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CHAPTER ONE -
Danika-- fairy godmother extraordinaire-- blazed through the night like a tiny falling star.
Damn that pompous bastard Gerard.
She shivered, holding her wand tight to her heaving bosom. Trying to think up a few more bad words for the odious man, but words failed her. He’d turned her into a laughing stock in front of her peers.
Galeta the blue-- Head Mistress of Fairy Godmother Inc.-- threatened to rip Danika’s title from her. From her! How dare they even insinuate that she’d lost control of her charges?
Of course Gerard’s pending trial only strengthened their allegations. The oaf. If he’d only kept his nose clean like she’d implicitly instructed. But the man was incapable of thinking with something other than the snake in his pants. She’d hoped after his last trial he’d be a little more thoughtful of whom he seduced. Last time they’d been lucky that the father had been willing to settle the debt for a few gold coins. She doubted gold would appease this situation.
Cinderella’s daughter… of all the lass’ Gerard could have beguiled, why her? Now Prince Charming was all ‘off-with-his-head’ and Danika had a serious problem on her hands.
She ground her molars so hard her jaw ached. “Relax, Danika. Must not allow yourself to get angry.” Even though she suffered a violent urge to turn Gerard into a toad, it would only prove to her peers she had lost control and unfortunately it was not a viable option. Using magic for revenge was the very thing that’d cursed Jinni to non-genie status. Danika had no desire to be striped of her powers as well.
She beat her wings faster, streaking through the trees with a furious buzz.
She had to get to Gerard first, before the angry mob could get their hands on him. Thankfully she’d sic’d the best tracker in the Kingdom on him, and just received the missive she’d been waiting weeks to get. Gerard had been found. And not a moment too soon.
For tonight the jury and tribunal convened-- comprised of jilted lovers, fathers with revenge on their minds, and the three most powerful godmothers in the land-- if she could get Gerard out of Kingdom, perhaps she could convince the court he’d not return unless reformed.
Perhaps... just perhaps, that would be enough to mollify the crowd and prevent a retaliatory execution.
And after her smashing success with the Hatter and his Alice. None had thought that romance possible. She’d proven them wrong, had made a true love match. In fact, the two were so in love it bordered on disgusting.
But now none of that mattered, thanks to the French baboon. If Danika had been smarter she’d have known Gerard planned to flee. He, more than the others, hated the very notion of love. After Alice and Hatter’s successful match Gerard had become withdrawn and quiet. That was so unlike the gregarious Frenchman that at first Danika had thought him jealous. What a fool she’d been to let him have his space. She’d thought nothing of his leaving, but as time progressed and he’d not returned, an awful suspicion rose in her gut.
He’d gotten himself into trouble.
By that point so much time had passed his trail had gone cold. She’d searched his favorite haunts, to no avail. Out of sheer desperation she’d questioned the flowers, as they always knew what was what, but the flowers had been less than helpful. One saw this, another that, but none could pinpoint him accurately. It seemed the moment his location was discovered, he’d hie himself off to the next pair of plump arms and ample bosom.
The man was a nitwit. Did he not see she had his best interest at heart? But maybe it was her fault for the whole Belle debacle.
To Danika’s credit making a love match was no easy feat. Still she did feel partly responsible. The night Belle had married the Beast she thought Gerard had gone as mad as the Hatter.
Gerard had gotten thick in his cups-- face splotchy and red-- sniveling that Belle was a tramp all along and he’d known and wouldn’t have her anyway. However the insult of her marriage was nothing compared to the greater insult he believed he’d suffered afterwards.
Through the ages mortals had learned of the lives and roles of the Kingdom’s inhabitants through song and tale. All knew of Hook’s obsession with Pan, Wolf’s run in with Red’s grandmother-- but of Gerard, well... he wasn’t even a cliff note in a text book. He simply did not exist outside of Kingdom. Ironic, since his story was easily one of the better known, but... as he’d so often done, he’d screwed the pooch (to use an oft used Earth phrase). He’d angered the wrong people and they’d exacted their revenge. Danika might have felt sorry for him if he were anyone else, but Gerard was Gerard. He angered everyone.
