Beauty and the Alchemist
The Alchemical Tales Book 1
by Elle Hartford
Genre: Cozy Fantasy Mystery
In this magical mix-up of fairy tales and murder, Little Red Riding Hood solves the mystery at the heart of Beauty and the Beast . . .
What does it take to overcome a curse?
Traveling alchemist Red settles into life as a shopkeeper in rural Belville and expects to focus on her potions. But crime stops for no woman. Neither does Red’s friend, police officer Thorn! When a beastly criminal escapes to a nearby abandoned castle and is found murdered, Thorn immediately suspects Luca, a meek-mannered bookseller–not to mention Red’s best friend.
Red knows that there’s more to the castle–and the murder–than meets the eye. But as she rushes to prove Luca’s innocence, she’s beset by a not-dead-yet ghost, a beautiful and ill-tempered suspect, and a horde of mysterious mist creatures that terrify the town. Oh, and then there’s the series of lost books that hold the key to the castle’s curse! If Red and her friends can’t find the books and solve the mystery, Luca might not be the only one in trouble. But in idyllic Belville, appearances can be deceiving. Red will need all of her alchemical prowess and all the help she can get in order to uncover the truth behind this twisted tale.
This special second edition includes a new epilogue, recipes, and a sneak peek at book two of The Alchemical Tales.
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A Haunting Discovery
When we hit the third corner, I stopped dead. It felt as though a bucket of ice-water raced down my back. The darkness was so thick that even with my goggles, I could barely see beyond my own hand. The front of the castle stretched away into inkiness.
Officer Thorn, already a pace ahead and nearly disappearing, looked over her shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“Something here,” I mumbled incoherently. “There’s something wrong with being here. Don’t you feel it?”
“To tell you the truth, I’ve never been haunted, so I wouldn’t know what it feels like,” Thorn replied blithely.
I sucked air into my lungs. The fastest way out of here is forward, I reminded myself. Gritting my teeth, I began following the officer once more. “Just stay close, okay? No bounding off after evidence or what have you.”
She looked back and grinned, her long teeth flashing. “The sooner we catch Owl, the better.”
“I don’t think Owl is what’s making these shadows,” I said.
Thorn was impervious. “Then it could be Gloria alone, and that’s worse. See, Red, your problem is—”
I never got to hear what my problem was, unfortunately. The grass we’d been edging along gave way to a stone patio set a few inches below the surrounding ground, and I stumbled. With that jarring step came recognition of the fact that we were right in front of the castle’s main entrance, and another bone-penetrating chill.
“Wh-wh-whatever it is y-you want to s-see, it must be h-here,” I said, my teeth chattering.
“It’s just a little cold, Red. Are all islanders such wimps?”
“Hush, and look around!” I insisted. I was starting to think that maybe Thorn hadn’t ever been haunted simply because she refused to see anything other than what she wanted to.
“It’s the front of the castle,” she informed me matter-of-factly. She began stalking about the patio, with me close on her heels. “I was on the inside team during the search earlier, so I missed this. Nice carvings on the doorway. Old and worn down, but they’ve held up well considering. Good sturdy door. See that ironwork across the front? Guess we’re not dealing with the fey, eh? And what’s this—gems inlaid in the doors, too. Surprised those haven’t walked off over time. Maybe they’re locked down—get it? Ha ha. What’s this?”
I’d only been paying half-attention to Thorn’s monologue, but the repetition of the phrase in a new tone of surprise caught my ear. I turned from looking over my shoulder to see that Thorn held something small and rectangular in one large hand.
“Did you just find a book?” I asked, startled.
“Did I?” She handed the object to me for inspection. As I took it, though, the air around us thickened. I had to hold the slim volume very close to my face to see the bark binding. My gaze drifted over the title and the gold leaf to notice that, rather than blackness, a silver fluidity filled my vision.
“Why is it foggy?” I tucked the book into a pocket in my cloak for safe-keeping and frowned as I looked up. Officer Thorn looked just as surprised as me. I could see her face well, despite the cloudiness, because the moonlight had reappeared. It bounced off the water in the air. The world was brighter now, but it was also much closer.
Officer Thorn’s club rose, sending swirls ricocheting through the air. “Never mind the fog, Red. Look here, at the corner of the doorway. Doesn’t that look like—”
Again, I was destined not to hear the officer’s thoughts. Only fair, really, considering how often she interrupted mine. But I wasn’t thinking that at the time. At the time, I was screaming like a banshee, because something had grabbed me from behind.
Elle adores cozy mysteries, fairy tales, and above all, learning new things. As a historian and educator, she believes in the value of stories as a mirror for complicated realities. She currently lives in New Jersey with a grumpy tortoise and a three-legged cat.
Find more stories of Red and her friends at ellehartford.com. And while you’re there, sign up for Elle’s newsletter to get bonus material, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and terrible jokes!
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