GREAT. I've somehow found myself tangled up with a siren, a mermaid, and a homicidal wicked witch who once tried to strangle me to death. Way to go, Amber!
Amber Sand, legendary matchmaker, couldn't be more surprised when her archnemesis, Ivy, asks for her help. Ivy's sister, Iris, is getting married, and Ivy wants to prove her sister is making a huge mistake. But as Amber looks into Iris's eyes, there doesn't seem to be a problem-Iris has clearly found her match.
It seems happily-ever-after is in the cards, but when Iris seeks out a dangerous, life-altering spell, it's up to Amber and Ivy to set aside their rivalry and save the day.
As Iris puts everything on the line for love, Amber continues to wrestle with her own romantic future. Her boyfriend, Charlie, is still destined for another, and no matter how hard she clings to him, fear over their inevitable breakup shakes her belief system to the core.
Because the Fates are never wrong-right?
About the Author
Crystal Cestari lives just outside Chicago with her daughter. Her hobbies include avoiding broccoli and wandering the aisles at Target. She holds a master's degree in mass communication, and writes all her stories longhand. She is also the author of the first book in the Windy City Magic series, The Best Kind of Magic. Visit Crystal at www.crystalcestari.com and on Twitter @crystalcestari.
Read an Excerpt
Mounting evidence suggests I may be a masochist. I wouldn't have thought this until recently, with my previous top character descriptions being "sunny," "winning," and "eager to please" (jk, they'd be "misanthropic," "sarcastic," and "cantankerous"). I guess part of the human experience is to grow and change, though I didn't think it could happen all at once.
Why else, other than a deep-rooted desire to see myself suffer, would I be in my kitchen, elbow-deep in powdered sugar, making peach tarts for a girl who is predestined to ruin my life? If I'd been asked a few months ago what kind of social activity I'd be least interested in, pretty much all situations involving other people would have made the list, but a front-runner would definitely have been inviting over an alleged rival to sample my latest culinary endeavor. Yet here I am, carefully plating a masterpiece for someone who may someday cause me severe emotional pain. Am I deranged? Insane?
Don't answer that.
"Oh my goodness, these fruit-pie thingies are amazing," says Kim Li, licking the final crumbs of my legendary baking skills off her lips. An adorable pixie-sized girl (though not of pixie descent), Kim has the poreless complexion face-wash commercials promise and a worldly style cultivated after living on several continents. She currently has an entire rainbow of barrettes clipped in her jet-black hair yet still manages to look sophisticated and not like a five-year-old gave her a makeover at Claire's.
She was invited by my best friend, Amani Sharma, who is also finishing up her dessert. Never to be outdone, Amani makes being a girl look easy, with a pink dress I wouldn't even know where to buy. Per the usual, I am the least done up in the room, wearing jeans I picked up off the floor this morning and my only accessories being peach flesh and flour. "Really, Amber, nicely done," Amani confirms.
They're both lounging on my couch like it's the most natural thing in the world and not some freak occurrence where I suddenly have more than one friend and we get together for girl time. Maybe, in addition to my being insane, a shape-shifter has stolen my body and taken over my social calendar?
"You both are too kind, and also correct," I say. "These tarts came out perfectly."
"What's next on the menu ... humble pie?" Amani asks, with an exaggerated wink, wink.
"Ugh, humble pie takes way too long to bake; I don't bother with it."
Kim laughs sweetly beside us. Even though we've been hanging out for a few months now, I think we're all trying to decide how she f its in. Especially me, since I'm the one with the potential roadblock. Kim is, after all, my alleged competition, based on nothing except the visions of her and my boyfriend, Charlie Blitzman, living happily ever after in my head. In fact, I knew her before I knew her, getting more and more peeks into her personality every time Charlie was near. So when she showed up at school two months ago, I handled it with my usual finesse and grace (i.e., I lost it). It would be easier to hate her. To prick a voodoo doll and put a curse on her children's children's children. But as the Fates would have it, Kim is actually a delightful, interesting person, making it nearly impossible to churn up negative feelings around her. And since she and Amani seem to have almost identical class schedules, they've been getting to know each other at a rapid pace, whether I like it or not. In an effort to be a Bigger Person, I've kept a running mental list of Kim's positive attributes to pull out whenever I feel myself having irrational feelings. For example, reason number three: Kim is always ready with a compliment. I've never had to work so hard at maintaining a friendship, but then again, that may be why I don't have many friends.
