Home > Magical Midlife Dating (Leveling Up #2)

Magical Midlife Dating (Leveling Up #2)
Author: K.F. Breene

1

“Just jump. You’ll never know unless you try.” Mr. Tom stood beside a gaping hole in the third floor of Ivy House, looking down at the cold emptiness below.

He was trying to get me to jump out of the trapdoor that I’d first discovered almost thirty years ago when I visited Ivy House as a kid. Staring down from that height had given me a sense of foreboding way back in the day, and at the time no one had been pressuring me to jump out of it in the hope a pair of magical wings I wasn’t positive I had would snap out of my back and save me before I went splat.

“Niamh is circling just out of sight,” Mr. Tom said, motioning me forward. Frigid air blasted through the opening and tousled his stringy comb-over. He grimaced and smoothed the gray strands across his scalp. As a protector of Ivy House, he’d gotten the strength and vitality of youth when I accepted the magic, but he hadn’t received any visual benefit, including growing back his hair. I’d made that choice for him, and for the other protectors, Niamh and Edgar and Austin, by deciding to keep my own appearance, and I’d learned pretty quickly that it was a point of contention for some of the others. Mainly Mr. Tom.

Thankfully, he didn’t mention it now.

“Okay, but…” I shook my head, focusing on my breathing. “Are we sure she’s waiting down there?”

“The house has put out a summons to its protectors, insisting that we support you in your training today. It would require an incredible amount of willpower to resist or wander away. She will circle until called off; Ivy House will make it so.”

“Except…Austin didn’t show up.”

“Yes. He clearly has incredible willpower.”

I shook my head, staring down at the green grass and the small shape of Edgar, his arms raised.

“He can’t possibly think he could catch me from this high of a drop,” I murmured.

“He’s not playing with a full deck of cards. The magic returned his strength and prowess, but there is only so much magic can do for the mind. That vampire only has one oar in the water, so to speak.”

As if Mr. Tom could talk. Tom wasn’t even his real name! He’d made it up when he first met me. I didn’t even want to get started on his habit of naming weapons and his absolute refusal to let me burn down the doll room. Mr. Tom was clutching to reality with nothing but his fingernails.

“I need a drink,” I murmured, fear running through my blood in cold shivers.

“Nonsense. Drinking is for the weak. You don’t want to turn out like that wretched woman, do you, reduced to throwing rocks at strangers and allies alike and forcing dry sandwiches on unsuspecting folk?” He meant Niamh. The two didn’t see eye to eye on many things. Or anything, really. “No. You will jump, your logic will deduce that you need to fly in order to save yourself, and thus your wings will extend from your back.”

“Uh-huh.” I edged forward, the toes of my runners scuffing the wood floor. The cold wind crept along my bare arms, raising goose pimples. My shirt did little more than cover my front, looping around my neck and upper waist, exposing my back so that my wings wouldn’t be hindered.

Presuming I had any.

“Yes, using them will be as natural as you please. I never told you, but I was a late bloomer. It took me forever to get up the willpower to attempt flight. Finally, my father just threw me off the edge of the cliff. All I needed was a little shove!”

“Your wings just knew what to do, or…?”

“Well, no, at first I couldn’t quite get them to work in sync, so I accidentally careened back into the cliff face and eventually spiraled down into the water, but on the third try, I had it! Nothing to it.”

My flat stare wiped the supportive smile off his face.

“Your wings will be dainty,” he rushed to say, patting my shoulder. “Much easier to control.”

My body shook, and I wasn’t sure if it was because of the cold or because of the fear.

“Just because you are trying a new thing, doesn’t mean you need to let go of what you’ve already learned,” Mr. Tom reminded me softly. “You should not feel the cold. Remember?”

Barely having to think about it, I reached for the heat deep in my gut and pulled it out until it covered my body. As Mr. Tom had promised, learning this magic had so far been second nature. Edgar would read instructions for controlling body heat or whatever from an ancient volume only he seemed able to decipher, and barely at that, and the knowledge would burst forth as though it had been tucked in my brain all along. Sometimes it was even easier—I’d just think about something and, without knowing how, make it happen. My situation wasn’t exactly a science at this point.

Edgar said the recall ability had been built into the magical transfer because there were often large time gaps between the chosen, and it wasn’t a given there’d be anyone around to train the new heir. The unconscious magical ability was the same situation, only more uncontrolled.

So why hadn’t I already jumped?

