Title: Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna
Series: A Fairytale Fatal Mystery, Book 3
Author: Maia Chance
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Variety hall actress Ophelia Flax has accepted the marriage
proposal of the brutish Comte de Griffe to nettle her occasional
investigative partner—and romantic sparring partner—the
pompous if dashing Professor Penrose.
But the Comte’s boorish table manners, wild mane of hair,
and habit of prowling away the wee hours has shredded Ophelia’s
last nerve. She intends to disengage from her feral fiancé at
his winter hunting party—until Penrose, his lovely new fiancée,
and a stagecoach of stranded travelers arrive at the Comte’s
sprawling château. Soon she can’t tell the boars from the bores.
When one of the guests is found clawed and bloody in the
orangerie, Ophelia is determined to solve the murder before
everyone starts believing the local version of Beauty and the Beast.
But until the snows melt, she can’t trust her eyes—or her
heart—since even the most civilized people hold beastly secrets.
An Excerpt from Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna
“What’s this?” Ophelia had almost stepped on something at the base of the cave wall.
Penrose crouched and held the lantern over it. “Good God,” he muttered. “Is it . . . a shrine?”
Small earthenware dishes held what appeared to be chocolate drops, purple berries, and loose pearls. A clay vase held a red and white striped rose.
Churches in New England didn’t have shrines. They didn’t even have stained glass windows or statues.
“Pearls,” Ophelia said. “Madame Dieudonné was missing a pearl necklace.” But—she looked carefully at the shrine—no ruby ring. Still, the pearls connected the shrine, very loosely, to the missing ring. There was hope yet.
“This resembles the offerings people of the Orient assemble for their gods or ancestors,” Penrose said.
“Those are belladonna berries, professor.” The skin of Ophelia’s back felt all itchy and crawly, and she stole a glance to the black gap where the cave continued into the earth. Someone could be back there. Watching.
“Miss Flax,” Penrose said slowly. “Look at this.” He lifted the lantern, illuminating the picture on the wall above the shrine.
Heavens to Betsy. A carved, black-painted beast, half-man, half-boar, undulated in the light.
The body of the beast was like a man’s, although the feet seemed—Gabriel squinted—yes, they seemed to have hooves. But the head! It was unmistakably that of a furry boar, with large pointed tusks and tiny round ears.
A slight crunching sound made Gabriel and Miss Flax freeze. Their eyes met.
Gabriel knew that somewhere in the shadows, someone or something lay in wait.
Miss Flax, wide-eyed, in those awful trousers, seemed at once horribly vulnerable and dear beyond measure. The pistol tucked into Gabriel waistband felt newly heavy. He picked up the lantern and slowly stood, willing himself not to exude the essence of fear in case whatever was watching was an animal.
“Come,” he mouthed to Miss Flax, wrapping his free hand around her wrist. “Slowly.”
She stayed very close to him as they walked steadily out of the cave.
They emerged into the cold, damp night. The moon glowed whitely above. The air tasted of soil and rot.
“Shouldn’t you extinguish the lamp?” Miss Flax whispered as they started down the rocky, ice-slicked slope. “So they can’t see us?” She tugged her wrist free of his hand so she could climb.
“Wild animals are afraid of light.” Gabriel longed to grab her wrist again, to enfold her, keep her safe. If something were to befall her—
“It wasn’t an animal in there,” Miss Flax said. “It was a human being. I could feel it. Animals don’t make one feel so frightened.”
“Not any animals?”
“No. Animals never seem evil, and I felt something evil up there in the cave.”
About the Author
Maia Chance writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal series, The Discreet Retrieval Agency series and the Prohibition-era caper, Come Hell or Highball. Her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, was a national bestseller. Maia lives in Seattle, where she shakes a killer martini, grows a mean radish, and bakes mocha bundts to die for. She is a Ph.D. candidate for English at the University of Washington.
Visit Maia on the web:
“Readers who enjoy their mysteries with a humorous
flair need to take a chance with this author.”
–RT Book Reviews
“National bestselling author Maia Chance, who is famous
for her cozy mysteries, dazzles with humor and folklore.”
–What Is That Book About