Ellen breathed a sigh of relief as the car rolled off the ferry onto
the island. The trip from the mainland had not been a smooth
one. High winds from a fast approaching storm had whipped the
waters of Chaddoux Sound (pronounced Shadow Sound) into a
fury. The small boat had been tossed about like a cork for what
seemed an eternity before finally reaching its destination. This, on
top of the turbulence she had experienced on the nine hour fl ight
from London, had left her feeling more than a little queasy. It had
been an exhausting journey, but the day’s travel was not entirely
responsible for her fatigue. Several weeks of sleepless nights were
to be blamed for that.
The decision to accept Mrs.Chaddoux-Foxx’s invitation to
come to this obscure island off the coast of Louisiana had been
a difficult one to make. Even though the arrangement would
be strictly temporary, Ellen had agonized over it for days. She
had lived in London for four years now and had not been home
to the States once in that time. Not even to visit her family in
Dallas. She had gone to London with one purpose in mind—to
make a name for herself abroad in her beloved field of antiques,
antique furniture being her specialty. She had given herself over so
completely to accomplishing her goal that every aspect of her life
revolved around the people or things associated with her work.
Her dedication and devotion to her dream, however, had
paid off . In a relatively short period of time she had gained the
respect of some of England’s best known antiquarians whose
endorsement had made her a much sought after commodity by
many of London’s elite collectors. And, compared to most in her
position, she was extremely young to have obtained this degree of
renown as an antiquities authenticator.
But despite her age, she was not naive. She understood full
well the fickle nature of the clientele she served, and knew that
regardless of her qualifications, the tide of her success could easily
and quickly turn. To leave London at this point in her career, even
for a short period of time, could prove disastrous—out of sight,
out of mind. But sadly she knew she had no choice. Time and
distance were the only two things that would be able to sever the
cords she had been so cunningly ensnared with.
Davin Carstairs, the handsome and beguiling young owner
of an East London antique shop had spent the last two years
methodically drawing Ellen into his web. He had recognized
her early on as his ticket into London’s very closed society of
antiquarians—an illustrious group that had always hovered just
beyond his reach. He had pursued her shamelessly and won, and as
planned, gained instant acceptance into her circle of acquaintances
simply as a consequence of his association with her. Capitalizing
on her impeccable reputation, he had transformed his second-rate
antique shop in one of London’s seedier neighborhoods into a
thriving business. He now catered to the rich and famous instead
of the tourist trade he was once accustomed to. Ellen lent an air
of reputability to his establishment that he had been unable to
achieve without her—despite all his charm and panache.
And he was charming. Ellen had watched him work his magic
on the most proper of patrons and the results never ceased to
amaze her. Davin laughingly called it a gift . And Ellen herself had
always thought it harmless enough—until she realized that it was
not a gift but a craft —a craft by which he skillfully manipulated
everyone and everything around him. Including Ellen, she now
realized, who had always thought herself immune to the effects of
his theatrics. And, she might still believe that, had it not been for
one flawed performance at a dinner party six weeks ago when she
saw all too clearly the malevolence that lie just beneath the mask.
With a sigh, she closed her eyes and sank back into the luxuriant
leather upholstery of the vintage Rolls Royce that had met her at
the airport in New Orleans. Once again she was overcome with
the desperate feeling that regardless of how many miles she put
between Davin and herself, she would never be completely free of
his hold on her.
That was the last conscious thought she had. Within minutes
she had succumbed to exhaustion and fallen asleep. The next thing
she knew, the car had stopped and the driver was standing at her
open door waiting to help her out. As she prepared to step out of
the car, her attention was drawn immediately to the massive stone
edifice looming behind him. From her position in the car it was
impossible to discern the entire dimension of the building, but if
the portion she could see were any indication, the Chaddoux-Foxx
family dwelling was more of a fortress than a house.
The structure, though simple in design, possessed a regal
quality. The walls were of gray stone, formidable and imposing.
Two heavily carved wooden doors, slightly recessed, stood atop
a shallow course of stone steps. Rows of evenly spaced windows
ran away from the doors in both directions for an undeterminable
distance, and up for what looked to be three stories. The architectural
influence appeared to be predominantly French baroque, which
style would indeed correspond with the time period in which Mrs.
Chaddoux-Foxx had said the central part of the house had been
constructed—the mid 1700’s.
Ellen could not believe her eyes. The fact that this incredible
monument had stood for nearly three centuries off the coast of
Louisiana—just a few short hours from her Dallas home—without
her ever having known of its existence seemed impossible. But, it
was a private residence, on a private island, that had belonged to
one extremely reclusive family for hundreds of years—a family
who had obviously done an excellent job of protecting their
sanctuary from the outside world. Mrs.Chaddoux-Foxx was the
first in her line to even toy with the idea of opening the house to
the public. Ellen determined at that moment to do everything
within her power to reassure Mrs.Chaddoux-Foxx that sharing
her wonderful heritage was the right thing to do.
She had lost all track of time as she sat staring incredulously
at the mansion. The driver, still waiting to help her out of the car,
cleared his throat rather loudly breaking into her thoughts. It was
no wonder he was impatient, the storm that had followed them
from New Orleans was now directly upon them.
“I’m sorry,” Ellen said, realizing he was waiting for her to get
out of the car. “Don’t worry with me, I just need to gather up my
things. I just need a minute.”
“Yes ma’am,” the driver said, his response barely audible over
the gusting wind.
Ellen was captivated by the way the house reflected the
changing light in the face of the storm, and turned to look at it
once more. As the black clouds churned ominously overhead, the
house seemed to come alive before her eyes, fortifying itself against
the eminent tempest. She could feel its strength, its agelessness,
calling to her, beckoning her urgently to come inside, into a safe
“How odd,” Ellen said aloud of that sensation, as she reached
to retrieve her purse from the fl oorboard of the car.
As she bent over, she thought the car door must have blown
closed behind her, because instantly, the howling wind