Twenty-six—that was the number of windows across the front of this house. Four—it had four chimneys. Abbey had only just counted them all as the enormous, Georgian-revival-style mansion came into view at the end of the mile-long driveway. She’d had to be let in via an intercom at a pair of iron gates bigger than her apartment building. As she’d snaked along the property in her car, miles of perfectly manicured grass—green, despite the winter weather—stretching out on either side of the drive, and the James River angrily lapping on the edge of the property under the winter clouds, her hands had begun to sweat. Abbey had always been impulsive, even though she’d tried very hard not to be, but she’d done it again.
She’d dressed up. She wasn’t used to dressing up. Normally, she had on scrubs at work, and on her off time she wore hoodies and jeans. But this was a business meeting, and she’d wanted to look prepared; however, nothing had prepared her for what was in front of her now. She shifted her portfolio case on the seat of her car to keep it from slipping onto the floorboards. It was a gift from her gramps and had sat empty until now.
You can do this, she said to herself as she tried to keep the seatbelt from wrinkling her clothes. You’re gonna have to do this. You made your bed. Now you have to lie in it.
The owner of this home was in a league beyond comprehension. He was the grandson of a woman named Caroline Sinclair for whom Abbey cared. Caroline lived in a small cottage on the edge of the Sinclair property, and Abbey had always reached her cottage using a private side road. The estate was so large and wooded that the cottage seemed to be all by itself; the main house wasn’t even visible. Caroline had explained that she wanted it that way.
“If Nick is making me live on the property, I want to at least feel that I can come and go as if it’s my own residence. I don’t want to live out back of the house, or something demeaning like that. I want my own place, not a guest quarters.”
Abbey had gotten the job caring for Caroline while working at an upscale retirement home. Nicholas Sinclair had called to ask if they had a service for in-home nurses. When she’d said that they didn’t, he’d offered to pay her more than what she was making there to care for Caroline at home, because he didn’t want to put her in a facility. Caroline had mentioned that her grandson, Nick, had a “big house,” but this kind of wealth was something out of a storybook.
As Abbey looked at the house, it shed new light on Caroline’s quirks—the way she’d held the thick mug that Abbey had gotten her for her birthday as if it were a delicate piece of art, the straightness of her back when she sat on the edge of her chair, the manner in which she nodded and said “thank you,” for the smallest of things. It was all clear now. What had seemed like generally polite behavior had actually been the behavior of a privileged upbringing. Abbey had never met Mr. Sinclair face to face. She’d always just provided Caroline’s current health status and data from her tests via phone—usually leaving a message—and he’d mailed her paychecks. Now, she wondered if she’d notice those small indications of wealth when she met him.
Abbey parked her car in the great, circular drive and turned off the engine. Snowflakes dotted her windshield as she took a peek in her rearview mirror to be sure she was as presentable as possible. She dabbed on some lip-gloss quickly and dropped it into her handbag. With a deep breath, she got out of the car, her heels wobbling slightly with her nerves. Hoping the snow wouldn’t begin to pile up when she was inside, she clicked along the brick patio-sized pathway to the front steps. With every step, she could feel the crescendo of the pounding in her heart.