Tread Lightly

Tread Lightly

by Catherine Lane

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Overview

Claire, fairy godmother level one plus, is one of the best operatives at the Fairy Godmother Council, but god-mothering in the twenty-first century isn’t all it used to be. The magic’s drying up; the girls are spoiled brats, and guardian angels poach the council’s best clients whenever they can.

When her boss assigns her a VIP case, Claire assumes it’s more of the same. But Frankie, her client, seems to be the deserving underdog of the olden days. And Tamiel, the guardian angel who pops onto the scene, swears she’s there to protect Frankie, not to steal her. It doesn’t hurt she’s smokin’ hot.

As the case starts to unravel, Claire is forced to examine her own prejudices and desires. Is she heading for certain ruin, or will she grab her happily ever after in this lesbian urban fantasy?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9783955338176
Publisher: Ylva Verlag e.Kfr.
Publication date: 02/15/2017
Pages: 146
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.34(d)

Read an Excerpt

Tread Lightly

The Window Shopping Collection Book One


By Catherine Lane

Ylva Publishing

Copyright © 2017 Catherine Lane
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-3-95533-817-6


CHAPTER 1

Present


The sun reflected off the window, obscuring the view of the shop inside. Still, Claire was hyperaware of the products on display. She shuffled her feet and coughed but didn't move toward the door. In the window, she caught the reflection of Tamiel's easy smile, as if she frequented sex toy stores all the time.

"You're kidding. Right?" The guardian angel shimmered in the sunlight as she chuckled. "It's in there?"

"The magic calls to you. You don't get to choose." Claire bit her bottom lip.

"It has a very interesting sense of humor," Tamiel said.

"I'll say."

Tamiel rubbed her hands. "Okay. So let's go get it."

As if it were that easy. Claire closed her eyes, blocking out the mannequins dressed in leather teddies. A powerful force churned around her. It reached out from the store like a tidal wave, swirling around her body and then yanking her forward. She had to dig her heels into the sidewalk to stay upright.

The magic was raw, not filtered and refined the way the Fairy Godmother Council delivered it. Another surge tugged at her, and immense power coursed around her again, almost pulling her under. Panic flared. She had been around magic all her life, but it had never been this demanding or potent.

She reached out for Tamiel, and the angel's hand was instantly under her arm, steadying her.

"Can you do this?" Tamiel asked softly, no longer teasing.

"I don't know," Claire said. "I ... I'm not sure I can control it."

As if sensing her hesitation, the magic yanked her forward, smashing her shin into the bottom edge of the display window. Metal cracked against bone, and for the second time in three days, a sharp pain shot up her leg.

"Son of a ..."

CHAPTER 2

Three Days Earlier


"... banshee!" Claire cried.

The coffee table had come out of nowhere and slammed into her shin. She hopped around the small living room, howling like a cat in heat and holding her leg. A glance down told her what she already knew. Blood trickled down her lower leg and pooled in the tip of her blue slipper.

What an idiot. No, worse. She had been so concerned about closing this case fast that she had rushed her entry. And now Claire — fairy godmother: level-one-plus, the golden child of the Fairy Godmother Council — looked like a newbie.

The young woman, her client, had been reading a magazine on the couch but had leaped up when Claire materialized right in front of her. Her eyes, first round with surprise, had narrowed into a hard glare almost immediately.

"Who the hell are you?" She rolled the magazine into a stiff tube and waved it in Claire's direction. "How did you get in here?"

"Relax, Jenna." Shit, that wasn't right. Jenna was last week's case. This girl pulsating with hostility was named ... Claire brought the top sheet of case number 69317 into focus in her mind. That's right. It was Abigail — Abby for short?

"Relax, Abby." She took a shot.

Neither Abigail nor Abby backed down. Instead, she danced on the balls of her feet and jabbed the magazine across the coffee table. "Get the hell out of here. I took a self-defense course. I know how to use this."

"Yes. I'm sure you do. But put it down and listen to me." Claire dropped her foot to the ground. She held it there even as a sharp pain shot up her leg. She needed to look the part and, frankly, put a little magic back into the moment.

