Mostly Magic

Second Book of the Kindling

Excerpt #4


“You must be Nick, Daniel’s brother-in-law.”

The man at the counter stood as he took her extended hand. “You must be Mel. Good to meet you.”

“I was just admiring everything. This place is perfect.” She looked around at the huge Sub-Zero refrigerator designed to look like an old icebox, with distressed oak doors and antique hardware. Even the stove and microwave were made to look antique, but her reporter’s eye picked up the hints of modernity easily enough.

“Yeah. It is, isn’t it? I fell in love with it on my first visit,” Nick said, returning to his breakfast. “Married the owner so I could stick around.”

She laughed. “I can see how that could happen.” She went over to admire the old-fashioned keeping room that extended from the kitchen at an angle. It had a small fireplace all its own and was a cozy nook with a comfy-looking couch and chairs, apparently built for the cook to enjoy.

“I love this. What a wonderful place to cook.”

“I can testify to that. Pops designed it to Ouida’s specs,” Nick said. “And she’s the best cook in North Carolina. You’ll have to try her biscuits.” He waved at the kitchen. “Help yourself to anything you see. Or you can go out and sample the buffet if you like.”

“I heard a rumor there was an espresso machine somewhere?” She looked around and spotted the Elektra. “Well. Someone really does love good espresso.” The machine was a small and sleek, brass and copper steampunk design that fit in the kitchen much better than a modern-looking machine would. “My dad will be so envious of me getting to touch one of these. May I make a cappuccino?”

“Go right ahead.” His gray eyes sparkled. “But if you’re making a cappuccino, you have to make me one as well.”

“Absolutely!” She set to work grinding the beans. “I bet the water up here is great for coffee. Well water?”

“Spring,” Nick replied. “Daniel said you’re a reporter.”

“Freelance writer, really. I don’t write for newspapers. Mostly environmental and nature magazines or websites. I do some editing for science journals on the side,” she said. “I also have a blog of my own.”

“I know.” He pointed to a tablet computer beside his plate. “Excellent pieces, by the way, especially that one you did on GMOs.”

She walked over to admire his tablet. “Oh, wow. I have always wanted one of those. Have to wait until the prices come down a bit more though.” He was reading the Wall Street Journal. Today’s Wall Street Journal. “How?” She looked around. “There is no way you have Internet up here. With all these mountain peaks and ridges, you can’t—”

“Cellular extender and repeater. Fiber optics,” he explained. “Pops, Grace’s grandfather, was a man ahead of his time. Installed a tower on the highest point on the property, disguised as a tree on Star Catcher Rock. You need to get Daniel to take you up there sometime. Great views.”

Mel continued her work on the cappuccinos, going to the refrigerator for milk. “There are fantastic views from that meadow up there as you come in. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“Star Crossing Meadow. One of my favorite spots,” Nick said.

“Star Crossing. Good name. Feels like you could touch them from up there. But the view! It was like I was on top of some great, sleeping creature, and those ridges were the coils of its tail weaving into the distance. I could feel it breathing.”

There was a soft gasp, and Mel looked out from behind the refrigerator door. A lovely and very tall redhead stood in the doorway. She wore a loose robe over a nightshirt that said “I swallowed a watermelon seed” with a colorful picture of a big green watermelon covering her swollen stomach.

“You must be Grace.” Mel put down the milk and came over, holding out her hand.

“And you’re Mel.” She took Mel’s hand in both of hers. “So sorry you lost your home.”

“Like I told Daniel, I’m breathing,” Mel replied. “Much better than the alternative. I really appreciate your hospitality.”

“Glad to have you here.” Grace went over to give her husband a quick kiss.

Mel busied herself finishing off the cappuccinos, humming as she worked. She placed one in front of Nick with a flourish and raised the other in Grace’s direction. “I didn’t ask. Would you like one?”

“No.” Grace patted her stomach. “Only herbal tea until this little lady makes her appearance. But thank you.”

“I would.” Daniel’s voice tingled through her like a warm caress. He stood in the doorway, still in those pajama bottoms, but with a plaid shirt halfway buttoned over them.

