Dust clung to every surface, cobwebs weaving over
the scattered paintings, lending a haunted atmosphere to the abandoned palace.
The once-polished gold accents in the ballroom were dirty and faded, their
luster lost to the years.
Molly ran her finger along the railing as she slowly
ascended the staircase, her steps echoing in the cavernous room, and came to a
stop below a massive portrait. A family stared down at her, their smiles warm
and welcoming. Something tugged in her heart and she tilted her head as she
examined the painted family that seemed to look back at her.
The mother, her
brilliant red hair piled into a braided bun upon which sat a glittering silver
crown and wearing a gown of rich blue with golden threads woven throughout, had
rested her gloved hand atop her husband’s, which gripped the hilt of his sword.
His royal uniform was cut along his strong figure, the only accents a braid of
gold looping from one shoulder across his chest to a medal above his heart and
a blue sash that crossed his chest and tied at his hip. At their feet, two
children stood. The tallest girl came barely to her father’s hip, his other hand
resting on her shoulder, and wore a dress of soft blue, her brown locks the
exact shade as her father’s.
But it was the youngest child in the soft yellow
dress that brought Molly up short. The girl was perhaps a year younger than her
sister, but while the eldest was a mirror image of their father, the youngest was
a replica of their mother. Her red hair was a bit darker, but the upturned
nose, brown eyes, and soft face were identical. And there was something so
familiar about the child that unsettled Molly and she turned away, feeling one
of her headaches coming. They always happened when she couldn’t remember why
something seemed familiar, as though her mind was blocking something painful
Visions of glittering gowns, snippets of orchestral
songs, laughter, the tinkling of glasses, and a sea of twirling people
crisscrossing in dance flashed through her mind. But each time she tried to
follow the memory, the memory vanished, leaving her swimming in a vast sea of unknown loss and pain.
The strength of this headache was making her feel
lightheaded and she hurriedly made her way back the way she came. She needed to
get to Paris and the lady at the ticket counter had said William at the old palace could help. But he wasn’t here,
apparently, and she needed to get out. There was something about this place
that was familiar, but instead of feeling safe, she felt terrified and knew she
needed to leave. Immediately.
She was nearly halfway across the room when a voice
bellowed out behind her. ‘Hey, you!’
Molly gasped and looked over her shoulder to see a
pair of men at the top of the staircase, neither looking too happy to find her
here. Panicking, she broke into a run and had just made it to the barred door
she’d climbed through when a hand gripped her arm and whirled her about. She immediately
began pounding against the firm chest she was being held against.
‘Let go of me!’ She demanded, but the man simply
tightened his grip. His suit was tailored to his form and she absentmindedly
blushed when she noticed how his shirt was much more snug that proper fashion
‘Not until you tell me why you are trespassing,’ his
baritone voice replied.
She stopped her struggles and looked up into the man’s
heart-stopping eyes. She swallowed and glanced over his shoulder to see the
other man, a shorter blond man, approach at a slower pace. ‘I…I-I was looking
The man holding her stiffened and his nose twitched.
‘And what do you need from William?’
Molly felt her fear fade and indignant anger rise. ‘I
told you why I came, now let me go!’
To her surprise, and relief, her arm was released
and she stumbled away from the man.
‘If you have come for assistance in solving a little
domestic dispute, I’m afraid William cannot
be bothered to waste his time on such a pitiful case. Be gone with you.’
‘Sherlock,’ the other man warned tiredly.
Molly drew herself up to her full height. She may be
a penniless orphan wearing ratty clothes from the charity bin, but she would
not be disrespected by this… this brute!
‘I am seeking assistance, William, for an entirely different matter,’ she snapped, knowing full well
the man who stood before her ‘Sherlock’ was the William she was looking for.
His eyes widened and he blinked in surprise. ‘But I see I have come to the
wrong place. I merely wanted a way to get to Paris, but now I wouldn’t take
your help if you came to me on bended knee!’
With a regal lift of her chin, she glared at the man
and spun on her heel. She may be clumsy normally, but when someone got her riled
up, her confidence grew. She hadn’t taken more than three steps away when
Sherlock’s voice pulled her up short.
Instead of scoffing, he actually sounded interested.
Molly fingered the chain holding the pendant hidden beneath her dress. ‘Someone
has been waiting for me.’
Turning, Molly felt the familiar, empty sorrow of a
lonely past envelope her. ‘I don’t know.’
Sherlock looked her over carefully, as though
reading her deepest secrets. He looked over his shoulder at the far end of the
room, his eyes landing on the painting of the family. With a nod, he turned to
the other man and grinned.
‘John, pack your coat tails. We’re going to Paris.’