Home > Sweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5)(8)

Sweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5)(8)
Author: Ilona Andrews

I turned around. Olasard, otherwise known as the Ripper of Souls, sat by the door.

“What are you doing here?”

The large Maine Coon cat looked at me with his big green eyes. I had rescued him from a glass box in the nearby PetSmart about a year ago. Now he moved through the inn as he pleased, and for some mysterious reason, Gertrude Hunt accommodated his wanderings.

“He’s a pet,” I explained.

Olasard chose that moment to walk over and rub on my legs. I picked him up and he sprawled in my arms, purring up a storm. I kept a good hold on him. Thek was on the larger side as far as koo-ko went, technically too large to be considered house cat prey, but it never hurt to be careful.

“Is the debate over for today?” I asked.

Thek surveyed the dangling cages. “Regrettably, a period of meditation is in order.”

I waved my hand. The cages slid to opposite sides of the chamber. The bridges retracted, and the claws released their captives, who glided to the floor by their respective coops. The philosophers stumbled about, trying to regain some measure of dignity. Two automated medical chambers slid out of the floor, looking like six-foot-tall glossy metal spheres. The spheres slid open and the first of the injured combatants ambled over to them.

“All is well that ends well,” the First Scholar declared.

Magic tugged on me. Someone had parked by the inn.

“In that case, please excuse me,” I said. “I’m needed elsewhere.”

“Thank you for your timely assistance,” Thek said.

I nodded, walked out into the hallway, and set Olasard on the floor. “Stay away from the koo-ko.”

Olasard purred.

“I’m serious. They will kill you, and it’s not a euphemism.”

Olasard stretched. Why I was having this conversation with a cat was beyond me.

Beast tore down the corridor toward me, exploding into barks. She must have gone outside through the doggy door and she didn’t like what she’d found out there.

“Front camera feed.”

I marched down the hallway. The feed from the inn’s front cameras slid on the wall in front of me, trying to keep up. On it, a fit man in a black suit got out of the back seat of a black SUV, looked around, and opened the front passenger door. An older man wearing an expensive trench coat and sunglasses got out and stared at Gertrude Hunt.

For some reason, Sean’s description of him made me expect a good ole boy or a version of a human buzzard with a bald head and beady eyes. This man wasn’t that. Tall, trim, he would have been at home on the streets of London or New York. His skin was a golden bronze, the kind fashion magazines photoshop onto the models when they want to convey health, wealth, and vacations in tropical places. His features were universally handsome: defined, dimpled chin, a square jaw, a wide mouth, a strong nose, carved cheek bones, and a broad forehead. His thick wavy hair, once dark and now salted with distinguished silver, was on the longer side of a short male haircut, shorter on his temples, and long enough to style on top.

He could have been from the Mediterranean, the Middle East, or Latin America, or he could have been an Englishman with a serious tan. Without seeing his eyes, it was hard to tell.

The man started up my driveway, his bodyguard shadowing him. They didn’t pull up onto the property. Interesting.

I reached the front room, shrugged off my robe, and hung it on the side hook. Beast let out a slow deep rumble by my feet. I picked her up, just in case.

The pair approached the front door. The older man looked for a bell, didn’t find one, and settled for knocking on the screen door. I let him knock for a few seconds and answered.

“Good afternoon. Can I help you?”

The older man took off his sunglasses. His eyes were solid black and piercing, like two chunks of shiny coal set into his face.

“Is she here?” His voice was deep and powerful, and he sounded like a man used to issuing commands.

I could play dumb, or I could acknowledge the meeting. Playing dumb seemed pointless, since I would have to let him in at the appointed time.

“You are too early, Mr. Peterson,” I told him.

He looked over my shoulder at the front room. “I want a room.”

“We have no vacancy. There are two hotels down the street within two miles of here.”

“I’ll pay you a thousand dollars per night.”

“No, you won’t. We have no vacancy.”

“Ten thousand dollars per night.”

“Mr. Peterson, there are rules to this meeting. You must abide by them or it won’t take place.”

His eyebrows came together. He jerked his head at his bodyguard. The other man moved toward the door. They were planning to force their way in. Either they had discussed this en route or bullying his way into people’s houses was a normal thing for Rudolph Peterson.

There were a million ways I could stop them, most of which would betray the special nature of the inn to two humans. I settled on the simplest.

The bodyguard grasped the door handle of the screen door and pulled. The door remained shut. I had fused it into the wall. From the outside, it looked normal, but from the inside, the hinges and the outline of the door disappeared, melting into the wall.

