Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Mid-Month Novel Excerpt: Wickedly Charming

Written By: Kristine Kathryn Rusch - May• 14•11

Once per month, I’ll publish an excerpt of one of my novels, and I hope you’ll be intrigued enough to buy the rest of the book.  I began this practice in February. Unlike the free fiction I put up every Monday, the novel excerpts will remain on the site.  If you want to read the opening to the previous three novels, click here.

This month, I’ve excerpted Wickedly Charming, my most recent Kristine Grayson novel. The Grayson novels are marketed as romance, but in truth, they’re light fantasy.  At its heart, this is a book about books.  As Publishers Weekly said, “Reality and fairy tales collide in this altogether delightful story….Book lovers will be thrilled by the inside look at the publishing world, while fairy tale fans will love the in-jokes.”

I hope it will wet your appetite, not just for this book, but for my other Grayson novels as well. You’ll find ordering information at the end of this post.

Here’s the back cover copy, followed by the excerpt and the ordering information.

He’s given up on happily-ever-after…
Cinderella’s Prince Charming is divorced and at a dead end. The new owner of a bookstore, Charming has given up on women, royalty, and anything that smacks of a future.
That is, until he meets up with Mellie…

But she may be the key to happily-right-now…
Mellie is sick and tired of stepmothers being misunderstood. Vampires have redeemed their reputation, why shouldn’t stepmothers do the same? Then she runs into the handsomest, most charming man she’s ever met and discovers she’s going about her mission all wrong…

It’s only natural that sparks fly and magic ensues when these two fairy tale refugees put their heads—and vulnerable hearts—together…

 

Wickedly Charming

Kristine Grayson

Chapter 1

Book Fair

The very words of the sign filled Mellie with loathing. Book Fair indeed. More like Book Unfair.
Every time people wrote something down, they got it wrong. She’d learned that in her exceptionally long life.

Not that she was old—not by any stretch. In fact, by the standards of her people, she was in early middle age. She’d been in early middle age, it seemed, for most of her adult life. Of course that wasn’t true. She’d only been in early middle age for her life in the public eye—two very different things.
And now she was paying for it.

She stood in a huge but nearly empty parking lot in the bright morning sun. It was going to be hot—California, too-dry-to-tolerate hot, fifty-bottles-of-Gatorade hot—but it wasn’t hot yet. Still, she hoped she had on enough sunscreen (even if it did make her smell like a weird, chemical coconut). She had her hands on her hips (which hadn’t expanded [much] since she was a beautiful young girl, who caught the eye of every man) as she surveyed the stunningly large building in front of her, with the banner strung across its multitude of doors.

The Largest Book Fair in the World!, the banner proclaimed in bright red letters. The largest book fair with the largest number of publishers, writers, readers and moguls—movie and gaming and every other type of mogul the entertainment industry had come up with.

It probably should be called Mogul Fair (Mogul Unfair?). But people were pitching books, not pitch ing moguls (although someone probably should pitch moguls; it was her experience that anyone with a shred of power should be pitched across a room [or down a staircase] every now and then).

This season’s books, next season’s books, books for every race, creed, and constituency, large books, small books, and the all-important evergreen books which were not, as she once believed, books about evergreens, but books that never went out of style, like Little Women or anything by Jane Austen or, dammit, by that villain Hans Christian Andersen.

Not that Andersen started it all. He didn’t. It was those Grimm brothers, two better named individuals she had never met.

It didn’t matter that Mellie had set them straight. By then, their “tales” were already on the market, poison ing the well, so to speak. (Or the apple. Those boys did love their poisons. It would have been so much bet ter for all concerned if they had turned their attention to crime fiction. They could have invented the entire category. But noooo. They had to focus on what they called “fairies,” as misnamed as their little “tales.”)

She made herself breathe. Even alone with her own thoughts, she couldn’t help going on a bit of a rant about those creepy little men.

She made herself turn away from the gigantic build ing and walk to the back of her minivan. With the push of a button, the hatchback unlocked (now that was magic) and she pulled the thing open.
Fifty signs and placards leaned haphazardly against each other. Last time, she’d only needed twenty. She hoped she would use all fifty this time.

She glanced at her watch. One hour until the Book Unfair opened.

Half an hour until her group showed up.

