Books, magick, and a beastly mystery will create havoc in Belle’s enchanted world! A fairytale retelling of Beauty & the Beast!
Books talk to me. Literally. It’s the best kind of magick I know.
If only book aficionado Leo Kingsley would open up to me, too.
I tell myself I only want to know him because his famous library calls to me. My witchy power yearns to discover what his collection has to tell me.
But the truth is, I find him just as fascinating. What will he tell me, if and when I get him to trust me?
Things get interesting when I discover a "normal" book. As in mute. As in not speaking to me.
Searching for clues as to why, I approach Leo, unknowingly setting off a chain of events that lead to a beast of a secret and causes wild animals to suddenly attack our town.
Can I uncover the mystery of who is controlling them and why? Will Leo trust me with his hairy conundrum? Or will bringing the book’s truth to light cost me Leo along with my heart?
Read this spellbinding cozy mystery today!
**Note: While this story is intended for grown-up audiences, this story is clean and shareable with younger readers 13 and up.
Books talk to me.
I don’t mean metaphorically. They actually speak to me and tell me all sorts of things. Places they’ve been, people who’ve read them—or those who didn’t, leaving them on a dark shelf or tossing them in the garbage. At times characters come alive to me, and sometimes the voice of the author does as well. I’ve heard all kinds of tales from them, and while most are comforting, involving the people who loved and respected them, others can be quite disturbing.
Which is why I rescue as many of those as I can.
I take them to Beanstalk Books where I’m employed part-time. We carry gently used volumes, as well as new works of fiction and non. A few end up at the town library, which is always understaffed and on a strict budget. I volunteer there once a month, and we can use all the donations we can get.
On this beautiful, late September morning, I stroll up the hill to the Kingsley Mansion on Millionaires Row, north of downtown. I’ve left my sister, Ruby, in charge of The Enchanted Candle & Soap Company, the family business my three siblings and I own, to meet with a man who may be able to help us expand.
At least I hope so. The old books I have to show him are heavy, and I’m optimistic they’ll be worth something. They’re dead silent, refusing to say a word even when I tickle them with my magick.
Walking beside me is my Pekingese, Jayne Eyre, who busily sniffs the sidewalk, bushes, and trees with her flat nose. The breeze ruffles her blond hair, a match for mine, and she wags her tail and barks hello at folks we pass out on their front porches or strolling by. Many stop to pet and make a fuss over her, which she eats up.
Working at Beanstalk is the perfect job, especially because it’s next door to Enchanted. Jayne goes everywhere with me, including the library. Kids visit to read to her, and she’s good with adults as well. Honestly, Jayne gets along with everyone. I try to do the same.
My appointment with Leo Kingsley has me excited and a tad nervous. He’s a handsome millionaire I met at an informal dinner a few weeks ago who’s rather eccentric but also exceptionally knowledgeable about vintage and antique items. He’s sparked a well of creativity I didn’t realize I had, bringing fresh ideas to a romance I’m penning, and he’s set my terribly romantic heart beating to a new, if turbulent, rhythm.
He’s the expert I need to appraise the volumes currently in my backpack. They’re from a stash my sister, Cinder, uncovered when she began renovating our shop. In the turret of our house, we found a secret room containing our great-great-grandmother, Eunice’s, office, complete with dozens of her personal journals and an extraordinary collection of odd books from the eighteen hundreds.
It was a secret fantasy come true for me, finding such rare and unusual books, and I’ve begun to hear what I can only believe is her voice whenever I’m near them. She founded Enchanted and there are stacks of her soap and candle recipes, along with the day-to-day accounts of the store. My sisters and I are slowly working our way through all of it.
While I wish to keep them all because parting with any is difficult, we are in need of funds for the remodeling, and the books I’ve culled from our grandmother’s library don’t seem to fit with the rest.
Eunice started the company in order to feed her family after her husband died, and my sisters and I continue to live and work there. We’re hoping to expand what little space we have and carry a complete line of bath and body products soon, but remodeling takes cash.
Mr. Kingsley is known far and wide for his extensive library collection. Being an accomplished broker for vintage and antique books must aid his acquisitions. This morning, as I breath in the crisp September air, I’m excited to show him what I’ve brought, but in all honesty, I’m equally so to see him and get a peek at his reputed library.
Our brief conversation and interaction last month at famous actress Tiffany Starling’s left me yearning to know more. He stays in his enormous mansion all the time, and I wonder why. He’s handsome and wise, and although people find him a bit gruff and taciturn, I can’t believe he enjoys staying cooped up inside that huge place.
