Seattle, Washington: Present Day
It wasn’t often that a girl had the chance to get lost in a fairy tale.
Persephone Josephine Alexander wasn’t one to find herself in those sorts of straits, but she was hardly in a position at pres¬ent to do anything about it. She was captive in the darkened wings of a venerable Seattle theater, watching something unde¬niably magical unfold in front of her. The handsome prince, ac¬companied by a breathtaking set of strings, was vocally waxing rhapsodic about the charms of the appallingly lovely girl across the stage, while that girl was accompanying his waxing with her own musical commentary about his perfections. It wasn’t long before the pair fell into each other’s arms as if they’d been born for just that moment, their voices mingling in perfect har¬mony, soaring above the orchestra and leaving very few dry eyes in the audience.
Pippa was sure of that because she’d peeked out into that audience—after she’d dragged her sleeve across her own eyes, of course. Damned dust allergies kicking up at the most inop¬portune moments.
She got hold of herself, then turned back to her purely aca¬demic study of the love story going on in front of her. She had to admit, grudgingly, that it looked as real as anything she’d ever
seen anywhere—or at least it did until the handsome prince stepped on the back of his soon-to-be princess’s dress and tore it half off.
Pippa came back to earth abruptly at the two glares she found thrown her way as the prince and his lady attempted to dance as if nothing had happened. Fortunately there were no further mishaps before the couple managed to get themselves off stage for the last costume change.
“Lovely designs, Pippa,” the princess said shortly as she ran off the stage. “Too bad you couldn’t have sewn them better. I imagine Frank agrees.”
“Pippa didn’t design them,” Frank whispered sharply, “and given what I’ve seen tonight, it was a mistake to let her sew them.”
Pippa didn’t bother to respond to that. She had indeed de¬signed all the costumes, as well as having sewn most of them, but she was standing on the brink of a truly remarkable piece of good fortune, and she didn’t want to jinx it by arguing the point with a successful show’s director on closing night.
Though it was really tempting to take the pair of dressmak¬er’s shears she had stuck in the back of her belt and cut off Frank’s ponytail while he was otherwise engaged in sucking up to his leads and belittling the little people. Fortunately for his dignity, she found herself suddenly too busy repairing tears and replacing sequins to do any trimming.
By the time she had gotten all the costumes put away for someone lower than she on the food chain to worry about clean¬ing in the morning, she had given up the idea of revenge. Petty theater directors and grumpy actors were in her past. Her future was a sparkling green city in the not-so-distant distance and there was nothing standing between them but a no-nonsense flight to England. She got herself home through a damp and rather foggy Seattle night, then settled happily into her favorite pair of flannel pajamas before going in search of a decent post-production snack.
Half an hour later, she pulled her last cinnamon-sugar Pop-Tart from the toaster, then frowned at the smell. Something was burning, and it wasn’t what she was holding in her hand. She leaned forward and sniffed her toaster. No, not there, either.
She followed her nose to her front door, then opened it and looked out into the hallway. Gaspard, her neighbor, flung open
his door, shrieking curses in French as he jerked off his chef’s hat, threw it on the floor, and stomped out the flames. He looked at her.
It took her a moment to reconcile herself to the fact that flames were licking his doorframe, which meant he was obvi¬ously not just capable of dispensing advice on how to make a killer Bolognese sauce but could also run a mean escape opera¬tion. She watched the smoke begin to billow for a moment or two before she realized that she was about to become as crispy as the pastry she was holding in her hand.
She dashed back into her apartment, tossed her future into a suitcase, then bolted for the stairs.
Several hours later, she stood on a the edge of tree-root-ravaged bit of sidewalk, pushed back the hair that was curling frantically around her face and dripping down the back of her now-soggy pajamas, and decided that there was only one expla¬nation for the swirling events she’d been plunked down into.
Karma was out to get her.
