Kathlena L. Contreras
The Land of Enchantment 5
Amethyst Rey has a big problem. Jas Harker, wizard and corporate magnate, wants her to marry him.
Sure, he’s rich, he’s charming, and he’s handsome enough to make Amethyst dizzy. But when she first came into her own powers two years ago, Jas led her on, used his magic on her, and hurt her more than she wants to admit. Amethyst learned her lesson. Don’t get close. And never, ever drop her guard.
But it’s not easy to keep fighting her attraction to him, and Jas has been working hard to convince her that he made a mistake. Amethyst has to decide if the magic they share—literally and poetically—is worth risking her heart again.
Chapter 1 – The Hunt
She was being hunted.
Amethyst Rey knew it as well as the deer knows when she catches the scent of a mountain lion. She could almost feel the hunter’s dark gaze on her, gliding along her neck over the curve of her shoulder, down her arm and wrist to caress her hand where it guided the mouse across the desktop. She imagined she caught a whiff of his aftershave, tangy and musky like the desert after a rain. The air whispering through the ceiling vent might’ve been his breath on her ear, on the back of her neck.
She gave her ponytail a flip as if dislodging a pesky fly and opened herself to the magic.
Even here in the Magus Building, in the middle of what was arguably some of the most advanced tech in the state of New Mexico—including the two national labs—the magic shimmered and glowed to her wizard’s eye, an ether that surrounded and permeated everything. Without looking up from the lines of code on the screen in front of her, she conjured a ward.
“Is that really necessary?” a man’s voice said behind her.
Amethyst jumped and spun in her chair, her heart jackhammering. “Dammit, Jas! Don’t do that!”
Jas leaned against the doorjamb, picture of the business magnate at ease—dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, sage green tie loosened, black hair gelled in attractive disarray. His eyes, deep and dark as a forest pool on a moonless night, sparkled with amusement under uneven brows—one had a teasing little quirk to it. Those damned crinkles at the corners of his eyes dared her to be annoyed with him.
“Sorry,” he said. “I thought you knew I was here.”
Charm had its limits. She sat back in her chair and folded her arms. “I knew you were somewhere. So did you have a specific reason for spying on me?”
“I wasn’t spying on you. I came to ask you out.”
“Out,” she repeated.
“On a date.”
She eyed him. “Isn’t it sexual harassment or something when your boss keeps hitting on you?”
“I’m your boss now, am I?”
“You know what I mean.”
“’Corporate tycoon seizes innocent young woman in his clutches.’” He gave an evil grin and rubbed his hands together. “I like that.”
“I don’t think I ever claimed to be innocent.”
The grin became a seductive smile. “’Come for me, Ana,’” he said in a husky voice.
Her face went hot. So did some other things. But getting hot and bothered with Jas Harker, wizard, owner of Magus Corporation and world-class conniver wasn’t in the cards for the foreseeable future. If ever.
“I cannot believe you read that stuff,” she said. “And here I thought all this time you were a gentleman.”
“How about this, then? Come out with me.”
He never gave up.
“Why the look?” he said. “Dating was your idea. Have you changed your mind?”
She heaved a sigh. “Okay, fine. I’ll go out with you. But on two conditions.”
She ignored that. “First, no wining and dining. And no proposals of marriage.”
“Ever?” he said, sounding a little dismayed.
She wasn’t swayed. “Not unless you enjoy the sound of the word ‘no.’”
“You’re a hard woman, Amethyst Rey.”
“You have no idea.”
That teasing light came back into his eyes. “You’re making me a hard man.”
“You’re not helping your cause.”
The usual smooth charm returned. “All right,” he said. “If the bad-boy attitude doesn’t appeal, I’ll behave myself. But I have conditions of my own.”
“Uh-huh. Let’s hear them.”
“No standing me up. And no date sabotage.”
“Damn.” She snapped her fingers. “Headed off at the pass.”
“I’m serious. If you agree to go out with me, you have to give it a chance.”
She thought about it. He could be pretty good company, even if he was a devious conniver. And if she wanted to be perfectly honest with herself, there’d been a time when she would’ve been thrilled (if intimidated) to go out with him.
“Okay, I promise” she said. “How about you?”
“I won’t put you under obligation with expensive outings and gifts. As for marriage proposals…” He tilted his head. “Isn’t that the point of dating?”
Amethyst opened her mouth to argue, but nothing came out.
