Mid-Month Novel Excerpt: Charming Blue
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 of 2011. 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 sixteen novels, click here.
This month, I’ve excerpted Charming Blue, which I wrote as Kristine Grayson. The storyline follows Wickedly Charming, but you don’t have to have read that book to read this one. The Grayson novels are marketed as romance, but in truth, they’re light fantasy.
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.
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 how—through 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 before—and 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
Copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Published by Sourcebooks
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 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, stonelike, 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 19th 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 still 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 knock-off 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 CGI-ed. 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, 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 screen writer) 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, when she 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 20th century, when it became clear that modernity would cause tensions in the Kingdoms themselves.
Until the late 19th 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 14th 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, but which was 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 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 phone, 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 make-up 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 make-up 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 make-up, 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 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 he’s not the one killing them? 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, 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.”
Jodi sat perfectly still as she tried to process that information. The Fairy Tale Stalker was really one of the magical? She looked at the stalker’s image, still floating above her desk just a few feet from Tank.
He wasn’t anyone Jodi knew, and she knew most of the magical in Los Angeles. At least, most of the magical tied to fairy tales. There was another grouping of magical whose stories got retold as myths and legends, including all of the Greek and Norse gods. Some of them lived in LA as well, but most of them chose to remain in their own worlds (which they didn’t call Kingdoms, although her people did). She didn’t know them, nor did she know more than one or two people in the Celtic Fairy Circles, although she had met the King of the Fairies in Las Vegas, once upon a time.
“What do you think I can do about this?” Jodi asked.
Tank crossed her arms over that sparkly black top. “You can fix it. You are a fixer, right?”
“I’m a fixer,” Jodi said, “but not a detective. All of the detectives I know are either humans who don’t believe in magic or they’re magical and working in their own realms. This is one area where no one crosses between the Kingdoms and the Greater World.”
Tank tilted her head sideways, her perfect blue eyes glittering with anger. “Gosh, gee. I didn’t know that, Boss. Thanks for enlightening me. Now maybe you can get me a job in a Disney movie or something.”
Tank thought Disney and Disney movies the lowest of the low. If any of her little tribe worked for the Big D, as she usually called that corporation, she disowned them.
“No need to be vicious,” Jodi said, “and I still don’t understand why this is my problem.”
Tank uncrossed her arms and put her hands on the top of the chair. “So it’s not your problem even if he starts fulfilling his threats?”
“You think I can stop some violent killer?” Jodi asked. “Since you know my name, you also know that I have organizational magic and nothing else. That little trick you’re doing with the image there? Way beyond my capacity.”
“Actually, it’s outside your capacity,” Tank said. “Not beyond your capacity. You’re quite capable within the boundaries of your magic. How do you think you’ve managed in this tough environment all this time?”
Jodi’s eyes widened. Tank had just given her a compliment. Tank never gave anyone compliments.
“Why don’t you find him?” Jodi asked. “You have a powerful magic. You can figure out who he is and report him to the police.”
“The Los Angeles Police Department?” Tank asked. “Seriously? If I could appear to them, which I can’t —”
“Use your magic,” Jodi said. “You can come up with a plausible disguise.”
“I don’t debase myself like that,” Tank said. “And even if I did, how do I make them catch a guy who can appear and disappear in various rooms? He’ll be as slippery as fog, and you know it.”
“I can’t do anything,” Jodi said. “I can’t catch him.”
Tank sighed and rolled her eyes. Then she leaned forward and almost fell off the chair. She caught herself deftly. If Jodi hadn’t been watching her so closely, she wouldn’t have seen the move at all.
Tank was rarely clumsy. She really had to be upset.
“You can figure out the basis of someone’s magic,” Tank said. “That’s how you get them into the right job or the right house or make them comfortable or whatever the hell it is you do. So figure out what his magic is. Because it doesn’t sound like any I’m familiar with.”
Jodi picked up a pen and tapped it on the desk calendar she had scribbled all her appointments on. The thing was covered with circles and lines and crossed-out meetings.
Tank didn’t look down at the calendar. She just kept staring at Jodi. Jodi had never seen Tank passionate about anything. Tank was an impish little fairy, a gadfly (almost literally), a troublemaker. But she didn’t seem to be making trouble here.
“You’re lying to me, Tank. You don’t care about this stalker guy.”