While I’m an extrovert, I understand how a fantastic library might keep one at home. However, I feel there’s a deeper story when it comes to him than simply being an eccentric millionaire. There’s a mystery there, and there’s nothing I love more—outside of books and my sisters—than a good secret.
I have one of my own. I wish with all my heart I could buy Beanstalk and combine it with Enchanted, opening the walls between the two Gothic houses to create a haven for people to curl up and relax with a good book, then take home an assortment of products to keep them happy.
My current hours are meager and the elderly owner, Daisy Marple, is in her seventies and having health issues. She relies on me to keep the place open and running on days she needs rest. Stress is beginning to get to her as the property is prime downtown space and developers want to buy her out, but she hates that idea as much as I do. We’d lose the only bookstore for miles.
I want to tell Cinder, Ruby, and Zelle about my dream, but even with our recent increase in sales, thanks to Tiffany and her son, Finn, we don’t have enough to purchase it.
Yet, being an optimist, I aspire to find a way.
Jayne and I pause to speak to Mrs. Derringer, the lady who lives near the park and heads our yearly fall festival in October. She’s out for her morning jog and greets Jayne with an ear scruff. “Beautiful day, isn’t it? I’m meeting your cousin this afternoon to order cider for next month. I estimate we’ll need more than our usual hundred gallons.”
That’s great news for Snow and her apple orchard.
“I can’t wait.” I heft the backpack higher on my shoulder. “Fall is my favorite time of year, and I know Snow’s excited, too. She’s expecting more sightseers for Fairytale Land, and the giant pumpkin is up over five-hundred pounds! Between that and the downtown walk, it’s going to be amazing. You do such a great job with it.”
She jogs in place, a bright smile lighting her face, even as she waves off the compliment. “As you do running the book fair. I’m hoping to swing by this week and stock up on historical romances to read this winter.”
“It’s going to be our biggest ever.”
“Is it true that Paul and Tonya Benning are doing a reading Saturday?”
The annual Wandering Words traveling book fair and author event draws crowds from all over the state. Story Cove is one of a dozen towns lucky enough to be on the month-long schedule, and it culminates with an author reading at Beanstalk Books. It’s the biggest year ever for us—I hope. I can’t tell anyone, but my magick may have had a bit to do with that coup.
It’ll bring in buyers from all over Georgia and bolster the store’s coffers, my secret plan to keep Daisy solvent. “They have a huge following locally since their books are set in a fictional town that mirrors ours, and I expect the store to be packed. Be sure you arrive early to get a good seat!”
She assures me she will, kisses Jayne’s flat nose and resumes her pace once more.
As I draw closer to Millionaires Row, my nerves tingle and my chest feels tight with the thought of seeing Leo. It’s not that he’s ill mannered—quite the contrary—but he can be kind of…surly. I don’t think he likes people much, and this again makes me wonder why. What is he hiding?
As Jayne and I climb the steep hill and stop outside the gated entrance to his mansion, I catch my breath, feeling my pulse skipping fast. My eyes take in the beauty of the turning maples and colorful bushes lining the wide yard. The double iron gates stand open, and we wend our way under the canopy of ancient oaks arching over the drive, sunlight dancing at our feet.
Jayne does more sniffing, making me pause here and there, the birds overhead seeming to greet us.
The landscape is lush. Three stories sprawl over the grounds in a plantation style layout with a wide veranda. Several concrete urns nearly as tall as I am stand guard at the bottom of the stairs. At the corners of the roof, bronze gargoyles watch us climb the steps to the front door.
There’s no doorbell, only a brass knocker with the face of a lion. I can barely lift it, it’s so heavy. It falls with a loud thunk.
I lift and let it fall a second time, Jayne sitting at my feet and looking up with expectation.
“Behave yourself,” I tell her. “As soon as we’re done here, we’ll head to the bookstore.”
She wags her tail, understanding in her eyes.
The door opens and a man dressed in a somber gray wool jacket and dark slacks greets us. “Ah, you’re a few minutes early. I like punctuality.”
I glance at my watch, noting we are exactly on time. “I appreciate Mr. Kingsley seeing us this morning.”
His gaze drops to Jayne. “It would be better for the animal to wait outside. Perhaps no one has ever mentioned it to you, but professionalism dictates leaving your pet at home rather than allowing it to accompany you on a job interview.”
His hair is graying at the temples, several lines etched in his forehead that seem cavernous as he frowns. “The curator position?”
