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Authors: Janice Bennett

Candlelight Wish

BOOK: Candlelight Wish
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An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Candlelight Wish

 

ISBN 9781419923319

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Candlelight Wish Copyright © 2009 Janice Bennett

 

Edited by Helen Woodall

Cover art by Dar Albert

 

Electronic book Publication September 2009

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc., 1056 Home Avenue, Akron, OH 44310-3502.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.  (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Candlelight Wish

Janice Bennett

Dedication

 

To Helen, just for being there.

 

Prologue

 

The water in the shallow silver basin shimmered with more than the reflection of the sunlight that filtered through the lace curtains. Without so much as a breath of air to aid it, the surface rippled, setting colors swirling in the mirrored interior. Images took tentative form, shifted to an indeterminate blur then went shooting and sparkling across the wide surface.

Beside the lace-covered sideboard on which the basin rested, a long-haired white cat of comfortable proportions sprawled lazily on the windowsill enjoying the morning’s warmth. The tip of his tail twitched as if some dream disturbed his slumbers. He blinked sleepy eyes, yawned cavernously and uncurled his considerable length to stretch with the concentration only a feline could give to such an occupation. He settled on his haunches and his thick tail wrapped about his feet.

The ripples continued in the basin, catching the cat’s attention. He cocked his head and his large green eyes narrowed. He hunkered down and crept forward, one cautious step at a time, until he peered into the glittering waters. Candles seemed to glow within, filling the mirrored interior with magical dancing flames.

For a long moment the cat considered this spectacle. Then his tail twitched and he sprang from the sideboard to the polished plank floor. With a grace amazing in an animal of such girth, he bounded through the open doorway, down the short hall, across the spacious kitchen and out into the garden.

Lilac bushes lined the cottage’s stone walls, the huge blossoms making the air heavy with their sweet scent. Thyme and moss filled the gaps between the flagged paving stones which the cat sped across. For once he didn’t linger to sniff the patch of catnip planted especially for him or to watch the butterflies that flitted among the roses. Across the vegetable garden he darted, to where a woman knelt amid the fragrant herbs.

She was just above average height, her plump figure arrayed in a dark green tunic knotted about her waist with a golden cord. Gloves covered her hands as she leaned forward to pull a stubborn weed from amid the chamomile. Copious amounts of pale hair, mostly confined in braids, wound about her head and kept her wide-brimmed straw hat from fitting properly. One could easily mistake her for one’s beloved aunt—if one’s aunt was possessed of a reprehensible sense of humor and violet eyes full of mischief. She might have been any age from thirty to fifty, except that Xanthe existed outside of time as the majority of the world knew it. She had in fact tended this very same garden with loving delight for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

The cat slowed as he reached her and positioned himself, true to his nature, in the midst of her work so she couldn’t possibly continue and meowed.

Xanthe sat back on her heels and regarded him with amused exasperation. “Well, Titus?”

For answer he meowed again, the sound imperious and demanding.

Xanthe’s eyebrows rose. “My basin? Candles? Did you see anyone?”

Again the cat meowed but this time the very tone of it conveyed the negative.

“Well I had better come at once then, hadn’t I?” She stripped off her gloves and laid them with her trowel then hunched her shoulders to ease them from the stiffness of her labors. A double set of oval wings rose with them, the feathers almost transparent and tipped with gold. A single fluff of down drifted to the stones.

Xanthe stood and her elegant wings spread to their full span of six feet then refolded themselves neatly down her back. Fairy wings, not in the least angelic. More showy than useful and she had to keep them invisible on her frequent visits to humans. Still it felt good to allow them their natural freedom here in the privacy of her own home.

Titus paced majestically before her, leading the way, keeping his steps just quick enough so Xanthe didn’t trip over him. Time for that later. He preceded her into the breakfast parlor, sprang onto the sideboard and settled beside the basin, tail once more tightly wrapped about his feet. The water still rippled and shimmered and the colors danced within the bowl.

“Candles,” murmured Xanthe. She pulled open the top drawer of the chest and rummaged through an assortment of beeswax tapers—violet and pink, lemon and sky blue, mint green and orange and white. She located six of these last and set them in silver holders, chased with the same pattern of oak and holly leaves as the mirrored basin. When she had them arranged about the shimmering bowl, she lit them, passed her hands over the rippling waters and sat down to wait, humming softly. Titus joined in, his encouraging purr rumbling deep in his throat as he regarded her workings with feline equanimity.

Almost at once the water swelled as if with a tide then roiled, transforming the images to a kaleidoscope of fractured colors. Xanthe passed her hand over the basin once more, still humming and the waters quieted then stilled. For perhaps five seconds the basin went opaque then for a long moment it glowed with an inner fire. Then it cleared.