Tank straightened. She snapped her fingers and the artist’s sketch disappeared. The fairy dust holding it up fell to the floor like a cluster of tiny stars.
“That’s right,” Tank said softly. “I care about Blue.”
“Blue?” Jodi frowned.
“Bluebeard.” Tank actually looked vulnerable. “He’s being unjustly accused.”
“Bluebeard?” Jodi asked. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“No,” Tank said. “I’m not. He didn’t do this. He’s not going after these women.”
“So?” Jodi said. “Why should I care? He murdered his wives.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure,” Jodi said. “Everyone knows it. It’s not one of those Grimm Brother lies.”
“Centuries ago,” Tank said.
Jodi’s mouth opened. She couldn’t believe Tank had just said that. “So?” Jodi said. “He killed people. I don’t care if it was yesterday or a million yesterdays ago. He’s not someone I want to help.”
“So do it for me,” Tank said.
Jodi dropped the pen. It rolled across the desktop and fell onto the floor. She didn’t bother to catch it. “For you?”
Tank nodded, looking vulnerable. Tank never looked vulnerable.
“Because you want to help Bluebeard?”
Tank nodded again.
“So you care about him? Really? You like him?”
Tank bowed her head for a minute. Her body lost all of its tension, and her wings fell against her back.
“Yeah,” she said. “I care about him.”
“God,” Jodi said. “They said he could make anyone fall in love with him, but I didn’t believe it.”
Tank straightened. “I am not in love with him.”
“But,” Jodi said, undeterred. “He was a Charming once. One of those Princes Charming, which means he has the power to charm.”
“I am not in love with him,” Tank said.
“And,” Jodi said, more to herself than to Tank, “he would’ve needed the power to charm to get the second through fifteenth wife to fall in love with him, especially after the beheading rumors started.”
“I am not in love with him!” Tank said. “I just like him. He’s…broken.”
That caught Jodi’s attention, more than Tank’s denials. “Broken?”
“He doesn’t go near people, and he makes sure they stay away from him. I’ve taken him to rehab I don’t know how many times, and the day he gets out he starts drinking again. It’s really sad.”
Jodi had never seen Tank like this. She seemed sincere. No anger, no sarcasm, no need to control.
“I’m not helping Bluebeard,” Jodi said. “I don’t care what you say about him. I don’t care if he feels bad that he killed his wives and it’s driving him to drink. I don’t care that he can’t get sober. I really don’t. I don’t even care that his reputation is being—well, I was going to say ruined, but how do you ruin a serial killer’s reputation anyway? I guess by only stalking the women and not touching them. So far, I don’t see any reason to get involved, Tank. It is what it is.”
“And if this stalker guy starts killing?” Tank asked. “Will you care then?”
Jodi threaded her fingers together and rested her hands on the calendar. She didn’t want Tank to see that with that question, Tank had gotten her attention.
But Tank noticed. Tank noticed everything.
“He’s threatened them. The police say it’s only a matter of time before he carries through, and I believe them. I talked to one of the victims. She said it was like he was holding himself back, rubbing his hands together, pushing them against his own chest like he was afraid he would lose control of them. What if he is one of us, Jodi? What if he’s lost it somehow, if his magic is starting to go awry? What if he can’t stop this much longer?”
Tank was leaning forward again, balancing precariously on the top of the chair. Jodi blinked twice, and focused her vision. She looked briefly at Tank’s aura. Tank’s aura was bright white, so bright that it hurt Jodi’s magical eye, so Jodi looked away quickly, trying to see if there were magical lines between Tank and Jodi.
If there were lines, it would mean that Tank was casting a spell on Jodi. Tank would be furious that Jodi looked at her aura, but Jodi had never seen Tank act like this. Not ever.
Tank wasn’t trying to fool her or charm her or make fun of her.
Tank was serious.
And Tank was never this kind of serious.
Jodi blinked away the aura, returning to her normal sight. “I still don’t know what I can do.”
“Go talk to Blue,” Tank said. “He might have some insight into what’s going on.”
Jodi shuddered. “You mean consult one serial killer about his probably successor?”
“I mean,” Tank said, “that maybe Blue will recognize the guy or the pattern or something.”
“Why don’t you talk to him?” Jodi asked.
“I can’t,” Tank said. “Someone put wards around rehab center.”
