Cin Wikkid: April Fools For Love

BOOK: Cin Wikkid: April Fools For Love
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Cin Wikkid

 

A contemporary fairytale romance with a twist.

Part of the April Fools For Love collection

THE WRONGED DAUGHTER

Cinderella hungers to escape from under Widow Wikkid's grinding thumb. But to snare a plum job at Prince Industries, Cin desperately needs her degree, and she can't wrap her mind around tax accounting.

Then scarred but sexy Rafe Montoya ignites her imagination with his brilliant tutoring—and, as they work together in his cozy apartment, he sets her body on fire. She thinks he's the one for her, until he starts pushing her to attend Gideon Prince's marriage-mart ball.

THE HANDSOME PRINCE

Rafe is really Gideon Prince, head of Prince Industries. He must name his bride by his April first birthday or suffer the loss of his family fortune.

Rumors say he's still single because women love his money and looks, not him. Is he lonely or just another duplicitous tycoon?

THE GLASS SLIPPER TEST

Hopefuls flock to Prince's birthday ball, but only the woman who is kind, wise, and generous will win his heart. Is it Cin, or will her stepmother, as she always does, snatch the prize for her own daughters?

And on the night of the ball, when Cin discovers Rafe’s true identity, can she even accept his final test?

Warning: Rags-to-riches fairytale meets the texting generation. Stepsisters who are a blush-brush shy of a full makeup set, and a ball gown built like a tank. Contains material intended for mature audiences. Reader discretion advised.

License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for your support and respecting the hard work of this author.

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

 
Cin Wikkid
Copyright © 2016 by Mary Hughes
ISBN: 978-1-940958-07-1
Cover by P and N Graphics
 

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Cin Wikkid

April Fools For Love

 

 

Mary Hughes

Dedication

Thank you to Stacy D. Holmes for her superlative editing. All mistakes are my own.

Hefting another beer stein to this year’s pack of Love’s Fools—Roxy Mews, S.L. Carpenter, and Kayleigh Malcolm.

To Gregg, my Valentine, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and April Fool, all rolled into one.

To everyone who has been persecuted or abused, may they find their happily ever after. To everyone who has ever hidden their light under a bushel to ease others’ feelings, may they find a safe place to shine.

This story owes much to the Cinderella tales before it, to the variations on the persecuted heroine theme, and especially to Charles Perrault’s 1697
Cendrillon,
which introduced the glass slipper, fairy godmother, and pumpkin. Who doesn’t love a good pumpkin?

My dearest daughter, Cinderella. If you are good and kind, one day you will find your prince.

 

Cin Wikkid was beating her head against advanced tax accounting when she heard her stepsister’s tread on the attic stairs. Cin quickly hid her textbook—

No, no. That’s not how to begin this story.

What? Well, then, how about this?

Cinderella was achingly close to landing her dream job at Prince Industries, run by the city’s hottest bachelor, billionaire playboy Gideon Prince. She was only one horrible class short, when her stepsister stalked up the stairs—

Please. That’s
not
how a fairytale starts.

This isn’t a fairytale. It’s a contemporary retelling. A sexy romance. No fairies, no magic.

Is there not a Glass Slipper, and a pumpkin? This is a tale, and a proper tale must always begin with Once Upon a Time…

Prologue

Once upon a time there was a little girl whose loving mother told her, “Be a good girl, Cinderella. Be a woman of character, and virtue will bring its own reward.”

But Cinderella’s mother died tragically young. The girl’s widowed father, heartbroken and left to raise his daughter on his own, plunged too soon into another marriage. The new Mrs. Wikkid was as vain as she was beautiful, with two daughters who were shallow and mean.

This was not a loving, happy, blended family. This was not even a comically misfit sitcom family.

In the beginning, Cinderella’s stepmother said all the right words. “I love each of our daughters equally,” she’d simper, though behind her husband’s back, she spanked Cinderella while sneaking treats to her own two children.

Cinderella had been brought up to be kind, thrifty, charitable, and to work hard—traits which should have made her much beloved by her new sisters. But in addition to being good, Cinderella was beautiful—and, unforgivably,
more
beautiful than her stepsisters. They resented her bitterly and were bitingly vocal about it.

“Mom says you are a dirty, foul girl.” The elder, Ezmrelda, tall, thin, and dark-haired, shook her long, skinny finger at Cinderella. “But you are smart. Do my homework.”

“Nobody likes you,” the younger, plump, and fair-haired Ylanda agreed. “Do my housework.”

The ridicule stung Cinderella, but, remembering her mother’s words and knowing that it was right and kind to help, she put aside her feelings. She shouldered her stepsisters’ work in addition to her own with good cheer. One day virtue would bring its own reward.

