Monday, February 29, 2016

Audiobook Review: Edge by Tiffinie Helmer

He's lost his edge...


Photojournalist Cache Calder lives to chase a great story. He's just returned from the Middle East after surviving a suicide bombing that left him injured and grief-stricken. The last thing he wants is to travel to the wilds of Alaska on a "Where Is She Now" Assignment. But when his editor informs him that his subject is former kidnapping victim, Amelia Bennett who jump-started his career twenty years earlier, he packs his bags.


She lives on the Edge...


Mel Bennett's carefully maintained control unravels the moment she meets Cache Calder. Attraction flares for the man who seems to really "know" her. No one at the Edge of Reason Lodge is aware she was the young teenager who'd survived one of the most publicized kidnappings in recent history, and she wants it to stay that way. But she starts to question her heart and her sanity when unexplained incidents begin to happen and a deadly threat returns to finish what he'd started so long ago.


Series: Romance on the Edge #1 | Narrator:  Mia Chiaromonte | Publisher: Audible Studios| Genre: Romantic Suspense |Length: 11 hours and 8 minutes | Source: Publisher| Rating: 4 Cups

Challenges Read For: Blogger Shame Review Challenge
After surviving a suicide bombing in the Middle East that left him injured and mourning, Cache Calder is content to stay tucked away in his apartment until his friend and colleague, Tom, brings him the assignment of a lifetime: a ‘Where Is She Now’ featuring Amelia Bennett, the kidnapping victim that started his award-winning career. With his bags packed and his camera at the ready, Cache and Tom head to Alaska. Although things aren’t exactly how Tom said they would be. Amelia Bennett doesn’t know they are coming to do a story on her and now Cache must hide his identity as he finds himself growing closer to the subject of his article.


Mel Bennett came to Alaska for a reason: to escape her past and start clean. Here no one knows her as the young girl a religious cult kidnapped or the troubled teen she became, yet when her sister and her two children arrive at the Edge, Mel starts to feel her past catching up with her. And things start to become even more complicated when Cache arrives and Mel starts developing an attraction to him. When strange events begin occurring to Mel, she soon realizes her past isn’t that far behind and if she refuses to let people in, she very well may end up losing her life.


Okay, when you start this one, give it some time to grow on you because the first few chapters are a little rough but I promise you it’s worth the read. Also, this book is a bit intense and deals with subject matter (religious cults, kidnapping, and such) that some readers may be uncomfortable with. While I found this book very engaging, I found I had to limit my listening time to allow myself to recharge.


Mel isn’t an easy character to like and throughout the book I found myself struggling with her. She’s rude, uncaring, selfish, likes to keep things bottled up, and prone to making stupid decisions. She’s very unforgiving and never lets anything go. While she had a legitimate reason for feeling this way, she was still highly unlikable. Given all she’s been through, I felt a tad bit guilty for not liking her but that’s what happened.


Characters that are journalist are always a bit tricky for me to like, they often come off as skeevy and untrustworthy and to make things more complicated, Cache started off by deceiving Mel. While it wasn’t his decision to pretend to be someone else, and he struggled with it, he also went along with it. So, I was really surprised with how much I liked Cache. He’s a journalist with morals and he’s not willing to compromise them just to sell a few photos. His stay at the Edge is more than just a story, it’s also about his healing and recovery. He’s been through a lot that this allows him to understand what Mel’s going through.


So, the romance has to be the weakest of the plotlines and, honestly, that had to do with Mel. She doesn’t allow Cache to get close to her and, when he starts to, she pushes him away. She’s so focused on herself that she can’t see how much he cares about her and I found myself wanting to smack some sense into her. And it annoyed me that she held what Tom did against Cache. Although their romance wasn’t easy—and at times I wondered if she was actually going to give Cache a break—it was worth the struggle. And I really enjoyed how Cache knew exactly what Mel needed and patiently waited for her to accept it.


The suspense aspect, while it took a backseat to the characters’ stories, was engaging. Throughout the book, incidents keep occurring that had Mel believing that the leader of the Ascension—the religious cult that kidnapped her—had returned. The suspense kept me on the edge of my seat and I found myself paying close attention the men surrounding Mel to see if any of them could be the cult leader.


Edge really focused on the characters and I loved that. I loved getting to know the secondary characters because they all had their own issues to work out. While each character’s story felt well rounded and complete, I would have liked more about Nicole, Mel’s sister.


The setting of Alaska truly acts as another character and the isolation of the Edge of Reason Lodge lends a thriller vibe to the book.


Mia Chiaromonte’s narration of the book, while engaging, took some getting used to. I struggled with her narration of Cache, because rather than sounding masculine, it came off as hoarse and slightly annoying until I grew accustomed to it. Although she excelled at bringing the characters to life and keeping my attention until the very end.


Overall, I can’t believe that I waited so long to give this a listen. It was intense, dark, occasionally funny, character-driven, and engaging.


