Magical Midlife Love (Leveling Up #4) - K.F. Breene


Who was coming to stab me?

I stood stock-still next to the newly closed winery tasting room at the end of the town’s main street, wrapping my gargoyle magic around me like Jasper had taught me, trying to blend into the building. Hard-eyed men and women walked down the sidewalk on the other side of the street, their movements full of lethal grace. It didn’t take a genius to know they were part of Austin’s budding pack.

Was one of them wielding the knife?

An older woman walked down the sidewalk my way, and I controlled my breathing and sucked in my gut, pushing against the wall. Neither of those things were necessary for the gargoyle magic to kick in, but given I couldn’t get the hang of disappearing, I figured it wouldn’t hurt.

The strap of her purse slung across her full breasts and rested on the side of her soft stomach. Each relaxed hand was empty. No weapons were strapped to her thighs or her back. Not like that was a normal thing in the middle of town, but still…

Out of shape, older, no weapons—she didn’t look dangerous. Which made her exactly the sort of person Jasper would hand a knife to and set on my trail. The rules I’d created for this particular training exercise were brutal. If whomever Jasper had set on me found me, I’d have to just stand there like an idiot while they jabbed me in a spot my magic could heal. I’d had Jasper pick the assailant so I wouldn’t be able to cheat and hide if I saw them coming.

The two people he’d chosen for the previous weeks had found me, and their apologies hadn’t meant much when the knife was going in. This was my third attempt.

I would do it this time, I could feel it!

The woman paused two buildings down. I concentrated a little harder on blending into my surroundings. My stomach churned.

Jasper had said I’d get a feeling in my gut—was this it? Or was I just anxious about getting stabbed?

She bent to a half wine barrel filled with blooming zinnias, marigolds, and morning glories; bright pops of color. Spring was moving into O’Briens, soft and sweet and lovely. Spring break was next week, and my son was coming to stay.

I hadn’t seen Jimmy in person in over six months. A wave of excitement rolled through me, but I squashed it down, trying to focus.

“Well, well, well…”

I snapped my head away from the woman, only to see my nemesis approaching.

Sasquatch, whose real name I had forgotten in favor of the name I’d given him, had shaggy, greasy hair sticking out at all angles, a scraggly beard reaching down past his neck, and clothes covered in stains. He stopped near me, and the smell of feet wafted up from his well-worn black boots.

We’d been at odds since my first night in town—he’d made a disparaging comment to me at the bar, and Austin had punched him clear off his stool. The pattern had repeated itself plenty of times since.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Get out of here. I’m busy.”

“Busy with what? Standing around looking useless? You do that all the time; why is now any different?” His eyes darted to the older woman down the way, just straightening up.

Was Sasquatch in the know? Jasper usually picked my opponents from the bar, which was Sasquatch’s second home. Since no one willingly talked to him, he listened in on everyone else’s conversations. Maybe he’d heard Jasper hire the woman…

Regardless, I clearly needed to find a new place and try again. If this idiot could see me, the whole town could.

I stepped away from the wall. “Get out of my way.”

He stepped with me, a smug grin on his face.

My world drained of color as he reached around to his rear jeans pocket. His muscles loosened and then contracted, a pocketknife coming around in his stubby fingers. He pulled out the blade.

“Oh no,” I breathed, freezing. “No…”

I could magically blast him like a bug. I could unravel his skin from his bones and let his blood leak down onto the sidewalk. I’d been afraid of him once, but now that I’d mastered (most of) my Ivy House magic, he was nothing more than a nuisance.

Still, there were rules. I couldn’t retaliate.

A jack-o’-lantern grin slid across his face. “Oh yes. Yes.”

His knuckles whitened on the hilt.

“Why’d he pick you?” I asked through numb lips, looking between that knife, the blade a bit dirty and rusted, and his