Magical Midlife Meeting Page 2

I pulled up my knees and dropped my forehead onto them. “Mr. Tom, leave Niamh alone. She has to learn a few decades’ worth of magical politics in a month. She’s doing the best she can. We know roughly the type of…dwelling we’re going into.”

“The inside of a mountain isn’t a great place for a team of fliers,” Hollace said.

“Which is likely the point,” I replied. “As Niamh pointed out. But it’s fine. We’ll bring some of Austin’s people. We’ll be fine.”

“Ah yes, the dreaded fine.” Mr. Tom stepped away. “We will be fine.”

What else was I supposed to say? We’re almost certainly heading to our doom because I’ll only get one chance to take out Elliot, and it’s not going to work because he has decades more experience with just as much or more power. “Fine” would have to do.

“For the first part of training, you should practice your magic on us like usual,” Cyra said. “You’ll need that ability to protect us in battles with mages.” She stepped back. In the process, her boot heel clunked against a glass of water held by a doll with porcelain hands. The doll, knocked off balance, fumbled and spilled the water down its side. More fire shed from Cyra, liquid magma plopping onto the doll’s head. Its plastic brown hair started to melt before its whole head caught fire. It squealed, something I hadn’t known they could do, and then tottered around the floor, flailing its hands.

Great. The last thing I’d needed was more nightmare fuel.

Hollace kicked out as the doll ran by, catching its melting head and sending it rolling across the floor. The rest of the dolls chased after it, water glasses full, slopping most of the water onto themselves before they saved the half of a head it had left.

“This has been a very bad start to the day,” I murmured.

“When you are nearing the end of your training,” Cyra continued, not at all bothered by the pandemonium she had caused, “you will strip all your defenses and attack me with everything you have. You will not give me any kind of alert before you do this. You will attempt to kill me.”

I rubbed my face with my palms. “Except Elliot might be able to block my magic, and then he’ll fight back with power I probably can’t defend against. So it still won’t be like the real thing.”

“I can likely consume a dose of your magic without falling, and my self-preservation instincts will kick in. I will fight back just as fiercely as Elliot Graves would. Either you will be burned half to death before I relent, or I will die.”

“Oh no, Cyra, you mustn’t ask the miss to kill you.” Mr. Tom shook his head gravely. “If Edgar catches wind of this, he’ll start asking her to retire him again. Though after that sunflower debacle last week, I think she should’ve finally given in and shown him mercy.”

“Shown him mercy?” Ulric said with a laugh. “He gave consciousness to a giant sunflower with razor-sharp leaves. Which would have been great if he’d bothered to teach it the difference between friend and foe. That thing cut me up something good. Thank all that could fly that the basajaun was on hand and hungry. I’m not up for messing with weaponized plants. Killing Edgar would’ve been a mercy to us.”

“Yes,” Mr. Tom said. “That has always been a given.”

My phone buzzed on the nightstand. I glanced over and caught Austin’s name on the screen.

A thrill of excitement stole my breath.

“Get out,” I said, reaching for it. “Everyone get out of here!”

People and dolls alike spun and headed for the door. They knew the score. I was officially dating the town’s alpha, and the taking-it-slow act was just that: an act. I felt like I was going to combust every time I so much as heard his name.

I was pretty sure the only person I was fooling was myself.

I snatched the phone up like a grinning fool, waited long enough for Mr. Tom to close the door behind him, and swiped to answer the phone.

“Hey,” I said with a gush of breath, my stomach flipping.

“Hey, babe,” he responded, his tone smooth and deep and the term of endearment completely nonchalant. Which was a little crazy considering the guy had planned on being a bachelor for the rest of his life. He’d even resisted the growing attraction between us in the beginning.

But he’d pulled a complete one-eighty one day, and now he had no doubt that forever was knocking on his door. There was no more resisting. No anxiety. He hadn’t had a single freak-out!

He probably figured I’d have enough of them for the both of us.

The shifters were convinced Austin and I were sliding into mating, a sort of permanent bond that magically connected two people, somewhat like the one I had with Ivy House but deeper. And they were probably onto something: with each passing day, my depth of feeling for him increased, my desire ballooned, and my happiness grew.