Spying Leonard’s lighted gardens in the distance she sighed, feeling a little more in control of herself now that she could act. Danika alighted on the empty tea table. “Wolf,” she hissed.
A shaggy black shadow pulled away from the tree. His long pink tongue lolled out the corner of his fanged jaws. Huffing, he appeared to be laughing in his dog like way.
“Did you find him then?”
The Big Bad Wolf dipped his head, and turning, trotted back to the tree he’d hidden behind earlier. A flash of white light lit the rose garden and then a tall, muscularly built man stepped out from behind the tree.
The books had it all wrong. Shifters never turned human with clothes on. They returned to human form as nude as the day they were born. His muscles, like thick ropes, flexed as he strode back out. She fanned her flushed face, entranced by his predatory loping grace, even on two feet, he walked like a beast.
My, but her boys were pretty. She cleared her throat, attempting to remember why she was here.
Eyes, the golden shade of a lion’s hue, glinted back at her. “I’ve brought him.” His throaty growl made her shiver. “He seduced a mermaid, was hiding out in her lair.” He spat, disgust evident in his tone.
“Yes, well, you know how he is. No woman can resist him. Beautiful, abhorrent man.” She pursed her lips.
He lifted a shaggy black brow. “Do you think it’s fair then, what you’ve planned? Not that I care about the bastard, but the woman.”
Ah, her wolf always did have a soft spot for the female form. Much maligned he’d been for eating Red’s grandmother, though the stories were mostly exaggerated.
“I must.” She shook her fists, her wand spurted with firework bursts of energy. “’Tis more than a mere matter of finding his mate. He’s in danger of losing his very life.”
He frowned and rubbed his stubbled jaw. “I see. Well, then. He’s behind that tree. Bound and gagged, as ordered.” He pointed to a gnarled oak.
She smirked and started toward it.
“Our bargain?” he asked quietly, a low growl undercut his words.
She bit her lip, heart speeding just a tad. Danika had kind of promised him something. The godmothers were not going to like it. She wrinkled her nose, rubbing her forehead, bit of a pickle that situation.
“Danika,” his voice grew sharper, more wolf like, less human.
“Yes, yes, bloody hell, Wolf. As I’ve promised.”
His nostrils flared, as if he were trying to scent her out. Sweating below her collar, she gripped her wand tighter. She did not lie, though perhaps she’d embellished the truth a wee tiny bit. But no need to let him know that.
Her grin wobbled.
His lips thinned as he finally nodded. “Aye, then. You know where to find me.”
“I do indeed.” She watched him go. “Oh my.” He was really not going to like what she’d done. But then again, neither would anyone else.
“I do what I must,” she sighed, as she rounded the oak. Being a godmother was often a thankless job. It’d only taken her two hundred and fifty years and twenty ones days (but who was counting) to stop being offended by it. Though every once in a while, it still rankled.
Like now, when her boys should be deliriously happy by the prospect of finding their match. Not like she’d asked them to chew their own leg off. Her mouth curled. Given the choice between self mutilation or marriage, she wasn’t sure which they’d choose. But she was almost 99 percent positive it wouldn’t be the girls.
Case in point, Gerard,-- hog-tied at the base of the tree-- eyes closed, hair disheveled and filled with bits of bramble. He’d looked better. And had obviously fought like a rabid dog to escape Danika’s clutches.
Danika walked to him, the closer she got, the more overpowering the odor of alcohol became. She pinched her nose, getting woozy.
Gerard was covered in gashes and scrapes. A long cut ran under his right eye, a slight bluish tinted bruise shaded his cheek, and she was sure he’d not be able to do much more than sip liquid nourishment for the next day or two. Swollen and bloody, his lips were painful even to gaze upon.
Wolf, perhaps, had been a bit too thorough in bringing him back.
She rolled her eyes. “Fine mess this is, Gerard.” Though angry with him, her heart ached to see him like this.
