Happy Monday! Over the weekend I announced my Billionaire Giveaway! You don’t actually get a billionaire (wouldn’t that be nice), but you do get to help me pick out the photos for the billionaires in my upcoming picture book Nails for a Billionaire. Come back this afternoon for the first chance to vote and win!
On with Episode 7:
Charisse stared a moment more at the tree with the bouquet of dead roses tied to it before she turned back towards the hedge maze. She no longer wanted to go out to the beach where she guessed the landing platform was for the zipline that had run from the balcony of the master suite to the ocean. When she’d found an old article on the Internet about the accident, she’d been driven to walk where she thought the course had been. But seeing the dead roses had twisted her heart, causing her to reach out to him with a text. He probably wouldn’t answer it.
The day was overcast and chilly, adding to her unsettled mood. She didn’t know if it was the morning therapy sessions that left her crying every day or the long workouts after, but she was worn out. Even on a busy day at the salon, she didn’t feel this exhausted. But she was determined to find Conor.
She didn’t think he’d gone back to New York like Raul was trying to lead her to believe. For one, Raul was still here. She was under the impression that Conor took him everywhere. For another, she was his for three weeks. He didn’t seem like the type to waste a deal. But here it was, the end of the first week, and she’d hardly seen him.
She’d enjoyed meeting the staff and brushing up on her Spanish. The cook and waiter were especially patient with her attempts at Spanish, maybe because Raul looked after her more like a father than an assistant. She’d pushed him to his limit though, going through every room in the mansion looking for Conor. When she’d come to a locked door across from Conor’s room, she’d pounded and pounded on the door shouting his name. Raul had to drag her away and tell her that’s the room Conor had shared with Elise. She’d turned to the Internet after that to see what she could find.
Elise was nothing like Charisse. She’d been blonde and cute—a happy version of Becca. There’d been lots of gossip articles about her adventures mountain climbing and parachuting, but only one about her death.
Snapping back into the present, Charisse stepped into the maze, sure she knew the way to the fountain. She’d stared and stared at it from her window until her vision had blurred. She’d narrowed it down to two possible paths to get to the fountain. She took the one to the right. As the sound of the fountain grew louder and louder, she looked closer and closer for what she’d missed before.
Wait a second. The hedge to her left ended rather than going on like a wall as it seemed. Maybe the lighting was different with the clouds, but she suddenly realized she’d missed the opening because the wall of hedge behind it was so close. She came to the end of the hedge, poked her head around it and saw a narrow path. Finally.
She squeezed through and caught her breath. Seeing the fountain from her bedroom didn’t do it justice.
It was wider then the living room of her apartment. Jets of water shot up and waved in a repeating pattern. In the center was what had to be another Chihuly glass sculpture in the form of an overgrown rose bush. Huge azure roses dwarfed smaller white roses. Green leaves curled over stems, and thorns poked out beneath them. She imagined sunlight reflecting off of them and knew she had to return when the clouds weren’t in the way.
She wanted to shout out in triumph, but instead she pulled out her phone, took a picture and sent it to Conor. She doubted it would draw him out from his hiding place, but she wanted to share her victory with him anyway.
Curious to see what was at the end of the maze, she discovered an exit that took her further away from the mansion. That was a mistake. She hadn’t realized how late it was, or maybe the clouds were bringing on an early dusk, but she feared she wouldn’t find a way out before dark.
She pulled her phone out. Only six. Raul was putting together a special Puerto Rican dish for her, but she had time for a little more exploring before she turned back.
And then she suddenly came to a large opening in the hedge. She peered out and saw a path leading to a small two-story house being swallowed by climbing roses. The leaves were still green, but the blooms were scant. Her heart pounded faster. Had she found Conor’s hiding spot at last?
As she approached, she saw the blooms were miniature red roses and more plentiful than she’d first thought. A set of pruning sheers had been discarded in the grass as if someone had clipped some roses and gone off in a hurry. Two stairs led up to a large porch with a swing. Charisse recalled the time on the swing in his penthouse garden when they’d first had sex. It seemed so long ago now. She thought she’d been falling in love, but now everything was twisted like the stems climbing the walls of the house.
She gave a tentative knock on the door. She saw a doorbell and rang it. When they both went unanswered, she knocked on the door louder and called out, “Conor!”
She tried the knob, but it was locked. Maybe a groundskeeper lived here. Stepping to the side, she gazed through a window. A Monet hung behind a black leather couch. This had to be Conor’s retreat.
Exhaustion settled into her bones. Maybe he’d be back soon. She still had a little time before dinner. She sat down on the swing. Soon she was lying on her side with her legs curled on the seat. She fell fast asleep.