Mellie glared at the building again. Sometimes she thought of these things like a maze she needed to thread her way through. But this was a fortress, one she needed to conquer. All those entrances intimidated her. It was impossible to tell where she’d get the most media exposure. Certainly not at the front doors, with the handicapped ramp blocking access along one side.

Once someone else arrived to help her hand out the plac ards, she could leave for a few minutes and reconnoiter.

She wanted the maximum amount of air time for the minimum amount of exposure. She’d learned long ago that if she gave the media too much time in the begin ning, they’d distort everything she said.
Better to parcel out information bit by bit.

The Book Unfair was only her first salvo.

But she knew it would be the most important.


He parked his silver Mercedes at the far end of the mas sive parking lot. He did it not so that he wouldn’t be recognized—he wouldn’t be, anyway—but because he’d learned long ago that if he parked his Mercedes anywhere near the front, the car would either end up with door dings and key scratches, or would go missing.

He reached into the glove box and removed his prized purple bookseller’s badge. He had worked for two years to acquire that thing. Not that he minded. It still amazed him that no one at the palace had thought of opening a bookstore on the grounds.

He could still hear his father’s initial objection: We are not shopkeepers! He’d said it in that tone that meant shopkeepers were lower than scullery maids. In fact, shopkeepers had become his father’s favorite epithet in the past few decades, scullery maid being both politi cally and familially incorrect.
It took some convincing—the resident scholars had to prove to his father’s satisfaction that true shopkeep ers made a living at what they did, and in no way would a bookstore on the palace grounds provide anyone’s living—but the bookstore finally happened.

With it came a myriad of book catalogues and dis counts and advance reading copies and a little bit of bookish swag.

He’d been in heaven. Particularly when he realized he could attend every single book fair in the Greater World and get free books.

Not that he couldn’t pay for his own books—he could, as well as books for each person in the entire Third Kingdom (which he did last year, to much com plaint: it seemed everyone thought they would be tested on the contents of said gift books. Not everyone loved reading as much as he did, more’s the pity).

Books had been his retreat since boyhood. He loved hiding in imaginary worlds. Back then, books were harder to come by, often hidden in monasteries (and going to those had caused some consternation for his parents until they realized he was reading, not practic ing for his future profession). Once the printing press caught on, he bought his own books—he now devoted the entire winter palace to his collection—but it still wasn’t enough.

If he could, he would read every single book ever written—or at least scan them, trying to get a sense
of them. Even with the unusually long life granted to peo ple of the Third Kingdom, especially when compared with people in the Greater World (the world that had provided his Mercedes and this quite exciting book fair), he would never achieve it. There were simply too many existing books in too many languages, with too many more being written all the time.

He felt overwhelmed when he thought of all the books he hadn’t read, all the books he wanted to read, and all the books he would want to read. Not to mention all the books that he hadn’t heard of.

Those dismayed him the most.

Hence, the book fair.

He was told to come early. There was a breakfast for booksellers—coffee and doughnuts, the website said, free of charge. He loved this idea of free as an enticement. He wondered if he could use it for anything back home.

The morning was clear, with the promise of great heat. A smog bank had started to form over Los Angeles, and he couldn’t see the ocean, although the brochures assured him it was somewhere nearby. The parking lot looked like a city all by itself. It went on for blocks, delineated only by signs that labeled the rows with double letters.

The only other car in this part of the lot wasn’t a car at all but one of those minivans built so that families could take their possessions and their entertainment systems with them.

The attractive black-haired woman unloading a pas sel of signs from the van looked familiar to him, but he couldn’t remember where he had seen her before.

He wasn’t about to go ask her either. His divorce had left him feeling very insecure, especially around women. Whenever he saw a pretty woman, the words of his ex-wife rose in his head.

She had screamed them at him in that very last fight, the horrible, unforgettable fight when she took the glass slipper—the thing that defined all that was good and pure in their relationship—and heaved it against the wall above his head.

Not so charming now, are you, asshole? Nope, not charming at all.

He had to concede she had a point—although he never would have conceded it to her. Still, those for merly dulcet tones echoed in his brain whenever he looked in the mirror and saw not the square-jawed hero who saved her from a life of poverty, but a balding, paunchy middle-aged man who would never achieve his full potential—not without killing his father, and that was a different story entirely.

Charming squared his shoulders and pinned his pre cious name badge to his shirt. The name badge did not use his real name. It used his nom de plume—which sounded a lot more romantic than The Name He Used Because His Real Name Was Stupid.

