Authors: Dana Marie Bell
“Vivian Godwin does hold a seat on the council, sire, but she is not the head. And with recent…developments in the Godwin clan, odds are good she never will be.”
Gen winced. “I doubt my apologies on that front would be welcome.”
Mac cleared his throat. “Once you and her highness have been crowned, the formal dinner and ball will commence. Sire, I wouldn’t expect to withdraw to your rooms until well after midnight.”
Gareth nodded. That, he’d expected. “Is the rest of my family here?”
“Zachary Beckett and Johra Yashodar are here. Daniel Beckett is, I believe, on his way, and Christopher Beckett and Alannah Evans are currently en route.”
“Good. I want to know when they’ve all arrived.”
“Do we have someplace rural, someplace my brothers and I can let our wolves out?” They couldn’t exactly run through Central Park, not in their fur anyway.
Mac nodded. “We have a lovely property in upstate New York, lots of woods, very private. I’m assuming you’ll go there at least once a month for a day or two. I’ll make sure the property remains fully stocked at all times. The maid in residence is aware of your condition. She’s under orders not to disturb you if you shift, and to leave clothing out for you when you return from a run.”
“That’s…thorough.” And from the look on Gen’s face not entirely welcome.
He needed to head off any jealousy before it could take root. His mate was his everything, and if she didn’t know it yet she soon would. “My mate will make sure I have what I need when I shift.”
Gen’s expression went blank just before she turned and stared out the window once more.
Shit. Maybe he should have talked to her about the whole mate thing
Mac bundled them on the plane.
So Gareth continued talking quietly with Mac, going over the particulars of the hotel business and the ritual in general, but all the while his gaze remained firmly fixed on his mate.
Unfortunately, he was afraid his butt had been added to the list of those that needed kicking.
“Are you ready, your highness?”
Gen didn’t think she’d ever be ready. She was an Own, sworn to hunt warlocks like her father and brothers, not sip aperitifs and dine on prawns while making inane conversation with people she at best tolerated.
And that was exactly what she was going to find herself doing in about two hours. She’d been primped and crimped to within an inch of her life. Her hair was bundled up into a sleek chignon, baring her neck. She wore a nude Monique Lhuillier gown with teal embroidered leaves dripping down to the full skirt, cap sleeves and a veed back. The dress felt decadent against her skin, and moved like a dream when she walked. It was easily the most gorgeous dress she’d ever worn. Simple gold stilettos and a clutch completed the outfit.
The only jewelry she wore was the Beckett emerald on her ring finger and a pair of diamond studs in her ears. The makeup artist had kept it simple, allowing the dress to shine, as it should. She looked like a princess, ready to be swept off her feet by Charming.
Too bad she didn’t feel like one.
She tore her gaze from the stranger in the mirror and smiled at the woman who’d been assigned to assist her. The assistant had made no bones about the fact that she found serving Gen to be a burden. “Yes, I’m ready.”
The woman, who’d barely had a chance to introduce herself before Gen was whisked away, began moving toward the door of Gen’s bedroom. “Wonderful. I’ll inform his majesty.”
“Thank you.” Gen didn’t bother learning the woman’s name. Odds were excellent Gen would hire a permanent, more personable assistant in the days to come. She turned back toward the wall of windows, going over and over in her head how she’d wound up here, in a designer gown to die for and staring out over the New York skyline.
The suite they’d been shown to when they finally arrived in Manhattan was nothing short of spectacular. Gen’s breath had caught as they opened the penthouse suite’s door.
The first thing she’d noticed had been the utterly amazing view of Central Park and the city. Floor-to-ceiling windows gave an uninterrupted view of…of everything. It was dazzling, and the windows wrapped around the apartment, constantly bathing her in that view. And unless she was mistaken, there was some sort of outdoor space just beyond, a wraparound deck she was dying to check out.
The second thing she’d noticed was the sheer size of the apartment. The open concept living room, dining room and kitchen were on a grand scale, the ceilings at least ten feet high. There was an open staircase to her left that led to an upper level.
Gareth was going to live in a dreamy two-story penthouse in New York. She smiled, so happy for him. He deserved this.
“The suite is a little over six thousand square feet, sire, with the bedrooms upstairs for privacy. The previous king would often entertain visiting dignitaries here, but kept his sleeping quarters private.”
McDorman’s voice had floated to her through a thick fog. She’d been far too captivated by the midcentury modern decor and the view to pay him much mind.
“It has three en suite bedrooms, with a separate office the old king used as his workroom, which is also on the upper level. The building has two restaurants and a bar on-site, all of which will provide room service if you choose not to cook. And there are plenty of shops and restaurants right outside the hotel’s doors.”
Then the assistants had arrived, bustling Gen off to one of the bedrooms and Gareth to another. While the hairdresser and makeup artist had seemed happy to assist her, the assistant had acted as if Gen’s presence was a huge pain. Perhaps she’d had hopes of becoming the next queen-consort, or perhaps she was in some way related to the previous king or his queen. Gen didn’t know, and didn’t care.
It was time to face the court, and watch the man she loved become its ruler.
Gen headed out the bedroom door and down the wooden steps, praying she didn’t trip on the hem of her gown or miss a step and take a tumble.
“My God.” Gareth’s breathless, reverent tone had her pausing on the stairway. He stood just by the front door, staring at her with a slack jaw.
Oddly embarrassed, Gen shrugged. “I clean up nice.”
His mouth closed as he made his way to the steps. He looked like a golden-eyed James Bond, his broad shoulders and muscled thighs filling out his tuxedo beautifully. “You look gorgeous.”
“Thank you.” Gen took his hand and descended the last two steps. “So do you.”