Romance On The Edge Series




4-Death Cache

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday {30}: The Obsession by Nora Roberts

“Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.
This one looks a bit darker than the other Nora Roberts books that I’ve read and I have to say I’m intrigued by it.

Title: The Obsession
Author: Nora Roberts
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: April, 12, 2016
Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father's crimes and made him infamous. No matter how close she gets to happiness, she can't outrun the sins of Thomas David Bowes.
 Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, a rambling old house in need of repair, thousands of miles away from everything she's ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the kindly residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton.
 Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she's always secretly craved. But the sins of her father can become an obsession, and, as she's learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.
What are you waiting on?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tea Review—Celestial Lattes: The Godfather, Chai Tea, Espresso, Cocoa

Authentic masala chai with bold espresso and rich cocoa.
Celestial Lattes are inspired by the “secret menu” at your favorite local coffeehouse. These barista-style beverages are brimming with the goodness of tea.
Ingredients: Brewed tea (water, black tea) reduced fat milk, espresso, cane sugar, pectin, natural flavors, cocoa, honey, cinnamon, clove, ginger and cardamom.
Source: Pinch Me Box
Price: $2.98
Availability: This was a little hard to find. I had to go to three different towns and six stores before I finally found a Kroger that carried it.
Would I Buy It? YES
My Thoughts: I was excited to try this. Before the coupon arrived in my Pinch Me Box, I never knew this product existed. While I’m an avid tea drinker, I normally order my tea so I’m rarely browsing the tea aisle in the grocery.
Chai tea lattes can be a bit tricky, especially the ones that are already pre-packaged. They can either be overly sweet or extremely spicy and bitter. Although what drew me to The Godfather—besides the awesome name—was that this latte was mixture of cocoa, masala chai, and espresso.
I really liked this one. I put the bottle in the fridge and allowed it to chill overnight. The combination was surprisingly smooth. While hints of cinnamon, clove, ginger and cardamom are present, the flavor of the cocoa and espresso tames them slightly while sweetening the latte without giving it that overly sweet taste.
Overall, this is a nice change and I look forward to trying the other flavors.

Do you enjoy Chai Tea Lattes?
Have a favorite brand?
Have you tried Celestial?

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Improper Bride by Lily Maxton

Cold, arrogant, and demanding Lord Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton, would never dally with a mere servant. But when Henry is injured in a horrible fire, his pretty housekeeper Cassandra nurses him back to health, throwing them together day and night. As he slowly heals from his burns, their friendship blossoms, and the class walls between them start to crumble. Cassandra is surprised by glimpses of a kind and thoughtful man beneath her employer’s hard façade—and even more surprised when she develops tender feelings for him. But anything between lord and servant is impossible...and besides, as a widow, she knows love only leads to heartbreak.

Henry is changing, as well. His close brush with death has opened his eyes to his self-imposed emotional isolation...and has urgently reminded him of his duty to marry a well-bred lady and produce an heir. Determined to do right by his family name, he immediately begins searching for a suitable bride. But Cassandra is the only woman who is never far from his mind or his heart. Contrary to everything he’s been taught to believe, he realizes his lovely housekeeper might just be his perfect match. Now, if only he could convince everyone else of that. Especially Cassandra...

Series: Sisters of Scandal #5 | Publisher: Scandalous, an imprint of Entangled| Release Date: January 25, 2016 | Genre: Historical Romance | Source: Publisher | Rating: 2 Cups

Challenges Read For: Pick Your Own Genre: Historical

Here’s what’s going on. When Henry, Marquess of Riverton, is injured in a fire, his housekeeper Cassandra is tasked with the job of keeping him occupied while he convalesces. Rather than just sitting idly around, Cassandra chooses to use this to her advantage and persuades Henry to teach her German. While Henry and Cassandra grow closer, Henry’s near-death experience has reminded him that he needs to settle down and produce an heir so the hunt for a well-bred wife begins. Although he soon discovers that no woman can compare to Cassandra, but will he be able to overlook the fact she’s his housekeeper.
I enjoyed the first half of this book. The pacing was steady, the characters were enjoyable, and I was eager to see how Henry and Cassandra were going to react to each other.  And I really liked Cassandra, she’s a bit older than the heroines you see in historical romances, she’s a widow but not afraid to fall in love again, she’s smart, determined, and not afraid to stand up to Henry.
Henry was arrogant, gruff, broody, rude, and just a complete and utter tosser. Yet, in the beginning, I found him extremely likable. He’s doesn’t really know how to love due to the way his parents sort of kept him at arm’s length and how they would shower him with gifts rather than affection.
I struggled a bit with the conflict and ended up finding it lacking and a bit annoying. It revolved around the class issue—he was a Marquess, she was his housekeeper—so they were constantly fretting about how society would react to them. While I could understand the source of the conflict, especially in that era, it grew annoying because it was constantly brought up.
So, I enjoyed 59% of the book, then it was revealed that Henry had gotten his mistress pregnant and was happy to sit back and ignore the fact his former mistress was carrying his child. I mean, seriously a secret pregnancy?!? And I was really liking Henry up to this point. I was expecting that revelation to spur the conflict, but it never did. Cassandra more or less shrugged it off.
At that point, I nearly DNF’d the book and honestly, I probably should have because I struggled to get back into the story.
Overall, parts of The Improper Bride reminded me of Jane Eyre: Henry’s behavior, the fire, the servant/master relationship, Henry’s hunt for a wife and the way he paraded his choices for a bride in front of Cassandra. Yet Henry’s treatment of his pregnant former mistress completely ruined the book for me.