He called himself Dave. Dave Encanto, for those who required last names. His family didn’t even have a last name—that’s how long they’d been around—and even though he knew Prince was now considered a last name, he couldn’t bring himself to use it.

He couldn’t bring himself to use any name, really. He still thought of himself as Charming even though he knew his ex was right—he wasn’t “charming” anymore. Not that he didn’t try. It was just that charming used to come easily to him, when he had a head full of black, black hair, and an unwrinkled face, and the squarest of square jaws.

Prince Charming was a young man’s name, in truth, and then only the name of an arrogant young man. To use that name now would seem like wish fulfillment or a really bad joke. He couldn’t go with P.C. because the initials had been usurped, and people would catch the double irony of a prince trying to be p.c. with his own name change.

And as for Prince—that name was overused. In addi tion to the musician, Princes abounded. People named their horses Prince, for heaven’s sake, and their dogs, and their surrogate children. In other words, only the nutty named a human being Prince these days, and much as Charming resented his father, he couldn’t put either of his parents in the nutty category.

So he told people to call him Dave, which was em phatically not a family name. Too many family names had been co-opted as well—Edward, George, Louis, Philippe, even Harry, not just by another prince, but by some very famous, very fictional, magical potter’s kid.

Dave, not David, a man who could go anywhere in cognito any time he liked. Gone were the days when people would do a double-take, and some would say, Aren’t you…? or You know you look just like that prince—whatsisname?—Charming.

Now they nodded and looked past him, hoping to see someone more important. Which was why he preferred the Greater World to the Third Kingdom. In the Greater World, they knew he wasn’t the Prince Charming. To them, the Prince Charming was a man in a fairy tale, a creature of unattainable perfection, or—more accurately (he believed) a cartoon character, an animated hero.

He was none of those things. True, he had a longer-than-usual life, but that caused longer than usual problems—like waiting for his father, who also had a longer-than-usual life, to kick the proverbial bucket (which in the Third Kingdom, wasn’t as proverbial as you might think).

But as for magical powers, Charming had none, be sides that all-encompassing charm, that Ella had told him, in no uncertain terms, was gone now. Ella, who got his estates, half of his money, and custody of their two daughters because—true to form—his father wouldn’t let Charming contest the divorce over girls.

Charming sighed and started across the monstrous parking lot. Several other cars were pouring into the first entrance, way up front, near the doors. The park ing there, he knew from the emails he had gotten, was reserved for booksellers and the disabled—or the dif ferently abled, as he had been bidden to say. The emails claimed he would need the close-in parking for the hun dreds of pounds of books he would lug back to his car at regular intervals. But he had lugged chain mail and two injured companions over a hundred miles. He figured he could handle a few books.

The attractive woman had pulled out the last sign. He saw the initials—PETA—and felt a surge of disap pointment. He’d seen what those animal rights lovers had done to his mother’s favorite fur coat the one and only time he had taken her to the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan. His mother had been horribly traumatized, although not so traumatized that she forgot to command him to bring the entire cast of the Met to the Third Kingdom at the end of every opera season.

Charming walked around the attractive woman, re sisting the urge to stare at her. Instead, he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.

She had hit that age when women moved from cute and perky to beautiful and sometimes even handsome. This woman had a narrow face and raven black hair, the kind that always attracted him. She wore a short-sleeved black jacket over matching black pants, along with a red blouse that accented her unlined skin.

She looked like the kind of woman who knew ex actly what she wanted and exactly how to get it. The kind of woman who ran boardrooms and households with equal ease.

The kind of woman his ex most certainly was not.

He shuddered at the thought of Ella. No matter how much he tried to forget her, he couldn’t. He’d had hopes for that relationship. He had hoped it wouldn’t be an empty relationship, like his parents’ relationship. He had hoped it would be based on trust and mutual interests, and most of all, on love.

He had loved Ella. He had loved her a lot.

But he had paid for his myopia time and time again, for the fact he hadn’t recognized her when he had seen her covered with ash from her stepmother’s fireplace, a fact that Ella—in all the years of their marriage—never let him forget.

In those days, he hadn’t known he needed glasses. No one used glasses back then, well, no one important anyway. A few people wore a magnifying glass over their eyes, but a king’s son certainly couldn’t, not if he wished to maintain his dignity.

