An Excerpt From A Fairy Tale

The Theater District, New York City—Fay’s Diner
Wednesday, 1:30 a.m., Eastern Daylight Saving Time

“It’s official—you’re magical and enchanting.”

Emily Drake leaned forward eagerly at her friend’s words, resting her forearms on the table. “Really? You’re not just messing with me?”

Olivia Washington turned her iPhone to face Emily and pointed to the screen. “There it is on one of the biggest Broadway blogs.”

Emily’s other friend, Will Carter, raised his hand and waved imperiously at the waitress. “Garçonette, another round of coffee for my good people here, s’il vous plaît.”

The waitress rolled her eyes at him as she topped off the cups on the table. “You keep that up, and you’ll find itching powder in your dance belt the next time we’re in a show together.” She smiled at Emily. “So, the word is good?”

“It doesn’t sound like I sucked.” Emily was almost afraid to say it out loud. She couldn’t help feeling she might wake up at any moment and learn that this whole evening had been a dream.

“You definitely did not suck,” Olivia insisted, then she added to the waitress, “Becky, she was brilliant. You should have seen her.”

Becky sighed. “And now she’ll become a star and forget all of us still toiling in chorus after chorus—when we can even get a job.” She brightened. “But hey, that means a chorus spot just opened, huh?”

“That’s if the show doesn’t close now that the big name has left,” Emily said, worried they were tempting the Broadway fates. “We may all be looking for jobs again soon, no matter how much the blogs like me.”

“Let’s hope not,” Olivia said. “I’ve enjoyed not going on auditions for a while. You know, this could be like a 42nd Street understudy-becomes-a-star story, only instead of the leading lady breaking her ankle, she went off to Hollywood to be in a teen vampire TV series.”

“I’d rather break my ankle,” Will said dryly, tossing his blond hair out of his eyes.

A silver-haired man sitting across from Emily and her friends looked up from his apple pie and studied Emily intently. His gaze sent shivers down her spine—not bad shivers, but a very funny feeling. It was a vaguely familiar sensation, but she couldn’t quite place it.

Becky shoved a paper menu and a pen in front of Emily, drawing her attention away from the man. “I want your first autograph as a star,” Becky said.

Emily signed the menu with a flourish. The silver-haired man got up from his table and approached Emily’s table tentatively, holding a Playbill from her show. Up close, he didn’t look as old as she’d thought. The hair that had looked silver was really more of a white blond, while his face was smooth and youthful. And yet he dressed like an old professor, in a threadbare tweed jacket with a faded and sagging sweater under it. “You are Emily Drake?” he asked, his voice soft and shy. “You were Emma?”

“Yes,” she said, trying not to giggle at the thrill of being recognized.

He put his Playbill on the table in front of her. “I saw your performance. I would like you to sign this.”

“Oh, wow, my first real autograph.” Her stomach fluttered in pleasure. “Who do you want me to sign it to?”

He didn’t seem to understand the question. Frowning in confusion, he said, as though it should be perfectly obvious, “Me.”

“Do you spell that M-E?” she asked with a laugh, then she added, “Or do you just want the signature so you can sell that Playbill on eBay when I’m famous?”

Now sounding unsure of himself, he said, “Yes, that.”

She signed the Playbill carefully, using the autograph she’d been practicing since high school, then handed it back to him. “There you go. I hope you enjoyed the show.”

He smiled and gave her a slight bow. “I did, very much. It was the bee’s knees.” He frowned, then said, “No, that’s wrong. Radical? No.” He shook his head. “It was very good.” He abruptly turned and walked away, muttering under his breath.

“You’ve got a fan!” Olivia whispered with a glance at the man. “And he’s cute, too.”

“Cute, but kind of weird.” Emily checked the time on her phone and said, “Oh, no, I was supposed to call Sophie, but she’d kill me if I called her at this hour. But would that be worse than her killing me for not calling?”

“I think you’re safe from your sister up here,” Olivia said with a grin. “But we should probably call it a night. We’ve got a matinee tomorrow, and you have hype to live up to.”

They got their checks and settled up before heading out. Olivia tried to flag down a taxi, but it passed them by. “You’ll be sorry when she’s famous!” Will shouted after it.

