It shouldn’t have been obvious. But watching Melodie’s gaze travel around the living room, Amethyst was afraid it was. The tablet that wasn’t hers, sitting on the round maple table by Jas’ chair. The coaster he’d set his glass on last night after dinner… Every little thing seemed to have flashing neon arrows that said, ‘Jas is staying here!’
Then again, it could be just her guilty conscience.
“I booked the one o’clock snowboarding lesson,” Jas said, crossed to the coat closet and took out their coats—both their coats. “Give the day a chance to warm up.”
Melodie shot Amethyst a look, her brows giving an upward twitch.
Nope. It wasn’t just Amethyst’s guilty conscience. Melodie knew. Amethyst met her look and gave a ghost of a shrug.
Jas, holding her coat, noticed the interchange. Most guys never picked up on subtle female communications. But of course Jas would be the one who did. She shrugged at him, too, and slipped into her coat, her puffy, rich purple cold-weather one.
Marl, Melodie’s husband, certainly seemed oblivious, chatting about what a perfect day it was and how they’d hardly need coats. Or it might just be that he was laboring to keep the atmosphere light. So far, Melodie was keeping her promise to be civil. But she wasn’t making an effort to be friendly, either. Amethyst was surprised to find herself a little squirmy about it. And they still had a 45-minute drive up to the ski area.
She drove her Subaru, Jas beside her, Melodie and Marl in the back. The city gave way to sparsely-vegetated granite slopes, then to low-rise woods of piñon and juniper, and those to towering pines as they climbed. Snow appeared, first only in the shade, then as a white blanket.
Amethyst had to admire Jas’ composure. The mood, while not hostile, was definitely cool. But Jas stayed as pleasant and friendly as if Marl and Melodie were a couple he looked forward to getting to know.
The Sandia Peak ski lodge rose from the parking lot above its bright red double staircases. Skiers in equally bright gear trooped up and down the stairs, moved across the snowy landscape, rode the lift to the top of the ski trails.
As soon as they’d unloaded, Melodie grabbed Amethyst’s arm.
“Let’s go check it out,” she said. “We’ll see you guys up there.”
Amethyst didn’t have a chance to read the look on Jas’ face before Melodie tugged her away across the snowy parking lot. Sighing, Amethyst let herself be towed up the stairs, into the lodge and through a door onto a side deck.
Melodie found a relatively private corner and rounded on her. “Tell me Jas Harker isn’t living with you.”
Amethyst raised her chin and crossed her arms. “Jas Harker isn’t living with me.”
“Amethyst, I’m your best friend. Do not lie to me.”
When Melodie used her real name, Amethyst knew she was serious. “I’m not lying. He’s not living with me. He’s staying with me.”
Melodie shook her head. “Ah, semantics. You gotta love ’em.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Look,” Melodie said. “I don’t want to cause trouble—”
“—but a week ago you wanted to throw the man under the bus. Now he’s living—excuse me—staying with you.”
“You were the one who told me I’d better think twice before I shut him down.”
“And I’m feeling a little uncomfortable about that now.”
Ah-ha, Amethyst thought. She took Melodie’s hand. “Don’t feel guilty, Mel. It’s not like you think.” Yet. “We’re having wizard problems. We discussed it, and decided this was the best way to handle them.”
Melodie held up a hand. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wizard problems. What kind of wizard problems?”
Amethyst sighed. “Hopefully not the kind that put me in the hospital again. So you see why Jas doesn’t want leave me on my own.”
Melodie put knuckle to lip and studied her a long moment. “You know, every time I want to think the worst of him, he turns around and does something like that.”
Amethyst grinned. “I know, huh? Leave that gorgeous place of his up in the foothills to camp out in my guest bedroom, help with the dishes and everything. He even gave ol’ Heather the brush-off when she fired up the charm.”
Melodie made a face. “And we all know how hard that is. So these wizard problems—”
“It’s just some guy who keeps showing up. He’s probably harmless, but I’m not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“Okay. So…” She gave Amethyst a worried look. “Are you okay with it? The close quarters and all?”
Amethyst gave a rueful laugh. “I’m hopelessly confused. I don’t think I can expect any better than that.”
“Well, I guess I’ll get to see up close and personal today if Jas is worth all the agony.”
Amethyst hadn’t thought about it that way. “I know it sounds crazy,” she said slowly, “but I’m beginning to think he might be.”
Melodie studied her again as if trying to decide if she really was crazy, then sighed. “He’d better be, for his sake.”
Amethyst hugged her. “Thanks. You’re the best kind of friend. There aren’t many who’ll ask if you’re being stupid.”
“Hey, you know me,” Melodie said. “Anytime.”
Amethyst laughed and went back inside, Melodie following.
They climbed the stairs to the main level of the day lodge. Brilliant sunlight reflected from the snowy slope outside poured through the tall windows. The day lodge was nothing fancy, just a café with the usual assortment of burgers, fries and fountain drinks, a rental shop and a bank of lockers lining a space filled with utilitarian tables. It was a busy place right now, people going in and out, sitting at the tables eating and chatting.
Amethyst and Melodie made their way out the doors. Skiers and boarders waited at the chairlifts, skimmed gracefully down the slopes. Amethyst made her way through them, finally spotting Jas and Marl at the lift ticket window.
“Okay,” Amethyst said when the four of them met after their transaction there. “There’s something I’d like to do before we get started.”
She led them across the packed snow of a service road and out of sight around the corner of a building.
She faced Melodie and Marl. “I’d like to put an anti-bust-your-ass spell on us.”
