Magical Midlife Dating Page 2

“Dang it,” I said softly, trying to balance everything out.

“Well. I guess we’ll see what kind of help you’re looking for.” Mr. Tom straightened up, sniffed, and walked from the room.

I eyed the closed trapdoor. It appeared Ivy House didn’t think I was ready to take that part of life by the balls. Thank God.

“What do you mean, the kind of help I’m looking for?” I followed Mr. Tom out of the room and down the hall toward the stairs. “What did I do?”

“You called for aid, which is well within your rights as the mistress of Ivy House. It seems you don’t think myself, Niamh, and Edgar are enough. That’s fine. You know best, after all.” His nose was lifted when we reached the ground floor. “Tea? Coffee? Something to take the edge off the horrible guilt you’re sure to feel once you’ve come to your senses?”

Edgar and Niamh met us in the kitchen, each wearing a pair of white cotton sweats, Edgar’s rumpled and with a yellowed stain that I didn’t want to think about—fearing it was a blood source of some kind—and Niamh’s with dirt and grass speckled on one side.

Mr. Tom had been in charge of choosing the house sweats when “at work,” a.k.a. changing forms, and it was no surprise his were the only ones that stayed clean.

“What went wrong there?” Niamh asked in her thick Irish brogue as she sauntered into the kitchen, her hair still short and white, her face baby soft but with deep creases of age, and her step light and spry, compliments of Ivy House. “Earl, put on a cuppa tae, would ye? I’m absolutely dyin’ with the thirst.”

Earl was Mr. Tom’s real name. As usual, when she used it, Mr. Tom pretended he couldn’t hear her. It was why I’d buckled early and just resigned myself to calling him by his chosen name.

“Earl, ye insufferable gobshite, I know you heard me,” Niamh said, ruled by her own weirdness. She wasn’t put off by his silent treatment. She was also so ancient that, even though she always retained her accent, she went in and out of various countries’ slang and choice of words. “Is this why that other family you worked fer shoved ye out the door, is it? Couldn’t do a simple thing like—”

“Ah yes, how I missed your soft, dulcet tones these last few days when we trained Jessie in close combat, independently of you,” Mr. Tom said sarcastically, moving to the kettle. “What a treat to have us all together again.”

“You’re no feckin’ picnic yerself, sure yer not,” she muttered, heading to the table. She noticed the dirt and grass clinging to her leg and bent to wipe it off, sprinkling it onto the floor. Mr. Tom’s mouth pressed into a thin line, but he held his tongue.

“Did you lose your nerve?” Edgar asked me, his brown eyes soft.

“Didn’t you feel the summons?” Mr. Tom asked, pulling down the tea set covered in yellow and orange flowers and placing it on the granite island. Porcelain clinked and shook as the pieces settled. It was the ugliest tea set I’d ever seen in my life. “She is calling in reinforcements.”

“Of course we felt it. The whole world probably felt it,” Niamh said. “It nearly blew my hair back. ’Bout time, too. There’s only so much carry-on we can handle from Edgar while he hems and haws over that terrible excuse for an instruction manual.”

“It is not an instruction manual,” Edgar said patiently—the guy never seemed to lose his temper. “It’s an ages’ old magical artifact that remains lost until a new chosen is selected, and then is miraculously found. Given I was the one who found it in the garden, I am the one able to decipher its mysteries.” He scratched his head, and small flakes drifted toward the counter.

“Edgar, please.” Mr. Tom slid the tea set further away from him. Porcelain clattered. “Use some Head & Shoulders or visit Agnes. She can probably concoct a potion to get rid of that…issue.”

“It’s my nails. I need to cut them.” Edgar looked at his pointed, claw-like fingernails.

“Mysteries, me arse.” Niamh shook her head and looked out the window onto the sunny but cold afternoon.

“The summons wasn’t connected with the minor setbacks I’ve had with deciphering the book,” Edgar said, “though you’d think the house would make it a little easier for its chosen to read it. The summons was for help with flying, or maybe just help in general, wasn’t it, Jessie?”

I sat opposite Niamh at the round table and pulled my laptop in front of me. “I don’t know, honestly. I was just about to hurtle to my death when a gust of wind pushed me back and the trapdoor closed by itself.”

“You did those things,” Mr. Tom said, dropping a tea bag into the pot. “Half the things you do are still subconscious; you know that. Which is to be expected, of course. Your magic is designed to respond to your needs. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to use half of it. Not without proper training, and, as we’ve seen from Edgar’s efforts, you do not have that.”