Although in the short run, virtue brought more work. Ylanda crept into Cinderella’s room, pleading, “Help me with my homework, too? I’ve already been held back a grade, and I’m afraid I won’t graduate.” Cinderella’s heart went out to her, and she helped, despite Ylanda still snubbing her when anyone else was around.

With each passing year, as Cinderella grew more beautiful, the stepmother’s resentment thickened and hardened and began to ring stridently even in her husband’s ears.

Mr. Wikkid responded by taking a second job, only coming home late at night, and by turning off his cell phone while he was away.

In retaliation, Mrs. Wikkid devised tests of her husband’s love. At first, she asked coyly for a trinket here and there, but as he stayed away more and more, her demands escalated to diamonds and luxury cruises.

Cinderella’s father dealt with the family strife (and managed to keep up with the bills) by taking a third job, only coming home on weekends.

Then, just before Cinderella started high school, he died, and no longer came home at all.

He left his daughter alone in the bosom of a family that made a reality show family look kind and sane. The night of the funeral, Cinderella came to the dinner table and found not one, but two chairs missing.

“Where do I sit?”

“The dining room is for family,” her stepmother sniffed. “You eat in the kitchen after we’ve finished.”

From that day, the Widow Wikkid no longer even pretended to treat Cinderella as a daughter. She forced the girl to work in the home like a servant—no, worse, because Cinderella was paid nothing. For two years the girl went to school then came home to cook and clean, a never-ending chore because her stepsisters were lazy and messy and often threw tantrums which made things worse.

Cinderella wept nightly in her small attic room. But by day she remembered her dear mother’s teachings and strived to bear it all with good humor. “Someday,” she told herself. “Someday, if I work hard, I’ll have a nice job and can afford a little place of my own.”

The girl was what is known in the psychological field as a Survivor—not to be confused with the T.V. show of the same name. It meant Cinderella was resilient under stress.

She only thought of it as clinging to her mother’s teachings. Her increasing beauty came, not just from her glossy hair, big eyes, and ruby lips, but from inner character.

But the more beautiful she grew, the worse her stepsisters treated her, until one day she became ill and her skin turned gray and her eyes dulled. To her amazement, her stepsisters’ jealousy eased.

Cinderella started wearing bad makeup to blotch her skin, old, ill-fitting clothes to obscure her developing figure, and cutting her own hair with a fingernail clipper. It made life tolerable.

But she never, ever let anything blotch, obscure, or hack at her character.

Then the summer Cinderella turned sixteen, she made a small bid for freedom. “Can I get an outside job?”

“No,” snapped the Widow Wikkid.

“But I can make real money working full time.”

“I said
no.
” Her stepmother peeled off her belt.

Cringing, Cinderella made one last try. “It would help with the bills.”

Mrs. Wikkid paused then rethreaded her belt. “Well, don’t think you can get out of cleaning.”

“Right.” With a relieved breath, Cinderella immediately went to look for work.

She found a good job at a sandwich shop—and managed to secretly sign up for classes at the local technical college. While still doing all the household chores, she took distance-learning courses during her meal breaks and scribbled homework in the dead of night, hard work made harder because she had to hide everything from her stepmother and stepsisters.

But it was worth each groggy morning and aching night when, that January, at the age of twenty-two, Cinderella was one class away from her associate’s degree in accounting.

One class away from a place of her own. Freedom.

But she was failing the class.

Then everything changed the night she met her scorching-sexy tutor.

Chapter One

“What are you doing?” Ezmrelda craned over Cinderella like a snooping scarecrow.

Beating my head against advanced tax accounting.
But Cin couldn’t tell Ez that. She shifted in her chair to hide the textbook in her lap and tapped a pencil on the desk before her. “I’m balancing the household checkbook.”

“Oh. Bo-ring. Have my new tops come yet?”

“UPS just delivered. Everything’s in your bedroom dresser.”

“Great. I’m going gown-shopping at Chez Ritz for the Prince Industry Ball—and Chez Ritz doesn’t let in common riff-raff. I need to look my best.” Ez flew to the doorway, screeched to a halt and spun to throw Cin a dark look. “You better not have touched my tops.”

I touched them to put them away.

Cin bit her tongue. Ez wouldn’t think the joke funny. Instead, Cin said, “Of course not. But I thought the Prince Ball wasn’t until May.” Apparently the heir to Prince Industries, Gideon Prince, had to marry within a day of his twenty-fourth birthday to keep control of the family fortunes. Rumor had it this year he was using his annual birthday ball to select his bride.

True or not, the newspaper had printed an open invitation to every unmarried woman in the city, and all three Steps, mother and sisters, were in a tizzy about it.

“The Ball is
April first.
” Ez had a way of kicking back her head and sneering her words through her high, thin nose that made her sound like a talking jet engine. “This is mid-January already. I only have two and a half months, barely enough time to find the right dress and then shoes to match, not to mention jewelry and perfume and makeup.”

