Anne Townsend doesn’t ask for much. Plain and poor, she’d settle for the funds to put food on the table. Making a wish on the fabled Fairy Steps is hardly a solid solution, but to see her two sisters taken care of, Anne’s willing to try anything. Yet when she finds herself suddenly surrounded with suitors, romance is now a possibility for the spinster everyone always ignored except with the one man who will never want her…
Nathaniel Matthews has no time for courting. As the eldest, he has his family’s lost fortune to rebuild, and his reckless brother to manage before he gambles his future away. Odd that Nathaniel can think of little but kissing bright-eyed Anne, who seems to be fighting off admirers from all sides. Is it the country air, or is Nathaniel ready to discover that love has a magic all its own?
“I hereby decree the word spinster be stricken from all manner of speech.” Anne Townsend waved her makeshift wand from her perch at the top of the Fairy Steps. She cleared her voice in her most royal manner. “Furthermore, the word shall be stricken from every document in my fair kingdom!” The small village of Beetham shimmered in the gold cast of the late autumn sun, completely unaffected by her pronouncement.
Typical. She threw the stick down the uneven stones she’d just climbed.
Plain, practical, boring Anne
Was too plain to catch a man.
If she caught the eye of one,
To her sister he would run.
The truth of the stupid childhood taunt stared back at her every blasted day. She was plain. She’d never attracted any man she deemed suitable. It wasn’t as if she was being picky. He just had to be reasonably wealthy, reasonably handsome, reasonably witty, and not stupid.
Therein lay the difficulty. No man had met all the requirements. If he was handsome, he was either poor or witless. If he wasn’t handsome, he had funds and was as old as the Fairy Steps.
It was of little matter. A modern woman made the best of things. Modern women didn’t settle for some old shriveled-up man. And she would be a modern woman if it killed her.
Five years ago, the lure of magic in the Fairy Steps had stirred her romantic heart. A wish could fix anything: poverty, loneliness, and love. God, what a ninny she’d been.
The only thing that fixed poverty and loneliness was money.
Daily her sisters, Sophia and Juliet, whined about their lack of funds. They argued over stupid ribbons. They complained about their old, unfashionable dresses. Her sisters had no inkling of the trouble they were in.
They needed fuel for the approaching winter, food for larder, and coins to pay the two servants Anne couldn’t do without. It took blunt. Blunt was what she needed more than anything.
If the confounded fairy showed up today, Anne wouldn’t hesitate. She’d wish for the ready. Pots of it.
Anne closed her eyes and embraced the rare moment of peace. No arguing, whining, bickering, nagging, tormenting, or complaining. Just beautiful, glorious silence.
A cold gust of wind blew the tendrils of hair from her face and chased a shiver up her spine. Dried leaves rattled behind her as they skated across the rock. A twig snapped behind her.
Her eyes flew open. She wasn’t alone.
Anne’s heart pounded so hard she could hear it thumping in her ears. Hair lifted on the back of her neck. Anger warred with fear. Anger won.
She picked up a good-sized limb from the ground and gripped it with both hands. “Show yourself, coward.”
“Speak your heart’s desire, my lady.” An odd, otherworldly voice filled the air. The breeze kicked up again.
Anne tightened her grip on the tree limb. She threw her shoulders back and stood taller. She wasn’t going down without a fight.
“You climbed the steps properly and earned a wish, you have.” The voice cackled.
She lowered her arm. Blast, this was nothing but a prank. Probably some child bribed by Sophia. She’d box the child’s ears and send him on his way. She’d deal with her sister when she got home. “The joke is over. Come on out.”
“’Tis a magical place you’ve found, as well you know for the many times you’ve climbed these steps.” The crackling voice sounded old, not childlike.
“Enough!” Anne was sick to death of being the whipping boy.
A wizened, bent old woman with a twisted cane shuffled out of the trees at the foot of the stairs. “Always you must see to believe.”
“You must think me dicked in the nob, madam. There are no fairies.” Anne threw the limb into the bushes behind her. “Be gone now, and tell my sister Sophia to try harder next time.”
“How hasty and untrusting you young people are. Make your wish, child.”
Anne studied the old lady. She looked like one of the gypsies who came around at harvest time. How much coin had she bilked out of Sophia for this prank? “Fine. I wish you to be gone.”
The old woman cackled. “I should take you up on that, but your heart speaks differently. It speaks of struggle and loneliness.”
What did this woman know of her life? “I’m sick of this game. Good day, ma’am.” Anne turned toward the path.
“Wish for anything, my lady. Wish grandly.” A gleeful, wicked light gleamed in the old woman’s eyes. She lifted her cane and jabbed it toward Anne. “Little wishes are for little souls. They are not for the likes of you. Now wish. You are wasting my time.”
Well, rats, she might as well wish for something. It would shut the woman up, everyone would have their fun, and Anne could go home.
“Perhaps a prince? Grand properties? Great beauty?” the old woman teased.
Anne dropped her hands and glared at the old hag. “You are bamming me.”
“Anything is possible, miss.” The old lady cackled. “You’ll never know, if you don’t believe.”
Anne had the old woman now. She’d make the wish so impossible, so farfetched, that it couldn’t be fulfilled. No fairy magic could conjure love. Everyone knew that. The mad woman would look like a fool. “Very Well. I wish for a handsome man so rich that will be able to provide a Season in Town for my sisters. He must also be passionately in love with me.”
“Done!” the old lady crowed.
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About the Author:
Eileen Richards has been writing for most of her life. Poetry, totally inappropriate answers to essay questions in school, and interesting error codes during her 30 year IT career has prepared her for the manic world of publishing.
She writes sassy regency romps set in the small villages of England where the rules are bent a bit and gossip rules the day.
Eileen resides with her husband and their diva of a greyhound in North Carolina. Visit Eileen’s Website