Ivy couldn’t get the image of the body by the pub out of her head. And not in the way people thought. She sat at the breakfast table in her nightgown and with her hair looking a mess, shoveling oatmeal into her mouth and eagerly reading the morning news report on the murder. Ginny was sitting beside her, looking like her polar opposite with her golden curls already elegantly piled on top of her head and her perfectly wrinkle-free satin gown. Between delicate bites of her breakfast she would glance over at Ivy.

“Must you read that at the table?” she asked. “The picture is so morbid, I’m losing my appetite.”

“You’ve been wanting to lose some weight anyways, haven’t you?” Ivy said through a mouthful of food.

Ginny glared daggers at her, snatching the paper out of her hands, rolling it up, and whacking her in the back of the head with it. She tossed it to the side as soon as Herman Brownwell entered the room.

“Daddy, did you see what she did?!” Ivy whined. “She hit me!”

“I did nothing of the sort,” Ginny said calmly.

“Girls, please, it’s too early,” he sighed. “Ivy Amelia, why on earth are you not dressed yet?”

“Dressed for what, for oatmeal?” she asked.

“For your fitting with Dexter McKellan,” he said. “You girls need to be there in an hour.”

“Fitting?! Dexter McKellan?!”

“Yes, for Tharoux’s Spring Queen,” he said. “Didn’t Ginny tell you that you would be joining her this year?”

Ivy felt her face go numb. Every year, the eligible girls of high society participated in a charity pageant for the so-called “spring queen”. The pageant consisted of the girls wearing their best and parading around a stage like some kind of animal for auction. Ginny had been queen for two years in a row, until the passing of their mother prevented her from being apart of it and she was forced to pass the crown to someone else. Ivy had almost forgotten about the festival altogether, and had certainly never participated.

“Right,” Ginny said slowly. “You’ll be entering the pageant this year too, Ivy.”

“You just forgot to tell me?” Ivy said in exasperation.

“You’ve been busy lately,” Ginny shrugged. “I never had a chance.”

“Please don’t make me do it, Daddy,” Ivy begged. “I can’t do it. Ginny is going to win anyways. And that pageant always includes an auction. An AUCTION, daddy. Where some man pays to harass me over a dinner I’m forced to attend.”

“Ivy, you’re being dramatic,” Herman said. “You know the pageant and the auction all goes to charity. You always talk about wanting to help those poor children on those distant islands. This is how you can help.”

“Yes, Daddy, I want to help them,” Ivy said. “I want to help them by going to the island and building huts, helping them re-establish villages torn apart by foreign invaders. Not by fighting twenty other girls for a flower crown that I have no chance of winning. And I refuse to be auctioned off like a slave.”

“It’s not slavery, it’s dinner,” Herman said sternly. “It’s just a dinner. You’ll survive. Now go get dressed so you won’t be late for your fitting.”

Ginny had to practically drag Ivy back to her room to help her get dressed, despite Ivy’s protests. She had been to the McKellans’ dress shop a few times before, but she tended to linger back while Ginny shopped. Any time she did buy herself new clothes, her mother or sister had gone out to do it for her.

Once again, she lingered in the shadows while Ginny spoke to the tailor, gushing over what he had set aside for each of the pageant girls. He hadn’t really noticed Ivy at first, then suddenly seemed to remember that she was a new addition to the lineup.

“Ah, yes Ms. Brownwell,” he said. “I have something for you, too. A bit of a last minute job, but a good one if I do say so myself. Penny?”

A young woman came around the back with a folded dress in her arms, seemingly a little bored with all the pageant girls who were coming in. Ivy frowned, tilting her head to the side. She supposed she had seen the tailor’s daughter a few times before, but something was different this time. She felt like she had seen her somewhere else. Penny also seemed to wake up a little bit when she saw Ivy, practically shoving the bundle of fabric into her father’s arms before rushing off to the back of the store again.

“Ah, excuse my daughter,” he said awkwardly. “We’ve been so busy all day.”

“We understand,” Genevive said politely. “Ivy, come look at this.”

“It’s so… pink,” Ivy said.

“It’ll bring out your eyes,” Ginny reassured her. “Come try it on.”

Ivy reluctantly did as she was asked, putting on the dress. It was a fluffy thing with layers on layers of baby pink tulle, and sleeves that came off the shoulders. All of the girls wore the same dress in different colors, and while the dress was lovely, it was up to the girl to charm the audience on her own. Ivy felt itchy, tugging the sleeves up only for Ginny to pull them off her shoulders again.

“It’s a little tight in the waist,” Dexter said. “I suppose I could loosen it…”

“No need,” Ginny said simply.

She gestured for Ivy to turn around, and Ivy hardly had a chance to say anything before Ginny was yanking at the strings of her corset. Ivy tended to wear it loosely, which sometimes threw off her measurements. Once Ginny was finished and Ivy could no longer breathe, the dress buttoned up easily.

Ivy was quick to remove the dress and thank the tailor, trying to escape to other parts of the shop while Ginny had her fitting. She found herself in a section of accessories, trying on different hats. Her eyes landed on the tailor’s daughter, who seemed to have similar ideas about escaping to the back. Penny tried to pretend like she didn’t see Ivy, but Ivy knew she was aware of her.

“Penny is a nice name,” Ivy said, hoping it would break the ice. “Is that short for Penelope?”

“Yes,” she said, shifting awkwardly.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be forward,” Ivy said. “I just feel like I saw you somewhere recently. At the Larner party, wasn’t it? Aren’t you a friend of Flynn’s?”

