“You don’t belong here. You never will.”
Krystina jerked to attention when a hand fell on her shoulder bringing her out of her deep musings. She turned to see an older gentleman in a dark suit holding a sign in his hand with her name on it. Raising a brow in surprise, she took a cautious step backward. “Yes?”
“I’m Douglas, your driver, here to take you to your destination.”
She furrowed her brow in confusion. “Uh, I didn’t order a car service. I’d planned to catch a cab.”
“There’s no need for that ma’am. It’s all been arranged. Mr. Holden’s instructions.”
A slight smile touched her lips. For the first time since she’d stepped off the plane, her already elevated anxiety slightly abated. Uncle Charles was a thoughtful man. It was kind of him to arrange transportation for her. “Oh, well, in that case, thank you.”
“Let me help you with your bags. Is this all?” Douglas looked at her carry-on and large suitcase.
She nodded. “Yes, thank you. You can take the big one. I can handle the other.”
“It would be no problem for me to take both.”
“Really, I don’t mind.” Krystina rolled the larger of the two cases toward the driver. “Lead the way.”
Douglas took the bag. “Follow me.”
Once Krystina’s luggage was in the trunk and she was ensconced within the back of the luxury vehicle, her thoughts began to drift to memories best buried in the past. During her lengthy flight from Paris, she’d tried to keep her mind occupied, focusing on this new chapter in her life. If she could just make it past the next several weeks, or at least however long it took her to find suitable accommodations she’d be all set.
Her carefully laid out plans had taken a slight detour when her old college roommate who she’d planned to room with had gotten engaged. Stella had decided that it made financial sense for her and her fiancé to move in together sooner rather than later.
Krystina understood but it had put her in a sticky situation, which was why she was now headed to the one place she said, she’d never step foot in again. If it weren’t for Uncle Charles, she certainly wouldn’t have but after all he’d done for her, she could hardly turn down his invitation without seeming ungrateful.
Releasing a heavy sigh, she leaned her head back against the leather upholstery and closed her eyes.
“We’ll be living here?” Krystina eyed the massive estate with wonder. She’d only seen homes like this on television. What stood before her in all its opposing glory was a pure architectural masterpiece with its imposing columns on the porch and huge circular driveway with a fountain in the middle. The massive manicured lawn probably could have fit the entire block of her old neighborhood and then some. It never occurred to her that people outside of Hollywood or those who weren’t royalty actually lived like this. It was a far cry from the rickety old house she’d shared with her grandmother in a backwoods Mississippi town that had been devastated by a natural disaster. Only a few weeks ago, they had been homeless. Krystina had never expected anything so fancy.
“Close your mouth girl before a fly lands in there.”
Krystina promptly shut her lips despite the fact that the windows were rolled up and there was no chance of any insects getting in. She knew better than to talk back to the older woman who never hesitated in doling out a little corporal punishment.
Once the driver parked the vehicle in a carport that held several cars, he led them to a side entrance. The inside of the house was even grander than she imagined it would be with its double spiraling staircases, vaulted ceilings and giant chandelier. She gasped in awe. Everything looked so expensive that she was too scared to touch anything and if she really wanted to.
A tall, thin woman with iron gray hair and an unreadable expression approached them after the driver who’d escorted them in had disappeared. “I’m Ms. Lakes, the estate manager. Jeffrey will take your things to your rooms. In the meantime, I’ll show you to the living room where you can make yourselves comfortable, although I caution you to be very careful in there because there are many valuable items we’d rather not see damaged.” She offered a tight smile before turning on her heel and walking away. Krystina’s grandmother let out a soft ‘humph’ before taking her hand and following the woman.
Even in Krystina’s eleven-year-old mind, she’d understood the insult in Ms. Lakes words, as if they would destroy property when they’d barely gotten inside the house. After taking their seats, the estate manager gave them a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “So, Willie Mae is it? Didn’t you use to be the Holden’s maid? How generous of them to take you and your granddaughter in after that unfortunate incident.”
Krystina narrowed her eyes. Already, she disliked this woman. Where she came from no one used an elder’s first name unless given permission and even though Ms. Lakes was up there in years, Krystina was certain Grandma had her beat. “It’s Miss Jackson,” she piped up.
Ms. Lakes raised a brow. “Oh, my apologies. I figured you’d be back in a domestic capacity so…of course. Forgive my lapse of judgment. I’ll inform Mr. Holden you’ve arrived. In the meantime, I’ll have a maid see to it that you get refreshments.”
As soon as the woman was out of the room, Grandma pursed her lips. “I don’t trust that heifer for as far as I can throw her. When I worked here, we didn’t need all these servants for so few people. Estate manager, my foot.”
Krystina simply nodded in agreement.
“But, I taught you better than that. You don’t put your nose in grown folks’ conversation.”
Grandma sighed. “It’s okay this time but watch that mouth. It will get you in trouble one day. Don’t end up like your mother.”
It was on the tip of Krystina’s tongue to give a smart retort but she’d been on the receiving end of her grandmother’s backhand before and didn’t wish to experience it now. She bit the inside of her bottom lip, hating that once again her mother’s sins were thrown in her face. She couldn’t help what her mother had done but it seemed like she was constantly paying for it. There were times when Krystina wondered if her grandmother actually thought she was her mother. Sometimes Grandma would call Krystina by her mother’s name. It had become a more frequent occurrence since Candice Jackson’s death two years ago.