She was a big believer in Karma. A girl couldn’t grow up as the child of flower children and not have a healthy respect for that sort of thing—and for tie-dye as well, but those were probably memories better left for another time when she had peace for thinking and some mini chocolate muffins to ease the pain.
She rubbed the spot between her eyes that had almost ceased to pound, then looked around for somewhere to sit. Her sturdy, vintage suitcase was there next to her, looking imminently capable of standing up under the strain, so she sat and was grateful for the recent departure of fire engines and Dumpster delivery trucks. She rested her elbows on her knees, her chin on her fists, and gave herself over to the pondering of the twists and turns of her life.
She also kept a weather eye out for that rather large and clunky other shoe she was fairly sure was going to be dropped onto her head at any moment. One couldn’t have the sort of spectacular good fortune she was about to wallow in without some sort of equal and opposite cosmic reaction. And to keep herself from breaking into the kind of jubilant rejoicing she was sure Karma took note of, she reviewed the path that had led her to her current enviable spot on a suitcase out in the rain.
It had begun, she supposed, when Susie Chapman’s mother had given her a Barbie and a lunch sack full of fabric scraps for her seventh birthday. A world of possibilities had opened up for her, a realm that included plaids and paisleys, stripes and polka dots, all made from fabrics that weren’t made from hemp and were probably anything but organic. Her parents would have rent their tie-dyed caftans if they’d seen any of it, but Pippa had avoided detection by keeping her contraband doll and those glorious mass-dyed fabrics hidden cunningly in a couple of Birkenstock boxes.
She had continued her illicit evening-gown-making activi¬ties even after she and her siblings had been dumped by her überflaky parents on the doorstep of an aunt who had sprung, fully formed, from the pages of a Dickens novel. Pippa had in public sneered at romance, fairy tales, and designing clothes for dolls who savored both, but in the privacy of her little gar¬ret room she had sewn magical things from the best her lunch money could buy. She had gone on to major in art and cos¬tume design in college, then spent the ensuing four years slav¬ing away over seams for others to wear in their own fairy tales acted out on stage.
And while designing for shows had been good practice, her burning and up-until-now secret desire had been to have her own line of clothing. In spite of her own avoidance of the like in her personal life, she dreamed of creating modern things with a hint of medieval romance and fairy-tale magic for others, things with little touches that only those looking for them would see. She wanted the women who wore her clothes to feel like the heroines of their own fairy tales, beautiful and beloved.
She paused. It was entirely possible she had some unresolved issues concerning romance, knights in shining armor, and her time at Aunt Edna’s.
She made a mental note to consider therapy later—after she’d eluded Karma’s steely eye and leaped at the chance she’d been recently offered to make her dreams come true.
Her sister Tess, who owned an honest-to-goodness English castle and made her living by hosting parties for all sorts of people with money and imagination, had shown some of Pippa’s designs to one of her clients. The man had looked at the kids’ costumes, then spontaneously uttered the magic words.
I say, your sister Pippa doesn’t design for adults, does she? I’m looking for a new place to invest a bit of money.
Pippa had immediately begun fiendishly working on things to expand her collection, wondering all the while if there might be something bigger at work in her life than simply her wish¬ing for it. She certainly didn’t believe in magic, pixie dust, or any of the romantic drivel her older sister Peaches read on what seemed to be an alarmingly regular basis. She most certainly didn’t believe in the fairy tales put on by any of the theaters she’d sewn for.
But in this, she couldn’t deny that there was something, well, unusual at work.
“Pippa, what in the world happened?”
She looked up at that aforementioned over-romanced sis¬ter Peaches, who had suddenly materialized next to her on the sidewalk.
“Gaspard had his flambé get a little too friendly with his natural fibers, apparently,” she said with a sigh. “What are you doing here so early?”
“It’s not early. It’s almost nine. And I’m here because I thought that since you were leaving tonight, you might need help packing.”
Pippa supposed Peaches would have thought that. Her sister made a living by acting as a life coach, plucking people one by one out of a sea of bills, undeclared inte...