Secret baby/pregnancy trope, love it or hate it?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Product Review: COVERGIRL and Pure Ice Nail Polish

I’m always eager to try out new nail polishes so I was excited when these little lovelies showed up
Product: COVERGIRL Outlast Stay Brilliant Nail Gloss in Emerald Blaze #50
Collection: Lava Collection
Up to seven full days of fiery color and molten shine. The all-new Lava Collection of COVERGIRL Outlast Stay Brilliant Nail Gloss features scorching hot shades with intense shine and a high-gloss finish. Wear-resistant formula eliminates the need for base or topcoat.
What it states: 
-High-impact, high-gloss finish
-Intense, iridescent shades with a molten shine
-Built-in topcoat for chip-resistant finish
Have I used this product before? I’ve used the Outlast Nail Gloss before but this was my first time trying out their Lava Collection.
Price: Ranging from $4.98-$7.50 depending on the store
Availability: Easy to find
My thoughts: First, ignore the Springy grass-green product image that’s shown on most of the websites. You’re not going to get that overly bright shade of green, which I’m actually quite glad about that as I’ve never been one for bright/loud polish. Instead, you’re going to get this lovely iridescent shade that, depending on the lighting, will either be a deep, shimmering emerald or rich coppery brown. This color truly brings to mind Ireland in the Spring.
As per the instructions, I applied two coats. The polish goes on smoothly without streaking. It dries fairly quickly but I noticed if I used my nail dryer, the polish remained tacky and started to sag.
Did it last 7 days? Was it chip-resistant? No. It lasted about 3 days, which is a bit shorter than their other Outlast Nail Gloss’s I’ve used, then started chipping, although the color did remain vivid and glossy. Next time I use this polish, I will add a topcoat.
Would I Buy It? YES

Product: Pure Ice Nail Polish Studette #1013
Have I used this product before? No
Price: $2.00 @ Wal-Mart
Availability:I only found this in my local Wal-Mart, but may be available elsewhere.
My thoughts: Okay, so when this arrived in the post for review, I was a bit hesitant. I’m generally not a fan of micro-glitter nail polish. Micro-glitter tends to sag, clump together, feel heavy on my nails, and can be slightly rough. It can also stay a bit gummy and removing it can be a nightmare.
Although I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised with this nail polish.
I only applied one coat and it covered brilliantly. As it’s mixed in a clear nail polish, it went on smooth and it could be easily applied over another polish as an accent color. It was quick drying and wasn’t gummy. While it did have texture to it, the micro-glitter was sealed in and didn’t catch on fabrics.
The polish actually lasted longer than what I expected. Without a topcoat, it stayed on without chipping for about a week. Removing it wasn’t as easy as your standard polish but it wasn’t as hard as some of the other micro-glitters I’ve tried. I just soaked a cotton ball in nail polish remover and placed it on my nail for about thirty seconds then I was able to swipe it off quite easily.

Would I Buy It? YES

Have you tried out any new nail polishes?
Or do you have a favorite brand you stick with?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday {29} The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell

 Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

I absolutely adore Jill Mansell’s writing. So, I was thrilled when I discovered she has a new book releasing soon. And to add to the excitement, this one is set in Scotland. Yay!
Her characters are charming and generally are starting over and finding themselves. Oh, and her settings, which are generally always in the UK, are quaint and cozy and I really do just want to pick up and move there. If you’re in the mood for women’s lit with a charming setting and characters you’ll identify with, then I really suggest you give Jill Mansell a go.

Title: The One You Really Want
Author: Jill Mansell
Release Date: April 1, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
When it comes to love, never say never
When Nancy discovers the expensive jewelry her husband’s been buying isn’t for her, she decamps from the Scottish countryside to her best friend Carmen’s posh Chelsea town house to sort things out.
Nancy finds herself in a surprising new world, where rock stars are nicer than you thought, social workers are not necessarily to be trusted, and the filthy rich are folks with problems just like you. Everybody falls in love with the wrong people, and the path to true love twists and turns before you discover who you really want.

What are you lovelies waiting on?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Excerpt from Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna by Maia Chance

Variety hall actress Ophelia Flax knows how to win over an audience. That’s why she’s 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 with his boorish table manners, wild mane of hair, and habit of prowling away the wee hours, the comte 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...


Series:Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery #3 | Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime| Release Date: 2/2/2016 | Genre: Cozy Historical Mystery | Source: MLM Media 

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

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Fatal Fairy Tale Mystery Series
1- Snow White Red-Handed
2-Cinderella Six Feet Under
3-Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna