When Lizabeth Kane was five years old she wanted to grow up to be a fairy. She wanted skin that was as smooth and white as milkweed silk. And she wanted hair that cascaded halfway down her back in a luxuriant cloud of waves and curls that shone a sunny yellow by day and silver when washed by the light of the moon. She thought she'd wear a buttercup blossom when she needed a hat, and she'd go rafting on curled magnolia leaves.
At five Lizabeth understood that she was a human child and it would take some doing to shrink herself into fairy size, but she had confidence in falling stars and wishbones and birthday candles. She knew that fairies were tiny creatures, no bigger than a man's thumb, but it seemed to her that if a girl could grow up, then she could almost as easily grow down. And if she could eventually grow breasts, then probably if she tried very hard she could grow wings instead. Almost all fairies had lovely gossamer wings, and Lizabeth wasn't sure how comfortable that would be when she wanted to sleep on her back or lean against the gnarled trunk of an enchanted tree to daydream. She supposed that would be part of the price she would pay for growing up to be a fairy.
In fact, that was about the only price exacted on an adult fairy, because for the most part, fairies did just as they pleased. They weren't stuffed into panty hose and sent off on a bus to earn a living staring at a computer screen. They weren't polite to incompetent employers for the sake of career advancement. And they weren't expected to prepare gourmet feasts for boring men who had only one thing on their minds . . . lasagna.
Fairies were indulgent, playful creatures, and even though two decades and several years had gone by since Lizabeth first decided to be a fairy, even though Lizabeth Kane now stood five feet six inches tall in her stocking feet, even though she was thirty-two years old -- she still had aspirations of growing up to be a fairy.
She no longer cared about whittling herself down to the average fairy height of five inches, or having milkweed skin or gobs of fairy hair. Lizabeth Kane wanted the pluck, the joie de vivre, the perfect thighs of Tinkerbell. Think positive, Lizabeth told herself. If she just put her mind to it she could be plucky, she could have joie de vivre -- and two out of three wasn't bad.
She folded the morning paper under her arm and looked at the half-finished house looming in front of her. She had to be positive about getting a job, too. She was a single parent now, and if she didn't get a job soon, meeting her mortgage payment was going to be more elusive than obtaining Tinkerbell thighs.
She read the crude Help Wanted sign stuck into the front yard and took a deep breath. She'd been on fourteen job interviews in the past five days, and no one had even given her a second look. She was overeducated. She was undereducated. She was inexperienced. She was unskilled. She was virtually unemployable. Okay, Lizabeth, she said to herself, pulling her shoulders back, this is a new day. This is your last shot. And this is the perfect job. Perfect hours, perfect location, decent wages. Go for it! she told herself.
Matt Hallahan had been looking out an upstairs window. He'd watched Lizabeth fold her paper and chew on her lower lip while she stared at the house. Not a buyer, he decided. Buyers came in pairs and usually had a real-estate agent in tow. This woman looked as if she were peddling vacuum cleaners and he was her first customer. She was nervous, she was anxious -- she was cute as a bug. Even from this distance he could see she had big blue eyes, a little nose, and lots of curly brown hair that hung almost to her shoulders. She was small-boned and slim. Not skinny. Her pink T-shirt stretched tight over full breasts and was tucked into a pair of formfitting, faded jeans. He didn't know what she was selling, but he admitted to himself that he'd have a hard time not buying it.
Outside, Lizabeth stiffened her spine, pushed her chin forward, and tiptoed through the mud to the front door.
"Yoo-hoo," she called. "Anybody home?" She gasped and took a step backward when Matt appeared at the head of the stairs and ambled down to her. He was big. He seemed to fill the whole stairwell. He was half-undressed, and he was gorgeous.
She felt her heart slam against the back of her rib cage while she made a fast assessment. At least six feet two inches, with broad shoulders and a flat stomach and slim hips. No shirt, jeans that rode low, a red heart tattooed on his left forearm. He had muscular legs. Great quads. And he was tan -- everywhere.
When she finally dragged her eyes up to his face she found he was laughing at her. Smile lines splintered from deep-set blue eyes that were shaded by curly blond eyelashes and a ferocious slash of bushy blond eyebrows. His nose was sunburned and peeling.
"Lord, lady," he said, "last time someone looked at me that close was when I thought I had a hernia and the doctor told me to cough."
Lizabeth felt the flush spread from her ears to her cheeks. Get a grip, she told herself. Thirty-two-year-old mothers do not blush. She'd delivered two children, she'd learned to pump gas, she'd seen Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. on screen in their underwear. She could handle anything. She ignored his remark and plastered a smile on her face.
"I'd like to speak to whoever is in charge of this construction project."
"That's me. Matt Hallahan." He held out his hand.