Midlife Demon Hunter – Shannon Mayer

What happened when a bigfoot was in love with a fairy who regarded him only as a friend, and a siren was falling hard for the bigfoot who didn’t notice her? That might sound like the start to a joke, but it didn’t feel so funny from my perspective in the middle of what had become a daily soap opera of sad puppy dog eyes and unrequited love. I stood by the sink in my gran’s house, watching as Eric, said bigfoot shifter, bent in front of the oven. We were into April in Savannah in a house that lacked air conditioning, and the open windows didn’t make it any cooler since the oven was constantly on. But Eric persisted baking in this heat because . “You know I bake when I’m stressed,” he said under his breath. “What do I do, Bree? How do I get her to see me?” Yes, the irony was not lost on me that the bigfoot who was the current hide-and-seek champion of the world wanted to be seen. By a wee tiny fairy. “Good grief, you’re asking me for love advice? Have you noticed the mess I’m in?” I snorted and dunked my hands back into the soapy water, viciously attacking a series of cupcake molds that had blackened with all the baking he’d been doing. I’d been ignoring a lot of things the last week, not least of all the envelope holding information on my gran’s and parents’ deaths. Procrastination, thy name is Breena O’Rylee. I’d almost opened it a dozen times, but every time I picked it up, I found myself putting it down. I’d get around to it, I would. Just .

not yet. It would be opening a whole new can of worms. So I was putting it off as long as I could and enjoying this short respite from the craziness that had become my life. “But you’re navigating your love life better than I’m handling mine. At least the men you’re interested in realize you have intentions toward them. Kinkly doesn’t look at me that way. Ever. I might as well be a talking tree to her.” He stood up straight, barely missing the oven hood with the top of his head. One look at himself ought to have clued him in to the problem—he was over seven feet tall, and Kinkly, tiny fairy that she was, fit in the palm of my hand. A counselor by trade, Eric had the college professor look down to a T, from the bowtie at his neck to the khaki pants and leather loafers, and with that background you’d think he could see the issues he and Kinkly would face. I sighed, thinking about what he’d said and circling back to my own love-life issues.

“First of all, I’m not interested in either of them.” Yes, I could feel that lie even as I said it. “I just got out of a crappy marriage, and I’d like to play the field a little. Date men who aren’t difficult. Men who don’t have secrets. Is that too much to ask?” I scrubbed a little harder at the pans, not sure if I believed my own words. “Besides, if you haven’t noticed, Crash has stayed away for over a week without contacting any of us, even Feish, and now she’s getting fussy about him being ‘missing.’ And Corb still hasn’t come by to apologize for coming on so strongly while he was under those mages’ spell. Neither one is ringing any of my bells. Really, at this rate, Robert has a better shot than either of them.

” A laugh burst out of Eric. He fumbled the pan he’d just retrieved from the oven, and a croissant slid off and bounced on the floor. I dried my hands and scooped up the flaky pastry, hopping it from hand to hand, blowing at it and tearing off pieces while it was still too hot to eat. I didn’t care. The minor burns were worth the flavor. “The skeleton would make a better date?” Eric carefully set the first pan on the counter. “You’re kidding me, right?” I grinned up at him and winked. “He likes to drink whiskey with me, never fails to show up when I’m in need, and doesn’t try to boss me around. Right now, aside from the fact that he’s dead and nothing more than an animated skeleton, he’s the perfect man.” He wasn’t bad looking either.

Back in the day, I mean. I’d finally seen Robert—predeath Robert—during my own death-adjacent experience last week. Jet black hair, icy blue eyes that had some serious intensity to them, and a lean build—he made a nice package, all in all. Of course, he wasn’t alive, so no point in crying over spilled milk. Or in this case, crying over a skeleton. Eric put another pan down and bent at the waist so we were eye to eye. “You mean, maybe I should find a skeleton woman?” “I could ask Robert if he has a sister,” I drawled, then popped the last of the croissant into my mouth. “But seriously, if you like Kinkly, tell her. The worst she’s going to say is she’s not interested. The best is that she might say, yeah, let’s try this thing on for size.

” You might wonder why I didn’t tell him that the more appropriately sized part-siren was interested in him. Simply put, she had asked me not to. Suzy wanted him to like her for her, something she’d never had in a relationship before. In the past, she had always spelled the men she was interested in—forcing them to be with her whether they wanted to or not. Without using her siren compulsion, she was as shitty at relationship stuff as Eric. The upside? Nobody had a broken heart yet. Yet being the operative word. I didn’t think Kinkly would be hurt—she was oblivious to Eric’s affections. He wasn’t wrong that she seemed to view him as a piece of the scenery more than anything else, perching on his shoulders or the top of his head for better vantage points. It was Eric and Suzy who had me worried.

