Here’s the next installment of Jas and Amethyst’s romance.
That invitation to coffee had been a severe tactical error. After the evening they’d had at (not to mention after) the cocktail party, how else could Jas take their situation but damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead?
So here she was at Flying Star, sitting in a booth next to Jas scarcely 24 hours after the last time she’d seen him.
Amethyst thought she should be feeling trapped, desperate, panicky. At least awkward or weird. But no. She only felt weird because she was… Well, she was enjoying the time with him. What she should be doing was trying to figure out a way to slow…things…down.
“I don’t think that cake has any evil designs on you,” Jas said. “If that’s what you’re worried about.”
She found herself frowning at the slice of chocolate-orange mousse cake in front of her, her fork hovering over it. She cut a bite, not turning to look at him where he sat so close. The rich, fluffy chocolate with its orange aroma chased away much of her discomfort.
The night pressing against the restaurant’s big windows, the tiny flecks of snow drifting past the parking lot lights outside, made the restaurant with its sunken central dining area and tile-mosaic columns feel that much cozier.
“Um, no,” she said.
“Neither do I have any evil designs on you.”
“I kinda got that after you passed up multiple opportunities for villainy.”
He gave a ghost of a laugh and took a bite of his own dessert, a mixed fruit tart. “Then what? That I’ll be encouraged to ask you to marry me again?”
“Something like that,” she muttered to her cake, making designs in the mousse with her fork.
“Perhaps you’re more worried what your answer would be.”
That did get her to turn. “Try me.”
He leaned close and brushed his lips against her temple. “I’d love to.”
She ignored the tingle that went through her. “You really want to be wearing that fruit tart, don’t you?”
“I find it interesting that comestibles seem to be your weapon of choice. Last time you threatened to set my whisky on fire.”
“Minimum effort, maximum effect,” she said…
…And abruptly realized that he’d teased her right out of the fidgets.
How did that work? And dammitall, now she was feeling all warm and happy again. He couldn’t be calculating this. Jas might be shifty and cunning, but he couldn’t possibly know her that well.
“Am I allowed to ask what you’re looking for in a husband?” he said.
“You’re full of hypothetical questions tonight. So hypothetically, I’d refuse to answer.”
He tsked. “I’d never have expected you to be so missish.”
“Missish?” she said on a half-choked laugh. “If you’re going to use a Pride and Prejudice reference to insult me and hope I don’t get it, you’ll be sadly disappointed.” She sniffed and turned back to her cake. “Besides, that’s not missish. It’s just smart strategy to withhold key information when dealing with psychics, con artists and…” She raised a brow. “…charmers.”
He bowed his head. “Thank you.”
“Any time.” She took a bite of cake. “Anyway, I’d think by now you’d know what makes good husband material.”
“Hmm,” he said. “Constancy? Dependability?”
He’d certainly displayed those in abundance since they’d become reacquainted, she had to give him that. “Unless I’m into bad boys. Then it’s just boring.”
“If you preferred bad boys, you wouldn’t still be angry with me about that binding.”
“Gentleness and tenderness?”
“Well, duh. Despite what you might have read in a certain book.”
“There were three of them.”
She made a shooing motion in reply. “Persistence.”
“Now you’re trying to trick me,” he said.
“The ability to provide for a wife.”
“Nice, but anachronistic.”
“Even when it includes fast cars and wind sculptures?”
“Remember.” She poked her fork in his direction. “You promised no expensive gifts.”
“Yet.” He touched his cup and steam suddenly rose from the coffee. “How about protection?”
She had to think about that one for a minute. Her experiences with other wizards really had been uniformly unpleasant. “Maybe. But that’s a pretty…I don’t know…cold-blooded reason to marry someone.”
His eyes danced. “I’m glad you think so.”
“Okay, fine. I’ll give you a hint.” She leaned an elbow on the table, angling to face him. “Respect. Compatibility. I’m sure there’s a way to fake those.” She gave a smug smile. “But not over time.”
Sudden understanding washed across his face. “Ah.”
She would not ask what the big revelation was.
