I shut off the motor and just sit for a moment, staring up at Brodie's Watch. No wonder it had been invisible from the bottom of the hill. Its gray clapboards blend in perfectly with the fog and only faintly can I make out a turret, which soars into low-hanging clouds. Surely there's been a mistake; I'd been told it was a large house, but I was not expecting this hilltop mansion.
I step out of the car and stare up at clapboards weathered to a silvery gray. On the porch a swing rocks back and forth, squeaking, as if nudged by an unseen hand. No doubt the house is drafty and the heating system is archaic and I imagine damp rooms and air that smells of mold. No, this is not what I had in mind as a summer refuge. I'd hoped for a serene place to write, a place to hide.
A place to heal.
Instead this house feels like enemy territory, its windows glaring at me like hostile eyes. The seagulls scream louder, urging me to run while I still can. I back away and I'm about to retreat to my car when I hear tires crunch up the gravel road. A silver Lexus pulls to a stop behind my Subaru and a blond woman climbs out, waving as she walks toward me. She's about my age, trim and attractive, and everything about her radiates chipper confidence, from her Brooks Brothers blazer to her 'I'm your best friend' smile.
"You're Ava, right?" she says, extending her hand. "Sorry I'm a bit late. I hope you haven't been waiting too long. I'm Donna Branca, the property manager."
As we shake hands, I'm already hunting for an excuse to back out of the rental agreement. This house is too big for me. Too isolated. Too creepy.
"Gorgeous spot, isn't it?" Donna gushes, gesturing toward the granite barrens. "It's a shame you can't see anything right now with this weather, but when the fog lifts, the ocean view will knock your socks off."
"I'm sorry, but this house isn't exactly what—"
She's already climbing the porch steps, the house keys dangling in her hand. "You're lucky you called about it when you did. Right after you and I spoke, there were two other inquiries about this house. Summer's been a madhouse in Tucker Cove, with all the tourists scrambling for rentals. It seems like no one wants to spend the summer in Europe this year. They'd rather be closer to home."
"I'm glad to hear there are other people interested in the place. Because I think it might be too much house for—"
"Voilà. Home sweet home!"
The front door swings open, revealing a gleaming oak floor and a staircase with an elaborately carved banister. Whatever excuses I had on the tip of my tongue suddenly evaporate and an inexorable force seems to pull me over the threshold. In the entryway, I stare up at a crystal chandelier and a ceiling with intricate plasterwork. I had imagined the house to be cold and damp, to smell of dust and mold, but what I smell now is fresh paint and wood polish. And the sea.
"The renovations are almost finished," says Donna. "The carpenters still have a bit more to do up in the turret and on the widow's walk, but they'll try to stay out of your hair. And they only work on weekdays, so you'll be left alone on weekends. The owner was willing to lower the rent for the summer because he knows the carpenters are an inconvenience, but they'll only be here for a few weeks. Then you'll have this fabulous house all to yourself for the rest of the summer." She sees me gazing up in wonder at the crown molding. "They've done a nice job restoring it, haven't they? Ned, our carpenter, is a master craftsman. He knows every nook and cranny of this house better than anyone alive. Come on, let me show you the rest of the place. Since you'll probably be testing recipes, I'm guessing you'll want to check out the fabulous kitchen."
"Did I tell you about my work? I don't remember talking about it."