Perfume has to match the dress?
Again Cin bit her tongue. “Well, your tops are still packaged tight.”

“Good.” Ez swept out.

With a sigh, Cin returned to her homework. Tax accounting sucked green banana bread. She just wasn’t
understanding
it. Capital gains exceptions and cost basis made her head spin. And this was only the first month of classes.

She absolutely
had
to understand this material. She’d already interviewed for a plum job at Prince Industries, already been provisionally accepted as an accounting intern—provisionally, meaning no degree, no job.

No pressure.

Oh, who was she kidding? Steam-kettle pressure. Volcano pressure. She
had
to pass this class, but it was so confusing, she might as well have been studying cat psychology.

Slamming shut the book on her lap, Cin grimaced. She needed help. Maybe she should try to email the professor.

Yeah, easy for the average millennial. But not for her, not with the door liable to burst open at any moment to her Wikkid stepmother and two stepsisters.

WS and the Two Steps.
She smiled.
Sounds like a Forties big band.

Her smiled faded. The house had a decent Wi-Fi, and Cin had finessed the router password from Ylanda—Yl hid all her passwords on a paper under her mattress—but to connect, she’d have to risk revealing her big secret.

Cin put a hand over her breast, where her treasure nestled. Anything worth anything was considered a family asset and immediately confiscated by her stepmother, no matter whose hard-earned money had gone into purchasing it. Cin’s pile of second-hand books only brought a dismissive sneer, but her dresser drawer and backpack were fair game for searching.

So when she managed to scrape together enough to buy a used tablet computer, she’d hidden it the only place she could—next to her skin.

Cin valued honesty, but if Mrs. Wikkid knew she had a tablet, it would have been sold in a flash. She only brought it out two places—at work, or in a park where she’d found open Wi-Fi.

But this was an emergency. Desperation drove her hand inside her shirt.


What
are you doing?”

Cin stifled a shriek, her gaze darting to the doorway.

Mrs. Wikkid filled the entry, fists on hips, eyebrows lowered in suspicion.

“Um, adjusting my bra strap?” She bit her lip at how tentative her words sounded.

Her stepmother made a snort of disgust. “I hope you don’t fiddle with your underwear at the sandwich shop.”

“I don’t.” Damn it, now how was she going to contact the professor? “Say, I have to go out again. I, er, forgot the bag of sugar you wanted.”

“You
what?

She cringed. Mrs. Wikkid had stopped using the belt on her, but muscle memory was long. “You said you’d give me ten dollars to buy the big bag, but you never did.”

“Ungrateful wretch. Ylanda needed the money for makeup. She’s going into town to take her SATs.”

She needs makeup to take a test?
Cin was going to get calluses from biting her tongue. “I thought she wasn’t going to college.”

“She’s not. But rumor has it the Prince heir wants a scholarly wife. The test will make her look smart. We’ll have to make do with the sugar we have.”

Cin’s stomach plummeted. She
had
to contact her teacher. Unless she wanted to wait until after midnight to sneak out, she needed another excuse—or some cash for the store.

Like sacrificing the five dollars she was saving for her best friend’s birthday card.

No. That’s for Milly.

Cin had no relatives in the world, and since her parents died, only one friend. Milly Maus, her childhood bestie, had stuck with her despite everything. Milly was out of state for college, but they chatted online when they could, and Cin always made sure to remember her friend’s birthday.

But this was do or die. Milly would understand if her card was late, wouldn’t she? Once Cin got that job at Prince Industries, she might even be able to buy Milly a real present.

If
Cin got the job.

She took a deep breath. “I have five bucks.”

Her stepmother grimaced. “Get the smaller bag. I’ll reimburse you later.”

Mrs. Wikkid used the word “later” a lot, meaning sometime after Cin retired. She shrugged.
Shouldn’t complain
. Income delayed until after retirement would save her on taxes. That was the one answer she’d gotten on her last failed class quiz.

“Okay. Thanks.” Grabbing her backpack, Cin scooted.

The wind chill was minus-
brrr
, but on her way home from the store, she slipped into the park with open Wi-Fi and hunkered down on the lee side of a maple tree. She’d never seen the Wikkid Steps here, neither mother nor sisters, but before accessing the Internet, she checked.

No prying eyes today.
Actually, nobody was in the park at all. It was too cold.

Shivering against the wind biting through her thin coat, Cin hooked her plastic grocery bag over her wrist and extracted her tablet. She fumbled in her question with numb fingers.

She pressed send and started to put the tablet away. Her teacher would get back to her during office hours.

A
ding
stopped her. Slowly, she brought the tablet back out. A message icon pulsed. She touched it.

