Midnight's Balance Chapter Two

Chapter Two
(this is unedited please be kind.)

I awoke with a heavily weighted knowledge that I was not alone in my house. A feeling I had just only finally shucked. With each new familiar I had to readjust and reevaluate my personal spaces. and with Marina's arrival another 25 years of companionship had begun. Not for the first time, I berated myself for allowing this contract to begin with. That’ll teach a man from saving a witch from hanging.  He gets stuck with her family for 200 years. 
I pushed back the covers on bed and swung my legs over the side testing the aches in my muscles and joints. I looked pretty good for my age, not much over 35, but hundreds of years of living had taken its toll on my body. I stood up and stretched before shifting down to the floor and twisting over into the push-up position. I pumped a few out, getting my blood flowing before standing and shaking it out. Physical exercise seemed to be the only thing that held off the aches and pains of old age.
I went into the bathroom and stopped at the mirror. I'd been looking at the exact same face for hundreds of years. It never changed and never grew older. There were never new creases beside my eyes or along my forehead. I found myself sometimes longing for a change. Praying that I would see it there when I woke up in the morning.
 Change never came to this face, unlike my familiar. It was strange witnessing the aging process from the outside. I watched the women come into my life, age for 25 years, and then leave it. Ten years later the newest model would arrive they'll look the same as they all share the same ancestry. With each having their own take on the same consistent features. All of the Paget women were dainty, blonde, and self-possessed. Which in some of Marina's ancestor’s cases not a good thing for the women at the time.
I rubbed my hand over the stubble on my face but decided to leave it. The hair never grew very long anyway. You’d think after a couple hundred years a man could grow a bear. I brushed my teeth and dressed quickly before heading downstairs, certain Marina would be up any minute.
As I entered the study I snapped my fingers to start a fire. The fireplace burst to life lighting up the room in warmth and heat. I plopped on the stool by the table and nabbed my phone off the stack of books. It was never easy to go over the day’s news. The same ol same ol persecution, magical intolerance, etc. etc. It never changed and as long as the government was controlled by the witch hammer party it wouldn't.
Worse though I couldn't do anything about it. The balance was always my priority. While the sides were growing murky the barrier between magic and non-magic hadn't slipped and so I waited.  
As the sun broke through the living room shutters my stomach let out a long gurgle. I glanced toward the kitchen wishing that there was food already made and I didn't have to do the work myself.  Another growl reverberated through the room as if it knew I needed further encouragement. With a sigh I stood up and padded into the kitchen, the tile floors freezing my bare feet. With practiced maneuvers I started loaded up the coffee pot and inserted an English muffin into the toaster. A thump came through the kitchen and when I glanced out the door down the hallway Marina stood in the corridor one eye closed her hand pressed against her for head.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She gave me a noncommittal sound and entered the kitchen her eyes barely open.
“Did you hit the wall?” I asked.
She didn’t answer but bellied up to the counter to the coffee pot “Okay why is there no coffee?” I flipped the switch to start it and she groaned before plopping in a chair by the small scarred table in the corner of the kitchen. “I'm going to need coffee the function.” 
I nodded. “Understood.” 
She threw her head onto her arms. “No coffee.” Her voice came out muffled between her folded arms. 
“Got it coffee.” I started the kettle well for my own tea and as the pot whistled the coffee finished. Marine fairly leapt to grab a mug. She filled it then doctored the liquid with milk and sugar. 
I carefully waited until the zombie turned into something resembling a human before pressing her. “Anything else? Do you want some breakfast?” 
“No,” she said. “Just coffee.” 
“Do you eat food?” I prompted further. 
“Of course I eat food. I’m just not a breakfast person.” 
“What do you mean not a breakfast person.”
She shrugged sipping the coffee with her eyes closed. “I mean I just don't eat breakfast.”
I poured my tea and tossed in a bag. “When do you mean you don't breakfast. You mean you don't like bacon?” 
She shrugged. “Not particularly.” 
