Come Hell or Highball: The GIF Notes

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Society matron Lola Woodby has survived her loveless marriage with an unholy mixture of highballs, detective novels, and chocolate layer cake.

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Until her husband Alfie suddenly dies, leaving her penniless and in debt.  Pretty soon, Lola and her stalwart Swedish cook, Berta, are reduced to hiding out in Alfie’s secret New York City love nest.  But when the landlord comes knocking

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Lola and Berta have no choice but to accept an offer made by one of Alfie’s chorus-girls-on-the-side.

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In exchange for a handsome sum of money, Lola and Berta will retrieve a mysterious reel of film.

Which sounded like a piece of cake.  But Lola and Berta realize they’re over their heads when, before they can pinch the film reel, its owner is murdered.

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On a quest to retrieve the reel and solve the murder before the killer comes after them, Lola and Berta navigate puzzling clues, wacky situations, gangsters, a Pomeranian destined for fame,

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silent film stars,

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cinnamon rolls,

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a devious villain,

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and one gorgeous private eye.

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COME HELL OR HIGHBALL is available at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers.

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Maia Chance cozy mystery Bad Housekeeping

Announcing . . . A New Series!

I am thrilled to announce the upcoming release of BAD HOUSEKEEPING, Agnes and Effie Mysteries #1 from Crooked Lane Books!

When 28-year-old Agnes Blythe, the contented bifocals-wearing half of an academic power couple, is jilted by her professor boyfriend for the town Pilates instructor, her future is suddenly less than certain. So when her glamorous, eccentric Great Aunt Effie arrives in town and offers a job helping to salvage the condemned Stagecoach Inn, what does Agnes have to lose? But work at the inn has barely begun when the unlikely duo find the body of manipulative Kathleen Todd, with whom Agnes and Effie both have recently had words. Words strong enough to land them at the top of the suspect list.

The pair have clearly been framed, but no one else seems interested in finding the real murderer and Agnes and Effie’s sleuthing expertise is not exactly slick. Nevertheless, they’re soon investigating a suspect list with laundry dirtier than a middle school soccer team’s and navigating threats, car chases, shotgun blasts, and awkward strolls down memory lane.

In Bad Housekeeping, the first novel in the Agnes & Effie cozy mystery series by Maia Chance, danger mounts, deadlines loom, ancient knob-and-tube wiring is explored, and the ladies learn a thing or two about the awful, wonderful mistake that is going back home.

BAD HOUSEKEEPING will be released on June 13, 2017, and it is available for preorder now on Amazon.

 

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TEETOTALED Release Sweepstakes

Last week’s Come Hell or Highball sweepstakes was so fun, I thought I’d do one more to celebrate the Oct. 4th release of Teetotaled (the Discreet Retrieval Agency #2).  Enter here.  Good Luck!

This prize pack is the bee's knees. Enter to win an autographed copy of TEETOTALED, a copy of the wonderful BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS: A MODERN GUIDE TO THE ROARING 20s, Longcils Brncza cake mascara, a vintage porcelain Pomeranian, a flask, and a blingy feathered flapper headdress!

This prize pack is the bee’s knees. Enter to win an autographed copy of TEETOTALED, a copy of the wonderful BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS: A MODERN GUIDE TO THE ROARING 20s, Longcils Broncza cake mascara, a vintage porcelain Pomeranian, a flask, and a feathered flapper headdress!

 

 

 

 

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Come Hell or Highball Paperback Sweepstakes

Enter my Facebook sweepstakes to win a Come Hell or Highball Prize Pack in honor of the Sept. 20th paperback release! Includes: Autographed paperback edition of Come Hell or Highball (a Prohibition-era cozy mystery), the fabulous and comprehensive recipe book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, adorable clip-on plush Pomeranian (surely one of life’s necessities), and a glitzy faux-diamond flapper headdress.

Click here to enter (must be a Facebook user). Good luck!

