Zach winced and kept his eyes on the Prince. The man looked vaguely curious as he stared at the great wooden chair where he normally held court. The rich scent of chocolate filled the air, drowning out the sandalwood incense the Princess had been burning. The Prince stood across from his throne, arms crossed over his chest, his expression calm.
Zach was feeling anything but.
“Can you explain that to me, please?”
Zach blew out his breath and prayed he didn’t look as nervous as he felt. He’d seriously screwed the pooch and he knew it. “I was hungry?”
Prince Roland Malinborn, ruler of the Court of Witches and the most powerful magic men in the world, turned to him. “So you turned the carved white oak on the back of my throne, the ancient symbol of the Witch Prince, into a green M&M?”
He resisted the urge to cover his eyes. He was pretty sure his cheeks were bright red. “The lesson was to focus on what you wanted right at that moment and bring it into being.” And hadn’t it been humiliating to fuck that spell up in front of ten-year-olds?
“That’s just wrong, Zach.” The Witch Prince shook his head. “It has a face.”
“The strappy heels are kind of cute.” Princess Arianna Malinborn tilted her head, the grin Zach knew she’d been fighting finally making an appearance.
“Not. Helping, sweetheart.” Prince Roland sighed. “Fix it, Mr. Beckett.”
He stared, horrified, at the Prince. “Are you sure you want me to do that?”
The Prince stared back. “Good point.” He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. “Send Jo up, please.”
Aw crap. Jo was going to give him hell. And from the look on Prince Roland’s face he was going to have Zach’s ass stilled, his magic silenced forever.
Just like at home, he seemed to screw up every spell he tried. But instead of fizzling and dying out with a whimper, here his spells tended to blow up in his face.
The local “Elk Lodge” served the witches well, giving the Prince a centralized court without building an obvious palace. It was also a source of occasional revenue. Actual magic performed during a wedding ceremony would more than likely freak any normal wedding hall proprietor the hell out. So the rulers of the Witch Court allowed magic families to rent certain rooms for functions and used the space themselves for their own holiday balls and special court functions.
Zach kind of liked the place, even if the location sucked ass. He missed being out in the open air. Maybe he could come and visit occasionally, like once every ten years or so? Prince Roland might even begin to forget he existed.
The Prince’s right-hand man came running into the hall and stopped, panting, in front of the Prince. “Yes, Tennison?”
Tennison bowed. “The mosaic, sire, in the hallway out front! It’s—”
“M&M’s?” The Prince was going to grind his teeth to dust if he kept that up.
The Prince’s face was cherry red. He was going to have an aneurysm if Zach didn’t fix this. “Sorry?”
It didn’t help his case when Princess Arianna broke out in giggles.
“Dear Goddess, Zachary. What have you done now?”
It wasn’t right, and it certainly wasn’t fair. There was no way Fate would be so cruel to him, but there it was. He was in more trouble than he ever remembered being. The Prince looked ready to have him stripped of his powers. The Princess looked ready to adopt him, which would only serve to piss off the Prince and Zach’s mother, a situation he strove to avoid at all costs.
He was about to topple over from sheer unrequited lust.
He turned to look at the object of his obsession. Her dark hair brushed her shoulders. Jo’s deep brown eyes seemed to bore right to the core of him. Full lips curled in a half-smile, the disdain he knew, knew she felt for him hidden for the benefit of the Prince and Princess. Johra Yashodhar had faced better men than him and left them weeping and broken in her high-heeled dust. She was an exotic orchid to his mangy wolf.
God, he wanted her. How could he not?
But she used the fact that she was two years older than him as a barrier to any intimacy, even friendship. She claimed him as her student and treated him like one of the kids. He’d been watching her the entire time he’d been at court, lusted after her more and more since she started teaching him.
She viewed him as an issue that needed to be dealt with.
Zach was about to lose his goddamn mind. Unless he managed to figure out a way to become a sterling example of witchhood he was going to wind up forever watching her walk away from him.
“Get out of here before you do any more damage, Zachary.” Jo dismissed him with a wave of her hand. “Why don’t you go get lunch or something?”
“Lunch. Sure.” Zach stalked out of the room, desperately trying to close his ears to the snickering witches that cleared a broad path around him.
“And, Zachary?” Jo wouldn’t even look at him. “Don’t bother coming back.”
Zach froze for all of two seconds, his hand clenching around the twisted amulet, before striding out of the Lodge and right to his car.
Fuck it. If people were going to treat him like shit they were damn well going to be family, not a bunch of asshole strangers who didn’t even know who Zachary Beckett was. He stewed the entire way to his shitty rented townhouse, slammed into his room and grabbed his suitcase. He was determined to leave the dust of the court behind him.
Lana insisted being a witch was “instinctive”. Well, he’d see how he lived on those instincts of his from now on.
He was so fucking tired of never having anyone who believed in him. The only person who came close was Lana. It still amazed him that it had taken Lana such a short amount of time to figure out the truth. The flow of magic that called to him was so different from the orderly, precise way his brothers practiced the craft. He wasn’t even certain he could explain the joy that ran through his veins whenever he cast a spell, the need to use his abilities to help those around him.
He knew he wasn’t completely useless. Hadn’t he saved Lana from that hex Cole Godwin had cast on her? She’d be dead now if he hadn’t known what to do and acted on it. He’d also saved his brother’s life, using a spell Annabelle had told him privately she’d thought impossible to perform.
So why couldn’t he do a simple spell? Why, when he reached for the magic, was it a raging torrent rather than the steady trickle most other witches talked about?
Why was he considered a failure here, too, when he knew, deep in his bones, he was not?
Zach zipped his case closed and headed down the stairs. He had no idea why things had gone so wrong but he was going to find out. And he knew just the woman to ask: Annabelle Evans, Lana’s grandmother. Right now she was the only one he trusted to give it to him straight, good or bad. Zach got into his car and headed for the airport. It was time to head back to Philadelphia.
No time like the present to solve the mystery of one Zachary Beckett.