyle.”
I glanced over at him from the corner of my eye, watching as the
corner of his mouth turned up.
“All right, Amira. Then you must also call me Julien,” he answered.
“The kitchen is not too much further away now.”
He turned and headed back out the door, not bothering to see if I was
following along. I raised my brow but said nothing.
We reached the end of the hallway and went through a pair of heavy
wooden doors that gave way to the surprisingly modernized French kitchen
beyond. I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t
this. The rest of the castle had a far-off feeling to it, as if I was entering
a storybook or something.
getting the feeling of being underdressed as we went through from room to room.
But the kitchen was cozier, not small, but not as nearly as large as I thought
it would be. It had modern top-grade appliances and a large hearth along one of
the walls. There was enough seating for ten people easily, but no one was there
except for a man who was hunched over one of the industrial-sized stoves,
muttering to himself.
After having to deal with being pushed through angry crowds, being
covered up with an honest-to-God blanket in front of the media, and having even
been shoved into closets and other confined placed, it was nice to be in a
large open space with barely anyone else around me. Somehow I felt… safer. If
that were even possible for me now.
Julien walked over to the man, clapping him on the back before they
All this foreign language stuff was already driving me nuts. I stood
there, wondering how hard it would be to teach myself French in a couple of
Julien waved me on over. “Gervaise says that he would be willing to
make whatever your heart desires. What are you hungry for?”
I looked around the kitchen as if it would give me some kind of clue.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had a proper meal, sitting down at a table.
But still, my stomach was just settling in and I found myself not wanting to
eat too heavily.
I hated being put on the spot like that, and shrugged my shoulders.
“I’m not really sure. I don’t really know French cuisine all that well. Would
he be able to make something simple? Like a sandwich or something? I mean I
could even go in there and do it myself. He doesn’t need to trouble himself
with making me something to eat.”
At this, Gervaise turned on his heel to face me, his forehead
wrinkling as he glared at me. Julien chuckled, shaking his head.
“I don’t think you understand the way it works here. Gervaise fulfills
himself by preparing you food. It’s his job, and therefore if you don’t let him
do his job, well, it upsets him. Please have him make something for you. I
promise whatever it is will be delicious,” Julien said.
I bit my lip. Outside of being at a restaurant, I didn’t really have
people around to cook for me. Well, besides Rosita when I would go visit her
sometimes. So this whole being catered to thing was completely new to me. I
nodded though, not wanting to offend the poor guy again.
“I apologize, Gervaise. I was only just trying to make it easier on
you. I’m pretty indecisive when it comes to food. How about something like a
Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça?
What is BLT?” Gervaise asked, looking genuinely confused.
“Bacon, lettuce, tomato? That’s all that’s on the sandwich,” I
“Ah, yes. Ce n’est pas un problème. Have seat.”
He got to work on the sandwich, and Julien and I took a seat at the
long kitchen table. Even though I desperately wanted to, I kept my eyes low,
and tried my best not to stare at him. I didn’t want to seem pathetic.
But he didn’t seem to be having that, and kept trying to catch my
gaze. “So Amira, I had a chance to look through your file. I just want to be
clear upfront—you are absolutely safe here. I know that sounds a little too
good to be true, especially after what happened to you, but I can assure you
that it is. There are many measures in place to ensure your safety, and if you
ever need anything all you have to do is ask. I’m
too far away.”
His soft accent soothed me, almost like silk across my ebony skin. I
didn’t want to enjoy it as much as I did, but he did actually make me feel
“Okay, you’ve read my file. At least I don’t have to go through all
the details with yet another person, so thank you for that. What about you? Do
I get some sort of secret file with all this impressive information about you
in it? It would only be fair.”
The lightheartedness of my words surprised me. It had been so long
since I had been able to relax, much less really smile. Yet it was so easy to
just sit here and tease Julien, as if I had been doing it forever. Looking at
him, you wouldn’t think he was approachable, but he seemed very down to Earth…
and matched with his ability to charm the pants off of you… I was feeling
better about the situation the more I spoke with him.
Julien gave me the sexiest crooked smile, folding his hands out in
front of him on the table. “You want a file on me? And what do you hope to find
Hmm, I thought. That’s a pretty good question.
I gave it some thought, as I looked up at the high-pitched ceiling
above our heads. He sat there patiently waiting for my answer.
“A little background on you, for starters. You’re supposed to be
entrusted with my safety? I don’t know anything about you. Also… how did you
end up with a place like this? It’s just so, I don’t know, unreal. I still
can’t believe I’m sitting here inside of it.”
He searched my eyes. I almost felt like he was digging through my
thoughts, the way his own honey-colored eyes pierced mine.
“You don’t need a file to learn any of that. All you have to do is
ask. I might just surprise you,” he replied, using that same silky tone as
I felt the chills as they ran up my arms and raced down my back.
“Okay. Julien,” I began, taking in a deep breath after his
name rolled off my tongue for the first time, sending even more shivers over my
skin. “Tell me about yourself.”
