Home > Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles #2)(2)

Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles #2)(2)
Ilona Andrews

She liked him, so she was torturing him. Her Grace in a nutshell. “What Civilization did you choose?”

“Rome, of course. Any title other than Empress would be unacceptable. That’s not the point. The point, my dear, is that our lives are beginning to feel dreadfully dull. The last guest we had was two months ago.”

She was preaching to the converted. Gertrude Hunt required guests, for financial and other reasons. They were the lifeblood of the inn. Caldenia helped some, but for the inn to thrive, we needed guests, if not a steady stream, then a large party. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to get those guests. Once upon a time, Gertrude Hunt sat on a crossroads of a busy road, but decades passed, the world had changed, the roads shifted, and now Red Deer, Texas was a small town in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t get much traffic.

“Would you like me to pass out fliers on the corner, Your Grace?”

“Do you think it would help you drum up business?”

“Probably not.”

“Well then, that answers your question. Don’t get snippy, Dina, it really doesn’t become you.”

She glided up the stairs, her kimono waving behind her like a mantle.

I needed tea. Tea would make everything better.

I went to the kitchen and reached for the cup to make myself some tea. My left foot landed in something cold and wet. I looked down. A small yellow puddle greeted me. Well, doesn’t that just take the cake?

“Beast!”

My tiny Shih-tzu dashed into the kitchen, her black and white fur waving like a battle flag. She saw my foot in the puddle. Her brain decided to beat a hasty retreat, but her body still kept going. She tripped over her own paws and smacked head first into the island.

“What is this?” I pointed to the puddle.

Beast flipped onto her feet, slunk behind the island, and poked her head out, looking guilty.

“You have a perfectly good doggie door. I don’t care if it’s raining, you go outside.”

Beast slunk about some more and whined.

Magic chimed, a soft not-quite sound only I could hear – the inn letting me know we had guests.

Visitors!

Beast exploded into barks, zooming around the island in excited circles. I hopped on one foot to the kitchen sink, stuck my foot under water, and washed my hands and my foot with soap. The floor under the puddle split, forming a narrow gap. Tile flowed like water and the offending puddle disappeared. The floor resealed itself. I wiped my hands on the kitchen towel, ran to the front door, Beast bounding at my heels, and swung it open.

A white Ford Explorer was parked in the driveway. Through the screen door I saw a man in the driver seat. A woman sat next to him. Behind them two smaller heads moved back and forth – kids in the back seat, probably stir-crazy after a long trip. A nice family. I reached forward with my magic.

Oh.

I thought the chime didn’t sound quite right.

The man got out and ran to the front door, shielding his glasses from the rain with his hand and stopped under the porch roof. About thirty five, he looked like a typical suburban dad: jeans, T-shirt, and the slightly desperate expression of someone who had been in a car with small children for a several hours.

“Hi!” he said. “I’d like to rent a room.”

This is exactly why Gertrude Hunt had no listed phone number and no online listing. We weren’t on any tourist brochures. How did they even find us? “I’m sorry, we have no vacancy.”

He blinked. “What do you mean, you have no vacancy? It looks like a big house and there are no cars in the driveway.”

“I’m sorry, we have no vacancy.”

The woman got out of the car and ran over. “What’s the hold-up?”

The man turned to her. “They have no vacancy.”

The woman looked at me. “We drove six hours in this rain from Little Rock. We won’t be any trouble. We just need a couple of rooms.”

“There is a very nice Holiday Inn only two miles from here,” I said.

The woman pointed at the Avalon subdivision. “My sister lives in that subdivision. She said the only person who ever stays here is some old lady.”

Ah. Mystery solved. The neighbors knew I ran a Bed & Breakfast, because that was the only way I could explain the occasional guests.

“Is it because we have kids?” The woman asked.

“Not at all,” I said. “Would you like directions to the Holiday Inn?”

The man grimaced. “No, thanks. Come on, Louise.”

The turned and went to their car. The woman was mumbling something. “….outrageous.”

I watched them get into the car, reverse down the driveway, and leave. The inn chimed softly, punctuating their departure.

“I thought we had guests!” Caldenia called from the stairs.

“Not the right kind,” I said.

The inn creaked. I petted the door frame. “Don’t worry. It will get better.”

Caldenia sighed. “Perhaps you should go on a date, dear. Men are so attentive when they think there is a chance you will let them into your bed. It does wonderful things to lift your spirits.”

A date. Right.

“What about Sean Evans?”

“He isn’t home,” I said quietly.

“Too bad. It was so much fun when he and the other fellow were around.” Caldenia shrugged and went up the stairs.

About five months ago, I watched Sean Evans open a door and step through it to the greater universe beyond. I hadn’t heard from him since. Not that he owed me anything. Sharing a single kiss could hardly be called a relationship, no matter how memorable it was. I knew from experience that the universe was very large. It was difficult for a single woman to compete with all its wonders. Besides, I was an innkeeper. Guests left to have exciting adventures and our kind stayed behind. Such was the nature of our profession.

And telling myself all those things over and over didn’t make me feel better. When I thought about Sean Evans, I felt the way a business traveler from Canada might feel about an overnight trip to Miami in the middle of February. It was like seeing the sea and the beach from a car window. It might have been great, if only we had more time and now we would likely never know if that beach would’ve turned out to be paradise or if we would’ve found jellyfish in the water and sand in our food.

It was for probably for the best. Werewolves were nothing but trouble anyway.

I was about to close the door, when magic tugged on me, like ripples from a stone cast into a calm pond. This tug had a completely different flavor. Someone had entered the inn’s grounds. Someone powerful and dangerous.

I reached for my broom, resting in the corner by the door and stepped out onto the front porch. A figure in a grey rain poncho stood by the hedges, just on the edge of the inn’s grounds, politely waiting to be invited inside.

We had a visitor. Maybe even a guest, the right kind this time. I inclined my head, more of a very shallow bow than a nod.

The two doors behind me opened on their own. The figure approached slowly. The visitor was tall, almost a foot taller than me, which put him around six two, maybe six three. He walked into the inn. I followed him in and the doors closed behind me.

The figure pulled the cord securing his hood and shrugged off his rain poncho. A tall man stood in front of me. He was muscular, but lean, his shoulders straining his white shirt with flaring sleeves. An embroidered vest hugged his frame, black accented with blue. His long legs were clad into dark grey trousers. He wore supple black boots that came midway up his calf. A leather sword belt graced his narrow hips, supporting a long slender scabbard with an elaborate basket hilt protruding from it. He looked like he probably owned a wide-brimmed hat with some fluffy white feathers and possibly a cloak or two.

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