Authors: Hazel Hunter
HER WARLOCK PROTECTOR
By Hazel Hunter
Her Warlock Protector Book 7
Lieutenant Trent Williamson of the Magus Corps wants a promotion. How that can possibly happen in the hick town where he’s been banished, he can’t imagine. Though he ought to be slaying Templars, he’s babysitting.
Of course Wiccan novice Elaine Blackhawk doesn’t know that. She barely knows she’s a witch. Despite the blood of Medicine Women running in her veins, she’s at a loss to explain her bizarre nighttime escapades. On the verge of thinking herself insane, Trent appears. As feral and wild as herself, something in him calls to her.
Their shapeshifting and love-making are a revelation to her, but to him she’s a means to an end. Forced to choose between the only home she’s ever known or protecting her loved ones by leaving, Elaine is caught in a dangerous game that quickly grows deadly.
“FREAKING HORSE CRAP,” Trent Williamson cursed as he stepped out of the pile he’d accidentally wandered into.
His sneakers were ruined, and he’d always loved those vintage Air Jordans of his. What else could he expect? He was banished, sent to the middle of nowhere in Alabama, and exiled from the actual civilization of the Washington D.C. coven.
Ergo, of course he’d step in a giant pile of horse turds. It was as if even the Goddess was out to spite him now.
Beside him, the hand just snickered. The other guy wasn’t overly tall, a few inches shorter than Trent, but he was huge in frame. The dark-haired cowpoke laughing at him must have spent years lifting hay bales. Granted, as a second lieutenant for the Magus Corps, Trent had spent over two decades fighting the Knights Templar and brandishing a broadsword. He wasn’t a weakling. On the other hand, he wasn’t part gorilla either.
“Is something funny?” Trent asked.
The other man shrugged and spit a black wad of chewing tobacco into a copper bucket in the stables.
“Not especially. It’s just you’re city folk through and through. You don’t know nothing about riding.”
“I wanted to try it,” Trent lied. “I’ve heard it can be a great stress relief, and I’ve always liked animals.”
That much was true. Besides his own familiar, a wolf-husky hybrid back in D.C. named Titus, Trent had always been drawn to the creatures of nature. He liked to think that some of that was just a natural affection for them. Hell, even before he’d grown into his warlock abilities, Trent had loved nothing more than hanging out in the streets in Brooklyn and picking up stray dogs and cats to bring home. Since he’d come fully into the Magus Corps and embraced his abilities as a shapeshifter, well, Trent definitely had a wild side.
On days like this when that hayseed in the brown-stained flannel was mocking him, Trent could safely say he felt closer to animals than humans. No contest. Obviously, he just wasn’t a farm guy. Canines and felines, even some birds, those were all fine. Horses and cows and their crap? He’d pass. Except when he was on assignment, and his damn superiors knew that.
The hick shook his head and, reaching into a pocket, shoved another wad of tobacco in his cheek. It popped out like a chipmunk, lessening his menace just a bit.
“Doesn’t look like you’re less stressed, city boy.”
Trent fought back the growl building in his throat. Twenty-five years of shifting forms, especially into his favored shape of the wolf, sometimes put his instincts far too close to the surface. It wouldn’t do to growl at this moron, even if part of him deep down wanted to tear Chuckles’s head off.
“Look, I’m supposed to be getting lessons. I know I’m a beginner, but I’m looking for Elaine Blackhawk. She’s supposed to be the instructor.”
The other man’s easy expression changed, suddenly less amused.
“You lookin’ for Elaine?”
Oh great, some Neanderthal with a crush. Exactly what I need, not.
“Yes, she’s supposed to help me learn to ride.” He sighed and gestured down to his ruined and stinking shoes. “Maybe I can salvage at least part of the day.”
“You just decided, city boy, that you wanted to do all this?”
“Yeah, imagine that Mr. …”
Trent didn’t know Chuckle’s name.
“Floyd, Floyd Lockwood,” the cowpoke interjected.
Trent stepped forward to shake his hand and tried to ignore the slight when the other man refused to take it.
“Or not. So can you just show me to Mrs. Blackhawk?”
A raspy alto voice sounded behind him.
Trent turned and, for a moment was convinced that Elaine Blackhawk had to be a fully initiated witch and that the Magus Corps had misled him. After all, she was surely spelling him. She was tall, with legs that went on for miles and were hugged in all the right ways by the tight denim she wore. Her skin was dark, the color of brushed copper, and large, luminous brown eyes blinked back at him. Her hair was long and pulled back in a high pony tail. The long locks looked so silky that he wanted to run his hands through them right there. They were the color of the bird she was named for, black as a hawk, black as coal.
He gulped and tried to remember English again.
“Mrs…um, Ms. Blackhawk, thank God. Floyd over here? Not exactly helpful.”
She shook her head. “Floyd play nice with the city folk. We need anyone who wants to ride to keep the ranch going.”
“But they make it so easy! You see what he’s wearing.”
She laughed, and it stung to have that throaty alto aligned against him.
“Well jeans will work. We do mostly Western style here and not English. At least for you we’ll start as easy as we can. But the shoes? Have you ever heard of cowboy
He blushed and desperately wanted to reveal everything about who he really was. No, Trent wasn’t the dumb city interloper. He was a badass soldier who had saved witches from certain death at the hands of psychotic knights. But there was supposed to be a time and place for that kind of revelation. Covered in horse shit probably wasn’t it.