Laughing, Emily struck a haughty pose and added, “Yeah, don’t you know who I am?”

The next two cabs that came by were occupied. “We may as well hoof it uptown,” Olivia said. “Then we’ll be heading in the right direction if another cab comes along.”

The strange silver-haired man had left the diner around the same time they had, and he’d made no move to hail a cab for himself or to walk away. He approached them. “If you are planning to walk uptown, would you mind if I joined you?” he asked. “I do not believe it is prudent to walk alone at this time of night. I read the newspapers. I know what can happen.”

Emily and her friends glanced at each other. This wasn’t a city where it was wise to trust strangers at any time of day, no matter how polite they were. As if sensing their doubts, he smiled and spread his hands helplessly. “The three of you outnumber me,” he said. “I believe I am more at risk in trusting you than you are in trusting me.”

“Well, come on, then,” Olivia said with a shrug and a wry glance at Emily as she started walking. “Home isn’t getting any closer with us just standing here.”

As they walked, Emily studied the man out of the corner of her eye. Olivia was right; he was cute. He was definitely a fixer-upper, but with raw material like that, it would only take one good shopping trip to make him more than presentable. Granted, he was a little strange, but not in a creepy way. It was more like he was unearthly, from some other time or place. Based on his wardrobe, Emily guessed that he might be an academic who seldom left his ivory tower. Not her usual type, but variety was the spice of life.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” Will said to him.

The man hesitated, then finally said, “I am called Eamon.”

“Thank you for coming to our show, Eamon,” Olivia said.

“Do you think our Emily’s going to be a huge star and forget all her friends?” Will asked.

Any normal person would have said something like, “Of course she’ll be a huge star, but I doubt she’ll forget her friends.” Eamon said, “They do often forget,” his voice solemn and mournful.

“Okay!” Will said in a “changing the subject now” tone. He, Olivia, and Emily continued chatting about the show as they walked. Eamon listened attentively, smiling as though he enjoyed hearing the conversation, but he made no effort to join it.

They reached Columbus Circle without running across an available cab. “So, park side?” Will asked. “That’ll put us in position for an uptown cab. I don’t know about you people, but I have no desire to walk thirty more blocks.”

“Good idea,” Olivia said. “We’ll put you big, strong men between the park and us ladies, so you can protect us from things that lurk in the darkness.”

“If some lurking thing leaps out at us, you’re on your own,” Will said. “I figure all I have to do is outrun the rest of you.”

It was Eamon who walked between the group and the park wall as they headed up Central Park West. When they reached the old Tavern on the Green, Will called out, “There’s a cab coming!” He stepped toward the street, waving his hand. Emily turned to see if the cab stopped, and while she was distracted, she missed her footing and would have fallen if Eamon hadn’t caught her elbow.

Emily felt oddly dizzy—whether from the near fall, the events of the day catching up with her, or Eamon’s touch, she wasn’t certain. She was sure she was still walking, but it felt more like floating, and it seemed as though she was covering great distances with each step. She closed her eyes for a moment and gave her head a good shake. When she opened her eyes, everything was different.

For one thing, her friends were nowhere in sight. For another, she was deep in the park, not on the sidewalk next to a major street. Grass and trees surrounded her, as far as she could see. And she could see. It had been dark before, but now it was daylight. Not midday, but more like the time just before sunset, although the shadows didn’t stretch the way they did at sunset. In spite of the waning light, the colors were intensely saturated. The grass was much greener, the sky was much bluer, and there were brightly colored flowers everywhere. It was as though she’d left sepia-toned Kansas to enter Technicolor Oz, and everything had burst into the most vivid hues she’d ever seen.

The one constant was the man with her, and even he had changed. She’d thought he was cute before, but now he was so beautiful he was beyond human. His pale skin had an opalescent shine, like he was lit from within, and the white-blond hair glowed a metallic silver.

This was all really, really strange, but she had a sneaking suspicion about what had happened. The details were different, but the incident was hauntingly familiar. Her pulse sped up like she was about to step onstage on opening night. “Oh my God,” she breathed. “It was real!”