He’d been jovial once. Oh, he’d always had a touch of the devil in him-- no doubt-- but good where it’d mattered most. Not since Belle though, and especially not since the night his legacy had been forever tainted by lies and half truths.
Danika tsked. “I should let you face their wrath, Gerard. Truly I should. No less than you deserve.” Her words were tough, but her touch was soft as she gently caressed his smooth brow. Even after all he put her through, she still loved him. Loved them all, they were her boys, and she’d fight to the death to protect them.
He snorted and then sneezed, showering her in a cloud of dust. She shuddered and stepped away from his mouth.
“Sad, pathetic man you are now.” She shook her head. He gave a soft moan, whether he understood her or not, she wasn’t sure. “Yes, I said it. Pathetic.”
“Non,” he grimaced and twitched, as if becoming aware of the bonds that held him.
She coughed and waved her hand in front of her nose. “This is horrible. Horrible!” She stomped her foot. “Gerard, she’ll be terrified of you. You look like a beggar. No. Worse. You look like a beggar who’s been waylaid in a distillery vat. If this were any other time I’d wait.”
“Bloody Wolf.” He spit a crimson streak. “Told him I’d come.”
“Yes, I’m sure you were quite the angel. Wolf completely in the wrong.” She crossed her arms and tapped her foot.
He cracked open a blood shot eye and shifted, trying to move to a sitting position. His body jerked and he groaned, laying his face back down in the dirt. “Perhaps I did attempt to cold cock him first. Bit fuzzy on that.”
“Of course you did.” She pointed her wand at his bonds, a bright pink glow wrapped around the leather hide on his wrists and ankles.
Gingerly, he sat up and rubbed his chapped wrists. Taking a deep breath, he winced. “I think the bastard broke a rib.” He felt around his waist. When she didn’t respond to his obvious ploy to baby him, he sighed. “Fine. Fine,” his deep French lilt grew heavy with exasperation. “I concede. You made your point, but you cannot bring her here with me looking like this.”
She leaned back on her heels. His shirt was shredded in several spots. One-- a particularly long rip along his chest-- exposed the tiny bud of a brown nipple. Blood stained his collar. But it was his pants, with the laces loosened, that told the true tale. Wolf had obviously found Gerard rutting like a mad fool. She lifted a brow, looking back at him.
He grinned and then winced when his cracked lip oozed. “I am a man, fee,” he said it unabashed, almost prideful.
Danika thinned her lips. She’d studied the girl-- Betty Hart. The mortal had good insight into a person’s true psyche. A rare gift in a human (apart from a disastrous and much too recent relationship with a boyo named James) her instincts were normally spot on. Unfortunately now that she’d been burned, Betty questioned her intuition. This pairing could work, but only if both Gerard and Betty let it. Problem was convincing them of it.
“I never said I’d bring her here,” she licked her teeth, studied her nails and waited.
His face scrunched up.
She tapped her foot.
His jaw dropped.
Three seconds. And...
“Non! No. I refuse. I will not be sent to that vile,” he ground his jaw, “Earth!”
She planted her hands on her hips. “Oh, but you will.”
Anger glittered like hellfire in the depths of his inky blue eyes. “You didn’t send Hatter.”
“He could not go. You, however...” She eyed him hard, trying to pretend her knees weren’t currently knocking. He could be quite imposing when he wanted to be. “Are another matter. You were not born of Earth therefore you can safely walk its roads.”
His nostrils flared. “You cannot make me, I will not go.”
She almost laughed at his petulant manner. “You are very wrong there, me boy. I most certainly can and will. Just this evening a tribunal’s been called.”
He stiffened and she smiled. “Oui, mon ami. You know exactly what I mean. Princess Arabella! Gerard, what were you thinking?” she screeched, finally free to vent her frustration.
Gerard scrubbed his face. “It is not what it seems. I swear, Marraine, I did not touch her. The coquinethrew herself at me. I’d never force myself on a woman, much less a princess.”
