Home > Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(6)

Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(6)
Author: K.F. Breene

“Are you sure?”

After giving him my best mom look, which promised someone was going to get paddled if this kept up, I opened the flap on the envelope and extracted a huge, mottled iron key that appeared to have come right out of the Iron Age. Liquid pooled in my bladder as I held it up for inspection. The seal was about to break. Stupid postpartum pee issues.

“I’ll just…” I squeezed things up tight, much too old to do the pee-pee dance. “I need to use the restroom, so I’ll just go ahead and let myself in.”

I didn’t make it a question in case he threw something else weird at me.

The key slid into the lock, and something clicked. Not the metal tumbler turning over, but something inside of me. A door opening. A light coming on.

This felt right in a way nothing had in a long, long time. Like it was meant to be. Like my strife had not been in vain, at any point, and the next chapter of my life was, indeed, about to start. I couldn’t wait.

Except first I had to pee.

“Where’s the restroom?” I asked, my nose curling slightly as a side effect of the effort of squeezing all my lower lady muscles.

“Just off to the right, turn left, and straight back,” Mr. Tom said, his words coming out slower than they really needed to.

“Great, thanks.”

“I will wait right here—”

My feet sank into a cushy rug with a dizzying checkered pattern in orange and rust. I passed a beautiful curving stairwell, the steps lined with the same carpet, barely glanced at a wall of paintings, crossed under an arched doorway, and quickly veered right.

The restroom waited where he’d said it would, with a high wooden door in a lovely white frame. I barreled through the opening, whipped around and slammed the door shut without meaning to. I tore at my jeans with harried fingers, and made it just in time.

“Oh mama, that feels good,” I murmured, looking over the large bathroom outfitted with brass and porcelain and oil paintings. What a fine place. Even the bathroom was gorgeous.

The verdict was in—I was excited to have taken this position. Diana thought I was nuts for thinking so, but this was cool. This old house was cool.

If only the neighbor and inhabitants weren’t so weird.

“And who the hell is Edgar?”

Five

Niamh rocked her chair in the silence of the coming night, picking up scents as they wafted by. Every so often, she slowly turned her head until she was looking at the large house at the top of the street.

Edgar stood by the bushes near the porch, waiting. Gloating.

She had come back.

After all this time, after establishing a different life for herself, she’d freed herself up somehow, walked away, and come back.

Edgar had always said she would. He’d read something in her.

When she and young Miss Havercamp—Mrs. Drury now—had found the heart of the house, he’d watched them from the shadows. He’d instantly known the truth. Miss Havercamp wasn’t the heir. It was Jacinta.

Niamh hadn’t been convinced. People changed, especially Janes—non-magical women—Jessie’s age. They were shaped by society. Softened. Had their boldness smoothed out. Niamh had doubted, all those years ago, that Jessie would still be worthy by the time she was twenty. Certainly by middle age.

But lookey, lookey. That old vampire might’ve been right. It wasn’t set in stone yet, of course. The house still needed to assess the new charge. Still needed to see if she was the right fit. But it was a promising start that the house knew just when to prompt Earl to contact Peggy. There was a connection there that wasn’t usual.

Niamh had to own, though, that if Jessie was the right fit…well, that would certainly blow her mind. It would be a lot for a Jane to come to grips with at her age. Of course, it wasn’t that Jacinta was old. Niamh herself was pushing four-hundred. Earl might as well just roll over and die. Edgar was as old as dirt. Literally. He was so old he didn’t even function right. The vampire had turned from a hunter into a gatherer. His clan had shrugged and waved goodbye.

Age wouldn’t matter when the magic was once again unleashed from the heart of Ivy House. Everyone who tended the house, who protected it, would get a dose of power. Of strength.

Of youth.

No, Jessie’s age didn’t matter one lick, but the fact that she’d been blind to the supernatural for forty years would definitely be a problem. Niamh wondered how she’d react to the truth. If she’d believe it if it loomed large enough in front of her face.

Humans were notorious for turning a blind eye to things that didn’t fit their world view. Every so often they got privy to magical people, and then there were mass killing sprees, taking out magicals and non-magicals alike, but that only happened once in a great while. Most of the time, humans were shockingly good at convincing themselves the world around them was as mundane as they were, and that was that. Nothing to see here, folks.

Niamh rocked slowly, feeling the age in her joints. The tightness in her back.

