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Like This Insubstantial Pageant Faded
When she was ten, Emily Prentiss spun around on the heels of her black patent leather shoes, head thrown back, arms spread wide, and stared in wonder at the brilliant blues and greens, reds and golds, crimsons and vermilions out of which arose shapes and forms, pictures and stories, on the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, her nose filled with the scent of floor wax and her mother's French perfume.
At thirteen, Emily stood in the Temple at Karnak, the air stilled it seemed by time itself, so that the scent of the dry earth and stone pervaded the senses, and everything familiar faded away, leaving only the past. The slanting yellow light of the afternoon sun revealed hieroglyphs that told of the deeds of pharaohs and paid homage to ancient gods, each image carved by hands turned to dust these three thousand years.
At fifteen, she sat in the lush, verdant green of the gardens, the air redolent with the scent of exotic flowers, heavy and sweet, and watched the white marble splendor of the Taj Mahal turn to gold and then crimson as the sun set behind the great tomb, the image mirrored back to heaven in the limpid waters of the long reflecting pool.
At twenty, she traveled to the staggering heights of the Peruvian mountains, to Machu Picchu and stood on the summit of a long forgotten citadel, gazing in awe at the rounded ruins of the Temple of the Sun, feeling the sacredness of the abandoned city and tasting the ozone in the chill air as a storm brewed far over the peaks of the Andes.
Yet none of those sights prepared her for the impossible beauty of a single woman, sapphire eyes darkened with passion, strands of platinum and silver and gold spread around her on the pale green of the pillow, full lips bruised and crimson against honeyed skin.
"You are, without question, the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen," Emily murmured, her fingers tracing along the graceful line of throat and collarbone, her lips descending to whisper across the warm, fragrant silk of skin.
JJ laughed, her hands coming up to slip along smooth skin and tangle in thick brown hair.
"Liar. Not that I'm complaining."
Emily reached up and stilled the slender hands, her expression as serious as JJ had ever witnessed.
"I'm not lying. Believe me when I tell you that I have never seen anything or anyone more beautiful than you," Emily whispered, almost reverently.
At thirty-eight, Emily Prentiss lay in her own bed, in an apartment looking out on the white marble and granite glory of the most powerful city on earth, the rain cascading down, washing clean for just that moment the dirt and corruption, running in meandering streams down the wide glass doors that led to the balcony, and finally found the perfection she had searched for.
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