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By Jenniffer Wardell
Jolly Fish PressCopyright © 2015 Jenniffer Wardell
All rights reserved.
Of Frying Pans and Fires
Beauty held up the mangled gauntlet, ready to fight. She'd spent most of the afternoon yanking the thing out from between a dragon's teeth, and said dragon would probably approve of her using it to beat her father's head in. "Get. Out. Of. My. Way."
"Not until you've returned to your senses and come back home." Noble Tremain — whose birth certificate still identified him as Frank — folded his arms across his brocade-covered chest and tried to stare her down. Her father sincerely believed he was an important and powerful man, even though he'd spent most of Beauty's formative years being kicked out of rich people's houses. "This ridiculous job is an insult to the family name."
Beauty shoved her shaggy brown hair out of her eyes with her free hand, glaring at the man who was technically responsible for her existence. She'd told herself only a few months ago that she needed to move again, just in case her father finally tracked her and Grace down, but she was sick of letting the man ruin her life. Besides, she couldn't leave her sister to face this alone.
"So sedating princesses and sneaking your daughters into secret ballrooms is what, creative parenting?" She gritted her teeth to keep from shouting, furious he'd insisted on doing this where she worked. The only good thing about all this was that he'd caught her before she'd made it inside. "Or how about that time you knocked us unconscious and left us in an ogre's cave, hoping a questing hero would just happen to rescue us?"
Her father's brow lowered at the reminder of that last incident. "You could have tried to be a little more in peril with that ogre," he snapped, his round face tensing up with annoyance. Behind him, Beauty could see the front doors open a little, giving whomever was on the other side a shield to continue listening behind. "I found you the largest, most terrifying-looking creature in the region, and you and your sister come back looking like you'd been out making a social call."
"It's not our fault we're more competent than you thought."
The ogre, horrified at the sight of the two girls collapsed in what turned out to be his living room, had promptly woken them both up and given them herbal tea and berry cookies. Both Beauty and Grace had immediately sworn never to tell their father what had actually happened, though Grace still sent the ogre a card every year on his birthday. "Now get out of my way or I'll call security. I know the concept is foreign to you, but I actually have a job to do."
His eyes flared with a fresh burst of offended fury. "You're related to nobility!" His face started to turn red as his volume increased, only adding to the certainty that every single person in the building would know about this in the next few minutes. "How dare you work at a temp agency!"
Beauty pulled her arm back, already visualizing the spot on his forehead where the gauntlet would make contact. Around them, the birds chirped merrily in encouragement. "Are we really dragging Mother's second cousin into this?" she warned him quietly. "Particularly after Mother ran off and left you for the royal tax collector?"
This time, it was her father's turn to grit his teeth. "You are still related to nobility, you ungrateful brat, no matter how it happened," he hissed. "And if you and your sister would just come home and start behaving like reasonable daughters, I could get you married to a desperate royal somewhere and finally get some use out of you."
Beauty threw the gauntlet, pleased when it careened off his head with a definite thunk. While he was still reeling from that, she advanced on him. Despite her short height, she was intimidating enough that her father backed up a step. "You tried to shove us into any ridiculous fairy tale situation you could for years, Father, and all you have to show for it is two daughters who hate your guts. If you want your happily-ever-after so bad, you go put on a dress and lock yourself up in a tower. Grace and I are done."
"Don't you dare tell me what your sister will and won't do!" Unfortunately, her father's thick skull had helped him recover far too quickly. "She at least has the decency to speak to her father with a civil tongue!"
"That's because she's a kind and reasonable human being," Beauty snapped back, fury rising. If he'd started harassing Grace again ... "I, however, seem to take after you."
If she'd tried, she couldn't have come up with a better insult. The red surged back all at once, making him look like an evil sorceress had turned him into a beet, and sheer rage made him seem to grow just a little as he gathered his breath for a rant that would undoubtedly be heard all the way back into town. "You miserable, ungrateful —"
Fortunately, whatever else he'd been about to say abruptly choked to a halt when he was dragged several feet into the air. Beauty forced herself to take a deep breath, giving the red in her own vision a chance to clear as she looked up at the extremely tall man who currently had Noble by the collar. "Hi, Steve," she said after a moment, trying to sound as if having a shouting match with her father in front of her work was a normal, everyday occurrence. If you take out the part about work, it used to be absolutely true. "Did Manny send you out to help quiet things down again?"