I grabbed her mug and put it on the counter. “Well it was nice knowing you.” 
Her eyes popped open. “What?” 
“I'm afraid you can't live here.”
“You’re messing with me.” 
But I didn't answer, instead stirred the tea in my cup.
“You can’t kick a person out of your house for not eating bacon.” 
I take a sip of the tea before crossing the kitchen to spreading jam on my English muffin. “It's my house I can kick people out for not eating bacon.” 
“You didn’t kick my mother out.” 
The flash of Marina’s mother's first day with me crashed into my head. Mary Beth was a strange one. 
“She was the vegetarian one, wasn't she?” I asked. 
Still as I said it I shuttered. “I don't know how a person could live their entire life without bacon.” 
“Don't let her hear you say that.” she said. 
“Oh she’s heard me say it plenty of times.” 
I crunch on the English muffin as she finished her coffee and refilled her cup for second time.
“So what's on the agenda today?” 
I shove the last few bites in my mouth and wipe my hands. “I figured we’d start with some basics. Besides the reading.” 
“Okay, you're the boss. What sort of basics did you have in mind?” she asked. 
“I figured we'd start with Newman's theories.” 
“Which are?” she prompted. 
“Did your mother not teach you anything?” 
She shrugged. “She figured you were going to teach me what I needed to know. She figured magic would have changed in the 30 years since you taught her.” 
I shook my head. “Magic never changes. No matter what. It's a part of this world. Harnessing it will always be the same.
“Okay.” she said. 
I let out a sigh balancing my frustration. I always forgot how little patience I actually had when it came to teaching. “Close your eyes.” 
I nodded pointedly at her coffee mug. She sat it on the counter and closed her eyes, leaning hips back against the granite. “What am I doing here?” 
“Just keep your eyes closed.” I said. She kept them closed squeezing them tight now. 
“I want you think about your coffee mug right there beside you.” 
“Picture every detail. The words, think of the pictures on the mug.” 
“What if I didn’t get a good look at it?” she asked. I
I sighed and looked at the ceiling tiles. It wasn’t prayer it was me wondering if I could bring the lot of it down on us to end this lesson before it began. “Open your eyes.”
 She popped them open trying to appear the picture of innocence.
“This is part of the training. You have to be able to bring things to your mind this way. Studying the world carefully being able to recall it in your head that's part of magic.”
“Fine.” She said picking up the mug. She spent time looking at it before turning it around her palm like a wounded baby bird, carefully scrutinizing each side.
 She sat it down and closed her eyes again.
“Are you ready this time?” I asked. 
She nodded. 
“okay picture the mug in your mind.”
She squeezed her eyes shut her nose wrinkling up slightly with the effort. 
“I want you picture coffee in the mug.” 
“But there's no coffee.” she said. 
“I know it’s empty right now. Picture what it would look like with coffee in it. Think about it. Put coffee in the mug.” 
She let out a chuckle that sounded like an escaped bubble. “If this works you might be my favorite person in the entire world.” 
“Just focus,” I said. 
She let out a breath and squeezed her palms together snapping her fingers before settling in. She stood silent and still. I watched the mug carefully. Nothing. A full five minutes, that felt like an hour passed. 
“Okay open your eyes. Take a look in the mug.” 
She pushed off the counter and peered inside. “It's empty.” 
“I know.” 
“So what was the point?”
 “The point,” I offer, “was one, to see if you can actually do it. Two to assess what we are going to need work on to improve your magical abilities. And three, I just wanted to screw with you.” 
She crossed her arms over her chest and gave me a look. “It's too early for you to be messing with me. I may not be able to do magic but I can knee you in the balls.”
I stepped back. “You wouldn't dare.” 
“Mess with me again before I am properly caffeinated and you'll find out.”
I eyed her warily doubting she would actually do it before exiting the kitchen into the study. I heard the coffee pot scrape along its base before her footsteps followed me down the hallway. She sat on the same stool she did the day before and watched me over the rim of her coffee mug.