His mother had paid for a few spells to improve his eyesight, but the damn things always wore off at the most inconvenient times. He’d been married a year when he got his first pair of glasses—and he’d gotten them in defiance of his entire family, including his wife. But none of them had nearly died on the field of battle, because the damn spell wore off as he was in the middle of hand-to-hand combat with one of the champions from the other side. The entire world went from crystal clear to blurry in a half a second, and he flailed miserably.
Fortunately, in the flailing, he’d managed to disarm (and accidentally dismember) his opponent.

It ended well for Charming—in those days, things usually did—making him even more of a hero to his people.

But they didn’t know it was an accident because he couldn’t see anything.

Not that he ever wore his glasses on the field of battle. His family wouldn’t hear of that (and truthfully, the thought frightened him—glasses broke at the most inopportune times and in the most inopportune ways. Eye-gouging was a favorite practice in those days—one of the few things the early fairy tales [misnamed stories of his—and other people’s—exploits] got right).

He had passed the woman now. For a brief moment, he fantasized that she would look up from her struggle with the PETA signs (why did the gorgeous ones always have a tinge of nutcase to them?) and would see him. She would watch him walk with great interest, as if he were still the Charming of old, thinking how much she’d like to meet him (and maybe how much she’d like to do other things with him).

The very thought made him blush. Then it made him grimace. He didn’t do himself any favors by letting his imagination run wild. That had been the problem the first time. He’d seen a pretty, petite girl at a ball—honestly, the prettiest girl he’d seen up until that time—and he’d convinced himself he was in love. He had been in lust, but fairy tales didn’t deal with lust. And neither did virtuous king’s sons—at least, not in their conscious mind. But the subconscious… well, that was a different story.

Back then, he hadn’t known what a subconscious was. Or what failure was.

Or how it felt to be balding and no longer distin guished. Just another middle-aged man with a purple badge, heading into a book fair.

Charming sighed. He tried to put the attractive woman out of his mind. He still had something to look forward to—something he enjoyed greatly. Something he couldn’t get back home.

Coffee. Doughnuts. And insight into this season’s bestsellers.


Mellie watched the handsome man walk the length of the parking lot. She had only caught a glimpse of his profile, but it was classic: high cheekbones, square jaw, aquiline nose. The frame of his glasses was so thin that it looked like an arrow pointing to his stunning salt-and-pepper hair.

He wore what was known as business casual—a long-sleeved shirt and dark pants (no suit coat, no tie) but he still looked elegant. Some of that was the clothing itself; there was nothing casual about it. It was tailored to fit—and fit it did, over a well-muscled back, broad shoulders, and a
nice tight—

She shook her head and looked away. If she really thought about it, she had to acknowledge that men were the source of her troubles. From her beloved first husband who had left her a young widow with two extremely young daughters to her know-it-all second husband who stupidly introduced her as a fait accompli to his own daughter starting a resentment that continued to this day, men had been the root cause of her dilemmas from the moment Mellie had hit the public eye.

Of course, she had handled things badly. She always thought that any publicity was good publicity. Little did she realize that once someone had defined you to the media, then it didn’t matter how many charities you gave to or how many advanced degrees you had, you would always be the evil stepmother, the wicked witch, or worse, the aging malignant crone.

At least she had avoided that last category—for now, anyway. She felt it hovering around her, like the fly ing monkeys from the stupid Hollywood version of The Wizard of Oz.

She heard a sound and turned. The man behind her was exceptionally attractive. He had pale blue eyes and glossy black hair that fell like a mane around his face. He also left a trail of wet footprints heading west. He was a selkie whose real name she did not (of course) know. He carried his pelt over his right arm and this time he wore human clothing.

He had actually stopped their first protest earlier this year by pulling off his pelt and having nothing suit able on underneath it. (Although she could see why the human storytellers had felt threatened by these creatures from the sea: not only were they preternaturally good-looking, they were also very well endowed.)

“As people show up, will you hand out signs?” she asked. “I need to figure out where we’ll stage our protest.”

She shoved the last pile of signs at him, not giving him a chance to say anything, and then she hurried along the parking lot.

Midway there, she realized she was trying to catch that ever-so-elegant man and she slowed her steps.

She had sworn off men decades ago.

She wasn’t about to let one distract her now.

