Copyright © 2012 Dana Marie Bell
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“Good evening, class.”
Zachary Beckett winced and turned to face the woman entering the room behind him.
Holy crap. Not her. Not Johra Yashodhar. Please, Lady?
Apparently the Lady was not in the mood to hear one screwed-up witch’s prayer, because Johra walked into the room in tight jeans and a sweater that hugged her every abundant curve.
He envied that sweater something fierce.
“Good evening, Miss Yashodhar,” the children echoed around him. Zach didn’t repeat it. He was too busy trying to roll his tongue back into his mouth. His wolf stirred under his skin, peeking curiously at the woman in front of them.
Those dark brown eyes zeroed in on him, the lone adult in a group of children. Nothing showed in them. If she knew who he was she was doing a great job of hiding it. She smoothed a lock of nearly black hair behind her ear, revealing delicate, dangling gold earrings. “I understand we have an addition to our class.”
Zach did his best to ignore the giggles of the ten-year-olds surrounding him. He kept his eyes on the vision of loveliness standing near the chalkboard.
If he had to be humiliated this way at least the view was nice.
Her lips twitched. “Why don’t you stand up and tell the class something about yourself.”
Zach gulped and stood. He’d hated school to begin with, and now he was being forced to relive it after work three nights a week. It was the YMCA craft club from hell. What did I do to deserve this? “My name is Zachary Beckett. I’m from Pennsylvania, and I’m the son of wizards.” That did it. Emotion shone in those incredible eyes of hers for all of two seconds.
He was pretty sure it was contempt.
He’d gotten that a lot from the witches here ever since they’d learned who he was. Apparently Lana was right. Witches did not hold wizards in high esteem. He just hadn’t expected to have it thrown in his face so blatantly. The witches here ran the gamut from cold to downright hostile. They would close ranks against him, leaving him left out of just about everything. Hell, the Prince had found him a rental for the duration. He’d been grateful when Roland first told him about it.
Then he’d learned exactly how far away it was from the rest of the magical community.
Zach cleared his throat. “I’ve been at the court now for—” he did a quick mental check, “—a month. I’ve learned a lot.” Not. Nothing he’d tried so far had worked, and he was rapidly developing a reputation as a screw-up here too. Johra had to have heard of him, being one of the witches willing to teach pupils, but she gave no sign that she had. Damn it.
A small girl with bright gold pigtails snickered behind her hand.
Apparently she’s heard of me. He sighed. “I’m the first Beckett witch ever.” And according to his soon-to-be sister-in-law, Lana, one of the strongest witches she’d ever met. Now if only he could get that to translate into real, working spells rather than spectacular explosions of the graphite kind. The Lodge’s cleaning crew was still complaining about that. “I work for a graphic arts design firm as an artist.” He shrugged, giving the teacher his best “aw shucks” smile. “That’s pretty much it.” Other than I’m single, disease free, and I think I want to you to have my babies.
Miss Yashodhar waved her hand. “Thank you, Zachary. Please take your seat.”
“Zach.” He sat, squeezing behind the small desk. He felt like a complete and utter dork. Talk about a nightmare.
She nodded, but didn’t otherwise respond. She crossed her hands in front of her, every inch the stern teacher. “My name is Johra Yashodhar, and I’ll be teaching this class for the next few months. Welcome to the novice class.”
Zach blinked. The novice class? He’d been told he’d be getting a new trainer, but no one mentioned it was the novice trainer! He could feel the heat crawling up his cheeks at the subtle insult he’d been dealt. True, he’d screwed up under the few teachers willing to take him on, but he hadn’t screwed up that badly.
The little blonde girl leaned closer. “My mom says you’re the worst witch she’s ever seen.”
Zach blinked. “Really? Who’s your mom?”
Zach buried his head in his hands. He’d accidentally turned Sharon’s hair green two days ago. She’d sworn she could teach him how to cast a proper illusion spell.
“They said they couldn’t even bleach it out. It’ll have to grow on its own.”
Zach peeked out from behind his hands. “Sorry.”
“Anything you’d like to share with the class, Zachary?”
Me? He sat up straight. “No, ma’am.”
Her eyes narrowed. They darted between him and the little girl. “Good. Then let’s get to work.” She reached down and picked up a book. “Please open your books to page twenty-three of Incense, Herbs and Potions, please.”
Zach scooted back as far as he could and looked under his desk. It was empty. “Ms. Yashodhar?”
“I don’t have a book.”
She rolled her eyes. “Weren’t you given the syllabus?”
“No, ma’am.” He was lucky he hadn’t been given the boot, the way people around here treated him. They all acted like he had leprosy.
“Sarah. Share with Zachary.”
The little girl glared at him and turned the book toward him. Cover side out.
Zach sat back and prepared for what he was sure would be the most miserable night of his existence.
Jo waved her hand in front of her face and dove frantically for the windows. “Everyone stay calm!” She struggled with opening the old windows. Something was jamming them closed. She coughed, desperate to get the stench and smoke out of her classroom.
