Up above, Imogene sniffed back a tear, her silver wings fluttering. "Oh my stars, it's worse than we thought, girls."
The members of the fairy's circle looked down through the heavens to their fairy goddaughter, Cindy Taylor, and sighed. She'd been their charge since she called to them when she was six, after watching Cinderella.
Agatha handed her a lace handkerchief. "Now, dear, don't get weepy on us. She just hasn't had the right opportunities for romance. Blot your eyes before you cause a flood."
Hilda scowled. "Aggie, are you knocking my love spell?"
"The pigmy goats drank the enchanted water, not that handsome vet," Agatha pointed out. "Now her dude ranch is overrun with the little buggers. As our sex expert, you've been spectacularly unsuccessful."
"As head fairy, you should have given me better intel." Hilda turned to Imogene for support. "Am I right, Imme?"
"Now, ladies, I'd say there's plenty of blame to go around." Agatha sighed. "Let's focus on helping our fairy goddaughter. Have faith ladies, I have a plan. I'm bringing in an outside consultant."
* * *
"It was a total flop, Dora. At this rate I'm never going to get laid," Cindy Taylor grumbled, mucking out stalls.
Dora backed away from the flying manure, her nose wrinkling with distaste. "Do you mean he didn't even give you a good night kiss?"
"Nope, I'm still unkissed, and un-everything else," she said with a smile, hitching up the strap on her bib overhauls. She tucked a tumbledown strand of red hair up under her cowboy hat. Her best friend, sleek black hair cut in a bob, and fashionably dressed in designer jeans that enhanced her petite curves, shook her head. They were worlds apart, but had a friendship that went back to kindergarten and could withstand her lack of style. For the past six months, since she'd returned to save the ranch, Dora had been trying to help her get laid. So far nothing had worked. Bless Dora for sticking with it.
Still, she didn't have time to mope. Since her father's sentencing for tax evasion, she was all that kept the ranch from bankruptcy. At least he'd had the good sense to put her in charge in his absence. Her stepmother Cordial, and airhead eighteen-year-old stepsisters, Tiffany and Brandy, didn't know a thing about ranch management and didn't want to learn. So Cindy had bitten the bullet, closed her art studio in Taos, and come home to help, not that the others appreciated it. She hadn't done it for them; she'd made the sacrifice for her dad, and because she loved the ranch that'd been in her family for generations. All the other women cared about was that the money kept rolling in, and there was precious little of that.
"So where are the three witches?" Dora asked, gazing up at the big ranch house on the hill.
"Cordial hasn't made an appearance yet today. I think she's sleeping in."
"More like sleeping it off," Dora muttered.
Cindy chose not to comment. Her stepmother had been acting differently lately, more standoffish and spiteful than usual. And her teenage stepsisters had turned into self-indulgent brats while she'd been away. "Brandy and Tiffany are probably primping for the dance tonight."
"And you're up to your ankles in horse shit."
"And your point is?" Cindy asked wryly.
"There's something wrong with this picture. At least say you're going to the dance tonight."
Cindy shook her head. The Policeman's Ball was the high point of Cider City's society year. Held at the newly constructed Hyatt Regency, it would no doubt hold the cream of the local stud crop. While she ached to find the right guy to make her a woman, she couldn't bear the thought of another dud on such an evening, especially not one on such a grand scale. "I can't. I don't have a thing to wear."
"No problem. I have a stylist..."
"I don't want to hear it," Cindy interrupted yet another pitch for the makeover she desperately needed, but couldn't afford.
"Word has it the elusive JT Randal might make an appearance," Dora said with a conspiratorial grin. "How can you stand to miss it?"
A little thrill went through her at the bad boy's name—grown man now, she amended. It'd been twenty years since he'd roared out of town on the back of his Harley, which would make him in his late thirties. An experienced man of the world, a risk taker, now he had what it took to introduce her to sex in a big way. Her mouth curved in a secret grin. He was probably big all over. She saw Dora watching her with a smirk, no doubt guessing the way her dirty thoughts had wandered.
They'd both had unrequited teenage crushes on the hunk. She'd kept track of him through the news like everyone else; a successful businessman, others on Wall Street had dubbed him the Barbarian. The name fit, he'd always had a primitive streak. Now that his father was ailing, the prodigal was expected to return, but she'd never put much stock in rumors. Besides, having the two of them double team her would be disastrous. It'd been hard enough repelling Silas Randal's attempts to steal the ranch out from under her. "As far as I'm concerned, he can stay away."
"Now, Cyn, don't be so pessimistic. Old man Randal didn't say for sure your ranch was on the chopping block, did he?"
"He didn't have to. His slimy personal assistant, Dwain Hawkins, didn't pull any punches. You know what he tried to pull."
"The man tried to romance you; you kicked his ass, and set the goats on him. You've got to stop doing that, if you want to attract a man."
"So I didn't fall for his sudden fatal attraction for me. I'm too smart to buy the bill of goods he was selling. Besides, when he touched my boob, he asked for it. The scrawny jerk thought he was god's gift to women. I did all the other females in the valley a favor and set him straight." She knew exactly what kind of lover she craved, and he wasn't anything like smarmy Dwain Hawkins. Tall, dark, dominant, but with a playful streak; now that was for her. The fact that it fit JT Randal's bio to a 'T' was only coincidental.
"I can't give you an argument there. I hear Hawkins has been making a pest of himself at half the ranches in the valley, trying to gobble them up."
"See what I mean. The Double T Ranch would give Randal Industries direct access to the railroad for shipments, and everybody knows the old curmudgeon Silas Randal is itching to expand his business. Hawkins is his henchman, he's willing to kiss you, or cheat you, at his boss's say-so."