Steve nodded, completely unconcerned about her father's increasingly frantic struggling. "He said that you need to be better about pest control, or you'll scare off customers." Steve was nine feet tall, gentle as an enormous bunny rabbit. He served as the agency's yard and outdoor maintenance man since he was too tall to comfortably fit through the doors. Rumor had it that his mother was a giantess, which had led to no end of speculation about his father. "Besides, he needs your report about the dragon job."
"Pest control?" Noble shouted, swinging an arm upward to hit at Steve. The impact had no more of an effect on Steve's placid expression than the struggling had. "How dare you say such a thing, you impudent ..."
"Don't listen to him, Steve. He's cranky." Beauty hoped her father didn't make enough of a fuss to accidentally choke himself on his own shirt or something. Not that she would have minded, personally, but she didn't want Steve to get into trouble. "Any chance you can drop him in the compost pile as soon as I go inside?"
Steve considered this, giving Noble a single experimental bounce that made him squawk like an extremely angry chicken. "I could do that," he said thoughtfully, then gave Beauty a faintly chiding look. "You know you could have asked me for help, right? You didn't have to wait for Manny to tell me."
Beauty blinked, startled, then blushed as Steve wagged a finger at her. A few feet overhead, her father was attempting to light them both on fire with the heat of his most disdainful glare. Ignoring him, Beauty smiled at Steve. The expression made her round face far prettier than it normally managed to be. "Thank you." She patted him on the hand as she went by, then grabbed the gauntlet from where it had fallen. "Feel free to bounce him a few more times if you want."
She went inside, her smile widening at the one last squawk that followed her in as the doors closed behind her. Then, deliberately ignoring the sound of rapidly scurrying feet that signaled her audience hurrying to look busy someplace else, she exchanged nods with the woman at the front desk and headed straight back for Manny's office.
He didn't look up when she pushed open the door, smoke puffing placidly up from his nostrils as he scanned the current assignment list on his magic mirror. Mandrake Kent was a three-foot-tall dragon, complete with tiny, useless wings and a blanket refusal to talk about anything he'd done before starting the temp agency that bore his name. "Well, now I know where your temper comes from," he said blandly.
Beauty took a deep breath, grateful for the knowledge that her boss was prepared to let things go at that. "Sorry about that," she sighed, fixing the collar of her shirt and absently running a hand through her hair to straighten it. The dress code at the agency wasn't nearly as strict as it would have been at Fairy Godmothers, Inc. if she would've taken the secretarial job they'd offered her, but she didn't want Manny to think she wasn't trying. She already flouted tradition enough by being the only woman in the office to wear pants. "The last I heard, he was over in Far Away trying to convince some earl to take him on as a personal advisor."
Manny made a small dismissive gesture with his claw, finally looking up at her. "He scares off my customers, and I'll sue his velvet-covered rear end into the next kingdom." He paused briefly, raising a scaly red eyebrow at the sight of the gauntlet Beauty dropped into his trash can. "Tell me that's not from the guy I sent over to Percy before you."
Beauty gave a small smile. "No. Apparently, our client went over to his brother-in-law's house for dinner and didn't ask enough questions about the ingredients list. He knows he could have gone to a dentist to have it removed, but he likes us better."
"I would, too. Dragon dentists tend to use swords or claws instead of toothpicks." He blew out one more puff of smoke. "Let me see it." He held a hand out as Beauty fished the gauntlet out of the trash and handed it to him. He studied it a moment, then bared his teeth in an expression that everyone in the office had decided was probably a dragon grin. "I'll call Percy back to tell him this is from a pre-packaged destroyed armor set. He didn't blow his diet."
She folded her arms across her chest, finally relaxing for the first time in what felt like hours. "I'm sure he'll be happy to hear it." When Manny looked up again, she tilted her head in the direction of his magic mirror. "I'm not really in the mood to go home right now. Any chance I could pick up one more assignment before I call it a day?"
