Kathlena L. Contreras
The Land of Enchantment 4
Take one wager, two wizards, a questionable attraction, mix in a wild magical duel through the streets of Albuquerque, and what do you get?
A marriage proposal gone very, very wrong.
But what else could Amethyst Rey expect when the man proposing is charming, devious Jas Harker, the wizard who snared her with a spellbinding the last time he kissed her? Now that he’s going for an official binding, Amethyst has to decide if she wants Jas out of her life completely…
Or a permanent part of it.
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Amethyst Rey stared at what lay inside the little box on the linen tablecloth.
A ring. White gold—or platinum. Candlelight glittered on the spray of diamonds surrounding a stone the size of her little fingernail. It was a purple so deep and rich it looked fake.
An amethyst. Of course. And she somehow knew it wasn’t fake.
The murmur of other diners in suits and little black dresses wove in and out of discreet piano music. Amethyst’s concession to dressing up consisted of a silk boatneck top, broomstick skirt in shades of indigo, purple and violet and a silver concho belt.
She concentrated on keeping her voice low and reasonable. “You have got to be kidding me.”
Across the table from her, Jas Harker wore an ever-so-earnest look. “Never.”
She should’ve known something was up: dinner at Blue Coyote in Santa Fe, Jas dressed in a sport coat and opened-collared shirt, opening the door of his emerald-green Infiniti IPL convertible. Good-looking as always with his black hair freshly barbered into stylish disarray, those deep, dark eyes, the mismatched brows, one with a little quirk to it.
She shook her head. So much charm…so little reliability.
“What are you up to now?” she said.
He carefully pushed his dessert plate aside and folded pale, clever fingers in front of him. “I want you to marry me.”
Amethyst leaned an elbow on the table. Candlelight traced a glass cut on the side of her thumb—occupational hazard for a stained glass artist. “I got that part. What I’m wondering is what else you want.”
“What else do you think I want?”
With Jas, there was always something else. But since she’d been enjoying a very nice night out with him, she probably shouldn’t mention that.
“Maybe one binding isn’t enough,” she said. “Maybe now you want the legal kind.”
He sighed and took a sip of wine. “A man usually asks a woman to marry him because he loves her.”
“Except you’re not a man.”
He leaned close and whispered, “Try me.”
She held her ground. “A professional collaboration seems to be working pretty well. Anything closer…” She turned sideways and crossed her legs. “Um, no.”
His mouth ticked up on one side. “Ah-ha. That’s what this is about. ‘Amethyst, insecure in her abilities, rejects a degree of closeness that might reveal her mediocrity.’”
Her face went hot. “Mediocrity? Mediocrity?”
He wore an innocent look. “Am I wrong about that?”
She spluttered and swept a hand around her. The restaurant disappeared. Piñon pines and juniper trees replaced the other diners. Instead of faux-painted walls, a night sky with stars like slivers of glass surrounded them. Crickets’ music took the place of the tinkling piano.
“Nice.” Jas grinned and drew a finger along the candle flame. It turned a rich rose color and twined patterns upward in the darkness. “So much more intimate.”
“That wasn’t—I didn’t—” She fumbled at the magic. Nothing happened. She tried again.
He caught her hand. “Here. Let me.”
The restaurant blinked back in. The ring was on her finger, too.
Amethyst yanked it off and plunked it back into its box.
He watched with amused tolerance, the kind of look one would use with a puppy’s silly antics. “So you aren’t insecure.”
“Are you sure?”
He leaned back, twirled the stem of his glass between his fingers. “So. Are you up to a challenge?”
She folded her arms. “Name it.”
“How about a little contest of wizardry?”
“Let me guess. You win, I marry you.”
“Exactly the stakes I had in mind.”
She snorted a laugh. “I don’t think so.”
“Then you don’t trust your powers.”
Amethyst gave him a sweet smile, tipped her head to one side and sent him into the middle of the parking lot. One Brooks Brothers shoe remained underneath the table.
For good measure, she put on a curse that would make the sole come off the first time it was exposed to water.
Melodie set down her tea. It hit the coffee table with a thunk and a jingle of ice. “You did what?”
Amethyst pulled her fingers through her hair. “I know. But I was mad.”
What were best friends for, if not to point out massive stupidity?
“And so you agreed to marry the man if he can best you in wizardry.” Melodie angled into her end of the couch and folded her arms. “Didn’t it once, maybe, vaguely occur to you that he might be setting you up?”
“Well…maybe after I got back to Albuquerque.” She stirred the ice in her glass, avoiding Melodie’s eyes. Colors from the stained glass panel on the wall behind her reflected in the ice, turning them into cubes of green, gold, vivid sky-blue.
Amethyst sighed. “When I got home, I couldn’t find my way to the front door.”
Melodie burst out with a laugh. “What do you mean? Your front walk is straight and ten feet long.”
“Ever heard the saying, ‘He led me down the garden path’? That’s what happened. I wandered that path for fifteen minutes before I could break the illusion.” Amethyst made a face. “Complete with sphinx moths, night hawks and evening primrose.”
“I guess I shouldn’t say anything about it sounding pretty.”
“Not,” Amethyst said, “under the circumstances.”
“You’ll just have to tell Jas the bet’s off, Wiz.” That was the nickname Melodie had given her in their UNM days. Short for ‘whiz kid.’ “If you’re gonna marry him, it’ll have to be for the usual reasons.”
“Have I ever mentioned that cynics are annoying?”
“We’re talking about Jas here.”
“Point taken,” Melodie said. “But still. I don’t think this is an arms race you want to join.”
“The only thing is, I already have.” Amethyst shifted in her seat. “When he went home, he didn’t have a front door.”