“Well if sneakers are good enough for basketball, aren’t they okay?”
“Won’t be if a horse steps on you,” Floyd said, “and breaks every bone in your foot, yankee.”
Elaine laughed again and pointed to the line of stalls. “Floyd, get to scooping out. I’ll help this poor mess over here, okay?”
“Sure, but if he turns out to be too hopeless a case, then you’ll know where to find a real man.”
Trent bunched his hands at his sides, curling his fingers into fists. He wished he could enchant the way others could, maybe a little mind control suggestion. Yeah, that would have worked. Floyd wouldn’t be so suave quacking around like a duck.
As Floyd stalked off, Elaine offered Trent a megawatt smile. Despite everything––being stuck in a cowtown, this close to a demotion, and far from an assignment he wanted––the sight of her beaming made him almost glad that General MacCulloch had sent him here.
“So do I still ride in the sneakers?” he asked, gesturing to his stinking and pretty much ruined Air Jordans. “It’s all I have right now.”
Elaine shook her head and her hair scattered across her shoulders like dark ink.
“We have a few sets of boots in the lost and found, come on and we’ll save your foot from certain crushing. Follow me,” she said, beckoning with a slender finger.
With the view he had from behind of the jeans hugging her curves, well, Trent would have followed her anywhere.
• • • • •
“Whoa, crap!” he said, pulling on the reins in front of him. The horse didn’t stop so much as almost start to rear. Frustrated, Trent tried to counterbalance the disruption to his equilibrium but, instead, fell forward into the horse’s long neck and mane. “Isn’t there a brake?”
Elaine sighed and clicked her tongue. The giant chestnut-colored monster she’d put him on stopped smoothly. The novice witch walked over and petted
the horse’s nose while shaking her head up at Trent.
“The reins don’t work like a car’s brakes. Besides, what happens if you jam on the brakes too fast anyway? You skid, right?”
“It’s worse with a horse,” she said giving the horse’s nose one final pat. “The reins are connected directly to Rainstone’s gums. How would you like it if someone were yanking on your mouth but trying to tell you to calm down?”
Trent considered that and reached up to massage his own jaw. The thought of someone with his strength and a bit pulling as hard as they could against his mouth would make him stampede too.
“I never thought about it that way.”
She shrugged and stepped back from him. Elaine had a long green rope, almost like a leash, but about ten feet longer and made for a horse. She’d said it was a lean line, maybe? Or a lead line. Anyway, it meant that so far he was riding around on Rainstone with the horse riding equivalent of training wheels. He wouldn’t be able to, in theory, go too far without Elaine stopping him. On the other hand, if Rainstone made for the border, he didn’t think one woman would hold the horse back either.
Trent had no idea how his comrades, many of whom were not only immortal as he was but had gained immortality hundreds of years ago, had ever ridden horses. His ass was sore, his legs felt like Jell-O, and slipping around in a saddle had nothing on sitting down in a molded leather seat. Give him a crack at one of the Magus Corps Porsches any day. He liked muscle cars too, anything with an engine that purred.
Something that could stomp or bite him?
Good thing they were past medieval wars and jousting matches with the Knights Templar. He’d be down for the count in no time.
“You know,” Elaine replied as the horse started walking again. “You’re actually doing fine.
As she said it, Trent struggled to remember everything she’d taught him about posture. The most he could manage was to grip the horn of the saddle with one hand and keep his heels mostly pointed down. It still felt like he could slip out at any minute.
“I’m making a fool of myself,” he said, catching a glimpse of that Neanderthal Floyd moving some bales by the riding ring.
It was certainly not Trent’s imagination how the other man was sneering at him. Well, at least Trent could count to twenty with his shoes on.
Elaine shook her head.
“You’re keeping your balance better than you did even forty-five minutes ago, you’re not yanking on the reins, and you’re actually taking my feedback. I can’t tell you how many first-timers have a million excuses and don’t actually want to learn. It’s refreshing.”
“I’m still basically ready to ride at a petting zoo or a first grader’s birthday party,” he complained gesturing to the green lead.
She rolled her eyes and clicked her tongue again. The horse stopped, and flicked its tail at the stray flies flying past. Trent took that as his cue the lesson was over and swinging a leg over the saddle, slipped down to the ground. He miscalculated how jelly-like his legs had actually become and fell to his ass when his legs wouldn’t hold his weight.
Rainstone at least didn’t take advantage of his fall to stomp him. That was something.
“Damn it!” he muttered.
“You really are a New Yorker, aren’t you?” she asked, coming over and helping him to his feet. Piercing brown eyes, the color of milk chocolate assessed him. “It can be a little rough coming back to the ground too. You’re going to be walking bow-legged for a few hours.”
“Joy. And how’d you know I was from New York?”
“The accent’s pretty obvious. It’s like Brooklyn maybe?” Again, she rolled her eyes and he found the exasperation a turn on. He wondered how else he could vex her, and then blood started rushing to other places besides his head. “Oh please, like I’ve never been to New York. I went for a presentation just last semester and, besides, when I graduated from high school my mom and I did a week of the tourist Broadway thing. We’re in Alabama, not a completely different country.”
Trent chuckled, comfortable for the first time since he got to the stables.
“It’s certainly not what I like. It’s too quiet here in Tuscaloosa.”
“There are bars. It’s a college town.”