She forced a smile to her lips and hoped the incarnation she had chosen — a short, plump woman dressed in blue silks and a pointy cap — would do the trick. At the moment, she was a carbon copy of the fairy godmother from the live-action remake of Sleeping Beauty currently streaming online. Of course, this frumpy version didn't resemble what she'd looked like when she had actually appeared to Princess Aurora back when she'd been an apprentice, level-ten-minus, but this day and age left no room for subtlety.

"Guess what?" Claire threw her hands in the air. "I'm your fairy godmother!"

"Don't come any closer, you crazy-ass freak." Again, the girl jabbed the magazine at her. "Are you looking for Todd? He's selling whatever your DOC is in two-twelve. This is two-ten."

"DOC?"

"Drug of choice."

"No. I'm not looking for drugs." Claire shook her head. It had been such an easy case on paper. That happy scenario had disintegrated the minute she slammed into the coffee table. She took a deep breath, tamped down the pain still shooting up her leg, and studied the girl in front of her. Shoulder-length, brown hair framed an angular face. Metal piercings ran all the way down her left ear and jumped over to her nose and eyebrow. Abby stood frozen, her brown eyes two tiny pinpoints of resentment and anger.

Yep, things had definitely changed over the centuries. Sleeping Beauty and this young woman were barely the same species.

"Get out, or I'm calling the cops." Abby's hand darted for her cell phone on the coffee table.

Claire pulled her wand, Carothann, from the invisible pocket of magic that always rode at her hip. One flick and the cell phone ricocheted across the glass top before Abby's fingers could get there.

"What the hell?" She looked up at Claire for an explanation.

Claire waved the slender rowan branch with a theatrical flourish and sent her intentions straight to its core. The wand, trembling in her hand, strained ever so slightly, and magic filled the room.

Invisible trumpets blew a soft fanfare, and a gentle wind lifted her blue cape. Golden dust shot up into the air.

As the golden shimmer settled over them both, the hardened look faded from Abby's eyes. Claire couldn't suppress her grin. The power of magic worked every time. She had her now. Thank goodness.

Abby laughed with a loud hoot. "Oh my God! I'm on Punk Me. Right?" She dropped the magazine on the coffee table with a clunk and spun about the room. "Where's the camera? Is Van Woods here? Oh my God, he is so cute."

"Abby, concentrate." She snapped her wand against the air. "Fairy. God. Mother." Golden sparks like tiny fireworks shot out of Carothann's tip with every word.

Abby pursed her lips as she watched the sparklers fall to the ground. "I'm not being punked?"

"No."

"And you are?"

"Your fairy godmother. Level-one-plus."

Claire rocked back on her heels, in part to take weight off her still-aching leg, but mostly to give Abby time to let her unbelievable good fortune sink in. She waited for the tears of happiness, the squeals of delight, the —

"No thanks." Abby shook her head. "I don't need a fairy godmother. I'm okay."

"Seriously?" Claire glanced around the squalid studio apartment. Cockroaches skittered along the wall of the kitchenette. The furniture could have easily been found on a curb the day before.

The hardened look was back. "Yep."

"Listen to me. There're lots of different kinds of okay. I can offer you the happily-ever-after kind."

"Whatever." Abby threw up a hand in dismissal.

Claire forced another smile. Abby was pushing all her buttons. All her cases, lately, were about managing attitude first and creating new destinies second. She took a deep breath. "First step is to get you ready for the party. I'm afraid you're already very late."

"Party? What party?"

Claire clenched her teeth to keep the smile intact. "The annual sales party? At your company?"

"Oh yeah. That. I'm not going."

"But your Prince Charming is there. That's where you need to go if you're going to find a life that's more than just ... okay." She waved Carothann around the room, pointing out a dark stain on the carpet and then the oven door, which hung off one hinge.

"Office parties are lame. Especially on a Friday night." Abby rolled her eyes, as if just having to explain this fact was the largest imposition imaginable. "Besides, I have nothing to wear."

