Authors: Angie Kelly
The Versailles Vendetta
By Angie Kelly
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead,
purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
: THE VERSAILLES VENDETTA
Copyright Â© 2014
Cover Art Designed by BOOK BEAUTIFUL
To the two J's: Jordy Albert and Judy Johnson who never let me lose hope that this book would find a home.
"I'm Mia Cornell, and until a month ago, I didn't believe in supernatural stuff. I mean, seriously, how could any sane person believe in ghosts? I'd lived my entire life blissfully ignorant about this whole unseen world out there I knew nothing about. And, honestly, I'm still trying to decide if I'm happy to know the truth, even though the truth is pretty awesome. Well, mostly awesome. It can also be kinda scary sometimes. Anyway, I bet you're wondering what happened to change my mind. It all started after I'd been bounced around in foster care for a year and then got sent to live here at the Tarpley Estate with Madeline Tarpley and her three other foster daughters: Tomi, Devon, and Lily. Three of the craziest girls I've ever met.”
“What did you just call us?” interrupts Devon, rolling her eyes.
“You're one to talk, Mia,” says Tomi, laughing.
“And you're one of us now,” Lily says. “So you're crazy, too.” We all laugh.
“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, the first week I was here I tried to run away because of all the total weirdness going on around me. Plus, I knew they were keeping a secret from me. And I won't even mention how mean Devon was.” I stick my tongue out at Devon and she throws a pillow at me.
“But instead of running away, I ran straight into an adventure and it completely changed my life forever. Oh, and I'll never look at the Mona Lisa the same way again, or nuns, or Vespa scooters!”
“Okay, it's my turn,” Tomi says, plunking herself down on the coffee table. “I can't believe Mia just called us crazy. Adventurous? Yes. Gutsy? Totally! Nerdy? Just a little. And, yep, I guess we're crazy, too, but in a good way. Oops! I bet you're wondering who I am? I'm Tomi Sato and I actually hate labels, especially the not so great one ones. They're so bad for your self-esteem. But I'm going to let you in on a little secret. I wanted to tell Mia the truth about us. It was killing me not to. Keeping secrets suck! Or is it sucks? Either way, it was no fun having to lie to her when she knew something was going on.
“You guys are
worst liars,” I say, with a grin.
“And lying is so bad for your soul. And I'm all about the truth, except for when I
to lie. I'm also all about the history and all about the chocolate, especially the chocolate. Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is after Mia found out about the Labyrinth Society she could have just told us to take a hike and took off.
“Hello? She was planning on running away, remember,” mutters Devon.
“As I was saying, it would not have been the first time someone left the society. Talk about being betrayed. But I digress. Mia didn't hesitate to dive right in and help us get the job done, even after the job went seriously haywire. But she didn't have much of a choice considering she ended up in a foreign country with no way to get back home on her own.
“And no money and no passport!” I point out, putting the back of my hand to my forehead dramatically like a damsel in distress.
“Silly girl,” said Tomi, shaking her head. “But you get the picture. And Mia's right. Devon was
mean to her.”
“Totally mean,” Lily says, nodding in agreement.
I stick my tongue out at Devon again.
, I've had it!” shouts Devon, jumping up from the couch. “I, Devon Sharp, was mean to Mia! Are you guys satisfied? But I had an excuse, remember? I was under some major stress. So get over it already! I have. First things first, I am what is called rule driven, meaning I always follow the rules. I don't have a lot of patience for people who can't follow the rules. And in the Society, following the rules is very important, like life and death important. I know you don't know what I'm talking about, but if you're reading this, you soon will. I'm also a hacker, which breaks all kinds of rules. But trust me, I use my powers for good. So about me being mean to Mia. I was told not to tell Mia about The Labyrinth Society until she was a member. It's a rule. And being the rule driven girl I am, I didn't tell. None of us did. Only she kept asking questions, like
"Yep, she was pretty intense with questions," says Tomi in agreement.
"Relentless," adds Lily.
I stick my tongue out at all of them.
"Plus, she showed up at the Tarpley Estate at the worst possible time ever, when I was freaking out over a serious crisis I couldn't tell anyone about. It was an important life or death matter. Only it didn't quite turn out the way I thought it would. In fact, the way it turned out was beyond messed up. But Mia had my back."
"Don't you ever forget it!” I blurt.
"And it's way more than I can say for â never mind! I've already said too much."