The entrance buzzer goes off, though we aren't expecting any other guests to this already-out-of-the-ordinary gathering. I'm very comfortable buried under a pile of blankets and plate of tarts, so I don't feel like moving if it's a solicitor or drunken neighbor punching the wrong button.
"Amani, should I bother to answer?" I ask my friend, who is slowly reemerging to the fortune-telling fold. For way too long, she kept her unique brand of magic under lock and key, but now she's welcoming it back in. Most of the time her visions come to her fast and furious without her control, but other times, for very mundane happenings, she can conjure up a visual or two. Her precog abilities are the extra cherry on the awesomesauce that is Amani, and I'm so happy she's opened up this part of herself again (not just because it works to my advantage from time to time).
She taps her chin thoughtfully, fluttering her ridiculously long lashes. "Hmm, let me see." The buzzer sounds again. "Yes, I'd say this visitor is worth your while."
"Scale of one to ten?"
"A solid nine. Maybe a nine point f ive, due to provisions."
"That sounds promising!"
"All right! I'm coming!" I yell, although the mystery guest is two f loors below. I almost drop a pastry in prying myself from the couch, but Kim manages to catch it (reason number twelve: has good priorities, and number thirteen: excellent ref lexes). I pound the button to open the front door, and before long, there's a tap at our apartment entry. Our visitor is dressed in an orange gingham tie coordinated to his glasses and holds an extra-large vanilla cupcake with a disproportionally large cake-to-frosting ratio that looks like something from a My Little Pony coloring book. It's Charlie.
"Well, there's a masculine treat," I say.
"Why, thank you," he says, putting his free hand over his heart and performing a small bow.
"I was referring to your pastry."
"Oh, this?" He turns it around, showing off the density of pink sprinkles. "Yeah, it's pretty freaking delicious."
"It's also pink."
"So? It could be a rainbow swirl topped with unicorn wings, and I'd love it just the same."
"Unicorns don't have wings. You're thinking of a Pegasus," I correct.
"You know what I mean."
"I've never seen a guy so devoted to buttercream," I say.
He leans in close, his lips hovering by my right ear.
"Well, I got it for you, so what does that say about my devotion?" A plague of goose bumps covers my skin, and I have to playfully push him away before I grab his face and lay one on him.
"Can you guys, like, turn the cuteness down a notch?" Amani calls from behind us. "Some of us are trying to keep down our peach tarts."
"Yeah, all this adorable affection is making me nauseous," Kim chimes in.
Charlie grins at me, all white-toothed and proud, and I take a deep breath in preparation for his match reel. Looking into his dark green eyes, my matchmaking abilities activate, giving me an unfiltered view of his romantic future. This would be fine, of course, if I were his destined leading lady, but instead, I'm treated to scenes of him and Kim drinking piña coladas on a white-sand beach, and sipping coffee on a lazy Sunday. I work through them quickly, not eager to linger, and refocus on the actual boy in front of me.
"Hey, Amani. Hey, Kim." He waves. I try not to cringe when her name passes his lips.
"Hi, Charlie," they respond in a unified monotone, though I know their mocking disdain comes from a place of affection.
"What are you doing here?" I ask him.
"Oh, you know, I was in the neighborhood." He smirks.
This is definitely not true, since Charlie and I are completely different pinpoints on the Chicago map. Maybe, just maybe, he could spot my tiny Wicker Park apartment from the top of his Gold Coast penthouse if he had a set of quality binoculars. This is not the first time he's found himself so far from home; I expect it won't be the last. "I forgot you were having the girls over."