“If there are magical wards, I can’t get in either,” Jodi said.
“Wards against fairies,” Tank said in exasperation. “Last I checked, you weren’t a fairy.”
“Thank heavens,” Jodi said.
Tank’s wings started fluttering. “So you’ll go?”
“I don’t want to,” Jodi said.
“Think of it as a favor,” Tank said. “For me.”
That was the second time Tank had said it was for her. Only this time, by invoking the word “favor,” she was making it real. Now Jodi was truly shocked. Favors were debts, and fairies avoided going into debt.
“You’re serious,” Jodi said. “That’s really putting yourself out, Tank, for people you don’t know.”
“I know Blue,” she said, still rising.
“And he’s worth all of this?” Jodi asked.
“I think so. I know you don’t, but I do.” Tank shrugged, then grabbed onto the leather seat top to maintain her balance. “You should think those women are worth your time, right? So you’ll do it, okay?”
She didn’t wait for an answer. She flew upwards, then backwards, away from Jodi, as if the conversation upset her. As Tank flew, she opened her palm. A wand appeared in it, glistening with gold fairy dust. She tapped one of the window panes, coating it in dust, and then flew through it.
Jodi got up, and hurried to the window just in time to see the pane reappear. Tank hadn’t had to go through reception when she arrived. She could have just opened the window like she had done a moment ago.
But she had made this formal, and she had offered payment in the form of a favor. A favor from someone like Tank was very valuable.
“Crap,” Jodi said. She hated things like this. But she was involved now. She hadn’t officially accepted the job, but both she and Tank knew she would do what she could.
Even if that meant sitting in the same room as the most loathsome, smelly man she had ever met.
Even if that meant she had to talk to Bluebeard.
Jodi really didn’t want to go to rehab—no, no, no—so she put the Amy Winehouse song on repeat, and blared the damn thing through her car’s stereo system. The song had been going through Jodi’s head ever since Tank left her office, and it was actually the song that convinced Jodi to go.
Winehouse had died badly, partly because of her intransigence, and these women—these Fairy Tale Stalker victims—might die badly as well, if Jodi didn’t go to rehab to see Bluebeard.
At least the drive was nice. She always liked the drive to Malibu, particularly as some of the worst of the city fell away and the air lost its tinge of smog. She thought once she was ten miles out of the smog that she could smell the ocean, although that probably wasn’t true.
Most people complained about driving in Los Angeles, and while traffic was hell, Jodi didn’t mind. She bought the best car she could, realizing that to the mortals she worked with, a car was more than a transportation device, it was a statement. So she owned a convertible, extremely expensive, but not so expensive that she would risk both it and her life if she parked it in certain parts of the city. Red, because red was a power color (not because she liked it), and a Mercedes so that it had all the bells and whistles and rode like a dream.
As a result, the last stage of the drive to the coast felt like it should—hair whipping back, scarf keeping it out of her face, gigantic sunglasses protecting her eyes, music blaring, the sun making everything glisten. Moments like this kept her in Los Angeles even though a good part of her industry had moved to Vancouver B.C. She didn’t like the gray or the rain or the trees for that matter. They reminded her too much of the Kingdoms, and made her feel more like a housekeeper and less like the master of her own fate.
Her own fate and the fate of several others. Before she left, she slipped Gunther two thousand in cash from her wall safe, which would keep him for a few months. He would use a lot of the money for essentials besides rent. Gunther worried. The least she could do was ease some of that. She hadn’t promised him work this time, just told him she would do her best. Maybe then he would tell her why he didn’t want to go back to the Kingdoms.
Maybe the reason he didn’t want to leave was as simple as the gray and the rain and the trees. Or maybe something bad had happened there, and he needed to get away. Gunther was particularly close-lipped, even for a troll, and he seemed incredibly sad. He had wrapped his chubby stone-like finger around her heart, and made her feel responsible for him, even though she knew she wasn’t.
Maybe that was how Tank felt about Bluebeard.
Jodi had done some checking. Tank took Bluebeard to rehab ten times, twice in the past year. She would wrap him in fairy dust and get her tribe to fly him to the rehab center, dumping him on the grounds. Odd that she couldn’t get inside any more. Jodi would have to investigate those wards. They had to be a recent change.
