By Beka Gremikova
“Well, I’m off. You sure you’ll be all right?” Edwin paused at the door, smoothing his light blue beard. Its color reminded me of cryfina, a multifunctional, potent faerie poison that I’d been itching to get my hands on for ages. You could use it as a hair cream, a deadly weapon, or to keep corpses from rotting.
Yet I couldn’t be sure his blue beard was truly a side effect of cryfina—and I couldn’t just bring up deadly poisons with a new husband.
“Yes, yes,” I said, waving my hand dismissively.
He frowned. “It’s just… with Cutthroat Cate running around out there… I don’t feel right leaving you alone. I mean, with how she got Tahlia…”
I stiffened at the mention of my stepdaughter. My lower lip trembled. “She was so young,” I whispered, wiping at my eyes. Young and beautiful—far too beautiful for her own good, in my opinion.
Edwin’s eyes, dark and soft, gazed down at me. “It must have been so hard for you,” he murmured. “And after your first husband passed away, too.” He cleared his throat. “Maybe I should stay. If Cutthroat Cate came after you—”
I couldn’t contain a snort. Edwin stared at me. I coughed delicately into my handkerchief. “I know where your daggers are kept,” I reassured him. “Go to your meeting. You said it wouldn’t take long, anyway.”
“That is a slight comfort,” he muttered. “Though I didn’t know you’d found my weapons stash.”
I was after a lot more than just his weapons stash, but he didn’t need to know that yet. I prodded him forward, but he braced himself against the doorframe. “Oh, and Ranna, don’t open—”
“—the blue door.” I rolled my eyes and patted the key ring attached to my belt. “You’ve only told me a thousand times, love.”
“I mean it. There’s nothing that concerns you in that room. It… wouldn’t be wise.”
That’s what he thought. I patted his arm and smiled at him. “Get going before your business associates think you’re walking out on them.” I hurried him out to the cobbled street and shut the door firmly behind him.
“Your curiosity will kill you, Kathranna,” I said to myself, mimicking Mama’s whispered, tearful words on the eve of my marriage to Edwin. I shook my head.
That’s what she thought.
I ran upstairs, down the long, twisting halls, to the room with the blue door. My heart raced and my hands shook. Finally, I’d learn the truth.
I’d know for certain whether or not my husband was a killer.
The forbidden door was painted a light, robin’s egg blue. I fitted a long, sharp key into the lock and gently opened the door.
My breath caught.
Glass coffins of dwarven make lined the room, draped with crimson ribbons and roses. The chamber was cold, the windows shuttered with heavy midnight-dark curtains. An eerie glow emanated from torches ensconced in the floor.
There were six coffins in all. My pulse spiked, and I clasped my trembling fingers to my chest, peeking into the closest one. A woman lay there, her long golden hair spread out on her pillow, her lips pursed as if expecting “True Love’s Kiss.” Her cheeks were a soft, rosy red. She wore a gown of fine cobalt silk. A bluish tinge smudged her cheeks, definitely cryfina at work.
“Such an effective preserving agent.” I leaned over the coffin, fascinated. Edwin could surely help me get my hands on cryfina for myself—either he or his faerie business partners. Now that I knew his secret, I felt far more assured I could reveal my own to him.
Dear, dear Edwin. He was exactly the kind of man I’d hoped he’d be.
I surveyed the yawning width of the room. There was enough space here for dozens of coffins. Perhaps Edwin would allow me to display my own work here once I started using cryfina myself. With it in hand, I could preserve all my future victims. After all, sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate one’s accomplishments when they’re all buried underground.
A shame I hadn’t met him before I dispatched Tahlia. I could have draped her in the finest blue silk to bring out her black hair, white skin, and deep red lips. Such a pity. For I liked Tahlia far more now that she was dead, her innocent beauty no longer a threat. It would have been nice to drop in and see her in this room now and then.
Mesmerized, I went from coffin to coffin, until scuffling echoed behind me. I glanced at Edwin standing in the doorway. The bright blue of his beard seemed to bristle in the chamber’s coldness. His gaze flicked from the coffins back to me. “So, you did open the door.”
“Just as you intended.” I cocked my head to the side. “It’s all part of the thrill for you, isn’t it? Terrify your victims senseless, then go in for the strike?”
He raked his shaking fingers through his beard. “I wish you’d dragged it out a little longer. Now…” He stepped toward me.
“You’ll have to kill me?” I arched a brow. “Why?”
His jaw dropped, and he leaned against a nearby coffin. “I can’t just let you go! You’ll report me!”
I snorted. Men. So hysterical. “I won’t report you, love. Ever since you moved into the neighborhood, I hoped you’d notice me. I heard rumors, but I needed proof that we could live long, happy lives together.” I rapped my knuckles against a coffin. “Suffice it to say, I think we shall.”
I stepped closer to him, cradling his face in my hands. His beard—such a lovely, poisonous, murderous blue—scratched my fingertips. “Edwin, let me introduce myself. I’m Cutthroat Cate.”