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Release date: July 22, 2015
Katriona Sparrow, dubbed the Mad Heiress by London’s upper class, is the deceptively fragile ward of a foreign nobleman. She can’t stand making small talk with strangers, but she’s unparalleled when it comes to deciphering the dead.
On a routine investigation, something goes horribly wrong, leaving Katriona catatonic in an upscale hospital and a serial killer with an artistic bent stalking London’s most vulnerable.
Enter Anthea Garlant, a young witch and academic ostracized from polite society for traveling the world without a chaperone. She devises magical treatments to protect Katriona from the side effects of her abilities, but as she grows more and more attached to Katriona, her professional façade begins to slip.
Will they be able to stop the man who turns beautiful dead women into works of art before he turns his attention much closer to home?
Previously published through Kindle Unlimited.
84 pages, 33,700 words
Categories: Alternate Universe, Bisexual, Crime Fiction, Fantasy, Historical, Lesbian Romance, Romance
Publisher: Torquere Press
Cover Artist: BSClay
She was so beautiful that she looked as if she was only sleeping, but clearly she’d cried tears of blood. She was dressed in clothing that appeared expensive but was cheaply made; a poor girl wanting only for a day to live beyond her means. From far away, she seemed to wear pearls and sapphires. Up close, the pearls were her teeth, and the sapphires were her plucked-out eyes. And the golden sash around the waist of her plum-colored taffeta gown? It was made of hair. She also wore a heart-shaped locket, clearly her own. Although tarnished somewhat, and made of much cheaper material, it was of a similar design to Anthea’s, provoking an odd frisson of familiarity. Whatever our profession, whatever our station in life, we’re all women, Katriona mused as she crouched beside the corpse. And if one of us is in danger… then we all are.
“The gloves are made from his previous victim’s skin, by the way,” pointed out a constable. “At least, they’re the same color.”
The girl’s mouth had been filled with dirt; the sort of unremarkable dirt that could have come from anywhere in London. Some of it was smeared across her chin. In her lap, she held another girl’s head.
“Salome and the head of John the Baptist.” That came from Anthea, who was tilting her head at the scene.
“Sorry, what?” Inspector Claybrook looked up from the body.
“The sash, the gown… if you look at the pose and jewelry alone, it’s an exact replica of one of the paintings in the Louvre.” Before anyone asked her how she knew that, she added “When I’m in Paris, I go there often to clear my mind.”
“This is his art,” Katriona murmured thoughtfully. This woman would offer her another piece of the puzzle, she was sure of it.
“I’ll hold your gloves for you,” Anthea said in an undertone.
Katriona removed them and held them out with an almost imperceptible nod. Anthea transferred them to her reticule.
There were still other people around, but for all intents and purposes, it had become just Katriona and the corpse. This small, powerful figure was radiating something inexplicable—still delicate, but somehow frightening. Her eyes were so blue that they could drown a man.
She touched the decapitated head first. I had a dog. I had a dog. Who will feed my dog?
“I’m sorry, but that’s all I can get. She’s been dead for days. She’s well-preserved, but I can’t read her. I suspect it’s from the same woman we found the other day, but…” If I died, she thought, I’d be so afraid for Sentinel. She felt closer than ever to this dead girl, the one whose name she did not know.
“At least it was only a whore,” a constable murmured behind her. Instantly Katriona wanted to tear off his head and eat him whole.
Men! They visit prostitutes, yet they look down on them. None of these girls deserve to be told “Your friend is dead” by an uncaring and contemptuous man.
Katriona made an impulsive decision. She crouched further over the corpse, using her body to shield her movements, and ripped the heart locket from her neck, tugging until the cheap chain broke. Surreptitiously, she dropped it into her white kid boot. Next, she ran her hands through the woman’s curly dark hair. Her voice changed, becoming noticeably less cultured; now there was a rich warmth to it and a Cockney accent.
“I’m really excited because I’m getting paid extra to spend the night with a man where he lives instead of where I live. Maybe I can pocket something good on the way out. He’s real handsome. Smooth hands, long fingers... so then I said, do you want a brush, then? And he said, he said, ‘Have a drink’. He offers me… something. Dunno what it is, never had it before, but I’m excited. When I wake up, I’m—”
Katriona wavered, but held her grip on the memories. She would follow this to the end.
“—I can smell earth. ‘Run, little rabbit,’ he says. ‘Run away from the hunter’s horn.’ But I’m not running; it’s too dark. Blacker than night. Rather die than be in the dark, than lose my way in the dark down in the earth. I fight like a tiger. I try to scratch his face but he grabs my wrists and—God, he’s strong! Kick him in the jewels and he moves out of the way—too damn fast, too damn fast—where’d he go? Hands around my neck—squeezing the life out of me—I can’t breathe! Please don’t kill me. Please, no, no, no… Now I’m afraid but I’m angry, and I hold his gaze until my eyes roll back. He told me I made a mistake, I deserved to die because he couldn’t have imagined the girl he loved saying such dirty things.
“‘You’re too wildly sexual.’ That’s what he said. And he beat me where the bruises wouldn’t show. I fought like a tiger; tell them I fought. Salome with her head in her hand and her mouth full of dirt—this is his art!”
All at once, Katriona’s aura of power seemed to startle back inside her skin. Her eyes opened. She lurched backward, wide-eyed and pale. Anthea was at her side at once, and Katriona held onto her for stability.
“Are you going to be all right?” Anthea’s voice was as low and mesmerizing as ever—as beautiful as a hypnotist’s—and Katriona followed the sound of it as it led her out of her fear. She buried her head in Anthea’s neck, taking in the twin fragrances of jasmine and bergamot. Anthea made her feel like the best and strongest version of herself, a little less neurotic and a little more rational. She thought she wanted Anthea around for the rest of her life.
A flash of thought: If she holds onto me any longer, people will think we’re betrothed. Did it come from Anthea or from her? She couldn’t quite care, couldn’t tell. Reluctantly, because Katriona knew what it was like when people held onto her too tightly or for too long, she let go.
Anthea repeated the question. “Are you going to be all right?”
“Yes.” Now that you’re here.
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Let’s talk about Kayla:
Kayla Bashe is a literature/theater student at Sarah Lawrence College. She has previously self-published several novels, and her story A Muse Afire was featured in the first issue of Vitality Magazine. Her passions include Shakespeare, feral cats, and answering “If you want more diversity, write it yourself!” with a variety of snark.
Find Kayla Bashe here:
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