Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Belladonna by Adalyn Grace, out from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on August 30th.
Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.
However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine.
Come to my garden. Lillian’s spirit pulled her, guiding her.
Come to my garden.
Goose bumps rose along the flesh of Signa’s arms and legs. She had never seen a spirit so angry, and the last thing she wanted was to be terrorized by Lillian Hawthorne. Even more than that—though she had no desire to admit it aloud—Signa could feel the curiosity sinking its claws into her. An unsorted mess of puzzle pieces she wished to make whole.
She had to know what the spirit wanted with her, and how a woman so young, so beautiful, had died in a secret garden tucked into the woods far behind Thorn Grove.
Signa gave Mitra a gentle nudge in the side, and the horse responded at once. She’d been Lillian’s horse after all; perhaps she felt the pull, too.
Sylas fell behind them in their haste, calling out, trying to stop them from rushing headlong into the woods. Though Mitra handled the moors expertly, never faltering from her path, Sylas struggled to urge the unruly Balwin forward. His voice sounded hollow in her ears, his protests fading with distance. Signa didn’t wait—couldn’t wait. The woods beckoned her, and she dove into the belly of the beast, letting its jaws clamp shut and swallow her whole.
The woods consumed her, embracing her so fiercely that Sylas’s frustrated cries and Balwin’s hooves cut away, the only sound a soft rustling in the autumnal trees, the leaves a mix of harvest orange and midnight green.
It didn’t take long for yellowing grass to tangle around Mitra’s white stockings. The woods tugged at Signa’s skirts, at Mitra’s mane, scratching and scraping against their skin, hungry for blood. Signa tried to cover the horse as best she could, but the branches were low and savage, clawing against Mitra’s side.
In the corners of her vision came a flash of white so fleeting that she’d have missed it if she blinked. It came again seconds later, whisking away toward the right, where trees had snapped in half or been cleared away. Signa followed after what she knew was Lillian’s spirit, which led her into a clearing and to an iron gate set into a weathered stone wall. She pushed upon the gate to find that there was a lock in its center, covered by ivy and vines.
She was glad there was no one around to hear her very unladylike curse as she looked upon the garden wall, three times her height and impossible to climb even if she stood upon Mitra’s back. She pried at the lock, frustration mounting when it didn’t so much as budge.
How was she meant to find a key to a garden that had clearly been abandoned for months? It wasn’t as though she could ask Elijah for it, and Sylas probably already knew the place was sealed and had led her on this wild-goose chase for a laugh. Hands tight on the reins, Signa was about to turn back to find Sylas and give him a piece of her mind when another flash of white flickered in the corners of her vision.
Lillian was there, watching, hiding in the shadows of the iron gate. Her hair was pale as butter, and her face was covered with moss, with rotting vines woven into and out of the gaping hole where a mouth should have been. Hollow eyes watched from between the ivy leaves. Hollow eyes that looked not at Signa but behind her, to the ground.
Signa turned to the familiar sight of tiny black berries—belladonna—and understood so well that her chest felt like it was being cleaved in two.
The night she’d last eaten belladonna—the night she’d spoken to Death—she’d used his powers as her own. What if she could do it again? She’d seen him pass through walls. Seen him disappear into the shadows, and then re-form himself at his will. Was it possible that she, too, could do that?
Signa dismounted, gritting her teeth at the sight of the belladonna berries that waited at her boots. She’d not wanted to approach Death again until it was with a way to destroy him and end her blasted curse. But if she wanted Lillian to leave her alone, it seemed there was no choice.
With dread in her belly, she stooped and plucked the berries, filling her pockets and her palms.
Death loomed in the air like an approaching storm, dark and heavy. Signa felt the weight of him choking her, warning her. Even the sound of the wind was as biting as a blade when the world slowed around her, as if time was coming to a standstill.
But Death wouldn’t touch her. He never did.
Signa pressed five berries onto her tongue and waited as her blood burned and chills shot down her spine. It didn’t take long for the poison to clench her insides. For her vision to swim while illusions of the woods tunneled around her, for a power unlike any other to form within her, beckoning her to come and sample it.
Death had arrived.
Death’s presence was frost that burned into Signa’s very bones—an icy lake she’d plunged into headfirst. But rather than allow her to come up for air, he embraced her in those frigid waters with no intention of letting go.
“Hello, Little Bird. Come to stab me again?”
His voice was a balm for the gooseflesh along her skin, and Signa’s insides twisted in annoyance at her body’s response to him. Not anger nor fear but a deep, festering curiosity she couldn’t seem to shake.
“Tell me whether I can use more of your powers,” she demanded. If he would not hesitate, then neither would she.
She lifted her chin and turned to face him. Or at least she believed she was facing him. It was difficult to know, given his form. Death was little more than the shadows of the trees. The darkness lingering in the corners where light couldn’t quite reach. He was nowhere and he was everywhere, until slowly his shadows began to contract along the ground, consuming the forest floor and bathing it in darkness until he was there. No face, no mouth, but the form of a man who loomed over her.
Excerpted from Belladonna, copyright © 2022 by Adalyn Grace.