Home > Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(14)

Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(14)
Author: K.F. Breene

“Hey, I’m drunk and I have the laws of defense on my side. Screw them.”

His chuckle took nothing away from his sleek, graceful movements as he carried me to Ivy House. “Exactly. You made that easy and—”


“Hah!” I kicked the air and swung my fist around. Mr. Tom leaned back and my hand sailed through nothingness, right by his head. “Damn it, Mr. Tom. Like…why? Why do you always sneak up on me?” I clutched my chest, then my stomach. It flipped menacingly. “Down.”

“What?” Austin asked.

“Down!” I struggled out of his arms, pushed Mr. Tom out of the way, stopped, turned, kicked him, and then staggered toward the bushes. “Go away. Everyone go away. Things might escalate from here.”

“Who did this?” Mr. Tom asked Austin.

“I did this,” I said, taking deep breaths. Holding my unsettled stomach. “But why didn’t you warn me about the alcohol? Don’t eat the sandwiches, but what about the alcohol?”

“She’s fine. I’ve got her,” Austin said.

“No.” I looked around, seeing Ivy House just down the road. I was almost home. Tonight I would probably get intimate with the toilets. “Just go away. All of you. I’m fine. Honest. Super good. Definitely awesome.” I did not feel awesome.

“Leave,” Austin said, the command in his tone sending a shock through my body.

My stomach rolled. I groaned. “Why?” I asked no one in particular. “Why didn’t I leave the first couple times I said I should go? Why?”

“But Austin Steele, she’s my charge. I will—”

“Go!” he barked.

I sat down on the grass of someone else’s property. I crawled to the side so I was in the weeds and off their lawn. “I’m too old for this.”

“It’s my fault.” Austin knelt beside me. “You’re right. If I’d let things be, you’d be home by now, throwing up in peace.”

“This is true.”

“But I’m selfishly glad I kept you out. I’ve never had that much fun in an almost altercation in my life. You single-handedly scared those boys crazy. I’ve never had that effect.”

“Bully for you. Did Mr. Tom leave?”


I shook my head. “Why do people always use your whole name?”

He sighed and looked up at the sky. He sat down next to me. “It’s a show of respect. I don’t expect you to understand this, but they aren’t my pack so they can’t technically call me alpha. But they respect me as such, and thus they use my whole name.”

“You’re right, I do not understand that. I am not going to call you by your full name, I’ll tell you that right now. The lot of you are crazy. I’m not climbing aboard that train.”

“And yet, you just debated on the merits of slitting a perfect stranger from neck to navel versus navel to neck, and decided on stabbing and ripping any way you chose.”

“Yeah. That’s just logic. Besides, we were in a battle.”


“I guess I shouldn’t lie down right here and go to sleep.”


“Niamh can really drink. I mean…she’s twice my age. I didn’t realize what I was getting into.” I took a deep breath and swayed. I felt his hand steadying me.

“Not many do.”

“Alpha. Why would someone call you alpha? What kind of an ego trip is that? And why would someone throw rocks at their neighbor? Why would someone create a labyrinth in the back of a house to trap kids? I don’t understand this place.”

“It defies logic.”

He had that exactly right. It defied logic. But then, it was a small town. Clearly small towns had their own brand of weirdness. A big town would probably ring Austin’s bell. A person didn’t stop to confront someone in a bad part of a big town. That was a way to get you shot.

“Tomorrow is day one on the job, and I’ll be hungover,” I muttered.

His sigh was soft. “What will you do first?”

“Yell at Mr. Tom for no reason, probably.” I tried to lie down. His hand stopped my backward motion. I pushed against it. It was like pushing against concrete. I thought of some choice words I wanted to call him.

“Why do you call Earl Mr. Tom?”

I tossed up my hands. “I do not know. For some reason, he told me his name was Tom. Then he said to call him Mr. Tom.”

“And you did?”

“He pretends like he doesn’t hear me if I use Earl. It’s the only way to talk to him.”

Austin helped me up, smiling. “You know, you’re in a bubble of weirdness. We’re not all that strange.”

“Says the guy who speaks in animal behaviors.”

That wiped the smile off of his face. “What do you mean?”

“What do I mean?” I started walking and veered into a leafy bush. I slapped at it and veered back out. “All that body posturing stuff. Normal guys don’t think like that.”

