The number of milliseconds it takes a brain to react when going from a dead sleep to registering that the person in bed with you is about to kill you? Less than one. How do I know this? Because Xandra has just pulled a month’s worth of magic and I seem to be the target.

Simultaneously pulling magic and getting out of bed as fast as I can, I growl, “What are you doing?!”

Sitting up with her green eyes wide, she looks at me and says, “Oops, I forgot you were here. I woke up a little nervous because someone else was in bed with me.” If I was not this angry, I would notice how cute she is with her sleep tussled, long black hair going every which way. I am so caught up in trying not to notice her physical appearance, it takes me a moment to register what she just said.

Oops. She said oops. That is not the answer I expected. “A little nervous? You categorize pulling enough magic from the earth to cause an avalanche – one large enough that it could bury this entire house, as being a little nervous? Not to mention how heartwarming it is that you completely forgot about my presence.”

Looking contrite, she says, “Sorry, I’ve never had anyone else in my bed before. You shouldn’t take it personally.”

Even through the ire, I register how good it feels that she chose me to share her bed. Platonically, for the most part, but it is a start. Still, I cannot help but take her comments personally. I stay in this realm to be with her, and the very next day she tries to kill me. I find that to be rather personal. My incredulity leaves me speechless for a moment.

Until it registers in my mind that she is still holding all that magic. If she loses control of it, it truly will cause a catastrophe of monumental proportions. Working hard to keep my voice even, I say, “Do you think you could let it go now, or do you still plan to use it?”

Xandra sighs and closes her eyes for a moment. I can sense her slowly forcing her magic back down to the earth. It takes a few minutes, but she is finally able to do it. I cannot help but be impressed by her growing control; she is doing so much better than even a few days ago. She still has a long, long way to go, though.

When she is done, I try to be sincere when I say, “Thank you.” I do not believe I was successful. Running a hand through my hair, I take a deep breath and then try again. “You certainly do keep life interesting. I find I am never at a loss for excitement when I am in your presence.”

Tilting her head with a small smile on her full pink lips, she asks, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

It is impossible for me to stay mad at her for long. Just being in the same room with her is electrifying. I have never been in the presence of anyone else who has made me feel the way she does, and I would much rather focus on that at the moment than on her magical errors. Sitting on the bed again, I lean in close to her. “When I am not in fear for my life, it is a very good thing.” My lips are moving towards to hers. Eagerly.

I miss the mountains. Even the cold and snow is not as bad as having your girlfriend’s ghost mom float through the door and catch you trying to kiss her daughter. In her bedroom. On her bed. I cannot imagine what her parents believe we did last night. Actually, I can, but this is not the appropriate time for such thoughts. Great, now I am even more embarrassed. I move back from Xandra as soon as her mother speaks.

“I thought I heard voices. Your father and I let you sleep in after the week you’ve had, but now that you’re up, we need to discuss what we’re going to do about your grandfather.” Looking pointedly at me, she adds, “And we need to find appropriate accommodations for your guest.”

I will admit; I was a jackass when I first met Xandra’s parents. I insulted her mother and belittled her father, simply because I was still angry with Grandmother for forcing me to come here. I am much more comfortable with her doing that now that I figured out she was dabbling in matchmaking. That does not change the jackass factor in Xandra’s parents’ eyes, though. Now, it is up to me to make the situation better.

“I do not feel that my gratitude for opening your house to me was appropriately expressed last night. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you again,” I say.

Her response is a scowl. A deep one. After several heartbeats, she says with tight lips, “You’re welcome.” Well, that is better than ‘get out of my house,’ I guess. Or her using some of her Witch magic against me. She seems to have booby trapped a great deal of the area around the house, so I would not be at all surprised to have a Witch’s bottle shoot out of the floorboards. One full of iron nails.

Turning her eerie, bright blue ghost eyes to Xandra, she says impatiently, “Xandra, are you coming?” Her eyes are still pinned to me. If they were swords, I would be in ribbons about now.