I laugh. “I’m sorry, I’m not applying for any job. I’m Belle Sherwood. I made an appointment to see him about appraising some books.”
The lines lift and he brightens. “Apologies. He didn’t tell me you were coming.” He gives me a slight bow. “I’m Albert, Mr. Kingsley’s butler.” He points at Jayne. “Regardless of the reason, Mr. Kingsley doesn’t like dogs.”
My stomach twists. Jayne goes everywhere with me, and this revelation is unwelcome. “How unfortunate.”
“I’m afraid it would be best for him to wait outside.”
I glance at my familiar and best friend. She cocks her head as if questioning Mr. Kingsley’s good sense and I’m at war with myself over what to do. I don’t want to offend the man, but I’m not leaving my dog on his porch.
“It’s her. Jayne.” I pull myself up to full size. “She’s no ordinary dog, and she comes with me. She won’t be any trouble, I promise.”
Frowning once more, he looks us over, his high-brow air infecting the space. For a moment, I fear he’s going to deny us entry.
Finally, he extends a hand, ushering us into the foyer.
Sunlight cascades from a second story arched window, illuminating black and white squares of marble. The entrance hall is as spacious as Enchanted’s showroom, with forest green wallpaper on the top half of the walls and a burgundy version under a chair rail molding. Double staircases rise on either side to the second floor, creating a ceiling over the checkerboard floor squares that lead, I assume, to the rooms at the rear of the first level.
Albert directs me to the left and an enormous sitting room. “I’ll advise Mr. Kingsley that you’re here.”
He exits and Jayne and I scan the well-appointed room. Wood paneling and green wallpaper that matches the hall give it a heavy, masculine appearance. The brick fireplace boasts a stained wood mantle with twin silver candlesticks. A gold framed portrait hangs above it featuring a couple in formal clothing.
While Jayne sniffs various pieces of antique furniture, I make my way toward the floor-to-ceiling shelves lining the far walls. Opening my psychic hearing, I’m disappointed when the books seem muffled. I can’t understand them. Disappointed, I meander back to the fireplace.
As I study the portrait hanging there, I wonder if these are Leo’s parents. I see some resemblance. They appear young in the picture, so full of life. Especially the woman, whose eyes seem extremely realistic, as if she’s actually looking down at me.
I feel the tug of magick in the center of my chest and hear Jayne whine. Glancing over, I notice what seems to be a giant rose under a glass dome.
It turns its face toward me, and I wonder what kind of magick that is. My sister, Ruby, who has a penchant for herbs and flowers, would be delighted.
I move toward it, and the rose follows me as though it sees or senses my presence. Jayne whines again, and out of the corner of my eye, I swear I see the candlesticks on the mantle shift. When I twist to stare at them directly, they are once again inanimate.
A clock on a table near the sofa makes a noise. I face it and think I hear it chanting under its breath. An incantation?
Shifting closer, I feel my breathing become labored but the clock falls silent, not even ticking, as I peer at it.
In my peripheral vision, the candlesticks move.
Turning quickly in a circle, Jayne whining again, everything is as it should be, but as soon as I look away, the objects on the edge of my vision shift. When I return my attention to the rose, it seems to be wilting, and as soon as I step toward it, it comes to life again, the shade growing a vibrant ruby red.
A book on the end table near the clock catches my eye. From the cover I can tell it’s as old as those in my backpack. I sense my grandmother’s books inside shifting as I draw close to it. The title is faded gold and I have to lean in to see it, the clock making a soft sigh as I do.
“Beasts and the Magick That Binds Them,” I read aloud, tracing my fingers over the faded gold letters. I’m about to open the cover and see if it’s anything like those in my backpack when it suddenly scoots away, slamming into the clock.
I jump back, Jayne becoming alert at my feet. A soft growl issues from her throat. “Did you just…speak?” I ask the clock.
It sounds as if it mumbles something in reply, and before I can engage, or reach for the book, Albert appears. Jayne, still on alert, spins to face him as he enters the room, another growl on her lips.
He barely glances at her and gives me a restrained smile. “He’ll see you now.”
I’m almost grateful to leave the room, dragging in a fortifying breath as we walk down the long hall and stop at an elevator under the joint staircases. I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath—or perhaps, I think, as air fills my lungs, the magick in there was sucking it out of me.
Albert hits a button, gives Jayne one more concerned look, then ushers us inside.
The doors close and Jayne and I are whisked up several floors. When they open and we step onto the third floor, once more my breath is taken away.
The famed Kingsley library is laid out in front of us in all of its beautiful grandeur.