Everything would be fine. Once she reached the Hall, she could relax and unwind. And if she felt like doing something more strenuous she could go for a walk along the beach or just do some cloud-spotting.
* * *
And there were plenty of clouds to spot, she thought twenty minutes later, as she hugged her beautiful but utterly ineffective quilted jacket around her shivering body. In fact, the sky was pretty much one huge, dark cloud, and the half-hearted rain from earlier was now sheeting down in force as she rapped on the door with the huge cast-iron knocker.
She waited, squinting up at the immense grey stone house rising above her, her heart beating in time to the raindrops hitting her face.
In her head, she’d imagined Constance opening the door, smiling warmly. But there was no sign of any housekeeper, with or without a smile, and all the windows looked ominously dark...
Trying to still the jittery feeling in her legs, she pulled out her phone. Perhaps she should call Johnny.
She bit her lip. So did that mean Constance had never got Johnny’s message about her coming alone?
Turning, she felt a quiver of apprehension scamper down her backbone as she watched the taillights of the taxi she’d hired at the station disappear into the rain.
There was no way she was walking back over that cobbled causeway in this weather. And it wasn’t as if she would be breaking in or anything...
Turning her back against the thundering rain, she found the key Johnny had given her, pushed it into the lock, and turned it.
It was toe-curlingly dark inside. Her heart thudding, she fumbled for a light switch.
She was standing in a tennis-court-sized entrance hall. Water was dripping down her legs into her trainers, but she was too distracted to care.
Home from home, Johnny had said. Clearly that depended on your definition of ‘home’, she thought, gazing up at the huge mahogany staircase, the stucco ceiling, and innumerable gold-framed oil paintings on the walls.
She had known Johnny came from money. Not the professionally earned sort, but old money—the kind that came with a small but exclusive circle of acquaintances, a flat in Eaton Square, and a country estate. She knew, too, that he had a cousin who was a lord or an earl or something.
Only she had never really put it into context until now.
Her stomach twisted. What would it be like to live here? To be the lady of the house? But of course ordinary people like her didn’t actually live in places like this. At most they stayed for a weekend—or, in her case, one night.
Tomorrow she would pay whatever it cost to take a taxi to the nearest hotel. Johnny would understand.
Her heart leapt in her throat as a noisy cluster of raindrops hit the windows.
Maybe in the morning she might take a quick peek around the house. Right now, though, she just wanted to go to bed.
Upstairs, there was an unbelievable number of bedrooms, all awash with heavy fabrics and Persian rugs and paintings of horses. Feeling like Goldilocks, she wandered from one room to another, pressing her hand against the velvet bedspreads to test the mattresses.
That one was too soft, this one was too hard, but this one...
Like all the other rooms, this one was large, but it had a different feel to it. There was an overflowing bookcase, a battered trunk at the end of the bed, and a large shabby wicker dog basket beneath the window.
The mattress dipped as she sat down on the edge of the mahogany-framed four-poster bed.
This one was just right.
She washed her face and brushed her teeth in the large and very austere en suite bathroom. No toiletries. Just dark grey tiles, a bath the size of a boat, and a leather armchair that looked like something from a gentlemen’s club.
Oh, and a cricket bat leaning incongruously against the wall, as if someone had just walked in off the pitch.
She stared at it in silence, frowning, and then picked it up. She might be on an island, in a house that looked as if it had been built to keep out invaders from across the sea, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a little extra protection to hand.
Back in the bedroom, she peeled off her damp clothes and reached into her suitcase for the old dress shirt of her dad’s that she wore to bed.