He set down the gauntlet, double-checking the list. "Unless you've changed your mind about kissing that enchanted public relations guy, there's nothing right now that you could finish in a couple of hours. Want an overnight job?"
Beauty hesitated, weighing the likelihood of her father deciding it would be worth his time to try to harass her at home, then sighed. "Sure." She sat down in the chair opposite his. "What have you got?"
"Let's see." He tapped his claws against the desktop as he mulled over a few selections. "You don't know Dwarvish, so that one's out. That one I'm saving for Steve ..." Manny looked up. "The agoraphobe in the tower called again. Swears she just wants some company for a few days, and promises the person won't have to move any furniture or hear about how lonely she's been since the evil sorceress died."
Beauty groaned, covering her face with her hand. "Please, Manny, no." Pretty much everyone with the agency had taken a turn with the woman by this point, and most swore they'd have rather spent a day off cleaning up after a hydra than go back. "You really should put her on some sort of 'will no longer sacrifice temps to this' list."
"Never. As long as threat of death isn't actually involved, I'm always willing to take people's money." Still, she was relieved to see reluctance flash briefly across his face. "I'll save it for the next person who pisses me off." He scanned down through a few more assignments. "Some butler's looking for a general assistant. The timeline's open-ended, and though I make no promises I'm pretty sure the most complicated thing you'll have to do is clean something."
Beauty's brow furrowed. "Why would a butler need an assistant? Don't people rich enough to hire one have an entire houseful of staff ready to do all that?"
Manny shrugged. "How should I know? Maybe he wants someone to keep his shoes shined." He held the mirror up, wiggling it a little. "You want the job or not?"
She hesitated again, less than thrilled with the idea of spending the next week helping someone tackle their monthly cleaning list. But if she saw her father again today things would end with one of them getting arrested for assault, and she wasn't above running and hiding in order to keep that from happening. "Sure. Give me the info, and I'll stop by my place and pack a bag before heading over there."
"Think of it this way." He made a few quick taps on the mirror, then handed her the printout. "At least there's less of a chance you'll accidentally get eaten on this one."
THE HOUSE, AS it turned out, was surprisingly normal for an ancient manor in the middle of nowhere. Sure, there were spikes in various places, and some stone things leering down at her from the upper ledges, but the entire place was generally clean and well cared for.
Of course, the shattered statue in the middle of the front walkway put something of a damper on the overall look. Beauty moved closer to it, peering upward at the spot of ledge just overhead before glancing back down at the wreck of stonework sitting at her feet. The rest of it was scattered over a surprisingly wide portion of the otherwise immaculate front lawn, and all Beauty could think was how hard the statue would have had to hit the ground in order for the pieces to spread out that much ...
Her head snapped upward at the sound of the front door opening. A lean, impeccably dressed older man stood in the doorway, looking at her as if she intended to sell him something. "If you've come here to break the curse, it would be wisest of you to leave now and find something more useful to do with the rest of your evening. You are, of course, fully within your rights to persist in your initial venture, but if that's your decision I insist you remain outside while you speak to him. I grow weary of replacing the carpeting, and won't be able to hire a reliable serviceman to perform the task until Monday."
Beauty narrowed her eyes at him, the tone superior and dismissive enough to set her teeth instantly on edge. Then what he actually said finally filtered through her brain. "Wait." She blinked at him, the first flickers of panic flaring to life in her stomach. She could deal with dragons, ogres, witches, and the evilest of evil sorceresses without a problem, but put an enchantment or a member of the nobility anywhere near her and she turned straight back into a fumbling, mortified sixteen- year-old. "What curse?"
He studied her a moment, then his expression eased as he gave her a small nod. "Ah. Pardon my presumption. How may I help you?" His eyes flicked downward to the broken statue at her feet, and something that looked almost like parental disapproval flashed across his face for a moment. "I must apologize for the mess. Normally such matters don't escape my notice." He lifted his hand a fraction, then hesitated. "If you would be so kind as to take a step back."
