Fragile Magic: A Dark Forgotten Short Story
No furry friend is too unusual.
The sign on the local veterinarian clinic should be warning enough. Fine art dealer Selina Pearson doesn’t embrace the extraordinary, or messy, or chaotic, and the last thing she needs is the injured baby gargoyle she rescues from the cereal display in the grocery store.
Dr. Jake Hallender is a smoking hot veterinarian and leader of the local werewolf pack. Selina’s focused on her career in a prestigious art gallery, but Dr. Jake’s bedside manner is a masterpiece in itself. Things go from frisky to fabulous before she can summon the will to refuse.
But bliss only lasts so long. Jake is the healer, but his pack needs Selina’s fey talents to thrive. Revealing her powers will cost Selina everything, and then what? Can she trust the fragile magic they’ve built between them?
A wingtip brushed Selina’s ear. She yelped, a short, sharp cry of surprise.
Jolted out of her grocery-shopping stupor, Selina whipped around. Her skin tingled where she’d felt the whisper of suede-soft skin. The sensation rippled down her neck like tiny fingers.
With a thunderous smack, the cereal aisle exploded in a storm of frosty, flaky goodness. Seconds later, the air filled with the sound of cereal pattering back to earth like the inside of a breakfast food snow globe. Selina scanned her surroundings, trying to make sense of what she saw. What the . . . ?
She squinted at the mess. There were certain things she expected to encounter in the grocery aisle. A gargoyle floundering in a drift of Toasty-O’s was not among them.
“What is that thing?” a man demanded, picking up a jar of peanut butter like an offensive weapon.
“It’s hideous,” someone else said.
“Is somebody going to call animal control?”READ MORE
“It’s just a gargoyle,” Selina put in.
They were one of the many oddball species that had started popping up lately, some humanoid and some—like the gargoyles—definitely not. It had started happening in Y2K, when the vampires had swanned onto the talk show circuit and revealed themselves to the world in an emo tell-all. After that, being a plain old human was just so last century. Paranormal was instantly the new black. More and more supernatural species were emerging from the shadows and signing up for cell phones, credit cards, and cable TV.
Which was exciting unless, like Selina, you’d rather not be special. Having a fey daddy and three fey sisters was enough to drive anyone to the relative sanity of business college. Nothing said “get that magic wand out of my face” like an MBA and a pinstripe suit.
Thankfully, she’d managed to tune out most of the media monster madness—until now. There, between her and the Toaster Tarts, was a gargoyle: pointy ears, beak and all, right where she couldn’t ignore it.
Man, that is one ugly critter.
She wanted to back away, but morbid fascination made her stare. Gargoyles were, for want of a better description, animals. Its hind feet—two claws front, one back—were made to perch on medieval architecture. Sadly, the Save-It Store lacked flying buttresses. Now the creature couldn’t get its footing on the treacherous Toasty-O’s and it squawked with cartoonish alarm. One wing drooped, perhaps injured in the collision with the display unit.
“What’s it doing here?” the man asked, still clutching the jar.
Selina shrugged. “Some people keep them like dogs.”
“Sick monster-loving jerks.” The guy took off down the aisle with his peanut butter.
“Whatever.” She checked her watch, her mind back at the gallery where she worked. She’d been dragged from the back offices to cover for the owner during his illness. As a result, she was slammed with appointments. This sideshow in the cereal aisle was going to make her late. Selina gripped the handle of her cart, a wave of grumpiness overtaking her.
Seconds later, a man in a green apron advanced with a broom and a scowl. At the sight of him, the gargoyle began flapping its one good wing, making a frantic noise somewhere between a cheep and the belch of a hairballing cat.
From the look on the clean-up guy’s face, the gargoyle was about to be scrubbed out of existence. Selina pulled her cart to one side, willing the critter to make a break for freedom. Do not pass go, do not collect Klub Kard points. Flee, little monster, be free.
No such luck. It cowered before the broom guy, wings pathetically askew. It had big, round eyes the color of lime Jell-o. Her heart began to hurt for it.
“I think it’s a juvenile,” Selina blurted. “It’s kind of small.”
Mr. Clean-up poked the gargoyle with the head of the huge push-broom. The gargoyle staggered, its round body overbalanced. She could feel its panic like a wave of electricity, millions of sharp needles pricking her skin. That was her dreaded fey blood talking, but even a plain old human could see the creature’s distress.
The guy just jabbed it again.
“Stop that!” she snapped, coming out from behind the cart. She was small and slight, but outrage made her bold. So I’m going to be late back to the office. I can’t just leave the poor thing sitting in a pile of cereal.
Broom Guy gave her the once-over, taking in her smooth blond hair and smartly tailored business suit—then turned away without interest. His expression said he preferred skinning baby monsters with his pocket knife.