Xandra groans. “Mom, I already proved that I’m stronger than he is. If he comes back, I’ll just do what I did yesterday.” She is referring to the grandfather who tried to kill her last night. The one she impressively sent on his way with her magic.

With what looks like great effort, the spirit pulls her eyes from me to look at her daughter. “Xandra, you have no idea how strong the Witan are. You may be able to take them on one by one, but when they combine their magic, there is no greater force on earth.”

I have heard stories of past Witans. The high court of the Witch world, supposedly made up of the most powerful Witches in this realm, has a long history of corruption. Grandmother has told me of Witans who have committed grave crimes against humans, as well as their own kind, to further their own interests. It was a previous Witan that started the Witch trials that spread across the world, deflecting attention away from themselves and onto innocent humans. From what I saw last night, the current Witan is not any different. What kind of person do you have to be to try to kill your own granddaughter?

Xandra shrugs. “I guess I’ll just have to take them on one by one, then.”

I am drawn back to the conversation by her words. I keep forgetting how naïve she is. “And how do you expect to work that out if they all attack at once?” I ask.

After a scowl in my direction, she throws back the bedspread and swings her legs over the side, grumbling, “Fine, I’ll get up so we can talk about it.” She uses contractions in almost every sentence. I am starting to get used to it.

Her mother looks relieved. “Thank you. Your father and I will be waiting in the kitchen for you.” Looking back at me, she gives me a look that tells me exactly what she thinks of me. I believe rat droppings rank higher on her list of likes than I do at the moment. Yes, I have a lot of work to do if I want her parents to like me.

I watch the spirit float through the door. How has Xandra lived with her parents like this and not gone crazy? I shake my head. “I believe it will take some time getting used to living with specters. Providing they allow me to stay, that is.” I fear that there is a real possibility they will not. So, for the moment, I am going to turn my thoughts in a happier direction. Smiling at Xandra, I say, “Perhaps now I could have that good morning kiss?”

I take her answering grin as a yes. Leaning forward, I capture her lips with mine. I groan as she opens her lips for me, allowing me to delve into her luscious mouth. I pull her closer, wanting to deepen the kiss. The same thought must be on her mind, because she wraps her arms around my neck and moves closer yet by shifting into a kneeling position. She is the sexiest woman I have ever met. I would like nothing more than to lie back down with her and explore her body as I am her mouth. A soft moan from deep in her throat, as she presses her body even closer, tells me her thoughts are echoing mine. God, I love her.

Whoa, what the hell? Where did that thought come from? With impeccable timing, another spirit interrupts us. I immediately pull back from Xandra, not sure if I am more upset about her father floating into the room, or the direction my thoughts were taking during that incredible kiss.

“Ahem.” And I thought her mother held the prize for ‘you are an egotistical ass and I do not want you to touch my daughter again’ looks. No. Xandra’s father beats her hands down. I suspect that if he was still corporeal, he would be armed with one of those Cowan weapons that Xandra had threatened me with when we first met. I move a little farther away from her on the bed.

With an ‘I will see you dead before the day is through’ look, he says to us, “I believe your mother told you we’re waiting for you in the kitchen?”

Even Xandra is eyeing her father warily. Without another word, she stands up, takes my hand in hers, and pulls me towards the door. We give her father a wide berth and I try to avoid his eyes. Not that he can actually harm me, but I believe I have overstepped my boundaries in regards to my behavior in his house. He has every reason to tell me to get out. In my realm, he could easily demand a hand-fasting after catching us in such a precarious situation.

My plan now is to make sure that I do not give her parents any other reason to not allow me to stay. I cannot change what just happened, but I can try to find a way for her parents to like me. Maybe even trust me with their daughter. That might be asking too much, though.

Her father follows us to the kitchen, where Xandra stops and opens the freezer door. She studies the contents for a moment, and then says, “Kallen, would you like a toaster waffle?”

I have no idea what that is. I hope it is not another food that comes in a can. “What is a toaster waffle?”

