THE HOUSE WAS massive. Juliette glued herself to the car window and looked up at the turrets. House was the wrong word. This was a castle. She was going to live in a castle. Cha-ching, cha-ching. She stifled a giggle and turned to her husband. Her little round rat faced husband. “Oh my God. It’s beautiful!”
“What do you think?” he asked, his wispy mustache twitching. “Do you like it?”
“Like it?” Juliette giggled. “How could I not? It’s a castle!”
“Château,” he corrected and tried to pull her closer to him. “C’est un château.”
“C’est un château,” Juliette repeated and scooted over so he could feel her up. Might as well help the little guy out. Had to keep up the facade, after all. Everyone thought she’d married him for his money, but there was no need to make it obvious. The poor little thing thought she loved him. And she did, too. She loved everything about his portfolio.
Juliette’s marriage to the esteemed Guy, Marquis de Rais. took everyone by surprise. Usually it took more than two months for a gold digger to pull in her prey. The speed of Juliette’s conquest was almost legendary.
Now she was not only rich, but she was also a marquess. That was French for countess. As she endured Guy’s groping, she smirked at herself in the car window. Yep. That’s right. She was a marquess. Not trailer park trash. Not anymore.
It did kind of suck that he wasn’t good looking, like in her grandma’s romance novels, but what are you going to do? He was rich, and rich men were always good looking, even when they weren’t. Money had a way of making an ugly man endurable.
Not that he looked rich. Juliette had first crossed paths with Guy at her corner Starbucks, another one of a long line of men who thought it was their right to be lewd to an unaccompanied pretty girl. Juliette hadn’t been impressed. He was this portly little man, barely 5’5, with a tiny rat face, a widow’s peak that made his hairline look like a flat mohawk, and an unpleasant, downright screechy, voice that even his French accent couldn’t sex up. She shot down all his attempts at seduction with a yawn or by simply pulling out her phone and texting in his face. One time she even reached for her venti iced latte over his head.
Not that it was all about his looks. Mostly, but not all. Around the same time the ugly little Frenchman began popping up in her life, Juliette’s modeling career was on its downward spiral. Models peaked out between 16 and 21, and she was pushing 29, even if her comp card said 22. It was whispered throughout her agency that her longtime agent was about to drop her. Things were dark. She wasn’t in the mood to date, even if she had found him attractive.
When her agent did drop her, he did it quickly, like pulling off a band aid. “Juliette. I love you, but nobody wants a 29 year old bikini model. You’re out.”
She’d begged, pleaded, and even had sex with him. Eventually, she got him to re-book her, but only as a different type of model. The type of model who didn’t model for advertising so much as they modeled in person. Not a call girl, she told herself. It’s modeling. Even if it’s naked. And there’s sex.
Fortunately, Juliette hadn’t had to do that kind of modeling very long. One evening, when she was at an agency event purposed to match models to rich businessman, she spotted Guy in a corner, surrounded by a group of her co-workers. “Omigod,” she’d snorted, “that’s the short dude from Starbucks!”
“You know him?” Her agent shot her a look. “That’s Guy de Rais.” When Juliette failed to respond, he added, “The billionaire Guy de Rais.”
Juliette, who’d been taking a drink of her vodka tonic, began to choke. “B-b-billionaire? That’s a billionaire?”
Her agent pounded her on the back a few times. “Third richest man in the world. Even Jeff Bezos can’t compete. Now go make like Melania Trump and marry up.”
Juliette slammed the rest of her vodka tonic and marched over to the group. The rest was history. She pulled him away from the group of skanks, got him into bed, and managed a ring within two months. Huzzah. So what if it wasn’t a traditional marriage? They both got something out of it. He got an all access pass to her perfect breasts and cellulite free ass, and she got his money. It was a win-win.
The car stopped in front of a massive set of doors. “We’re home.” He planted a slobbery kiss on her cheek while uncomfortably squeezing her breasts. “Bienvenue à la maison, ma chérie.”