Distinctly, as if seen through a window, the face of a young lady appeared. A rather pretty face, oval and delicate, dominated by a pair of huge eyes the shade of sea-smoke which gazed with wistful contemplation into the flame of a candle. A profuse amount of coppery brown curls clustered about her ears, falling from a knot on the top of her head. A small mole emphasized the corner of her full mouth. An earnest face, this fairy godchild of hers possessed, hiding a personality to be reckoned with.

Xanthe closed her eyes, attuning herself. Abruptly she frowned, wrinkling her nose, then as suddenly laughed. She turned to Titus who regarded her with stoic patience. “Her name,” she announced, “is Phoebe Caldicot.”

Titus opened his mouth in a soundless meow and the very tip of his tail twitched.

“No, she is confused. Her head and her heart, you know. The desires of one never seem to agree with the desires of the other. They so rarely do. It shall be a delight to help her sort it all out.”

Titus made an inquisitive stuttering sound.

“Not yet but soon.” She passed her hand over the basin once more and the face shimmered then ebbed away with the rippling of the water. Three full minutes passed then stillness reigned once more. Only the brilliant sunlight glinted on the surface, fracturing and shooting sparkles of light about the room from the mirrored interior. Xanthe extinguished the tapers then stepped back and looked at Titus. “Well?” she asked the cat. “Are you ready to go back to work?”

For answer, Titus blinked.

Xanthe nodded. “So am I.” She strode from the room, bent on making her necessary preparations.

A single gold-tipped transparent feather fluttered to the floor behind her.

Chapter One

 

The chill breeze of the early April night whipped about Miss Phoebe Caldicot, tugging at the shawl she had cast about her shoulders. Next time, she fumed, she would wear a warmer one. But then she’d hardly expected to go out at such an hour. She’d dressed as usual for an evening safe within the walls of the Misses Crippenham’s Academy for Young Ladies, not for searching Sydney Gardens for an errant pupil.

She cast a fulminating glance at the young lady who hurried at her side, bundled in a warm cloak with its hood well up to cover her distinctive titian-colored hair. At least Miss Lucilla Saunderton showed some measure of discretion. Phoebe could only wish she had displayed it earlier and shrunk from this clandestine meeting with a half-pay officer she had met only the previous day. It had seemed harmless enough at the time to allow three of their young ladies to go shopping unsupervised in Milsom Street under the supervision of one of the Academy’s maids. She’d begun to guess her mistake upon their return when she’d noted Lucilla’s glowing mischievous looks and heard the giggling of the other two girls. In the five years she’d been deportment and pianoforte instructress at the Academy, Phoebe had learned to tell the signs when one of the girls fancied herself in the throes of some romantic passion. And why could it not, just once, be with some respectable young gentleman? But no, the girls always seemed to feel compelled to slip away to meet their shockingly ineligible gallants in secret. Lucilla had proved no different.

If Phoebe hadn’t wrenched the truth of the girl’s whereabouts from her two closest friends, the consequences could well have been disastrous. As it was, Phoebe had no idea whether or not she could extricate them undetected. Society did not take a kind view of such escapades on the part of a gently nurtured young lady of quality. The Misses Crippenham took an even dimmer one.

And as for the instructresses whose job it was to keep an eye on the girls— She quickened her pace. She could not afford to lose her job.

Lucilla peeped over at her. “It was not so terrible,” she ventured, the first words she had spoken since Phoebe had propelled her out of the Sydney Gardens some twenty minutes before. “He was truly the gentleman and so terribly romantic. He likened my eyes to the fairy glow of the lanterns.”

“There is nothing in the least bit romantic about ruining your reputation,” Phoebe shot back.

“But I didn’t!” cried the girl. “Miss Caldicot, truly I did not. No one recognized me. At least, I know we bumped into old Mrs. Brubaker but she is so nearsighted she is almost blind. She could not possibly have known who I was.”

“And what of Mr. Tallant?” Phoebe demanded. “He is the most dreadful gossip and if he realized who you were the story will be all over Bath by morning.”

“Bath!” Lucilla said the name witheringly. “I shall be off to London tomorrow at last! They may say what they like in Bath.”

“Your departure is by no means certain. And what is said in Bath is frequently repeated in London.”

Lucilla halted, turning to face her instructress. “You are being unkind. And as for my departure, why else would my brother have come here and called at the school at such a time of night instead of waiting until morning? Depend upon it, he must have found someone to chaperon me for the Season and wanted me to pack upon the instant.”

Phoebe took her by the arm and dragged her forward. “If he learns where you really were tonight he might change his mind.”

“He would not!” And then in a smaller voice, “What did you tell them when you found I was not in my room?”

“That I had forgotten you were visiting Miss Middleton. But Lucy, I cannot convince myself that—”

BOOK: Candlelight Wish
4.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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