His hand came to rest on her knee, not suggestively, but with a squeeze of reassurance. “We can take all the time we need, Amethyst.”
Her heart turned over. She reached for her water and swallowed down the unaccountable thick feeling in her throat.
“Okay.” She closed her fingers around his.
* * *
Thank god the weekend is over.
Amethyst enjoyed roller coasters, but it was always nice when they stopped and you stepped off onto solid ground again. When you had the chance to catch your breath.
And God knew, she really needed to catch her breath.
She sat at her desk sketching out a design for a new window, this one a geometric cholla cactus in bloom, all jointed angles in diamonds of brown and olive glass with brilliant magenta petals. She still had the fall aspens to finish pinning for soldering, but designing took up more mental real estate. And she really didn’t want the opportunity for a lot of thinking right now. It only made her more confused.
The doorbell rang. As usual, Caramela leapt up from her place at Amethyst’s feet, her barks marking her progress down the hall and to the front door. Amethyst sighed, got up and followed.
Caramela stood at the door, her tail whipping in a stiff wag and her front end hopping with each bark. Amethyst hooked her fingers in the dog’s collar and opened the door.
A big man wearing a kilt and long, henna-colored hair stood outside.
“Good morrow, Miss Rey,” the wizard Balgaire said.
The last time a wizard had shown up at her house uninvited, he’d attacked her. Her only advantages then were that his powers were only newly restored, and she was better able handle modern magic—which, as she understood it, was wilder and more potent than it had been in past centuries.
So Amethyst instantly snapped up the strongest shield spell she could conjure. Caramela, no doubt feeling the surge of magic, not to mention Amethyst’s sudden tension, bristled from skull to halfway down her tail. Threatening snarls mixed with her barks.
“Back up,” Amethyst told Balgaire, stabbing a forefinger over his shoulder. “Off the porch.”
He spread his hands in a theatrical gesture. “Now, lass, no need for that—”
“Back,” she said again. “Now. Onto the driveway.”
If he was going to try anything, she wanted it in full view of the world.
His gaze flicked to Caramela. The dog’s ears were back, her lips wrinkled up off her teeth. Serious threat, no longer only alarm barking.
“Aye, aye, very well.”
Balgaire did indeed back up. It was not a good idea to turn one’s back on a dog as serious as Caramela was right now. Amethyst followed as far as the front walk, laid a hand on Caramela’s head and shushed her. A brush a magic got through to the dog where mere words wouldn’t have. She settled, still grumbling and hackles still bristling.
A sunset red Cadillac SUV of some kind was parked at the curb in front of her house. She’d never seen one like it before, but it looked exactly like the kind of thing Balgaire would drive, fancy and flashy.
Amethyst folded her arms, nevertheless yet touching the magic, ready to use it if she had to. Through it she felt Balgaire’s alarm, a prickly roil of surprise underlain by the bitter tang of adrenaline. Good. At least he took her and Caramela seriously.
“What,” she said, “are you doing here?”
“I came to apologize.” He stopped, wet his lips.
Amethyst wondered how they must look, bristling woman and bristling pit bull. Then she laughed.
“What do you really want, Dougal?”
“Truly,” he said. “It was an ill thing, what happened at the party. I want to make amends. Let me take you to dine.”
A little alarm bell started going off in her head. This was beginning to feel too much like stalking. Worse still, she wasn’t sure if she was the one being stalked.
“Uh-huh. And why should you bother?”
He glanced again at Caramela, then took a step nearer. “You defeated the drake laird. I know what I owe you, lass. My life. My power.”
That again. The dragon lord. The first wizard she’d had to fight for her life. The uncomfortable side effect of destroying him was that the power of the wizards he’d drained had been returned to them. Thus the sudden reappearance of wizards in the modern world.
“Thanks duly noted and accepted,” she said. “Next time, send a card.”
“Morning, Amethyst,” a familiar voice chirped.
Amethyst looked past Balgaire to see Heather sashaying down her driveway, ostensibly toward the mailbox cluster at the curb. Today she wore moccasins, an off-the-shoulder chenille sweater and cords that mapped the topography of every curve.