Marl exchanged a glance with Melodie. Jas just listened with polite interest.
“If you’re okay with that,” Amethyst added.
“I won’t complain,” Melodie said.
Marl pulled off his ski cap, ran a hand over his hair and tugged the cap back on. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt.”
He knew about her wizardry. When they were doing ordinary things together, he was okay. But the magical aspect of her life seemed to make him uncomfortable. Amethyst didn’t really blame him.
“I’ll do myself and Melodie first,” she told him, “in case you decide to change your mind.”
A lot of magic wasn’t flashy. Protection spells and curses, come hithers and findings and bindings were all invisible to ordinary people—except for their effects. Of course, a wizard could perceive a spell in a variety of ways.
To Amethyst, this spell appeared as translucent, sky-blue fake fur that gave off a faint, chiming hum and a scent of sour apples and smoke, of all things.
Jas did a lot of gesturing when he worked the magic. Not her. She’d finally gotten to where she didn’t feel like she was playing make-believe. Using gestures, especially around other people, only made her feel stupid. So she simply reached out with her power and tucked the spell around herself and Melodie.
“Done,” she said.
“That’s it?” Melodie held out her gloved hands, turned them this way and that. “I don’t feel any different.”
“You won’t,” Amethyst said. “And you’ll still fall, because if I put a spell on you to keep you from that, it would be pretty obvious to anyone watching. But this one will keep you from crashing into things, or falling in a way that would hurt you.” She crooked a mischievous smile. “Here, I’ll show you.”
She launched into a run, risky to begin with on the icy ground, heading for the snow fence on one side of the road.
“Wiz!” Melodie yelped.
Under ordinary circumstances, Amethyst would’ve piled into the fence and taken a header over it. Instead, her feet slipped, arcing out from under her and sending her into a twisting fall. She landed with a poof in the soft snow alongside the road.
She got up with a flourish and brushed the snow from her pants. “Ta-da! Just like water skiing.”
Jas shook his head, smiling.
“Okay, I’ll take some of that,” Marl said.
“Coming up,” Amethyst said and worked the spell on him, then the four of them trooped back up the road to the ski school.
Amethyst liked to think herself athletic. She hiked. She skated, and she’d thought skating would give her an edge in learning to snowboard.
No. She fell on her butt a lot. She fell on her face. Thank god for the spell, but it didn’t do anything to get the damned board back under her and get back upright after she fell. It was embarrassing, especially when little kids zipped past, squealing, like they were riding Big Wheels in the street. She consoled herself by considering that it was only their lower center of gravity.
Jas, however, was skimming around smooth as an ice cube down a greased glass chute, all cool in his rainbow mirrored goggles and helmet and dark green snow pants.
The instructor, an Anglo guy with a fashionable three-day’s growth of beard who looked maybe all of 20, clapped his gloved hands together.
“Good job!” he called as Jas glided down the beginner’s slope. “You’re a natural.”
Amethyst, on the other hand, landed on her butt again and did a quarter turn on the snow before coming to a stop. Jas dug in the edge of his board in a crunching, squeaking stop by her, then laughed as he pulled her up.
“That was a fine fall,” he said. “I’m impressed.”
She gave him a withering smile. “Why, thank you, Jas.”
With a wave, he glided off again. Amethyst raised her goggles and narrowed her eyes. Melodie came wobbling up beside her.
Jas might be the classic smooth operator, but he wasn’t that smooth.
“He’s cheating,” Amethyst said.
Melodie set hands on hips, puffing. “What do you mean?”
Amethyst nodded her head after Jas. “He’s using the magic.”
Of course, any wizard would maintain spells of protection, of deflection and bafflement. She could see the magic at work around Jas, but it wasn’t easy to tell what it was doing unless you actually saw the effects. And the effect here was that Jas, who supposedly didn’t know how to snowboard either, wasn’t having the same problems the rest of them were.
Amethyst dug through the spells she knew, looking for just the right one.
It was a little like the true-seeing spell she’d set around her house. But instead of breaking illusion, this one shorted-circuited luck spells and come-hithers. So if Jas was calling just the right conditions to let him board with ease…
She gave a slow, one-sided smile and told Melodie, “Watch this.”
She shaped the magic and tossed the spell at Jas.
His head snapped around when the spell hit him. Amethyst smiled and waved. He began a slow rotation, then somehow got going backwards down the slope. The edge of his board caught in the snow and he flipped head-over-board. His hat, his goggles and one glove flew and he landed sprawled on his back on the snow.
Amethyst laughed and smacked her gloved hands together. “Yard sale!” she called.
Melodie took off a glove, put her fingers in her mouth and whistled. Amethyst scootered over to Jas, braced hands on knees and bent over him.
“That’s what happens when you make your date look bad,” she said.
Still on his back, he frowned up at her. “You have a mean streak, Amethyst Rey.”
“I prefer to think of it as mischievous.”
She offered her hand. He took it and gave a yank. She yelled and went sprawling on top of him, their boards clattering and legs tangling.
“You aren’t trying to start another duel, are you?” he said into her ear.
“Are you asking for a rematch?” She tried to push herself up, but he wrapped an arm around her and held her.
“Only if it’s for the same stakes.”
The stakes last time had been marriage.
“You never give up,” she said.
“Of course I don’t.”
“Hey, you guys,” Melodie called. “There’re kids around!”
Jas laughed and let her go. “Later.”
A shiver went through her, but Amethyst said, “You wish.” She pushed off of him.