 

Chapter 2


The coffee was bitter and only the inedible coconut-covered doughnuts were left. Charming should have ar rived earlier. Still he poured himself a cup, grabbed one of the few remaining paper plates, and found a maple bar crammed against the back of the doughnut box. Then he settled into a chair at the back of the room.

The panel was already talking about social media and whether or not it meant the death of the book, a topic that always broke his heart. He understood the im portance of stories—he’d been raised on stories. Bards had come to his father’s court before Charming could even read. But the best stories were the ones he accessed privately—and a screen never really felt private to him.
Still, he listened politely, getting more and more dis couraged, until he finished his maple bar and fled.

The doors to the main exhibition hall were locked, with guards standing out front. The guards didn’t look that formidable—two fat security guards in uniform, and several bookish types with their arms crossed, trying to look tough.

Too late for doughnuts; too early to see the books. Story of his life.

Still, he had some time before the exhibition hall opened, so he decided to explore. He knew from his convention packet that there were side rooms, meeting rooms, conference rooms, and the all-important media room where the famous people, from the writers to the politicians/actors/musicians who loaned their names to books, gave interviews about whatever seemed impor tant at the time.

The hallways were unbelievably wide so that they could accommodate crowds and wheelchairs, and yet he was the only person in them, except for the occasional publishing house salesman scrambling to put the finish ing touches on a booth. From a distance, he caught the scent of cafeteria food, and remembered that they would all be able to buy lunch here if they were so inclined.

He was inclined, especially after that maple bar. There were no restaurants nearby, and he didn’t want to lose his parking space.

He meandered, glancing at computer-generated signs telling him that the small press area was in a building to his left, the affiliated organizations were in the base ment, and the media room was down the hall.

The media room was closest. Besides, he had a hunch he’d spend time in the media room and wouldn’t in the affiliated organizations area. He didn’t want to leave the building—not yet, maybe not ever. This wasn’t his first book fair, and he’d learned that he couldn’t see every thing in the main exhibit hall, let alone everything in the other wings and buildings.

The amount of things published in English alone scared him. In English in the United States. Not counting England, Canada, or Australia. Not counting all the other countries and their own presses in their own languages.

Sometimes he thought of starting his own publishing company back home, but these things tended to spawn more publishing companies, and then there’d be book fairs, and then he’d have to read everything published in the Kingdoms—not just everythingwritten about the Kingdoms, which had been going on for centuries.

He felt overwhelmed just thinking about it.

The media room signs pointed to both a flight of stairs and to a bank of elevators. He stopped and looked at the map for this network of buildings. The media room wasn’t a room; it was an entire wing.

Which made sense, since most of the programming he wanted to see was held in the media room. He’d had to get tickets ahead of time, sometimes at extra cost, just so that he could see his favorite authors expound on something he probably didn’t care about.

Still, he was enough of a geek to want to see the people whose work he enjoyed, even if they were talk ing about something else. He’d gotten as many tickets to as many events as he could. He’d sit in the back of the room, though, because there would be cameras.

Not that he was famous here in the Greater World—he wasn’t (unless you counted that whole Prince Charming thing [every girl was looking for one, or so he was told]). He had simply learned over the years that the camera loved him. He had a bit more charisma than the average author, so camera operators would focus on his reactions to various speeches.

He became the “average reader” nodding and smiling as his favorite author spoke. No one recognized him as Prince Charming. No one even thought he was a celebrity. But for a year or so, he became “Reaction Man”—the go-to guy on Book TV. If Charming had been near an au thor who gave a speech, and that speech was filmed, then inevitably, Charming would find his own face flittering across Book TV—laughing, looking very serious, or ap plauding as the writer said something worthwhile.

Charming hated that. At first, he’d thought it a simple error. Then he saw it repeated over and over again. Then, at one of the smaller book fairs, he overheard segment producers asking if someone could find Reaction Man so that they could actually interview him.

From that point on, Charming hid in the back of the room, in the dark, away from the lights, never raised his hand and—sadly—never asked his favorite writers for autographs at the end of their talk.

But to get that coveted back-of-the-room spot, he had to scope out the room and find the darkest corner. Moments like this were the best time to do so, when no one important was around—especially not the camera operators or the producers.

The wing had several function rooms. He stopped in the hall and double-checked his program. He might have to investigate more than one room.

