Home > Magical Midlife Dating (Leveling Up #2)(12)

Magical Midlife Dating (Leveling Up #2)(12)
Author: K.F. Breene

Austin’s gaze flicked up to my eyes, down again, and then back up. For the first time, I caught a little flush on his cheeks. His eyes stopped moving, as though he were focusing with everything he had on maintaining eye contact.

When he finally spoke, his voice was slow and deep and rough. “You are a showstopper, Jacinta. Stunning.”

My stomach flipped and I smiled, relief washing through me. I moved in their direction, motioning Mr. Tom to the door.

He smoothed his tuxedo jacket and fluttered his wings. “This would be much more impressive if I were of a proper age and had a lovely thick, black, full head of hair, but beggars can’t be choosers…” But the side-eye he gave me suggested otherwise.

“Well ye’ve certainly got an ear fulla hair, will that do?” Niamh called.

I smoothed my hands down my sides. “You don’t think it’s too much?” I asked Austin. “Or too revealing?”

“Not at all. It’s perfect. You look absolutely beautiful.” Austin turned and put out his arm for me to take, ready to escort me into the sitting room.

Niamh sat in a recliner with a beer in hand and her feet up. Edgar stood at the back, having showered and put on fresh white sweats with two mustard-colored stains near his collar. I really needed to have a word with Mr. Tom about changing the color of the sweats. White clearly was not working for the vampire. Mr. Tom was getting pissy about all the trips to the store for bleach and had slacked off. The result was not ideal.

Niamh whistled. “Well, look at ye. You shine up like a new penny, so you do. You look absolutely deadly. Fair play to ya.”

Edgar smiled, his extended canines making the expression ghastly. “Very pretty, Jessie. You’ll knock ’em dead.”

Austin stopped next to a love seat and flared his arm, releasing me. I sat down with what I knew was a goofy expression, but it felt nice to be treated like I was delicate. Like I was royalty.

The front door opened as Austin took a seat beside me.

“Is this the danger you felt, do you think?” he asked as I distinctly heard Mr. Tom say, “You rang?”

“What an eejit,” Niamh muttered. “He gets nervous and turns into a donkey. More of a donkey, I should say.”

“No, I don’t think so,” I whispered, trying to hear who was at the door. “This must be the first wave—the people I summoned before the bar.”

“Well, if Mr. Tom is right,” Edgar said, having no problem with Mr. Tom’s name change, “and they are gargoyles, then you’ll have your work cut out for you, Jessie. They are some of the most stubborn creatures alive, not to mention they’ll keep trying to mate you. They’re like ants in that way. They’ll be helplessly attracted to their queen, and they will feel it is their duty to help you conceive.”

“That’s only if she wants a child.” Niamh waved the thought away. “If that’s not her goal, they’ll just try to shag her. Especially lookin’ like that, eh, Jessie? Who wouldn’t? You goin’ta let yer date have a ride tonight?”

My eyes widened and Austin stiffened before clasping his hands in his lap.

“No,” I said, lowering my face to try to hide my embarrassment.

“Well, if you do, I know Earl has loaded up on co—”

“I know, I know, it’s fine, I don’t need them,” I said quickly to cut her off. Why was Mr. Tom telling everyone he’d stocked up for some sort of sexual enlightenment? I planned to go on a few dates to get back into the swing of it, not bang the whole town. Good God.

“She is right in here, if you please.” Mr. Tom entered the room at a slow walk, his chest puffed out and his wings fluttering behind him. He stopped just inside the door and peeled off to the side, his hand out. “She is about to leave. She has limited time. Very busy, as you can guess.”

Two men followed him, one behind the other, in their mid-twenties or early thirties, with thick arms and chests, though not as robust as Austin. The first of the two, the younger one, had a broad face with a round nose and thick brows. His companion was taller, with a slightly thinner frame and piercing brownish-black eyes that settled on me like a punch to the face. Wings that looked like thick, shiny capes fluttered out to their sides, glimmering in the light.

They stopped just before the chair Niamh sat in, the one in back coming to rest beside the other, their presences imposing, the air about them intense. All the nerves I’d felt came rushing back. At the very least, they were intimidating. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be in the same room with them.

How was I supposed to lead them?

Mr. Tom scooted a little so the new entries could see him, trying to hold his puffed-up posture while only sliding his feet. He looked absurd. “Jacinta, this is Cedric”—the taller tilted his head down—“and Alek.” The other tilted his head in turn. “Jacinta is the owner and magical heir of Ivy House. I’m sure you’ve heard of her.”

The two didn’t move or speak, their expressions severe. How could they have heard of me, given I was non-magical before this and Ivy House had been unclaimed for generations?

