A Noble Cause
Mickie B. Ashling © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Charlie’s head lolled back against the leather seat of the BMW as Drake Bradford, still in his disguise as Prince Colin of Sendorra, navigated the crowded streets of Biarritz before merging onto the toll road heading toward Paris. He’d cast a sleeping spell on his “fiancé” to avoid the interrogation he was sure would follow once she realized they were on their way out of town. He needed privacy to confer with Granny Maura to formulate a new plan while the royals were busy drawing up countermeasures to deal with him.
Drake grew impatient as Granny’s phone rang and rang. Like many seniors, she didn’t have her mobile at her fingertips, defeating the whole purpose of instant availability. Finally, after the seventh ring, she picked up.
“It’s about bloody time.”
“I couldn’t find my phone,” she replied apologetically.
“We’ve already talked about this on several occasions,” Drake scolded. “Put it on your kitchen counter so you know where to look.”
“What’s the problem?” she asked dismissively.
“I’ve managed to kill off the dowager and Colin in one fell swoop.”
“They should have stayed out of my business,” Drake defended.
“Tell me exactly what happened,” Maura ordered tersely.
“Plans started to unravel the minute Colin showed up unexpectedly. He wasn’t due home for another couple of days, and Charlie and I would have announced our engagement by then. There was nothing he could have done to stop us from marrying, but then it all went to shit.”
“Where are you?”
“Driving to Paris.”
“Is Charlie with you?”
“Of course she is,” Drake snapped. “She’s mine and I have every intention of marrying her. Plus, she’s carrying my child.”
“Don’t come to Paris,” Maura advised. “It’s the first place they’ll look.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Let me find you an apartment in Prague.”
“It’s a good place to hide in plain sight.”
“Get back to me with details once you’ve made the arrangements.”
“It might take a few hours.”
He grunted. “Doesn’t matter, Granny. This is going to be one long-ass drive.”
Drake gunned the engine and put the car on cruise control the minute he was on the toll road. He was still seething at having been foiled—by an incompetent witch, no less—and wasn’t the least bit sorry he’d destroyed a dynasty. The only downside to this turn of events was figuring out how to deal with Charlie and her parents. He’d have to use her pregnancy and his powers of persuasion to convince her he was a far better choice than Colin could ever be. Granted, he didn’t have a kingdom to lay at her feet, but he and Charlie had great chemistry, and the girl melted into a pliant fool the minute he laid hands on her. He’d keep her so sexed up she wouldn’t dream of rejecting him.
His phone rang an hour later, and he was stunned by Maura’s news.
“Colin isn’t dead.”
Drake slammed on the brakes, and the car fishtailed to a stop on the shoulder, narrowly avoiding a six-car pileup.
“Impossible!” he thundered. “I stopped his heart.”
“Isabelle Simon and her son managed to bring him back to life,” she deadpanned. “The coven has already received a lengthy email demanding retribution.”
“We’ll have a war on our hands, Drake. I’m not sure I can get the other members to stand by our side when your actions were completely unjustified.”
“Fuck the coven,” Drake snarled. “I don’t want their help. And need I remind you this was your plan all along? What about the dowager?”
“So, you got what you wanted,” Drake pointed out malevolently. He sucked in air through his clenched teeth and gripped the steering wheel. “Now it’s my turn, and you’d better back me up.”
“I’ll see you in Prague.”
Andrew materialized into the apartment located off Karlova Street in the historic center of Prague. Bibi, the snowy owl who was Isabelle Simon’s familiar, was his prickly companion on this mission to locate Colin’s ex-fiancé, Princess Charlotte of Navarre, aka Charlie. Unlike the easily recognizable bird, Andrew was invisible, one of the few benefits of being dead.
Older than his identical twin by minutes, Andrew had been stillborn, but his bond with Colin continued beyond death, and he’d been by his side as companion and confidant ever since. Recent events propelled him to take on this new role as familiar, and he was learning on the job.
Colin’s supernatural gene had been largely unexplored due to Prince Emile, Colin’s grandfather and defunct ruler. Emile’s irrational fear of witchcraft had inadvertently started a disastrous chain of events that resulted in the recent death of the Dowager Princess Alexandra.
Alain, the only son of Isabelle, the high priestess of the Simon Coven, and a powerful gray witch in his own right, was slowly teaching his young lover, Colin—and Andrew by assimilation—the finer points of witchcraft. He’d explained how a familiar, whether astral or physical, would help to enhance Colin’s power through direct manipulation of natural energy and could warn and defend him against danger. Andrew had been doing most of this already, but the magical element was new.