She sounds slightly amused as she takes a box from the freezer. Food should not come from a box. “They’re like pancakes, but crispier. You cover them in maple syrup before you eat them.” She pulls several round discs from the box and places them in the toaster. “They’re delicious.”

I am doubtful that a frozen disc from a box will be delicious. “I will try one.”

Xandra’s parents are hovering together across the table from me when I sit down. Their eyes have not shifted in any direction except mine as Xandra moves about the kitchen making breakfast. It is eerie being glared at by spirits. They do not blink. Or move a muscle.

I am relieved when Xandra comes to the table with plates and a bottle of maple syrup. My plate has two of the discs that are now toasted instead of frozen. Taking the syrup she offers me, I pour some over the discs. Using my fork to cut a small piece off, I take a bite. To my surprise, they are not bad. More of a vehicle for syrup than anything else, but definitely edible. I continue to eat, a welcome relief from finding somewhere to look besides at the spirits.

After taking a bite of her own waffles, Xandra looks up at her mother. “So, what’s the plan?”

Her parents exchange a somewhat nervous look before her father speaks. “We kept you safe for seventeen years from your Grandfather and his lackeys. We think we can keep doing that. But we need to leave here, find a new place…”

They want her to run? I want to speak so badly that my skin is prickly. I want to yell at them that running away will not solve her problems. But, it is not my place to decide what Xandra should do. Thank god, she feels the same way I do.

“What?” she says. “You want to run away? You don’t want to fight?”

“Xandra, we want you to be safe, and if that means going on the run like your mother did before, then that’s what we’ll do.” How do you shake sense into a spirit? I could probably do it with magic if I focused hard enough. That probably would not have a positive effect on their opinion of me, though.

Xandra is still on the same page. “No. I don’t want to run. We don’t have to let them chase us out of our home. And besides, if we leave here, we risk people finding out about you. I want to stay here.”

Her mother hovers closer and puts a hand on her cheek. I wonder what that feels like. Cold, I bet. “Honey, I know you’re coming into all this power and you feel like you can take on the world right now. But, you have no idea what these Witches are capable of; the magic they wield. Theirs isn’t new magic, Xandra. These are Witches who have dedicated their lives to becoming stronger, more powerful, and they truly are the most powerful creatures in this realm.” I believe she left out corrupt and without conscience; two of a Witan’s more classic adjectives.

Xandra leans away from her mother. “I don’t want to spend my life running because we’re afraid to even try to fight! Grandpa’s magic was nothing compared to mine. I didn’t even feel his magic struggle against me when I was pushing him out of the house last night. I can feel Kallen’s magic when he and I spar, so it’s not like I don’t have anything to compare Grandpa’s magic to. I know I’m stronger than he is.” I would stake my life on it.

Her mother does not believe her. “You caught him off guard, Xandra. But that won’t happen again. He got a taste of your magic and he knows what he’s up against now. He knows how strong you are. He’ll be heavily armed with amulets that will protect him from your magic. He’ll be working spells that are beyond anything even I have ever seen. And that’s just your Grandfather. There are seven others who will be with him who will be just as prepared.”

Xandra looks at me and I know instantly that she is going to pull me into this conversation. Is it too late for me to go back to bed? “Do you think we should run?” she asks.

A stealthy shift of my eyes in her parents’ direction tells me what my answer is supposed to be. I cannot say it simply to make them happy. I have to be honest with her. Fortunately, her father does not give me a chance to say anything.

“Xandra,” he says sharply, “this isn’t a debate. Nor a democracy.”

She is not going to let me escape that easily. She asks me again. “Do you think we should run?”

I try to wash my face of any emotion, as Grandmother taught me to do when in a situation that calls for great diplomacy. I believe this situation is precisely that. “I do not know how powerful the Witches your mother speaks of are.” There, neither side can be upset with that answer.

Okay, one side can be. “That’s not what I asked you,” Xandra snipes.

