As I stood there, it took me a moment to notice that I wasn’t alone. A dozen gardeners and workers stared at me, and I suddenly grew self-conscious. I was inside the gate; now what?
In the distance I saw a woman bustling toward me, holding up the hem of her skirt as she climbed the hill. Rather than taking a step back, I stood my ground, caught between awe, fear and determination. No matter how beautiful his home was, I still needed to see Henry—and soon.
“Welcome, Kate!” said the woman, and upon hearing her voice, I did a double take.
Sure enough, as she drew closer, I recognized her as the day nurse who’d helped me take care of my mother for the past few weeks. I stared at her, shocked, but Sofia acted as if none of this was a big deal. When she reached me, her cheeks were pink and she smiled ear to ear. She took my arm. “We were wondering if you’d ever show, dear. How’s your mother?”
It took me a second to find my voice. “Dying,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“I live here.” She started to lead me toward the house, and I let her, trying hard not to stare.
“You know Henry?”
“Of course I do,” she said. “Everyone knows Henry.”
“Can you raise the dead, too?” I muttered, and Sofia clucked her tongue.
I clenched my fists. “I need to see him.”
“I know, dear. That’s where we’re headed.”
I glanced at her, uncertain if she was being patronizing or evasive or both. She ignored my look and led me down the oval drive until we reached the large French double doors, which opened without any prompting from Sofia. Instead of following her inside, I stopped and stared.
The outside was nothing compared to the magnificent entrance hall. It was simple and tasteful, not at all gaudy, but it was far from ordinary.
The floor was mostly white marble, and I could see a hint of plush carpet on the other end of the hall. The walls and ceiling were made of mirrors, and they made the massive hall look larger than it already was.
But it was the floor in the center of the room that caught my attention. There was a perfect circle made of crystal, and it was by far the most incredible thing about the hall. It shimmered, colors seeming to swim together, blending and dividing as I stared. My mouth hung open, but I didn’t care—everything about it was surreal, and I could hardly believe that I was still standing in Michigan.
I tore myself away and finally paid attention to Sofia. She stood a few feet ahead of me and gave me a hesitant smile.
“Sorry,” I said. I walked toward her, stepping around the crystal circle as if it were really water. For all I knew, it was. “It’s just—”
“Beautiful,” she said cheerfully, taking my arm once more and steering me past a grand spiraling staircase that led up to a part of the manor I couldn’t see. I didn’t dare try to look, not wanting to waste another minute.
“Yeah.” It was the best I could come up with, but I was otherwise speechless. Whatever I’d been expecting, it hadn’t been this.
She led me through a series of rooms, each uniquely decorated and exquisite. One room was red and gold; another was sky-blue, with murals painted on the walls. There were sitting rooms, game rooms, studies and even two libraries. It seemed impossible that these were all in the same house—and apparently only belonged to one boy who wasn’t much older than me, unless his parents lived here, too—but it never seemed to end.
Finally we turned down another hall and entered a room that had dark green walls and gold trim. The furniture seemed more worn and comfortable here than in the other rooms, and Sofia directed me toward a black leather couch.
“Sit, dear, and I’ll have someone bring you refreshments. Henry should be with you shortly.”
I sat, not wanting her to leave me alone, but I could do this. I had to. Ava’s life was at stake, and this was the only chance I’d have to make this argument. If Henry wanted to keep me here, then fine. As long as he brought Ava back, I would do anything he wanted me to do, even if it meant spending the rest of my life behind the hedges. I pushed away what James had said in the car about Ava not being my mother. That wasn’t why I was here.
But even as I thought it, I knew I was lying to myself. Wasn’t the mere possibility of Henry being able to save my mother—or somehow save me from the pain of losing her—exactly why I was here? I would do everything I could to save Ava, but she’d been dead for hours, and the entire town knew. Henry would undoubtedly want a steeper price for bringing her back a second time, and no matter what brave face I put on, the thought of staying behind these hedges for the rest of my life terrified me. I’d meant what I’d said about doing everything I could to try to bring her back, but even if that was impossible like James had said, my mother wasn’t dead yet. There was still a chance Henry could do something to save her.
I don’t know how long I sat there in silence, staring blankly at a bookcase full of leather-bound books. I went over my speech in my head, making sure everything I wanted to say was there. He had to listen to me, didn’t he? Even if he didn’t want to do it, if I talked long enough, he had to at least hear me. I had to try.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Henry standing in the doorway, holding a tray laden with food. My fingers dug into the sofa, and all of the words I’d practiced flew out of my head.
“Kate,” he said in a low, pleasant voice. Stepping inside, he set the tray on the coffee table in front of me and sat on the sofa across from me.