Okay, okay, enough of that crap. Juliette pushed him off of her and jumped from the car, feigning an uncontrollable excitement. Outside, the place was even more beautiful. The air had a slight smell of lavender. Behind her were acres and acres of vineyards.
For the first time in her life, Juliette was content. This was where she was supposed to be. This was who she was supposed to be.
“Everything that is mine is yours, my love,” Guy murmured as he tried to pick her up. “I leave it all in your care.”
“Baby, it’s okay,” she murmured. “I’d rather walk inside.” She brushed his mussed widow’s peak back and kissed the top of his shiny head. “Show me around, daddy.”
“Sadly, I have no time.” Guy pulled a gold skeleton key from his pocket and handed it to her. “Go everywhere, explore everything… except the door to the right of the stairs.” He pointed at a solid iron door that looked more like a door to a mausoleum than an interior room. “Whatever you do, do not open that door. Now, I’m afraid I have to go to Paris. Work.” He stood on his tip toes, planted a kiss on her cheek, and climbed back into the Escalade.
Juliette waved until the SUV was out of sight. Their first day back in France, and Guy was leaving her for work? This was fan-freaking-tastic! Juliette clapped her hands and ran inside.
It was gorgeous. Everything was gorgeous. There was a room stocked with designer clothes. Another room was a dedicated beauty room. There was a full-on spa, swimming pools with both hot and fresh water, steam rooms, saunas, exercise rooms, and a stable full of horses.
Heaven. I’m in heaven. Juliette treated herself to a massage,took a swim, had another massage and a facial, watched a movie that was still in the theaters, then went to bed.
After a week with no Guy, Juliette began to wonder about the room. What was behind that door? Why had he told her to explore everywhere, but not there?
Don’t ruin it, she told herself. Every man needed a man cave. If Guy doesn’t want her to open it, then she wouldn’t open it. To celebrate her self restraint, she bought herself the entire Spring line of Azzedine Alaia.
A month passed without Guy, and Juliette grew worried. Did he have another wife? Another second family? She began to grow lusty. Sex was important to Juliette. As repulsive as her husband was, he was enough to sate her needs.
She found herself spending hours in front of the door. Explore everywhere, but do not open the door. Why? Why couldn’t she open the door? That was stupid enough, but what was more stupid was that he gave her the key. If he didn’t want her to open the door, then why give her a key?
It made absolutely no sense. That night, when he skped from Paris. she asked him.
“Guy, what’s up with the room?”
There was a long pause. “Do not ask about the room, my beloved,” he finally said. “It is not for you to know.”
“Then why give me the key?”
“I trust you with everything, my beloved,” he purred. “Even my life. But do not go into that room.”
“All right.” Juliette sighed loudly. “Are you coming home soon?”
“Business, my love,” he replied. “You understand.”
Juliette understood money, so she understood business. If Guy wanted her to stay out of the room, she could stay out of the room. She put the key in her nightstand and promptly forgot about it. Until the next morning when it appeared at breakfast, next to her grapefruit. She frowned and picked it up. The household staff must be messing with her. She spoke with the head housekeeper, but to no avail. The key kept showing up. Everywhere. In her closet, in her makeup, in her shoes, in her purse. It followed her like she was a magnet.
Then came the dreams. The dreams of opening the door. The feel of the key as it turned in the lock. The coldness of the door handle as she pushed it open. Waking up the moment she walked into the room.
Every night, the dream assaulted her, vexed her, tormented her.
Finally, it grew too much to bear. Guy was in Paris. She was here, alone, bored. Would he even know if she opened the door? And what was the big deal if she did? She marched to the door, stuck the key into the lock, and opened it.
Was that red paint? Juliette pulled out her phone and tapped on the flashlight.
No. It wasn’t paint. It was blood. Blood on the walls, on the ceiling, on the floor, along with bones and bodies, some desiccated, some fresh.
Juliette dropped her phone.
A slight cough behind her made her turn. There stood Guy, a small smile on his rodent face, ax in hand. “I told you to not open the door.”