Home > Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(10)

Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(10)
Author: K.F. Breene

My heart squished and tears welled up out of nowhere. What must it be like to be taken care of by a man like this?

“And that’s why they call him the uncrowned alpha,” Niamh murmured, holding up her drink to be refilled. Austin had moved down the bar to help someone. Paul deflated when he realized the job fell to him.

“What does that mean?” I asked, wiping my eyes quickly. I needed to get a hold of myself. An act of kindness shouldn’t turn me into a puddle of goo.

“He’s like a…” Niamh rattled the ice in her glass. “Mayor. Kinda. Without the votes.”

That didn’t make any sense, but as Austin neared I let it go. Half the things these people said didn’t make any sense.

“So?” he asked as Paul delivered another drink to Niamh. “What’s the verdict?”

“It’s fine,” I managed, reaching for the glass. I sipped it to get him to move away, ready to drink just about anything. But as soon as the flavor hit my tongue, my eyes dipped downward and the world stopped. Spicy, smoky, soft and light, the wine serenaded my taste buds. I closed my eyes, savoring the taste.

“Good?” Austin asked, his voice a deep rumble.

“Very.” I took another sip. The second sip was even better than the first. “Delicious.”

“There.” Austin tapped the bar and gave Niamh a smug look. “See? I can impress a connoisseur. It just takes the best, most expensive bottle from my personal collection to do it.” He winked at me and moved down the bar.

“Oh no, that’s—” But he was already too far away. “He shouldn’t have done that,” I said.

“’Course he should have. You were dead right—what’s he doin’ servin’ flat, cheap wine in a place like this?”

“Not flat—red wine usually doesn’t have bubbles. It—”

“Whatever. The point is, all he has to do is walk down the street and get the good stuff. His pride is gettin’ in the way of good business. But here now, you’ve humbled him. He’s learned he has to get on the mark.”

“It’s his bar, he can—”

“Ma’am.”

“Heh!” I spun around and nearly fell completely off the stool.

Mr. Tom stood behind me. “You forgot your sweater.” He held out my favorite gray sweater.

“Did you…” I took it slowly. “Did you root through my luggage to find this?”

“Of course not, ma’am. I do not root through anything.”

“Then why were you sacked from the other place?” Niamh asked faux-pleasantly.

He ignored her. “I put all your clothes away except this. I figured you’d want to wear it home.”

I squinted at the sweater, looking at it as if I were investigating some great mystery and the clues were woven into the fabric. “Did you know this was my favorite, or was that a lucky guess?”

“Of course I knew, ma’am. As a butler, I am—”

“Lucky guess,” Niamh said. “It’s probably the only mildly fashionable item you own.”

I opened my mouth to deliver a rebuttal, but there was no denying she was correct. “Thanks,” I said, taking the sweater. “But you didn’t have to come all the way down here…”

“When ma’am cannot wait to receive an item, of course I must follow her to her destination, or how will she get it?” He straightened his arms at his sides and bowed.

I couldn’t tell if that was a nice gesture, or severe disapproval. Probably both.

“Well, thanks.” I tied it around my waist.

“Don’t thank him, he’s the help.” Niamh shot Mr. Tom a fiery stare.

“I’m the help, too, let it go,” I murmured at her.

“It is perfectly fine,” Mr. Tom told me. “She is acting out because she feels helpless without her rocks. Should I prepare a snack for when you get home?”

My grin was for his dig at Niamh and my misty eyes were ridiculous. What was going on? I hadn’t properly cried in years. I’d just sorta numbed up at a certain point with Matt, tired of the constant disappointment and the feeling of being overwhelmed. I’d shut off.

I knew it was good that feeling was rushing back in—that I was accessing the full range of emotions again—but this was taking things too far. Why not stick with laughter? Why did I have to go whole hog and start crying in public? Talk about embarrassing first impressions.

“No, I’ll manage,” I said, blinking profusely.

“Yes, ma’am. I will go shopping tomorrow for all the items you require.” He slid a look at Niamh. “I wouldn’t want to force you to beg for dry sandwiches and the tedious company that goes with it.”

“Because you think she wants to hang around you, you prune-faced trollop?” Niamh clapped back.

“Better than a saggy old hag that—”

“Enough,” Austin said, and I shivered at the power and authority in his voice. The other two closed their mouths. Their glares still said plenty, though.

