Authors: Maia Chance
Snow White Red-Handed
“Offering a clever twist on the tales of the Brothers Grimm, this debut historical cozy (and series launch) introduces an attractive, spunky heroineÂ .Â .Â . and an entertaining, well-constructed plot that will satisfy fans of folklore and fairy tales.”
“Deliciously Gothic, intriguingly different, this story plunges us into the world of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, where the greed and evil are all too real, and everyone has something to hide.”
New York Times
“[Chance's] lively debut, the first in a new cozy seriesÂ .Â .Â . will whet the reader's appetite for Ophelia and Prue's next misadventure.”
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Maia Chance
SNOW WHITE RED-HANDED
LLA SIX FEET UNDER
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
CINDERELLA SIX FEET UNDER
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2015 by Maia Chance.
Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna
by Maia Chance copyright Â© 2015 by Maia Chance.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-14005-9
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / September 2015
Cover illustration by Brandon Dorman.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, lifeÂ .Â .Â . would be like a fairy taleÂ .Â .Â .
âHenry David Thoreau (1854)
he murdered girl, grainy in black-and-gray newsprint, stared up at him. Her eyes were mournful and blank.
Gabriel placed the chipped Blue Willow teacup beside the picture. His hand shook, and tea sloshed onto the newspaper. Ink bled.
Gabriel Augustus Penrose, although a bespectacled professor, hadn'tânot yet, at leastâdeveloped round shoulders or a nearsighted scowl. Although, such shoulders and such a scowl
have suited the oaken desk, swaybacked sofa, towers of books, and swirling dust motes in his study at St. Remigius's College, Oxford. And at four-and-thirty years of age, Gabriel was certainly not given to fits of trembling.
He tore his eyes from the girl's. Was it today's newspaper? He glanced at the upper marginâ
. Perhaps there was still time.
Time forÂ .Â .Â . what?
He didn't customarily peruse the papers during his four o'clock cup of tea, but a student had come to see him and he'd happened to leave
behind. The morgue drawing was on the fourth page, tucked between a report about a Piccadilly thief and an advertisement for stereoscopic slides. A familiar, lovely, andâaccording to the reportâdead face.
SENSATIONAL MURDER IN PARIS: In the Marais district, a young woman was found dead as the result of two gunshot wounds in the garden of the mansion of the Marquis de la Roque-Fabliau, 15 Rue Garenne. She is thought to be the daughter of American actress Henrietta Bright, who wed the marquis in January. The family solicitor said that it is not known how the tragic affair arose, and that the family was unaware of the daughter's presence in Paris. The
commissaire de police
of that quarter has undertaken an assiduous search for her murderer.
Gabriel removed his spectacles, leaned forward on his knees, and laid his forehead in his palm. The murdered girl, Miss Prudence Bright, was a mere acquaintance. Perhaps the same might be said of Miss Ophelia Flax, the young American actress who had been traveling with Miss Bright when he'd encountered them in the Black Forest several weeks ago.
. The term could not account for the ripping sensation in his lungs.
Gabriel replaced his spectacles, stood, and strode to the jumbled bookcase behind his desk. He drew an antique volume from the shelf:
Histoires ou contes du temps passÃ©
Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times
âby Charles Perrault. He flipped through the pages, making certain a loose sheet of paper was still wedged inside.
He stuffed the volume in his leather satchel, along with his memorandum book, yanked on his tweed jacket, clamped on his hat, and made for the door.
Two Days Earlier
The mansion's door-knocker was shaped like a snarling mouse's head. Its bared teeth glinted in the gloom and raindrops dribbled off its nose. It
to have been enough of a warning. But Miss Ophelia Flax was in no position to skedaddle. Yes, her nerves twanged like an out of tune banjo. But she'd come too far, she had too little money, and rainwater was making inroads into her left boot. She would stick to her guns.
“Ready?” she asked Prue, the nineteen-year-old girl dripping next to her like an unwrung mop.
“Can't believe Ma would take up residence in a pit like this,” Prue said. Her tone was all bluster, but her china-doll's face was taut beneath her bonnet, and her yellow curls drooped. “You sure you got the address right?”
