Welcome to the fractious fairy tale world of Kristine Grayson, where the bumpy road to happily ever after is paved with surprises...
He lived through ages with the curse of attracting women...who end up dead...
One upon a time, he was the most handsome of princes, destined for great things. But now he's a lonely legend, hobbled by a dark history. With too many dead in his wake, Bluebeard escapes the only way he knows howthrough the evil spell of alcohol. But it's a far different kind of spell that's been ruining his life for centuries.
How will she survive this killer Prince Charming?
Jodi Walters is a fixer, someone who can put magic back in order. She's the best in Hollywood at her game. But Blue has a problem she's never encountered beforeand worse, she finds herself perilously attractived to him.
"Grayson deftly nods to pop culture and offers clever spins on classic legends and lore while adding unique twists all her own."Booklist Starred Review for Wickedly Charming
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Ninety-five degrees in the shade, and still the magical gathered outside Jodi's office, pacing through the landscaping, huddling under the gigantic palms, pushing past blooming birds of paradise that she spent a small fortune on, and leaning on the fountain she paid some city administrator extra just so she could keep it running in the middle of the day. She needed that damn fountain, not because she liked flaunting water laws, but because any minute now a cell phone would explode, and its owner would throw it in panic.
Usually the magical would have enough presence of mind to throw an exploding cell phone at water, although she had learned over her long and storied career that using the words "the magical" and "presence of mind" in the same sentence could be a recipe for disaster.
She pulled her sporty red Mercedes convertible into driveway, waved at her current, potential, and former clients, and parked under the carport, dreading the next few minutes. She would have to thread her way along the curved tile sidewalk that she put in a decade or more ago, before cell phones forced her magical clients to stand outside (she hated it when cell phones exploded inside). Back then, she thought the smokers might be a problem, so she installed an antique upright ashtray that she bought at a flea market-one of those ashtrays, she had been assured, that had stood on the MGM lot back when Clark Gable roamed the premises.
The ashtray still got a lot of use, but mostly the cell phone users had pushed the smokers aside. And no matter how much she told her magical clients that the longer they used a phone, the more likely it was to explode, they never listened to her.
Of course, you really couldn't survive in Los Angeles without a phone. She bought hers in bulk. The manager at the phone store finally taught her how to transfer her number to a new phone, so she wasn't stopping in every other day demanding an emergency phone repair.
She grabbed her purse, today's phone, and her briefcase, stuffed to the gills with contracts, memos, and all that junk computers were supposed to replace.
By the time she waggled her car door open, she nearly hit four dwarves (of the Snow White variety), two selkies (clothed, thank heavens), and one troll. He was a sweetie named Gunther whom she used to find regular work for in Abbott and Costello movies, before he returned to the Kingdoms. Now that he had come back to the Greater World, she was having trouble placing him, which she thought was just plain weird, given the popularity of fantasy movies these days. But whenever he went to a casting call, he was told to remove his costume, and he couldn't, since he truly was tall, gray, stone-like, and glowery.
She hadn't figured out a way around that yet, but she would.
"I don't have time, Gunther," she said as she slung her purse over her shoulder and closed the car door with her foot. She hadn't looked, so she hoped she didn't catch one of the small magical in that move. Pixies in particular liked to get between cars and doors.
But no one screamed, so she was probably safe.
"I'm so sorry to bother you, Miss Walters," Gunther said slowly, ever proper. He had nineteenth-century manners, which was another reason she loved him. "But I do need a moment-"
"Can Ramon deal with it?" she asked. "Because I have an emergency."
She wasn't sure what the emergency was, but Ramon, her assistant, had called her out of a meeting with Disney and told her she was needed in the office. The Disney meeting was a bust anyway. For some reason the kid in charge, and he really was a kid (twenty-five if he was a day), thought she worked in animation. She couldn't seem to convince the kid that she didn't work in animation, so she was happy to leave.
Still, it was unlike Ramon to interrupt her at all. He was the best assistant she had ever had, which was saying something, considering how many of her assistants went on to manage Fortune 500 companies. Ramon knew how important the meeting was in Hollywood, even if it was a bust-deal with Disney.
"I hope Ramon can deal with it," Gunther said slowly. He was trying to keep up with her, which showed just how panicked he was. Trolls didn't like to walk fast. "It's the first of the month..."
