There were maggots in the meat. Professor Helena Slogar was no imbecile. She recognized a nefarious plot when she saw one. She’d been a participant in more than a few of her own.
Of course, from the outset, Helena didn’t trust the invitation from the Duchess of Swayzee. Not only was the woman a foul harpy, but she was also the ex-lover of the Prince of Boone. The same Prince of Boone whom Helena had married not three months past.
The prince loved Helena, and Helena adored…well. She adored his money. His glorious money, which provided all the funding she needed to continue her experiments. How could she possibly refuse him, knowing that all of her financial woes would become a thing of the past?
Duchess Swayzee was not as practical as Professor Helena Slogar. Swayzee cried. She begged. She threatened. But in the end, the Prince of Boone made his choice. A fine choice, indeed, as far as Helena was concerned.
But now, this. Maggots in the meat at the outdoor tea party the Duchess insisted Helena attend. Helena hiked all the way up the cursed mountain trail, only to find a fancy table with no other person in sight and platters brimming with maggot-infested meat. A fine joke, indeed.
To make matters worse, it started raining the moment Helena arrived. Hilarity upon hilarity. Her stomach rumbled. Long hikes always made her hungry, and now she wouldn’t get a single bite of food until she made her way all the way back down the treacherous trail and back into the safety of her home.
The sky thundered and rain poured down harder. With long suffering, Helena raced to the cover of trees nearby. She would catch her death of cold, at this rate.
Huddled, shivering under the tree, Helena did not see the dark figure that slunk through the shadows behind her. She did, however, hear the rustle of cloth as he prepared to strike. She turned just in time to see the man’s grizzled face and the sharp, poison-laced porcupine quill in his fist.
The man struck, bearing his weight down on Helena as she screamed. He stabbed her with the quill over and over until her screams became shallow gasps for breath. His task complete, the man dragged her to the sloped edge of the hiking trail and shoved her off.
Helena rolled down the side of the mountain, striking trees and rocks, scraping her exposed arms and legs as she went. After what felt like ages she splashed into the river below, and there she floated, perfectly still and barely alive.
Barely alive was all Helena required. She was a woman of science, not to be underestimated or trifled with. Poison? Ha! The moss of the snakeberry tree would draw out any poison from her blood. She clawed her way up the bank of the river and to the first such tree she found. Applying moss to her wounds, she hunted for local herbs to create tinctures that would keep her alive long enough to get home. Once the prince heard of the Duchess of Swayzee’s actions, he would be furious.
That thought alone set a grin on her lips and kept her moving, mile after mile, toward the Prince’s palisade. She limped, battered beyond recognition, through the city gates and onto the grounds of her husband’s home. Her heart leaped for joy. She was nearly there!
A solid hell planted itself firmly on her shoulder.
“I’ve been looking for you.” Her assassin guffawed heartily. “Can’t have you showing up back here. Not now that the mistress is consoling your hubby over the death of his love.”
“I’m not dead,” Helena said stubbornly.
“Trust me, love. You are.” The man took out his knife with a wide grin. A cold chill streaked down Helena’s spine. She tried to scream, but the sound never managed to escape her mouth. The assassin scooped Helena into his arms, covered her face with his cloak, and carried her off of the Prince’s property. It was straight to the butcher, for this one. His mistress had plans for the remains of Professor Helena Slogar and the bastard Prince who broke her heart.
One week later, the Duchess of Swayzee stopped by for dinner. The Prince, who’d been little more than a walking corpse since the disappearance of his beloved Helena, thanked her yet again for her support of him.
“Oh, dearest,” Swayzee said. “Of course. I would do anything for you.”
The head maid set up a seat at the Prince’s right hand. “You should be thankful, your highness. Her ladyship brought more of her delicious meat pies to sustain you.” She smiled graciously at the Duchess. “It’s the only thing he’ll eat, of late. Were not for you, I’m certain he’d have starved by now.”
“It’s the least I could do,” Swayzee informed the maid, trying to suppress her malicious grin. “After all the Prince has done, he deserves nothing less.”