“Was that all your planned torture?” she asked. 
I shook my head. “Of course not. We have a lot of training to cover and a short amount of time.”
 “What for?”
“I need you to be ready, as my familiar.”
“Ready for what?” 
“To help you restore the balance.”
“The balance of what”
“Christ.” I press my palms into the stainless steel trying to ground my anger into the metal. “You mean your mother didn't tell you about these things?” 
She let out a sigh forcing the breath out of her nose. “She gave me the basics but it's different coming from you.” 
“What’s that mean?” I asked. 
“She gave me her opinion, and her point of view. Now I'm asking you your opinion and your point of view.” 
It was fair enough question. “My opinion is that were on the brink of war.” 
“With whom?” 
“The world is on the brink of war. Magic and the balance are constantly fighting. With Witch’s Hammer in power things are getting worse. The balance is starting to crumble. I can feel it. Any day I'm expecting it shift and I'm going to have to take action.” 
“What sort of action?”
“I don't know, it depends on the amount of damage and what exactly causes the shift.”
“What could cause the shift?”
“I won't know until it happens.” 
Her forehead wrinkled. “That sounds awful.” 
I shrugged. “Did you ever hear of the black plague?”
She stared. “You’re joking.”
I shrugged. “If you finished the book I gave you yesterday you’d know the answer that question.”
“You can't expect me to have read this book one night.” She shifted it across the table with her finger. 
“Nonsense. You're going to have to read fast. I can feel things changing. Your mother and your grandmother might not have had to fight or even do much to help me but I know it in my bones that you will.” 
“That's kind of scary.” 
“I will teach you the same things that I taught them but to them it was just theory to you that might be action.” 
She tripped on the stool and I could tell I was scaring her. But I couldn't lie about the situation.
“What happens if the balance is lost when you don't have a familiar?” She asked. 
I shrugged. “The last familiar came back in action and helped me until the crisis was over.”
“What if that familiar is dead? 
“You mean what if someone in your family is dead?” 
She shrugged. “What if I'm dead?” 
I could see a slight panic beginning in her face. I reached out and grabbed her wrist in my hand. “Look at me.” 
“I will keep you safe.” 
She swallowed audibly and then nodded. I released her hand and she trailed her fingers along the book spine pulling it towards her. “I guess I better get reading then.” She flipped open the book to the bookmark she’d stuck in there the previous day. 
I grabbed a book off my own stack and opened it in front of me while clutching my tea. The room dissolved into the silence of the fire popping.
* * *
When the clock echoed with noon I glanced across the worktable to find Marina still absorbed in her book. She was hunched over in a position I could never be comfortable, face pressed to her hands which balanced on her elbows on either side of the tome.
“Are you hungry?” I asked. She didn't answer.
“Are you hungry?” I raised my voice. 
She jerked almost falling face first on the book. “No I'm not hungry.” 
“Are you sure?” I asked as her stomach let out a loud grumble. She sat up and put her hands on her belly.
“Okay maybe I'm a little hungry.” 
“I can make something.” I suggested. 
She nodded and lifted her arms overhead to stretch. “This is all you do every day?”
“Most the time, yes. There's not much call for magic outside my home these days.”
“Did you used to leave your house to do magic?”
I nodded. “Most the time it was a routine healing or a portal spell. Your basic stuff. But once the Witch’s Hammer took over all that changed. They were afraid to reach out to me or ask for help. Now I barely get any calls or requests. When I do it's usually big stuff, things that require more energy and more skill.”
I considered the last time someone called me. “Well, the last time I was contacted my services were requested it was after a hanging.” 
Marina blinked. “You mean the hanging of a witch?”
I nodded. “Apparently the witch had left something for her family but they couldn't figure out how to get the information. So they requested my services.”
“What did you do for that? You bring her back from the dead?”
I started. “I don't even have that kind of power.” 
She shrugged. “I don't know what kind of power you do or don't have.”