“Damned thing probably got away from the pet store next door,” he ground out, voice filled with as much light and laughter as the dirty floor tiles. “The flying rats figure out how to get the cage doors open.” He knocked the gargoyle again. It toppled over with a moaning rattle.
Selina felt her skin growing hot with anger, her silk blouse sticking as she marched forward. “Why don’t you just take it next door and give it back?”
“I’m not touching that thing. Have you seen that beak?”
“Coward.” She didn’t like touching supernatural creatures either. They stirred her own powers to life—but this was an emergency. Selina scooped up the gargoyle, cradling it against her chest. Its grey, wrinkled skin was soft as kid leather, warm and slightly fuzzy. It grabbed on with its front paws, digging tiny claws into the wool of her jacket. That had better not leave holes.
“Whatever.” Deprived of a monster to bully, Broom Guy took a swipe at the Toasty-O’s. “Pet store’s to the left of the front door.”
The gargoyle snuggled, making an odd little gurgle. One wing was definitely crooked. It looked broken to her. She could feel its panic fading to desperation as it curled against her, seeking the comfort of her warmth.
Selina turned on her heel and walked out, snatching up her purse as she abandoned her cart.
Half an hour later, she left the pet store with a shocking Visa bill, a carry-bag of canned food, and a Getting to Know Your Gargoyle info folder, complete with feeding instructions and veterinary referral.
She hadn’t been able to stand the sight of the tiny wire cages along the back of the Exotic Pet Emporium—especially once the gargoyle had started to keen and cling to her. Its panic came back in hammering waves that sent her fey senses spinning. Other animals—some golden lab puppies and a baby griffin—gave her big, sad eyes as she stood there hovering on the knife-edge of guilt and temptation. It was hard not to take them all.
“Congratulations,” said the pet store cashier, all smiles as he rang up the sale. “You’ve got a great guard animal there. He’s only eight weeks right now, but they grow fast. This little guy will get to be about a hundred and twenty pounds.”
Oh, no way! She was so not keeping a gargoyle for a pet. She was just rescuing him until she could find a better owner. If she had a pet, it would be something like a fish or a canary—something that stayed in its cage and didn’t break anything. Something that didn’t kickstart the empathic powers she’d buried beneath a cartload of accounting texts and sensible shoes.
Dismay settled over her as she crossed the parking lot to her car. A hundred and twenty pounds?
Selina tossed the clutter on the back seat—a woollen car blanket, a map book, and some binders from work—onto the floor and made room for the gargoyle. It hunkered down until was wedged between the seat back and the passenger door. Every few seconds, it worried its crooked wing with its beak, poking at the injury.
Selina pulled out her cell phone and dialled the gallery with one hand while, with the other, she fished in the pet store paperwork for the vet’s address. The card was stapled to the inside of the folder and gave an address about ten minutes away. The vet’s name was simply listed as “Dr. Jake.” What kind of a name was that?
Sounds like a frontier medical man, scalpel in one hand and bar room floozy in the other.
Meanwhile, the phone at The Old World Art and Antiques Gallery went to voice mail. The recorded message jerked her back to the present. Her boss, Richard Janos—still at home after heart surgery and grouchy as a bear—was too sick to run the gallery but still trying to micromanage from afar. He wouldn’t be happy that she was MIA, especially right now.
In a little over a month, collectors were coming from three countries to attend Old World’s exhibition and sale of eighteenth-century French antiques. There was a lot left to arrange, even though Selina had taken over the planning when Janos fell ill. She’d always shied away from working with the public, never wanting to advertise the fact that she was anything but a numbers gal, but this was an excuse to show off what she could do. Fey were the ultimate party planners, with a flair for turning the dullest affair into a smash hit. Combined with her human knack for financial detail, Selina was bred for the job. Not only was the show hotly anticipated, clients had started asking for her by name.
Hopefully, her recent successes would buy her some slack. Selina pushed a button to get the admin assistant’s voicemail inbox. “Hi, it’s me. Listen, would you please cancel the one-thirty with the caterer and tell him I’ll be in touch tomorrow. Reschedule my two o’clock with Mrs. McAdams to five and would you please call the framers and tell them I’ll be by in the morning? Something personal’s come up. I’ll explain when I get there.”
She disconnected before anyone could pick up. Sighing, she leaned back against the seat, trying to relax for a split second before tackling the next problem. She was getting a headache.
Part of the reason was that Selina could feel the gargoyle’s anxiety like something gnawing at her belly. Instinctively, she reached out with her mind. If she could just steal away the animal’s distress—that was her magical talent, the one trick her half-fey blood could sometimes manage. On a good day, she was just empath enough to catch emotion and blow it out like a candle.
But she was rusty, her fragile magic sluggish from disuse. It felt like moving blocks of concrete by will alone. Can I do this?