Really, you’d think it would be simple, but damn it, I knew from firsthand experience that love and matters of the heart were far from simple. Let me see if I could put my own drama in a nutshell. I was a forty-one—chasing forty-two—year-old divorcee. My ex-husband, who I most commonly refer to as Himself but was otherwise known as Alan (You know the superstition about evil being summoned when you use its name? Well, I believed it.) took me for everything in the divorce, including my gran’s house, which he sold out from under me. I was pretty sure he used someone in the shadow world to help him doctor documents and get them shoved through the legal system. It was the only thing that made sense. Plus, he’d tried to break into Gran’s house to steal her book of spells and the talisman she’d given me. From there, we go to Corb, Alan’s black sheep cousin. Younger than me by more than a handful of years, buff as they come with smoldering dark green eyes and everything you’d want in a bad boy, right down to the cupboards full of so much lube, he could have an orgy and not run out.

Anyhoo, he’d inadvertently offered me a place to stay while I got back on my feet after the divorce, and to his surprise—and maybe even my own—I’d taken him up on the offer. And he’d kissed me, and I’d slept—platonically—in his bed one night all curled up next to him. Cue the sighing. Enter the third and final player in my little love-life drama. Crash. One hot hunk of a fae blacksmith who had also, at one point, been the fae king. He’d made the knives I carried to keep me and Savannah safe, and I’d seen his bare ass more than once. And did I mention that his kisses set my body on fire like I was melting from the inside out? Panty-melting indeed. The thing was I knew when I was playing out of my league. Because I’d also seen Crash at a fae party joint where he’d had a beautiful girl under each arm.

Girls, not women. So I knew his type, and I was not it by a long shot, by at least twenty years. And yet, he’d given Gran’s house back to me (sort of—his name was still on the title too), and I’d heard him and Gran talk about me while I was asleep. Still, he’d been gone for a week, and every doubt I’d had about him had come crashing back. Wordplay intended. On top of it all, I had no real desire to choose between the two men. There was a part of me that very much enjoyed flirting with both. What can I say? It had been a long time since I’d felt this much sexual chemistry, and my mature libido was out of control and pushing me to keep my options open. “Hello, earth to Breena,” Eric waved a hand in front of my face. “You in there?” “Sorry, wandered off in my head, fell off the path, and got sucked down the hole of where the hell did I go wrong in my own love life?” I laughed, turned, and dunked my hands back into the soapy water.

“Just tell Kinkly,” I said again. “That’s the best way to find out. And then you can move on if it isn’t a fit.” Which it literally could be in so many ways. He sighed. “I know you’re right. Of course I do. I just never thought it would be so hard to tell someone how you feel.” “What would you suggest to one of your clients?” I asked. From where I stood, I stared out the window at the house next door.

Eric answered, but his voice slid into something of a drone, a buzzing that filled my ears as I fixated on the eyes that could only belong to Matilda. The ghost had tried to push her way into Gran’s house last week, but we’d managed to keep her out since then by maintaining the garden and the protective spells Gran had laid on the house via the plants. Unfortunately, it didn’t keep Matilda from watching us. Which was what the freaky neighbor ghost was doing now. She stared at me from the window of the Sorrel-Weed house, clear as day . until she disappeared. One of the windows on the upper floor of the infamous house seemed to flicker. I leaned over the sink to see better, and there she was on the second floor, looking at our house again. I found myself turning away from Eric and hurrying out of the kitchen. “I’ll be back, hang on a second.

” Up the stairs I went with only a slight twinge in my right knee. No matter that I was getting stronger every day, that knee was being a pig about not hurting. I used the banister to help me get to the top of the stairs faster, then hobble-jogged to the windows on that side of the house. I ducked into the first room, which was now Suzy’s. She wasn’t there—she and Feish were out shopping. The window didn’t line up with any in the house next door. I ducked into the next room, which was Gran’s. “Bingo,” I said softly as I strode in. Matilda stared into the room, her eyes on mine, her face sad. She lifted a palm to the glass and pressed her hand against it.

“What does she want?” Gran appeared by my side and glowered at the other ghost. Like two dogs stuck in adjacent apartments, they had taken to barking back and forth on a daily basis. They seemed to genuinely dislike each other. But this was different than the usual. Matilda had never come up to this window before. She’d mostly stayed in the lower levels of her house. She pointed at us, then made a slashing motion across her neck at Gran. Gran lifted both fists, her long skirts swinging with the motion. “Matilda, stop being a bitch!” I fake gasped and put a hand to my chest. “Gran! I can’t believe you cussed at her.