“Fair enough. No I contacted her using an Ouija board to get the information.”
“What was the message?” she asked. 
“The witch had a son.” 
Marina blinked. “The witch had as son nobody else knew about?”
I nodded. “She did. He lived with his father, but she feared he was beginning to show magic and didn't want him to end up like her. So she left the clue for family but they weren't able to decode it.”
Marina leaned forward absorbed in the details. “And what happened?”
“I contacted the boy's father and he was given over to her family to raise.”
“The father just let them go?”
“He's likely still in contact with the son but it's safer for the boy if her family raises him.”
She dropped her head and I watched her closely trying to figure out the emotions going on. Connecting to my familiar, being able to understand her emotional range, helped us work better together. “What is it?” I asked.
She glanced up. “Oh nothing. I just can't imagine how hard it was. That boy growing up with his father and not knowing about magic and suddenly living with his mom's family learning about it.”
“It happens all the time. Bloodlines mingle and people don't know what is or was in their bloodline before. And then suddenly they get angry or scared and it bursts out.”
Marina nodded. “I’ve seen it on the news: people accused of witchcraft who had no previous history or experience with it. Can you do anything to help?”
I held up my hands. “I’m not sure what I could do. I can't make people stop using magic in public, nor can I protect those who don't know about their abilities because I don't know about their abilities.”
She shook her head. “I just feel like you’re the big magic in this area, there's got to be something we can do.”
I raised an eyebrow. “In this area?” 
She chuckled. “You know what I mean.”
I thought I knew what she meant but it pinged my ego a little to hear it. “What did you mean in this area?” I asked for clarification. 
She shrugged. “I just assumed that there were magicians in charge of certain areas that you couldn't cover everything.” 
Was that what her family was saying? Or was that something she picked up in her own extensive research? “What gave you that assumption?” I asked. 
She shook her head. “I don't know. It's just something I thought. That there was a sort of magical president of all of the areas.”
I shook my head no. “I am in charge of this realm. There others in charge of other realms, but as far as Earth goes I’m the one stop shop. I would have thought your family had explained all this to you before you arrived. That was their responsibility, to prepare you to the best of their ability before you came to me.”
“That seems like a lot of responsibility.” 
I noticed she didn’t comment on the other part of my tirade so I let it go too. It didn’t bode well if were fighting before we’d even really begun to work together. “As I said I don't have much to do these days.”
She nodded. “And where do I fall and all of this?” 
I regarded her. This young girl so new to the world and all its dangers. “As I mentioned last night you’re my right hand.”
She stared. Well, I'll do my best.” Her stomach let out a loud grumble and she laughed.
“How about we just start with lunch.” I offered.

**Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Midnight's Balance! Chapter One

Hello My Loves,

Anyone who follows me on social media would know I've had some issues lately. It sucks but I deal. The most recent was the craptastic uncoupling of my dropbox and my Scrivener. It resulted in losing a HUGE chunk of this book. Instead of rushing through trying to get it all done in record time I decided to cancel the pre-order and just go ahead and keep going at a pace I can handle. BUT...that means some disappointed readers. I'm sorry about that. make it up to you...I'm going to release Midnight's Balance chapter by chapter here on my blog. You can read it here and once I've finished it I'll compile it and post it on all retailers for FREE so you can have it at home for yourself too.

Let's do this. Be kind they are NOT professionally edited. I'll get it done before I compile though.

Chapter One

“If you take another Instagram snap, I’m going to feed you to the alligator.”
She didn’t acknowledge the threat, but waved glitter tipped fingers in my direction, and continued tapping her phone in a blaze of glory.
For the first time in 300 years, I was struck speechless by a familiar…on her first day no less.
I snatched the slim rose gold device from her palms, and a full two seconds passed before its absence registered.
Kids these days owned multiple electronics branded with the same tiny apples, which made me wonder if Hades himself might discover the logo stamped on their souls when they selfied their way to the Underworld.