Because she had heard about the last rehab flight: It had happened after an altercation at a book release party at The Charming Way, in Westwood. Bluebeard had shown up drunk, disturbed the mortals, and the magical had to get him into a back room before Tank could take control of him and send him on his way. That had been about thirty days ago. Tank clearly had access to the rehab center then.
The rehab center was quiet and exclusive, not the most famous one in the world, but one most celebrities used now when the paparazzi staked out the Betty Ford Clinic. The center was on some very expensive land in Malibu, on the hillside overlooking the city.
Jodi had been there a few times to visit clients. This place could handle the magical, and over the years had some magical healers on staff. She didn’t know if there were any healers now, or if anyone magical worked there at all, although the wards against fairies suggested that someone magical other than Bluebeard was near the center.
Once she got to Malibu, she had to take back roads to get to the center. It was deliberately hard to find because so many patients were celebrities or exceedingly rich, which passed for celebrity in modern culture. She had to go through three different check-points. Fortunately, she knew to call ahead.
She had even known who to talk to, thanks to Tank. Tank had scrawled the name of the center and the name of the counselor in charge of Bluebeard in fairy dust on the top of Jodi’s desk. Jodi had no idea if it would just fade or if she had to clean it off, something she supposed she, the daughter of chatelaines, should know.
Still, she had left the problem to Ramon. She had called the counselor, a man named Jameson Hargrove. He had sounded amused when she said she needed to talk with Blue. Fortunately, the counselor thought Bluebeard’s Greater World nickname was Blue, because the one thing Tank had neglected to tell her was the name Bluebeard used in the Greater World.
Tank understood the power of real names for the magical, but she didn’t understand the importance of fake names in the mortal world.
Hargrove had asked Jodi her relationship to Blue. She said, quite truthfully, that she didn’t have one, but that she needed information from him on a life-or-death matter. Hargrove didn’t question that.
He even promised she could see Blue, but, he said he couldn’t guarantee that Blue would talk.
“He has an aversion to women,” Hargrove said. “It would probably be best if I sat in on your conversation.”
No kidding he had an aversion to women, Jodi barely stopped herself from saying.
“Does he get violent?” she asked. Because if he got violent, then the deal with Tank was off. Jodi knew that Bluebeard wasn’t a violent drunk, but she had no idea what kind of man he was when he was sober.
“No,” Hargrove said. “He’s not violent at all. I’m not worried about your physical safety, Ms Walters. I just believe I might be able to coax him into a conversation.”
“Sorry,” Jodi said, and mentally added that she was sorry in more ways than Hargrove realized. “I need to talk with him alone. Confidentiality and all of that.”
She didn’t say confidentiality for whom, figuring she didn’t have to. Hargrove was a therapist after all. His life’s blood was confidentiality.
“I must at least insist on observing,” Hargrove said. “We will watch the video and make sure there is no audio to protect your privacy.”
“How do I know that you’ll have the audio off?” Jodi said.
“You may check our layout,” Hargrove said. “I’ll send it to you. We have three rooms outside of the doctors’ offices that we call ‘confidentiality rooms.’ We run our groups in those rooms, as well as allow meetings with other doctors there. If you give me your e-mail address, I’ll send you the URL.”
She did that and called it up on her computer while talking to him. The rooms were as he presented: they had security cameras but no audio.
“If you don’t believe he’s violent,” she had said as she was poking around the layout of the center, “then I don’t understand why you need to observe.”
“Well, um, honestly,” Hargrove said, sounding a bit less confident than he had a moment earlier, “I’ve never seen Blue interact one-on-one with a woman. I’m curious.”
“About what?” Jodi had asked.
“Whether he can even look at you,” Hargrove said. “He doesn’t look at the women here.”
She thought that was odd. “Not at all?”
“Not at all,” Hargrove said.
She shuddered, and almost canceled right there. But there were those women to think about. Besides, Jodi didn’t entirely trust Tank’s judgment. Tank liked Bluebeard. Tank might be willing to believe that Bluebeard didn’t do anything. But it wasn’t unheard of for some of the magical to have more than one type of magic at their disposal. If Bluebeard had charm and the ability to appear and disappear at will, that would explain a lot about the deaths he caused in the Kingdoms.
And it would implicate him in the so-called stalking incidents here.
