Bloody hell! I take my sunglasses off, looking past the gates and down the gravel road that seems to go for miles. There’s no sign of a house, just a tree lined road that I can’t see the end of. I get out of my car and walk up to the gates, giving them a little jiggle, but they don’t budge. I stand for a few moments, wondering what to do.
‘You need to press the intercom.’ I nearly jump out of my skin when the low rumble of a voice comes from nowhere, stabbing at the silent country air.
I look around me, but I’m definitely on my own. ‘Hello?’
I do a full three sixty turn and see the intercom further down the lane. I drove straight past it. I run over, pressing the button to announce myself. ‘Ava O’Shea, Rococo Union.’
He does? How? I look around and spot a camera installed on the gate, then the shift of metal breaks the countryside peace around me. The gates start opening. ‘Give me a chance.’ I mutter as I run back to my car. I jump in my Mini and creep forward as the gates swing open, all the time wondering how I’ll remove the glass of port and cigar that are, quite clearly, wedged up that miserable sod’s arse. I’m looking less forward to this appointment by the minute. Posh country folk and their posh country mansions are not in my area of expertise.
Once the gates are fully opened, I drive through and continue on the tree lined, gravel driveway that seems to go on forever. With mature Elm trees lying on either side of the lane at regular and even intervals, you would think they had been strategically placed to conceal what lies beyond. After a mile or so of sheltered driving, I pull into a perfectly round courtyard. I take my sunglasses off and gape at the huge house that looms centrally and demands attention. It’s superb, but I’m even more apprehensive now. My enthusiasm for this appointment is dampening further by the minute.
The black doors – adorned with highly polished gold furniture – are flanked by four giant bay windows, with pillars in carved stone guarding them. Giant limestone blocks make up the structure of the mansion, with lush bay trees lining the face. The fountain in the centre of the courtyard, spraying out jets of illuminated water, tops the sight off. It’s all very imposing.
I stop, cut the engine and fumble with the door release to get out of my car. Standing and holding on to the top of my car door, I look up at the magnificent building and immediately think that this has to be a mistake. The place is in amazing condition.
The lawns are greener than green, the house looks like it receives daily scrub downs and even the gravel looks like it receives a daily hoover. If the exterior is anything to go by, then I can’t imagine the inside needing any work. I look up at the dozens of sash bay windows, seeing plush curtains hanging at them all. I’m tempted to call Patrick to check I’ve got the right address, but it did say The Manor on the gates. And that miserable sod on the other end of the intercom was obviously expecting me.
While I’m pondering my next move, the doors open, revealing the biggest black man I’ve ever seen. He saunters out to the top of the steps. I physically flinch at the sight of him, stepping back slightly. He has a black suit on – specially made for sure because that’s no regular size – a black shirt and a black tie. His shaven head looks like it’s been buffed to a shine, and wraparound sunglasses conceal his face. If I could build a mental image of who I would have expected to walk out of them doors, he, most definitely, would not be it. The man is a mountain, and I know I’m stood here gawking at him. I’m suddenly slightly concerned that I’ve turned up at some mafia control centre, and I search my brain trying to remember if I transferred my rape alarm to my new handbag.
‘Miss O’Shea?’ he drawls.
I wilt under his massive presence, putting my hand up in a nervous wave gesture. ‘Hi.’ I whisper, my voice laced with all of the apprehension I truly feel.
‘This way.’ he rumbles deeply, giving a sharp nod of his head and turning to walk back into the mansion.
I deliberate on cutting and running, but the daring and dangerous side of me is curious of what lays beyond those doors. He’s no butler. I grab my bag, shut my car door and check for my rape alarm as I walk towards the house, only to find I’ve left it in my other bag. I carry on anyway. Pure curiosity has me walking up the steps and crossing the threshold into a huge entrance hall. I gaze around the vast area, and I’m immediately impressed by the grand, centrally position, curved staircase that leads up to the first floor.
My fears are confirmed. This place is immaculate.
The décor is opulent, lush and very intimidating. Deep blues, taupe’s with hints of gold and original woodwork, along with the rich mahogany parquet floor, makes the place striking and massively extravagant. It’s exactly how I would have expected it to be and nowhere near my design style. But then again, looking around, why any interior designer would be here is becoming more and more confusing. Patrick said they requested me personally, so I would be inclined to think that they want to modernise the place, but that would’ve been before I got a glimpse of the exterior and now the interior too. The décor suits the period building. It’s in perfect condition. Why the hell am I here?
Big guy heads off to the right, leaving me to scuttle off after him. My tan heels clink on the parquet floor as he leads me past the central staircase, towards the back of the Mansion.
I hear the hum of conversation and glance to my right, noticing many people sat at various tables eating, drinking and chatting. Waiters are serving food and drinks, and the distinct voices of The Rat Pack are purring in the background. I frown, but then I click. It’s a hotel – a posh country hotel. My shoulders sag slightly in relief at concluding this, but it still doesn’t explain why I’m here. I’m lead past some toilets and then a bar. A few men are sat on bar stools cracking jokes and teasing a young woman, who has, apparently, returned from the lavatory with toilet roll stuck to her heel. She playfully slaps the main instigator on the shoulder, scolding him while laughing along with them.
This is all beginning to make sense to me. I want to say something to the mountain of a man leading me, God only knows where, but he hasn’t looked back once to check I’m following. Although, the clink of my heels tells him I am. He doesn’t say much, and I suspect he wouldn’t answer me if I did speak.
We continue past two more closed doors. Judging by the clanking of pots, I assume one to be the kitchen. Then he leads me into a summer room – a massive, light, stunningly lavish space that’s sectioned off into individual seating areas by the positioning of sofa’s, big arm chairs and tables. Floor to ceiling bi-fold doors span the complete face of the room, leading to a yorkstone patio and a vast lawn area. It’s really quite awe inspiring. I inwardly gasp when I spot a glass building housing a swimming pool. It’s incredible. I shudder to think how much the nightly rate is. It has to be five stars – probably more.
Once we’ve passed through the summer room, I’m lead down a corridor until big guy stops outside a wooden panelled door. ‘Mr Ward’s office.’ he rumbles, knocking the door, surprisingly gently given his mammoth size.
‘The Manager?’ I ask.
‘The Owner,’ he replies, opening the door and striding through. ‘Come in.’