“Certain.” The inked address had long since run, and the paper was as soggy as bread pudding by now. However, Ophelia had committed the addressâ15 Rue Garenneâto memory, and she'd studied the Baedeker's Paris map in the railway car all the way from Germany, where she and Prue had lately been employed as maids in the household of an American millionaire. “It's hardly a pit, either,” Ophelia said. “More like a palace. It's past its prime, that's all.” The mansion's stones, true, were streaked with soot, and the neighborhood was shabby. But Henrietta's mansion would dwarf every building in Littleton, New Hampshire, where Ophelia had been born and raised. It was grander than most buildings in New York City, too.
“I reckon Ma, of all people, wouldn't marry a poor feller.”
“But what if she ain't here? What if she went back to New York?”
“She'll be here. And she'll be ever so pleased to see you. It's been how long? Near a twelvemonth since sheÂ .Â .Â .” Ophelia's voice trailed off. Keeping up the chipper song and dance was a chore.
“This is cork-brained,” Prue said.
“We've come all this way, and we're not turning back now.” Ophelia didn't mention that she had just enough maid's wages saved up for oneâand
oneârailway ticket to Cherbourg and one passage back to New York.
Prue's mother, Henrietta Bright, had been the star actress of Howard DeLuxe's Varieties back in Manhattan, up until she'd figured out that walking down the aisle with a French marquis was a sight easier than treading the boards. She had abandoned Prue, since ambitious brides have scant use for blossoming daughters.
But Prue and Ophelia had recently discovered Henrietta's whereabouts, so Ophelia fully intended to put her Continental misadventures behind her, just as soon as she installed Prue in the arms of her long-lost mother.
Before Ophelia could lose her nerve, she hefted the mouse-head door-knocker and let it crash.
Prue eyed Ophelia's disguise. “Think she'll buy that getup?”
“Once we're safe inside, I'll take it off.”
The door squeaked open.
A grizzle-headed gent loomed. His spine was shaped like a question mark and flesh-colored bumps studded his eyelids. A steward, judging by his drab togs and stately wattle.
“Good evening,” Ophelia said in her best matron's warble. “I wish to speak to Madame la Marquise de la Roque-Fabliau.” What a mouthful. Like sucking on marbles.
“Regrettably, that will not be possible,” the steward said.
He spoke English. Lucky.
The steward's gaze drifted southward.
Ophelia was five-and-twenty years of age, tall, and beanstalk straight as far as figures went. However, at present she appeared to be a pillowy-hipped, deep-bosomed dame in a black bombazine gown and woolen cloak. A steel-gray wig and black taffeta bonnet concealed her light brown hair, and cosmetics crinkled her oval face. All for the sake of practicality. Flibbertigibbets like Prue required chaperones when traveling, so Ophelia had dug into her theatrical case and transformed herself into the sort of daunting chaperone that made even the most shameless lotharios turn tail and pike off.
“Now see here!” Ophelia said. “We shan't be turned out into the night like beggars. My charge and I have traveled hundreds of miles in order to visit the marquise, and we mean to see her. This young lady is her daughter.”
The steward took in Prue's muddy skirts, her cheap cloak and crunched straw bonnet, the two large carpetbags slumped at their feet. He didn't budge.
“Baldewyn,” a woman's voice called behind him. “Baldewyn,
qui est lÃ
?” There was a
of heels, and a dark young lady appeared. She was perhaps twenty years of age, with a pointed snout of a face like a mongoose and beady little animal eyes to match.
Mademoiselle Eglantine,” Baldewyn said, “this young ladyâan American, clearlyâclaims to be a kinswoman of the marquise.”
“Kinswoman?” Eglantine said. “How do you mean, kinswoman? Of my
? Oh. Well. She isÂ .Â .Â . absent.”
Ophelia had picked up enough French from a fortune-teller during her stint in P. Q. Putnam's Traveling Circus a few years back to know what
“No matter,” Ophelia said. “Mademoiselle, may I present to you your stepsister, Miss Prudence Deliverance Bright?”
“I assure you,” Eglantine said, “I have but one sister, and she is inside. I do not know who you are, or what sort of little amusement you are playing at, but I have guests to attend to. Now,
s'il vous plaÃ®t
, go away!” She spun around and disappeared, the
of her heels receding.
Baldewyn's dour mouth twitched upwards. Then he slammed the door in their noses.