"Said too much?" asked Lily, incredulous. "You've hardly said anything at all, Devon. I'm Lily Flores, by the way, and apparently the only one in this crew who's going to tell you what's what. If you know Spanish, then you already know Flores means Flowers. You're probably wondering if you should take a girl named Lily Flowers seriously. But I'll give you a hint: I know karate. Moving on. So what did my foster sisters forget to tell you while they were blabbering away? Well, the four of us are twelve years old and we live with Mrs. Madeline Tarpley, the widow of the famous archaeologist Dr. Everett Tarpley, and her assistant, Alex Duncan."
"You guys I can't believe we forgot to mention Alex. He didn't drop off the face of the earth, you know. He's just in Cleveland for the weekend!" says Tomi, looking mortified.
"What's the difference?" Devon shouts back.
"See what I have to put up with?” says Lily, rolling her eyes. “Now, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, we're all members of the Labyrinth Society, a secret society founded eons ago by Dr. Tarpley. We work for museums all over the world tracking down lost and stolen stuff. Cool stuff like art, artifacts, and relics. Some of the stuff we look for isâ¦ umâ¦ special. Special as in stuff with certain powers or even spirits attached to them. I know! Sounds crazy, huh? But I swear it's true. And if you think what I've told you so far is unbelievable, then just wait until you find out
we travel around the world. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. Just kidding! But stick around and you'll see for yourself."
Mia & The Mysterious Mrs. Tarpley
"Mia! I'veâ¦gotâ¦greatâ¦news," panted my caseworker. Ms. Jarvis leaned heavily against the trunk of the tree I was sketching under.
The last time I saw Ms. Jarvis was when I was kicked out of my eighth foster home. Okay, maybe
isn't the right word. But, hey, I'm only twelve and it sort of felt that way at the time. Actually, it was what grown-ups called a mutual parting of the ways. The Higgins family and I had mutually gone our separate ways after their twins, Justine and Janelle, planted Mrs. Higgins's expensive diamond tennis bracelet in my pajama drawer and cried thief. I clung to my innocence like a barnacle. Mr. and Mrs. Higgins clung to their belief I was going to rob them blind. Clearly, there was nothing left for me to do but pack. Although, when I thought back on the whole sorry mess, being nicknamed
by the twins should have been my first clue things weren't going to end well.
Anyway, Ms. Jarvis told me I was lucky Mr. and Mrs. Higgins weren't pressing charges, but my stealing would have to be documented in my case file, and I could pretty much forget about getting into another nice foster home. Huh? I'd just left a so-called
home falsely labeled a future felon, which is why I laughed so hard I got the hiccups. I couldn't stop. Ms. Jarvis just stared at me in horror like I was some kind of out-of-control stray dog and needed to be darted. I hadn't seen her since she'd dropped me off at the children's home exactly six weeks ago
"Are you okay?" I asked, and immediately started fanning her with my sketchpad. "Do you want some water?"
The big woman's face was bright red. For a minute I thought she might have a stroke. It was 100 degrees in the shade. I didn't care. The last time I'd spent the day inside, I'd had gum put in my hair when I'd fallen asleep on the couch in the rec room. Oh, and a gash on my knee from being tripped up the steps by Brandy Gordon, the Goth Goddess of the Greene County Children's Home. Brandy was so mean she made the Higgins twins look like amateurs. But I was safe under the tree. Brandy and her evil friends hardly ever left the porch because they wanted everyone to think they'd burst into flames in direct sunlight.
"I'mâ¦ okay." Ms. Jarvis took a few more minutes to catch her breath before continuing. "I don't have much time. I just came by to tell you I've found you another foster home!"
"No thanks. I'd rather stay here."
"You can't be serious." Ms. Jarvis stared at me like I was loony. "Why on earth would you want to stay here when you could live with a nice family?"
"Hey, you're the one who told me my sticky fingers would keep me out of a nice home. At least here," I said, gesturing towards Brandy and her crew lounging on the porch, "I already know the deal."
"Oh, Mia," sighed Ms. Jarvis. "I was just so upset and I know I shouldn't have said what I did. But it's all behind us now, right?"