"I'm your fairy godmother, for goodness's sake."

"Yeah. I got that," she shot back. "And that's, like, relevant how?"

Crazy. If there wasn't a vampire or zombie involved, kids these days had no reference point.

Claire tightened her hold on Carothann. The wand felt warm and familiar in her hand, the only right thing in what was quickly becoming a difficult case. With a swift flick, she and the branch pulsated with power. She visualized what she wanted and the wand jumped to life. Golden tendrils of magic streaked to the far side of the room. A pile of paper napkins leaped to life in Abby's makeshift kitchen. They exploded into the air with a soft poof and floated back together to stitch an exact copy of the high-end dress on the cover of the magazine the girl had been reading.

"Oh my God!" Abby rushed to grab the masterpiece before it hit the floor. Her grin almost touched her eyes. Give her an expensive designer label, and she was all-in. Claire should have led with the dress.

"Shoes. I need shoes. Can they be Jimmy Choos?" Abby stroked the dress lovingly. "And, like, one of those cool, triple-choker necklaces all the rich girls have. I got to have one of those too."

Claire bit her lip and tried to push her annoyance back down into a place where she could ignore it. In the olden days, the makeover had been her absolute favorite part. Now it was a shopping frenzy, where the girls were like piranhas on steroids.

Still, Administration just wanted the case closed. A tick on the tally to show the magical world the FGC was still relevant in the twenty-first century.

Another flick of her wand and two People magazines hopped to attention on the coffee table. Rustling filled the air as their pages folded in on themselves and grew into metallic silver pumps. A second flick, and a used piece of dental floss in an ashtray squirmed into a sparkly necklace.

Abby scooped up her bounty. "Oh my God. I have Jimmy Choos."

"You know, it all vanishes at midnight."

"It does?"

"Yeah. You don't get to keep it."

"I don't?" Abby's face fell. "Not even the necklace?"

"Have you read even one fairy tale?"

Abby just stared at her.

"Those are the Council's rules. I didn't make them up."

"That totally sucks." Abby plopped onto the couch. "Seriously, I think —"

"All right, my dear. You'd better put it all on and get going."

Abby opened her mouth to start up again, but Claire jumped in first. "Chop-chop. Your ride is outside."

Claire pointed Carothann at a cockroach darting around the fridge. It instantly straightened up into a lanky man decked out in a chauffeur's hat and coat. Normally she would have chosen the more reliable spider in the opposite corner, but roaches were incredibly fast drivers, and Abby was getting later by the second.

The girl took forever to get ready, adjusting the straps on her dress and shoes again and again and putting product in her hair almost one strand at a time. So long that the chauffeur had dropped to the ground and tried to scuttle behind the couch. Claire was shooing the man back out into the open when her impatience boiled over.

"Abby! I can only put things in motion. You have to take it home yourself."

"Just a second," she said as she reached for her cell, still on the far side of the coffee table. Abby had snapped a selfie and was pulling up Snapchat.

"You've got to be kidding me." Carothann jumped in her hand, and the pictures winked out of existence.

Abby tapped the screen with a finger. "What'd you do?"

"Nothing permanent. It's frozen until after midnight. Just go to the party."

"I can't go without my phone." Huffing, she stamped her foot and held out her cell. "Fix it. I want a selfie."

How old was this girl? The file had said twenty-two, but with all this whining she was acting more like four. And that was being generous.

"No pictures. No exceptions." The Cottingley disaster of 1917 jumped to mind — when her idiot cousin Heloise had unbelievably popped up in photographs taken by two English girls. The FGC had moved heaven and earth to make the pictures read like fakes. And now, thanks to Heloise's indiscretion, a refresher workshop on photos and all social media was required once a year.

Claire plucked the phone from Abby's outstretched fingers and dropped it on the coffee table with a clatter and no comment. She then steered Abby to the chauffeur. His big ears twitched like the antennae they once were.

"Get her to the party." Claire patted the cockroach on the back and turned to Abby with one last warning. "And you must be home by midnight. Or all this — the dress, the shoes, the really nice Tesla outside — will disappear, and you will be the crazy woman walking around in napkins and People magazines and wearing dental floss around her neck."