“And yet, those guys understood my meaning.”

“How do you know?”

“I could tell. Guys are different from girls. We’re from Mars. You’re from Venus.”

“That is such bullcrap. I’m an Aries. I am Mars. Guys can suck it, number one. Number two, women understand guys a hundred percent more than they understand us. Do you know why that is?”

“We’re sensible?”

I stared at him. Then accidentally swayed and rammed my forehead into him. Pushing back, I shook it off and said, “Really? Sensible? You idiots just about rumbled for no reason a moment ago. You’re all—I have a penis weee.” I waved my hands around. “No, it’s because you don’t listen to women. You pretend women are these mysterious creatures. And sure, when you don’t give a crap about something, it does remain a mystery. But it wouldn’t be so hard if you’d put half the effort into learning about us as we put into trying to learn about you. It’s your negligence that creates the problems.”

“That right?”

“And another thing.” I put up my finger. Then punched him in the chest for good measure. The alcohol had turned me unnecessarily violent. It was like I was a kid again, playing WrestleMania with my brother on the living room floor.

Except that punching Austin hurt me and not him.

I massaged my hand, ignoring his grin. “What do you think it does to future men when you teach boys that being weak is being a pussy? Pussy meaning female, obviously. Or yelling at men who are doing poorly that they’re being girls? Or ladies? Had enough, ladies?” I squinted one eye at him. It was all my brain could muster for a glare. “Men are teaching boys that they are equivalent to ladies, to girls, when they’re at their worst. At their absolute weakest. And you wonder why we’re from different planets? You wonder why men so often disrespect women?” I patted my purse. “Neck to navel.”

I’d thought he would laugh at the joke I’d thrown in at the end to lighten things up, but he didn’t. Instead, he stared at me silently in the darkness. The small hairs rose on my arms again. Goosebumps erupted on my flesh.

“I hear you,” he said softly. “I never put stock in any of that—the taunting about being ladies—but I didn’t see the bigger picture, either. Just like earlier tonight—no one has ever spelled out the dangers women face when a man asserts himself as I did. That blindsided me. So much of tonight has blindsided me. In my life, when it comes to this, I feel like I’ve been…blindfolded in a way. Not blind, because if I would’ve looked, I would’ve seen, but…” He shook his head. “I’m gobsmacked. Thank you. I’ll be more conscious of this going forward.”

I reached out and placed my hand on his arm, just to make sure he was real. To make sure I was still awake.

He wasn’t acting like any of the men I knew. Certainly not like my ex or his friends. I’d attempted to talk to Matt about the dangers women faced, and he’d blown me off. That wasn’t his reality, and therefore my fear wasn’t justified. The minute, day-to-day suffering women faced for being women wasn’t real.

Austin was ten times as strong as Matt had ever been. Bigger, broader, more masculine. He was the quintessential tough guy. And yet…he was all ears. More than that, he was thanking me for enlightening him. And he meant it.

I need to hang out with better men.

Tears filled my eyes. “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown. Even if you do randomly flex for no reason.”

His smile was soft. He gently removed my hand. “How about getting you home?”

“Okay, but before we get there, let’s steal all of Niamh’s rocks. She’ll be so mad.”


My head throbbed before I even opened my eyes. My mouth felt like a cesspool.

Light sprinkled across my face and a shape loomed over me.

Mr. Tom stood beside my bedside, looking down on me. I hurt too much to show surprise.

“Why are you standing over me like a serial killer?” I asked with a hoarse voice.

“Would madam like some breakfast? Or a rag to wipe off the chocolate smeared across her cheek?”

I let my eyes drift closed and palmed my aching forehead. Then I let myself moan, long and loud.

“Coffee and aspirin, then. Shall I bring it up?” he asked, his face way too close even though it was still many feet away and safely out of my personal space bubble.

“Sure, if you don’t mind.”

He nodded, straightened, and stepped back. “I took the liberty of laundering the clothes you littered across the floor and re-homing the collection of rocks you had stuffed in your pockets.”

Oh God, I’d stolen Niamh’s rocks.

Well, technically, Austin and I had stolen Niamh’s rocks. My pockets hadn’t been large enough to fit the whole collection, so I’d started unceremoniously shoving them into his pockets, making him an accessory to the theft.

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