Sorry guys, this scene ran away from me. Fair warning: this isn’t actually flash fiction, it’s 2000 words.
It’s a missing scene from my second book in the Topeka Texas Cozy Mystery: Magic and Other Distractions.
A Furry Problem
Clair Pendergrass hadn’t always lived in her cozy cottage in the tiny mystical town of Topeka, Texas.
She’d spent most of her life as a guardian – the magical equivalent of a navy Seal – though her apprentice seemed to think that someone who looked eighty years old was an odd choice for a magical SWAT team. The young never did see much beyond their noses.
Or they’d die, like countless other magicians had in the last two hundred years.
She’d spent an unholy amount of energy (and a goodly amount of her signature sarcasm) reeducating her young apprentices, so they’d survive.
Topeka was a…retirement, of sorts.
Though the guardian council should have known better – they had her file – but they, too were blinded by her looks and manner, and often forgot what she really was.
Which was the point, really.
She’d been born in Ireland, in the hallowed hills of the fair folk before her fairy mother had delivered the red-headed baby to her father – and promptly sent them both away from Ireland before catching the wrong end of a bomb.
Clair herself didn’t remember the fairy halls, but her father had whispered that Clair’s mother kept her within them until she was nearly two. An unheard-of act for the fey.
Her mother, a fairy queen in her own right, had been terrified enough to take Clair to her mortal father, and instruct the man to dye her scarlet hair brown and leave Ireland.
They’d moved to New York first, then later to Pennsylvania, on a farm that felt like home.
Her father had never so much as looked at another woman.
He drank too much, quietly, in the evenings after they found out that her mother had died. But he raised her well on that little farm, and she knew that when her father passed, it was a blessing to him.
He died of a broken heart.
It was so very Irish of him.
Clair had known, since she was a young lass, that she could never wed. A very scary fairy had appeared one evening before she turned twelve and informed her that any family she bore would be killed like the mongrels they were.
“Pity we can’t do the same for you, but your mother bargained with all the rulers of the fey – both Seelie and Unseelie – for your safety.” His cold, dead eyes had reminded her that the fey never lied. If she wed and had children, the fey would kill them all.
So she didn’t look for romance.
The Guardian council found her: recently orphaned, talented, and unencumbered by relatives or friends.
They needed fresh young talent to throw at the war – and the war to end all wars hadn’t quite done what it said on the package. In fact, a generation later she’d been on battlefields with her friend Jenny and their furry mascot – Kit.
She and Jenny had fought and bled and nearly died with that shapeshifting menace of a trickster.
She never dreamed, during those years of war, that she’d be faced with this kind of situation.
Kit and his son, Todd, were in her house.
Her cozy little cottage in Texas.
And Kit was driving her mad.
It wasn’t just that he juggled antiques in her shop, though she felt her blood pressure rise every time she saw him flipping pieces of a Russian tea set she was fairly certain had belonged to the last tsar.
(Either of them could fix a cracked antique with the snap of their fingers and a bit of the ambient magic that washed over everything in Topeka.)
It wasn’t just that he slinked around like the fox he was, gorgeously suggestive in even his smallest movements, looking at her with wicked eyes. She’d acclimated to his antics during the war.
What was driving her mad was that it was so easy to fall back into old habits – like making breakfast.
They’d taken on the chore together most of the time when they were traveling for missions.
He still drank the same absurdly expensive tea, still poured her a cup and put it by her elbow. She knew from long experience how many slices of bacon he took, how he liked his eggs, and that they could reliably split the newspaper – he took the crossword, and she took the obituaries and neither of them even glanced at the front page.
She missed Jenny more than ever in those moments – her old friend had been in the habit of reading the front page to the two of them, making fun of all the pontification from politicians.
Kit’s black eyes would linger on the untouched paper sometimes too.
She knew he was the only being in the cosmos who missed her friend the same way she did. Jenny’s daughter and granddaughter missed something other than the bright-eyed girl with the gift for putting threats in the ground. Jenny, for all her sweet disposition, had been a bloody beast on the battlefield, even more than herself or the Kitsune across the breakfast table.
Adding Todd to the mix was oddly endearing. Clair looked old enough to be the young shapeshifter’s grandmother, but the reality was that his actual grandmother was over 1000 years old and still looked like a sexpot.
Todd didn’t treat her like an old lady either – kitsune were odd like that. It wasn’t that they didn’t see what everyone saw. It was that they, like the fey, had eyes that could see beyond. Probably because their natural talent for illusion was so strong.
