Poppy, Lily, and Belladonna would do anything to protect their best friend, Raven. So when they discovered he was suffering abuse at the hands of his stepmother, they came up with a lethal plan: petals of poppy, belladonna, and lily in her evening tea so she’d never be able to hurt Raven again. But someone got cold feet, the plot faded to a secret of the past, and the group fell apart.
Three years later, on the eve of Raven’s seventeenth birthday, his stepmother turns up dead. But it’s only belladonna found in her tea, and it’s only Belladonna who’s carted off to jail. Desperate for help, Belle reaches out to her estranged friends to prove her innocence. They answer the call, but no one is prepared for what comes next.
Now, everyone has something to lose and something equally dangerous to hide. And when the tangled web of secrets and betrayal is finally unwound, what lies at its heart will change the group forever.
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Chapter 1: Belladonna Killed Her
Belladonna Drake was entangled in her true love’s arms when a knock came at the door. Slowly, quietly, she inched out of bed. “Don’t say anything,” she whispered, creeping toward the window.
Red and blue lights flashed below.
“Go out the back door,” she instructed without turning around. “I’ll stall them long enough for you to get away.”
“You were never here,” Belle broke in, pulling a pair of socks from the floor. “You haven’t set foot in my bedroom in years. All right?”
A nod in the darkness. Then a rustling of clothing as the two of them got dressed. Belle pulled on a soft, fluffy robe. With her hair tousled and her eyeliner smudged, it really would look like she’d woken from a dream. She wasn’t hosting company. Everyone was exactly where they were supposed to be.
Taking a shaky breath, she hurried to the first floor. Opened the front door. Blinked up at the officer and said, “Hello? Is everything okay?”
“Ye-yes,” she said, managing to stumble over one word. Great. That didn’t bode well for the rest of the conversation. But she could lie about who’d been tangled in her arms that night. She’d gotten very good at keeping secrets. Just... not from the cops.
“You’re under arrest for the murder of Evelyn Holloway. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used—”
“Wait, what?” Belle’s vision blurred and the officer’s mouth stopped making noise, even though it was moving. “Raven’s stepmother is dead? I thought you were here for—”
The man jerked her arms behind her back, sliding handcuffs over her wrists. “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.”
“But I didn’t... I couldn’t have—”
“Then let’s hope you have an alibi,” he said, gesturing to the gaggle of officers standing by the door. They were going to wake her father, but he couldn’t account for her. He’d been snoring in his bedroom for hours. There was only one person in the world who could account for Belle’s whereabouts that night, and that person was long gone by now.
“Watch your head,” the officer said, guiding her into the police car. Belle ducked, sliding into the darkness. Through the window, she could see her adoptive father storming out of the house, spittle flying from his mouth as he raged at the officers. Typical Edwin, she thought with a huff. At least some things could be counted on even in your darkest moments.
“I need to make a call,” Belle said, as the engine turned over. “I get to do that, right?”
“Who you gonna call?” the man asked, in this jovial tone that made her think he was going to start humming the Ghostbusters theme song. Everything about this was absurd. Belle wanted to tell herself it was a dream, because none of this could be happening, except... the rest of the night had been incredibly vivid. Those lips, trailing across her skin. Those hands, warm and familiar. Bright eyes. Mischievous smile. They’d hardly touched over the past few years, and yet everything was exactly the way it had been the first time they’d held hands.
Like coming home.
Now her actual home was disappearing in the rearview, and the officer was saying, “Look, you don’t need to call an attorney. I’m guessing your rich daddy can arrange...” A pause as his gaze flicked to the estate in the mirror. The elegant Tudor rose up in the distance, surrounded by a perfectly manicured lawn. The only thing unruly about the estate was the garden, huge and overflowing with dahlias. Bougainvillea. Jasmine. And tucked in the back, in a corner:
As beautiful as it was fatal. Belle had cultivated that little patch of flowers, telling herself stories about freeing Raven from his wicked stepmother. She’d come up with a plan. Now, three years later, she told herself she wouldn’t really have gone through with it. She was protective of her ex-boyfriend, but she wasn’t a killer.
None of them was.
“How did Mrs. Holloway die?” she asked softly. Every word that came out of her mouth, she analyzed. Did she sound innocent just then? Did she sound guilty? She wasn’t guilty, she swore to herself over and over again, but it was hard to believe that with cuffs around her wrists. It was harder to believe when the police station came into view.