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Maia Chance Come Hell or Highball Teetotaled

Countdown to Teetotaled

Perhaps I shouldn’t frighten you like that.  None of us need to become teetotalers.  Yikes.  However, with The Discreet Retrieval Agency #2, TEETOTALED coming out on October 4th, I’m beginning to feel festive!  Maybe nervous.  But festive!

Teetotaled Maia Chance

If you missed it, the first book in The Discreet Retrieval Agency series, COME HELL OR HIGHBALL, will be released in paperback on Sept. 20th.  I’m curious to see what this will look like.  On Pinterest today I stumbled upon the cover of Come Hell or Highball‘s large print edition–I had no idea there was a different cover!  Fun.

Come Hell or Highball Maia Chance

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Mystery Readers on Reading: Daniel Stallings

It’s my pleasure to introduce the latest interview in my series Mystery Readers on Reading, Daniel Stallings!

M: Thanks for being my guest! First of all, YOU: Where do you live and what is your occupation? Besides reading, what are your favorite hobbies?

D: I live in a city named Ridgecrest buried deep in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. Although a sizeable city, it’s about two hours from any other city, surrounded on all sides by hot sand, spiky Joshua trees, and bristly creosote bushes. We’ve developed quite a rich, artistic tradition because of our isolation.

Daniel's town of Ridgecrest, CA.

Daniel’s town of Ridgecrest, CA.

Besides reading and writing (my two loves), I am heavily involved in theatre. We have about five to six theatrical organizations in my town. My occupation is that I run one of them. Master Mystery Productions is my baby, where I’ve taken my passion for mystery fiction, writing, and theatre and I create interactive mystery shows for audiences to try and solve. You can find it on Facebook.

M: (Okay, I found Daniel’s Facebook page here.) What would you choose for your last meal?

D: My mother is German, and the dish I think she makes best is a meal called Bratkartoffeln. It’s essentially skillet-fried potatoes, onions, bacon, and cheese seasoned with salt, pepper, and Hungarian paprika. I could eat that every day and be totally satisfied. Heaven.

M: You’re a mystery reader. What sort of mysteries do you read?

D: I adore mysteries where the mystery is the primary focus, where the plot and planning of the crime and its solution are extremely well-done. I like it when the writers get a little tricky and creative with the actual mystery. Imaginative settings, plots, and characters will always tug at the heartstrings. I love mysteries that remember the emotional side of human interaction. I love it when characters are furious or heartbroken or triumphant or empathetic, because then they read as real people.

M: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Why?

D: Dame Agatha Christie is my heroine, naturally. What a genius of plotting. I love the Golden Age mystery writers such as Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries), Dame Ngaio Marsh (Roderick Alleyn Mysteries), Margery Allingham (Albert Campion Mysteries), Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe Mysteries), Ellery Queen, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Earl Derr Biggers (Charlie Chan Mysteries), and so on and so forth. For more modern writers, I adore Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand Mysteries), Nancy Pickard (Jenny Cain Mysteries), Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael Mysteries), Martha Grimes (Richard Jury Mysteries), Peter Tremayne (Sister Fidelma Mysteries of Ancient Ireland), ad infinitum.

Maia Chance mystery author

Daniel is ready to cozily wait out the apocalypse with this enviable shelf.

M: I am right there with you on Agatha Christie and the Golden Age Gang. What sort of characteristics do you enjoy the most in a protagonist?

D: Brains is the number one thing. If you have a sleuth, your sleuth should actually solve the mystery. If they stumble upon it every time without any actual thought, they’re not sleuths. I love protagonists with hearts, too. I love them to have empathy with others, to maybe have some pain in their lives that allow them to open up to others and understand the complex web of emotions that arise in good mysteries.

M: What are your favorite kinds of settings?

D: Anywhere. Take me to your wildest kingdoms of imagination. And while I do love England and small-town America, I love it when authors are a little more adventurous in their locations. Egypt, Rome, the Black Forest of Germany…

M: Why do you read cozy mysteries? I mean, what is it about this special sub-genre that draws you to it?

