Home > Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(4)

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(4)
Ilona Andrews

Sean frowned. "Sure, if you're five. Got a touch of arrested development happening there?"

Argh. "What I have happening is none of your business."

"It fits," he said.

"What?"

"The T-shirt. It fits your whole lifestyle. I bet you grew up around here too."

Where was he going with this? "Maybe."

"Probably never left the town, right? Never been anywhere strange, never done anything crazy, and now you run this bed-and-breakfast and drink tea with old ladies on a balcony. A nice quiet life."

Ha! "There is nothing wrong with a nice quiet life."

"Sure." Sean shrugged. "When I was twenty-four, I wanted to see the world. I wanted to go places and meet people."

I couldn't resist. "And kill them."

He bared his teeth at me. "Sometimes. The point is, if you've stayed around here all your life, how do you know about werewolves? There isn't one for miles, and if there is, they're dormant. I combed this territory before I took it. The closest werewolf is in a suburb of Houston, and when I spoke to him, he confirmed that there hasn't been an active werewolf in this area for years. So how do you know about werewolves?"

"Don't like your own kind much, do you?"

"Do you always duck the questions or am I just special?"

"You're special," I told him, sinking as much sarcasm into it as I could. "Now shoo. Go on."

He dipped his head and stared at me, with unblinking, focused intensity like a wolf in the middle of winter sighting his prey. His eyes shone, catching the moonlight. Every hair on the back of my neck rose.

"I'll find out. I don't like being out of the loop."

And now he was threatening me. That does it. One more word and he'd regret ever opening his mouth. "Leave. Now."

The werewolf grinned at me, his eyes full of wild. "Fine, fine. Sleep tight."

He dropped off the branch, fell two stories to the ground, landed in a soft half crouch, and took off running. His long legs carried him out of my orchard, and a second later the magic chimed in my head, announcing that he had left the inn grounds.

I turned and walked back to my bedroom, the balcony door closing softly behind me. Obnoxious smart-ass. Never been anywhere, never done anything, huh. Arrested development, huh. Considering that it was coming from a man who spent his nights peeing on his neighbors' fences, that was rich. Shoot, I should've told him that. Oh well, too late now.

I climbed back into bed. They didn't call his kind lunatics for nothing. At least he decided to do something about the dog killer.

Half an hour later I decided it was time to stop thinking up witty and inventive insults involving werewolves. The house was quiet. Beast snored softly. I yawned, flipped over my warm pillow, and scooted deeper under the covers. Time to go to sleep...

The magic rippled, splashing against me like a tide. Someone was running along the edge of the inn's grounds, skimming it. It was moving fast, too fast for a human. It could be Sean, but somehow I doubted it.

Chapter Two

I knelt by the spot where the intruder had veered off from the inn's boundary. Four triangular indentations marked the hard soil--claw marks. The trespasser had sunk its claws into the ground as it turned on its foot and dashed off. I had just missed it.

In front of me the street lay silent, the trees mere charcoal shadows rustling softly in the wind like sheets of paper sliding against each other. The subdivision was hardly rambunctious, and even on Friday nights, the activity died down by midnight. It was close to one o'clock.

I breathed in quietly, listening, watching. No hint of movement anywhere. No stray noises. I'd taken three precious seconds to throw on some shorts and a thicker T-shirt and snap a rubber band around my hair, and now the thing with claws was gone.

I raised my hand, focused my power on the tips of my fingers, and then touched the indentation. A pale yellow trail ignited on the ground. It faded almost instantly, but not before I registered its direction. It was heading down the street, deeper into the subdivision.

Chasing it would mean leaving the inn's grounds, where I was at my strongest. I should stay out of it. I should turn around and go back to bed. It was none of my business.

If it killed a child, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. I'd made my decision, for better or worse. Now wasn't the time to have doubts.

I needed a weapon. Something with reach. I concentrated. The broom flowed in my hand, the "plastic" of its handle melting into dark metal shot through with hairline fractures of glowing, brilliant blue. A razor-sharp blade formed on one end while the shaft of the broom elongated to seven feet. An old line from an Italian martial-arts manual popped into my head: the longer the spear, the less deceiving it is. Seven feet would do.

The last of the blue cracks melted. The spear, now the dark gray of Teflon, felt comforting in my hand. I took off down the road, keeping to the shadows. The glowing trail faded. I would've loved to rekindle it, but I'd left the inn's grounds and my bag of fun tricks had shrunk.

Avalon Subdivision had been built by a drunkard who couldn't draw a straight line if his life had depended on it. The streets didn't just turn, they curved and looped back on themselves as if they were the whorls of a giant's thumbprint. Camelot Road was the subdivision's main street, and even it bent like a snake slithering through the forest of houses. I passed by the side streets, briefly glancing down each one. Gawain Street, Igraine Road, Merlin Circle... The streets lay empty. Here and there lights were still on, but most of the residents had gone to bed.

Galahad Road.

A floodlight shone bright in the distance. Probably motion triggered. Someone or something was moving outside.

Keep going or check it out? If it was nothing, it would cost me time. But if it was something, I could stop looking.

I crossed the street to the opposite side and ran, hiding in the shadows of mature oaks. It would only take a minute.

A house sat in the shadow of a poplar tree. Gray Texas limestone, two stories, bay window, two-car garage --pretty standard fare for the subdivision. A car sat in the driveway, a Honda Odyssey, both passenger doors and the hatch open, showing white plastic bags in the cargo area, probably from a twenty-four-hour grocery store. The familiar shape of a child's car seat curved in the back. The door of the house stood ajar.

A couple coming home from a trip, maybe? They must've stopped at the store on the way so they wouldn't have to go out tomorrow, come home, parked, and taken their child inside. It was probably nothing, but I wouldn't know until I took a closer look.

The house directly across the street from the limestone offered no cover, but the property right before it had a nice thick hedge. I snuck over to the hedge and crouched to the side of it, resting my spear in the grass.

A car started somewhere deeper in the subdivision and drove away, the sound of its engine fading. Silence claimed the night. The moon shone bright, a glowing silver coin spilling gauzy veils of light onto thin shreds of clouds. Here and there stars pierced the darkness. To the left, a plane left a pale trail across the sky. The air smelled fresh, the night breeze pleasantly cool on my skin.

Quiet.

A shadow dashed across the lit-up driveway, swiped a grocery bag from the back of the Odyssey, and sprinted across the yard to the side of the house before sinking into the night shadows.

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