Tilly discovers she’s not alone in one of the Palace’s secret passages.
Mentally kicking myself for not finding the door control on this side of the door as soon as I went through it, I pulled out my night vision goggles. I slipped them on and examined the door. As I’d hoped, the button was right next to the door. There’s no point in hiding a control inside the secret hallway, after all.
The door slid aside without a sound. I reentered the room as the door softly closed behind me. With a wall between me and the other person — God, please let it just be one person — I brought my friends up-to-date.
“Someone else was in the passage and they were heading my way,” I hissed. “I’ve returned to the suite. With any luck, whoever it is will just keep walking. Considering the alarm Nathan set off, I’m not counting on that.”
“What can we do?” Jana asked.
“Keep quiet until I say otherwise. Clear?”
“Yes,” Nathan and Jana responded.
Mark remained quiet. Some women might wonder about that. I’m not one of them. As a fellow practitioner of the intrusion arts, my potential man understood my on-the-job needs far better than our friends. It was also his job to watch Nathan’s back, something he couldn’t do while paying attention to me.
I’d given the suite a cursory inspection before looking for the way to open the secret door. It was remarkably free of useful hiding places. I couldn’t even take the cliché hide-under-the-bed choice since the humongous thing rested directly on the floor. I couldn’t curl up in any of the dresser drawers — yes, I can and have done that but God was it uncomfortable — because they were way too small for it. Someone could fit underwear and multi-million credit baubles in the drawers but lithe thieves were right out.
I gave the closet a quick look. If I’d had William’s closet available I’d have been in great shape. He has tons of clothes hanging in his and I was certain I could have hidden myself among his copious collection of black formal wear. Of course, no one was staying in this suite, which meant no clothes in the closet.
Or so I thought.
Don’t get me wrong, the closet wasn’t full of clothes. Every single hanger was empty. But a row of hooks along the near wall weren’t. Bathrobes, each bearing the royal family’s coat of arms on the left breast, dangled from the hooks. The robes ranged from tiny child sizes up to ones large enough for the most corpulent noble in the Star Kingdom.
I hurried down the line, rearranging several of the robes so they hung as much as half a meter out from the wall. Reaching the last one — a truly massive garment large enough to engulf three normal-sized people — I slipped under it and put my back against the wall. Grabbing the hook, I offered a silent prayer to the goddess of wardrobes asking for a hook that could hold my weight. Then I lifted my feet off the floor.
My prayer was answered. The hook held.
Putting my feet down, I waited and listened.
I didn’t have long to wait. Usually, less waiting is a good thing. Not this time. Worrying replaced waiting when I heard the soft sigh of the hidden door sliding open. I’d never have heard it at all if I hadn’t concentrated on that exact sound. Not that I doubted myself, but the quiet scuff of a footstep that followed removed all possibility of doubt. I can’t say what stroke of good fortune put the foot scuffer in the hidden passage, but I was thankful for it.
I lifted my feet from the floor, this time bringing my knees all the way up to my chest. I wrapped my left arm around my legs, hugging them close, and dangled with all my weight supported by my right arm.
A minute later, the foot scuffer came to the closet. I held my breath as a bright light swept the small room. Then it played along the floor beneath the robes. The light flicked up to the ceiling. Seconds later, it flashed beneath the robes again. Then the foot scuffer moved into the hallway and headed towards the living area and the suite’s entrance.
I could have lowered my feet after that. It was a safe bet whoever was out there — a guard, almost certainly — would scuff his or her feet when they returned. But a smart thief — that being one who hasn’t been captured — doesn’t take safe bets when her freedom is on the line. I kept my legs pulled tight against my chest and left all my weight on my right arm.
I keep myself fit and trim for all sorts of reasons, both personal and professional, but I’d never taxed my arms this severely before. I listened as the foot scuffer searched the rest of the suite. Doors opened and closed. The suite’s lights came on when the guard reached the entrance. Then the guard searched each room again. He or she only gave the closet a cursory second look before moving on.
Finally, minutes after my right arm went from a dull ache to tortuous pain, a male voice said, “This is Davis. I’ve searched the suite thoroughly. It’s empty and the door’s security seal is active. Is the servant sure she saw someone duck into this suite? I’ll bet she was just flustered by the alarm.”
The man was quiet for a bit, obviously listening to a reply, and then said, “All I can tell you is this place is empty. With the activity in the main hallway, anyone leaving that way would have been spotted and they couldn’t have set the security seal, either. If this mythical intruder went through the hidden door, they’d have run into me or Watkins. And we know no one besides the Prince and Princess’s guards entered their room.”
Another few seconds passed, then he said, “That’s what I’ve been saying. The girl just misinterpreted something she saw while she was running for her designated emergency station after the alarm sounded. Make sure you tell her no one blames her and we’re glad she told us what she thought she saw. No one wants to take any chances with Their Highnesses’ lives, especially with an heir on the way.”
No longer trying to walk quietly, Davis went back to the suite’s entrance and turned the lights off. As he walked back to the bedroom and the hidden door, he said, “I’m returning to my post. Davis out.”
I heard the soft sound of the hidden door opening and closing. It took all my willpower to keep my legs off the floor, but I held my position for a slow count to one hundred. I heard nothing else during the count so finally put my feet down and let my trembling right arm fall to my side.
Sliding down the wall, I rested my legs and left arm, too. Then I keyed my comm, “I’m clear. A guard searched the room but didn’t find me.”
“Are you okay?” Jana asked.
“Where did you hide?” Nathan added.
“I’ll be fine after some rest and I hid behind a bathrobe. I’ll tell you the whole story after I get out of here.” Taking a deep breath, I added, “Getting away isn’t going to be easy, though. The hidden passage is guarded and the whole Palace is on alert. Hell, for all I know, William and Olivia are wide awake right now. I certainly would be in their place.”
Blinking back tears of fatigue and frustration, I said, “I’m sorry, guys, but I don’t see how I can finish the job.”
Can Tilly and our heroes find a way to complete the job and escape the Palace? Find out in Chapter 48, coming Wednesday.