D: Cozies are my guilty pleasure reads, and there are some smartly written ones out there. I like Susan Wittig Albert, Cleo Coyle, Earlene Fowler, Robin Paige, Kate Carlisle, and Maia Chance. There’s heart in a cozy mystery. It’s about day-to-day people. They can be funny and charming. And I like that cozies, probably more than any other type of mystery, focus of exploring a trade or a culture in detail. You can learn about everything from bookbinding to tea to Renaissance fairs to fairy tales. But they should always be–and I stress this–intelligently plotted. Keep me guessing, because I don’t want to solve your mystery too soon.

M: What haven’t you seen in a mystery, in terms of protagonist, setting, or premise, that you would love to read?

D: Hmmm…I’d like more variety in settings and protagonists as a whole. Don’t get me wrong. I love England and craft stores and small towns and food as much as the next guy, but I love to explore cultures and worlds and people so different from myself. I’d like more diversity and wilder locations. There’s so much beauty and history out there. Why not write a mystery about the pilgrimage of Mansa Musa during the Mali Empire? Or about the birth of sitcoms with the production of the first I Love Lucy episode? Or something set during the 1960’s Space Race?

M: I LOVE your birth of sitcoms idea. Oddly, publishers shy away from 1950s and 1960s for mysteries, but I’m hoping we’ll see this change soon. What is your favorite children’s book?

D: Tough pick. I can barely pick a favorite author. I suppose the ones I treasure most are The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne. They were–pun intended–magical. All about books and magic and history and exploration. I adore them.

M: Where is your favorite place in the whole world to read?

D: My bed. It’s comfy and safe. With a mug of hot cocoa or cup of tea at my side, I can dive into the best mysteries in the world and feel completely serene.

M: If you were banned from reading mysteries EVER AGAIN, what would you resort to reading or doing instead?

D: I guess I would read plays and the classics, because I do enjoy them. Plays like Proof, A Raisin in the Sun, M. Butterfly, The Importance of Being Earnest, and so on are some of my favorites. I do read some Stephen King, but not religiously. And a have a few favorite poets. But the idea of never reading mysteries again breaks my heart. I love them. They are part of my world.

M: Thanks so much, Daniel!

Maia Chance mystery author

Part of Daniel’s magnifying glass collection poses in front of another serious stack of mysteries.

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Come Hell or Highball in Reader’s Digest Select Editions! (Or, I’ve Been Digested)

I am so happy (and flattered and tickled) to announce that May 1st marks the release of Reader’s Digest Select Editions Vol. 345 #3, which contains a condensed version of Come Hell or Highball alongside works by Lee Child, Charlie Donlea, and Amy Sue Nathan.

couplecouchfrenchDD

Reader’s Digest Select Editions have been around since 1950 (they were originally called Reader’s Digest Condensed Books), and although I read a LOT of them at my grandma’s house when I was younger, I never dreamed in a million years that one of my own books would be “digested.”

Maia Chance Come Hell or Highball

 

 

 

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Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna: It’s out!

Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna (Fairy Tale Fatal Book #3) is available now!  Read on for an excerpt. . . .

Seattle Mystery Bookshop

Amazon

Powell’s

Maia Chance mystery author

Three cups of birthday tea for three Fairy Tale Fatal books. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

BEAUTY, BEAST and BELLADONNA

 

Beware of allowing yourself to be prejudiced by appearances. –Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, “Beauty and the Beast” (1756)

 

1

 

The day had arrived. Miss Ophelia Flax’s last day in Paris, her last day in Artemis Stunt’s gilt-edged apartment choked with woody perfumes and cigarette haze. Ophelia had chosen December 12th, 1867, at eleven o’clock in the morning as the precise time she would make a clean breast of it. And now it was half past ten.

Ophelia swept aside brocade curtains and shoved a window open. Rain spattered her face. She leaned out and squinted up the street. Boulevard Saint-Michel was a valley of stone buildings with iron balconies and steep slate roofs. Beyond carriages and bobbling umbrellas, a horse-drawn omnibus splashed closer.

“Time to go,” she said, and latched the window shut. She turned. “Good-bye, Henrietta. You will write to me—telegraph me, even—if Prue changes her mind about the convent?”