"Yeah, well ..." In all honesty, I've about had my f ill of female friendship for the night, as Amani and Kim are much better at finding acceptable conversation topics not involving witchcraft tangents and supernatural subplots. They can riff on deep conditioner treatments for longer than I thought possible. And yet, being a hostess with the mostest means suffering for the benefit of your guests. (I guess. I'm still not very familiar with this role.) "Can I call you later?"
"You better," he says, planting a small kiss on my forehead before calling out, "Bye, ladies!" I watch him disappear down to the second floor and then retreat to my living room, where Amani and Kim are hanging themselves on fake nooses of sweetness.
"All right, I get it," I concede, biting into the offensively pink cupcake. "Our undeniable chemistry makes you queasy."
"You guys are just perfect." Kim sighs. I tense at her praise, trying to focus instead on the swirling sugar on my tongue. "You make me simultaneously happy and jealous."
Amani, knowing my pulse will race at Kim's envy, quickly interjects, "Yeah, but mostly grossed out."
"Sorry, not sorry," I singsong just as there's another knock at the door. I thought Charlie had left by now, but maybe he's being oversentimental in his need to see me. "Geez, back for more already?" I call out, turning the knob.
Yet instead of being greeted by my delectable boyfriend, I'm met with something truly stomach-turning: Ivy Chamberlain.
"Ivy? What in the Gods' good names are you doing here?" I ask, making a mental note to check on where Mom keeps her protection potions. Wherever they are, they need to be relocated to the front entry closet, ASAP.
Ivy Chamberlain, resident teenage dream/nightmare (depending on how you look at it), crosses her arms across her ample chest and lets out the world record for longest, most exasperated sigh. You'd think I'd dragged her away from her usual Friday-night football-player make-out session to be here, not that she came here of her own mysterious free will. Seeing most Manchester Prep students outside of school is an unpleasant experience, but interacting with Ivy when not absolutely forced to is the highest level of torture.
"Don't for one second think I didn't explore literally every other option in this world and beyond before coming to you," she sneers, her spun-from-gold locks falling over her shoulder. "But I'm desperate."
I try to hold it in, but I can't. "Oh, Ivy, acknowledging the problem is the first step. Bravo." I do a slow clap.
"I knew this was a bad idea," she mutters as she starts walking down the apartment building stairs. I look back at Amani, completely flabbergasted, and use sign language to ask, Do I stop her? What is happening? Silent communication definitely comes in handy at times like this.
Amani shrugs, looking just as confused as I am. I definitely have zero desire to have my mortal enemy in my sacred space, though I am puzzled (and admittedly intrigued) by what could've brought her here.
"Ivy!" I call out. Damn curiosity! I hear her stop somewhere on the second floor. "C'mon, now. Tell Auntie Amber what's wrong."
She hesitates, then huffs dramatically as she makes her way back up, glaring at me as she enters.
"Please, come in." I gesture sarcastically.
She barely surveys our quaint apartment, not even peeping into my mom's off ice, which is right off the living room and filled to the brim with every supply needed to start a Wiccan apocalypse. Yup, just a totally normal home.
"So this is where you live," Ivy says, keeping her limbs close, like she doesn't want to accidentally brush up against something.
"And you have friends?"
"Yes. Shocking, I know." I wave at Amani and Kim, who are in stunned silence over the sudden vibe change to our gathering. "Say hi, friends."
They both wave robotically. The whole thing is going really great.
"So, um, what can we do you for, Ivy?" I ask, my thirst for knowledge waning. "I can whip up some poisoned brownies if you're hungry."