A face that was mostly toothy grin appeared next to a text bubble.
—Hi. I can help you with your problem. Do you have your book?—

Grin-guy wasn’t her teacher, who was all beard and eyebrows. Frowning, she touched the reply area, using one icy finger to pop letters on the keyboard.
—No. Who are you?—

—I’m Rafe. I’m the tutor for Prof. Smith’s class.—

“We have a tutor?” she mused out loud. Though it was a distance-learning course, she’d met the professor and all her fellow students the first day, when they were required to attend an introductory class. She started to type,
—I didn’t see you in the lecture hall—
but thought better of it, and deleted letters.

A bubble popped up.
—I sit in the back. You wouldn’t have seen me.—

Hair rose on her nape. She hadn’t sent the question, but he’d answered it anyway. Freaky.

Still, if the guy could demystify tax accounting, she had to give him a chance.

She typed,
—How can you help me?—

And Rafe proceeded to present the material in an entirely fresh and incredibly clear way. Instead of lecturing at her about ledger columns and international treaties, he told her stories.

—So you’re working at BigStore as a produce clerk, and I’m selling corn from the back of my pickup. After a week, we both make $300, but you only take home $250 while I pocket the full amount. You say, “Hey, I get fifty dollars cut from each paycheck. You don’t. That’s not fair.” I say, “Maybe, but you have an employer to handle all the messy taxsy details. How would I know what to pay?” And the government solves the problem as it usually does, by creating paperwork. Voila, Schedule C.—

Standing in the cold for over an hour, by the time Cin put the tablet away, her body was numb. But her mind was on fire with complete understanding. Her heart beat faster, absorbing Rafe’s words. Excitement at the new knowledge—and something more.

Something delighted and personal shimmering deep in her belly.

*       *       *

A month later, Cinderella sneaked out of the house just after midnight. She’d been doing that more and more lately. She didn’t want to explain where she was going to the Steps but could only afford so many bags of sugar, and her conscience wouldn’t stand for out-and-out lies. So after everyone else took to their rooms for the night, she crept away. Thank goodness neither Ez nor Yl had wanted to share their big bedrooms with Cin; she had been stuffed in the attic garret. Without the privacy of her own nook of a room, this would be impossible.

Cin’s breath puffed on the cold air as she raced down the sidewalk. In the last month, meeting Rafe online had gone beyond a need for tutoring. When his
—Are you getting this?—
warmed into
—How was your day?—
feelings emerged, buoyant feelings that didn’t have a name but that made her heart beat faster, pooling warmth in her pelvis every time she had an assignation with him.

Not an assignation,
she scolded herself.
A tutoring session. Simple coaching.

Except things weren’t so simple anymore, at least not on her end.

She found her tree and extracted her tablet, which responded quickly to a push of the button. She swiped away the lock screen and brought up the messenger system.

Rafe’s familiar, toothy grin waited. Happiness fizzed inside her just seeing it. She held her bubbling feelings, her blooming heart, close.
I’m never letting Ez and Yl destroy this.

She popped up the chat head.

—I’m here—
it read. The timestamp was two minutes ago.
—I’ve got a quiz for you.—

What followed was a blizzard of questions on what he’d taught her—on
everything
he’d taught her.

After the fifth question on a topic he’d only mentioned in passing, she exclaimed, “This is impossible!”

She’d said it, not texted it, but Rafe replied.

—Knowing one or two facts at the beginning of the chapter is easy. To really master a subject, you have to let unlimited curiosity drive you.—

He always seemed to know when she was struggling, exactly what to say when, all without her having to text a thing.

As if he knew her so well, he could read her mind.

She never asked, not wanting to spoil the illusion, the fantasy that somehow, in the short time they’d known each other, he’d developed feelings for her, too.

She typed,
—You mean I have to do my research?—

—That’s good. But to be truly wise, you must care deeply. Wisdom engages, not just the mind, but the heart. Cin, for the wise heart, nothing is impossible.—

The wise heart. She sighed. That was so sweet.
He
was so sweet.

He was the one person besides Milly who made her feel as if he really cared.

She did as best she could finishing the quiz. When she was done, she was too wrung out to do more study. She typed,
—I have a new picture.—

Ever since they’d found out they both liked the same music and movies and couldn’t stand how careless some people were with their receipts, they’d been sharing tidbits from their day. He’d post photos of his faithful old beagle, or the fast sports car he wanted to buy but probably never would. She’d pop up her kitten-progress pics—quick, stolen shots of the stray that had followed her home. The feline was fattening up nicely on her stepsisters’ table scraps, filched when her stepmother wasn’t looking.

It briefly occurred to her she had a lot of secrets now.

Rafe’s
—How’s Spike doing?—
called her back from her unsettling thoughts.

—Good. This is from work. A customer’s foot-long sub with everything. And I do mean
everything
.—

She posted the snap of the sandwich, bun halves barely closing because of all the piled meat, cheese, and veggies.

BOOK: Cin Wikkid: April Fools For Love
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