By the time Gervaise had brought me my BLT, I knew a few more things
about Julien. He was the heir to the famous Veritas shoe company, the world’s
number one manufacturer of leather goods. It was his grandfather’s business to
start off with, but his mother, Sabine, was currently the head of it.
I realized much to my discomfort that I was talking to someone who
lived a life that was totally incomprehensible. Julien was a billionaire…
When I asked about his impeccable English, I discovered that he had
spent his youth in California. His family was French, but his parents moved to
America after he was born. His father, Quentin Malveaux, died when Julien was
young. That’s when he had been brought back to France. Apparently he’d been
raised by the Belgards; an older couple that now worked for him at the castle.
I also learned that Julien bought the “château” as he called it, to
get away from being under his mother’s thumb. He said that he preferred the
countryside to the city… I didn’t blame him, it was gorgeous here.
I asked him why he had gotten into the business of helping the U.S.
government out, and he shrugged.
“There are so many people suffering out there. If I can help just one
person alleviate some of the pain by opening up my home to them and giving them
the safety they need to feel at peace, then it’s all worth it. There’s a lot of
paperwork involved, a lot of international barriers to cross, but at the end of
the day I feel it was the right thing to do. Even now.”
So basically, he’s pretty much perfect. If he was this good on paper,
I hated to see the kind of skeletons that were in
closet. At least with me, what you see is what you get. I’m
just a girl from New York with a big mouth that sometimes gets me into trouble.
I just don’t believe in sugar-coating things. I like the honest truth, and I
don’t see the point in beating around the bush for nothing.
Julien seemed genuine, but he also had an air of calculation to him.
Like you always felt as though he was summing you up. Maybe he was, who knew?
Maybe that was the kind of person I wanted watching over me right now.
I quickly finished my sandwich, embarrassed at how fast I put it
away—I really was starving.
“Now that you’ve had your meal, I have a couple questions for you.”
I frowned. What could he possibly want to know about me? Didn’t he
have that mysterious file on me?
“Okay, what do you got?”
“As I’m sure your handler, Agent Wilson, explained to you, you will be
required to begin looking for employment while you’re here. I looked through
your file of course and saw that you were previously employed at the Barxton
Hotel, as a housekeeper, yes?”
“Uh-huh . . . “ my voice trailed off, waiting for him to get to the
“We have a staff of six people on board right now. One of my maids is
getting ready to have a baby, and I’m needing someone to fill in for her while
she is on family leave. The position is open for approximately three months.
It’s a paid position, obviously, and it would begin tomorrow morning. Would you
I raised my brow, a dozen different things on my mind all at once. I
realized deep down that he was offering me something very helpful, but I
couldn’t help but wonder if that’s all he thought of when he looked at me. Just
I slowly pushed my empty plate away, placing my hands in my lap and
trying to focus on what I was about to say next.
“That would be very helpful... I suppose that would give me extra time
to find a place of my own.”
I could tell that Julien picked up on the flatness of my tone, but he
“So you’ll accept?”
I bit the inside of my cheek and nodded, part of me bummed that I was
already getting put back to work. You would think I would have a chance for a
little vacation after all I had gone through. But then again, I was just
thankful for the job. It made me feel better knowing that I was working to pay
my own way…
“Excellent. I’ll go show you to your room and inform Marie and Alain
about your acceptance. They are my heads of staff. You’ll like them.”
“Okay then, let’s see this bedroom of mine.”
We walked through the incredible estate, and I had to laugh as Julien
opened the door to my new room. It was at least three times as big as my
apartment back in Brooklyn.
I wandered over to the massive-sized bed that was actually coming out
of the wall itself. It was fitted with fancy bedposts and a dark blue canopy,
only a few shades darker than the royal blue wallpaper of the room. Half of the
walls were covered with the wallpaper, while the lower half of the walls were
covered in intricately carved wooden panels. Dark wood was everywhere in the
room—on the bed, on the walls, the trim around the doors and windows, and even
in the frames that supported the giant paintings hanging on the wall across
from the bed.
It most definitely was not my taste, but for some reason I loved it
just the same. I ran my hand along the soft fabric of the canopy and curtains,
remembering how I always wanted to have a pink princess canopy over my bed when
I was a kid. Boy, I had no clue.
Somehow I had managed to forget that Julien was standing there in the
doorway still, watching me. He smiled at me, giving me a gentlemanly bow before
taking off. I sighed, once again feeling completely alone.
Even though it wasn’t quite dark out yet, my body was already telling
me it was time to lie down. Stupid jet lag.
I opened up my suitcase and found the comfiest pajamas I had packed,
slipping them on before hopping into the bed. The mattress was perfectly soft,
just enough that I sunk in a little, but still had support for my achy back.
Working as a housekeeper for five years will do that to you.
Before long, I had drifted to sleep, my nightmares keeping
away at least for the night.