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The Better to See YouA Transplanted Tales novel
By Kate SeRine
eKENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2013 Kate SeRine
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe flames climbed higher and higher, licking at the night sky with malevolent glee as they devoured the Baroque-style mansion that had been so painstakingly recreated by James and Cinderella Charming nearly a century before.
Although I mourned the destruction of the priceless works of art and other opulent extravagances inside, I had to appreciate the poetic justice of the situation. With my help, a beautiful young woman had risen from the cinders to become one of the most pampered, petulant, puerile princesses ever to grace the pages of a fairytale. And now, thanks to me, her world had been reduced to ashes once again.
"You bitch! You stupid, crazy bitch!"
Ah, and there was the reason why....
From my seat on the garden bench, I calmly turned my gaze from the conflagration to the raging man in gold lamé bikini briefs and a silk smoking jacket who was straining against the hold of two much taller Investigators from the Fairytale Management Authority.
"I'll fucking kill you for this, Lavender!" he screamed, his voice cracking. "You're going down, you half-assed fairy!"
"Bring it on, half-pint," I called back, emphasizing my lack of concern with a syrupy sweet smile and a one-finger salute.
If James Charming had looked like he was going to have an apoplexy before, my fuck-you-very-much response to his threats now made him look like his head was going to explode. A strangled scream of fury burst from him as he surged forward, but a shadowy black figure in a fedora and trench coat swooped into his path, stopping him dead in his tracks.
"Back off, Charming," warned Nate Grimm, the FMA's lead detective and part-time Reaper.
For a brief moment, James looked like he might balk, but then Nate's girlfriend, Tess "Red" Little, strolled toward James and lifted a single dark brow, daring him to start something. Knowing well her reputation as a bad-ass, James ducked his head a little into his shoulders and cast a murderous glance my way.
"Why don't you escort Prince Charming here over to Enforcer McCain and let the kid take his statement?" Red said to Nate, her hand skimming lightly over his back as she passed, a simple, unconscious gesture of familiarity and affection that spoke volumes about her love for the enigmatic Reaper. The look he sent her way in return was so heated it put to shame the fire raging in the background.
Red's confident, cocky half-smile was still on her lips when she turned away and headed in my direction. She sat down next to me and leaned back, casually draping her elbows over the back of the bench. "How we doing over here, Lavender?"
"Couldn't be better," I assured her. I laughed a little maniacally, which probably did little to negate James's claim that I was one big sack of crazy. "This has to be one of the best nights of my life!"
Or, at least, of the last couple hundred years, I added silently.
Having served as fairy godmother to Cinderella and her crooked, philandering, asshole of a husband hadn't exactly been the carefree life of ease and contentment I'd signed up for. When I thought about the magic I'd wasted to bring those two together, it made me want to puke. But those days were officially over, thanks to my little pyrotechnics display.
Red shifted positions on the stone bench, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her thighs. With a sigh, she clasped her hands together and stared at the flames for a moment before turning her head to peg me with a don't-bullshit-me look. "So ... wanna tell me how we came to be having a multimillion-dollar campfire tonight?"
Red was the FMA's best Enforcer even on a bad day. Since solving a series of grisly murders committed by an Arthurian enchantress named Sebille Fenwick a little over a year ago, she'd been promoted to Assistant Director of the FMA—whether she liked it or not, from what I gathered, and in spite of the scandal that resulted when Sebille's corpse disappeared right out from under the FMA's noses. So I guarantee Red didn't get to where she was without having a finely-tuned bullshit detector. I had no doubt she'd know in a hot second if I wasn't being straight with her.
Plus, in addition to the fact that I knew she could clean my clock without breaking a sweat if she wanted to, she'd once seen me at my lowest of lows and still had made the effort to be my friend—not a common occurrence for either one of us. I wasn't about to piss on that by lying to her.
"James attacked me and I panicked," I told her simply. I cast an embarrassed glance her way before adding, "My magic's been a little hard to control since I've been sober."
"So you weren't drinking at all tonight?" she asked, her tone daring me to lie to her.
I shook my head, feeling damned proud to be able to do so. "I made a promise to you. I've kept it."
She gave me a nudge with her shoulder. "Sorry. Had to ask."
"Yeah, I know."
"So, what set him off?" she prompted. "I know James is a total prick, but I've never seen him become violent. Why'd he come at you?"
I pursed my lips with a quiet puff of air.
Here we go....
"Do you read the Daily Tattletale?" I asked, referring to the tabloid newspaper we transplanted Tales couldn't seem to get enough of.
She grunted. "Not if I can help it. Why?"
I cleared my throat a couple of times and ran my hands through my bobbed violet hair. "Well, there's a weekly gossip column in the paper that dishes all the dirt on the Tale elite—information that could only have come from an insider."
Red grinned. "Okay, now that column I've read. It's freaking hilarious!"