Abby gave her a hard glare.

"Got it?"

"Give me my cell back. I'm not going until you do."

A tiny knot pulled tight in Claire's stomach. She needed to change tactics. Fast.

"Suit yourself." She shrugged and disappeared in a cloud of golden dust.

"Wait! Don't go." Panic rose in Abby's voice. "I'm sorry." Plaintive cries followed Claire all the way across town.


* * *

Celebrating a banner year, the employees of the Bluestone Paper Company were doing it up right. Streamers, balloons, and cut-out decorations had transformed the warehouse into a first-class party zone. A live band jammed on the loading dock, several barmen handed out free booze by the printing machines, and chefs with tall, puffy hats manned buffet tables in every corner. The longest line snaked out from the one where two men in kimonos were hand-rolling sushi.

Claire stood hidden from sight behind one of the industrial bookshelves in the back. She winced as her injured shin hit a heavy stack of paper on the shelf and wished she were brazen or stupid enough to dip into the magic stream to heal her leg. The FGC was very clear: no magic for personal use. Sure, everyone cheated a little, like taking a pen home from the office. But healing her leg would be like taking home the whole office. And somehow Upper Administration always knew.

Instead, her gaze zeroed in on the only human in the room who mattered — Bluestone's handsome star salesman. Abby's Prince Charming stood in line at the sushi table. He shifted his weight casually from foot to foot as he chatted happily with another male partygoer. He didn't seem to be in a hurry, but more tight knots formed in Claire's stomach. The hour hand of the big clock above the metal rolling doors was approaching ten. Just over two hours away from her firm midnight deadline. She knew Abby was on her way — the alarm in the girl's final plea told her that. She just needed to keep Charming out of trouble until she arrived.

The prince of Bluestone Paper stepped up to the table just as the sushi master slid a long caterpillar roll onto the serving plate. A step beyond an excellent appetizer, it was a work of art. Green avocado and bright red masago played like real scales on top of the roll, and two round pieces of octopus peered out like bug eyes on one end.

"Bravo," Charming said and led a round of applause. The sushi master bowed and waved an open hand over his creation. Charming, as well as everyone behind him, crowded the table to grab a piece.

Across the room, Claire gasped. Charming's fingers had not clasped eel and cucumber but a shapely hand that had snuck under his at the last instant. His gaze softened the moment it met the warm brown eyes that belonged to the hand's owner.

"Mother Chimera!" Claire drew out Carothann in a flash and pointed it at the pair, ready to flick Charming's sushi to the floor or push the woman back into the crowd — anything to break their connection and save him for Abby.

The wand was at its apex when she froze. A gentle smile played on the girl's lips as she stared back at the handsome man in front of her. The girl wasn't just pretty; sweetness and kindness, attributes that were undeniably absent in Abby, radiated off her.

Carothann dropped almost of its own accord. This was the true magic — love at first sight. No woman had looked at Claire like that for a very long time, but she hadn't forgotten how special it could be.

Mother of a manticore. Was she really thinking of letting them connect? It would break every rule in the FGC handbook. For sure, she would have to meet with Administration, and who knew what other punishments would follow?

But the pair clearly had the spark of true love. The whole room was staring at them. Abby, in all her petulance, would never generate anything close. True, he wasn't her client ... but this happy ending would at least give the case some meaning it was sorely lacking. It might even put some purpose back in her own life. Besides, what could they do to her? She was a level-one-plus.

When Prince of Sales took Sushi Princess by the hand and led her onto the dance floor, Claire didn't strike him lame. When he leaned in and whispered in her ear, she didn't raise the volume of the band. Instead, she held Carothann tightly against her thigh. Already, a bright and shiny future was opening up around them. The edges of a new life were plainly visible to Claire, as if all the colors of the aurora borealis had drifted over them.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Tread Lightly by Catherine Lane. Copyright © 2017 Catherine Lane. Excerpted by permission of Ylva Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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