She’d been in a place like this before, long ago when she’d wandered off the path in the woods back home in Louisiana. At times over the past fourteen years she’d wondered if it had actually happened, if it had just been a dream or a delusion of her sister’s that she’d heard about so often that she had a mental image of it as vivid as a memory. But it was real.

She’d been brought back into the realm of the fairies—not the cute winged sprites of greeting cards and Disney movies, but rather the Gentry, the fae, the Sidhe, whatever people called them in places where these creatures were feared or respected. According to her sister Sophie, they were beautiful, horrible, greedy, selfish, and utterly amoral. The last time, Sophie had brought her back to the real world and had impressed upon her the danger she’d narrowly escaped, but ever since then, Emily had felt incomplete, like she longed to return to a place where she’d once been truly happy.

Now she was back, and Sophie was nowhere nearby to drag her away this time. Could a place this beautiful really be that dangerous? Okay, so Eamon had pretty much kidnapped her instead of inviting her, but it wasn’t as though he’d done it in a mean way. This time she knew the rules: never give direct thanks and don’t eat or drink anything they offer. She might as well enjoy herself, and then if it worked like the time before, she could be back home before anyone knew she was missing.

“So, you’ve brought me back to fairyland,” she said to Eamon.

If he was surprised that she knew the score, he didn’t show it. “I have brought you to the Realm.” He held his arm out to her, and she let him escort her across a park that was almost like Central Park in the real world, only more so. The real one was but a shadow of this place.

“I’ve been dreaming about this for fourteen years,” she said as they walked. “Last time, I just stumbled into the Realm. Did you come after me, specifically?”

“I was looking for you, Emily Drake.”

She didn’t notice the transition, but suddenly they were indoors, in an apartment. It wasn’t a real apartment, at least, not a real New York apartment, cramped and filled with books. It was a Hollywood sound stage version of the living room in a New York apartment, with a raised area at the back where doors opened onto a terrace with a geographically impossible view of the city, all of the landmarks of the skyline showing at once, and in the wrong proportions. The room was open and airy, filled with mid-century modern furniture.

A Holly Golightly-style party was in full swing. Women wearing retro cocktail dresses danced with men in suits with skinny ties. It looked like a scene out of a Doris Day movie. This was the kind of place where she could imagine Doris Day sputtering in righteous indignation at Rock Hudson while wearing a fabulous frock.

But here the people were too beautiful, even for Hollywood, and in a strange way. Their hair was done in the right styles, but it didn’t look quite like real hair. It was metallic-looking, or else like spun glass. The people seemed insubstantial, like they might vanish in a puff of smoke at any moment. The music they danced to should have been early sixties jazz, but it was a wild Celtic-sounding music that was the wrong accompaniment for the twist the dancers were doing.

Her memories of the Realm had been more like A Midsummer Night’s Dream than Pillow Talk, but the unearthly people and their eerie beauty were the same. She felt awfully out of place in this setting. Her jeans and the souvenir show T-shirt her former chorus mates had given her for an understudy-taking-over gift weren’t appropriate party attire.

Then she looked down and saw that she was wearing an early-sixties cocktail dress—heavy green silk, off-the-shoulder, fitted to the waist, with a full skirt. Funny, but she still felt like she was wearing jeans. It was probably a glamour, she thought, recalling Sophie’s fairy lectures. She wished she could do that in the real world. It would be wonderful to look like she was dressed to the nines in evening wear and stiletto heels while she felt like she was wearing jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt.

Now, this was the kind of opening-night party she should have had, she thought with a grin. A fairy handed her a drink, but she dumped it into the nearest potted plant as soon as the fairy’s back was turned. Sophie had warned her that eating or drinking what the fairies offered her would make it nearly impossible for her to leave their world, and while coming to a party here was fun, she had a career on the rise back in New York.

Eamon stayed by her side. He looked as out of place in this party as she felt—possibly even more out of place than he’d seemed in the diner—but he was just as beautiful as any of the fae at the party. His silver hair gave him a shimmering halo. Although his face looked young, his eyes were ancient. They were the color of the mercury in old thermometers, a quicksilver color that shifted with light and motion. They were the most bewitching eyes she’d ever seen, and she felt as if she could have stared into them for hours—until she reminded herself that mercury was poisonous.