“Hello.” I bent forward to get up, but my seams groaned. Any further and they might pop. This dress did not allow the freedom of movement of sweats.

Smile fixed in place, facing a conundrum, I scooted forward, holding down my hem so I didn’t show everyone my underwear. If I kept this up, I’d fight Mr. Tom for the Most Ridiculous Award.

“Wait,” Austin said quietly before standing, uncoiling from his position with lethal grace. The gazes of both newcomers snapped to him like rubber bands.

He bent and offered me his hand, which I gladly took, and helped me up.

It wasn’t until I started walking toward them with a smile that the newcomers refocused on me, but judging by the tension in their bearings and their occasional glances at Austin, following at my back, his presence weighed on their minds.

“Welcome,” I said, stopping in front of them. Niamh didn’t bother to get up, but watched us with her head tilted and her beer in hand.

Both newcomers bent at the knee, their bows deep, their eyes continually flicking to Austin.

“This is Austin Steele, the peacekeeper of the town.” I stepped to the side a little and motioned to him.

Austin didn’t step or bend forward, like I had thought he might. Instead, he stared at each of them in turn with a flat expression, his eyes sparkling aggressively. He wasn’t even trying to assume the commander of the house role right now—this was just his way. He did this posturing stuff in his sleep, which was why he didn’t need to wear that sheriff badge, I guess.

“This is Niamh.” I put out my hand to her. “She is one of the original protectors of Ivy House, as is Edgar there, in the back.”

“Hello. Lovely to make…see you.” Edgar bowed. “Your acquaintance.”

“Fail,” Niamh drawled.

“You’ve met Mr. Tom, of course.” I put out my hand for him. “So…do you plan to stay for a while, or…” I motioned for them to sit.

“We stay so long you need us, Majesty.” Alek bowed to me.

“No, no.” I gave him a stop gesture. “Don’t call me that.”

“She likes to remain informal while at home,” Mr. Tom said, stepping forward, his haughtiness knowing no bounds. “You may address her as ‘miss.’”

“Yes, of course.” Alek bowed again. It was clearly his go-to move. “It is an honor, miss. Our people…” He muttered a collection of syllables I couldn’t make sense of.

“Jealous,” Edgar helped, clearly knowing whatever language Alek had used.

“Yes, yes, jeal-os.” Alek bobbed his head. “We pick. They no. We the best. Proof.”

“The tales of the Ivy heirs of the past all speak of her beauty and power…” Cedric put his hand on his chest. “They were correct. You are ravishing. A woman of experience, as well. I was expecting younger.” I tensed, then widened my eyes when he went a direction I didn’t expect. “This is a nice surprise. I look forward to your heightened sensual experience. It is said that a woman of your age is at her sexual peak, is it not?”

“Now. Aren’t you glad I stocked you up, miss?” Mr. Tom’s eyebrows rose and he zipped his eyes back and forth, as if to say, See? Two younger guys to take a turn in the sheets with. “They’ll have excellent stamina. You’ll be able to do away with all that online Dick-dating hoopla.”

“Oh my God, what is his malfunction?” I muttered, mortified.

“Time check,” Niamh said with a crooked smile. “Don’t be late on account of the hired help.”

“I’ll walk you,” Austin said, his hand touching down on the small of my back.

“Right. Well.” I smiled at the guys, trying to hide my embarrassment. “Mr. Tom will fix you something to eat and get you settled. We have plenty of room if you need a place to stay.”

Austin’s head snapped toward me, his gaze questioning.

“We…stay?” Alek asked.

Cedric turned to watch me exit.

“Yes, yes, she has some business to attend to.” Mr. Tom took up his position in the doorway after Austin and I had passed. “She’s very busy, as I said. She must not be delayed. Now, settle in and I will explain all the particulars. You need to know about her life leading up to this moment.”

His voice cut off as I stepped outside. Having forgotten a shawl, I wrapped my magic around me for warmth.

My magic. It still sounded so crazy, but in some ways it had already become second nature.

“What is with Mr. Tom?” I asked, taking Austin’s arm again. He chose a slower pace, more like a stroll, sauntering down the sidewalk toward town, where I would meet my date. “What is with those gargoyles just assuming they’d get laid?”

“Gargoyles are one of the more…promiscuous magical types, I think. You wouldn’t know it because of their…gruff nature, but they do like to get down with whoever is willing. The female of the species is quite rare, and she often cycles through males at her leisure until she finds someone she wants to mate. The someone she chooses might not be a gargoyle, but I’ve heard it usually is. They are drawn to strength and power, and some gargoyles have that in spades.”

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