It took Henrietta far too long to open her eyes that morning. There seemed to be a great weight pressing down on them. But she managed it, then she shot out of bed like a bullet, ripping her duvet off her stomach and arms so fast that it fell off the bed and tumbled to the floor.
Her room was trashed. Totally trashed. The curtains she had lovingly handmade out of old Japanese kimonos had been ripped from the rails. The boxes of trinkets, necklaces, bracelets, and rings that she kept on her dressing table were scattered over the floor, some of them broken, their glass and plastic beads everywhere. That wasn't to mention the state of her wardrobe: the door was hanging off and all of the clothes had fallen off their coat hangers.
As the words “what the hell” were preparing to erupt from her mouth, Henrietta stopped.
Breath sharp, hands shaking, she pressed her fingers into her mouth, her eyes widening in surprise and shock.
Good god, what had happened to her last night?
She sat back down on her bed, eyes never blinking as she surveyed the mess. A cold, sickly feeling was gathering deep in her belly and it washed over her skin in regular waves. She had to lean down, grab up the duvet and bring it around herself to cut out the fiendish chill and shock.
Henrietta Gosling closed her eyes. She brought her hand up and rubbed it over her face, but try as she might, she couldn’t erase the memory of last night.
Last night Henrietta, the mild-mannered cafe waitress, had undergone a transformation, and she had trashed her room in the process.
To think yesterday had started off so innocently. In fact, apart from being late in the morning, she’d almost had a good day. Almost, because around midday things had started to go pear shaped.
As her grandfather clock ticked in the background, she sat huddled on the edge of her bed. After a bit she poked her hands out from under the duvet and looked them over. She turned them around, staring at the fingers, the palms, the nails. Her hands were undamaged. Which was a fantastic fact considering what she'd been through last night.
As she sat there, she gave a huge shudder, even letting out a gasp. She let her gaze shift across the room until she caught sight of the grandfather clock.
“Dammit,” she spat as she jumped to her feet. She was late for work. Again.
Before she could lean down and grab the simple black skirt and white shirt she always wore to wait tables, she stopped. Seriously, she couldn't consider going to work after what she'd gone through. So Henrietta Gosling called in late that day. Instead of waiting tables at the cafe squeezed between the central police station and the fire station along the main road of town, she sat on the edge of her bed or walked around her room waving a hand at her face and swearing.
Henrietta was late. She was running down one of the side alleys that cut across town and led to Sizzle Cafe where she worked. Her handbag jostled around on her shoulder as she ran, and her worn ballet slippers kept coming undone and almost falling off her feet. Suffice to say, she was in a bad mood.
One look at the grey clouds gathering above suggested her mood was about to get worse. She’d dressed for the summer's day promised by the weatherman last night, but he’d neglected to mention there would be a storm thrown into the mix.
As she rounded a corner and came out onto Main Street, she ducked to the side to avoid two burly men moving a large couch through the front doors of the furniture store.
One of them asked whether she was in a hurry, but she didn't have the time to stop and reply: hell yes, she was in a hurry.
She’d been planning on getting to work early today, so she could leave early and head over to her sister's for dinner. It wasn't every day Marcia Gosling invited her over for tea. Henrietta and her sister weren't on the best of terms. Marcia was a drop-dead gorgeous, knock-out bombshell, and Henrietta was average, and only if she bothered to put the effort into brushing her unruly hair and ironing her unkempt clothes.
Their difference in looks didn't account for the two sisters’ less-than-perfect relationship. That had to do with the fact Marcia had stolen every single boyfriend Henrietta had ever had. First was Mark in sixth grade. Minutes after Henrietta had kissed him behind the gym, Marcia had gone in and kissed him in full view of everyone in the yard. Then there’d been Richard in high school. About a day after Richard had asked her to the dance, Henrietta had seen Marcia walk through the mall with him wearing the man like a handbag as he hung off her arm and gawked at her.
Then... then there was John. John had hurt. John had been Henrietta's boyfriend during her brief flirtation with college. John had been studying engineering. John had already bought himself a house at the tender age of 20. John had prospects, John had intelligence, John had wit, and John had adorable floppy hair. Several months after meeting Marcia for the first time, Henrietta had come home to the crushing view of the two of them on the couch.
