Charmed

I don’t do polite society. Ever. I teach, I study, I travel the world laying bare society’s most ingrained superstitions. But I’m never more at home than when I’m locked away in my island haven, taking care of those who matter most to me.

I don’t need friends, and I don’t need romance—not when most of it is built on the same fairy tales I spend my life debunking.

Then a mysterious woman shows up on my doorstep, talking about curses and charms and a magical-sounding kingdom on the other side of the ocean…

And my world turns upside down.

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Chapter one

Caroline Saleri peered at the monster standing at the front of the lecture hall, looming over the small bespectacled man who cringed next to him. Professor Simon Blake couldn’t look more like a fairytale Beast if he tried.

He was tall, rangy and startlingly handsome, but dressed as if he was willing to do anything he could to minimize his good looks. His too-big jacket and threadbare khakis hung on his frame, and his hair was long and haphazardly cut, its dark, mahogany locks dropping almost to his shoulders. He was perhaps thirty years old, his bright eyes, tousled hair and sun bronzed face giving him the air of a seafaring rogue…while his grim expression dared anyone to cross him.

Caroline pursed her lips, trying not to giggle, then consulted her printout again. She’d been thinking about attending classes at the College of Charleston, but that would take approvals and paperwork, and she wasn’t sure how long she’d be remaining in South Carolina. As usual, her schedule depended on other people.

Still, she’d decided she could at least check out the local universities. No sooner had she clicked on this one’s website than she’d seen that the chairman of the anthropology department was giving a lecture—and on such a curious subject, too. Royal Superstitions. It sounded fascinating, and if the crowd was any indication, she wasn’t the only one who thought so.

Unfortunately, her sister didn’t agree.

“I can’t believe you dragged me here,” Marguerite groaned beside her, putting twenty-five years of disdain into her aggrieved sigh. “Seriously, a college lecture? When we could be at any nightclub in Charleston, actually doing something fun?”

“This is fun,” Caroline slanted her sister a glance. “You didn’t have to come.”

“Like I was going to stay cooped up in that big old house with cousin Prudence while you escaped for the evening. No thanks.” Marguerite shifted in her chair. “But even the Marxes are standing out in the hall chatting rather than getting sucked into this boredom. That should tell you something.”

Caroline glanced to one of several doorways into the lecture hall, and sure enough, their husband-and-wife bodyguard team was lurking in the archway, not committing to entering the room, but keeping a watchful eye over everything.

She frowned. “They didn’t have to come either. It’s ridiculous that we’re still being assigned bodyguards.”

“Especially since we never do anything fun,” Marguerite agreed, never one to stray too long from her point. “Seriously, royal superstitions? We should be the ones up there giving this talk.”

“Not anymore,” Caroline said firmly. They’d left the Saleri curse home in the seaside kingdom of Garronia where it belonged, now that their older sister Edeena had officially vanquished it. Edeena and her not-so-royal Prince were currently planning their wedding back home, leaving Caroline and Marguerite to return to Sea Haven for however long it took to finally get the family vacation home ready for sale. That excuse for their journey to the US remained somewhat of a misdirection, of course: both sisters were more than happy to be done with Garronia’s courts and royal politics for a while. They’d definitely earned a break, especially with having labored their whole lives under the family curse.

The lights dimmed slightly as the short man scurried forward, while Dr. Blake himself scowled out at the crowd. Well, not really scowled. Caroline suspected his glower was simply the way his face was permanently set.

“Thank you so much for joining us this evening,” the shorter man began, his voice high and strained. “We are delighted to launch the lecture series tonight highlighting the College of Charleston’s most illustrious academics with our very own Dr. Simon Blake, doctor of anthropology, sociology and linguistics. Dr. Blake has only recently returned to chair the department of anthropology after an extended research sabbatical, and we’re very happy to have him home.”

There was a polite round of applause as the small man explained that questions were welcomed and encouraged at any time during the talk, and for everyone to please return next week for the second lecture in the series, featuring a physics professor discussing Discoveries in Dark Matter. Then, at an imperious glare from Blake, the man scuttled from the stage, seeming frankly more relieved than honored. What kind of professor was Blake that merely introducing him incited such apprehension?

He didn’t give her much time to consider the question.

“Superstitions,” Dr. Blake intoned, the word so rich and sonorous that Caroline found herself straightening in her chair. “Widely held, unjustified beliefs, frequently crediting supernatural causes to mundane events, or cause-and-effect links that have no basis in rational experience. They abound in every society, among the rich and poor, the uneducated and the scholarly elite. Such beliefs are particularly intriguing among those who style themselves as royal…”

Caroline lost whatever he said next as she watched the man move—his strides were graceful for all his pent-up energy, his gestures expansive. He drew the eye and once again, she found him almost unreasonably attractive, though he wasn’t conventionally handsome by any means. He was too sharp-edged, too restless. And there was such intensity to the way he spoke. His voice seemed on the verge of anger though everyone in the room—including her—sat rapt with attention.

Granted, maybe her attention wasn’t precisely on the man’s words, but nevertheless.

 

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