Philippe dropped him off in the wide Spanish-style courtyard and continued to Richard’s new lodgings with his luggage. An olive-skinned young man came to meet him and relieved him of his backpack. His long dreadlocks wobbled as he introduced himself as Juan in a clipped and colorful accent, and motioned to follow him inside the house, leaving Richard staring after him in bemusement. He’d half expected to be met by the stereotypical stiff-lipped liveried servant, the type one usually saw in those antebellum-era movies. Certainly not a Bermuda shorts-clad, sandal-footed young man with a friendly smile.
As he crossed the threshold of the old mansion, he was taken aback by the grandeur and richness of the interior. He’d rubbed elbows with the elite long enough to recognize everything in this house was authentic and priceless, down to the carved moldings and Italian marble floors.
Wide, heavy oak doors opened onto an airy hallway complete with crystal chandeliers and sweeping double staircase, though without the overstated opulence one would expect to find in a rich plantation owner’s home. The décor was Victorian, from the antique furniture and peer mirrors to the silk wall coverings and inlaid sideboards. He had the impression he’d stepped back a couple of centuries. Any minute now a plump housekeeper in a white apron would sweep her long black skirts through the side door and usher him inside.
The woman who crossed the hall and met him with a welcoming smile was far from the lace and crinoline type, though she blended in nicely with the dignity and serenity of the house. She was petite and delicately built, with gentle blue eyes that reached disturbingly deep inside him. A cap of premature snow-white hair framed the delicate oval of her face in a short, sleek bob. The tiny jolt he experienced at the sight of her had nothing to do with his momentary loss of touch with the present but, rather, with a strange sense of recognition, as though he’d unexpectedly come face-to-face with an old acquaintance. But he was sure he’d never seen this woman before.
“Mr. Kelly, welcome to Serena.”
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