Marcia was that callous, she was that forward, and she was that uncaring. To Marcia it had meant nothing that she’d stolen Henrietta's boyfriend. To Marcia, you couldn't take flings seriously, and if you couldn't take them seriously, then what right did Henrietta have to get upset over them?
Still, Marcia was family. That meant Henrietta had to go over for dinner tonight. Considering who Marcia was, it also meant Henrietta had to stop by the fancy delicatessen on the high street and get some fresh, new, white freesias. She would also have to trek all the way across town to get the finest bottle of champagne she could afford.
Now that Henrietta was late, it meant she would have to stay back at the cafe and make up her hours. It also meant she would be late for Marcia's. Marcia would blow a gasket. No, Marcia would do more than that; Marcia would have a full-on shouting match with Henrietta on the porch, and then hop online to tell all of her friends what a beast Henrietta was.
Unfortunately, Marcia was still family.
Henrietta put on a burst of speed, trying to catch the pedestrian light before it flicked to red. She didn't make it. When she considered jaywalking – running across the street and taking her chance with the cars – there was a gruff laugh by her side.
“I know you're late, Henrietta, but I have to point out that breaking the law in front of a policeman is never a good idea.”
She turned to see Patrick. Patrick Black. The same Patrick Black who had dated Marcia for an entire three months, which was Marcia's world record for the duration of any relationship.
Patrick Black was tall, handsome, and had the kind of build that could reassure any woman. He was also courteous, and had one of those perfect smiles that made you think he’d practiced for hours and hours in front of the mirror as a teenager.
“How’s your sister?”
She forced her lips to play nice, and she offered Patrick a controlled smile. “Oh, you know, Marcia is always Marcia.”
She waited. There was only one question Patrick would ask next. It was the same question he always asked.
His eyes narrowed in interest.
“No, she isn't seeing anyone,” she got there first.
“Oh, ah, how did you know...?” He patted down his hair.
Basic experience with the male race, she wanted to answer. Instead she put all her effort into maintaining a smile. She’d lied to a police officer. Whilst Marcia wasn't seeing anyone seriously, she was seeing men. Yes, men – more than one – Because Marcia tended to play the field all at once. To her, the idea of having one boyfriend at any given time was boring. Why juggle with one pin, when you can juggle with 10?
“So, how is—” he began.
Once again she got there first. “Dad’s fine, so is Mum.”
Patrick gave a light chuckle, his brow crumpling in a wince. “Am I that predictable?”
Something beeped, and she turned to see the pedestrian light flashing green. She turned back to Patrick, shrugged, gestured wide, and nodded. “Sorry, Patrick, but one of these days you'll have to ask me about quantum physics or how my pot plants are, to break the mold.”
With that, Henrietta Gosling walked across the street, leaving the confused Patrick Black to figure out what she'd said.
When she made it through the beautiful sanded-down, rustic doors of Sizzle Cafe, it was already 9:35 AM. The second her soft ballet shoes padded onto the polished floorboards, was the second the cafe's owner, the diminutive Maria, came whirling out of the backroom, her teeth clenched as she grappled with the string of white pearls around her neck.
It was never a good sign when Maria was manhandling her favorite pearls.
Henrietta gave her most apologetic grimace as Maria rounded on her.
“Late again.” Maria shook her head. “If you weren't the best barista I have, Henrietta, I would have fired you yesterday. Now put your bag down, get your apron on, and get to work.”
Henrietta nodded and ran for the back room before Maria could give her another serving.
Minutes later she set herself up behind the whopping imported Italian coffee machine. Tying her apron around her middle, she looked up and through the massive plate-glass windows at the front of the store. The sky was now clear.
Her lips twitched into a thin frown. When she’d run to work this morning, the sky had been spitting and the wind roaring. Now the sky was clear, the wind gone, and the sun bright and warm.
It figured. Henrietta was an unlucky girl.
It wasn't until 12:30 that anything interesting happened. As she made an espresso for the Fire Chief, she looked up to see a man entering the store.
Just before she looked up, she felt a peculiar tingling sensation prickle the skin on the back of her neck. It was slight, it was sudden, and it was quick. It was over in the blink of an eye, but it served its purpose; she looked up at the right moment.