She stopped, closed her eyes, and sighed. The first of the month. Of course. The rent was due. And Gunther couldn't get work, even though when he returned to the Greater World she had told him she'd have no trouble placing him. All the Lord of the Rings knockoff films, the Syfy Channel, the five fairy tale movies in development in three different studios-she had thought at least one of them would need a troll. A real, honest-to-God troll, not something CGIed. But so far, no takers, and Gunther was reluctant to go home and ask for more gold from his family so that he could pay his rent.
"Okay," she said. "Sit quietly in the waiting room. I'll have something for you after I solve this emergency."
Gunther nodded. It took him nearly a half an hour to smile, and the smile was never worth the wait. (In fact, it was a bit creepy.) So the nod had to do.
At least his bulky presence had dissuaded some of her other clients from approaching her. She smiled at them all, held up a hand, and kept repeating, "Make an appointment, make an appointment," as she headed to the front door.
Her office was in a 1920s Hollywood-style bungalow, which meant that it had been upgraded and expanded far outside of its original floor plan. The house had belonged to some important starlet before the Crash of 1929, and then purchased by an even more important starlet in the 1930s, "improved" by said starlet's second husband (a successful screenwriter) in the 1940s, and suffered a decline along with the studio system in the 1950s. An entire counterculture of hippies lived in it during the 1960s, and it was nearly condemned in the 1970s, until Jodi bought it, restored it, and "improved" it some more.
Now it had air conditioning, a large pool for her mer-clients, a cabana, and four other side buildings. She had kept her office in the main building, the historic bungalow, even though she kept thinking she should move to the very back, away from the crowds.
And she had crowds, every single day. This client, that client, this friend of a client, that enemy of an old flame. They made her head spin. She had hired help, but none of them had the organizational magic that she did. They had all been competent, but none were as good as she was.
She had come from a family of chatelaines, the people who kept the castles and great manor houses of the Kingdoms functioning. Her family had served-and still did serve-some of the greatest rulers the various Kingdoms had ever known.
But Jodi was a modern woman, one who did not want to waste her time managing someone else's household. She had fled the Third Kingdom in the early twentieth century, when it became clear that modernity would cause tensions in the Kingdoms themselves.
Until the late nineteenth century, the Kingdoms were isolated from this place, which folks in the Kingdoms called the Greater World. Sure, there was occasional crossover, mostly from literary types. Shakespeare stole half his oeuvre from his Kingdom visits, and Washington Irving had written down Rip Van Winkle's story damn near verbatim, only changing the name of the poor hapless mortal who had stumbled through a portal between the Greater World and the Fourteenth Kingdom.
The Germans were the worst. Goethe claimed his Faust stories were inspired by legends he had heard in a tavern in Leipzig, when actually he had found yet another portal into a Kingdom and barely escaped with his life. And the Brothers Grimm had gone into the Kingdoms on something like an archeological expedition, there to map the Kingdoms themselves, and returning instead with the stories of people's lives, stories the Brothers Grimm exaggerated and mistold to the point of libel-had libel laws existed between the Greater World and the Kingdoms.
Sometimes Jodi found it ironic that she had escaped her fairy tale existence to come to a place that took the Grimm Brothers' lies and exaggerated them even further.
But she wasn't the only fairy tale refugee in Los Angeles, as her front yard now showed. Hundreds of malcontents fled the Kingdoms over the years to come here and have a real life, only to be disappointed at how plain, monochrome, and real the lives actually were.
She pushed open the solid oak door and stepped into what had been the living room of the bungalow, now a gigantic reception area with arched ceilings and lots of comfortable seating areas marked off by large fake plants. The cool air smelled faintly of mint, a scent that soothed most of the magical (and most regular mortals as well).
Ramon had suspended two flat screen television sets from the ceiling, high enough to be out of what he called "the magical vortex," whatever it was that caused magic and electronics to intertwine. Ramon corralled all of the electronics here. He made everyone who entered drop their cell phones, MP3 players, and other gadgets into a basket on his reception desk. If the tech stayed near him, it didn't explode.
Ramon was pure magickless mortal, thirty-something, although he pretended he was twenty-five. He called himself Ramon McQueen, after Steve McQueen, the rugged 1960s icon, and some tragic silent film star whom hardly anyone had ever heard of and whom Jodi barely remembered. This Ramon was neither tragic nor rugged, but he was very pretty in a way that would have made him a movie star in the 1920s. He wore as much makeup as silent film actors did as well, accenting his sensitive mouth and outlining his spectacular brown eyes in kohl.