“Of course, darling.” Henrietta Bright sat at the vanity table, still in her frothy dressing gown. “But where shall I send a letter?” She shrugged a half-bare shoulder in the looking glass. Reassuring herself, no doubt, that at forty-odd years of age she was still just as dazzling as the New York theater critics used to say.

“I’ll let the clerk at Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties know my forwarding address,” Ophelia said. “Once I have one.” She pulled on cheap gloves with twice-darned fingertips.

“What will you do in New England?” Henrietta asked. “Besides getting buried under snowdrifts and puritans? I’ve been to Boston. The entire city is like a mortuary. No drinking on Sundays, either.” She sipped her glass of poison-green cordial. “Although, all that knuckle-rapping does make the gentlemen more generous with actresses like us when they get the chance.”

“Actresses like us?” Ophelia went to her carpetbag, packed and ready on the opulent bed that might’ve suited the Princess on the Pea. Ladies born and raised on New Hampshire farmsteads did not sleep in such beds. Not without prickles of guilt, at least. “I’m no longer an actress, Henrietta. Neither are you.” And they were never the same kind of actress. Or so Ophelia fervently wished to believe.

“No? Then what precisely do you call tricking the Count Griffe into believing you are a wealthy soap heiress from Cleveland, Ohio? Sunday school lessons?”

“I had to do it.” Ophelia dug in her carpetbag and pulled out a bonnet with crusty patches of glue where ribbon flowers once had been. She clamped it on her head. “I’m calling upon the Count Griffe at eleven o’clock, on my way to the steamship ticket office. I told you. He scarpered to England so soon after his proposal, I never had a chance to confess. He’s in Paris only today before he goes to his country château, so today is my last chance to tell him everything.”

“It’s horribly selfish of you not to wait two more weeks, Ophelia—two measly weeks.”

Not this old song and dance again. “Wait two more weeks so that you might accompany me to the hunting party at Griffe’s château? Stand around and twiddle my thumbs for two whole weeks while you hornswoggle some poor old gent into marrying you? Money and love don’t mix, you know.”

“What? They mix beautifully. And not hornswoggle, darling. Seduce. And Mr. Larsen isn’t a poor gentleman. He’s as rich as Midas. Artemis confirmed as much.”

“You know what I meant. Helpless.”

“Mr. Larsen is a widower, yes.” Henrietta smiled. “Deliciously helpless.”

“I must go now, Henrietta. Best of luck to you.”

“I’m certain Artemis would loan you her carriage—oh, wait. Principled Miss Ophelia Flax must forge her own path. Miss Ophelia Flax never accepts hand-outs or—”

“Artemis has been ever so kind, allowing me to stay here the last three weeks, and I couldn’t impose any more.” Artemis Stunt was Henrietta’s friend, a wealthy lady authoress. “I’ll miss my omnibus.” Ophelia pawed through the carpetbag, past her battered theatrical case and a patched petticoat, and drew out a small box. The box, shiny black with painted roses, had been a twenty-sixth birthday gift from Henrietta last week. It was richer than the rest of Ophelia’s possessions by miles, but it served a purpose: a place to hide her little nest egg.

The omnibus fare, she well knew from her month in Paris, was thirty centimes. She opened the box. Her lungs emptied like a bellows. A slip of paper curled around the ruby ring Griffe had given her. But her money—all of her hard-won money she’d scraped together working as a lady’s maid in Germany a few months back—was gone. Gone.

She swung toward Henrietta. “Where did you hide it?”

“Hide what?”

“My money!”

“Scowling like that will only give you wrinkles.”

“I don’t even have enough for the omnibus fare now.” Ophelia’s plans suddenly seemed vaporously fragile. “Now isn’t the time for jests, Henrietta. I must get to Griffe’s house so I might go to the steamship ticket office before it closes, and then on to the train station. The Cherbourg-New York ship leaves only once a fortnight.”

“Why don’t you simply keep that ring? You’ll be in the middle of the Atlantic before he even knows you’ve gone. If it’s a farm you desire, why, that ring will pay for five farms and two hundred cows.”