When Marina reached out to snatch the phone from my hands, I stepped backward and smirked as she smacked face first into the wards guarding my threshold.
Instead of stopping, as I expected, she delved her fingers through the invisible shield and ripped it open, like split mesh on a screen door.
She raised one perfectly plucked eyebrow and met my probably quizzical gaze. It had been far too long since someone was brave enough to look me in the eye, let along go full on Tombstone.
I finally conceded, as my toes were starting to freeze from the winter chill wafted in around her small frame. “Come in.”
She shuffled into the entry way and reached back for her suitcase, it banging against her knees before she set it down on the hardwood floor. A shiver went through her, but I knew her family too well to think she was affected by the cold. So many of her generation lived in my house, she was feeling all of their magic in my wards.
I skirted around her, and her voluminous coat, toward the study just off the entry way. “Once you rid yourself of five or six layers you can join me in the study.”
She entered, the echo of her boots on the hardwood competing with the crackling fire. “This is...intimidating.”
I glanced around my work space before depositing her phone on the top of a chair. Books piled high from one corner to the other, not to mention the ones on the shelves lining an entire wall floor to ceiling. A lab table was set up in the middle of the room, plants with heat lamps hanging from the ceiling above it. 
“I didn’t expect you to have a computer,” she said, from behind a maroon tufted high-back chair.
“A what?”
She picked up the MacBook and shook it in the air. “Computer, you have  a laptop...I didn’t expect you to have one.
I shrugged and plopped in the chair to continue grinding the herb concoction I made earlier. “Your mother got it for me. It comes in handy as a paperweight from time to time.”
She chuckled and approached the workspace. “What’s that? A spell, ritual, demon banishment?”
I clinked the pestle on the edge of the mortar to knock of lingering herbs. “It’s something far more important than that.”
Leaning in her eyes widened staring into the bowl. “Oh?”
I matched her stance as if were conspiring. “It’s my morning tea.”
She blinked and stepped back. “Are you messing with me?”
I pushed the mortar toward her. “Smell it. Tell me what’s in it.”
With a withering glance she grabbed it and brought it to her nose. She took a short sniff then a long one. “I’m not sure. I think lavender, and rose hip, but I don’t know what the spicy one is.”
“Roobios,” I said.
She made a face. “Why the floral with the spicy?”
“Do I ask you why the pajama pants and fuzzy boots? No.”
Her pale cheeks took on a pink hue as she crossed her arms under her breasts. “Fine. you want me to start some water?”
I glanced up at her from over the table top. Not in 200 years had anyone offered to make tea for me. “Please, the kettle is on the back burner.” I pointed toward the hallway to the kitchen.
She spun and  left and I watched her go. A pretty little thing, like all the women in her family. But, training a new familiar was tough work. Especially in the midst of magical turmoil. I glanced at the radio, now silent, but before Marina’s arrival it had been blaring magical hate speech for an hour. I didn’t particularly enjoy listening to things like that, but know your enemy, as they say.
Times were changing. It was getting more difficult to hide anything from anyone. And with big brother hanging over everyone’s shoulder it was even worse. A witch burned at the stake only a month ago after she used magic to save a bus load of people from an armed gunman. Her reward: turned to ash. 
The guilt threatened to choke me. I let out a long sigh and shuffled some books stacked on the side of my table. I hadn’t been in my home realm at the time of the burning, or I could have saved her. 
I stacked the books in front of me, spine to spine like the vertebrates on a human.
Marina reentered the room with a tea cup steaming with water. “I didn’t put anything in it. You don’t look like a milk or sugar man.”
I accepted the hot ceramic carefully cradling it in my palms, the heat sinking into my stiff and sore fingertips. Old age has its pitfalls even if I didn’t look a day over 40.
“You look tired,” she said, pulling the stack of books toward her. 
I watched her carefully. A pithy remark hanging on my tongue. “Do you always comment on people’s appearance five years after meeting them?”
She seemed unphazed by my tone. “No, of course not, but I feel like I’ve known you all my life. In my house it’s always John did this and John did that.”