He was so good at organizing things that three weeks after she hired him, she looked into his aura to see if he had organizational magic. She could see auras-that was how she read magic. She should have trusted her instincts: he didn't have any magic at all. But his organizational skills were so amazing that she couldn't quite believe they had no magical component.
The waiting room chairs were filled with even more clients, potential clients, and former clients, mostly separated by type-human-appearing but magical; minor storybook characters; the enchanted; creatures; half-human creatures; spelled humans; shape-shifters; and little people of all species, races, and creeds. Not all were waiting for her. The creatures primarily went to her best assistant, and the extras (primarily the minor storybook characters and the little people) went to her next best assistant. She had a third assistant whose clients worked for the various theme parks, but they had a separate entrance (with a different receptionist) in one of the outbuildings so that they wouldn't contaminate the so-called Real Actors.
She had no one who worked animation. (Boy, that meeting still irritated her.)
The conversations were muted. She didn't allow discussion of magic or former fights or past conflicts, and the magical didn't like discussing their upcoming work with each other out of fear that someone else might get the job. So what few conversations happened were usually about things like apartment rentals, good deals on costumes, and which vehicles were built solidly enough that their computer components survived long-term exposure to magical fields.
Ramon had muted the two flat screens but had left them on all-news channels-one currently covering the fires in Malibu Canyon, and the other giving the latest lurid details of the case the media was calling the Fairy Tale Stalker case.
Jodi hated the case's name and wished she could get the media to change it, but she had become aware of the story too late to do anything. Usually she would have managed something. Theoretically, she was Hollywood's best magical wrangler (although the mortals simply thought she was a manager with some very strange clientele), but in practice, she had become the fixer for all of Los Angeles County.
If someone magical was in trouble, then Jodi usually got involved. Involvement generally didn't mean more than sending the magical to the organization, but occasionally she had to delve deeper. She didn't mind. She had been fixing things since she arrived here almost a century ago. Fixing had become as natural as breathing.
"What couldn't wait?" she asked softly as she opened the gate to let herself into the area behind the reception desk.
Ramon looked up at her. A black curl had fallen over the center of his forehead, and his makeup was slightly smudged. He had removed his suit coat, revealing a gorgeous purple shirt made of some lightweight material. Even that hadn't stopped a pool of sweat from forming along his spine.
Very unusual. Ramon was usually the picture of crispness, even in the middle of an LA summer afternoon.
"First of all, let me simply say, it is not my fault," he said in that precise way of his. "You made the appointment, and you wrote down the man's name instead of the company, for heaven's sake, and he's a newbie, and I had no idea he was with Disney-"
"That's fine, Ramon," she said. "It wasn't going well anyway. He had no idea who I was."
"-and," Ramon said, not to be derailed, "she threatened me."
That caught Jodi's attention. "Who threatened you?"
"That cantankerous little fairy. I rue the day you made it possible for me to see her and her kind," Ramon said. "If you could ever reverse that spell, I would appreciate it."
Jodi frowned. She had spelled Ramon so that he could see magical creatures normally invisible to the mortal eye. Only one type of creature fit into his current description. In fact, only one person-if she could be called that-fit.
Cantankerous Belle, better known as Tanker Belle, whom some believed to be Tinker Bell's older, meaner cousin. Whoever Tanker Belle was, she led a group of tiny fairies who had either divorced themselves from the human-sized fairies of Celtic lore or had never belonged to the group in the first place.
The magical weren't all from the Kingdoms. And not all of the magical seemed to have problems with electronics that the Kingdom magical did. One faction of the human-sized fairies, who had been involved in a power struggle for more than a century, had found a home in Las Vegas amidst all that technology, and they seemed to be doing fine.
"Tanker Belle's here?" Jodi asked.
"In your office," Ramon said. "I can't make her leave."
Tanker Belle usually traveled with a posse of twenty or so fairies who flocked around an area like hummingbirds. Jodi didn't see them, which didn't mean anything. They could have been hiding near one of the fake palm trees.
"Where's her entourage?" Jodi asked.
"That's the weird thing," Ramon said. "She's alone."