Ophelia wasn’t the smelling salts kind of lady, but her fingers shook as she replaced the box’s lid. “Never. I would never steal this ring—”

“He gave it to you. It wouldn’t be stealing.”

“—and I will never, ever become. . . .” Ophelia pressed her lips together.

“Become like me, darling?”

If Ophelia fleeced rich fellows to pay her way instead of working like honest folks, then she couldn’t live with herself. What would become of her? Would she find herself at forty in dressing gowns at midday and absinthe on her breath?

“You must realize I didn’t take your money, Ophelia. I’ve got my sights set rather higher than your pitiful little field mouse hoard. But I see how unhappy you are, so I’ll make you an offer.”

Ophelia knew the animal glint in Henrietta’s whiskey-colored eyes. “You wish to pay to accompany me to Griffe’s hunting party so that you might pursue Mr. Larsen. Is that it?

“Clever girl. You ought to set yourself up in a tent with a crystal ball. Yes. I’ll pay you whatever it was the servants stole—and I’ve no doubt it was one of those horrid Spanish maids that Artemis hired who pinched your money. Only keep up the Cleveland soap heiress ruse for two weeks longer, Ophelia, until I hook that Norwegian fish.”

Ophelia pictured the green fields and white-painted buildings of rural New England, and her throat ached with frustration. The trouble was, it was awfully difficult to forge your own path when you were always flat broke. “Pay me double or nothing,” she said.

“Deal. Forthwith will be so pleased.”

Forthwith?” Ophelia frowned. “Forthwith Golden, conjurer of the stage? Do you mean to say he’ll be tagging along with us?”

“Mm.” Henrietta leaned close to the mirror and picked something from her teeth with her little fingernail. “He’s ever so keen for a jaunt in the country, and he adores blasting at beasts with guns.”

Saints preserve us.

 

*     *     *

 

Ophelia meant to cling to her purpose like a barnacle to a rock. It wasn’t easy. Simply gritting her teeth and enduring the next two weeks was not really her way. But Henrietta had her up a stump.

First, there had been the two-day flurry of activity in Artemis Stunt’s apartment, getting a wardrobe ready for Ophelia to play the part of a fashionable heiress at a hunting party. Artemis was over fifty years of age but, luckily, a bohemian and so with youthful tastes in clothing. She was also tall, beanstalkish and large-footed, just like Ophelia, and very enthusiastic about the entire deception. “It would make a marvelous novelette, I think,” she said to Ophelia. But this was exactly what Ophelia wished to avoid: behaving like a ninny in a novelette.

And now, this interminable journey.

“Where are we now?” Henrietta, bundled in furs, stared dully out the coach window. “The sixth tier of hell?”

Ophelia consulted the Baedeker on her knees, opened to a map of the Périgord region. “Almost there.”

There being the French version of the Middle of Nowhere,” Forthwith Golden said, propping his boots on the seat next to Henrietta. “Why do these Europeans insist upon living in these Godforsaken pockets? What’s wrong with Paris, anyway?”

“You said you missed the country air.” Henrietta shoved his boots off the seat.

“Did I?” Forthwith had now and then performed conjuring tricks in Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties back in New York, so Ophelia knew more of him than she cared to. He was dark-haired, too handsome, and skilled at making things disappear. Especially money.

“You insisted upon coming along,” Henrietta said to Forthwith, “and don’t try to deny it.”

“Ah, yes, but Henny, you neglected to tell me that your purpose for this hunting excursion was to ensnare some doddering old corpse into matrimony. I’ve seen that performance of yours a dozen times, precious, and it’s gotten a bit boring.”

“Oh, do shut up. You’re only envious because you spent your last penny on hair pomade.”

“I hoped you’d notice. Does Mr. Larsen have any hair at all? Or does he attempt to fool the world by combing two long hairs over a liver-spotted dome?”

“He’s an avid sportsman, Artemis says, and a crack shot. So I’d watch my tongue if I were you.”

“Oh dear God. A codger with a shotgun.”

“He wishes to go hunting in the American West. Shoot buffalos from the train and all that.”