The only thing behind me was my old life. But Ms. Jarvis would never understand because she was an adult and therefore able to live and do as she pleased, while I, being only twelve, was being passed from home to home like the flu. There was always a reason why my foster families couldn't keep me: lost jobs, transfers overseas, new babies, military recalls, separations, and divorces. I even got sent back once because the family dog hated me. I was never at anyplace long enough to get attached. And none of those families could ever take the place of my grandma, who I still missed like crazy. But I'd had enough. No more foster homes. I'd just lay low at the children's home until I turned eighteen. My plan had been working brilliantly
Ms. Jarvis showed up.
"Well, aren't you even curious about this new home?" she finally asked when I wouldn't say anything or even look at her. I had this amazing ability to tune out the world when I was focused on something else. My grandma had called it my self-induced trance. I call it a gift.
"Well, it doesn't matter what you want, young lady," sighed Ms. Jarvis, her upbeat mood trampled under the weight of my bad attitude. "You make sure you're packed and ready at eight tomorrow morning. I'll be by to pick you up."
I instantly snapped out of my trance and watched her go. Hot, angry tears of frustration welled up in my eyes. I threw the sketchpad across the yard and the kids on the porch burst out laughing. Why couldn't everyone just leave me alone?
The next morning was dreary and rainy, perfect weather for shuttling an unwanted kid to a suspicious location. I sat unspeaking in Ms. Jarvis's front seat. She was in an equally nasty mood because I left her marinating in her ancient, blue Buick for almost half an hour before I finally emerged from the children's home. Little did she know I'd awakened to discover someone, aka Brandy Gordon, had filled my one and only suitcase with sand from the kiddie playground sandbox. It took me forever to clean it out before I could toss my clothes and art supplies into it.
We drove in silence for about fifteen minutes before I finally realized we were on the highway headed away from Dayton, Ohio, the only city I've ever lived in.
"Where are you taking me?" I demanded, starting to feel frantic.
"Yellow Springs," said Ms. Jarvis in a tight voice. "I tried to tell you yesterday but you didn't want to know, remember?" She turned right onto Dayton-Yellow Springs Road. My old life was slipping further and further away with each mile.
"You couldn't find me a home in Dayton?" Ms. Jarvis cut me a look. I was ready to explode. "Oh, I get it! Thieves shouldn't be too choosy about where they go, huh?"
"Calm down. I never called you a thief."
"But I'll die of boredom! There's nothing going on in Yellow Springs, just a bunch of old hippies and weird college kids with pink hair, pierced tongues, and tattoos!" I wailed. I could hear myself whining and cringed. But I couldn't help it. This was so beyond lame!
Yellow Springs was a small village less than half an hour from Dayton, but worlds apart. My grandma took me there every summer for their annual street fair where we'd buy handmade jewelry, get our fortunes told, and eat gyros. We'd stop at Young's Jersey Dairy for a banana split before coming home. I always had fun, mainly because I was with my grandma. But,
in Yellow Springs was something else entirely. The population couldn't be much more than a few thousand people. It was barely a dot on the map. Ms. Jarvis was burying me in the middle of nowhere!
"This is a perfectly lovely place to live, and if you give it a chance, I'm sure you'll love your new home." Ms. Jarvis's mood seemed to have changed upon entering the Yellow Springs village limits.
"Whatever." I stared stonily out the window, refusing to even look around, let alone acknowledge the numerous kids of all ages and races who seemed perfectly happy and not bored in the least.
A girl who was about my age with a long blonde ponytail, jogged past as we were stopped at a red light. She glanced through the windshield at me. I gave her a half smile and she turned up her nose at me and jogged on.
"Oh, yeah, this should be a
of fun." I stared after the snotty chick as she jogged off down a side street.
Ms. Jarvis just sighed and drove through the small downtown past Peaches Bar and Grill, the Little Art Theatre, the Winds Restaurant and various health food shops and bookstores, then made a turn, taking us past Antioch College. We made another turn and drove on until we came to a stretch of road. A large farm was on one side, with a cow grazing in a field. A farm? My heart sank into my stomach. But I wasn't surprised. I should have known I was being sent someplace where hard manual labor was required. They'd probably make me sleep in the barn or the root cellar and get me up at dawn every day to milk the cow. But, Ms. Jarvis stopped, pulled to the side, and scanned the tree-lined road on the opposite side from the farm, looking puzzled.
"I can never remember just where the turnoff is." She pulled a map from her big purse and consulted it. "Ah, there it is." She pointed further up the road.
"I don't see anything."
"You wouldn't, unless you knew where to look," she said.