“When should I come to collect you, ma’am,” Mr. Tom asked.

“I’m fine, Mr. Tom, really. And you don’t have to call me ma’am. I’m the hired help, just like you.”

“As you wish, madam, but I insist on collecting you. The streets are not safe for the master of—”

“Are you deaf, Mr. Tom?” Niamh cut in. “She said she was the caretaker. Just a regular Jane, like everyone else. She’ll be good.”

“Seriously, you guys, I’m not a tourist. I work here, now. If that’s not the definition of a budding local, I don’t know what is,” I said in annoyance.

“Be that as it may—”

“I’ll take her home,” Austin said, his hands braced against the bar again.

Mr. Tom’s eyes widened marginally and I wondered if he planned to argue. If it was Niamh he certainly would have. Finally, he bowed again.

“I’ll see you at Ivy House, madam.” Mr. Tom turned on his heel and glided out the door.

“I don’t see how madam is different than ma’am, but sure,” I murmured.

“It isn’t, that thick-headed muppet.” Niamh took a long gulp of her drink.

“Mr. Tom?” Austin asked, his shoulders and pecs bulging. He was showing off again.

“Should I call in the camera crew?” I asked him, unable to help my laugh. I dramatically turned to look at the door. “Are they outside? I can go grab them.”

His eyes sparkled and a grin crept up his face.

Niamh tilted her head at him, her eyes squinted, as though she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Don’t mind him, he’s just looking to get laid.” She held up her glass for another. The woman could drink. “Every chick in this bar is looking. Always are.” She arched an eyebrow at him. “Though he doesn’t usually put on a show…”

She let the sentence linger. Austin wrestled with a smile. His muscles relaxed, though his light shirt left little to the imagination.

“All he has to do is scoop one up when he’s ready,” she said, glancing around. Her voice reduced to a mutter. “Sure wish it were that easy for me. I might have ta club someone over the head at the end of the night to drag him home.”

I froze with my eyebrows up, eyes wide, and a giddy smile pulled down at the corners. It was my did she just say what I think she said??? look.

I let the laughter bubble out. “Get it, gurl.” I put up a fist for a bump.

She frowned at my hand. “What?”

“She’s sexually dangerous, not hip to the lingo,” Austin said, grinning again, and pushed away from the bar. “And it seems not every woman is looking.”

“Are you talking about her?” I hooked a thumb at Niamh. “Because I definitely looked. I thought it was ridiculous, but I looked.”

His grin finally turned up into a full-fledged smile, his eyes glittering like a disco ball. It boosted his handsomeness ten-fold. The guy was incredibly hot.

“Touché,” he said, not at all phased by my comment, and moved down the bar.

Niamh leaned toward me and murmured, “You didn’t think it was at all ridiculous, sure you didn’t.”

“I was too busy drooling to think much of anything.”

She huffed out a soft laugh and straightened up. “I do appreciate the view. He’d be too energetic for me, but I do appreciate the view. Now, tell me, how much do you remember of your first trip to Ivy House?”

Seven

After talking about all the things I remembered from my first time to Ivy House, Niamh proved to be most excellent at small talk, something that had been sorely lacking on our trip to the bar. She chatted about all things and nothing, her colorful takes on events and her brash descriptions making me laugh more often than not, even when she wasn’t trying. People came by to greet her throughout the night, met me, stared blankly for a moment, and moved on. I wasn’t the most popular new addition.

“How long do I have to be here for them to stop thinking of me as a Jane?” I finally asked as the fifth person in a row left without even offering an excuse. They’d all essentially pivoted away the second they learned who I was and why I was here.

“Just hang around for a while. These people don’t like change.” Niamh finished off her…well, I’d lost count. She’d drunk me under the table and then some. Hell, she’d probably drunk the whole bar under the table. Combined. “They’ve been here for ages and things have mostly stayed the same. Now they have to fit a new face into their list of friendlies. Given most of them are block-headed dopes, this might take a while. Be patient.”

“Patience is one virtue I was never blessed with.”

“Then you’d better invest in mass quantities of alcohol and a good party trick.”

I laughed and the wine buzzed within my head pleasantly, most of the bottle gone. I swayed on the stool. Then swayed back.

   
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