He would just have to find out which one.


Mellie pulled her badge out of her purse. The badge was a disgusting orange, the designated color for “affiliated organizations.” She had registered PETA with the book fair right at the start, although she’d had to use the orga nization’s full name—People for the Ethical Treatment of Archetypes—because (apparently) the other, more famous, PETA was both hated and feared.
Rather like she had been once, for a brief span of her life, back when she was searching for Snow White.

Mellie sighed. She didn’t miss those days. In fact, she wished she could wipe them out entirely. But they defined her life, whether she wanted them to or not.

She rounded the building—which was bigger than half the castles in the Kingdoms (uglier too)—and found the double doors leading into the north wing. The north wing, according to her book fair materials packet, held the media room, and the publicity area, and the inter view room—all the places she cared most about.

She carried flyers in her book bag. The flyers would get her into the publicity area. Savvy book fair attend ees knew to put their flyers in the publicity area and on their booth. Especially when their badge category was relegated to the basement like hers was.

She’d tried to get a press badge, which would have given her the run of this wing. She’d even started a newsletter, with book reviews and everything. But the book fair committee—while not exactly telling her she was an amateur, implied it:

Due to the preponderance of regular media, the re fusal letter had said, we are unable to give more than one hundred passes to smaller media organizations. We thank you for your interest in our fair.

“We thank you for your interest in our fair,” she mouthed, still annoyed at that. Apparently there were limitations on press, but none on affiliated organizations. If you were willing to pony up the exorbitant fee—damn near ten times the fee for the booksellers (those folks got in almost for free)—then you could have a booth in the affiliated organizations area.

She’d gotten Griselda, Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother, to man the booth most of the time. Griselda—or Selda, as she preferred—could talk about their cause without getting furious. She was a true asset. But she had gone through counseling and done lots of work here in the Greater World. Selda wasn’t even angry at her former husband for making up all the lies about her. She said such things happened all the time in abusive relationships.

Mellie slipped through the double doors into the loading dock. The media area always got the best load ing dock, mostly because it needed a place to safely park the various trucks—including satellite trucks, which got brought in on the second day for the keynote speaker.

This year’s keynote wasn’t all that spectacular—some bestselling writer who wrote thrillers. In previous years, there’d been former presidents. Mellie had been hoping a former president this time. The former presi dents did force the place to have added security, but that didn’t matter as much as the added media coverage. Just because one of those former heads of state visited—and they were, in her mind, rather minor, considering they only ruled for a maximum of eight years (why would anyone agree to that?)—every major news organization showed up in droves. And the fair got coverage on all the major channels as well as the minor ones.

No such luck this year. She’d been disappointed when she figured that out. But, she decided, this book fair would be a practice run at a bigger media blitz. She’d convince places to report on her grievances, and then maybe—if she got lucky—she’d become a keynote speaker at one of these things. Her goal this weekend was minor. All she wanted was local press coverage.

Although “local” in Los Angeles was a misnomer. If nothing else, her footage would air on major affili ates from here to New York. If this worked, she’d head from here to the publishing capital of the United States to press her case.

Her breath caught. Beneath it all, she was very, very nervous. She had a lot resting on this.
She really wanted to make a difference in countless lives, and this was the only way she knew how.

She wound her way around cables strewn across the concrete floor, past trucks with station logos emblazoned on the side, past brawny men with droopy pants carrying light and sound equipment up a small flight of stairs.

A number of the men smiled at her as they went by. She still looked good. Her old self—the pre-disaster self—would’ve seen that as a positive sign. Now she knew it for what it was, a symptom of the world’s—both worlds’ (hers and this one’s)—obsession with beauty over substance.
When she’d had real beauty, she’d had little substance. Now that she was older, she had a lot of substance, but she was nowhere near as beautiful as she had been before.

Although she did have a bit of glamour. A touch of the magical that made her seem larger than life here in the Greater World. She’d learn to use that to press for her cause.

She waited until another group of sweaty men carry ing equipment went up the small flight of stairs into the main part of the building. Then she scurried up the steps behind them.

She had a few missions: First, she’d scout out the locations, find the green room, find the interview room, and find the celebrity hideout for the on-air talent con signed to this place. Then she’d see if she could line up an interview or two. If some security guard saw her badge and told her that she didn’t belong, she’d pull out her flyers, and bat her eyes, and ask (oh-so-dejectedly) where the publicity room was.

