Illusions of Grandeur (The Impossible Julian Strande #1) - Kathryn Ann Kingsley

1

The worst ideas always happened with the best of intentions behind them. The paved road to Hell and all that jazz. That was what ran through Alice’s mind as she stared up at the enormous mansion that towered over her.

It felt like the building itself was staring at her. She wasn’t sure if buildings could stare, but damn if this one wasn’t trying its hardest to do precisely that with its cavernous unlit windows. And damn if she wasn’t staring right back. The drive up the road to the huge estate had been long and winding with strange statuary lurking in the shadows. Figures of gods, creatures, of dragons and angels, or sometimes figures of total madness stood watch along the road like sentinels.

From the very moment a person approached this place, they were meant to feel unsettled. It was by design, and the design worked.

The parking lot had clearly been added later in the house’s history. It was far too large for a private home, and the signs that had been pounded into the dirt exclaiming loudly where the entrance was were clearly newer additions.

This place hadn’t always been a tourist destination. It had been the home of a man who had been heralded as a genius, a madman, a lunatic, and one of the greatest magicians of his time. Now, a hundred years later, it had been converted into a museum of his works and his collections.

Not to mention that the house itself was its own attraction, thanks to how little sense it made.

Julian Strande had been an eccentric; that much was clear.

And the Strande Estate proved it.

Alice knew this place existed—in the same way everybody knew about the tourist traps in their state. She never really paid it much attention. She grew up in San Jose, and when she moved to Wisconsin for work after college, she never had reason to drive out to nowhere to see it.

But now she had a very different reason for visiting the Estate. And it wasn’t to gawk at its weirdness. She was there for a job—one she really wasn’t quite sure if she was qualified for.

Unemployment did strange things to a person. Suddenly, any job looked like a good job. Losing her job had ruined everything. And after weeks of trying to find something close to where she lived, she had to throw a wider net. She was also pretty eager to get out of Milwaukee, if she were being honest with herself.

“Live-in Caretaker and Creative Maintenance Manager.” That was what the ad listing was for. What in the actual fuck was a “creative maintenance manager?” She had no idea. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she stared at the building that seemed to be watching her back. It was creepy as sin, but she needed a job. This one came with some nice perks. Room and board were covered, and it claimed that it also provided a “living wage” on top of that. No exact salary was listed, but that wasn’t uncommon in the current job market.

The ad said little more after that except a single sentence describing who they were looking for in a candidate. “Must be pragmatic, patient, and with a penchant for discovering unique solutions to impossible problems.” She was the first two. She wasn’t so sure about the last one, but she did enjoy puzzles. Tucking the newspaper back into her bag, she pulled the strap up higher onto her shoulder and stared once more at the mansion.

Who lists jobs in the paper anymore, really? She had only found it because she loved the crosswords and