Her four-hundredth birthday had been a tough one. Over the hill and past her prime. Well past her prime. Old even by the reckoning of her species. Past her child-bearing years, past ripping off heads and sticking them on spikes—hell, she was even past a good old-fashioned village raiding party.

Not that she couldn’t muster up the energy if she really wanted to, but she didn’t. Battle was just too much work. Too much running around. Fairly stupid when you thought about it. If there was a problem, talking it out and reaching a compromise got things done much faster and with a lot less funeral flowers. Those things were expensive.

She sighed, taking in the peaceful street. The pleasant night and soft green grass.

She half hoped Ivy House didn’t wake up at all. That it would keep its magic to itself, mostly dormant under that creepy old mausoleum. Because if it did pass its magic along to Jessie, it would draw all manner of masters, packs, clans, and mages. Poor O’Briens would be overrun. And every single one of those incoming strangers would compete for Jessie’s blessing and support. Wanting to choose which throne she’d sit on. Trying to plan her life for her.

Niamh grinned. Fat chance.

That lady was done with letting other people tell her what to do, Niamh had seen it in her eyes. Seen it in the way she’d ended their conversation abruptly and shown herself out. Seen it in her bearing. Jessie Evans had been through the grinder, and she’d made it out the other side tougher. Stronger. Less likely to deal with anyone’s crap. She might need a little convincing of that, but it was there.

Maybe that’s why she hadn’t made her way back to Ivy House until midlife. Strength and vitality were lost on the young. They simply didn’t know what to do with it. They charged through doors and stuck people with knives and chased creatures with silver-tipped arrows, and at the end of it all, they didn’t learn a damned thing. Not one thing.

Give all that strength and vitality to someone with intelligence and experience?

Well. Now you had something.

Maybe fate had unfolded this way for a reason.

Niamh rocked slowly, thinking it all through. If the house unleashed its burden, she and Edgar and even that eejit Earl would have to take up their positions as Jessie’s protectors. They’d crush skulls and blast…

See, that was the thing. It had been so long, she couldn’t even remember all the violence she used to enact. What exactly would she blast once she’d dealt with the skulls? They’d be dead, case closed. Anything more would be overkill. Might as well pop a beer and have a victory chat instead.

What a hassle it all sounded like. The fountain of youth was a great idea and all, but she almost wondered if she’d rather just sit out here, rocking in her chair, and throw rocks at any Dicks and Janes that came to check out the old creepy house. It was a pleasant life. She had great aim.

She checked her watch. Half hour to go. Niamh wondered if Jessie would accept her invitation and head into town.

She hoped not. She’d bet Edgar a blood source that Jessie would stay in tonight, as befit someone her age. Janes had all these silly preconceived notions about what they could and could not do at various ages. Dress codes, hair styles, what body parts could and could not be shown. If Niamh lost, she’d have to lure a Dick back, and the older she got, it was becoming increasingly harder to find anyone that desperate for a nightcap. The young, stupid ones all thought they’d break her hip.

She also wondered what Austin Steele would think of the new addition to the town. Of all the people in the know, he was the last person who wanted the house’s magic delivered to its chosen. The very last.

The question was, if he tried to stop it, how would Niamh and the gang block him?

Six

I sat in a lovely velvet antique chair in my new room, the enormous master suite of the house. It had a high ceiling, a large ornate fireplace, and a stately four-poster bed with draping curtains. The table and chairs near the large bay window looked out over the labyrinth hedge maze, created with carefully tended and pruned bushes. Inside, a gorgeous red Persian rug covered part of the polished wood floor.

I was in heaven.

I would have never, in a million years, chosen this room for myself. I was the house’s caretaker, not its mistress. I did not belong in this room, no matter how much Mr. Tom—he refused to answer to Earl—insisted otherwise.

He’d led me into the room, paused, and then nodded. “I absolutely agree. Yes, this is the room. Excellent choice.”

“What?” I’d said, looking around. “I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t possibly—”

“There is no use arguing. The tour is over. You’re on your own. Good luck. I’ll get your things.”

I’d stood in his wake, dumbfounded. It was not easy to out-weird me, but this guy was the grand master of batshit crazy. I still didn’t have a clue who he’d been talking to. The beasties in his head, perhaps? That didn’t bode well for me. Unmarked grave, here I came.

Not to mention my “tour” had consisted of a staircase, and six of the twelve vacant bedrooms. I didn’t even know where the kitchen was.

   
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