Looking into her beautiful green eyes, I try to imagine her life on the run. Constantly looking over her shoulder, learning to use her magic simply by trial and error – causing who knows how much collateral damage, and never truly being able to trust anyone. She is not suited for that, nor do I believe there is a need for it. I believe my answer is going to put one foot out the door for me in regards to her parents’ hospitality, possibly both feet. But, so be it. “I was not raised to run from a fight.”

For beings that can be so still when they want to be, spirits can move quite fast when they are angry. Her father is now embedded in the kitchen table and his pale, translucent face is so close to mine, I am afraid to breathe in lest I take some of his essence into my lungs. “I don’t care how you were raised, or what you think my daughter should do! I have spent the last seventeen years keeping her safe, and no Fairy is going to come into her life and take over my job, and convince her to do something stupid!”

Bite my tongue, bite my tongue. The coppery taste of blood is permeating my mouth, I am biting my tongue so hard. I would like nothing more than to send this spirit on to the Shadow world at the moment. That would probably affect Xandra’s feelings for me in a negative way, though, so I refrain.

“Jim,” Xandra’s mother says. He ignores her.

Something more important than wishing her father ill pops into my mind. If I had not been so intent on properly handling this conversation, I would have noticed sooner. I need to do better than this if I am going to make sure Xandra is safe. Her father can berate me later. This needs to be addressed now. I rise to my feet so quickly, my chair falls backwards and skids across the floor. “A powerful being is on its way here.”

That gets everyone’s attention. Xandra’s father zooms back to her mother. “So soon?” he asks her.

A combination of shock and dread covers her mother’s face. “No, it can’t be. They would need more time to prepare.” She looks at me. “Can you tell how many?”

“Just one. But this one is very powerful.” And I cannot quite get a grasp on the feel of the magic. It is elusive. There is a hint of Witch, but there is something much more than that. I do not like that I cannot recognize it.

Xandra turns to me. “Is it Grandpa?”

I shake my head. “No, I do not recognize this magic. I have never been in its presence.” I know I just made her more nervous, but she needs to be prepared for whatever is coming her way.

“Would your father have sent someone on ahead to try to take us by surprise?” Xandra’s father asks her mother.

“I-I don’t know. My father has changed so much since I left.” I suspect he has not changed much at all. You do not suddenly become the type of person who will kill his granddaughter on sight.

Xandra rises from her chair and walks around the table. “Xandra? What are you doing?” her mother asks.

Xandra turns, and with a determined look on her face that makes me proud of her, she says, “I’m facing whatever they’re throwing at me. Dad, I know you want to run, but I can’t. I won’t live in fear. If this past week taught me anything, it’s that I need to be strong enough to protect myself and the people I love. If I am going to survive in this world, I have to start by standing up against those who want to kill me simply for what I am.” If I could kiss her at the moment, I would. Instead, I pull magic; ready to assist her if she needs it.

Xandra throws the door open. There, at the end of the driveway, is a plump, middle aged woman with long blonde hair and blue eyes. Hair and eyes that look suspiciously like the Witch spirit’s.

I almost laugh and shake my head as Xandra recklessly flings her magic forward, not bothering to take the time to assess her opponent. She is certainly a react first, talk about it later, kind of Witch Fairy. A career as a diplomat is definitely out of the question for her.

The massive amount of magic that Xandra has sent her way is being blocked by a shield the woman has thrown up. It only holds for a few seconds, which is still impressive, before it starts to buckle. I feel Xandra pull more magic, ready to knock the shield out completely. She pauses when the woman shouts, “Quillian! I mean you and your daughter no harm! I’ve come to help you.” Of course she has. I do not believe even Xandra is naïve enough to believe that one.

Apparently, her mother is. “Xandra, please stop.”

Xandra glances at her in surprise. “Do you know her?”

As I suspected, her mother nods. “She’s my mother.” Quite the family she has. I hope they do not get together for holidays. ‘Please pass the salt’ would probably spark an all-out magical war.

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