But I was newly divorced, dang it! New to magic, new to solo home ownership, and new to being the reluctant master of creepy dolls. I couldn’t just hop into another lifelong romantic commitment willy-nilly. I hadn’t even played the field! Austin was technically a rebound, for criminy’s sake. I had to approach all of this logically, which required at least a little freaking out. It required brakes, and if I had to bear down on them for a while, so be it. His infallible confidence could take it. He’d said as much a few times over.

Take as long as you need, Jess. I’ll wait. You will be mine.

I shivered and suddenly couldn’t stand the distance between us. I couldn’t stand to hear his voice but not feel his touch. He needed to be closer. We needed to be closer.

“Do you have a second to FaceTime?” I asked. If I couldn’t do it physically, I’d do it through the Ivy House bond. It would have to be enough.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll call you back.”

I hung up, bounced around in the bed organizing my pillows, and then lay down, splaying my hair out around my head. His heart throbbed in my chest, next to mine, something that had happened for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It should have felt strange, especially since I’d started life as a non-magical person, a Jane. But it didn’t. It was intimate and comforting.

The phone rang for FaceTime, and I answered, unable to help the excited smile. His handsome face filled the screen, his eyes hooded with fatigue and his hair standing every which way. His head rested against leather, and I imagined he was probably on his couch.

“Did you just get in?” I asked, feasting my eyes on him and enhancing Ivy House’s magical link between us, feeling the answer for myself. I immediately launched into healing his fatigue.

His little grin said that my magical touch was appreciated. “Long night. I had a few direct challenges, one from a very strong shifter, and then a raiding party came through.”

I furrowed my brow. “A raiding party? Like a bunch of Vikings?”

He sighed and scrubbed his fingers through his hair. I loved seeing him like this. At home and on his own (or with me), he was able to be so expressive, unlike when he was in public and donning his “alpha” mask of non-emotion.

“Basically, yeah,” he said. “They roll through and try to grab whatever they can. Or kill whoever they can. Or just create mayhem. It’s pretty standard for a newly established pack to suffer raiding parties. I’d thought I’d be immune, since my brother helped me set this place up and everyone knows I took down a phoenix, but no such luck.”

“Oh. You should’ve let me know—I could’ve helped.”

“Thanks, but it’s good. I used it as a training exercise. It cut into sleep time, though. I have a pretty packed day today. That’s the reason I called.” Frustration bled through the link. “Can you push off training for a few hours so I can stop by before I hit the bar?”

“Or maybe you should use those few hours to get some rest, and I’ll try to kill the phoenix on my own?”

He paused for a moment, and wariness trickled through our link. “Kill the phoenix? Did Cyra do something to piss you off?”

I told him what she’d suggested. “It won’t set us back too much. Apparently her magic is like the gargoyles’—it responds differently when she has an alpha who calls her, and through the link I’ve figured out how to call her. So there won’t be much of a delay training-wise if I’m able to kill her. She’ll regrow to her adult size pretty quick.”

“And if you aren’t?”

“It’ll hurt like the blazes, and I’ll need to drink a half-dozen protein shakes for all the energy I’ll need to heal myself…”

He issued a soft sigh. “If you think you’re up for it… I’d prefer to be there when you try, but…”

“When I succeed, you mean.”

His smile made my heart flutter. “Obviously. I’d prefer if you’d put it off until I can be there. I trust that she won’t go too far, but just in case.”

“You’d prefer it, but you’ll defer to your alpha’s decision?”

Hunger flashed in his eyes. I was the only person in the world who wouldn’t turn him rage-y if I talked about dominating him. Quite the opposite, actually. Bedtime wrestling was sexy as all hell, and I didn’t mind losing. Neither did he.

His voice was low and rough. “If I must…”

I ran my tongue along my bottom lip, catching his gaze.

“Do you have a few minutes?” I asked, then panned the camera down my body, red lace barely covering my flesh. Pushing the covers down more, I dipped my hand between my spreading thighs.

Desire flooded the link. My moan matched his.

“An hour, at least…” His hand drifted south, and through the now extremely sensitive link I could feel our combined passion building higher.

A few moments later, pleasure swept me away, pulsing hard and hot, leaving me wondering how long I could possibly resist the mating bond, and what sort of ritual a female gargoyle enacted once she’d finally chosen a mate.

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