Having seen enough in her life to know when to take that kind of advice, Beauty did what he asked. The man made a brief gesture with his hand, and what felt like a sudden gust of wind ruffled Beauty's clothing as it circled the pile of stone and lifted it like a small, gentle tornado. It hung in the air for a moment, waiting, until the man swept his hand to the right. "Put it with the others, then you may return to your previous duties." The wind sped off with the stone like a herd of obedient puppies, and the man's attention returned to Beauty. "Now, you were saying?"
Panic now tamped down under a very firm desire to know exactly what she was getting herself into, Beauty pulled the printout Manny had given her out of her pocket. "You are Richard Waverly, right?" she asked carefully, making sure she had a route open in case she suddenly needed to retreat. "And you did hire a temp from the Mandrake Agency, despite the fact that apparently you've figured out how to get the wind to do your bidding?"
"I am indeed Richard Waverly, though I would prefer it if you referred to me simply as Waverly." He studied her for a moment, expression suddenly penetrating enough that Beauty would not have been at all surprised to learn the man was capable of reading minds. "I presume you're the woman they've sent over to fill the position?"
She nodded. "Beauty Tremain." When his brow furrowed slightly, she reached into her pocket again. "Do you need to see my ID?"
"No." Brow still furrowed, he shook his head. "It's of no consequence. Come inside, and we can discuss the details of your employment."
Excerpted from Beast Charming by Jenniffer Wardell. Copyright © 2015 Jenniffer Wardell. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Oh my goodness. This author just continues to blow me away. Jenniffer Wardell has this amazing, witty sense of humor that interweaves into her storytelling. Her writing just flows effortlessly for me. Beast Charming was thrilling, refreshing, full of wit, charm, & an amazing bit of humor all mingled together. It brought about new life to an old, classic fairytale! The characters were stunningly crafted! I'm actually having an internal debate about whether or not I loved this version of Beauty & the Beast more so than the original cartoon... Yes... it was THAT good. Reading Jenniffer's guest post above (THANK YOU FOR THAT JW!), you'll immediately get a sense of what I mean when I say that the characters are perfect. Beauty is strong, independent, and oh so smart-mouthed. Hehe. I loved her! It's so nice to see a female lead who isn't afraid to take charge and go after what she wants. She's lived a horrible life thanks to her father pushing her on every prince & single noble man within a million mile radius. Her & her sister... I don't envy them for being the laugh of the ball at times. But they kept their heads high & they finally managed to get away from him to live their own lives. Beast! I really, really loved his character. I liked the strength and the internal debate that he had going on within himself. He was a "beast" of a business man until he literally became, well... a beast. Then he shut himself out of the business world, not wanting people to see him looking more like his nickname. Waverly! Ah! I think he's truly one of my favorite characters in the entire novel. I loved every time he graced the pages. He had this calm sense of all-knowing about him that just hypnotized me. The plot was great! I wasn't expecting some of the twists and turns that Jenniffer took while working through their story! Overall, perfect 2nd novel by Miss Wardell. I can't wait to see what she comes out with next!!!! Overall rating: 5 Stars
Beast Charming by Jennifer Wardell is the most fun fairytale I have ever read. The witty personality of beast and beauty are delightful to follow to the last page. The story flows smoothly and colorfully. I had a hard time putting it down, even when my husband threatened to turn the lights out. When I had to put it down, I couldn’t wait to pick it up again. I wanted to know where it was going and I wasn’t disappointed at the end. It is completely different than the fairytale done by Disney, but no less enchanting. Beauty and her sister are hiding from their cunning father who keeps putting her and her sister in all kinds of happily ever after situations, because he wants to belong to the nobility. The girls have dealt with ogres, evil sorcerers, mad royal parents and such for many years and are tired of him embarrassing them. Beauty finds a job with a temp office that sends her to a mysterious castle where she is to help the butler. Her job is to find something that will make the master of the house “The Beast” happy. That is when the fun starts. Magic enchantments, poison, travelling via charms, curses, calls though mirrors and family drama is all included in this exceptionally well done story. You will enjoy it to the last page. It is an excellent read for all, from pre-teens to adults, who enjoy happy ever after’s.