Not that Clair relied on illusion. She was half-fey; and every half-fey had a choice. They could be mortal or immortal. It wasn’t as easy a choice as one might assume. Fey were addicted to sensation – it wasn’t just that their lives were so long. They felt every moment of their existence keenly. Lived every moment deeply. Ennui was their oldest foe, and their mortal children didn’t suffer from it as the immortal ones so often did.
Clair had…essentially put her mortality on a dimmer switch. She’d allowed herself to age, both to fit in with the mortals around her and to test if she truly wanted to live a short mortal life rather than an immortal one.
And the kitsune, both father and son, could practically smell that on her.
So the little old lady disguise she’d worn for the mortal humans around them was worse than useless – the two kitsune weren’t fooled in the least, and everyone else was a little discomfited at the way the seemingly young father flirted outrageously wit the old antique store owner.
(Kit admitted to being three hundred, and might very well be older, the vain thing). No less than seven of her acquaintances had pulled her aside to warn her (or in two cases, congratulate her) on the dangers of snagging a much younger man.
It didn’t help that he’d moved into her house without warning.
Sure, he was being hunted because of some guardian business, but she wouldn’t have generally have allowed anyone into her home. She was half fey after all. It was in her nature to protect her inner sanctum from even the closest acquaintances.
“My Clair, you have a tiny frown line when you make that face.”
She rolled her eyes at Kit. He grinned languidly, draped over her favorite chair like he owned the place. Todd was coloring in the kitchen. The child was oddly wary around everyone except for her.
“I have more than one frown line.”
He raised his brows, ridiculous cheekbones on full display. “Do you?” He held her gaze for an uncomfortable amount of time.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?”
An invitation appeared in his fingers. “Well, I suppose I could plan to attend this?”
She snatched it from him, her movements belying her apparent age. “Where did you find that?”
“In a magically sealed cranny betwixt and between. Under your beige bra and right next to your support hose.”
The invitation wasn’t anything important – just a party held by a fellow veteran who was staying in town – a stately gentleman who was fighting a cancer diagnosis.
Kit was trouble on two legs – having him at the party would negate the whole reason for it – gathering support for the tourism board.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in hiding? He’s a magician, he’d recognize what you are immediately.”
Kit gave her his signature vulpine grin. “Do you not trust Signor Antonio? I must say that I approve, my Clair.”
She rolled her eyes. “You need to stop that. You are giving everyone in town the wrong impression. Also, I doubt you’ll want Todd to be around an unknown magic user. He’s vetted by the council, but we both know that’s a matter of funds more than anything else.”
“Ah, so this man is the reason you are getting funding to update the town?”
She didn’t like the implication that her acquiescence of a new Magician in her territory hinged on anything as common as money and support – or the implication that the Guardian’s council was anything except the upright organization it had been when she joined…
But even she had to admit there was a certain quid pro quo attitude in the current management.
“I’m taking both Gwen and Bradley so you won’t have any of your normal babysitters. You wouldn’t want Todd to startle and accidentally go a bit furry in front of a non-magician?”
Kit snorted. “My local guardian is beautiful and wise and would no doubt consent to erase the unfortunate mortal’s memory of such a thing.”
Damn him. Of course she would. It was her damn job after all to protect the town from the magical – and protect the magical from the town.
“Fine. I know you’d rather pull the hair out of your own fluffy tail than go to this thing. You are as bad as Gwen.”
Kit smiled at the mention of Jenny’s granddaughter. “She has an admirable attitude. I like the little witch very much. Jenny would be pleased.”
Clair nodded. “She would.”
Kit’s eyes unfocused. “You ask what price I would have for this?” The invitation was back in his long fingers. She hadn’t even seen him move.
“Fine. What do you want?”
His face was uncommonly somber. “I want to know what happened to Jenny. They say she was killed by a pack of chupacabra of all things.”
They both shook their heads. Jenny had one killed a cyclops with a pen and a tin can. A bunch of jumped up coyotes might kill a regular human – if they were already weak and dying. But Jenny?
Jenny didn’t deserve that kind of disservice to her memory. When her friend had died, Clair had assumed the story was a fake – meant to cover some covert operation, not fit for public consumption.
But it had been years since she died.
The fox was right. It was time to uncover the truth.
“Fine. You stay here for the party and I will share what I find.”
Kit was in her personal space, closing her fingers around the invitation. “You word is better than gold, my Clair.” His eyes crinkled as he folded her into a quick embrace.
She let herself enjoy it, just for a moment.
Todd might accidentally transform at some point…but Kit was the only real furry problem she had.
If you like this deleted scene, you might enjoy the two Topeka Cozy mysteries, Book 1 is going to be FREE from October 26th – 30th :
Book 3 will be on the shelves in 2024!!!