“Good morning,” she said. He looked dreadful. His color was good and he could see now, at least enough to navigate, but there was something wrong. Without thinking, Mel opened up her shield.

Stress. Confusion. Helplessness. That was Daniel. Love. Fear. Frustration. Grace.

“Nick put me to work,” Mel explained.

“I see that.” Daniel leaned against the counter.

They were all watching her now. She swallowed uncomfortably and forced a smile. “Daniel tells me you’re a doctor,” she said to Grace.

“I’m not practicing at the moment,” Grace said in a self-deprecating tone.

Not completely honest, but not lying either. Hiding something. Protecting her baby brother, perhaps? Or something else. Mel put a lid on her journalistic curiosity. For now.

“You do make a great cappuccino,” Nick said approvingly.

Mel wiggled her fingers under her chin and smiled, winking at Daniel as she did. “Mostly magic.”

Daniel’s smile wavered. Wary. Concerned. That was Grace. Baffled, she quickly raised her shield. There were a lot of emotional land mines in this kitchen at the moment and she was unable to sort them out.

“So, what is all the excitement about, then? Are you all in here to help me with— Oh, hello!” The older woman who had been outside in the sunroom had come in carrying an empty tray. She set it down when she spotted Mel. “I’m Ouida. Ouida Russell.” The woman had a sweet round face, soft and wrinkled. Her eyes were a pretty honey-brown color, twinkling as they shook hands.

“This is my friend Mel, Ouida,” Daniel said. “Mel Noblett.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Ouida said, going to the refrigerator. “There are fresh biscuits in the warming drawer. Help yourself. I’ll come in to cook up eggs or whatever you want in a second.” She bustled out with a pitcher.

“I’ll take another of these, if you’re making more.” Nick held up his empty cup.

“Everyone pitches in around here,” Daniel said, walking over to stand beside Mel. When she looked up, one of those bone-melting grins slid across his face and she felt her knees wobble.

Falling fast.

“Anyone want lots of froth or double or anything?” Mel asked. “Chocolate sprinkles?” she added with a smirk.

“Regular everything for me,” Nick said.

“Me too,” Daniel said.

“I understand you’re writing an article on Daniel,” Grace said.

She had hoped to discuss this with Daniel in private. “Yes, I was.” She looked at Daniel. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come talk to you in person. I pulled the article,” she said in a voice only he could hear.

“But… I thought you had more questions,” Daniel said.

“I did. But, after the fire, my editor told me the magazine wanted to add some garbage that I didn’t want in there. So I pulled it,” she said, and focused on making the cappuccinos.

“Garbage?” Daniel repeated.

“Meyer insisted on a rebuttal from their experts.”

“Of course they did,” Daniel said.

The surge of frustration that accompanied his bland comment surprised her. Mel’s hand slipped, and she jumped away with a pained cry. A blast of steam had hit the back of her hand.

Daniel was holding her elbow in a second, looking to Grace for guidance.

“You need to run cold water over it,” Grace said. “Nick, can you—”

“I’ll get the first aid kit.” He disappeared across the great room as Ouida came back through the French doors.

“What on earth?” she said as Daniel guided Mel to the sink.

Daniel turned on the water, and Mel stuck her hand under it with a sigh of relief.

“It’s not that bad. I’ll be fine,” Mel said. “Clumsy of me.”

“I’ll finish the cappuccinos,” Daniel said. “You keep it there until the doc says different.”

Ouida clucked under her breath. “That is why I stay away from that blasted machine,” she said and headed for the stove.

“Ouida nicknamed our new espresso machine here ‘the Dragon’,” said Daniel. “She’s keeping track of how many times someone gets burned.”

Mel smiled at Ouida. “My parents named theirs ‘Smaug’ for the same reason, but they still use it religiously, and with great caution. But I’m usually not so klutzy.”

“Smaug. The dragon from The Hobbit,” Daniel explained at Ouida’s confused look.

Nick bustled in with a substantial-looking first aid kit. “That machine is a tame beast. You people just don’t know how to approach it correctly.”

“With a fire extinguisher,” Ouida groused.

“No. A party of dwarves and a magic ring,” Daniel said with a straight face.

Mel laughed.

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