Ms. Jarvis drove until we got to a green metal mailbox sticking out of a fence half hidden by shrubbery. The little red flag on the mailbox was sticking up, which was the only way I noticed it was there. Next to the fence was a narrow dirt road winding through the trees. I couldn't see beyond the trees and my heartbeat quickened.
"Who lives here?" I wondered if the farm across the road might be a safer bet. They might work me to death but at least I'd be out in the open instead of hidden in the woods.
"You'll see," said Ms. Jarvis with a cryptic smile. We drove for another quarter mile down the tree-lined road. Suddenly the trees gave way to a large, lush yard in the middle of which sat a brick, three-story Victorian mansion, complete with a tower and a wraparound porch. It was like a mini castle. My jaw dropped.
"This is it, Mia, your new home! Isn't it beautiful?"
"You're kidding me, right?" I couldn't peel my eyes away from the house.
"This is the Tarpley Estate. You'll be living with Mrs. Madeline Tarpley and her three other foster daughters. She's quite a wealthy woman. You're quite lucky, you know. Mrs. Tarpley is very generous."
"Isn't there a Mr. Tarpley?"
"No. She's been widowed for about ten years now, I believe. Her husband, Everett Tarpley, was a famous archeologist. He died in some freak accident. She started taking in foster kids after he died. I imagine she must have been lonely in this big house all by herself."
"So, I get to live with some old widow lady who probably has tea parties for her cats and smells like boiled cabbage and mothballs. Lucky me."
Surprisingly, Ms. Jarvis laughed, which wasn't a good sign.
We turned into the driveway leading up to the house and parked in front of the large porch. It was crowded with tan and green wicker furniture and lots of plants. As if to confirm my worst fears, a large orange tabby cat ran down the porch steps at the sight of us and up a nearby tree.
I got out and peered up at a rain-streaked window on the second floor and saw the face of a girl about my age staring back at me. She waved at me and quickly disappeared behind the lace curtains. I barely had time to wonder who she was because the screen door flew open and out came a woman. She was probably in her thirties with pale skin and dark brown hair falling to her shoulders. She had on faded jeans and a yellow Bob Marley T-shirt. She was wiping her hands on a dishtowel but had neglected the big smudge of flour on her forehead. She wore a tiny diamond stud in the left side of her narrow nose. When she saw me she smiled.
"You're here at last!" the woman said, in a heavy French accent. She swooped me up in a big hug and lightly grazed both of my cheeks with her own in the type of air kiss I had only seen on TV. She smelled like soap and yeast. I took an instinctive step backwards, feeling overwhelmed by this stranger's affection. I'd never in my life met a French person.
"Mia, this is Madeline Tarpley, your new foster mother."
"Hi," I said, unable to take my eyes off Mrs. Tarpley. This wasn't what I was expecting at all, and I couldn't help wondering what the catch was, because there was always a catch.
"You'll have to excuse the way I look. I've been baking and the time got away from me. Please come in." Mrs. Tarpley gently took my hand and led me into the house.
We walked into a large open foyer located directly in front of a double staircase. The foyer had a high ceiling, shiny hardwood floors, and a large round marble table with a glass vase full of wildflowers sitting on it. The walls were covered in framed travel posters of faraway places â Egypt, Morocco, Greece, and China â as well as a multitude of African and Chinese masks. There was an Egyptian death mask, just like in the pictures I'd seen of King Tut's tomb, sitting on a stand between the two staircases. And I must have been nervous, because I could have sworn its eyes followed me as I walked past. The combination of baking bread from the kitchen and the strong scent of the wildflowers made the house smell wonderful.
"I can't stay long, I'm afraid, Mrs. Tarpley," said Ms. Jarvis, who'd come in behind us.
"Not even for my
pains au chocolat
? They're fresh from the oven," Mrs. Tarpley said, with her head cocked slightly to one side.
"Oh, well, maybe just for a little while to make sure Mia gets settled in okay," Ms. Jarvis said, obviously not needing her arm twisted further. She followed Mrs. Tarpley into the kitchen.
pains au chocolat
?" I said aloud.
"Idiot!" said a deep, rumbling, heavily accented voice. But when I whirled around I saw the girl who'd been in the window, and I couldn't imagine such a deep voice had come from her.
"Did you say something?" I asked, confused. She laughed.
