It was just after dawn and bitterly cold. The early spring wind had blown all night, chasing away storm clouds, shaking windows, sending discarded papers skirting down the sidewalk. Now all that remained was a stiff breeze and dropping temperatures.
Molly pulled the wool blanket to her chin and shivered. Staring at the hairline crack in her bedroom ceiling, she focused on it instead of the man who slept a few inches away. After a minute, she realized it was impossible. She had to look at him. It was too remarkable of a moment not to. What she saw made her smile: Dark curls tumbling over his forehead, his classical features uncharacteristically at peace. The Cupid's bow mouth turned up in a dreamy smile. Sooty black lashes resting in a fringe over alabaster skin.
She could check another one off her Top Sherlock Holmes Fantasies list, even though how he came to be in her bed hadn't played out as she always had hoped. They had fallen asleep—her beneath the covers, him above—after talking into the night.
Molly decided it still counted.
She bit her lip. Months earlier he had told her he couldn't love anyone; she never asked why. But last night he declared she was his pathologist, which in Sherlock language meant he cared for her, at least a little. But that was all right with Molly. She had love enough for two.
As if he could read her thoughts in his dreams, Sherlock's blue eyes snapped open. "Hello."
"Good morning," she said shyly.
Gone was the comforting darkness that had encouraged her to speak freely. Now everything was stark and clear and imperfect. Molly nervously twirled a strand of her long chestnut-brown hair.
"I can make some coffee. I'm not sure if I have any eggs, but I do have bread. Or I could run out and get us—"
Sherlock stifled a yawn and rolled on his side to face her. "You are babbling needlessly, no doubt because you are afraid I regret what I said about you being my pathologist."
"And do you? Regret it?"
He saw uncertainty in her eyes. He had no experience dealing with such feelings. Perhaps she could see this about him in the cold morning light. Suddenly he felt uncertain, too.
"Do you have regrets?" he asked.
She smiled radiantly. "Not one."
He let out a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding. "Then it is settled."
Molly would have liked a little more definition as to what "it" meant to Sherlock. Instead she asked, "What about that coffee?"
Pausing in the bathroom, Molly gasped when she looked in the mirror. Her hair seemed to have doubled in volume over night and mascara streaked under her eyes.
"Great. I look like a Tim Burton creature," she said and scrubbed her face clean. There was nothing to be done about her hair until she could wash it, so she smoothed it down as best she could and slipped on a pink headband.
It was Sunday, the day she and Sherlock typically spent together. And like every Sunday he sat on her old floral sofa, scanning his mobile.
"Any new cases?" she asked, getting out two cups.
"No," he said glumly. "Just a text from John asking how you are feeling."
"Tell him I'm fine. No ill effects after last night's…events."
Sherlock noted the sad quality in her voice. "Molly, dwelling on what happened with Todd is pointless."
Preoccupied, she shook her head. "I have a lot of lessons to learn. One day I'll sit down and figure them out."
Furrowing his brow, Sherlock said, "Todd is gone. You still have the necklace. We have a new understanding. These are all positives."
Molly's smile was strained as she filled the kettle. "I know."
Sherlock quickly calculated how often Molly might display unfamiliar and uncomfortable emotions such as this. He knew Todd's betrayal had hurt her, but he had no idea how to help her. So he decided to divert her attention.
"I am the one who has reason to be upset. I do not have a case. I am bored."
His silken voice directly behind her made her shiver, but it wasn't cold in the kitchen. In fact, to Molly it felt a few degrees hotter. She looked into his blue eyes. "Don't worry. I'm sure a horrible new murder for you to solve will happen any day now."
If Maria Gibson weren't a stubborn woman of habit, she could have enjoyed the warm pleasure of her down comforter a little longer. But it was Sunday, and Sunday meant getting a run in before the kids got up.
Putting her dark hair in a pony tail before pulling on a striped knit cap, Maria wore several layers under her blue running pants and matching jacket. She jogged several blocks, passing the corner coffee shop and its tempting aromas before heading to the park. It didn't take long for her to start sweating. Neil called it her "overactive Latin cooling system." He would never say, "sweat." Perspire, maybe.
Her husband used to join her on these runs, but lately his work had preoccupied him. And more than likely, he was having another affair. She thought that he might fancy their nanny, but she had decided against that idea. With strawberry blonde hair, Grace Dunbar was a pretty little thing, a bit wide across the hips with a tiny waist and a flat chest. Not Neil's type at all. His last several flings had been with brunettes who were amply endowed.
Luciana constantly asked her why she put up with his infidelity. Maria explained that her husband had a wandering eye, but he always came home to her. And she loved him passionately.
