Welcome to Pippington, where motorcars bump down old city lanes, frogs transform into men, and mermaids just might be real.
Evelyn Havish is through waiting for Henry Kingston to look up from his ledgers and propose. But, when Henry’s brother Jack is transformed into a frog and trapped in a well, Evelyn must join the rescue. Armed with her training as a lady and a solid punch, Evelyn must outwit a scheming heiress, wrestle an octopus, and kiss far more frogs than a girl should be expected to. As she dives deeper into a hidden world of magic, she discovers Jack may not be the one who needs saving.
The Lady and the Frog is the second book in the Pippington Tales.
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Jack Kingston whistled along with the squeak of his bicycle wheel, taking in the bright afternoon as he rode down North Lane. In the distance, Pippington’s factories churned out their daily smoke and the new electric trolley clanged its way across the city. Both seemed to belong to a faraway place as Jack passed mansions hidden behind brick walls and wrought iron fences masked in vines and flowers.
Jack knew too well the estates hidden beyond these decorated barricades. He spent his days battling grime on stain glass windows, liberating marble rain gutters from debris, and slashing away overgrown wisteria vines. When the day was done, he rode back across the city, past midtown’s granite buildings, through a few neighborhoods of small brick houses, to the cramped apartment he shared with his brother Henry. He preferred spending his evenings at dance halls, but most nights he settled down to study. He usually ended the evening resting his head against a book, hoping the words would fill him as he slept.
Soon, he would be done with the university and free of these odd jobs all cobbled together. In his coat pocket was the letter announcing his acceptance into the Officer Training Academy for the Pippington Police. He would arrive home tonight and smack the letter on the table. Henry would read it and see Jack was meant to have a life of action instead of sitting at a desk, staring at balance sheets all day.
If Jack did everything right, he would graduate from the Academy with honors and earn his way onto Inspector Gertrude McCay’s team. He would stand in his slick and polished uniform, joining the Inspector on the front page of The Pippington Times.
Today, however, he had to weed the gardens at the Bradford School for Girls. No respectable newspaper would cover that story, no matter how heroic Jack’s efforts were against stubborn morning glories.
He reached the corner of North Lane and Pinafore Street, when a top-hatted gentleman puttered by in a polished motorcar. Mud spattered across Jack’s legs. He grunted as he wiped at the added layer of grime on his trousers. His jobs might be dirty, but the headmistress of the Bradford School still expected a level of tidiness.
As he slapped the mud off his hands, a sorrowful moan echoed from the garden hidden behind the nearby fence. Jack wiped his fingers on his worn coat. Whoever was in trouble, he didn’t have time to stop and help.
He placed his foot on the pedal. A loud, hiccupping sob forced him to pause.
A quick look wouldn’t waste too much time. He followed the echoes of weeping to a vine-ridden brick wall and pushed aside overgrown greenery to uncover a decorative hole in the fence. His forehead wrinkled as he peeked at the green garden beyond with a geometric pattern of roses lining a pathway.
Another sob drew his eyes to the young woman at the end of the pathway. She sat at the edge of a stone well, her golden hair draped around her slender shoulders. The airy layers of her pink gossamer gown fluttered as she wept. Her delicate hands covered her weeping face. Jack wished she would look up and give a full glimpse of her beauty.
He rubbed his neck as he stepped toward his bicycle. Looking was an intrusion. She was a lady at a fine mansion. Some servant would come along and help. Besides, he had hours of work yet to do at the Bradford School.
The young woman howled out a mournful sob. An ache spread through his chest. Jack couldn’t leave a girl in such a poor condition. He wasn’t Henry and didn’t need to stick to time like he was glued to a minute hand.
Leaning against the fence, Jack called through the opening, “You all right there, miss?”
The lady raised her head and the air left Jack’s chest. He had thought Adeline Winkleston was the finest beauty in Pippington, but he had been wrong. The young woman’s face was perfect in its symmetry, her cheekbones pronounced, yet soft, her nose just rounded enough, her lips full.
He swallowed. “Can I help you, miss?”
“Who’s there?” Her sapphire-blue eyes widened as she glanced around the garden.
Jack leaned his bicycle against the fence and used the vines to climb up. Seated on top, he gave her a friendly smile. “Don’t mean to intrude, miss, but it sounds as if you’ve got some trouble. Anything I can do?”
The lady looked to the house. “My father doesn’t like strangers coming into the garden.”
“That I can do something about.” He jabbed his thumb toward his chest and grinned. “The name’s Jack. What’s yours?”
“I am Cassandra.” She dabbed her face with a lace handkerchief. “Please, be careful up there.”
“I’ll be all right. Tell me how I can help.”
Cassandra turned away as a sob shuddered across her shoulders. “No one can help me. It is lost.”
Jack leaned forward. “What’ve you lost? I’m good at finding things.”
She clutched her handkerchief as she stared forlornly into the well. “When my dear mother passed away, her last gift to me was a gold bauble. I-I dropped it in the well.” She whimpered. “It is lost, just as my mother is lost to me.”
Jack’s smile faltered as he scratched his head. “Must be precious, then.”
He eyed the well before grabbing a nearby branch and swinging to the ground. “Fortunately, I’m an expert at climbing down wells.”
Cassandra stood, her hands shaking. “You should leave before my father sees you. The bauble isn’t worth you getting into trouble.”
“Not to worry.” Jack waved his arm. “I’ll have it out faster than you can blink.”
He looked into the well shaft. The sun gleamed across the water’s surface. Floating on top was a golden ball small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. The well was wider than most of the ones he was hired to clean, with plenty of space for his narrow shoulders. He pulled off his jacket and ran his fingers through his hair. It was already out of place, despite combing it that morning. Well, if he looked heroic enough climbing down the well, she wouldn’t notice his hair.
The crank squeaked as he lowered the bucket. It splashed in the water and floated next to the gleaming bauble. Jack locked the crank in place and gripped the rope. He gave a grin and wink to Cassandra before swinging himself into the well. As he descended, he kept his hand against the wall to slow himself. He tried not to cringe as his hands slid on slimy moss and old patches of algae.
Frogs croaked from the bottom of the well, growing louder as Jack approached. There were dozens of bulbous eyes staring up at him. The frogs jumped from stone to stone as if warning each other. Jack rested his feet on a ledge near the water’s surface. Once at the top, he should offer to come back and clean the well. It would be a good opportunity to see this girl again.
Holding onto the rope, he crouched down and wrapped his fingers around the bauble. With a grin, he stood and shouted, “I’ve got it. See, no trouble.”
“Would you please put it in the bucket?” she said. “I wouldn’t want it to fall.”
Allowing himself a happy whistle, he dropped the bauble into the bucket. As it left his hand, he began to fall. The world around him warped as if he were looking through a bulbous lens. His skin grew cold and he splashed into the water. His body felt strange as he kicked to the surface. The well expanded, growing large and vast around him. He reached to grab the ledge, but his hands were slick and mottled green. The bucket rose from the water as Cassandra turned the crank. Jack hopped onto the nearest rock and opened his mouth to call to the girl above, but a long croak erupted instead. Panic rose as he looked down at his webbed feet. He pivoted, seeking a way out, when he found himself nose to slimy nose with another frog.