Samantha “Sam” Holt wasn’t sentimental. She didn’t indulge in pure whimsy, like her two best friends, or optimistic fancifulness, like her parents. For someone so deeply involved in the world of nostalgia, selling antiques with her family’s auction business and helping her friend preserve a historic home, her absolute pragmatism was an odd quirk.
But if she had been that sort of person, she would have understood the day held significance the moment she opened her front door. For late September, the sun shone with remarkable warmth and clarity. On her day off from work, golden light followed her from her family home to the bakery.
She loved every opportunity to stroll through her hometown of Harmony, Illinois. Founded in the nineteenth century, the town resurged with new businesses and returning residents. The future was bright for so many of her neighbors. Pushing through the revolving door, she entered her best friend’s family bakery, A Perfect Rise, and circumvented the six-person-deep queue.
“Her sneakers squeaked against the still wet, penny tile floor. She approached the side of the counter. A paper to-go cup emblazoned with Sam waited. With a smile, she grabbed the beverage and retreated.
For a Thursday, the streets remained relatively empty. She glanced at her watch. The workday hadn’t quite started. Sipping her mocha, she savored the rich, chocolatey drink and continued her trek. Over the next mile, the sidewalk inclined. By the time she reached the top of the tallest hill, she’d drained her drink.
Peeling the T-shirt off her back, she fanned her sticky skin and surveyed her destination. A Queen Anne Victorian mansion rose above the treetops. Its turret was the highest point in town. The MacKinnon mansion linked Harmony’s past with her future. She hoped.
Gripping an empty paper coffee cup, she pushed the wrought-iron gate. The rusty hinges didn’t make a squeak. Stepping onto the front path, she scanned the neatly trimmed hedges and sniffed fresh-cut grass.
Amy Parker, one of Sam’s two best friends, had taken over the mansion only months ago and jumped into what work she could. With a beautifully landscaped garden, she’d found an opportunity “to rent the property for senior photo sessions and outdoor weddings. As warm summer days had given way to cool autumn evenings, the business model had shifted focus to the interior. With the roof and windows repaired, Amy had begun her restoration in earnest. She wanted to partner with the bakery and hold corporate holiday parties this year. The town council had approved the plans and demo had started.
Sam tilted her face toward the bright, clear sky. Her parents had insisted she stay home today and—for once—take her day off. They protested otherwise, but she knew the truth. They needed her help.
Their auction business handled both land and personal property sales. The latter inspired Sam’s imagination from childhood, but her summer at a big city museum had cured her of any dreams outside her small town. The struggling business couldn’t afford to hire more help. Two people weren’t enough to adequately run a major sale. She should have followed them. On a massive property two hours away, they auctioned farm equipment as well as the land and heirlooms. They needed every spare set of hands they could get.
In a couple hours, a long enough amount of time that they couldn’t claim she disobeyed, she would drive to the sale. Strolling up the front steps, she knocked on the ajar front door, her knuckles pushing the panel. “Hello? Amy?” She craned her neck, peering into the darkened interior.
Inside her jeans pocket, her phone vibrated. Frowning, she retrieved the device. Amy Parker’s smiling face filled the screen. She always has impeccable timing. Sam tapped answer and pressed the phone to her ear. “Amy? Where are you? The front door is open.”
“I know. I had to step out. Some clerical issue with the plans. I wanted to get it sorted right away.”
Sam pressed her lips into a flat line. Ownership of the mansion had been a fraught situation that uncovered long hidden secrets. In the aftermath of almost losing her childhood dream forever, Amy had petitioned the town council and drafted new laws. Along with her boyfriend, Amy designed the hoops “she was currently jumping through to save other historic properties from needless demolition.
Still, Sam couldn’t defend Amy’s forgetfulness. The work-in-progress mansion boasted several treasured original light fixtures. The community wasn’t immune to opportunistic petty crime. The admonishment tickled Sam’s tongue.
“How long will you be gone?” Sam asked.
“Not sure. But if you want to start upstairs in the turret, I left tools there. Every wall has damage so you can pretty much pick a spot and tear it out.”
“Okay.” Sam scrunched her nose. She had no experience in construction or restoration. Her limited exposure was entirely courtesy of the current project. Her friend had called for help, and she’d agreed. She wouldn’t back out now. She sighed. “I’ll do my best.”
“You always do. See you soon!” Amy ended the call.
Scrubbing a hand over her face, Sam entered and shut the front door. In the hall, dark paneling covered the walls to nine feet under twelve-foot ceilings. Above the top edge of walnut, floral wallpaper hung in various stages of disrepair. The green ground was covered with tight bunches of roses. A hanging fixture with found glass shades on five arms dimly shone. In the room to her right, a two-tier, twelve-arm chandelier cast light onto the hardwood floor. Had Amy forgotten to turn off every light in the mansion?