That couldn't be good. Jodi sighed and headed down the arched hallway, past photos of her with her favorite movers and shakers. Some were just plain handsome like Cary Grant, whom she missed tremendously, and others actually got things done, like Jean Hersholt (whom she also missed), and some were handsome and got things done, like Brad Pitt (whom she didn't see often enough). She had photos of women as well, but they were deeper in the hallway, and she didn't have to look at them every minute of every day.
She dipped into the half bath outside her office to check her hair. She kept it shoulder-length so that it was manageable, particularly since she had the top down in the convertible most of the time. She untied the scarf she wore over it, like Tippi Hedren in The Birds, only Jodi's hair wasn't a rich blond. It was a stunning auburn that set off her café au lait skin and made her green eyes stand out. She didn't have the redhead's curse of too-fair skin, which made being in the sun easier, but in her early years in Hollywood, her dark skin had kept her regulated to the sidelines.
That was how she got into the management/fixer business in the first place.
She splashed some cool water over her face, touched up her makeup, and made sure her white sheath had no stains from the lunch she'd had in the studio commissary. Then she squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and headed to her office.
Tanker Belle made her nervous, and not just because the little fairy was well named. It was also because she looked like Tinker Bell, with that lovely blond hair, those big blue eyes, and that perfect female form (with gossamer wings, of course). When Tanker Belle wanted, she could even add a little twinkle to her smile, complete with a soft ting of a tiny bell.
Jodi was surrounded by beautiful women all day, and usually they didn't make her feel insecure. But Tanker Belle did, and Jodi had no idea why.
The door to her office was big and sturdy, carved mahogany, and original to the house. She had no idea what this room was originally used for, although she had suspicions that it was something illicit. The room was big with great views of the back garden-which she had walled off when it became clear that her clients would be standing outside, texting, and ignoring her request to leave the cell phones at home.
Normally just stepping inside the coolness of her office calmed her, but she could sense Tanker Belle's presence. Even though Tank wasn't immediately visible, something about her or her magic screwed up the office's carefully designed comfortable energy.
"Josephine Diana," Tank said from somewhere near the arched windows. Tank had a voice on her that made her sound huge and tough, like a chain-smoking middle-aged mortal woman. A friend once described the voice as Bette Davis crossed with James Earl Jones. The description was so accurate that Jodi thought of it every time Tank spoke.
"Not fair," Jodi said as she quickly shut the door. "You know my real name, and you won't tell me yours."
Real names had magical power that nicknames and self-chosen monikers did not. Sometimes knowing a person's real name conferred that person's power on the person who knew the name. It often gave the speaker a control that she wouldn't otherwise have.
Jodi hadn't used the name Josephine Diana since she left the Kingdom. She had gone through several names in her Los Angeles life because mortals didn't believe that other people could live for centuries and still look like they were in their thirties, but she had found that names which sounded like hers were the best. "Jodi" was her favorite, even better than the Jo she had used in the twenties. It felt like her name without being her real name.
"I won't misuse it," Tank said. "I promise."
She floated down from the ceiling, wings out like a parasail. She wore a glittery black top tucked into a ripped black skirt, making her look like Tinker Bell in mourning. Tank landed on the back of the antique leather upholstered chair that Jodi had set in front of her desk for clients.
Jodi sighed, set her briefcase beside the door, and walked to the desk. It was an old partner's desk she had bought when Keystone Studio closed. Big, solid, made from redwood back before the days when the trees were protected. She kept the desk polished so that the wood's rings showed rich and fine. She also had a protective magical cover over it so that nothing would mar its surface.
Her phone vibrated in her hand; she had forgotten she'd been carrying it. Need me to get you out of there? the message read. Ramon, being efficient.
She didn't answer him-she didn't have to, unless she really did need rescuing-and set the phone beside the small pot of violets on the side of her desk. She put her purse on the floor and sat down, wishing she had just a few more minutes to settle in.
"You called me from an important meeting, Tank," Jodi lied. "This better be good."
Tank sat on top of the chair, lovely legs crossed. On her feet, she wore tiny black shoes that looked like they were made of gossamer, like her wings.
"You've been following the Fairy Tale Stalker, right?" Tank asked.
That question could mean many things in Jodi's line of work, from watching the case unfold to actually stalking the stalker. Rather than risk a misunderstanding, she gave a simple one-word answer. "No."
"Good gods," Tank said, "I would think it would be right up your alley. Fairy tales being slandered in the media, quashing the reference, all that."
So that was what she meant by "following" the Fairy Tale Stalker.