What had prompted this midnight reconnaissance was a conversation the twins had the night before the state funeral, two days ago, when Andrew had intercepted Colin in the palace kitchen.
Why are you up at this ungodly hour?
“Dammit, Andrew! You scared the fuck out of me.”
Seriously, bro. You should be in bed with the love of your life.
“He mentioned a snack earlier, and I thought I’d make up a tray in case he wakes up hungry.”
Did you forget you were a prince? Pick up the phone and order your servants.
“I didn’t want to disturb anyone.”
You really are growing up.
“Stuff the commentary.”
I gather the royals approve, or Alain wouldn’t be in your bed.
“They’ve been surprisingly chill.”
Hard to believe.
“Ah…the invariable objection. Alain can’t make a baby.”
Such a buzzkill.
What’s the next step in this vendetta with Drake?
“Apparently there’s protocol to follow, even if he’s a murdering psychopath.”
You need a hunting license?
“Isabelle wants to avoid an all-out war between the covens. If we do this without a nod of approval, there will be hell to pay.”
My friends and I can literally scare him to death.
“We’re not dealing with an ordinary witch, Andrew. Drake is a warlock, and you weren’t successful the last time you confronted him.”
Unless he’s got a personal relationship with Satan, we can bring him down.
“Who says he doesn’t? He seemed invincible the other night.”
We were caught off guard, but I’ll be ready next time. Bibi and I should reconnoiter to see what he’s got up his twisted sleeve.
“It can’t hurt.”
Any idea where we should start looking?
“Not a clue.”
Has anyone heard from Charlie?
Drake seemed pretty confident she’d run away with him.
“Things will change once she learns he’s my doppelganger.”
How can you be sure?
“Her parents will intervene, for one thing, and I know Charlie. She’ll flip out when Drake shows his true colors.”
Remember Drake’s parting shot? He says she can’t get enough of him.
“How could Charlie be fooled so easily?”
Maybe he’s a fantastic lover?
When was the last time you slept with her?
I have a bad feeling, Colin. Do you think he’ll hurt her if she rejects him?
“I don’t know what he’ll do. We’ve got to find her,” Colin stressed.
Hopefully, Bibi won’t lead me astray.
Andrew disappeared and materialized in Isabelle Simon’s foyer. He’d been there once before, the night Colin asked him to be his familiar, and had toured the palatial residence, including the turret Isabelle used as her workshop. The high priestess had warmed to Colin, even though he was a member of the Bradford family, sworn enemies of the Simons for decades, and the last person on earth she would have chosen for her only son. Colin revealed the unbroken connection with his dead twin, and the need to get Andrew up to snuff as his familiar, so Isabelle offered Bibi’s services.
Tonight, Bibi let out her usual annoying screech when she spotted his ghostly presence. Isabelle appeared shortly after, looking remarkably composed in a lace-trimmed peignoir with her silver hair tumbling around her shoulders. She looked damned good for a woman in her late sixties. Although Isabelle couldn’t see Andrew, she felt his presence and listened intently while he explained the urgent need to find Princess Charlotte. With a nod of approval, she waved them away and the hunt was on.
Andrew didn’t have the foggiest how Bibi’s tracking device worked, but he had to trust the owl to lead him in the right direction. He questioned her accuracy after they crossed into Austro-Hungarian territory. Wouldn’t Drake head toward his place in Brussels, or better still, to Navarre, Charlie’s ancestral home? Her royal parents would have to consent to the marriage if Charlie was onboard with his plan, especially if she was pregnant. Then again, Drake’s lies had overtaken the truth a while back, and Andrew wondered if pregnancy was just wishful thinking on Drake’s part.
In the heart of downtown Prague, Bibi perched on a parapet outside a double-paned window while Andrew slipped into an apartment to explore. The place was small, but well furnished, with all the amenities one needed to survive a long stay. There was a kitchenette with a stacked washer and dryer tucked into an alcove beside the rear exit. A large TV cast a bluish light over the small sitting area, where Drake had fallen asleep on the recliner. Whatever he’d been watching had long since ended, and the only thing on the silent screen was the network logo.
Andrew studied his cousin in repose. Older by five years, Drake’s physical similarities to Colin, often described as the golden boy, could be effortlessly enhanced by magic. The same flaxen hair, lean build, and arctic blue eyes were a genetic match, but upon closer inspection, it wasn’t hard to tell them apart. Years of privilege contributed to Colin’s illustrious appearance, whereas Drake, raised under different and oftentimes difficult circumstances, was a tarnished version of the prince.