“Something tells me this isn’t just an opening-night party for me,” she said to him. “So, what’s the deal? What do you want with me?”

“I wish nothing of you. I’m bringing you to one who sought you.”

Emily shook her head in confusion. “But why? Was there unfinished business from before? Was something supposed to happen before Sophie showed up and ruined everything?”

He looked like he had no idea what she was talking about. “You have been sought for years. You were lost, and now you are found.”

The room suddenly went quiet. Even the music stopped. The party guests all faced the rear windows. Emily turned to see a fairy woman standing on the upper level. The woman’s golden hair was pulled into a French twist, and she wore a skin-tight dark green dress that cupped her breasts in a heart-shaped bodice and then flared into a mermaid-style tail just below her knees. She was tall enough to make Emily feel short, and so slender that her body couldn’t possibly have held the normal human organs. Emily had seen her before, during her last visit to the fairy realm, although she’d been dressed differently then.

The woman paused to pose until she was certain that every eye was on her before she stepped gracefully down into the room. She sashayed across the floor to Emily, then stood in front of her for a long time, studying her with eyes that were as hard and as glittery as diamonds. She reached up a hand to stroke Emily’s cheek, and it took all of Emily’s self-control not to wince at the icy touch. Other memories were now returning. They were hazy, but Emily recalled being afraid, and it had been because of this woman.

The woman frowned and tilted her head to one side before turning to Eamon. “Are you quite certain?” she asked. “She doesn’t feel right.”

He took the Playbill from his jacket pocket and showed the autograph to the woman. “She gave me her name.”

The woman studied the signature, then gave him a brilliant smile. “Eamon, darling, you’ve done it,” she purred. “You’ve brought me my prize, at last.” She turned back to Emily and said conspiratorially, “You have no idea how gratifying it is to learn that there is someone competent around here, after so many failures.”

Eamon gave a stiff bow. “I am honored to have pleased you.”

The woman laughed and swatted at his arm. “I’d ask you to give my court lessons in competence, but you’re such a dreadful bore that I couldn’t stand more like you.” She gestured toward a flunky, who handed Eamon an old, leather-bound book. “Here is your reward, as I promised. Now, run along, back to your library.”

Eamon seemed more relieved than insulted to be dismissed like that, and his attention was already more on the book than on his surroundings. He gave the woman another stiff bow, nodded to Emily with a faint smile, then left the party. Emily felt a pang of loss at his departure. She’d thought he liked her, but she was nothing more to him than the object of a quest. That’s the last time I let a fan walk home with me, she thought.

The woman took her hand and gave it a squeeze, sending a chill all the way to her elbow. “Now, my pet, we never got a chance for proper introductions before. I’m Maeve, but you may call me Your Majesty.” Still holding Emily’s hand, she led her to the sofa, which immediately cleared as the other fairies scattered, returning to their party. Once she and Emily were seated, Maeve continued, talking as though this was a normal conversation happening in a normal place. “How have you been doing? And how is your sister?”

Now Emily remembered more from that time before, something about a confrontation between Maeve and Sophie, and although Emily had hated to leave the fairy world, she’d been glad to be away from Maeve. Fear welled up inside her. This wasn’t about a party at all. There was something else going on, and she wished for the first time this evening that her big sister would show up and get her out of the Realm again. She gave Maeve what she hoped was a steely smile. “Sophie’s probably on her way here already. She always knows when I need her.”

Maeve returned Emily’s smile and said, “Good. I’ve been looking forward to seeing her again for a very long time.”

A chill that had nothing to do with Maeve’s touch surged through Emily’s veins. This was the first time she’d ever encountered anyone who’d had a run-in with her sister who had any desire to repeat the experience. She knew then that she was in big trouble.

Sophie, come get me! she screamed inside her head even as she tried not to let her panic show.

Maybelle, Louisiana—The Drake Residence
Wednesday, 1:30 a.m., Central Daylight Saving Time

Sophie Drake woke with a start, gasping for breath. Then she buried her face in her pillow and groaned, “Oh, Emily, not again.”

With a deep sigh, she rolled out of bed and crossed her bedroom, yanked her closet door open, pulled her suitcase down from the top shelf, and began packing to go to New York. Maybe this time she could settle things once and for all.