She lined the stack back up as I had it and shifted it back toward me. 
I sipped the tea and waited to see if she was one of those people who could tolerate silence. When I offered nothing else she turned and wandered to the bookcase caressing some of the titles gently.
“How long have you lived here?”
I glanced at my watch. We made it a whole eight minutes without speaking. Not bad for the first day.
“I’ve lived in this house about eighty years or so.”
She spun around, a wide grin on her face. “I knew you were old, and I knew you never looked your age from the stories my mom told me, but hearing it from you is so weird.”
What was I supposed to say to that?
I decided to remain silent on that one. She shrugged and continued down the line of books stopping to read each carefully. A vibration sounded through the room and I shook myself. My phone was vibrating in my pocket. I slipped it out and glanced at the screen. A twitter alert had popped up.
“Was that you?”
I held it up and then plopped it on the edge of another stack of books. “Just Twitter.”
“You are on Twitter?”
“How else am I supposed to know when shit hits the fan? About the only useful thing it can do. Humans have a weird habit of videotaping and tagging before running for their lives.”
“Well...accurate assessment.”
She pulled her phone out. “I’m totally going to follow you on Twitter. What’s your username? Wait let me guess: @magicman1785 or is it @badasssorcerer1922?”
I waited for her to finish. 
She glanced up, caught my expression, and folded her lips under trying to hide the smile. 
“I’ll tell you what. If you figure out my handle, I’ll even follow you back.”
“Challenge accepted, Old Man.” Her thumbs took up a furious pace on the iPhone larger than her head.
I sat back leaning the weight on the stool into my feet hooked into the wrung below. Her blonde hair shone orange from one side from the firelight at the end of the room. I took a sip of my tea and closed my eyes letting her aura filter in. It was like trying to reach out and grab a black hole. Whatever her power it was stronger than any woman in her family yet, and null, completely devoid of magic, like magic turned inside out.
I opened my eyes to find her staring at me. “Are you alright? You’re not going to like die on my first day right? Cause I’d never live that down.”
I chuckled against my will and sipped my tea before answering. “I’m fine. Tell me what your gift is?”
She straightened from leaning across the table, the glitter in her nail polish catching the light. “Well, I’m immune to magic. Any and all magic. Has no affect.”
“How do you know any and all magic?”
She shrugged. “They tested me.”
“Who tested you? You mother and grandmother?”
She shrugged and turned back to the books. 
“Is this something you aren’t supposed to tell me because it will make me hunt those girl down and give them a good scolding?”
She laughed. “I can’t imagine anyone scolding my Grandmother.”
“Oh, it’s happened, on numerous occasions. I still call her up and grumble at her when I need my copy of Demonica that she destroyed.”
“I suppose it was an accident. Doesn’t replace the only copy to exist on Earth. I suggest she journey to hell for a new copy but she wasn’t too keen on that idea.”
She blinked and I maintained a neutral expression. “You’re joking right?”
“Am I?” 
I grabbed a book off the stack and pushed it toward her. “Start here.”
She tilted the spine up. “Magical History of the Americas?”
“You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.”
She pushed up her sleeves and opened the book. “Alright Gandi.”
My home resumed its usual quiet ease now that Marina was finished vocalizing every opinion that entered her mind. I sat in silence. The crackle of the fire accompanying errant page flutters as Marina read the book I assigned her. I held my mug of green tea between my palms and studied her in the quiet. A state that didn't seem altogether natural for her. She read carefully, her eyebrows knitted together close. I wondered if she might need glasses, or maybe she already had them but they were in a bag and didn’t want to retrieve them. Or maybe it was something to do with vanity.
I continued watching her. I needed to learn everything about this woman, my safety, and hers, depended on it. I needed to know what her mother and grandmother taught her as well as her own natural abilities, which seemed to be like a great magical black hole. I considered lobbing spells at her just to see if anything would work but I nixed that idea pretty quickly. Something could happen then she would die and her mother would blame me and I would never hear the end of that.