According to Edgar, certain higher-level abilities would be more difficult to master. No one knew if flying was the run-of-the-mill type of magic that I’d pick up easily, or the harder version that would take extensive practice.

“Are you sure I even have wings?” I asked, dangerously close to whining. “We’ve seen no evidence.”

“Ivy House chose you. It gave you the magic. Tamara Ivy was a female gargoyle, so wings are part of the package.”

“Youth was supposed to be too, and we don’t have that.”

“That was your misguided notion, not the fault of the magic. Trust me, if you didn’t have wings, Ivy House would slam this trapdoor shut right now to prevent you from falling to your death. It will protect its chosen at all costs.”

I held my breath, looking at the heavy steel of the trapdoor leaning open. Given Mr. Tom’s pause, I could tell he was doing the same.

After a few quiet beats of no activity, I whispered, “Damn it,” and blew out a breath. “Why not try a window on the second floor? That way, if nothing happens, I might just break my leg instead of my neck.”

“You need falling time to figure things out. If you jumped from the second story, you’d probably break your legs just as your wings extended, and you’d almost certainly crush Edgar when he got in your way trying to save you. Besides, I doubt you’ll kill yourself jumping from the third floor. It’s not that high.”

It certainly seemed that high.

“Okay, fine. Okay. Fine.” I shook out my hands. Wind whipped around me. I didn’t see the flutter of Niamh’s black wings within my limited scope of sight. I’d have to trust she was there, and was close enough to swoop in and grab me should things go pear-shaped.

I had every belief things would go pear-shaped. How the hell was I supposed to believe I could fly when just a couple months ago I didn’t even believe magic was real? I thought I was doing a pretty good job of acclimating to the fantastic, but this was pushing it. Wings magically sprouting from my back? And I was counting on being able to use them instantly, something even baby birds couldn’t do without practice.

“This is stupid. What the hell am I doing? I’m going to kill myself.” Clenching my fists, I barely stopped myself from edging backward. My toes hung over the lip. The world swam in front of me.

I thought about jumping. Maybe even just tipping forward and falling.

But, oh God, what if I started spinning or flipping in the air, and my wings did pop out, but I was ass over end and couldn’t right myself, and—

I clenched and unclenched my hands, trying to still my mind. Trying to get into the mindset to jump. My legs felt like jelly. My stomach pinched and energy buzzed through me, soaked through with fear.

Austin’s voice drifted through my head, remembered encouragement from one of the many pep talks he’d given me.

Take life by the balls, Jess. You are strong and confident. You are powerful with or without that magic. You have things to say, and this world needs to hear them. Grab life by the balls and make it yield.

“Yes, indeed. Exactly right.” I gritted my teeth and nodded, leaning forward over the large drop.

“What?” Mr. Tom asked.

“Grab it by the balls…”

“Who?” Mr. Tom covered his crotch.

“Just grab…” Wind swirled my hair. Edgar reached up a little higher, ready. He seemed to think the job of saving me would be left to him. He always had the utmost faith in Niamh, and yet he was acting like she wouldn’t come through.

My mind buzzed. Fear beat a drum in my chest. My stomach flipped as I prepared to jump.

How was Niamh going to grab me without hands? Her other form was a freaking flying unicorn. The best she could do was swoop down under me, but if I was spinning around, I’d just glance off her, go careening, and slam into the ground anyway. There was no way I’d have the presence of mind to grab on to her, and even if I did, she didn’t have a saddle. What was I supposed to hold on to?

“Screw it. Grab life by the balls. Now or never—”

2

I lifted a foot to jump, my stomach now in my neck, and a strong gust of wind slapped me. So intense it felt solid, it shoved me back, away from the opening. I unconsciously put out my hands to ward it away, and the steel trapdoor swung from its position and crashed down, bouncing on its frame.

A pulse blasted out from the center of me, reverberating through the house and shocking into the grounds beyond. From there it kept traveling, not losing steam, until it drifted into nothingness.

Mr. Tom looked at me as though waiting for an explanation.

I wasn’t sure if I should ask, “What was that?” or just randomly shout for no reason. Really no losing between those two options.

I chose, instead, to just stare back with what I knew was a dumb look.

The silence felt gooey around us, suffocating the natural creaks of the house. I realized belatedly that I was creating it.

I tore the magic away, accidentally lifting the magical heat keeping me warm. Goosebumps returned along my arms.

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