“I find it hard to believe you could not tell it was her, she’s a wild mane of orange hair. ‘Tis impossible to mistake her for a commoner!” Danika threw her hands up.
Gerard shook his head. “She was in disguise, I swear it. Once I discovered who she was, I put her aside, but by that point I was found and well...” He tunneled blunt fingers through his messy hair. “I ran. I knew they’d lock me in the dungeon.”
She believed him, which made the situation all the harder. “Oh, Gerard,” she touched his chin, “your past returns to haunt you.”
“But you do believe me?” His dark blue eyes were large and earnest.
She rolled her wrist, the wand burst with pink bolts of energy. “I do.”
He sighed, his shoulders visibly relaxing.
“But, you know they will not. You’ve bedded too many of the town’s women...”
He frowned. “All willing. I don’t care what they claim now.”
“Be that as it may,” she shook her head, “you’ve angered most, if not all men folk, and now the King. You must leave. I’ll go in your stead and speak on your behalf.”
She pursed her lips. “I hope you don’t expect this to go as smoothly as before. You only slept with the milliner’s daughter then, this is a Princess.”
“Ah,” he grabbed her by the waist and holding her like a doll, planted a quick kiss on her cheek, “you’ll do fine. You’ll show them all’s well and I’ll be free to return. Besides, I did not bed the wench. She’s as untarnished as before. Mostly.”
She growled, even while her heart pounded. He thought it would be as simple as the last time, she knew by his light hearted teasing that he did not understand the magnitude of his earnest mistake. This time Gerard had angered a King, a King bent on retribution. Galeta would respond as she’d been dying to do for decades now, he’d finally given the head godmother a legitimate reason to exact her revenge.
Danika had no clue why Galeta hated Gerard so much. He’d never shared, but knowing her mistress as she did, Danika feared the worst.
Danika would fight like the devil to see the punishment fit the crime, unfortunately she was pretty sure she’d be the only one coming to his defense.
His smile slipped. “Fee? You’re keeping something from me. What?”
“I...” Danika sucked in a breath, hating how transparent she always was. She gave him a weak grin and wiggled free of his grasp, not wanting to be accidentally crushed. Perhaps she should tell him. Just in case, prepare him for the worst possible scenario.
But in that moment he looked like the boy she remembered from his youth, eyes clear and free of guile. Beautiful face made more handsome because he wasn’t oozing sex, but being himself. If Gerard could ever learn not to depend on his looks, but to let a woman see the kindness buried so deep she wasn’t sure he even knew it still existed, he’d bend even more hearts his way.
That peek of his humanity made Danika bite her tongue. Perhaps by some miracle she could convince the court of his innocence in this. “It is nothing, Gerard.”
“Non,” he snarled, fists clenching, “I know you well, fairy, there is fear in your eyes. You tell me the truth.”
Danika held his gaze, wanting desperately to turn away and not meet the blinking fury he directed at her like a lethal blade. He said nothing, only vibrated with the strength of his mounting anger.
She knew he was not angry at her, but at his circumstances, which was the only reason why she didn’t quiver like a sapling. “Be on your best behavior, Gerard. Her name is Betty Hart. Find her, mate her. You’ll thank me.”
She swished her wand and Gerard shot to his feet. “You cannot mean to do this,” he barked, “Danika, what aren’t you telling me?” His body already began to fade into the glowing tunnel that would take him through dimensions. He looked over his shoulder.
Her heart squeezed.
“I’ll be better,” he said, “no more whoring. Drinking,” his French accent thickened. “I’ll... stop.”
The road to hell was paved with good intentions. He might mean it, but Gerard would never be able to stop. It was his way and who he was. The only thing that could possibly change him would be falling in love.
“Gerard, do not forget why this is now a necessity. You’ve placed yourself in this situation. I’m doing my very best to fix what has now become a matter of life and death.” She flew to him, briefly able to touch the corner of his jaw before he became insubstantial. “I’ll return to you once I’ve received verdict.”
“A pox on that,” were his last words before he vanished.
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BUY LINK: Gerard's Beauty ($2.99)