Home > Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(7)

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(7)
Ilona Andrews

The book was indexed by several criteria. I decided on Breathing. It was the most obvious choice and would let me knock a fair number of species off my list. The page offered me a long list of codes. I took a pair of forceps from the tray and pulled the beast's nose open. Nothing obstructed the four nasal passages. The air didn't seem to have had any adverse or toxic effects on it. I noted the codes for Nitrogen, Oxygen, Argon, CO2, and Neon, and continued.

Symmetry: bilateral. If you drew a line along the beast's body from nose to the tail, the left side would be the mirror image of the right. Habitat: tentatively terrestrial. It didn't have any gills, fins, feathers, or digging claws. Blood: white. A page of chemical tests presented itself, and I took a few samples and set to work.

Half an hour later I had the code range and pulled another thick volume from the shelf. "M4K6G-UR174-8LAN3-9800L-E86VA." Say that three times fast.

The pages rustled. My analysis gave me roughly one hundred and thirty-two possibilities. Luckily for me, the descriptions came with pictures. Let's see... No, no, ew, no, how did this thing even move, no... I kept turning the pages, and when a familiar revolting image appeared, I almost blew right by it.

Ma'avi Kerras. The Ma'avi Stalker family. Predatory, deadly, hunts by sight and scent, travels in packs. Packs. Great. The intelligence scale indicated the stalkers ranked between forty six and fifty eight, about as smart as the average baboon, which made them quite intelligent for the animal kingdom and very dangerous. Not intelligent enough to travel to the inn by themselves, however. Someone had brought this lovely creature here, to Red Deer, and let it loose on an unsuspecting populace. Had it been dumped here and left to wreak havoc? Why? By whom? Where were its masters?

I read the article again. It was more like a stub, a brief summary, than an in-depth description. I needed more data. I sighed. It's one thing to know your archives are woefully inadequate, but it's a completely different ball game when your nose is rubbed in it.

The stalker was dead. Even if I had somehow managed to take it alive, it didn't have the brainpower to spill the proverbial beans. Cutting it into small pieces would be satisfying --my ribs still hurt --but futile.

I pulled off my gloves. If only Mom and Dad were still here...

The heartache mugged me. I squeezed my eyes tight against the hurt and wished with everything I had that they would walk through the door. My magic rolled from me in a powerful wave.

The inn creaked in alarm.

Nice going. I was scaring the house.

I opened my eyes. They weren't there. Of course they weren't.

"It's all right." I petted the wall. "It's just a human thing. I miss them, that's all."

Further research would have to wait till morning when my head was clearer. I told the house to refrigerate my evidence and went upstairs to take a shower, treat my wounds, and swallow a couple of painkillers.

Chapter Three

Beast raised her head and growled. I opened my eyes. I was sitting in a soft, oversized chair, trying to cure my headache with a cup of coffee. Dealing with intruders was the next to last thing on my want-to-do list this morning, the last thing being anything that involved werewolves.

My wounds had turned out to be shallow. The claws had barely grazed my ribs --it still hurt like there was no tomorrow --and once properly treated, most of it was on the mend. Unfortunately, dawn brought me the gift of a splitting headache, and a thousand milligrams of painkiller wasn't even making a dent in it. I finally gave up on sleeping, crawled downstairs, made coffee, and settled down into the chair in the front seating area to drink my poison in peace.

My parents looked at me from the photograph on the wall. Yes, I went off the inn grounds and involved myself in some terrible mess. You would have too, in my position.

Beast barked, her gaze fixed on the screen door.

No peace for the wicked.

The magic splashed around me. Incoming. It could be a guest, although most guests would be more polite.

I leaned over to glance outside through the screen door. Sean Evans was marching across my yard, emitting menace. His face was grim and his eyes betrayed steely determination. All those hard muscles finally revealed their true purpose --they were propelling his big body toward me at an alarming speed and their strength guaranteed he'd mow down whatever was in his way. If I shut the door, he'd go right through it. That's how the medieval knights must've looked when they assaulted a castle.

I looked at Beast. "Raise the drawbridge."

The tiny dog gazed at me, puzzled.

"You're a terrible gatekeeper."

Sean pounded on the screen door's frame. "I know you're in there."

"Should we let him in?" I asked Beast.

"I can hear you," he snarled.

So he could. I sighed. "Okay. Come in. It's unlocked."

He yanked the door open and strode into the house. "Where is it?"

"Good morning to you too, sunshine."

"I said where is it?"

"Not so loud. I have a headache."

He leaned over, planting his hands on the arms of my chair. His amber eyes were all but glowing. Sean Evans was officially pissed off. Serves you right, furball.

"What did you do with it?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about." I drank my coffee.

"You went out and killed it last night and then you dragged it back here."

I gave him my best innocent look. "Sir, I think you might be crazy."

"You left a scent trail a mile long and I tracked it to this house. You took my kill and got hurt doing it."

"What makes you think that?"

"I smelled your blood. What the hell possessed you to go out there? I said I was handling it."

Oh, that was rich. "Handling what? I asked you to take care of it. You blew me off and decided to limit your involvement to poisoning my apples."

"Poisoning? Really?" He actually sputtered.

I'd wanted him to handle it because I hadn't wanted to break my neutrality and he was uniquely suited to killing things. But now that ship had sailed, and given his attitude, I was better off without his so-called help. I leaned forward so we were eye to eye. "It's being handled. Your involvement isn't necessary. You're free to continue on your serial urination spree."

"I don't think so."

"Sean! Go. Away."

He locked his jaw. "I don't know what the hell is going on here, but I'm not leaving until I get it sorted out."

Of all the rude, arrogant morons... "Is that so?"

"Yes. You will show that thing to me and from now on, I will deal with them."

I opened my eyes really wide and fluttered my eyelashes at him. "I'm sorry, I must've missed your coronation ceremony. Silly me."

"Dina!"

Ha! He remembered my name. I waved my fingers in the direction of the door. "Shoo. Leave, and don't slam the door on your way out."

He planted himself, arms crossed, muscles bulging. "Make me."

He didn't deserve a warning, but I gave him one anyway. "I've had about enough. I'm serious, Sean. Leave or there will be consequences."

"Give me your best shot."

Fine. "Your welcome is withdrawn."

Magic smashed into Sean. He went airborne. The side door swung open just in time and he flew through it and into the orchard. The orchard was a safer bet. The bulk of the house shielded it from the passersby and traffic, which would hopefully let us avoid pain-in-the-butt questions.

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