A short story set after Kat Book 1, but before Kat Book 2
Read the excerpt here, get the whole ebook free as a NOOK ebook on B&N, free as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, free as a UK Nookbook, free in any e-format on Smashwords, or buy from any international branch of Amazon!
Dedicated to Becky Boyer, with many thanks
If there was any prospect in the world more horrifying than a shopping trip, it had to be a shopping trip with my stepmother. And if there was anything worse than shopping with Stepmama, it was shopping with her and both of my older sisters for my oldest sister’s upcoming wedding--also known as Stepmama’s New Obsession.
My oldest sister might be the closest thing to a mother that I had ever known, but even for Elissa, I could only go so far. I would have stepped between her and a rampaging highwayman in a heartbeat, but when it came to spending hours upon hours in a millinery shop while Stepmama insisted on testing every fabric and Elissa speared me with Looks of Guilt every time I let out a sigh...well, enough was enough.
Luckily, I had a plan.
Unluckily, my sisters knew me well.
“Hmm,” said Angeline. “She doesn’t look ill.”
“I am!” I said, and forced myself to lie still on my bed. Both of my sisters were leaning over me, one on each side, to study me from every angle. It made me feel like a caged animal. “Miserably ill. Just feel my skin!”
“I’d rather not,” said Angeline. “I don’t know what you used to prepare yourself for us, but you’re positively dripping.”
“Oh, Kat,” Elissa said. “You didn’t actually use the beef drippings Mrs. Watson was saving for our supper, did you?”
“No!” I said indignantly. “Of course I didn’t.”
I’d used a combination of butter and water, actually. But it didn’t seem to be doing me much good.
I scowled as I took in the skepticism on both of their faces: Angeline with one dark eyebrow raised in sardonic disdain, and Elissa with her pale, angelic face furrowed in a mixture of distress and exasperation. Now was one of those moments when I desperately wished I could have begun my proper magic lessons with the Order of the Guardians by now, to learn how to use the magic I’d been born with to safeguard good Society. Unfortunately, the initiation process was taking longer than I’d expected. I still didn’t know a single magic-working that would give me a good fever just when I needed it most.
Society, in the form of myself, would just have to go unprotected for now.
“Fine,” I said. “Tell Stepmama I’m not ill after all, if you want. But you know perfectly well that it’s a waste of time dragging me along on today’s shopping expedition. It’s not as if I’ll actually be helpful.”
“There’s an understatement,” muttered Angeline.
Elissa said, “But darling, how will we know which fabrics suit you? You know you need a new gown for the wedding.”
“I know.” I rolled my eyes. Stepmama was determined to make this the finest and most splendid ceremony our village had ever seen. It was a good thing that Elissa’s fiancé was so besotted, he was happily paying all the bills. “I’ll wear whatever gown Stepmama chooses, I won’t complain, and I’ll do anything she asks for the next month, I promise. But please, please, please don’t make me shop with her!”
“Well…” Elissa worried at her bottom lip.
“Oh, let her,” said Angeline. “You know she’d only be in the way. And even if Stepmama does choose a hideous gown for her, it’ll pay her out perfectly for being such a coward.”
I snorted. “I’m not the one who’s a coward. Who still hasn’t had the courage to ask Frederick Carlyle what his intentions are?”
Color mounted on Angeline’s cheeks. “Frederick--I mean, Mr. Carlyle--is Papa’s student. That’s all there is to it. I’m not--I wouldn’t--”
“You summoned him here with a true-love spell,” I said, “and he knows it, now. You two will have to discuss the matter at some point.”
“I’m sure he--I mean, I don’t want--I mean…”
It was pure, undiluted pleasure to see my superbly confident older sister tangling herself up on her own tongue, for once. Even Elissa couldn’t manage to hide a smile at the sight.
“I wouldn’t worry, Kat,” she said. “I’m sure Angeline has had plenty of conversations with Mr. Carlyle on the subject. All those long, long walks around the churchyard…”
Angeline divided her glare between us. “Those were perfectly proper,” she said to Elissa. “Even you couldn’t complain! We were in full view of the house the entire time.”
“Mmm,” I said. “What about that time I found the two of you sharing a private pot of tea in the parlor?”
“What?!” Elissa’s mouth dropped open. She looked genuinely scandalized, and I felt a twinge of guilt. I might actually have gone too far, this time.
“It was only a pot of tea!” Angeline said. “Kat, you wretch--”
“It really was,” I assured Elissa hastily. “It was perfectly proper. They were sitting on separate couches, and the door was at least three inches open.”
“Oh.” Elissa’s shoulders relaxed. “You should have mentioned that part first. But Angeline, you must have a care for your reputation. No matter how harmless your actions, if any gossip should begin in the neighborhood--”
“Giiiirls!” Stepmama’s voice sounded below, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the interruption. If Elissa had had enough time to deliver one of her endless lectures on propriety, I knew exactly whom Angeline would have blamed for it.
Normally, Stepmama wouldn’t have dreamed of being so common as to shout for us, but Stepmama had limits, too, and climbing up the ladder to my attic room was one of them. She claimed the hopeless disorder in my bedroom gave her palpitations. So she stood below the trapdoor and caroled, “Are you ready yet?”
“Very,” Angeline called back. There was a snap in her voice like an arctic chill. “Come along, Elissa. We’ll leave Kat to enjoy her day alone. All alone.”
“If you’re really certain…” Elissa began.
“Oh, I am,” I said, and pushed myself up to a sitting position, reaching for a flannel as they left. I was so busy wiping off the greasy butter-and-water mixture from my face, I barely even noticed Angeline muttering something under her breath on her way out.
I didn’t realize anything was wrong until I tried to swing my legs off the bed.
They didn’t move. At first I thought I was imagining things. Then I braced myself on the mattress, pulled with all my might…and fell flat on my back as my legs remained firmly planted on the bed. They might have been painted there, for all that they budged.
I gritted my teeth. Every so often, it was truly annoying to have a practicing witch as an older sister...
Get the whole short story as a free NOOK ebook on B&N, a free Kindle ebook on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, a free UK Nookbook, a free ebook on Smashwords, or buy it from any international branch of Amazon!