March 2009

Casual Hex

Gwen Dubois lives in Indiana, but her heart is in France with Marc Chevalier. Now he's come to Big Knob to show Gwen the real meaning of amour and coax her back to Paris. But stiff competition is coming from another part of the world, if not exactly this world. Prince Leo of the Atwood fairy kingdom has his own plans for Gwen.

As Marc and Leo battle for Gwen's affections, Big Knob's resident matchmaking witch and wizard move in to help true love triumph in the best way they know how: with a little magic. But when the rivalry puts Gwen in danger, the men in her life are asked to prove their love in ways no one could have imagined.

Marc studied Gwen's face. “You do not know how beautiful you are, do you?”
“Of course I do.” Gwen sniffed. “Red nose and chapped lips. What could be lovelier?”

Prologue

Tie game, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded and the Mariners’ designated hitter was up at bat. Seated directly behind home plate between two of the hottest babes in Seattle, Prince Leo sipped his ice-cold brewsky and smiled. Late September, and his favorite team was still in the running. Life didn’t get any better than that.
Then his cell phone rang. Worse yet, it was his mother. He could let the call go to voice mail, claim the ring had been drowned out by the roar of the crowd. But Queen Beryl wouldn’t buy it. Fairy princes, of which he was one, had incredible hearing.
Because of that ability, he’d overheard this morning’s conversation at the palace between his mother and one of her oldest friends, a witch from San Francisco named Isadora Mather. Very odd, that conversation. Unless his mother had been joking, she was having second thoughts about handing over the kingdom to her one and only son. Yeah, she was probably joking.
Still, the discussion had made him briefly consider giving up his primo seats and the company of the Dempsey twins this afternoon so he could stick around and get the 411 on what he’d thought was a done deal – him becoming King of Atwood in the near future. In the end he hadn’t been able to make himself miss the game.
Besides, he had every confidence he’d end up on the throne. He’d reached the required age, so all he was waiting for was his mother’s decision on a good coronation date. He’d tried on his late daddy’s crown, a little dusty after sitting around all these years, and it fit just fine. Soon he’d be the big boss in the forested kingdom of Atwood, a misty island at the far reaches of Puget Sound.
True, his mother had the power to deny him that job, but she wouldn’t disinherit her own flesh and blood, even if she was irritated with him these days. So what if he liked to party? Was that a crime? And maybe he hadn’t put much effort into those charitable projects she was so big on, but there would be plenty of time to get serious once he was king.
She’d probably known he was listening and had wanted to give him a little scare when she’d told Isadora that she might pass the crown to a commoner. He didn’t believe for a minute that she’d do such a thing, but just to hedge his bets, he answered the phone.
“Hey,” he said. “Let me call you back after the game.”
“I’m afraid not.” His mother had adopted her imperial tone. “This is of utmost importance.”
Leo sighed. “What’s up?” He couldn’t imagine anything of more importance than a game-winning home run, which would put the Mariners in the playoffs and cause the very stacked Dempsey twins to leap out of their seats and jump up and down, which would promote major jiggle. He watched the pitch come in.
“The time has come for you to prove yourself worthy of the crown,” his mother said.
Swing and a miss. Damn. “I don’t remember hearing anything about that before.” He had to watch what he said. The Dempsey twins thought he was just another sexy guy with excellent moves. When dealing with non-magical women, he kept his fairy status a secret.
Letting it be known would only cause problems. For one thing, people assumed all magical fairies were tiny. Tiny was an option, one he didn’t use much. Still, at full size, if he suddenly announced he was a fairy, it would be misinterpreted, to say the least.
“You’re hearing about it, now,” his mother said. “I have an assignment you must complete first.”
“This is sounding like Mission Impossible.” Leo winced as the batter missed another fast ball.
“You’d better hope it’s not impossible.” His mother was obviously in a mood. “You’re perilously close to losing your birthright.”
Leo rolled his eyes. Oh, the drama. Meanwhile, the Red Sox catcher called timeout and loped to the mound to confer with the pitcher. If Leo hoped to finish this phone call before the next pitch, he’d better play along. “All right. What’s the assignment?”
“I’m sending you to Big Knob, Indiana, where –”
“Big Knob?” Leo felt the twins’ attention on him and realized he’d said that a little too loud. He gave them both a lazy smile as if he’d been referring to himself. “Oh, yeah. Big Knob.” He hoped to hell his mother wasn’t expecting him to deal with George, the juvenile delinquent dragon living in the woods near that Podunk town.
“Your assignment involves a young woman by the name of Gwen Dubois. She owns the local florist shop, Beaucoup Bouquets.”
Now that was more like it. A woman. Maybe even a French woman. “Is this a rescue situation?” He could get into that, especially if she happened to be gorgeous. He didn’t want to have to fight any dragons, but from all reports, George didn’t like to fight. Leo turned his attention to the game as the catcher hunkered down behind the plate.
“It’s sort of a rescue,” Queen Beryl said. “She lacks self-confidence with the opposite sex.”
Just his luck, she’d be ugly. “And why isn’t she self-confident?”
“She doesn’t consider herself particularly attractive.”
Bingo. “Mom, I don’t think –”
“I want you to give her the kind of attention that will change her self-image and make her feel sexy.”
Leo preferred his women to be sexy from the get-go. “I’m not really into stuff like that.”
“Which is exactly why I’m assigning you this task, Leo. You’re to ignore your obsession with external beauty and consider someone else’s feelings for a change. You must prove yourself capable of a selfless act.”
That hurt. “I can be selfless.”
“I’ve seen very little evidence of it. Oh, and when you go, stay out of the Whispering Forest and away from that dragon, George.”
Earlier Leo had hoped not to be assigned to George, but he hated being told what to do. “Why?”
“The dragon is Dorcas and Ambrose Lowells’ project.”
“Mm.” Leo had heard of the witch and wizard who’d been banished to Big Knob because they’d screwed up some spell or other. Leo was curious about that, too, but not enough to make a trip to some piddly small town. “There must be some other assignment you can give me.”
“I’m afraid not. Do you want the crown or don’t you?”
He wanted it, and apparently he’d have to jump through hoops to get it. He sighed. “Yeah, okay. I’ll do it.” The pitcher went into his windup. “When do I have to go?”
“Next week.”
With a crack of the bat, the hitter sent the ball over the center field fence. Leo jumped to his feet and cheered while the Dempsey twins leaped around and bumped into him with their generous assets. Sweet. “Sorry, Mom!” he yelled into the phone. “Next week is out.”
“Why?”
“We’re in the playoffs! We might end up in the World Series! Maybe I could go in November.”
“Won’t work. You’ll need plenty of time, and Gwen’s closing the shop mid-December to spend the holidays in Arizona with her parents.”
If it hadn’t been for his acute hearing, Leo wouldn’t have picked up on that last sentence. Pandemonium ruled at Safeco Field and the Dempsey twins became orgasmic in their joy. He looked forward to capitalizing on that in his hotel suite tonight.
“January, then!” he shouted into the phone. “Gotta go, Mom! ‘Bye!” He snapped the phone shut and shoved aside all thoughts of his assignment. Party time!

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