Greetings! Welcome to my new story! If you saw or read my oneshot Lovely, this is the story it was intended to be a part of. It will be incorporated into the story (with some changes) in later chapters. Well, I hope you enjoy the first chapter of As Fate Would Have It.
The check engine light had been glaring at her for the last two hours. But Christine had chosen to ignore it. She had been preoccupied with driving through the mountains in a snow storm. Or, at least, that's what she would tell the mechanic. If a mechanic was coming. If her phone had service. If she knew where the hell she was.
Now the tears came. It was about time. She had been numb for the entire day. Christine just let herself sob in her dead car in the middle of a blizzard on some godforsaken mountain. What a positively perfect ending to such a perfect day.
She had been on a business trip in Denver. Christine was a communications coordinator at a struggling PR firm in Phoenix. She and some of her colleagues had traveled to meet with a client. They all had to drive—the company couldn't afford tickets for a flight. It had been an emergency meeting, but the trip was expected to last a week. The team had to hash out an entirely new crisis correspondence and publicity plan for this particular client.
When they finally all arrived at the client's office, they realized the situation was far worse than they had anticipated. Scandals, indictments, liabilities… It was a mess. The team had scrambled to prepare a statement, and they luckily got it out within a day of the incident. It was general and apologetic enough to buy them some time. However, after they met with the client the next day, her boss pulled her aside.
"Christine, something has come to my attention." He looked very agitated. "This company should have had a far more thorough crisis management plan prepared when we first gained them as a client. As I understand it, they were your responsibility. Christine, this is unacceptable. Not only is our client floundering, but we appear completely unprofessional and unprepared. I'm sorry, but I have no choice but to excuse you permanently. Please gather your things, return home, and clean out your office." He left her and went back into the conference room.
Christine stood there for a few minutes, absolutely bewildered. She walked numbly to her car and drove to the hotel. She slowly repacked her bags. As she starting driving back home, the questions came. How could I have missed it? Is anyone else getting fired because of me? How am I going to find another job after a mistake like that? I can't believe I drove all the way here just to get fired.
As she drove up a mountain, the snow storm hit. She had been completely dazed earlier and didn't think to check the weather or driving conditions. Or about booking another hotel for her drive back. More thoughts arose as she creeped up the mountain. I don't want to go back to my empty apartment. I wish I had someone to talk to. Maybe I should call Rob when I get back…
That last thought made Christine snap back to reality. Her confidence must really be shattered to think such desperate thoughts. She took a breath and tried to pay closer attention to her driving. The storm was worsening. And that was when she noticed the check engine light. She took a look around the highway, searching for civilization. There was an exit soon, maybe she could find a mechanic and a hotel.
Christine took the exit, but it didn't really lead her to a town. She made a few turns but seemed to be going higher up the mountain on a much more treacherous road. By the time she had decided to turn around, it was too late. Her car died.
And now here she sat. Tear-stained, alone, and confused. What was she supposed to do now? If she stayed in her car, she might freeze to death. If she went outside to look for shelter, she still might freeze to death. She thought for a moment, and then sighed. I might as well die an adventurous death. She bundled up with her coat, gloves, hat, and scarf before venturing out into the blizzard. She wouldn't go too far, just enough to see if there was anything close by.
Christine walked up the road, snow up to her shins. She walked for a few minutes. Just when she was about to give up and go the other way, she thought she saw light ahead. She squinted against the biting wind. Yes! It was a house! She broke into a sprint toward it, ignoring her brief thoughts about murderers who live in isolation in the mountains. As she neared, Christine realized that it wasn't a house. It was a freaking mansion. Even in the dark blizzard, she could tell it was massive.
"Thank God," she whispered. She ran to the front door, but in her haste, slipped on the first step. Her ankle twisted as she fell with a thud.
"Dammit!" she screamed. No, this was the perfect ending to her perfect day. She was about to stand up and try again, but the front door was already opening.
A curt-looking older woman stood in the doorway. Christine looked up at her apologetically.
"Hello," she said as she tried to stand back up. "Uh, my name is Christine Denton and my car broke down—"
"Christine Denton?" asked a voice from behind the woman.
A young, blonde woman wiggled her way in front of the older woman. She looked just as curious as Christine felt. But she also looked slightly familiar… They stared at each other for a moment. It seemed to click for the other girl first.
"Megan Giry," she said, helping her up. "I think we went to college together. You were in the communications program at UNLV, right?"
"Yes! Meg Giry. Right. Wow, think of the odds…" They had only been acquaintances in college, but they did have quite a few classes together.
Christine limped as Meg helped her up.
"Oh! Did you hurt yourself?" She offered her arm as support.
"I guess so. I was so excited to find a house that I didn't think about slick spots," she smiled feebly.
Meg steered her to the door. "Well let's get you inside. What did you say happened?"
Christine tried to make sure she kept her jaw off the floor. Even though the house was rather dark, she could see the high ceiling. This place was huge.