I watched her and waited just to see if something would happen. The intensity she was studying the book I expected it to catch on fire any second but it didn’t. A few moments passed and she glanced up. “Why are you staring at me?”
I shrugged and took a sip of my tea before answering. “I’m just trying to figure you out.”
She slapped the book closed. “Oh, do you have any specific questions?”
“Not really. More so I'm wondering exactly what you know and what you think you know.”
She took on the same amused expression that she had what she was reading. “I'm not sure what you mean.”
I put the mug down and leaned forward bracing my weight onto my elbows. “What I mean is: I need to know how much you actually know, how much your mother, your grandmother, and whoever else taught you, and how much you taught yourself. I need to know how much you were taught versus how much you know.”
She led a long sigh but didn't answer. I waited, you could tell a lot about a person by their necessity for silence or acquiescence to it. A minute passed then she nodded. “First, repeating the word with a different vocal stressor will not make me understand it any more. Secondly, how do you assess my knowledge properly?”
I shrugged. “I don't really, I just sort of watch you until I figure out what you do know and what you don't know.”
“That’s very scientific.”
“This isn’t science. It is magic.”
She rolled her eyes and mumbled, “okay” before pulling the book back. She flipped it open exaggeratedly, and not to the same place she’d been reading before. She ducked her head back to the pages and I let her retreat—this time.
I continued watching her. “I recognize that look you know.”
She didn’t look up. “I don't know what you mean.”
I pointed not that she could see it. “I mean the look on your face. I’ve seen it a thousand times before.”
She glanced up this time. “You are referring to my family.” It wasn’t a question but a statement.
I nodded “I can't even tell you how many times your mother gave me that look.”
The ghost of a smile played at the corner of her lips. “She did tell me how frustrating you are.”
I inclined my head. “Life with me isn’t an easy one.”
She nodded. “She told me that too.”
“And what your grandmother have to say?”
She averted her eyes, studiously looking everywhere but at me. “My grandmother didn't say much.”
I nodded. “I would expect so.”
“Why is that?”
“Because your grandmother was in love with me.”
She didn't answer immediately, but it took a few moments of thought. “Maybe you're just full of yourself.”
“Maybe.” I supplied. An attempted at keeping some semblance of peace between us. After all, it was the first day. Can't break the familiar on her first day. It’s in the manual.
“I have to admit I wondered…”
“About what?”
She shook her head. “I shouldn't. It’s not my place to ask questions like that.”
I sighed and picked up my mug. Many times in my life it had been a barrier between me and an irate woman. “What? Ask your question. If you always wonder whether you should ask things or not, then you won’t ask the important questions when you need to.”
She stared at me again. “You’re giving me free reign to ask you anything?”
I shrugged. “I don't have anything to hide.”
She tilted her chin up in defiance. “Did you sleep with my grandmother?”
I chuckled. “No, despite her attempts we never slept together.”
This time she narrowed her eyes. “Are you lying?”
I shook my head. “Why would I lie? Again I have nothing to hide. Your grandmother was a lovely woman. We spent 25 years together same as all of the women in your family, and then she left just like your mother, just like her mother before her. Just like you will.”
“Does it hurt?” she asked.
The question confused me. “Does what hurt?”
“Having to say goodbye to each of us. Having a family for 25 years at a time.”
I swallowed the emotion that threatened to surface. “Don't get confused you're not my family.”
Something hard under her eyes. “I’ve heard that speech before.”
“Did your mother prepare it?” I asked.
She flipped her cotton candy hair over her shoulder and stared back down at the book. I assumed the conversation was over for now. A pound at the door interrupted the meditative silence I was starting to resume.
“Expecting company?”
She didn't answer and I stood up and headed towards the door. I don’t often have guests or visitors for that matter. I opened the door and on the other side was a beast of a man my head barely reached his collarbone.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
He shuffled from side to side shoving his meaty hands in his pockets as the snow dusted his shoulders. “I’m here for Marina”
I leaned back from the door = and glanced at her still sitting at table absorbed in the book, or at least pretending to be.