“One of those Continentals who have glamorized the whole Westward Ho business, not realizing that it’s all freezing to death and eating Aunt Emily’s thighbone in the mountains?”

Ophelia sighed. Oh, for a couple wads of cotton wool to stop up her ears. Henrietta and Forthwith had been bickering for the entire journey, first in the train compartment between Paris and Limoges and then, since there wasn’t a train station within 50 miles of Château Vézère, in this bone-rattling coach. Outside, hills, hills, and more hills. Bare, scrubby trees and meandering vineyards. Farmhouses of sulpherous yellow stone.

A tiny orange sun sank over a murky river. Each time a draft swept through the coach, Ophelia tasted the minerals that foretold snow.

“Ophelia,” Forthwith said, nudging her.

“What is it?”

Forthwith made series of fluid motions with his hands, and a green and yellow parakeet fluttered out of his cuff and landed on his finger.

“That’s horrible. How long has that critter been stuffed up your sleeve?” Ophelia poked out a finger and the parakeet hopped on. Feathers tufted on the side of its head and its eyes were possibly glazed. It was hard to say with a parakeet. “Poor thing.”

“It hasn’t got feelings, silly.” Forthwith yawned.

Finally,” Henrietta said, sitting up straighter. “We’ve arrived.”

The coach passed through ornate gates. Naked trees cast shadows across a long avenue. They clattered to a stop before the huge front door. Château Vézère was three stories, rectangular, and built of yellow stone, with six chimneys, white-painted shutters, and dozens of tall, glimmering windows. Bare black vegetation encroached on either side, and Ophelia saw some smaller stone buildings to the side.

“Looks like a costly doll’s house,” Henrietta said.

“I rather thought it looked like a mental asylum,” Forthwith said.

Ophelia slid Griffe’s ruby ring on her hand, the hand that wasn’t holding a parakeet. Someone swung the coach door open.

“Let the show begin, darlings,” Henrietta murmured.

 

A footman in green livery helped Ophelia down first. Garon Gavage, the Count Griffe, bounded forward to greet her. “Mademoiselle Stonewall, I have been restless, sleepless, in anticipation of your arrival—ah, how belle you look.” His dark gold mane of hair wafted in the breeze. “How I have longed for your presence—what is this? A petit bird?”

“What? Oh. Yes.” Ophelia couldn’t even begin to explain the parakeet. “It’s very nice to see you, Count. How long has it been? Three weeks?”

Griffe’s burly chest rose and fell. “Nineteen days, twenty hours, and thirty-two minutes.”

Right.

Forthwith was out of the coach and pumping Griffe’s hand. “Count Griffe,” he said with a toothy white smile, “pleased to meet you. My sister has told me all about you.”

Ophelia’s belly lurched.

“Sister?” Griffe knit his brow.

“I beg your pardon,” Forthwith said. “I’m Forthwith Stonewall, Ophelia’s brother. Didn’t my sister tell you I was coming along?”

The rat.

“Ah!” Griffe clapped Forthwith on the shoulder. “Monsieur Stonewall. Perhaps your sister did mention it—I have been most distracted by business matters in England, très forgetful . . . And who is this?” Griffe nodded to Henrietta as she stepped down from the coach. “Another delightful American relation, eh?”

It had better not be. Ophelia said, “This is—”

“Mrs. Henrietta Brighton,” Henrietta said quickly, and then gave a sad smile.

Precisely when had Miss Henrietta Bright become Mrs. Henrietta Brighton? And . . . oh, merciful heavens. How could Ophelia have been so blind? Henrietta was in black. All in black.

“Did Miss Stonewall neglect to mention that I would chaperone her on this visit?” Henrietta asked Griffe. “I am a dear friend of the Stonewall family, and I have been on a Grand Tour in order to take my mind away from my poor darling—darling . . . oh.” She dabbed her eyes with a hankie.

Griffe took Henrietta’s arm and patted it as he led her through the front door. “A widow, oui? My most profound condolences, Madame Brighton. You are very welcome here.”

