Home > Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(13)

Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(13)
Author: K.F. Breene

“I know all about the dangers.” I stopped for a moment, needing a deep breath to calm my stomach. Lots of wine. I’d probably need to eat when I got home to keep everything down.

“You okay?” Austin asked.

“Yup!” I started walking again, nearing the main drag. “When I was ten, I found a trap door that dumps people out of the third floor. Diana nearly wet herself.”

“Right, exactly. There’s a lot of those…elements.”

“Hey!” said a disembodied voice.

I glanced blearily to the right, squinting to see three guys sauntering down the sidewalk in a sort of zigzag. The streetlights, much more plentiful on this street, highlighted their jeering faces.

Younger guys, on the sauce, not ready to go home and looking for some sport.

I doubted they’d bother an older lady on her own—boring! A few words, a joke about MILFs, and that would be that. But Austin was big, he was also middle-aged, and he was with said “older” lady. To a young moron who hadn’t been raised right, that would look like good sport. Bait the old dude trying to protect his lady, make a fool of him. Half the trouble of parenting had been making sure my kid didn’t grow up to be like these jerks.

“Young people should have an off switch until they can prove they have something to give back to society,” I said. I grabbed his arm, my hand finding purchase on one of the muscle groups. “Come on. Just walk. Those idiots won’t run to catch up.”

“How do you know?” he said, his focus on the guys razor sharp.

“Because I’m a woman, and I’ve had to assess danger since before I got boobs. It’s better to avoid confrontation, trust me.”

“Not if you want them to think twice about their behavior the next time.” He slowed.

“Yeah, you!” one of the guys hollered, his smile widening. His flat-top haircut was ridiculous.

“Hey!” another barked, clearly not smart enough to think of anything else. They laughed like simpletons.

Austin paused, chest turned toward me, face pointed their way.

I stepped closer and faced him, adrenaline surging through me, knowing this was the way to that confrontation I wanted to avoid. “Look bro, you have a solid punch. You’re strong, you’re capable, I hear you roar. But you’re one, they are three, and I’m a chick. Don’t even get me started on the testosterone difference between men their age and yours, or our relative speeds. Look, let’s just go. They’re drunk. I’m drunk. We’re all drunk.”

He angled his face down to me. “I hear you. Not just what you are saying, but I hear your fear. I remember what you said in the bar. Nothing will happen to you. Nothing. Not now or in the future. You can trust me, Jacinta. I know exactly what I am capable of. No more, no less.”

“Trying to get a little action, Grandpa?” one of the guys said, a hop in their collective steps as they got closer. One guy had lost his smile. That was the mean one. He was the one to worry about.

“Fine.” I dug around in my purse aggressively.

“What are you doing?” Austin asked, still looking down on me almost intimately. He was baiting those guys, which really annoyed me.

“I am not baiting them,” he said, and clearly my filter was still broken. “I am using my proximity and body language to show them you are under my protection.”

I lifted my eyebrows, dropped my mouth open, and opened my free hand wide. The other held the Swiss Army Knife I’d just dug out of my purse.

“What’s that body language say?” I asked as the guys drew nearer.

“You are flabbergasted with me, think I’m talking nonsense, think I’m taking an unnecessary risk, and are prepared to stab a bitch.”

This time I just stared.

“And now you’re incredibly surprised and impressed that I read that right,” he said, the guys nearly upon us now. Jostling one another. Working on their collective courage and bad decision-making.

“I don’t know about incredibly,” I murmured, pulling up the larger of the knives and stepping behind him. If he wanted to cause the problem, he could take the brunt of the attack.

“Fine night, isn’t it?” the tallest of the guys said, taking the lead, his hair flopping over an eye.

“Kids at home?” Flat-top said with a toothy grin. “Finally getting some?”

“Getting some in the middle of the sidewalk? Kid, we’re forty. We don’t have to bang in the back seat of cars anymore. We can do it in a house,” I said, the world still floating. I had zero inhibitions and a knife in my hand. This would go how it would go.

“What?” someone said.

“Listen, guys, this is a quiet town.” Austin put up his hands like he was surrendering. “People are sleeping. Yelling at strangers down the street is not how we do things here. Let’s tone it down, okay?”

