She glanced over at the GPS, again muttering a word of thanks to whomever had invented this life-saving device, she’d learned too long ago that Google Maps were apt to fail in the smaller towns of Louisiana.

She eased her Audi A3 onto the dirt road, thankful for the xenon headlights that lit her way. She was nervous enough as it was without being able to see more than five feet ahead of her thanks to the moonless night. It was a good thing too, she might not have noticed the guy with a gun imploring her to stop without it.

Wait, her brain said. Gun?

She stepped on the break to gradually slow. It probably wasn’t a good idea to startle the men with guns.

The guy looked like he was some kind of paramilitary guy, if television wasn’t lying to her.

He tapped the window and she obligingly lowered it.

“Name?” he asked, clipboard in hand.

“Sarah Jane Forysth,” she said automatically, without thinking.

“Your name isn’t on the manifest,” he said after looking at his list critically.

Oh. She tried to think quick.

“I wanted to surprise him,” she said with her best smile. She hoped it wasn’t too awkward.

The guard didn’t seem to like her answer. He said something into a walkie-talkie and stared at her without blinking while he waited for a reply

“He doesn’t recognize you,” he finally said. “Explain yourself.”

Shit. She really should have called. At least that way way her rejection wouldn’t have cost her a two-and-a-half hour drive and an embarrassing rejection by creepy guards. She had to think fast. She didn’t care for that implied “or else” at the end of his sentence.

“Belle,” she said almost desperately. “Tell him my name is Belle. We met the other week at the Masquerade.”

 He looked skeptical.

 “Please tell him,” she said. “If he still doesn’t want to talk to me, I’ll go.”

She must have seemed pathetic enough because he started talking into his walkie-talkie again.

He shook his head and she felt crushed. She really should have known better. Man she was glad that she hadn’t told anyone other than her nanny that she was going out. How would she explain her failure?

“Don’t know how you did it,” he said, “but it’s your lucky night.”

She perked up. Really? Really?

“Drive to the end of the road and park in the driveway,” he said before he waved her along.

“Thank you, sir!” she said beaming as she rolled up the window and followed his directions. Once she had set the parking break she realized she could feel her heart beating so fast it threatened to burst from her chest.

Calm. Calm yourself she told herself. This was just getting into the door. Just because she had reached the house didn’t mean he’d agree to anything else.

Inhale. Exhale. Deep breath. Right.

She got out of her car and absently locked it, staring up at the manor. She thought manor sounded right. Like a plantation house, but not quite as big. It was clearly well taken care of. He had money. “Mom would approve,” she muttered to herself wryly. Her mother had stressed the importance of marrying well. Not that they didn’t have their own money, but added money to money was security she’d been told. She wasn’t sure she bought that.

“Ms. Forsyth?” it was another guard dressed in black. She wondered if it was really necessary.  Though she supposed that if he had them outside, it’d make sense they were also inside. “Come with me.”

She followed him inside, feeling warming immediately as she was lead towards the sitting room.

“Make yourself comfortable,” she was told. “would you care for some water?”

She nodded as he left.

A few moments later he returned with a bottle. “His Majesty will be with you when he’s ready.”

She took the bottle and sat back down and began to wait.

And wait.

She emptied the bottle and waited some more.

“Bathroom?” she asked the guard watching the doorway.

He pointed and she went.

She started another bottle.

Halfway through the third bottle, he appeared.

“Belle,” he said.

She wasn’t sure how to interpret that greeting. She would know soon enough though. This was her chance. And she wasn’t going to blow it.