Balgaire turned as well, first only his head, then the rest of him.
Heather was abruptly far more welcome than she’d been Saturday afternoon, when she’d had her sights locked on Jas.
“Hi, Heather,” Amethyst said.
Heather’s usual pert smile wavered when her gaze fell on Balgaire. Inveterate flirt and man-chaser that she was, she nevertheless stopped in her tracks. She looked, to use Jas’ words, like somebody had dumped a bucket of water over her.
Heather’s eyes went from Balgaire’s face to his booted feet and back up again, lingering somewhere in the vicinity of his kilt. Her chest rose, which did even more amazing things to her already amazing bosom.
Balgaire gave a stagey bow. “Miss Rey, will ya not introduce me to the young lady?”
It was all Amethyst could do to keep from shouting and pumping her fist.
“Dougal, meet my neighbor, Heather Purdy. Heather, this is Dougal Balgaire.”
Heather came up the driveway as if reeled in and held out a hand to shake. Balgaire took it and kissed the knuckles. Heather blushed, actually blushed, giggling.
“My goodness! Where do you find these men, Amethyst?”
“Seems they always manage to find me, somehow,” Amethyst said. An idea was beginning to take shape. “Dougal owns a special effects company. I met him when he gave a demonstration at a party Jas and I went to Friday night. It was…” She searched for something besides ‘incredibly stupid’ and ‘disgustingly arrogant.’ She finally settled on, “Amazing.”
“Really!” Heather said.
“He was just asking me to lunch,” Amethyst went on, “but I have a commission to finish. Maybe you could take my place?” She turned to Balgaire. “Heather is a publicist. She could help you get some traction for your new company.”
Balgaire’s eyes didn’t leave Heather, making the same trip up and down that hers had. He smiled. It was an enchanting smile, an utterly satisfied smile.
“Indeed! That sounds promising. Most promising.”
Heather blushed again, not missing the subtext in the least. “I’d be happy to do anything I can.”
Amethyst struggled not to roll her eyes.
“Well, Amethyst,” Heather said, “if you’re sure you’re too busy…”
“Absolutely buried,” Amethyst said with a helpless gesture.
Heather turned to Balgaire. “Then come on in while I get my coat and purse.”
“I’d be delighted, Miss Purdy.”
Heather laid a manicured hand on his forearm. “Please, call me Heather.”
Balgaire turned back to Amethyst, first putting his big hand briefly on Heather’s. “Good day to you, then, Miss Rey. It was a pleasure to see you again.”
He reached out as if to take her hand and kiss it (bastard!), but Amethyst bent and patted Caramela on her muscular side.
“Come on, Caramela. Back to work.” She headed for the front door.
“Are you new to town?” Heather said behind her. “I could take you around, show you the sights after lunch.”
“Aye,” Balgaire replied, a caress in his voice. “I haven’t yet seen the half of what I’d like to here.”
Amethyst closed the door on Heather’s giggle. Damn. What if they jumped each other’s bones as soon as they went inside? No, Heather might be a flirt, but Amethyst didn’t think she was a ho. Or if she was, she was pretty sure Heather wouldn’t advertise it to the neighborhood.
Amethyst knelt in front of Caramela and gave her a kiss on her bulging cheek. “Did I ever tell you what a good dog you are?”
Caramela gave her a kiss on the cheek back, wagging and panting.
Amethyst stood and patted her thigh. “Come on. Let’s get some hot chocolate. I need it after that.”
She made her hot chocolate and heated up some leftover chile verde, giving Heather and Balgaire enough time, she hoped, to leave. When she peeked out the front blinds again, sure enough, Balgaire’s Cadillac was gone. Good. Except he’d have to come back to drop Heather off home. Unless they ended up having a wild night at his place.
Shuddering at the image, she returned to the kitchen to clean up after lunch and think what to do next. She kept coming to the same conclusion.
She put her bowl and spoon in the dishwasher, leaned on the counter and sighed.
“Well, Caramela. Looks like we’re going to have to make ourselves scarce for a while.”