“Are you ready?”
She tilted her head, confused. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
He turned back toward the front door, tucking her arm in his. “If anyone gives you shit, tell me.”
As if. The last thing she wanted to do was cause Gareth to have problems with the court. “I don’t think you should—”
“If you’re about to suggest I not have you crowned queen, save it.” He tugged open the front door. Nodding a quick greeting to Mac he strode toward the private elevator. “I’m not doing this without you.”
He led her into the elevator and smiled grimly. “Don’t bother arguing.” He stroked her neck, right where she knew the Beckett tattoo would eventually appear. She didn’t know what was involved in its appearance. She’d believed that once the ring was on a chosen mate’s finger the mark would appear. She’d been wrong.
“Are you certain I’m your mate?”
His grim smile turned deliciously wicked. “Oh, yeah.”
She shot him a questioning glance, but all he did was smirk as he led her out of the elevator. “Impossible man.”
“Hmph.” But she didn’t pull away from his grasp and allowed him to lead her into the ballroom. “Oh, dear.”
“Yeah.” His hushed tone as they stopped just outside the ballroom was filled with awe. “Pretty, isn’t it?”
“Mm-hmm.” But she wasn’t looking at the rich, purple decor of the ballroom, the rows and rows of richly dressed wizards waiting for them to walk down the aisle to the dais that was set up at the far end. No. She was studying the woman at the end, waiting for them with an impatient expression.
Lillian Fletcher wore a deep purple robe, with silver jewelry honoring both the God and the Goddess around her neck. She clasped a Book of Shadows to her chest, the protective pentacle on the leather cover etched in a brighter purple.
She should have expected the purple that dominated the room. Just as her warlock magic was green, a wizard’s magic glowed with purple light.
“Ready, Gen?” His voice was none too steady. He was just as nervous about this as she was.
“As I’ll ever be.”
At a gesture from Lillian Fletcher, one of the wizards in the ballroom stepped forward. He carried a ceremonial dagger, the athame held toward them. It was obvious that the circle had already been cast, the quarters called. They were arriving after the protections had gone up. Were they late?
The wizard holding the athame spoke. “How do you enter the sacred circle?”
Gareth gave the ritual response. “In perfect love and perfect trust.”
The man nodded at Gareth and pointed the athame toward Gen. “How do you enter our sacred circle?”
“In perfect love and perfect trust.”
The man motioned with the athame, cutting a door in the invisible circle, allowing Gareth and Gen to pass through. He then moved the athame backward from his previous motion, essentially closing the door.
Gareth began walking them forward. All voices hushed as the guests respectfully stood, bowing to Gareth as the future heir. Gen saw the surprise on some of the faces surrounding them, and she wondered at it before it occurred to her they might not have known the king had already claimed a queen.
They came to a halt in front of Ms. Fletcher. Gen could hear the wizards behind them settling back down in their seats, the sound of cloth rustling against cloth and the quiet murmurs as everyone prepared for what was to come.
When silence fell once more, Ms. Fletcher reached behind herself to the altar. Picking up a vial, she dabbed the scented oil on Gareth’s forehead. The scent of cypress, myrrh, patchouli and mint drifted over her. It was an oil blend used for initiations, appropriate for initiating a king into his power.
“Lord and Lady, witness this initiation
Of our king into his station.”
Gen held still as her own forehead was dabbed. To move now would be to reject not only Gareth but also his sovereignty, something she refused to do.
“Lord and Lady, witness this initiation
Of our queen-consort into her station.”
There was a faint gasp from the crowd as Gen was
initiated as queen, but queen-consort, marking her as other than a wizard. Only a wizard could have been crowned queen.
A second oil was dabbed over the first. Smelling strongly of orange with a hint of ginger and pine, it was an oil designed to enhance power.
“Lord and Lady, grant your power
To our new king in this hour.”
She was somewhat surprised when Ms. Fletcher dabbed it on both their foreheads.
“Lord and Lady, grant your power
To our queen-consort in this hour.”
The spark of the divine within her woke, causing Gen to glow faintly with green power. Ms. Fletcher’s eyes went wide as the crowd gasped.
She was outed as a warlock Own.
To her surprise, Ms. Fletcher continued the ritual. The third oil smelled mostly of ginger and rosemary, with hints of clove. An oil dedicated to the fire element, it invoked strength, courage…and love.
“Lord and Lady, grant strength to our king
So that, to us, his power he may bring.”
The same oil was placed on Gen’s forehead, though Ms. Fletcher’s hand shook as she anointed Gen for the third and final time.
“Lord and Lady, grant strength to our queen
So that, on her our king may lean.”
Whispers filled the air behind them, too low for Gen to make out. She tried to ignore them. She’d known she wouldn’t be fully accepted by the court. There would be some who would never accept her. Aunt Vivian’s face swam immediately to mind, but Gen dismissed it, concentrating instead on the next step of the ritual.
Next, Ms. Fletcher smudged them with incense. The first was a simple sage bundle, the smoke running over both of them, purifying them. This time, no words were spoken. The incense itself was all the spell component needed. Next, a combination of wood aloe, frankincense and nutmeg was waved in front of them, the smoke wreathing around them both.
“Success. It’s for success,” Gareth muttered.
She didn’t need him to tell her that. She, too, had once studied as if she were to become a wizard, well aware that something was wrong.
She and Zach had far more in common than any of the Becketts knew.
Last, a protection incense composed of dragon’s blood, frankincense and sandalwood was waved in front of them. Gen could feel the protections seeping into her bones.
By this time she realized the ritual was invoking the law of three times three. She was proven right when Ms. Fletcher silently pulled forth three pieces of jewelry, each adorned with a different gem.