"Yeah, well, tomorrow's edition will feature none other than James Charming and his lovely wife."
Red's brows shot up. "And you know this how?"
I grimaced a little. "Because I wrote it."
Her quiet chuckle was edged with something that sounded like pride. "No wonder James looks like someone's walked over his grave. How'd he find out about the article?"
I groaned. "Cindy. I thought I'd give her a heads-up about what was coming—you know, for old times' sake. Technically, she's still my ward, so I felt I owed her that much."
"She's treated you like a slave for hundreds of years, Lav," Red pointed out. "You don't owe her anything."
"I took an oath," I mumbled. When she gave me a disapproving look, I added, "It's a fairy godmother thing. Anyway, considering what James has put her through all these years—what he's put me through all these years—I figured she'd be happy to see him get his. And, honestly, she didn't look too bad in the article, aside from being outed for the plastic surgery she's had—which really isn't such a secret anyway. I mean, come on—she looks like she could suck a duck through a garden hose."
Red tried unsuccessfully to smother her grin. "But she didn't see it that way?"
I shook my head. "I really thought she'd be loyal to me, that she'd come to my defense and be proud of me for finally getting my life together and trying to make up for letting that little son of a bitch walk all over us for all these years. But she went bawling to James the minute I told her, terrified that the article would ruin their precious reputations. And you can see how well he's taking the news."
Red shrugged. "Well, if the entire Tale world was about to find out that my empire had been built on extorted magic, I guess I'd be a little freaked out, too."
"That's not all he's freaked out about," I muttered, glancing over to where James continued to fume, pacing a path in his perfect grass while Cindy wailed uncontrollably. But before I could fill Red in, a woman with buttercup yellow ringlets came toward us, her expression one of weary irritation.
"Ordinaries," she grumbled, jerking her head toward the human firefighters still attempting to battle the blaze.
"What'd they say?" Red asked.
The woman ran her hands through her ringlets, then clasped the back of her neck where her tension seemed to be knotting. "I told them James and Cindy confirmed the fire was started by a candelabra set too close to the curtains."
"Will there be an investigation?" Red asked.
Ringlets shrugged. "A cursory one, I'm guessing, but nothing we can't handle."
"Thanks, Trish," Red said. "I owe you one."
She gave Red an acerbic glance. "You owe me about a million." She then turned to me and offered her hand. "Trish Muffet," she said, her penetrating green gaze making me feel like she'd known me for years. "Forensics—and, apparently, Damage Control."
I shook her hand sheepishly, fully aware of what a mess I'd made of things. The one cardinal rule we Tales were supposed to obey at all costs was to blend in and let none of our human brethren—the Ordinaries—discover the truth about us. There were laws the FMA had put into place in order to protect us from the Ordinaries—and to protect them from us. And I'd managed to slip up big-time by bringing our little family feud out into the open. "Thank you for your assistance, Ms. Muffet."
"Will the Charmings go along with the story?" Red asked, rising to her feet. "Or are they going to be a problem?"
Trish nodded. "I think Nate's got that under control. Can't promise James won't press any charges, though."
"Charges?" I echoed. "For what? That little shit attacked me!"
Trish gave me a knowing look. "He claims you used your magic to, uh, significantly reduce the size of his manhood."
Red's head snapped toward me, her eyes wide. "Did you really shrink his dink?"
I didn't flinch. "He had it coming."
Red exhaled a low curse.
"I'm going to have to take your wand, Lavender," Trish said, producing a plastic evidence bag. "I'm sorry."
I shrugged and handed it over, the tip dangling precariously where James had attempted to break it when he'd come at me with a gun, threatening to blow my brains out. "Be my guest. It's not working right anyway. I was only planning to make him impotent. But I can't say I'm disappointed that the spell went awry this time."
"Don't worry," Red told me, clasping my shoulder. "We'll sort this out. If anything, it sounds like you have grounds to press charges against him for attacking you. Do you want to press charges?"
I crossed my arms over my chest, lifting my chin higher. I was officially done with being the obedient little fairy who never questioned her orders. James and Cindy Charming had cured me of that. "Damn right, I do."
She gave me a tight nod, then turned to Trish. "I'm going to get Lavender out of here. Tell Nate I'll see him back at home, will you?"
Trish gave a mock salute, then headed off to talk to the rest of the Investigators on the scene. As soon as she was out of earshot, Red turned to me, her angry gaze edged with concern. "This is a dangerous game you're playing, Lavender."
I frowned at her, surprised by her sudden admonishment. "I thought you, of all people, would be proud of me for standing up for myself. If it wasn't for you encouraging me to write my own story, to be true to myself, I'd still be buried in a bottle, drowning my sorrows, and kissing the ass of that little bastard."
Red grabbed my arm and began leading me toward a 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr parked beyond the Ordinaries' fire trucks and the black SUVs that belonged to the FMA.