The bodyguard stopped pulling and pushed. The door remained shut.

Peterson looked at him. The bodyguard locked his teeth, grasped the door handle, planted his foot against the wall, and pulled. He was remarkably strong, but he was trying to pull down the entire front wall.

The bodyguard let go, spun a kick, and hammered his heel into the door. It didn’t even shudder.

Peterson grimaced. “Cut it.”

The bodyguard pulled out a folding knife, flicked it open with a practiced twist of his wrist, and slashed at the screen. The knife glanced off with a spray of sparks. My screens were made from an advanced metal alloy. It would repel prolonged fire from a squad level assault weapon at point blank range.

The bodyguard looked at Peterson.

I petted Beast.

The short whoop of a police siren turned on for two seconds and echoed down the street. A black-and-white cruiser pulled up behind the SUV. Officer Marais got out, made a show of checking the SUV’s license plate, and marched up to my front door. Sean must have gotten ahold of him after all.

Peterson gave Marais a tough stare. Marais looked back at him with that flat cop expression that made you feel guilty even if you hadn’t done anything, because that look said you must have done something and now there would be consequences.

Marais finished looking at Peterson and decided to look at the bodyguard instead. His stare slid to the knife in the bodyguard’s hand.

The bodyguard looked uncomfortable.

Marais put his hand on his service weapon. “Drop the knife.”

The bodyguard let go of the blade and it fell to the porch.

“I have received a report of trespassing at this address. Ma’am, would you like these two men to leave?”

“I would.”

Marais pivoted to Peterson. “Sir, please exit the property.”

Peterson threw me a sharp look, his black eyes unreadable, turned and walked down the driveway without a word. The bodyguard followed. Marais winked at me, slid the cop expression back on, and trailed Peterson and his bodyguard down the driveway.

On one hand, knowing Sean worried about me and Marais cared enough to protect me made me warm and fuzzy. On the other hand, when Sean came back, I would have to go over the innkeeper policy with regard to exposure and seeking outside assistance. Plus, I totally had this. At no point were Peterson and his bodyguard coming into our inn, and the hardest thing about this whole ordeal had been making sure Beast didn’t show them her real teeth.

Marais aside, mission accomplished. Peterson hadn’t entered the inn and nothing out of the ordinary happened to make him suspect that Gertrude Hunt was anything other than a typical bed and breakfast. With a remarkably strong screen door.

On the street, the bodyguard opened the front passenger door for Peterson. The Evil Millionaire moved to get in, turned his head, and froze.

A very large man walked up to the inn. He wore a full-length leather coat and cowboy boots and he was making an odd metallic jangle as he walked. His hair was long and fell to his shoulders in perfectly symmetrical golden blond waves, as if he had spent a staggering amount of time with a curling iron and then killed half of the planet’s ozone layer spraying it in place. His features reminded me of someone from Polynesia, a Mauri or a Hawaiian, but something was definitely off about the proportions.

And who might you be?

The bodyguard gaped at the giant, his mouth slightly slack. Peterson squinted, as if aiming a gun. Both he and the bodyguard were a couple of inches above six feet, and this man towered a full foot or more above them.

I pulled up a screen and zoomed in on his face. The man’s irises were a brilliant, vivid magenta, the exact color of a spinel ring Caldenia pondered buying last year and dismissed as “too pink.”

The stranger fluttered his unnaturally long blond eyelashes and opened his mouth.

Don’t speak, don’t speak, don’t speak…

“Greetings, local keeper of the peace.”

I groaned.

“Can I help you, sir?” Marais asked, the same flat expression on his face.

“Might I inquire about the location of the closest lodging house?”

Marais didn’t bat an eye. “Up that driveway.” He nodded to indicate Gertrude Hunt.

“I thank you muchly,” the stranger declared. “Fare thee well, constable.”

He turned and jangled up my driveway. I zoomed in on his feet. His boots had spurs.

Who had I upset in my previous life?

The man raised his shovel sized hands and held them together, touching his index and middle fingers at the top and his thumbs at the bottom, forming a diamond space between. A Medamoth with a humanizer. Just what we needed.

I raised my hands, interlacing my fingers and holding them straight with thumbs pressed against palms, so my hands formed an x.

“Greetings, innkeeper.”

“Welcome, honored guest.”

He grasped the door handle, the screen door swung open effortlessly, and he ducked inside.

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