"Are you still getting the, seemingly anonymous, obscene letters?"
"Feast your eyes on the latest," Cyn said, pulling the typewritten note from her back pocket."
"...some day soon, you will know what it is to feel my touch. I have the patience and intelligence to tame a wild bitch like you and bring you to heel. You'll moan with ecstasy as I shove my giant cock down your throat, inch by inch. Don't try to run..."
"He certainly has an inflated picture of himself," Cindy said, rolling her eyes. "Turn it over and read the secret message."
Dora flipped it over. "Good grief, they've scrawled it in lipstick."
"Yup, it's like the other secret messages."
"Run you stupid, pigheaded girl, while you still can. This may be the last warning I'm able to give you."
"Hmm, it seems you have a friend trying to warn you off. Or maybe Hawkins has a jealous girlfriend."
"I doubt it. Can you really picture him with a girlfriend?" she asked, her nose wrinkling in distaste.
"No. So maybe you should run, and your old man should give in to the pressure from RI, and sell up," Dora said sympathetically. "It might be the best solution for all concerned. Your father's never been all that good at ranching from what I could see. Then you could get away from this mess, and get a life."
Cindy blew her a raspberry. "Hell, I'd settle for a love life but I'm not running, and my dad is to good at ranching, when his heart's in it." She pocketed the note, telling herself it was true. "And don't you dare tell him about these notes. He's got enough to deal with getting through the next three months till he's released, and besides..."
Dora held a hand up to forestall her. "Fine, I give up. At least say you'll reconsider going to the dance."
"Maybe," Cindy said, stalling her. She really wasn't up for another unkissed evening. And she really didn't own anything fancy enough for the formal event.
"I'll be watching for you, just in case," Dora said, going to her car. "And if you're worried about running into JT Randal, don't. After all, what would a high-powered industrialist be doing at the Policeman's Ball?"
"True." Cindy sighed as she watched Dora drive away. She had a sneaking suspicion Dora wouldn't take no for an answer. Stretching the kinks out of her back, she went to finish her chores, unloading the bags of goat chow. The pygmy goats had one hell of a love life, reproducing like crazy. Too bad she couldn't say the same. When she finished, she walked to her cabin located next to the bunkhouse, going through the dude ranch lobby to her digs. What she needed was a pint of rocky road to cheer up her pity party.
Suddenly there was a tap on her door. It could be Dora with a suggestion for another god-awful blind date, or more likely one of the steps with another dress crisis. Stitch the hem, iron the gown, or get out a stain, her money was on stain at this late hour. She threw it open to find three short older ladies carrying makeup cases, standing in the lobby. Were Avon ladies going out in posses now? "I think you want the big house, ladies."
"No, Cynthia Jane, we're here to see you."
"Really?" she asked, shocked.
"Of course, we're your Fairytales makeover team. Just think of us as your fairy godmothers."
"But I didn't order a makeover, and I certainly can't afford one."
"My dear, it's already taken care of."
Cindy felt a small stirring of hope grow inside her. This must be Dora's surprise birthday gift she'd been hinting about. You're going to love it, Cyn. The tiny ladies beaming up at her were certainly loveable. She read their gold embossed nametags, Agatha, Imogene, and Hilda, and smiled. "Ladies, thank you, I think you came in the nick of time."
She stepped back to let them inside. Then, around through the lobby, came a troop of hairdressers and technicians. "So many of you?"
"Of course, we give deluxe service. Just put yourself in our capable hands."
Cindy put troubling thoughts out of her mind, and did just that, letting them treat her to a spa oil bath and massage, softening her work-roughened skin. A pedicure and manicure came next. She looked down at her pink toenails and smiled, feeling sexy and feminine. When she slipped into the hairdresser's chair, and looked at her tangled, limp ginger hair hanging down her back, she let out a sigh. "I think it's hopeless."
"No, dear," Agatha said, "you just haven't had anyone to show you what to do with it."
How did she know that? Her mother died when she was born and she'd grown up a tomboy, looked after by Pedro and Juanita while her father grieved. When the stylist turned her hair from a tangled mess, to fiery waves of copper and gold, cascading around her shoulders, she couldn't believe her eyes.
"It's lovely," she said, shaking her hair, watching it shimmer and catch the light. She looked at the beaming trio, her fairy godmothers. "How can I ever thank you?"
"Go to the dance," they said in tandem.
Now, how did they know about the dance? Or that she wasn't planning on going? Dora must have tipped them off. "I can't, it's formal, and I don't have a thing to wear."
"Not to worry, my dear," Imogene said, going to a large suitcase.
Cindy watched curiously as she opened the suitcase, an aura of gold light radiated out of it, refracting rainbows on the paneled walls. Gasping with wonder and surprise, Cindy watched Imogene reach inside and pull out a gorgeous turquoise blue evening gown. The princess-style dress, shot through with gold threads, would make her the bell of the ball. "It's beautiful," Cindy said, with a gasp.
"It matches your eyes," Imogene pointed out with a tender smile.
Cindy gazed at her reflection in the mirror, realizing they were right. The expertly applied makeup she wore played up her eyes, and her full lips.
"This should get his attention," Imogene said, with a giggle.
"Him?" Cindy asked.
"The man of your dreams." Imogene blushed.
How did they know she had sex dreams? Dora certainly wouldn't have told them about her secret erotica library.
Hilda smiled, and walked over to the case, shooing Imogene aside. "My turn." She winked at Cindy and pulled out lingerie. She watched as Hilda reached into the case and pulled out a rainbow of different colored sexy lingerie. She picked a matching gold lace bra and panty set out of the pile, and held them up. "Try these tonight to light his fire."
"Those might just do it." Cindy grinned, wondering if they had a little love potion number nine in that magical case of theirs.