What in all the hells had she ever done to deserve this? How Zach wound up in the same class with children she’d never understand, but the Princess had strong-armed her into taking on the younger man and Jo had reluctantly agreed.
The entire week had been one disaster after another.
“Sorry, sorry. Let me help you with that.”
Two strong arms reached around her and began tugging the window open. She heard a deep grunt, felt the pull of that powerful body, and the window screeched open underneath her fingers.
Jo took a deep breath of fresh city air. “Thanks.”
That deep rumbling voice was going to be the death of her. Maybe if she’d been paying attention to what Zach had been putting in his cauldron instead of his strong hands, one bound in a leather glove, one not, she might have stopped him from whatever the hell he’d done. It stinks like a half-cooked skunk in here. “Get the other windows, Zachary.”
She felt more than heard his sigh. “Yes, ma’am.”
She risked a quick peek at his strong shoulders outlined in a white button-down shirt, dark jeans hugging an incredibly firm ass. That mop of dark curls begged for her fingers. He reached over and pulled on the window, opening it with another deep grunt that sent flutters through her stomach.
She had to get this unholy lust under control before it did her in. Zachary Beckett was her student, damn it. She had to teach him how to control and hone his powers. If Ro caught her drooling over the man she just knew Zach would be sent away. He was at the end of his patience with Zachary Beckett. The complaints against him were piling up as he screwed up one spell after another in spectacular fashion.
But if he were sent away he’d never get what he so desperately needed.
So she growled and she grumbled and she kept him at arm’s length. She prayed he never saw the way she looked for his bright smile, or the way she watched him those rare times when he threw his head back and laughed. She never let him closer than she had to. She was terrified he’d sense her attraction.
Still, if it wasn’t for his perpetual screw-ups, she wasn’t certain she would have been able to stand by her decision. There was no way the man could leave court without serious tutoring in the arcane arts. If he did, someone, somewhere, was going to kill his ass just for the strange stuff he tended to do without even thinking about it.
“All the windows are open, Miss Yashodhar.”
She watched him shake out the fingers of his gloved hand and wondered at it. He never took it off, never allowed anyone to touch it. He held out his left hand to anyone who wanted to shake, and she knew, knew it wasn’t his primary hand. The awkward way he tried to do things with his left one let her know the injury to his right was fairly recent too. The fact that he was in her class at all made her think it was perhaps less than a year old but more than six months. He’d been in court now for five weeks, and she’d never seen his ungloved hand.
What had he done to mess his hand up? It had to be pretty bad if the healers around here hadn’t fixed it yet. Maybe it wasn’t even human anymore? She snorted. She wouldn’t put anything past him.
The smoke was clearing, but the rotten skunk smell was lingering like a bad headache, throbbing behind her sinuses. “Everyone, class dismissed for the evening. Call your parents.”
“Way to go, Zachary.”
She hid her wince as best she could, but she knew everyone had heard a child mock the very adult Zach. “Everyone, out. Now!” She sighed. “Zachary, hold back for a moment.”
She watched the children gather their things and head for the door. More than one glared or shook their heads at Zach, blaming him for the catastrophe her lesson had become. She found herself shaking her head at him too.
Someone needed to take this man-boy in hand before he killed himself.
“What exactly did you put in that spell?” It was supposed to be relatively simple, a brew to relax and open up the third eye, allowing the magical senses to be brought to the fore. Instead it wound up closing off the sinuses. “Well?”
He shrugged. “It should have worked.”
“Tell me the ingredients you used.”
He began chanting them, his voice almost sing-song. Her horror grew as he listed out the herbs he’d placed in his cauldron. “Lord and Lady, Beckett! Half those herbs are poisonous!” And how the heck had poisonous herbs wound up in a novice classroom?
He shrugged. “They were what I needed.”
“What you needed.”
He nodded, giving her what she’d come to term his Bambi eyes. “Uh-huh.”
She pinched the bridge of her nose and tried desperately to remind herself why she hadn’t killed him yet. “Beckett, you can’t have those in here with ten-year-olds.”
“I was careful.”
She pointed toward the desks. “Those children are under my care, Zachary!” She shook her head, furious with both him and herself. She should have noticed what he was doing, stopped it before it got to this point. This was more her fault than his. She sat behind her desk, hoping it gave her more of an authoritative air despite the eau de funk clinging to her. “From now on, you use the herbs I tell you to use, understand?” He opened his mouth to object, but she stopped him with an upraised hand. “Understand?”
She hated when he got that hurt tone, but what could she do? There was no way he was qualified to work with those herbs. How were they supposed to open his inner eye? Through death? “Go home, Zachary. Try not to blow anything up on the way.”
She watched him walk out, leaving his jacket behind. Once she was certain he wasn’t coming back for it she started slowly and methodically banging her head on her desk.
What was she going to do with him?