Home > Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles #2)(6)

Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles #2)(6)
Ilona Andrews

Why did I even think of Sean Evans?

Sean was an alpha strain werewolf. His parents had escaped the destruction of their home planet and came to Earth where they built a life, had Sean, and raised him, all in secret. Earth served as a waypoint for many travelers from the Great Beyond. The Universe, with all of its planets, dimensions, and timelines needed its Atlanta, a neutral place to meet, do business, or sometimes simply stop-over on the way to somewhere else. It served this role for thousands of years, while its native population lived in complete ignorance of the strange beings who sometimes visited the planet in twilight. That’s why inns and innkeepers like me existed. We had only two concerns: keeping our guests safe and keeping them hidden. We stayed neutral and we didn’t get involved. Sean Evans had entered my life when I had chosen to throw caution to the wind and involved myself in something really dangerous.

In retrospect it was probably foolish, but I didn’t regret it. Together, Sean, Arland from House Krahr, and I saved our small town from an interstellar assassin. Arland got to avenge a murder as an added bonus, and Sean learned the truth: he wasn’t an Earth-born mutation but a product of genetic breeding from another planet. All werewolves were soldiers designed to repel a planet-wide invasion by an overwhelming force, but Sean was an alpha-strain variant. Bigger, faster, stronger, a special forces kind of warrior. The genetic programming must’ve bred true, because he became a soldier here on Earth, but he could never quite find the right place for himself.

We met and I thought we had something.

No, that would be wishful thinking. We had the beginning of something, but once he glimpsed the Universe beyond this planet, it was all over. The werewolves had destroyed their own planet rather than surrender it to their enemy, and he could never go “home” but the stars called him. Because of me he ended up owing an old werewolf a favor and once the danger here had been dealt with, Sean left to repay his debt. I knew the pull of the stars. I’d answered it myself for a while. When he walked through a portal to the sun drenched street of Baha-char, some part of me knew he wouldn’t be coming back any time soon, but still I hoped he might be back in a month or two. It’s been almost half a year now. Sean was gone.

I’d decided to put him out of my mind, and for the most part I completely succeeded, but sometimes he just popped into my head. I’d glance at the back patio, remember him jumping three feet in the air when I moved it, and smile. Or I’d recall his voice. Or how it felt to be kissed by him.

“I can’t help it,” I told Beast. “It will get better. It just needs time.”

If Beast had an opinion about my occasional involuntary mooning, she kept it to herself.

I opened the front door and strode down the grass to the dark figure waiting to me by the oak. He stood swaddled in a cloak. He seemed tall when I looked at him from above, but on the same level he seemed almost towering, six five at least. I had to tilt my head. Beast growled low.

The dark figure raised his left hand, fingers up. “Winter sun.” His voice was rough but his diction was flawless. Whatever translator he was using worked perfectly.

An otrokar. “Winter sun to you as well.” Winter sun was the kinder, gentler sun. “Welcome.”

We walked back to the front door and I let him in.

He shrugged off the cloak. I’d seen an otrokar before. They frequented my parents’ inn. But having him here, in my small front room was an entirely different experience.

He stood tall, his shoulders broad, his stance light despite his size. A dark-brown armor of braided leather strips clasped his body. It was reinforced on the forearms, thighs, and shins by hard plates, dark brown dappled with sprays of black and red in an organic pattern only a living creature could produce. The same plates shielded his chest, streaked through with golden metal that announced presence of high-tech electronics. A belt with pockets set on his waist, and small metal, bone, and wooden talismans hung from it. Otrokar were excellent spacers, and his was the kind of armor designed to protect while still letting one bend and flex while fighting within the confines of a space craft. He carried no weapons except for a short sword or a long knife that rested in a sheath on his right thigh.

His skin was a deep bronze with a gold undertone. His hair, too coarse for a human, was cut short and seemed black at first glance, but when he turned and hair caught the light, it shone with dark red. Not the human orange-tinted red, but the deep, violent color of a ruby. His eyes, under inhumanly thick eyebrows, were a startling light green. From the back he could almost pass for a really tall native, but his face made it clear – this was the same primary human seed that had given rise to us and vampires, but it had clearly grown on a different planet. The planes of his face were sharper, as if it had been hacked with a knife from a piece of clay, the texture of his skin rougher, the proportions of the face skewed slightly. His jaw was triangular, his nose narrow, and when he spoke, his lips showed a narrow flash of sharp predatory teeth. Otrokar had evolved on a world with scorching sun and endless plains. They hunted in pack and ran their prey to ground.

We looked at each other. The Beast growled low by my feet. She clearly didn’t like his smell. The otrokar glanced at her, his eyes evaluating. He looked like a man who expects to be jumped at any moment and he wanted there to be no doubt that he’d pull hid knife out and slice his attacker to narrow ribbons.

“What can I do for you?” Stop sizing up my dog, please.

“My name is Dagorkun.” The otrokar raised his hand. A golden medallion studded with jewels hung from a leather cord clasped in his fingers. A stylized sun with stabbing rays, the symbol of the Khan, the leader of the Horde.

I inclined my head. “I’m honored.”

“I’m here on behalf of my people to inspect the rooms.”

“Very well. Would you like some tea as we walk?”

He blinked. “Yes.”

“It will only take a moment.” I stepped into the kitchen. Some things were constant in the Universe. Two and two didn’t always equal four, but every water-based species at some point had heated water and threw some plants into it.

Dagorkun followed me into the kitchen. I took two mugs from the cupboard, one with strawberries on it and the other with a small black cat, filled them with hot water from the Keurg and put two bag of chai in to soak. Dagorkun watched me like a hawk. Clearly he expected to be poisoned.

“Is this your first time on Earth?”

He waited for a long moment, clearly thinking over if it was wise to answer. “Yes.”

“You are now a guest of my inn. Your safety is my utmost priority.” I fished the tea bags out, put them into a small dish, got a canister of sugar that was made of thick blue glass and put a spoonful of it into my chai. “Neither my dog, nor my inn will hurt you, unless you attempt to harm another guest.”

“The vampires recommend you,” Dagorkun said.

I put a spoon of sugar into his cup. One, two… “Yes, but it doesn’t mean I’ll treat them any differently than your people. I’m a neutral party.”

Three… Four ought to do it. He looked like a northerner to me. The southern Otrokar had a greener undertone to their skin. I offered him the cup. He picked it up carefully.

“What if you stopped being neutral?”

“The rating of my inn would be downgraded. It would be known that this was an unsafe place to stay. No guests would visit, and without guests, the inn would wither, fall into hibernation, and die.”

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