“Flynn?” she said quickly. “Flynn who? I know a lot of people who come in. Name doesn’t ring a bell, sorry.”

She quickly picked up the pile of sashes she was folding and disappeared into a back room. Ivy just shrugged it off. She was used to people avoiding her like that. She sat and waited impatiently for Ginny to finish her fitting, and was just a bit too eager to leave the shop when she was finished.

Ginny insisted on stopping by the market for a little walk afterwards, which Ivy would have been happy to do. If there weren’t people stopping them every now and then to talk to Ginny. Ivy tuned them out, looking around at the people bustling about with so much to do and wishing she could be as busy as they were instead of always worrying about pastel silks and flower crowns.

“Why do I need to enter the pageant if everyone knows you’ll be winning?” Ivy asked.

“No one knows that,” Ginny said. “Last year it was Melanie Carter.”

“Melanie Carter only won because you weren’t entered,” Ivy said. “What does the stupid pageant consist of, anyways?”

“Well,” she said. “It starts with introductions. Each lady is introduced and walks the stage with her best winning smile.”

“I won’t be smiling.”

“Then comes the interview,” Ginny continued. “They’ll ask you two questions. For instance, as Thoroux’s Spring Queen, what would you do to better our community.”

“Shove my crown in the faces of the other girls and spit on them.”


“Uh, plant a tree or something?”

“And finally,” Ginny said, “There’s the talent portion.”

Ivy stopped in her tracks.

“Talent portion?!” she questioned.

“Yes,” she said. “Amelia Stonewell always sings. She has a lovely operatic voice. Tara Finley is a wonderful dancer. I usually opt for the piano. They are quite accommodating if you need anything.”

“I don’t have any talents,” Ivy said.

“Sure you do,” Ginny told her, thinking for a few moments before lighting up excitedly. “You can do the thing! Oh, it’ll be wonderful, Father loves it when you-”

“No,” Ivy snapped. “No, no. Absolutely not. That’s humiliating. And it’s not even a talent.”

“It is a talent,” Ginny said. “Oh, please Ivy? It’s so fun and charming, and it would be so unique.”

“I’m not doing it,” Ivy said firmly. “I embarrass myself on the daily enough.”

“Just promise you’ll think about it,” Ginny said with a grin. “I think it would be wonderful.”

Ivy sighed, looking past Ginny and spotting Flynn a little further behind them.

“Can I leave?” Ivy asked, interrupting their conversation.

Genevieve looked over her shoulder and also saw Flynn, a skeptical expression on her face.

“I don’t know, Ivy,” she said softly. “There’s something off about that boy.”

“He’s my friend,” Ivy insisted. “He’s nice to me.”

“Alright,” she sighed. “Fine. But be home before supper. I can only cover for you for so long before Father starts asking questions.”

“Thank you,” Ivy beamed, hugging her sister before flouncing off.

Flynn saw her coming this time, giving her a smile and a small salute.

“Detective,” he greeted. “I saw you come out of the tailor shop. Doing some morning shopping?”

Ivy grimaced, rocking back and forth on her feet. She didn’t want to tell Flynn anything that would make her seem like she was as vain as the other girls in society, especially something like participating in the spring pageant. She only hoped that he didn’t have plans to attend the festival.

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” she said. “Hey, I wanted to show you something. Are you busy?”

“Well, I was just-”

“Great, let’s go.”

He seemed to slowly be learning that she was a bit of an unstoppable force, dropping whatever he was doing to follow her out of the market. She headed in the opposite direction of home, towards the nearby woods outside of town.

“Are you taking me out into the woods to kill me?” Flynn questioned.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing,” Ivy laughed. “Here we are.”

Flynn gave her an unsure look as she pointed at an old treehouse built around the trunk of one of the oaks. He followed her up the ladder and into the house, which was surprisingly clean and sturdy enough to hold both of them. There were some cushions to sit on, a bookshelf with a few assorted books, and a collection of newspaper clippings and notes.

“Welcome to my office,” Ivy announced.


“Well, it was a clubhouse,” she admitted. “Our father built it with his own two hands so Genevieve and I would have a place to play. We used to spend hours up here as children, filling up buckets of water and pouring them over the heads of the dumb boys who would try and invade the clubhouse.”

Flynn walked over to the wall, examining the paintings that Ivy and Ginny had decorated the place with as children.

“She was more fun when her front teeth were too big for her face and her hair was all frizzy,” Ivy said, sitting on one of the cushions. “Our parents didn’t really care what we did back then. And then one summer Ginny just... grew up. And all of a sudden she was so beautiful that no one knew what to do about it. They signed her up for piano lessons and dance lessons and she started to get invited to all these nice parties. I doubt she remembers that the clubhouse even exists. So I use it as a place where I can do what I want without anyone knowing. Like detective work.”

“Well I think it’s great,” he said.

Ivy beamed, handing him a spare key to the locking door of the treehouse. He hesitantly took it, raising a brow.

“You’re my partner, aren’t you?” she said. “You’ll need a way to get in so we can review the case notes without anyone bothering us. I figured this would be a good meeting place, so we don’t have to rely on finding each other in a busy market.”

“I don’t count as a dumb boy?”

“No, you’re not one of the dumb ones,” she laughed. “You can come up whenever you want. Even if I’m not here. It’s a good place to be alone. A really nice and quiet thinking spot.”

“Well. Count me in, then.”

Ivy grinned, reaching out and giving his hand a firm shake. There was no time to worry about beauty pageants. They had a mystery to solve.