“Well, I never!” Ophelia huffed. “They didn't even ask for proof!”
you Ma don't want me.”
“For the thousandth time, humbug.” Ophelia hoisted her carpetbag and trotted down the steps, into the rain. “She doesn't even know you're on the European continent, let alone on her doorstep. That Miss Eglantineâ”
“Fancies she's the Queen of Sheba!” Prue came down the steps behind her, hauling her own bag.
“âsaid your mother is absent. So all we must do is wait. The question is, where?” They stood on the sidewalk and looked up and down the street lined with monumental old buildings and shivering black trees. A carriage splashed by, its driver bent into the slanting rain. “We can't stay out of doors. May as well be standing under Niagara Falls. I'm afraid my greasepaint's starting to run, and this padding is like a big sponge.” Ophelia shoved her soaked pillow-bosom into line. “Come on. Surely we'll find someplace to huddle for an hour or so. Your sisterâ”
“Very well, Miss Eglantine said they've got guests. So I figure your mother will be home soon.”
The mansion's foundation stones went right to the pavement. No front garden. But farther along they found a carriageway arch. Its huge iron gates stood ajar.
“Now see?” Ophelia said. “Nice and dry under there.”
“NotÂ .Â .Â . terribly.”
More hoof-clopping. Was itâOphelia squintedâwas it the same carriage that had passed by only a minute ago? Yes. It was. The same bent driver, the same horses. Andâ
Her heart went lickety-split.
âand a pale smudge of a face peering out the window. Right at her.
Then it had gone.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
On the other
side of the carriageway arch lay a big, dark courtyard. Wings of Henrietta's mansion bordered it on two sides. The third side was an ivy-covered carriage house and stables, where an upstairs window glowed with light. The fourth side was a high stone wall. The garden seemed neglected. Shrubs were shaggy, weeds tangled the flower beds, and the air stank of decay.
“Look,” Prue said, pointing. “A party.”
Light shone from tall windows. Figures moved about inside and piano music tinkled.
“Let's have a look.” Ophelia abandoned her carpetbag under the arch and set off down a path. Wet twigs and leaves dragged at her skirts.
“You mean spy on them?”
“Miss Eglantine didn't seem the most honest little fish.”
“And that Baldy-win feller was a troll.”
“So maybe your ma is really in there, after all.”
Up close to the high windows, it was like peeping into a jewel box: cream paneled walls with gold-leaf flowers and swags, and enough mirrors and crystal chandeliers to make your eyes sting. A handful of richly dressed ladies and gentlemen loitered about. A plump woman in a gray bunâa servantâstood against a wall. A frail young lady in owlish spectacles crashed away at the piano.
“There's Eggy,” Prue said. “Maybe that's the sister she mentioned.” A third young lady in a lavish green tent of a gown sat next to Eglantine.
“Same dark hair,” Ophelia said.
“Same mean little eyes.”
“A good deal taller, however, and somewhatÂ .Â .Â . wider.”
“Spit it out. She looks like a prizefighter in a wig.”
“Prue! That might be your own sister you're going on about.”
sister. Lookâthey're having words, I reckon. Eggy don't seem too pleased.”
The young ladies' heads were bent close together, and they appeared to be bickering. The larger lady in green had her eyes stuck on something across the room.
Ah. A gentleman. Fair-haired, flushed, and strapping, crammed into a white evening jacket with medals and ribbons, and epaulets on the shoulders. He conversed with a burly fellow in black evening clothes who had a lion's mane of dark gold hair flowing to his shoulders.
“Ladies quarreling about a fellow,” Ophelia said. “How very tiresome.”
fellers are worth talking of.”
“If you're hinting that I care to discuss any gentleman, least of all Professor Penrose, thenâwell, I do not, I
do not feel a whit of sentiment for that man.”
“Oh, sure,” Prue said.
Ophelia longed for things, certainly. But not for
. She longed for a home. She longed, with that gritted-molars sort of longing, to be snug in a third-class berth in the guts of a steamship barging towards America. She'd throw over acting, head up north to New Hampshire or Vermont, get work on a farmstead. Merciful heavens! She knew how to scour pots, tend goats, hoe beans, darn socks, weave rush chair seats, and cure a rash with apple cider vinegar. So why was she gallivanting across Europe, penniless, half starved, and shivering, in this preposterous disguise?