Jodi thought of all of this as she made the final turns into the rehab center. She had reached the road branched off into driveways for visitors, staff, and patients. The patient road was larger because it had to accommodate buses. No patient could leave his car parked up here, and had to travel down to patient parking five miles away by bus.
Visitor parking, on the other hand, was relatively close at hand. No one had bothered with landscaping here; this part of the complex was deliberately unattractive. The center discouraged visitors and used the visitor area to warn off potential patients who didn’t realize that they faced years of hard work.
The parking lot was flat, open and small. It had no cars other than hers, so she parked next to the guard house near the sidewalk. Every time she came here, she frowned at that guard house. If that didn’t make inhabitants feel like prisoners, nothing would.
Then, again, studios had guard houses leading into them, so maybe the guard house just made the Hollywood types feel at home.
Before she got out of her car, she finger-combed her windblown hair.
As she opened the car door, the guard came out of the guard house, smiled at her, and gave her a laminated badge with her name on it. She had talked to him on her previous visits.
“I’m not supposed to say welcome back,” he said, “but it is nice to see you again.”
“You too,” she said, with her warmest smile. People remembered her. It was part of her magic, and it sometimes caused problems, particularly when they realized how long-lived she was. The magical lived for hundreds of years, aging slowly.
Someone once explained to her that the difference in lifespan between the magical and the mortal had something to do with the lack of magic in the Greater World, but she didn’t entirely believe it. What she did know was that the long lifespan felt natural in the Kingdoms (because everyone had it) and quite strange here.
She clipped the badge onto her shirt’s collar, grabbed her phone and her purse, and headed into the building.
This part was a flat Southern California design, lots of windows and angles, built to blend into the hillside. The problem was that lots of windows and angles made it easy for paparazzi to snap photographs from a significant distance away, so the main building, back behind this one and available only to patients, was built in a New England saltbox style. The residents who had recovered sufficiently to move to the second stage of treatment moved to small bungalows on the grounds, and not given any cooking or cleaning assistance. They were to learn how to fend for themselves, something that some of the famous found quite novel.
It cost a lot of money for Bluebeard to stay here. It wasn’t that unusual for the magical who lived in the Greater World for a long time to have money, but it did strike Jodi as odd that a falling-down drunk would have kept enough money to afford anything, particularly a place like this.
An employee opened the main door for her and, as she expected, Jamison Hargrove was waiting for her.
Hargrove looked like a therapist out of central casting. He had a weathered face that settled into an expression of compassion, warm brown eyes, and dark hair silvered at the temples. He wore a light cotton shirt, white pants, and expensive sandals.
When he saw her, he extended his hand. “Ms. Walters.”
She shook it. “Mr. Hargrove.”
“I thought you might want a tour of the facilities before you saw Blue,” he said. “In particular, I thought you might want to see the area I’ll be observing from.”
She shook her head. “I’m on a tight schedule. I hadn’t planned to make this trip in the first place.”
Hargrove’s lips tightened just a bit, probably an expression his patients didn’t even notice.
“Is there some problem with Blue?” she asked.
Hargrove blinked once, clearly trying to decide what to tell her, maybe trying to decide what he could tell her. “He—um—doesn’t want to see you.”
She bit back anger. She had driven a long way for this.
“But you believe you can get him to talk with me,” she said. Otherwise, she suspected Hargrove would have called.
“Yes, I do. Let me take you to the meeting room. He’ll join you in just a few minutes.”
She pointedly glanced at her phone, both so Hargrove thought she was checking the time and also looking for messages.
“I promise you,” Hargrove said. “It won’t be a problem.”
“I hope not,” she said as she followed him to the meeting area. And she didn’t add the rest of that thought. The last thing she needed was some kind of problem when the man she was meeting was Bluebeard.
The yoga class near the pool had ended. Normally this was Blue’s time; he swam for nearly an hour, alone, in the heat of the day when no one wanted to be outside, not even sunbathing. He was of the private opinion that the mid-afternoon yoga class was an endurance event, even though he had no firsthand knowledge of it. He simply watched from a distance, waiting for everyone to quit so that he could swim.
He didn’t sign up for group activities. He only interacted with people when the interaction was required as a term of his incarceration here. Not that he was really and truly a prisoner; he could leave at any time. But he always felt a bit stifled when he followed the rules—any rules—even though this rehab center was the safest place he had ever known.
