Each Sunday for ten years, the young and prominent Maidens of Mapleton club have met in the town schoolhouse and told each other all. A town with a violent past, now-booming Mapleton dotes on its favorite daughters: Christine, a performer at the town’s beautiful music hall, Mina, the daughter of the newspaper owner, Esme, a ward of the church and Lucy and Elizabeth, daughters of the widower Mayor-one ladylike, the other a hellion.
Slowly, the truth begins to cloud. The pieces of the past don’t add up, bad dreams are haunting Esme, and familiar tales and faces fail to comfort. In this five novella series from Marie Piper, comprised of Old West adaptations of gothic/horror tales, the Maidens find their friendships tested, fall in (and out) of love, and are forced to unravel the mystery of that one terrible day. What really happened on the day of the Mapleton Massacre?
In the first installment, CHRISTINE, there’s a music hall under new management, a mysterious patron, a dancing girl turned soloist, and murder to boot. It’s a Western romance tribute to a story that has delighted for decades, this time with a mystery girl squad!
Never had Opal Hall shone as brightly as on the night of the Masquerade Ball. At the time, it was the grandest place I had ever seen. The stagehands had worked non-stop to polish every piece of ornate engraving on every staircase and doorframe, and had added plentiful fresh flowers and new pieces of art on every surface. People in elaborate costumes were already flocking to the hall when I walked up, and I was glad for it. With the whole town in attendance, I could hide in plain sight.
My angel costume, created from the old dancer’s swan outfit, fitted my form until it swelled with lush white skirts trimmed with feathers and bared my shoulders. Wearing it was bold, but knowing I’d be in a room full of people in masks had given me confidence. The costume made me feel beautiful and, what’s more, it made me feel powerful. On a night as important as this one, both were needed. I had also donned white tights and heeled boots adorned with lace. Lucy and I had figured out together how to make a set of wings from reeds and paper, so the elaborate appendages trailed behind me. I’d also attached a small gold crown like a halo to the hair I piled high. My white mask, also feathered to match the gown, completed the look.
“Miss Dale,” Rafe exclaimed when I arrived at the theater. “You’re an angel.”
“Of course I am.”
His costume was simpler: head to toe black with a long cape and a black mask. In contrast to me, he appeared a devil. Perhaps that was the point.
Something shifted in the crowd.
Heads turned to see a red devil coming into the theater from the lobby. He cut an imposing figure, his already impressive stature topped by the addition of a grand red hat trimmed in silver, cloaked in red robes with a terrible white half-mask.
He clapped as he entered, headed directly for me.
And I knew immediately who it was.
Once he was only a foot away from me, he bowed grandly.
Mr. Flaherty cued up the band for a polka, and I stepped down to the floor. “The Masque of the Red Death,” I said with a mischievous smile, my former worries about his absence from the Ball far from my mind now that he was smiling in front of me. “Well done.”
“I hear Maidens enjoy Poe from time to time. And every devil needs an angel.”
“Well I hope you’re not allergic to chicken feathers. This cursed costume is shedding them everywhere,” I laughed, feeling relaxed for the first time that night.
“My angel, even a rattlesnake bite couldn’t keep me away from you.”
Marie Piper lives in Chicago, but writes Romance and Erotica usually set in the old west. Her short pieces are available in anthologies from LoveSlave, House of Erotica, Coming Together, and Torquere Press, as well as via NineStar Press. The full-length steamy Western trilogy, FIRES OF CRICKET BEND, is being released by Limitless Publishing. (HAVEN’S FLAME, Book #1, is out now. EMMA’S BLAZE, Book #2, comes out on March 15th!) When Marie isn’t writing, she’s likely out exploring the Windy City, gathering more books for her hoard, or happily drinking coffee and reading. There’s also a strong possibility she’s wasting time on Twitter.