“That’s not how you do things here?” the mean one said, edging forward, violence written clearly on his face. He didn’t care that Austin was a foot taller or much, much wider. He was fueled by testosterone and stupid, a lethal combination.

“I call Flat-top.” I loosened my knees and shifted from left to right, ready for action. Alcohol was a strong deterrent against fear. “My dad has a nice little spot in my old room where I can store Flat-top’s scalp. My mom won’t mind. She deals with all kinds of weird things. She won’t rat me out, either.”

“Dude, what the hell?” one of them said.

“Are they Dicks?” I asked. “Because Niamh said we could just throw them in an unmarked grave, no questions asked. I believe her, too. That big old house has lots of woods. We can probably hide them anywhere and no one would be the wiser. I don’t see any cameras, there’s no one on the street, and there is zero motive. No one would be able to trace them back to us. You know, if this altercation goes pear-shaped.”

Silence greeted me. Austin’s hands were still raised, his body loose as a goose. Nonetheless, I knew he was ready for action. That guy could sucker punch at the drop of a hat.

“Hello?” I asked, slowly peering around Austin’s big back.

The three guys stood there, their lips and eyes tight and their expressions suddenly unsure.

“What’s the status on this?” I asked, and swayed into Austin’s back. “Hah!” I reached around him and slashed with my knife, just in case they got the idea that my drunkenness meant I wasn’t primed and ready.

“Dude, what… No.” Flat-top shook his head and put up his hands, not unlike Austin. “Screw this, bro. That chick is…weird.”

“You all are insane, brother,” tall guy said, giving Austin a look that said he was crazy. It was a cover for insecurity, but I’d take it.

I felt Austin’s body shake a little under my lean, like he was laughing. I could probably straighten up, but worried I’d stagger back in the other direction. The lean would have to do for now.

Mean Guy stared at Austin, his face flat, a sparkle of unhinged in his eyes. He wanted to try his hand at a bigger dude.

“Neck to navel,” I murmured, my fingers tight on the knife. “A quick slice, neck to navel. Or maybe navel to neck. I’m not sure what would be best. It’s fine, though. I’ll aim for the soft bits and just rip to the side. That oughta do the trick.”

“Bro, come on,” Flat-top said, walking backward toward the hotel. “That bitch is crazy. Let’s go!”

“I’m crazy?” I asked. “You started it! You started it, and I plan on finishing it. That’s just responsible fighting. That’s what a mother does, finishes things. Then tidies up. Trash can, unmarked grave, whatever. Garbage goes where I put it, and that’s that.”

Mean guy squinted at Austin, glanced at me peeking out from behind him, then blew out his breath and backed up slowly. “Until next time,” he said with a smirk.

“If only I had a throwing knife, I would stick it right in your smug little back, you…” I gritted my teeth. “Screw him, let’s go.”

I pushed off Austin, and just as I expected, I staggered backward and almost fell. A strong arm wrapped around my back, keeping me upright.

“I’d be home right now if you’d just listened to me,” I said, my eyes drooping. I leaned against his side. “A little nap would be nice.”

“Where, in a bush?”

“Sure. A bush, a gutter—I’m in no position to judge.”

Another arm, this one down low. The world spun, and then he was cradling me in his arms, my head on his shoulder. So close, so hard, and not nearly as comfortable as a pillow.

“I’m either going to pass out or throw up,” I said, my head lolling into his hot neck.

“Thanks for saving me back there,” he said, his deep timber rumbling through his chest.

I was too tired to huff out a laugh. Or maybe too drunk. “Oh.” I pulled my head up and held up the knife. “I need to put this away before I forget I’m holding it and drop it.”

Stopping, he adjusted his hold so I was balanced in just one of his massive arms, proving that he was much stronger than he looked, and he looked super strong. Moving slowly, methodically, as if he weren’t balancing my weight in one arm, he tucked the knife into my purse and looped the strap over his arm before resuming the two-arm hold.

“Are you magic?” I asked, surprised and very close to passing out. “Because what?”

“What?” he asked, no strain evident in his voice.

“I feel light.”

“You are light.”

“Lies.” I rested my head back on the worst pillow in the history of pillows. It could’ve been a rock for all the give it had. “I didn’t save you, those guys scampered off. Wait—is this you looking for gratitude or an apology or something? Because as I said, those guys scampered off.”

“They scampered off because you are as fierce as you are crazy.”

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