Selina opened her eyes, realizing she’d been squeezing them shut. Gasping a deep breath, she wiped her eyes and glanced in the rear view mirror. The gargoyle was staring at her, round-eyed, but the look was now adoration instead of fear. It worked!
On the other hand, she didn’t look so good. Sweat dewed her face, tendrils of her blond hair darkened where they clung to her damp cheeks. Her expression looked bruised.
She’d sworn off using her talent for a good reason: it sucked. And people thought being a fey meant dancing in dew circles with a mushroom cap on your head. Yeah, right.
With shaking fingers, she stabbed the key into her car’s ignition.
With a final glance at the back seat, Selina pulled out of the parking lot. The gargoyle whimpered as the car moved. It crawled down to the floorboards, doing its best to hide under the folds of the blanket. So much for taking away his fear. That only worked if there was nothing new to be afraid of. Car rides were no fun for any animal. Must get one of those dog carriers.
Which would only make sense if I was keeping him. Involuntarily, she twitched. One bad landing, and he could take out her collection of rare Chinese vases. And who knew what those claws could do to the Louis Quatorze escritoire? She’d bought that piece with an eye to her retirement plan. A good antique just kept gathering value—at least until Gary the Gargoyle smashed it to smithereens.
Gary. It sort of suited the little guy, who was now sending up an occasional pathetic moan. She hoped that didn’t mean he was about to be car sick.
She turned into the Bayside Vet Clinic, wedging the car into one of the three visitor spaces. The building was showing its age—low, white and plain except for tattered green awnings. Selina got out of the car and walked around to the passenger side. She opened the door, ready in case the gargoyle made a run for it. It didn’t. It flattened to a whimpering pancake.
Selina reached in, picking it up under the forelegs and catching an unpleasant smell. It had piddled on the plaid wool car blanket. It looked away, the picture of guilt, and hid its face against her arm. Oh, damn. Poor little guy.
She kicked the car door shut and, cradling the gargoyle, carried it into the vet’s office. Dr. J. Hallender’s name—Dr. Jake?—was the only one stencilled on the door, right above a line of bold lettering that read: Everyone deserves the very best care. No furry friend too unusual.
Selina wondered how much more this act of mercy was going to cost her.
The receptionist, identified by her name tag as Tracy, looked up as Selina came in. “Hi, can I help you?”
“Broken wing, I think.”
“Are you one of Dr. Jake’s clients?”
“As of now I am.”
Tracy gave a grudging smile. Selina eyed her. The young woman had a sharp, hungry look that wasn’t quite human. Werewolf? Werewolfism wasn’t contagious but did that matter once you were digested?
“How soon can we see Dr.—um—Dr. Jake?”
Tracy leaned across the reception desk, gently scratching the gargoyle’s head. Selina could feel the heat of the she-wolf’s skin even though they never touched. Shape-shifters seemed to run at a higher temperature than humans.
An affectionate look softened Tracy’s features. “What’s his name?”
“Hey, Gary.” She ran a finger down the crooked wing.
The gargoyle flinched into Selina’s chest, gripping the front of her coat for dear life. He turned pain-filled eyes up to her.
A thin line formed between Tracy’s brows. “Yeah, there’s something wrong there, poor baby. Go right into Exam One. There are a few people waiting, but I’ll make sure Jake sees this little guy right away.”
Tracy pointed down the hallway. The sign for each exam room was clearly visible.
As she walked down the hall, Selina took quick peeks through glass windows into the other rooms. There was a storage space filled with surgical equipment, cages, and shelves of medical supplies. Another held a woman and what looked like a giant lizard. In a third, an ordinary-looking guy was pacing the room in a stew of anxiety. There was no pet in sight. Hm.
Exam One was empty. Selina went in and carefully set Gary on the table. He didn’t want to let go, but he was getting heavy. The little guy has to be a good twelve pounds.
Fortunately, there was an open jar of dog treats on the counter. As she bribed him onto the table, he grabbed the cookie with paws that reminded her of a raccoon. No wonder they break out of ordinary cages.
“Don’t give him too many of those,” said a soft male voice from the doorway. “You should really be looking for grain-free products.”
Selina felt like a mom caught feeding her infant French fries. Heat flared in her cheeks as she wheeled to face the door. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
Oh! She caught sight of the speaker. “Dr. Jake, I presume?”
He was young, in blue jeans and a navy T-shirt under a rumpled lab coat. The look was more outdoorsy than doctorish, his footwear sturdy hiking boots. His eyes and wavy hair were both a rich brown that made her think of dark chocolate fudge.
“Jake Hallender,” he offered a hand.
“Selina Pearson.” As she grasped his hand, she felt the same heat that had radiated from the receptionist’s skin. Wolf. She resisted the urge to flinch away. It wasn’t hard. His smile was filled with easy-going, good-humoured amusement, with just a pinch of mischief. There was nothing obviously threatening about the vet, unless one could weaponize male charm.COLLAPSE