"I am proud of you," she assured me, "but James Charming has a lot of really crooked people in his pocket. When the shit hits the fan, he's going to make life hell for you."
"Like it hasn't been already?" I drawled.
"Yeah, well, at least you're still alive," she shot back. "And seeing how he was just threatening to rectify that, I'd feel a lot better if we got you somewhere safe until I can sort all this out."
"I don't have anywhere else to go," I told her. "I've never lived anywhere else in the Here and Now."
"What about family?"
Oh, God no!
I shook my head. "They made it very clear after our relocation that I was no longer welcome among them."
"Then you can stay with Nate and me," Red said, digging car keys out of the pocket of her black leather trench coat. "Gran and Eddie are on safari in Africa, but I'm sure they wouldn't mind you crashing at our place for a while."
"Thanks, Red," I said, sincerely touched by her friendship. "But if you think there's a possibility that James could try to retaliate, I can't put you and Nate in danger—especially in your condition."
Red stopped dead in her tracks and pegged me with a frown. "What condition?"
I gaped at her, wondering if she was evading or truly didn't know. When I said nothing, she opened the car door and muttered, "Get in."
When she got in behind the wheel, she sat for a long moment, staring out the windshield in silence. Nate must have instinctively felt the heavy weight of her gaze upon him because his head snapped around in the middle of a conversation with one of the other Investigators. He frowned and headed toward the car.
"Shit," Red muttered under her breath. She rolled down the window when he tapped on the glass.
"You okay, sweetheart?" he asked softly, leaning down to rest his forearms on the car door.
She nodded and grabbed his lapel, pulling him close for a hard kiss. "I love you, Nate," she whispered. "I love you so much."
He glanced at me, then turned his attention back to her, his frown deepening. "I love you, too, baby. You sure you're okay?"
She nodded again. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm good. I just ... we need to talk later, okay?"
"Sure," he said, caressing her cheek. "I'll wrap things up here, and then you've got me all to yourself." He gave her another kiss and headed back to oversee the last of the investigation.
"I'm sorry," I said quietly. "Fairies can't help noticing these kinds of things. You have a certain glow about you that's impossible for us to miss. I thought you already knew."
Red shook her head, her expression blank. "No, I didn't know. I had no idea."
I reached over and gripped her hand. "Well, now that you know, you see why I can't stay with you and Nate."
She let out a mystified sigh, then gave herself a shake. "No, I don't see why. I'm still an Enforcer, Lavender. I'm still the Assistant Director of the FMA. And I'm still your friend. This doesn't change anything."
"Then be my friend and find someplace else for me to go," I insisted. "I don't just need to hide out for a while, Red. I need someplace where I can start over. It's time for me to live my own life and be the person I was meant to be."
She stared at me for a moment, her robin's-egg blue eyes boring into mine. Then she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "There's a place I know of that's good for Tales trying to make a fresh start. It's called The Refuge."
I nodded, encouraging her to continue. "That sounds promising."
Her gaze narrowed and she worked her mouth from side to side as if debating the wisdom in her suggestion. "Don't take this the wrong way, Lav, but most of the people in The Refuge are starting over because they couldn't cope with life in the Here and Now. I don't know if they'll be all that happy to see you, seeing as how it was your spell that brought them here."
My laugh in response was bitter. "Like I'm the belle of the ball now? Trust me, Red, I can handle a few hard feelings."
"Maybe," she said slowly. "But I'd feel a lot better if you had someone looking after you—at least at first."
She reached into the inside pocket of her trench and withdrew a small black notebook. She flipped it open and scribbled something quickly. "Here," she said, tearing out a sheet of paper and handing it to me. "This is the address of a friend of mine."
I looked at what she'd written down and frowned. "This is in Washington State. I don't have the money for a plane ticket."
She gave me a cockeyed smile as she started up the Zephyr. "Luckily, being the Assistant Director of the FMA comes with a few perks."
Chapter TwoI spent longer than I should have in the hotel's shower, my emotions vacillating between being proud of myself for finally having the courage to break away from the Charmings and being flat-out panicked over what the hell I was going to do now.
I'd told Red I needed to start over and live my own life, but I honestly didn't have a freaking clue what that meant. I'd been depending on someone else for so long, I didn't even know where to start.
I'd allowed Red to take me back to the house she and Nate shared with her Gran so that I could get some sleep before boarding the FMA's private jet for the four-hour flight to the Pacific Northwest. Seeing as how I had pretty much nothing to my name, Red had offered to take me shopping—but not wanting to put her through what I could tell would have been a special kind of torture, I told her I'd just borrow something to wear and buy everything else I needed when I reached Seattle.
Excerpted from The Better to See You by Kate SeRine Copyright © 2013 by Kate SeRine. Excerpted by permission of eKENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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