“You must be Astrid,” I say as I stride toward the tall, elegant blonde woman holding a sign with my name. “Thank you so much for—”
“Do you have checked bags?” After a pause, she smiles, like she had to remind herself to do it. “Sorry. Hi. Welcome to Canada.”
“I’m good.” I pat my bag. “This is it.”
She nods and turns. “My truck is this way.”
Okay, so curt and surly is a Dane family trait. Maybe I should have seen that coming. “Thanks,” I whisper anyway, because I am grateful. I got a text message—a text!—from a reporter while I was sitting in the Denver airport waiting to catch my flight.
He was also at the Denver airport according to his message.
I almost crawled under the seats in the departure lounge. I definitely pulled the hood on my sweatshirt lower over my face.
He didn’t know I was there, of course. He was urging me to prepare to meet with him “so we could get ahead of the story.”
Mm-hmm. I’m getting ahead of it by leaving the damn country, which felt like overkill when Marcus suggested it, but now I’m not so sure. The press’s ability to swarm is intense. Poppy’s article is running today, though, and she says that once it’s no longer breaking news, people will quickly lose interest, and even with the scoop, she couldn’t get it anywhere near the front page.
I’m not headline-worthy, and I never thought I’d be freaking grateful for that fact. Now I can breathe a little easier on my three weeks here in British Columbia.
Other than Astrid explaining that it will take almost an hour to get to her house in North Vancouver, we don’t talk on the drive.
That’s a good thing, because it saves me from my words stuttering to a stop when she turns into a high-end neighborhood, then onto an even higher-end street, finally pulling through a gated fence to park in front of what can only be described as a multi-million-dollar home with a billion-dollar view of water in the distance.
“I have a cousin who lives in Vancouver. She’s a photographer who can use an assistant who knows how to climb mountains.”
Maybe I should have Googled Astrid Dane before I got on the airplane.
She slides her truck into an empty garage that has room for at least two more vehicles and turns it off.
“You must be tired,” she says in a way that feels like an instruction. Go to your room and stay there for a while.
“I could rest, yeah.”
“I don’t really cook.” She presses her hand to a sensor pad next to the door between the garage and the house, and it slides open.
“I’m easy to please,” I say, hoisting my pack onto my shoulder. “I’m happy to get to work, too, if there’s anything I can do. Right away, I mean. Or soon. Whatever you need.”
She gives me a cool look. “I like silence.”
Oh. I nod. Okay.
I’m not surprised when we skip doing a tour and she leads me down a wing to a bedroom. “This is where you can sleep,” she says, pushing the door open.
Well, it is literally a bed room. There’s a bed in it.
And dozens of cardboard boxes, although they are neatly shoved against the far wall. But that’s it. There’s no other furniture, not even a bedside table with a lamp. Okay. I feel like I’m going to be saying that a lot in my head.
“My office is across the hall,” she says, almost apologetically. “And…well, I wasn’t expecting a guest.”
She waves her hand. “It’s fine. Those are books. I haven’t finished unpacking.”
I desperately want to ask her when she moved in. I’d put ten bucks on it being not recently. Like, a few years at least.
“We aren’t staying here long. We’ll head into the mountains day after tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll tell you more.” She hesitates, then looks at the athletic watch on her wrist. “I’ll order dinner for us. One hour?”
“Are you allergic to anything?”
“I don’t like pineapple,” I say faintly. “Makes my lips tingle.”
I get a tight, quick smile in acknowledgment, then she’s gone.
After carefully setting my pack against the empty wall, I pull out my phone to do a search for my new boss. Better late than never.
But the internet is not forthcoming in the least. She has a website for her photography that looks like she could maintain it herself. A gallery of stunning landscape photographs. And an About The Photographer page that refers all inquiries to her agent in Seattle before providing a brief biography.
A renowned landscape artist, Astrid Dane is most comfortable with a camera in her hands and the wind at her back. Born in Idaho, she now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
That tells me nothing.
I stretch out on the bed, which smells faintly of lemons and something warmer, maybe something herbal. Earthy. The sheets are soft and well-worn, and they don’t have that stale settled feeling of a guest bed that’s been unused for ages.
She might be cold and untalkative, but Astrid made this bed for me.
Maybe it was a housekeeper?
I laugh at that thought. I’d put even money on her not wanting anyone else in her domain.
Then what are you doing here?
She must really like Marcus. Well, that makes two of us. And if my former boss thinks I should trust his cousin, I will.
Plus I like the way her sheets smell.
That’s something. Maybe something small, but I’ll hold on to it with all my might.
copyright Ainsley Booth, 2017
Ainsley Booth is an alter-ego of Gigi Ford. All rights reserved.