She gives me the evil eye, which in her case, is just her eyes. It must be hard, I guess, to be a siren and not have people fall all over you like normal. Since Amani and I are mystilogically inclined, Ivy can't pull her usual mental manipulation on us, and Kim's doing her best to blend into the background. We've mapped out a Manchester survival guide for Kim, with Ivy starring as public enemy number one (we even drew her as an Ursula-esque sea urchin). Kim has transferred to many schools, so she's pretty street-savvy on her own, but even having lived on different continents never alerted her to the presence of earthbound supernaturals. When she learned of our particular strains of magic, Kim opted to stay out of any future forecasting or matchmaking, declaring she desired a life "full of surprises." This proved to be incredibly fortunate for me, seeing as how revealing her match would bring me a life "full of devastation."
"I'm here because of my sister," Ivy finally admits, though it's clear how much it physically pains her to do so.
"Iris?" I ask, memories bubbling in my brain. Iris was a senior when we were freshman. While she didn't abuse her siren abilities during high school the way Ivy does, Iris was still adored, successful, and drop-dead gorgeous. She was student body president and gave many rousing speeches during her last year at Manchester, her words managing to reach even the most cynical of souls (mine). Iris had a stage presence that couldn't be taught; when she spoke, you listened, but not in an against-your-will, bow-before-the-queen way. Every time she spoke, it was clearly from the heart; even if she was using her siren charms to boost her appeal, there's no magic that can duplicate authenticity. I remember listening to her speak about school pride and how every person can make a difference, and as a result, I almost signed up for the environmental club. That's how good she was: I nearly participated in a school organization.
But that's not why I remember her.
It may be hard to believe, but I wasn't always the self-assured, amazing matchmaker I am now. During freshman year, I was still very much struggling with getting my powers in line, learning when I should spread the love and when to keep my mouth shut. Since everyone around me was dating and I could see how every blossoming relationship was doomed to fail, I wanted to save people the heartbreak by ending things before they began. But as it turns out, ninth-grade girls aren't into hearing a total stranger reveal that their crushes are douche bags.
In my effort to help, I got bullied. A lot.
On one particularly wonderful afternoon, a group of girls cornered me behind the auditorium. Things had evolved beyond the typical girl-on-girl violence of backstabbing and spreading rumors, to actual physical violence. Four floozies with razor-sharp nails were about to beat the crap out of me when Iris walked by. She stepped in mid-punch and spoke about sisterhood and how ladies need to stick together. Miraculously, they listened and didn't bother me anymore. I never saw Iris again — her graduation came quickly after — but I never forgot her self-less act of kindness.
"Yes," Ivy conf irms. "She's getting married."
"Well, mazel tov," I offer. "I know a great caterer."
"NO!" she responds with unnecessary volume. Amani, Kim, and I brace ourselves. "This wedding CANNOT happen."
"And why is that?"
"Because! Her girlfriend is not good for her, okay? You have to understand; she's making a huge mistake."
Oh great. Here we go again. Am I somehow putting out off-brand messaging? Do I need to switch from matchmaking to match breaking?
"What makes you think that?" Amani asks. "I mean, you're not just jealous that your sister is stealing the spotlight with her wedding planning?"
An excellent question, and definitely something I wouldn't put past her. I'm not about to jump into some big family drama just because Ivy has to play a supporting character for once.
"What?" Ivy snaps. I swear the room temperature drops ten degrees. "Are you for real? What kind of person do you think I am?"
"Well ..." I start.
"Don't answer that. This isn't about me. Iris is too young and too beautiful to throw her life away for Brooke. My whole family is just standing by, and I've gone to every shaman and warlock I can think of. No one will help me. You are, for better or worse, my only hope."
I pause, letting the last few words hang sweetly while Ivy stews. When I don't answer, she adds an impatient, "So??"
"Hold on, I'm trying to savor this moment." I take one giant breath, exhaling slowly. "Ah, yes. I feel good about this."
"What does that mean? You'll help? Or you're just relishing my pain?"
"Ugh, you are sick. This makes me sick."
"It will cost you, you know."
"Oh, trust me, I know. I can already feel a knife wedging my pride."
Excerpted from "The Sweetest Kind of Fate"
Copyright © 2018 Crystal Cestari.
Excerpted by permission of Disney Book Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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