The stranger by the door flashed her a smile. It wasn't a dashing smile, it wasn't the kind of smile Patrick Black had practiced in front of the mirror. No, it was awkward, crinkled, and graceless.
Blinking, she surveyed him. It was impossible to guess his age or race. He could have been anywhere from 20 to 40. He had the kind of face that looked as though it never aged, but that couldn't be said for his clothes. He was under 6 foot, but his clothes had been made for a man twice his size. They hung off him in great swathes of calico and cotton, the style reminiscent of a monk’s tunic and pants. Over the top was a full-length leather jacket.
He looked like someone out of a movie, maybe a vampire hunter or something as ridiculous, except one wearing hand-me-down clothes from a giant.
He had a wide, large face, and that was about all that could be said for it. His features were nondescript. He didn't have the kind of handsome face that would set him apart from the crowd, in fact he didn't have any feature that was worth noting at all. He looked normal. He had a nose, drab brown eyes, and far too much stubble collecting over his chin and top lip.
He looked out of place, and he knew it. He kept shooting nervous glances to his left and right, as if expecting the tables to rise up and eat him.
It took ten seconds for the man to take another hesitant step into the room, and it wasn't until he took a breath, thumbing his nose and loosening his shoulders with a shake, that he appeared to calm.
Henrietta yanked her hand back as the hot water she was using to clean the coffee machine spilled out and splashed over her.
It forced her to look down, and when she looked up, using her apron to dry her hand, the guy wasn't there anymore.
He hadn't disappeared in a flash of smoke or anything so fantastic. He had wandered off to the bathroom.
He wandered back out again several minutes later and then left.
Weird people walked off the street all the time, but this guy caught her imagination, and she craned her neck to watch him as he strode across the street outside.
“Henrietta, hello, Henrietta.”
She blinked, snapped her head forward, and realized she was ignoring one of the customers. Except this wasn't any old customer. This wasn't any ordinary man. It was Jimmy Field, the hottest man in the whole city. He was strapping, he was handsome, and he had the kind of body that looked fantastic when covered in oil. He was always December when it came to the nude calendar the fire station did each year for charity. Though by nude, you never saw anything; there were hoses and fire hats in the way. Still, Jimmy Field was Mr December. He was also dating Marcia. Though Marcia was also dating about nine other men, Henrietta knew her sister was proud of the fact she’d gotten the attention of Mr December.
Jimmy turned around in his chair to check where Henrietta had been staring off to.
She squeaked. “Oh, sorry, nothing, a bird caught my eye.” A bird caught her eye? What kind of excuse was that?
Jimmy nodded, as if birds caught his eye all the time... which they did, but only if bird was being used as a euphemism for women.
She knew what was coming next. As Jimmy opened his mouth, she got there first. “She is fine. So is mum and so is dad.”
Jimmy got the same confused look Patrick had that morning. “How did you know what I was going to say?”
She shrugged and tried to look affable. It was best not to tell him he was as predictable as one of Marcia’s ridiculous romance novels.
“All right, what am I going to say next then?” Jimmy waggled his eyebrows.
Henrietta paused and glanced around the room, trying to look mystical. “Jimmy Field, you are about to say: here, have a tip.”
He laughed, reached into his pocket, and grabbed a piece of gum, offering it to her. “Here, Henrietta, have a tip.”
She accepted the gum, but arched an eyebrow. “Jimmy, this is not a Home Alone movie. In the real world, we use money.”
He shrugged, his tan, muscular arms peeping out from under his tight and sooty white t-shirt. “Sorry, Henny, but I don't have any coins.”
She took the gum and put it into the pocket of her apron then she watched as Jimmy brought out his mobile and proceeded to call her sister, planning a date for the weekend.
Whilst Marcia would get to enjoy the hottest fireman in town, Henrietta would spend her weekend cleaning out her woodshed. Some things weren't fair. Especially where Henrietta was concerned.
She didn't have long to mull over her bad luck. It was then that she took a quick break to go to the bathroom.
A funny thing happened while Henrietta was in the bathroom. The door caught fire.
The rest of The Enchanted Writes Book One is currently available from most ebook retailers.