She’d also find the best place to stage a protest. Maybe she’d do it during the keynote speech, which wasn’t until mid-afternoon tomorrow. She knew from experience that she could probably store her signs in the loading dock or one of the small, unused closets alongside it.

She stepped into the hall. The lights were brighter here, the air cooler (air conditioning—one of the best in ventions ever in the Greater World), and the floor softly carpeted. The color scheme left a lot to be desired—whoever thought rose red and sky blue made for a good combination?—but she wasn’t the one who had to put all that garishness on film.

She just had to use it to her advantage.

She clutched her book bag to her side, flipped her badge over so that its white back was the only visible part, and made her way to the keynote speech area. First she’d figure out if she had room for a protest there. Then she’d find the interview room.

The hallway was surprisingly empty—no sweaty men carrying equipment, no overly made-up on-air tal ent trying to find the green room. No one except that elegant man she’d seen earlier.
He stood with his back to her as he peered at the pro gram listing outside one of the function rooms.

His back was stunning. She really couldn’t get over those broad shoulders, the hint of muscle through the beautifully tailored shirt, the way that it all tucked into the form-fitting pants—

She shook off the thought and made herself look away, her cheeks warm as if she were a young maiden like she’d been before her first marriage.

Of course the elegant man would be down here. He was probably on-air talent. He wouldn’t be national—she would’ve recognized him, even from (especially from?) the back. He was probably the main anchor at one of the local affiliates. They liked their main anchors to have some judiciously silver hair—sometimes they even made the men dye the silver in, so they had that classy salt-and-pepper look.

Male anchors had to look authoritative, but approach able. The knowledgeable, trustworthy guy on the block, not too handsome, but handsome enough.

Or in the parlance of fairy tales: Just Right.

He was Just Right, even from the back. Especially from the back.

Her cheeks grew even warmer. She pressed her hands against them, willing the reaction to go away. She didn’t need to get all hot and bothered over some local anchor.

Although he might make a good contact. Maybe she could even sweet-talk him into an interview.

She let her hands drop away from her cheeks. She took off her badge and smoothed her clothes. She swept one hand over her hair—it felt like all the strands were in place—and she suddenly felt thankful for that blush. It would highlight her skin (still flawless after all these years) and make her seem more vibrant.

She straightened, then sashayed toward him, trying to figure out how, exactly, she would approach him. Maybe she’d pretend to be an expert on the building. Or better yet, someone who was as lost as he was. They’d have something in common, a bit of instant camaraderie.
As she approached, she saw him turn slightly. He reached for the door, then stopped as if he thought the better of it. He glanced over each shoulder quickly, as if he were doing something wrong.

He didn’t see her.

Which was a good thing.

Because she stopped walking, her heart in her throat.

He wasn’t an anchor at all.

He was a Charming.

 

Chapter 3

Charming slipped inside the main function room and shivered. Someone had turned the air conditioning on “icicle,” probably in anticipation of large crowds for the various speeches. This room was huge—as big, if not bigger, than most hotel ballrooms. At least five hundred seats had been placed too close together, and a bit too close to the makeshift stage.

The room had already been set up for a panel discussion. A long table sat on top of a dais, with microphones in front of four seats. No names yet—someone always set the name placards out just before the thing started—but an ice-filled pitcher of water along with four glasses sat on a little coaster in the middle of the table.

It was so cold in here that ice probably wouldn’t melt.

He rubbed his hands together. Someone had taped x’s to the floor on either side of the table, a sugges tion for the camera operators—a suggestion that would probably irritate them. A sound board sat near the door, already hooked up, which was good for him. That meant that no one from the media would be anywhere near the back.

He walked to the back of the room, realized there was space for at least another two hundred chairs (some of which were stacked against the far wall), and glanced up at the lighting. It was regular conical lighting—more flattering than fluorescents—but also good for him. Conical lights created circles. Circles overlapped, but they also created shadows.

The door banged.

He froze, glanced over, not wanting to be caught in the room alone. Not that there was anything wrong with it. He just hated the hassle.

But no one had come in.

He let out a small sigh, then looked up again, double-checking what he already sensed. He walked over to the farthest chair deep in the shadows, and took out the extra program he’d filched off one of the doughnut tables. He set the program on his chair, and wrote “reserved” across it in Magic Marker.