"I said it's French for bread with chocolate." She wore a denim miniskirt, pink and black tank top with a skull emblazoned on the front, and white ankle socks with black lace fringe. Her shiny black hair was cut short except for the bangs, which had been combed to one side and fell over her right eye like a glossy raven's wing. "There's chocolate baked inside. You do like chocolate, don't you?" she asked, like I'd be loony to say no.
"Uh, yeah, sure." I stared at the small, reddish, star tattoos encircling her left wrist like a bracelet. She saw me looking and laughed.
"It's not permanent. It's henna. A real tattoo would be so bad for my commitment issues. I'm Tomiko Sato. But everyone just calls me Tomi. You must be Mia."
"Yeah," I said, suddenly feeling totally awkward.
"You don't say much, do you?" Tomi said after a few more seconds of awkward silence.
I just stared at her and shrugged, wondering what it was I was supposed to say. Then Tomi glanced down at my sandaled feet and back at the front door where several pairs of shoes were lined up neatly just inside the door, including the Birkenstocks Mrs. Tarpley had been wearing.
"Sorry." My face burned with embarrassment and I quickly slipped out of my sandals and set them next to the others.
"No biggie. Come on." Tomi grabbed my wrist and pulled me through the swinging double doors of the kitchen.
Ms. Jarvis was seated at a large island in the middle of a big, airy kitchen devouring a plate of glistening brown rolls sitting in front of her. Overhead was a rack of shiny copper pots and pans. The walls of the kitchen were a pale yellow, and sheer white curtains hung in the large window overlooking a huge ornamental garden in the backyard.
I sat down on a stool across from Ms. Jarvis, and my new foster mother set a plate of bread in front of me as well as a large glass of milk. Tomi didn't bother with a stool. She grabbed some bread and hopped up on a nearby counter.
"I see you've met Tomi," Mrs. Tarpley commented with a smile. "Where are the others?" she asked, turning to Tomi.
"I think Devon went into town and Lily rode her bike to the nursing home to see her grandpa. I don't have a clue where Alex is," she replied, around a mouth full of bread. Devon, Lily, Tomi, and Alex? Ms. Jarvis said there were three foster daughters.
I bit into the warm bread and it melted in my mouth. There was a thin strip of gooey chocolate inside. I'd never tasted anything like it.
"It's good, huh?" Tomi was so obviously eager for me to say yes I couldn't help but smile.
Before I could answer, laughter coming from the foyer announced the arrival of two more girls who came bursting into the kitchen. The one closest to me had long, wavy, light brown hair and a small mole over her upper lip. She was wearing padded, black biker shorts and a silver mesh tank top. She smiled at me but didn't speak. Instead, she glanced apprehensively at the girl she came in with.
The other girl had a golden tan and a long blonde ponytail. I recognized her instantly. It was the snotty chick who'd turned up her nose at me when we first arrived in town. I knew there had to be a catch, and it had long blonde hair.
"Lily, Devon, you're just in time to meet Mia Cornell," said Mrs. Tarpley, but she was looking directly at the blonde girl as if trying to gauge her reaction.
"Hi. I'm Lily Flores," the brown-haired girl said softly, holding out her hand for me to shake.
"And this is Devon Sharp," said Mrs. Tarpley when the blonde just stood there glaring and refusing to say a word. "Devon, don't be so rude. Say
to Mia," she said, sounding slightly exasperated. I got the impression everyone knew I was coming, except this Devon chick.
Devon wasn't having it. She shot me another dirty look and stormed out of the kitchen. Mrs. Tarpley was hot on her heels. They started arguing out in the foyer, but I could still hear most of what they were saying, despite Ms. Jarvis's attempt to make small talk with Lily and Tomi to try and drown them out.
"Insolence!" roared a weird deep voice. It was the same one I'd heard when I first came in. Who was it? I peered through the kitchen's swinging double doors out into the foyer and saw Devon glaring at the Egyptian mask. Suddenly, Tomi started coughing and nudged Lily who went and leaned against the door jamb blocking my view.
"You just couldn't wait to replace her, could you?" I heard Devon spat out at Mrs. Tarpley. "She's barely been gone a month! How could you! We're all supposed to be in this together! We can't get someone new without everyone's consent!"
"Enough!" Mrs. Tarpley's voice, so soothing and sweet only moments before, cracked like a whip. Devon shut up immediately. "I'm the one you're angry with, Devon. Don't take it out on Mia!"
"She's not going with us next weekend, is she? It's too dangerous! She'll just mess everything up!"