He rather liked that people watched him 24/7. He rather liked that they were there to protect him from his darkest self.
Of course, they had no idea how dark that self really was.
The pool water glistened and he wished he could dive into it. The pool was Olympic sized and well maintained. The cabana to the left was open on both ends, and had what the staff called a bar in the center. Even though it wasn’t really a bar. A bar would serve alcohol and that would defeat the purpose.
Still, he could go in there and order a drink with ice in a cool tall refreshing glass, as practice for that day in the future when he would be on his own again. As if this kind of nonsense ever worked. When he got out of here, two months from now, he would go on a bender would last at least three days.
He’d found it took at least three days of solid drinking to make his clothes truly foul. It also took three days of solid drinking to ruin all the “good work” as Dr. Hargrove called it, and make Blue look like a die-hard alcoholic.
He wished he was. He wished he liked the taste of booze. He didn’t. He hated the stuff and the way it made him feel.
It was only the alternative that kept him drinking.
The fact that he was thinking about a drink was telling: he almost never thought about alcohol while he was here. He stopped pacing near the door the guest facility and realized his hands were shaking. Not hard, like he had the DTs, but as if he was terrified.
And maybe he was. It had been a long, long time since he let himself feel any emotions about anything.
He glanced at the glistening water, saw the bottom shining in the sun, the center’s healing hands logo in multi-colored tiles on the bottom. He stared at those hands when he swam above them, thought about those hands as he did his laps, wished that hands could truly be healed, particularly hands that had done horrible, awful, terrible things.
Like his hands.
He shoved them in the pocket of his khaki pants, then squared his shoulders. He had to go through with this or leave the center.
Dr. Hargrove had told him that someone would be watching the interaction with this Jodi Walters at all times. Someone would monitor, security would be outside, nothing would go wrong.
Right. As if Blue believed that. He hadn’t spent any time with a woman alone in decades, maybe a century or two. And never had he done so sober.
He was terrified. He tried to tell Dr. Hargrove that he was making a mistake, but Dr. Hargrove wouldn’t listen. He blathered on about change and fear and conquering fears, not really knowing who he was talking to about what.
Then Blue pulled out the center’s regulations: No visitors in the first sixty days of incarceration. (He actually used the word “incarceration” to annoy Dr. Hargrove; Dr. Hargrove made mistakes when he was annoyed.)
Dr. Hargrove had nodded sagely and said, “I’m aware of that, Blue, but we’ve had you here several times before and our normal methods haven’t worked. Perhaps trying something out of the ordinary will make a difference.”
Dr. Hargrove had an answer for everything.
Which meant that Blue had a choice. Either he could do what Dr. Hargrove wanted, or he could leave the center. If he left, he wasn’t sure he would ever be allowed back. Not that they had threatened him: they hadn’t. He just had a sense that at some point, they might tell him to try somewhere else.
He rather liked it here. It was one of the few places where he felt like he could be himself (or rather, the part of himself that was tolerable), and not worry about the effect he was having on others. The center itself kept him organized, and because of the adamancy of his own requests, the center protected vulnerable people from him—women, children (not that he had ever hurt a child, but he had never thought himself capable of hurting a woman either, and he had done so, repeatedly).
The center also set up a schedule for him, and helped him follow it. An early morning run (on the grounds, with security near him), breakfast, therapy session, lunch, rest, swim, dinner, group session, entertainment (movies, books, music—anything solitary, since that was what he chose), lights-out. Then it would all start all over again. The rhythm of it was predictable, soothing, and there was always someone to protect him from himself.
Except right now. It would be so simple to walk away, so simple to give up. But he wasn’t the kind of man to give up. If he had been, he would have killed himself a long time ago.
He just had to find a way to comply with Dr. Hargrove’s admonition and yet somehow stay away from that woman.
He had to go back to who he had been a long, long time ago, before the name-calling, before the murders, before Bluebeard.
He had to go back to the days when he was a Charming. More than that, he had to go back to the days when he was a prince and used to getting his way.
It felt like putting on a costume. He stood a bit straighter. He felt a little taller.
Then he grabbed the glass door handle, and stepped inside.
Here’s how you order the rest of the book. The mass market paperback and the ebook will be released on September 11, 2012. You can preorder through your favorite bookstore. You can also preorder the electronic edition on Amazon and Barnes & Noble right now.