“You are here for Marina.” I repeated, not a question.
Marina slipped a piece of paper into the book and snapped it shot before standing. She adjusted her shirt and the waistband of her pants before approaching the door. She peered around the corner carefully and her eyes and face lit up in a smile. “Bruce, you came.”
I cast a glance between both of them. “Bruce?” I asked.
She turned to me. “He's my boyfriend.”
“That does not explain why he standing on my doorstep.”
“He's here to help me move in.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Move in where?”
She gave me a look like I’d lost my mind. “Here.” She motioned around the house, or rather the doorway.
I laughed. “What exactly do you need to move-in?”
She shrugged. “Stuff.”
Bruce took a step forward and stopped exactly at the threshold. “Ah, this is one of those things,” he commented.
I took exception to that. “What things?”
He leaned in as far as he could into the barrier of the door and whispered, “magic.”
I snapped my fingers and release the ward. He fell forward his face and palms meeting hardwood with a smack.

Marina knelt down beside him and clutch his arm attempting to help him up.
“I have rules you know.” I stated, staring down at both of them.
She didn’t glance up. “Well obviously not manners though.”
She got Bruce to his feet and I surveyed him. Taller than me wider than me. I couldn't picture how they could be together. Her so small and him so large. “Get the stuff and get quick,” I snapped, heading back into the study.
I braced my hands on stainless steel work table and took long deep calming breaths. I didn’t like people in my home, I didn't like people interrupting my routine, and I certainly didn't like people violating my sacred space. It was bad enough having Marina here interrupting everything but to have her boyfriend here now…someone I didn't know, a stranger outside of the family. I took another calming breath and sat on the stool and picked up my tea. The sound of creaking floor boards and shuffling came from entryway and I tried to ignore it. I turned my back to them and faced the fire.
Women. They were all the same, always had stuff things they needed to bring, something to do. I took a sip of the tea and stared into the fire. Maybe it was just these women. The Paget woman. They always had more stuff than it seemed possible to have. But Marina was the first to bring an outsider into my home. I took another calming breath and focused again on the fire watching the flames dance. I focused my power, my aggression, and anger and tossed it into the fire. It jumped brightly for a moment burning but then calmed and simmered just like my anger. An unsettled sorcerer was never a good thing. I learned to control my emotions a long time ago. At least after the initial spark of anger, or outrage, or whatever emotion. The hot ones seemed to be the only ones that got out of control. The fire continued to spark and dance and I continue to watch it and studiously ignore the sounds coming from the entryway. After the door closed solidly, and footsteps approached the study again I snapped my fingers putting the wards back in place hoping everybody was outside who really needed to be.
Marina plopped in the stool across the table. “Are you okay?”
I nodded and swiveled on the stool to face her. “Yes, I'm fine, thank you.”
“Look I wasn't trying to cause problems. I just had some to carry in.”
I held up my hands. “I could help to carry it.”
She chuckled. “From everything my mom said you're not the physical labor type of guy. Bruce, while stupid, is pretty good that sort of thing.”
That piqued my curiosity. Why was she even with him if she didn’t even like him? “How long have you two been together?”
She shrugged. “long enough.”
“Is it serious?” I asked, wondering how she was going to be able to spend 25 years living with me if they were.
She shook her head. “No he’s convenient when he is needed but otherwise he's not around.”
“That doesn’t seem fair to him.”
“He knows I have a duty. From now on…you’re the only man in my life.”

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Breathless Cover Reveal by Jessica Bayliss

A brush with death brings Leah closer to the ghosts she longs to find and throws her into the arms of the troubled scuba instructor who saves her.
Dale, an Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran, is haunted by his own restless spirits. He's on a hunt for forgiveness, and the Caribbean Sea is his hunting ground.

The peace they search for lies in the bond they never suspected they shared.

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