“You tell me,” the officer said from the front seat. “You had a whole cluster of it in your yard. It even looked like some had been pulled recently. We made sure to check before—”
“Pulled?” Belle almost choked on the word. “Which plant was pulled?”
“It had such a pretty name,” the man said, catching her eye in the mirror. “You have any guesses, Belladonna?”
The back of the car went silent. It was the middle of the night, so Belle expected it to be quiet, but in that moment, she heard nothing. It was as if she were floating in the recesses of space. Everything dark, everything quiet. “They used belladonna?” she said after a minute. “How did you know to look in my yard? Who told—” She really should keep quiet. She had the right to remain silent, after all. Anything she said could and would be used against her in a court of law. Still, she couldn’t help but ask, “Did they use any other flowers? Poppies or...”
The man pulled up to the station, then climbed out of the car. Belle counted heartbeats as he strode to her door. Five. Ten. Fifteen. She managed to get to seventeen, the exact number of years she’d been on this earth, when the door swung open and the man reached for her. “Why would there be other flowers?” he asked, guiding her out of the darkness. “Belladonna killed her.”
Belle lost a bit of time after that. They were in the local police station, but they wouldn’t be holding her there for long. She was a minor, so she’d be sent to the detention center up on the hill. It was kind of funny, if she thought about it. Once upon a time, there had been four of them: Raven, Lily, Poppy, and Belle. But three years ago, Raven went away to boarding school on the other side of the country. Lily left soon after that. Poppy didn’t split town so much as totally betray her, leaving Belle to pick up the pieces of their shattered friendship.
Leaving her alone.
“I hope she has the same number,” Belle said when the officer finally let her make a call. “She doesn’t even have the same name.She used to go by Poppy but...” She doesn’t anymore, Belle thought, realizing she was rambling. After Raven moved away, Poppy had changed her name to Jack. She’d started dressing in clothes that were typically relegated to the boys’ section of department stores, but she still went by she, and the cop wouldn’t have understood that.
Probably, he wouldn’t have.
Within seconds she’d dialed Jack’s old cell number, and to her immense relief, the phone started ringing. She prayed Jack would answer. She prayed Jack wouldn’t slam down the phone the second she realized who was calling.
“Hello?” That familiar voice came on the line and Belle’s hands started to shake. Tears filled her eyes.
“It’s, um... it’s me,” she managed, dashing away the tears with her free hand. “Please don’t hang up.”
“Belle? Why are you calling me from the police station?”
“I...” How much should she say? These conversations were probably recorded. But even if they were, they couldn’t be used in a court of law without her permission. Right? You had to agree to be recorded or it was inadmissible. She knew this, because three years earlier, she’d studied her rights. She’d prepared to be arrested after she put her plan into action. But the night before the murder, someone had gotten cold feet.
Now that someone was listening on the other end of the phone. “Belladonna,” Jack said, her voice low and hard. “What happened? What did you—”
“Raven’s stepmother was murdered,” Belle blurted. “Someone used belladonna to kill her. Only belladonna,” she added in a whisper.
“No. That’s not possible, unless you—”
“I didn’t. I swear. But Edwin was passed out in his bedroom all night, and no one can account for me.”
“I can account for you.” Jack’s voice was steady. Calm. “I’m happy to be your alibi, Belle, because I was with you all night. It’s not like you’re asking me to lie.”
Belle counted to five. Ten. Seventeen. “Why are you helping me? You should hate me, after what I—”
“I do hate you sometimes,” Jack admitted. “But I love you too. That’s how it is with family.”
Belle smiled. She was still crying, but she wasn’t alone, and it made all the difference. Jack was her family. Raven, too, before he went away. For years the three of them had taken care of one another because the world had betrayed them. Their parents had betrayed them.
Together they’d been unstoppable.
“Listen, you don’t know how much this means to me,” Belle began as the officer stepped toward her. He wanted her to hang up the phone. But she needed to say this before she ended the call. “I thought I understood what happened three years ago, but I never asked you—”
“Don’t say anything,” Jack interrupted, her voice still calm. “I’m coming down to the station and I’m getting you out of there. Okay? By tomorrow this will all be over. Try to stay positive.”
“How can I stay positive?”
“Because,” Jack said, and a chill unfurled at the base of Belle’s spine, “even though you’re innocent, you got what you wanted. Raven can come home.”