Even if someone moved the program, they’d only move it a seat or two away. He had his spot for the first panel discussion.

Now all he had to do was find similar spots in the other function rooms. By the time he was done, the ex hibition hall would be open.

And he’d be ready to enjoy the book fair.

Like he always did.


A Charming.

A Charming in the middle of a book fair.

What was a Charming doing here?

He was trying to get in the way of Mellie’s message, that’s what. Charmings benefited from the archetype. Charmings were the flipside of the Wicked Stepmother motif. Charmings were desired and desirable.

Charmings were the bane of her existence.

Now there was one in the middle of her book fair, about to destroy her carefully laid plans.

And she couldn’t stand for that.

Mellie hurried to the door as it eased closed. She managed to catch it before it latched. She peered through the opening.

He was surveying the room, probably going over his speech, dammit.

She finally saw him full-on. He was breathtakingly handsome—all of the Charmings were—albeit a little older than the last time she had seen him. She could at least pinpoint that date.

The end of what the Greater World called the nine teenth century. Those horrible Grimm brothers had already published their lies for the entire world to see. The lies had seeped into the Kingdoms, and they were making life difficult for everyone concerned.

Well, not everyone. The younger women came off rather well (if they didn’t mind being considered beau tiful victims) and the Charmings had become heroes. None of them were called Charming then; they were “the king’s son” or “the prince”—always single and perfectly willing to marry beneath them, unlike most princes now.

If she was really being honest, the people who came off poorly were the older women (evil stepmothers, witches hiding in the woods), the ugly men (Bluebeard—who really was indefensible; and the cursed Beast, who wasn’t), and Those Who Were Different.
Some of Those Who Were Different got a pass, even if they didn’t get the girl—the so-called Dwarfs in the so-called Snow White tale; good old Tom Thumb (who was small, but not as tiny as everyone said); and that conniving little tailor. All of these men were abnor mally short (she later figured it was probably due to a failure of nutrition in the Kingdoms), but somehow positive role models.

Unlike her old friend Rumpelstiltskin, who was also short. And loud. And a bit of a con man. He didn’t de serve to be the bad guy any more than she deserved to be a witch and a murderer.
But so it went in storyland.

Those who didn’t mind the lies told about them felt that no one should do anything about Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. Or Hans Christian Andersen for that matter. Or Oscar Wilde (although, if she told the truth, she had to admit she liked the wry tone of some of his fairy tales).

She held a meeting way back then, and nothing had come of it, except the first (and only) meeting of all of the so-called fairy tale characters in one place.

All those Charmings. They looked so different—Sleeping Beauty’s self-assured Charming; Cinderella’s handsomer, slightly shy Charming; and of course, the Charming Mellie knew well, her former son-in-law, Snow White’s Charming. Who was charming on first glance, and got more and more creepy as time went on.

Mellie sighed. She knew the man in the room wasn’t Snow’s Charming. But she wasn’t sure if he was Beauty’s Charming or Ella’s Charming. He could’ve been one of the lesser Charmings—the Goose Girl’s Charming or Rapunzel’s Charming. They all had that bit of look-at-me glamour, whether they wanted it or not.

The hundred-plus years had changed this Charming just enough to make him hard to recognize.

At the meeting, none of the Charmings had silver highlights, and none of them wore glasses. This Charming’s glasses accented his square face and strong features, making him look intelligent and oh-so-handsome all at the same time.

In fact, his front was much better than his back, and his back had been spectacular. It had been a long time since she’d seen a man this desirable and—

She backed away from the door. It banged closed and she cursed.

The last thing she wanted to do was interact with a Charming. They were all so handsome and so sure of themselves, and so dismissive of older women—even though all of the Charmings were more of an age with the stepmothers than with the girls they married.

She wasn’t sure what to do or how to confront him. Or even if she should confront him at all.

Maybe she should just follow him around and see what subversive activity he was up to.

Of course, if she did that, she’d never accomplish her mission.

Better to stop him in his tracks now, to let him know she was here and she wasn’t going away. No matter what lies he told.

Here’s how you order the rest of the book. The mass market edition is in bookstores now.  You can get it through your favorite bookstore or order it here. The ebook is widely available.  Here are the links to Kindle and Barnes & Noble. Other ebookstores should have it as well.


 

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