“I thought I was doing okay,” Edgar muttered, reaching up to scratch his head again. He paused with his hand halfway there, caught Mr. Tom’s severe look, and slowly dropped it.

I frowned at Mr. Tom. “I was preparing to jump, though.”

“You only think that. What you were really doing was psyching yourself up to shut it all down and call for help.” He lifted his nose and pulled bread out of the cabinet. “It seems you have an idea of the kind of help you need, and we are not it.”

A grin spread across Niamh’s face. “She has twelve spots in that Council Room for her staff, but you thought if she had ye, she wouldn’t need to fill them all up, is that right? You thought an old, fired butler with too few marbles rolling around in his head was all she needed to conquer this incredible new magic? Well, don’t ye think the world of yerself, boy.” She leaned back, chuckling. “You know yerself that she needs all twelve in that circle. She certainly needs whoever is meant to fill the number one spot.”

When she paused this time, I couldn’t help a rolling wave of unease in my gut. No one had yet explained to me why I needed a council. What I was meant to do with the incredible magic I’d eventually wield. Was there a larger purpose for me, or was that council just meant to keep me alive if anyone threatened me? I didn’t know, and I was too chicken to ask.

Niamh entwined her fingers. “That is the way of it. It’s the way it’s always been, hasn’t it, Edgar?”

Edgar beamed. “So you do listen—”

“She should’ve sent out that call before now,” Niamh continued. “Elliot Graves has already shown his interest in her. Given that she now rules Ivy House, he’ll be thinking on how to get her to join his faction. He’s the best mage in the world—he’s watched by his peers. Even if people don’t have a clue what Ivy House is, they’ll certainly get curious in a hurry. If you think they won’t come knocking, trying to poke the bear and see what all this is about, you’re a thickheaded dope, so ya are. They’ll pick a fight just to see what she can do. I’ll tell ye what, too, we’d better hope she’s a helluva lot better at the magic than she is now. She’s mostly useless right now.”

“Thanks,” I said sourly, shifting the screen away from them as I clicked into an online dating app for (non-magical) mature singletons that was supposed to be best for thirty-three and up. How they’d landed on thirty-three, I had no idea, but I figured that since my magic made me a target, it was best to start with someone more my speed, hence the non-magical.

On the one hand, I wasn’t sure I wanted to head into the stormy waters of dating. I liked being on my own for the first time, able to come and go as I pleased without having to answer to anyone other than an old butler who just wanted to make my life easier and make me snacks. Becoming a giant starfish across the bed was a rare treat after sharing with someone for half my life. It felt pretty great, actually.

But the need for intimacy gnawed at me. Toward the end of my marriage, my libido had started ramping up, but Matt’s version of foreplay had been moving into position and going for it. By the time I was warming up, he was ready to go to sleep. It was more frustrating than gratifying, and I didn’t really have anyone to vent to—it was something people my age didn’t seem to talk about. At least not women.

Part of the problem had been me, of course. I hadn’t demanded he try a little harder or learn the things that would have worked better. Resentment had kicked in, and sex had become the equivalent of one more chore at the end of the day. One more thing that pleased him and not me so much.

I wanted to change that so badly. I wanted my fresh start to be inclusive of physical intimacy again. I used to love it. I loved kissing and making out, holding hands and taking walks. I loved love—at least the idea of love. I wanted to experience that again. I wanted to experience the rush of falling headfirst, and the anxious but not unpleasant fear of the floor dropping out from under me.

I just needed to find someone to do that with. Super easy, of course, given I hadn’t dated in a dog’s age, didn’t know how to flirt without being awkward or creepy, and didn’t have the first clue how to meet someone in the wild. Like, did you just walk up to a rando and start a conversation? That wouldn’t go well for me. Small talk was my nemesis. Did you give come hither eyes and wait to see if they did? How was I supposed to manage that without giving a deranged serial-killer vibe?

All unknowns. I’d decided to get my feet wet with online dating. I’d be taking the plunge for the first time later tonight.

Maybe I should’ve jumped earlier. My inevitable injuries would have given me an excuse to cancel.

“I wonder if there is an adult bookstore in this town,” I mused, because the only way I was likely to get some action was if it was from myself.

All conversation stopped.

My face instantly heated and I slammed my laptop closed out of pure embarrassment. Liking some boom-boom time was one thing, but broadcasting what I planned to do if it was not readily available was a different thing entirely.

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