“Is that it? Is that the house?”
I was nearly breathless with anticipation, though I already knew the answer. This house was pure Nolan. Unlike most of the stately, ornate houses in this exclusive Midtown neighborhood, the Nolan house, newly built by bestselling author Keith Nolan, stood out as bright and shiny as a newly minted copper penny.
The vintage Mercedes coupe slowed to a stop in front of the long winding driveway. The house sat on at least a half acre of land, tucked neatly into a heavily wooded lot. It was framed in dark stone. Two wings extended out on either side of the glass double front doors. My parents had mentioned there’d been some kind of controversy when Mr. Nolan had announced his intent to level the original house and rebuild.
“Hey, why was the community so upset when y’all built this house?” I was startled to find that she had been watching me nearly as closely as I’d watched the house. I could just imagine what she saw . . . a gawky, nerdy college student craning his head out the window like a puppy dog. I may have blown a few cool points, but I couldn’t work up the energy to feel too bummed about it. I’d just beaten out hundreds of applicants who’d’ve given their eye teeth for the opportunity to spend the summer interning for the current “bad boy” of the crime fiction literary world, Keith Nolan.
Mrs. Nolan —no, she had insisted that I call her Vivien– spoke softly. “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Memphis. Some of these houses were built just after the yellow fever epidemic nearly wiped the city off the map. Several historical societies took exception to the notion of destroying one of them, even if the house in question should have been condemned years ago.”
It was the most she had said since we left the airport. I hadn’t done much better and it wasn’t so much because the Nolans were college classmates of my parents, either.
Hell, that meant she had to be somewhere in her forties, right?
It wasn’t because she was the wife of his current hero and soon to be mentor either. No, it was something more basic. My friend Jacob would have called her a stunner. To me, she was simply beautiful. I felt like a tongue-tied fifteen year old instead of a mature man of the world. She had the lean sculptured lines of a runner, with generous feminine curves. She wore no makeup on her smooth, unlined face which only enhanced the natural beauty of almond-shaped eyes and full pouty lips. Not even the silver strands that threaded throughout her below-the-shoulder dreadlocks could diminish the sexy vitality of the woman. The stretch-and-release of her flimsy cotton sundress in rhythm with left/right sway of her undulating hips nearly had me tripping over my feet.
She was beautiful, no doubt. But she seemed oblivious to the effect she had on those around her. Those eyes, her weary, hollow eyes. There was a story there but I seriously doubted that I would ever know what it was.
Vivien followed my gaze back to the house. She cocked her head to one side and appeared to consider it, perhaps trying to see it from my point of view. Her expression remained unreadable.
“Welcome to our home, Corey.” Her voice, low and seductive, vibrated right down through my groin.
“Thank you, Mrs. . . .” she arched an eyebrow in my direction and I hurriedly corrected, “um, Vivien. This is going to be a great summer.”
She looked in my direction but I had the strangest sensation that she looked through me, like my presence had already been erased from her memory. Had she been forced to pick me up and was now eager to get away now that her task had been dispatched? I hadn’t expected Keith Nolan to collect me from the airport, but I certainly wouldn’t have thought his wife would have done it either. As if she heard my thoughts, her lips curved but the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Corey.” She repeated my name slowly as if trying to memorize it. “Let’s get you settled in.”
Vivien shifted the car in drive then nosed the Mercedes up the shrub-lined drive. She forked left into the circular drive in front of the house. The house was even more impressive close up. A balcony hung directly above the double front doors which partly sheltered the broad half circle stone terrace.
We sat for a moment but before either of us could speak, the loud rev of a car’s motor broke the silence. Seconds later, the noise smoothed into a rumbling purr. I looked over my shoulder in time to see a dark colored sedan ease down the drive. The car braked sharply at the curb which gave just enough time to reveal the right half of a female face before the car sped off down the streets of the quiet neighborhood.
I looked a question at Vivien, whose face had grown even more impassive, if that was even possible. She stared after the fading exhaust before speaking. “Keith should be ready for you now. If you want, you can leave your luggage in the car, someone will take it up to your room. Just follow the drive along the side of the house. His studio is in the back.”
Without another word, she climbed out the car. “I hope this summer turns out to be everything you hoped for.”
There was no time to respond. She entered the wide double doors and quietly shut them behind her.