Ophelia and Forthwith followed. The parakeet’s feet clung to Ophelia’s finger, and tiny snowflakes fell from the darkening sky.

“You’re shameless,” Ophelia said to Forthwith in a hot whisper.

Forthwith grinned. “Aren’t I, though?”

 

2

            Ophelia’s conscience demanded that she call off the entire visit now. Because, well, the gall of Henrietta and Forthwith, springing those fake identities on her at the last minute. On the other hand, she didn’t have a centime to her name. Griffe would surely kick her out on her ear when he learned she was a fraud. She needed a little more time to cook up a plan.

She was led upstairs to a chamber with a canopied bed, walls painted with dark forest scenes—trees, rivers, castles, and wild animals—and a carved marble fireplace. Footmen brought up the two trunks of finery borrowed from Artemis Stunt, and then a maid arrived.

The maid, a beautiful blonde woman of about thirty years with the full, sculptured figure of a Roman statue, tapped her chest and called herself Clémence. As Clémence hung the finery in the wardrobe, she furtively inspected Ophelia from top to bottom. Then she led Ophelia down a creaking corridor to a small bathing chamber. Marble from floor to ceiling, with a tinned copper tub and gold water spigots shaped like duck’s heads. Clémence ran the bath, gave Ophelia a cake of soap and parting glance of disdain, and left Ophelia to bathe.

How discomfiting, having people tend to you. Especially when they made you feel that you ought to be waiting on them.

After her bath, Ophelia returned to her bedchamber, dried her hair before the fire, and arranged it in a frivolous braided knot . Then she squirmed and laced herself—she would not ring for Clémence—into corset, crinoline, evening slippers, and Artemis’s green velvet dinner gown.

After that, she checked on the parakeet. Griffe had sent up an unused brass birdcage from somewhere, its bottom lined with newspaper. Ophelia hung the cage near the fireplace with a saucer of water and a little bowl of breadcrumbs. The parakeet was fluffed up, its eyes mostly shut. “Are you all right?” Ophelia whispered.

The parakeet ignored her.

Outside the windows, snow blew sideways through blackness. The Baedeker claimed that it never snowed in the Périgord.

A rap on the door.

Entrez,” Ophelia called. She was picking up licks of French.

Clémence had returned, carrying an envelope. She gave it to Ophelia in sullen silence and left.

Ophelia looked at the envelope—it read Mademoiselle Stonewall—and sighed. She knew that sloped, smeary handwriting. Although she hadn’t seen the Count Griffe since the day after she’d accepted his marriage proposal, he’d written her daily rhapsodic letters from England. Luckily, she’d been spared the need to reply because he had been traveling.

She tore open the envelope and read,

 

Dearest Mademoiselle Stonewall,

 

It is with a swollen heart and fevered brow that I welcome you at last to this, my ancestral home. How ardently I dream of showing you every inch of this sacred place, the formal gardens by moonlight, the riches housed in the library, the Roman statues alongside the ornamental canal, the fruits and blooms in the orangerie. How I long, too, to show you the more intimate features of your future home.

 

Ophelia’s palms started sweating.

 

For instance, my late mother’s own wedding gown, preserved in delicate tissue in a box, and the nursery and schoolroom where I once romped and studied and where, God willing, our own children will romp and study, too.

 

Ophelia went to a side table, where she’d seen a decanter of red liqueur. She poured herself a small glass and drank it down. Cherry.  She coughed. She wasn’t really a tippling lady, but the image of a half dozen hairy baby Griffes crawling around in diapers required blurring.

She turned back to the note.

 

We did not enjoy even one moment alone upon your arrival today. Might I beg you to join me at half past eight this evening—dinner will be served at nine o’clock—in the ballroom? There is so much in my heart I must convey, ma chérie —may I call you that?—and a pressing question I must ask.

 

Your most humble and obedient admirer,

Griffe

 

Oh, Lorks.

Ophelia checked the mantel clock. Almost half past eight already. She stuffed the note in a drawer and sat down to wallow in guilt until nine o’clock. She’d rather stick her hand in a beehive than be alone with Griffe. She could tell him she’d fallen asleep.

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