"I—I was driving through the storm and my car needed servicing. I took an exit, thinking I could find a town or mechanic. Then my car died." Meg sat her down by large, roaring fireplace. It warmed her immediately.
"I'll get tea," the older woman went into another room. There was a comfortable silence as the two sat by the fire. But Meg was talkative.
"So what have you done the last—what—three years since you graduated?" It wasn't just a question to fill the silence; she seemed to genuinely care. Christine felt her loneliness melting away with the warmth of Meg's friendship.
They began discussing her previous jobs, including the most recent.
"Public relations, how exciting!" she said, intrigued.
The older woman returned with a nice mug full of hot tea.
"Thank you…" Christine paused."
Annette Giry, Meg's mother," she said, shaking Christine's hand. She smiled slightly before retreating to another chair.
"So the PR firm is in Phoenix, right?" Meg asked, continuing their conversation.
"So what brought you to Colorado?"
Christine sighed and stared down at her tea. She didn't owe any explanation to this girl, but she was so genuine and kind. What else could she possibly lose in telling the truth? "We were on a business trip to meet with a client in Denver, but I was fired." She decided to spare her the details.
"Oh, Christine, I'm so sorry."
"Me, too. The firm was struggling anyways… But I guess I can get a fresh start somewhere else. Maybe doing something else…" There was another pause, but it was slightly more awkward. Christine sipped her tea.
"But what about you?" she asked suddenly, realizing how rude she was being.
Meg smiled. "Well, I double-majored with Communications and English, so I went in a little different direction than you. I'm learning how to edit books and novels."
"That's wonderful!" Christine was truly impressed.
"I've actually been working with a best-selling novelist and his current editor for almost a year," she said enthusiastically.
"Edward Dupont, the mystery author."
"Oh yes, I've heard of him. Isn't he a major recluse?"
"Yes, not many people who work with him have even seen him," Meg sounded like she was telling her own mystery story. Neither of them noticed how Annette was growing more and more agitated.
Christine followed her cue, "Have you?"
"Yes. He mostly works from home… This home, to be more precise."
Christine nearly spewed her tea. "This is Edward Dupont's home?"
"Yes!" Meg said, pleased to share her secret.
Christine thought for a moment. "So, what, you live with him?"
"No, no, nothing like that," she said. "My mother does."
Annette finally stood up, looking exasperated. "For goodness sake, Megan, I work for him." She turned to Christine. "I clean the house, cook meals, do laundry, all of that. I live here, and Meg is simply visiting, like she does all too frequently," she smiled slightly at her daughter.
Meg leaned in to Christine and whispered loudly, "I don't really come to visit her, I just can't get enough of this gorgeous house!" They all laughed softly and fell back into silence. Christine drank more of her tea and looked around. The fireplace was the only light source and it bathed the living room in a golden glow. So warm.
"Well, it goes without saying that you are more than welcome to stay here tonight," Meg said kindly.
"Thank you, but don't you think that he will mind?" Christine felt it might be rude to stay without the master of the house's consent.
"No, of course not. He—"
"You overestimate me, Little Giry," interrupted a silken voice behind Christine. She and Meg both jumped.
"Please, Erik, she is my friend. Her car broke down in the storm and I think she twisted her ankle finding the place," Meg stood and walked past Christine as she spoke.
Erik? I thought his name was Edward? Christine turned in her chair to get a glimpse of him. He stood in front of the blazing fireplace, so he was cast in shadow. But she thought she could see something glowing on his face… What? Christine decided to stop staring and turned back around.
There was some murmuring then Meg sighed loudly. "Mother would you please talk to him? You're the only one he ever listens to." Annette pursed her lips at her daughter. But she stood and ushered him into the kitchen so they could speak privately.
Meg sat back down next to Christine. "I'm sorry about that. He just really values his privacy. Too much, if you ask me," she mumbled bitterly.
"So who was that exactly?"
"That was Edward Dupont," Meg stated. Christine's look of confusion encouraged her to continue. "Well, that's actually just a pen name. His real name is Erik Destler. I get it mixed up sometimes. In business situations I'm supposed to use the pseudonym, but when it's just my mother and me he doesn't mind. See what I mean about privacy?"
"Right. I'm sorry I've caused this friction between you all. I didn't mean to intrude on his privacy," Christine said thoughtfully.
"Oh, there's always friction. He's kind of like a spoiled child. He just needs to learn he won't always get his way." She sensed there had been situations similar to this one before.
Soon, the two figures emerged from the kitchen. Annette switched on a lamp, and Christine got a better look at the mysterious author. He was rather tall, and it looked like he was dressed in all black. His clothes paired with his dark hair made the white mask on his face extremely conspicuous. What?! Why the hell is he wearing a mask? Christine was glad he wasn't the one who had answered the door—she definitely would have run away screaming. She wondered if it was a joke, but the Girys didn't seem to think anything was funny. In fact, they all became very serious.