At present, Drake looked harmless, but Andrew knew there was powerful evil contained in his serene façade. Drake hadn’t hesitated to cast the toxic spell that had killed the Dowager and stopped Colin’s heart. If it weren’t for Alain, the principality would be minus an heir and thrown into a constitutional crisis. Fortunately, it wasn’t the case, but Drake, under his guise as Colin, had managed to convince Charlie to run off with him, and his day of reckoning would have to wait until she was safely out of his reach.
A stifled cry of distress drew Andrew’s attention away from the sleeping menace toward the bedroom. He passed through the wall and found Charlie lying on her side covered by a thick quilt. Colin’s ex, a perky brunette with an engaging smile and a wicked sense of humor, looked awful. Her eyelids were puffy, and her normally shiny hair lay in dull tendrils around her pale face. There was a plastic bucket on the floor by her side of the bed, which she’d been using to catch the remains of her latest meal.
Andrew grimaced when he watched her throw off the blanket, lean over, and retch spasmodically, backhanding the slimy mess consisting of tears, snot, and ropes of saliva, while pleading for help to no one in particular.
Her voice was croaky from vomiting, and Andrew wished he could get her a glass of water or a cool washcloth, a simple task under ordinary circumstances, but…seeing a tangible object floating in her direction might result in hysterics, which would alert Drake. Andrew had no desire to prove his mettle without reinforcements. All he could do was report his findings and hope the royals would arrive in time to rescue poor Charlie.
She’d been the unwitting pawn in this dangerous game Drake and his grandmother, Maura, had conceived a while back. Colin had unknowingly participated by suggesting Drake impersonate him while he jetted off on a romantic holiday with his new boyfriend. He’d paid for his terrible mistake in ways he’d never anticipated but so had others.
The bedroom door swung open, and Andrew watched Drake walk into the bedroom, eyes darting suspiciously. He knew Drake couldn’t see him, but the warlock’s sixth sense must have picked up a new presence in the room, and he was instantly on high alert.
“Is that you, ghost?”
Damn, he was good. Andrew didn’t engage in any way, but Drake continued.
“Tell my resurrected cousin to back off if he ever wants to see Charlie again.”
He knew Colin was alive!
“Who are you talking to?” Charlie asked plaintively.
“No one,” Drake replied.
“I can hear you.”
“You’re overwrought,” Drake deflected.
“Please call my parents.”
“What are you waiting for?”
He walked up to Charlie and helped her sit up. “Get in the shower, Charlie. You reek.”
“I’m sick,” she whined. “I can’t keep anything down.”
“The doctor said morning sickness is a good sign.”
“Good for whom?” she asked irritably. “I see no benefit to any of this.”
“It indicates you have the right amount of hormones your fetus needs to grow, and your placenta is thick enough to supply the nutrients. Plus, vomiting removes toxins.”
“You sound like a public service announcement,” she snapped.
“I read it off the internet.”
She flopped back down and wailed. “You promised to take me home.”
“Let’s wait until you’re past the first trimester. This way no one will come up with some stupid excuse to postpone our wedding.”
“What the fuck ever,” Charlie fumed. “My parents have encouraged our match for years. They would never object.”
“Why didn’t we go through with the plan to announce our engagement at your birthday party?” Charlie asked.
Andrew frowned. Didn’t Charlie know who she was dealing with?
“Your pregnancy is messing with your brain cells. I told you Granny had a stroke and they canceled the party.”
“How’s she doing?”
Lying sack of shit!
“We should go home, Col. I hate this place.”
“Soon,” he replied. “Get in the shower, babe. It’ll make you feel better.”
He walked out of the room and Andrew followed, hoping to get more insight on this current situation. Passing close enough so Drake could feel the change in temperature, Andrew smirked when Drake flung his arm out.
“Out of my way, ghost! You have no power over me.”
The fury in his voice belied the fear in his eyes, and Andrew wondered if Drake was treading water now that his scheme to step into Colin’s shoes to marry Charlie had failed. Did he have a backup plan or was he simply reacting? He was obviously in touch with Maura or he wouldn’t have known Colin was still alive. Was he planning to use Charlie as ransom, or did he still intend to marry her? There were too many open-ended questions, and Andrew couldn’t hang around to find out more. He’d report back and await further instructions.