As two men jogged past her in the opposite direction, Maria could sense their admiring stares. For a woman approaching forty, she knew she looked ten years younger, and her figure didn't betray the fact she had borne two children. She thanked her mother, God rest her soul, for good Brazilian genes.
A fine mist of droplets fell from the trees arching over the running path. Maria shivered. She would never get used to living in this climate, even if she lived in London for another five years.
Spying Thor Bridge in the distance, she pulled her mobile from her pocket and glanced at the time. If she continued at this pace, she would be home in plenty of time to shower before making Sophie and John their breakfast.
But it was all a moot point.
She had less than five minutes to live.
"You look different."
Sherlock's eyes flicked to where John Watson sat. "How?"
"That is imprecise of you."
John grinned. He knew exactly why: The world's only consulting detective was happy, but if John said that, it would lead to a fight he wasn't in the mood for.
Sherlock quirked an eyebrow, then returned to plucking the strings of his violin.
"If you are implying something about my friendship with Molly, you do not need to."
"Really? Just friends?"
Sherlock's blue-green eyes hardened. "Yes, we are friends, just like you and I are friends. But, of course, it is different."
John stared at his best friend for a long moment. He knew Sherlock's continuing cluelessness about women shouldn't surprise him. Sherlock probably had never been in a real relationship. Sighing, John continued to type his latest blog post on the murder of Gert Morceaux. Writing was easier than educating Sherlock on what was proper behavior. He wondered how long it would be until Sherlock gave up these pretenses and called what he felt for Molly Hooper what it was: love.
"Hoo-hoo, Sherlock, your appointment's here!" Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock's landlady, led a small, slender woman up the stairs.
John was on his feet immediately. "Ms. De Silva? You're right on time. Please come in."
He was struck by the woman's distinctive beauty. High cheekbones rose in perfect symmetry above full, naturally red lips. Her dark hair, cropped in an angled bob, was shiny and lustrous. Even though she wore all in black, Ms. De Silva's curvy figure couldn't be diminished.
Clutching a tissue, the woman's red-rimmed eyes threatened to fill again. "Thank you, Mr. Holmes."
"I am Sherlock Holmes," said the detective, not bothering to turn from the window. "This is my associate, Dr. John Watson."
After thanking Mrs. Hudson, John gestured for their client to sit. "How can we be of help?"
She swallowed hard. "Three days ago someone murdered my sister."
"I'm very sorry for your loss," John said sincerely.
"And the police have no leads?" asked Sherlock, already bored.
"No, they made an arrest hours after her body was found."
John looked up from the notes he was taking in surprise. "They have? Who?"
"A man at a nearby homeless camp had her mobile. He claimed he found it on the street," Ms. De Silva said. "He has a long record of robberies and assaults."
With an exaggerated sigh, Sherlock shifted his weight.
John quickly said, "I'm confused. If the police have caught the murderer, why do you need our help?"
"Because that man didn't do it."
Sherlock turned abruptly. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because her husband did it. Neil killed Maria."
"Explain," Sherlock said.
"He has cheated on her for years. Maria told me just last week that she suspected he was seeing someone new."
"He was an adulterer. That does not make him a murderer."
John shot Sherlock a disapproving look before addressing their client kindly. "What makes you think he killed her?"
In a flash of anger, Luciana De Silva stood and paced the floor. "Because Neil Gibson is a cold-hearted bastard who broke her heart! He wanted to be rid of her so he could be with his new girlfriend."
"Wait, Neil Gibson? Gibson Consolidated? Neil Gibson, the 'Gold King'?"
She nodded. "He came from Montana to Brazil when we were just girls. He worked with our papa in mining and they built a fortune together. Maria fell in love with him."
"But you did not like him?" Sherlock asked, sitting in the chair Luciana had just vacated. John quickly stood so she could sit down.
"I hated him!" she said passionately.
"That still does not make him a murderer," Sherlock said. "But first I need to have data. How was she killed?"
Luciana's face fell. "While she was out for a run in Maplewood Park, he beat her head in. She was found discarded like trash near Thor Bridge."
"Did she run there regularly?"
"Every Sunday, rain or shine." She stood. "Mr. Holmes, Maria dedicated her life to Neil and their children. She suffered in silence as he humiliated her with one girl after another because she loved him. She did not deserve this."
Thoughtfully tapping his pointer fingers together, the detective agreed. "I will take your case, Ms. De Silva. Goodbye."
Luciana hesitated and looked to John in confusion. "We'll be in touch, Ms. De Silva. Let me walk you out."
The doctor returned to find Sherlock buttoning up his trademark black coat.
"Where are you off to?"
"St. Bart's. I need to see the body."
"All right. I'm off to the clinic, so I'll see you later," John said. "And Sherlock? Say hello to Molly for me."
As the detective walked down the stairs, he thought he heard his friend snickering.