When Phoebe Caldicot loses her much-needed job as an instructress at a select Bath seminary, she knows exactly whom to blame. Sir Miles Saunderton, the elder brother of one of her pupils, is managing, infuriating and the last man she ever wants to see again. As she gazes into a candle flame, she wishes for security. Marriage seems her only option, but where can a penniless ex-schoolmistress find a suitable husband?
The rippling water in a silver bowl stills, and Lady Xanthe Simms and her huge white cat Titus see the image of the desperate young lady. But desperation and wishes are what keep life busy and entertaining for the resourceful fairy godmother. With a melodic hum--and the fluttering to the floor of one of her gold-tipped wing feathers--Lady Xanthe sets forth to grant Phoebe the opportunity to make her wish come true. But opportunities are never certainties...
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Candlelight Wish by Janice Bennett
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.