Mr. Destler walked over to stand in front of her. His grey eyes stared down at her in the chair. It took her a moment to realize that he expected her to stand up as well. Once she had scrambled to her feet, he began to speak.
"You may stay here tonight and tonight only. The Girys will help you find a hotel and maintenance for your car in the morning." He paused. Christine saw his jaw clenching the whole time. "Ice your ankle and wrap it if needed." He brushed past her and disappeared into the shadows of his mansion.
After a couple moments, Meg lightened the mood. "Whew! Nice work, Mother!"
Annette rolled her eyes. "Well I'm going to bed. Goodnight, Meg. It was a pleasure to meet you, Christine."
"Thank you for everything, Annette," Christine said softly.
The two women sat back down in their chairs. "She's kind of like his mother, too," Meg mused. "I think he's the closest with her than anyone else in his life… which still isn't very close. She's worked for him for years. He trusts her enough to let us both into his private life. I'm just lucky to get to work with him. He might be a jerk sometimes, but he's brilliant…" she trailed off. Christine wanted to ask her about the mask but decided the question was for another time.
Meg stood up, making her way toward the kitchen. "Do you want some wine?"
Christine looked down at her empty mug. "Sure." She could definitely use a drink after a day like today. She listened as Meg clinked around. She returned shortly with two glasses filled with Chardonnay. They began drinking in silence, both lost in their own thoughts.
"So what are you going to do now?" Meg asked softly.
"What?" Christine snapped from her reverie.
"Now that you're jobless. Are you going to go back to Phoenix and look for another PR position?"
She thought for a moment. That wasn't really what she wanted. Nor did she think she could get another job like that after being fired… "No, I don't think so… I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I don't really have anyone to go back to. I didn't have any friends at the firm. Or in my neighborhood. Or anywhere." Her eyes began to sting a little. "Rob and I are done, so that's out of the question—"
"Wait, who's Rob?"
Christine cursed herself for even bringing him up. "Um, Robert Carlisle. We dated in college…"
"Oh yeah, that handsome blond guy!"
"Yeah, him. It, um, didn't work out very well," she swiped at a tear.
She shook her head. "It's in the past. But now… I don't know what to do. I'm not even sure if I'll be able to make rent next month."
Meg looked at her sympathetically. "Maybe this can be your chance to start fresh. Try something different. Go somewhere different."
Christine took another drink. "Yeah, maybe."
Then something else sparked her interest. "You know, Mother has been worried about her job lately."
"Well, she's been getting older and her body can't quite keep up with the physical labor of taking care of such a large house. And it's not like Erik will trust anyone else to clean and keep it up."
"Right." Christine wasn't really sure why she had brought this up.
Meg took a large gulp of wine. "I had a thought."
She braced herself by taking another drink.
"What if you helped her out?"
Christine made a face and drank some more.
"No! Think about it! You don't have a job. You don't have anywhere to go. You don't have anyone to go to. You could slowly take over Mother's cleaning job and she could transition out of it. You would have a rent-less roof over your head. Free food. Hell, he would probably even pay you."
Christine stared at her. She must be a lightweight, because there was no way Meg was sober. "Edward Dupont. Erik Destler. You think he would pay me? You think he would let me waltz right in to his inner sanctum of privacy and safety? To clean? Why would I want to clean for a living anyway?" She decided not to share the fact that she loved to clean.
Meg finished off her wine. "I don't know. It all just seems like perfect timing. I really think you should consider it. My mother's cooking is phenomenal. Colorado is beautiful, too. And this house! Ugh! I would love to live here all the time!"
Christine looked up at the high ceilings and great stone fireplace. It was beautiful. And it was interesting timing…
Meg stood up. "Are you tired?"
"Yes." She finished off her wine as well.
"Let's get you settled, then."
She followed her new friend up a gorgeous staircase, down a hall, and into a large room. Meg turned on a lamp.
"This is usually where I sleep, but I'll go in Mother's room. A bathroom connects the two rooms, over here."
Meg set out pajamas, a towel, and some extra blankets. Christine was once again struck by her kindness.
Before she left, Meg looked at her friend. "Please think about it." She smiled. "Goodnight."
Christine changed into the pajamas and crawled into the queen-sized bed. Sighing, she started to think about it. She thought about her empty, crappy apartment and rude landlord. Her soon to be empty office. Her empty fridge. Her empty bed. Her empty life. She rolled over, as if to hide from her emptiness. Tears came to her eyes. God, she hadn't realized how lonely she truly was.
Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. Sure, she could do without the blizzards in March, but the Colorado mountains were beautiful. Having the security of a job and living situation was tempting. Having a friend like Meg around was tempting. However, cleaning all the time wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind… Nor was living in the same house as a privacy-obsessed reclusive author. Christine had to remind herself that things could be much worse.
She sighed and tried to stop thinking. She was exhausted, and rightfully so. This had been an… interesting day, to say the least.
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