” “Ah, well.” She turned from the window with a final wave of her hand, like a queen dismissing the court. “It’s not like she can hear me. And she really is being a tyrant lately, trying to draw me out of the house so I’ll engage with her.” She strode away, her form going transparent in a splash of sunlight, then solidifying again as she stepped into the shadows. I was lucky, so very lucky, I still had her with me. She’d died seven months prior, and I hadn’t been able to even attend her funeral— courtesy of Himself. I’d thought I’d lost my last chance to talk to her, to lean on her advice, to tell her I loved her. But I’d found her here in the house we’d lived in together. I turned back to the window, fully expecting Matilda to be gone.

But she wasn’t. Her eyes locked with mine, because like Gran, she knew I could see her. Worse, she’d been joined by a much darker figure that cast a shadow on her from behind. Long spindly fingers wrapped around her upper body, digging into her spectral flesh and slowly pulling her deeper into the darkness of the house. The malevolence of the deliberately slow movements, the look of fear and horror etched into Matilda’s eyes, the lack of fight in her—it all sent chills through me that left my knees a little wobbly. This certainly hadn’t happened before. “Duck me,” I whispered as I stepped back, too, away from the window. On second thought . I reached forward and grabbed the sash, pulling the curtains closed, blocking the view of Matilda and her new friend that I didn’t want to meet, never mind see. Gran had never mentioned a darker entity next door.

Sure, the supernatural world wasn’t new to me, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t affected by it, or the special shades of ugliness that occasionally popped into my line of view. I didn’t realize I’d backed all the way out of my gran’s room and into mine across the hall until my hand touched the side table by my door. My fingers brushed against the yellow manila envelope that lay there. The one I’d meant to open a week ago—and several times since—but like I said earlier, every time I picked it up, I seemed to chicken out at the last second. My eyes were locked on the window across from me, even though I could no longer see Matilda or the critter pulling her into the darkness. I slowly picked up the envelope and pulled it to my chest as if it would somehow block them from seeing me. The envelope felt heavier than it actually was, a literal weight in my hands. “You’re freaking yourself out,” I muttered as I backed up the last few steps and shut the door. The minute the barrier was in place the tension slid out of me. As if I’d cut off prying eyes.

I shuddered. “I gotta ask Robert if he can get rid of her,” I mumbled to myself. A tap on the door about stopped my heart. I took a step back, crouched, and peered under the oversized crack at the bottom. Shadows of a pair of feet, nothing more. If it had been any of my friends, they would have announced themselves. Who the hell had broken into my house this time with Eric downstairs? “What in the world are you doing?” Gran said behind me, and I squeaked . and maybe peed myself a little. “Damn it,” I whispered. “I’m trying to see who’s out there.

” “Well, isn’t it obvious? You said his name. It’s Robert. He’s like a damn golden retriever. Irritating as Matilda if you ask me,” Gran grumped and promptly walked past me, through the door and out of view. I frowned after her. “Who put a murder hornet in your panties?” I muttered after her. I opened the door up to see the swaying form of Robert. His long dark hair hid his face, and the rags he wore—if he could be said to be wearing anything—covered his literal skeletal frame. Enough so that if you didn’t look too hard, you wouldn’t notice that he was a skeleton. If indeed you could even see him.

Like Gran, he didn’t seem to be visible to everyone. “Robert, what are you doing here?” Was Gran right? Was just saying his name enough to pull him in from his hiding spot? I usually left him outside in the garden. He liked it under the new, larger-than-it-should-have-been oak tree, although maybe it was something about the magic of the fae relic buried beneath it that spoke to him. He reached out a finger and tapped the yellow envelope. No questions, just a tap of a single finger bone, followed by a waggle of said bone. “Yeah, I know. I know! Okay, I should open it and see what it says, right?” I nodded even though I didn’t want to open it. Robert tapped the envelope again. I sighed. “Fine, I’m opening it.

Don’t get pushy.” “Friend,” Robert said. “Friend,” I said as I put my finger to the opening of the envelope that held not only information on my gran’s death, but on my parents’ deaths thirty years ago. The minute I opened it, this quiet we’d been enjoying would be gone—I just knew it. Whatever darkness was trying to dig into Savannah would wake up, like peeling back the curtains and staring into the eyes of a demon. I shuddered and shook my head. “Like a Band-Aid, just rip it open,” I whispered.

.

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