"I tried to quash it," Jodi said. "By the time I realized what was going on, it was too late. The moniker had stuck. When these things don't involve our people, I don't care as much as I would have."
Tank snorted. "You're not following this then."
Jodi sighed. She hated it when folks played the I-know-more-than-you game.
"Enlighten me," she said, because if she didn't, she might be here all day. And judging by the crowd outside, she didn't have all day.
"This stalker who just appears in women's rooms?" Tank said. "They're calling him Bluebeard."
Jodi's stomach clenched. She'd met Bluebeard at several parties, most of them held at the Archetype Place. The Archetype Place was a kind of home away from home for folks from the Kingdoms and had been around for more than sixty years. Jodi had gotten a lot of work through that organization and more than a little comfort.
She never understood why the Archetype Place tolerated Bluebeard. From what she had heard, all the fairy tales about him were true-he had killed his wives and stored their heads in a room in his castle. How he came to the Greater World was beyond her, and why he stayed made no sense either.
Unless he was starting all over here, in a place where serial killers were more common.
She couldn't quite make sense of what Tank was telling her. "What do you want me to do, correct the press because it's not him? Or is it Bluebeard just doing his creepy shtick?"
"It's not him," Tank said.
Jodi gave her an odd look. Tank almost sounded defensive. "How do you know that?"
"C'mon, Jo-Dee." Tank put the emphasis on Jodi's name so that they would both know she was avoiding the real name. "You've met Bluebeard. The descriptions of this stalker sound nothing like him."
Jodi frowned. Bluebeard was distinctive. His hair was Smurf-blue, including his signature blue beard. He had a ragged, hollow appearance. Usually she couldn't get close enough to talk to him (even if she had wanted to, which she never had) because he smelled so bad. Not only did he never wash his clothes or himself, but he tried to cover the stench with Aqua Velva.
Plus she had never seen him sober. He was a fall-down drunk who stumbled into the Archetype Place parties, grabbed the free booze from the bar, and volunteered for work as if someone would consider him for it.
"Are you sure it's not him cleaned up?" Jodi asked.
Tank raised her perfectly formed eyebrows. "Have you ever seen him clean?"
"No," Jodi said. "Not in all the years he's been here."
"That's point one," Tank said. "Point two is this."
She waved her tiny hand, making a circle of sparkling fairy dust in front of her. The fairy dust coalesced into a news report from KTLA. The ticker underneath had this day's date. The female midday announcer was saying, "...drawing based on victims' description. He's an average-size man, maybe five-eight, thin, with black hair and brown eyes. He introduces himself as Bluebeard, then tells his victims to beware, because the next time he will ‘marry' them, and the next time after that he will cut off their heads."
Jodi winced. She should have been paying attention to this. It wasn't quite fairy tale slander-Bluebeard did do a lot of horrible things, no denying it-but it wasn't the kind of publicity she wanted for her community.
Then she looked at the artist's rendering of the stalker. Angular face, young, dark eyes, clean-shaven, conservative above-the-ears haircut. It looked nothing like Bluebeard. Even if he had shaved off his scraggly beard, cut his hair, bathed, and dressed in a nice suit (instead of that bright blue velvet thing he usually wore), he still wouldn't have looked like this. For one thing, his face was too square. For another, he was too tall.
There was no way a half-dozen women would think that Bluebeard was of average height. One of the problems he had (one of the many problems) was that he was tall and muscular, six-two, with broad shoulders. He looked strong and menacing, even when his eyes didn't focus. All of that was missing from the KTLA description.
"Okay, fine, it's not him," Jodi said. "Why should I care?"
Tank glared, opened her tiny, perfectly formed mouth, and then closed it, as if she just couldn't bring herself to respond. Her mouth formed words three more times before she finally got some out.
"This stalker?" she said. "This ‘not' Bluebeard stalker?"
Jodi waited. She had never seen Tank like this.
"He appears and disappears ‘like magic,' they say."
Jodi shrugged. "So?"
"Into locked rooms, with locked windows, into rooms with only one door and no window. There is no way in or out. And the women always say he glowed, as if he was backlit or something. One of them even said it was like he was covered in fairy dust."
"So that's what's bothering you?" Jodi asked. "The fairy dust?"
"No!" Tank slammed her hand on the top of the chair. It looked like a forceful action, although it was rather hard for something that tiny to make a real impression. "Don't you understand? This fake Bluebeard is one of us."