* * *
“But I don’t understand, mija,” Mama said. “What happened to getting married? First Jasper calls to ask for your papa’s blessing, then Papa tells me, ‘Don’t tell anybody yet, Tonia. Not until Amethyst makes it official.’ Well, I’ve waited a month, and I still haven’t heard anything.”
Amethyst held in a sigh. So this was what was at the bottom of Mama’s lunch invitation: It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten together. I’ll be in Albuquerque on Friday. Why don’t we meet at the Range?
The Range was a restaurant with attitude. Overhead, paper mache cows were strapped to the ceiling fans: flying cows. The seats were capped with imitation tooled leather and upholstered in fabric with cowboys and bucking broncos. The food was some of the best in Albuquerque.
Amethyst took a bite of spinach enchilada. “Jas went about that all backwards, Mama. He asked, and it never occurred to him that I might say no.”
Mama’s well-shaped brows climbed. “You said no?”
Amethyst made a frustrated gesture. “I know. He’s charming, he’s rich and he’s about the best-looking man I know. Most people would be all like, ‘Are you crazy?’ But I have to feel I can trust a man if I’m going to spend my life with him.”
Especially if that life might extend several centuries, as wizards’ did.
“Violita,” Mama said, somehow managing to scold even while using Amethyst’s nickname. “Jasper’s stayed with you through thick and thin. Why don’t you feel you can trust him?”
“You’ve seen him in action—you know how he is. He’s used to getting his own way.”
“Most men are like that. If we let that scare us off, no one would ever get married.”
Amethyst laughed. “Maybe. But Jas has a tendency to stylishly, charmingly run right over the top of anything and anybody in his way. I guess I don’t want to have to battle him to maintain my independence.”
Mama took a bite of her quinoa salad and chewed thoughtfully.
“I won’t lecture you about marriage being all about giving up some independence in exchange for other good things,” she finally said. “But I think something happened to make you not trust him. Because since I’ve known him, what I’ve seen is him trying very hard to show you something else.”
Amethyst concentrated on the green chile she was spooning over her black beans. “I know he has,” she said quietly. “That’s why I can call him a friend now.”
Mama took a few more bites. “Can you tell me what happened?”
Amethyst took a drink of iced tea, stalling. “There’s no point in making you mad at him now. It was a long time ago, when I first knew him.”
“But it was bad enough it still bothers you.”
It was, in fact, that bad. When a guy you’re beginning to develop feelings for turns out to be a wizard who slaps a binding on you that takes your will and leaves you helpless…
Well, Amethyst had spent most of the last year trying to forgive Jas for that. Dwelling on it didn’t get her any closer to that goal.
She shook her head. “Let’s just say he wanted something. And led me along to get it.”
Amethyst looked up sharply.
Mama’s lips thinned. “That’s what that huge vase of flowers was about back then,” she said. “I always thought it was strange he didn’t just take them to you at the hospital. And then how he wouldn’t stay when I told him you’d be home soon.”
“Mama,” Amethyst said. “How do you do that?”
“Maybe I have a little magic, too. It does come from my side of the family.”
The waiter came and refilled their glasses. The hum of conversation from other diners gave a comforting sense of privacy. With the topic under discussion, it was best to guarantee privacy.
Amethyst worked a spell of bafflement. Just a little something to make their conversation unintelligible to any eavesdroppers—accidental or otherwise.
“So.” Mama said. “Was this marriage proposal just another way to get your magic?”
Amethyst almost choked. “Exactly what I asked. But…probably not. At least, I don’t think so.”
“That’s what my gig at Magus Corporation is all about. I’m the wizard on staff.”
Mama had started to take a bite. Her fork suddenly tinked against her plate. “Violita!” She glanced around.
“Don’t worry, Mama. I made sure no one can hear us.”
She glanced around once more as if to be sure, then relaxed. “What about the people you work with? They don’t know, do they?”
“Of course not,” Amethyst said. “As far as everyone except Jas is concerned, I’m only the stained glass artist who moonlights as a consultant.”
“And is that how he thinks of you?”
“God only knows how he thinks of me. Probably as a challenge. After I took marriage off the table, he was negotiating for an engagement. Jas lives for negotiations. Part of being a corporate magnate, I guess. We ended up compromising. We’re going to try dating.” At Mama’s confused look, she explained, “Our relationship has been a professional one.” A collaboration of wizards. But Mama didn’t know Jas was also a wizard. “Somewhere along the line, he decided it was a personal one. I had to set him straight on that.”
“You make a simple thing very complicated, mijita.”
“I’m not sure it’s me who’s making it complicated, but yeah.” She sighed. “It is.