Home > Tracking the Tempest (Jane True #2)(15)

Tracking the Tempest (Jane True #2)(15)
Author: Nicole Peeler

“Salim,” I breathed. “It's beautiful.”

He merely grunted. “Of course. You had doubts? Salim is a genius.” He mopped his brow with a purple silk handkerchief. “I am exhausted. You refresh me?” he inquired, waving his singular, and singularly impressive, eyebrow at me.

“Easy,” Grizzie commanded, unfolding her long frame to stand behind me and play with my new hair. Her eyes met mine in the mirror and she frowned.

“Now we talk about you. And Ryu.”

I blanched, setting the mirror down in my lap.

“Don't worry, hon. You know I don't give advice,” she said. “I've made enough mistakes for four hundred women, and I have no business telling anyone how to live their life.” She paused, thinking. When she started speaking again, her voice was soft. Hesitant. As if she wasn't sure how I'd react.

“You keep saying that things with Ryu are complicated. But I know you really like him. And I know you need time to figure shit out, especially after Jason and everything you've been through. But I don't want you to be afraid to take risks. If it's worth it… If the person in his eyes is the person you want to be, the person you know you could be… then don't be scared. That's all.” She tugged my hair roughly, her deep voice roughening as her confidence reasserted itself.

I thought about what she said. I knew it was good advice, even if I didn't know exactly what to make of it. I had come a huge way since that night in the cove, so many months ago, when I'd made peace with Jason's death. But I also knew a body didn't recover from something like that overnight. Grizzie was also spot on in calling me out on the fact that my constant reply to questions about Ryu was, “It's complicated.” I sounded like Facebook. But our relationship was bloody complicated…

“You okay?” she asked, tugging again on a thick lock of my hair.

“Yeah, Griz. I am. I'm just thinking about what you said. And it makes sense. Thank you.” I leaned my head back so that it nestled in her soft belly, looking up to meet her eyes with my own. “And thank you for telling me your secret. I'll keep it close.”

“I know you will, hon. And you're welcome.” She leaned down to kiss me on the forehead. I closed my eyes, so glad of Grizzie's friendship and the trust she'd just shown in me. She left her lips pressed to my forehead for a few seconds until she rounded out the gesture with a typical Grizzie gesture. As she stood, she swiped her tongue over my forehead, causing me to squirm.

“Ewwww, Griz!”

She snickered, high-fiving Salim. “Quit yer whinin'. And let's go so we can take you to the Sty and show off your new hair, you sassy minx…”

I rubbed my sleeve over my damp forehead, laughing as Grizzie pulled me from the chair. I paid Salim, who gave me the “Grizzie discount,” thank the gods, since the prices on the chart behind him were ridiculous. Then Griz and I headed out the door. It was a beautiful night in Eastport: The sun had set an hour ago, but it still tinged the sky so that around us shone a swathe of sapphire blue. I could hear the sea beckoning, and I promised to join her soon for our nightly frolic. I sighed contentedly. My family was safe; my friends were safe; I was training and growing my magic and working. All was well with the world and, now, with my hair.

What more could a girl ask for?

CHAPTER EIGHT

After work the next day, I went to Nell's to train, as usual. Caleb and Daoud were with my dad. Scheduled to leave tomorrow, they were furiously trying to fit in as many hands of poker as they could to try to recoup their losses, alongside their wounded pride.

Despite, or maybe because of, the threat of Conleth, Nell and I had not stopped our daily meetings. For that first week, while the threat had loomed, we'd worked on beefing up my shields even more, but now that caution had abated, we'd moved to glamours for the last few days. Unfortunately, I'd discovered I sucked at creating them. My brain just couldn't make the connection between forming an image and then projecting that image. Nell told me it was because I was thinking in terms of physical, rather than magical, laws, but I had no idea what the hell she meant.

That said, I may not have been looking forward to training, but I was very much looking forward to getting to the cabin. I'd sucked down a coffee before leaving work, and I was seriously about to pee in my pants. The gnome was going to have to open her house for me, or suffer the consequences.

I hotfooted it through the growing dusk of the evening, up the rocky driveway toward the main door of the cabin. As I mounted the stairs, I noticed that the front door was open, although the screen door was shut. Nell almost never left the doors open, so I didn't try to enter, but walked around the wraparound porch to the back door, as usual. Unusually, however, it was open as well.

“Hello? Nell?” I called, placing a hand on the screen door's handle but not pulling. I could see the bathroom beckoning me, but after what had happened in Boston, I wasn't taking anything for granted.

I peered around the dim interior of the cabin until I thought I saw someone: a large, man-shaped shadow upstairs on the wall of the open loft that was the cabin's only bedroom. I backed away from the door, raising my shields cautiously.

“Nell? Are you there?” I called, suddenly nervous. “Are you okay?”

“Easy, Jane. It's me,” came a growling voice as the dark shadow melted down the loft's stairs and toward the door.

“Anyan.” I grinned, relief flooding through me.

A huge dog padded into the glare of the porch light, his red-tinged black coat as thick and shaggy as I remembered. His tail wagged and his mouth was split in a doggy grin, tongue lolling.

Anyan Barghest lived in the cabin with Nell when he was around, which wasn't often. He would pop in every three weeks or so, stay for a day or two, and then be off again. I think he used to live there full-time, but after what had happened at the Compound last November, Anyan had been mostly MIA.

He pushed open the screen door with his broad head. “C'mon in. Nell will be here soon.”

I walked inside, eagerly inhaling the cabin's delicious scent of lemon wax and cardamom. I hadn't been inside in a while, but everything was the same. A huge kitchen dominated one half of the cabin, replete with a gorgeous Wolf restaurant range and equally impressive Sub-Zero fridge and freezer. The rest of the cabin contained a rectangular trestle table that would probably seat twenty and a seating area full of comfy, overstuffed furniture covered in battered brown leather.

I jumped when Anyan nuzzled his cold nose into my fingers, and then laughed as he maneuvered his head under my hand. Obligingly, I scratched the base of his fuzzy, erect ears, the tips of which were just about level with my br**sts. I might be a small woman, but he was one giant dog. For a second, I considered throwing my leg over him and riding him like a pony. Then I thought better of that idea.

“How have you been?” he asked.

“Oh, fine. Busy. How about you?”

“Fine,” he chuckled. “Busy. I got back as soon as I could, when I got Ryu's messages. But all seems quiet?”

I nodded, scratching downward from his ear, down the ticklish crevice where his cheek met his neck, and then underneath to his chin.

“It's good to be home,” he panted, helping my quest by tilting his head, obligingly.

“When did you get back?” I asked, just as I hit a sensitive spot and he closed his eyes and growled in doggy pleasure. He did love a good scratching.

“Just a few hours ago. I was napping.”

I thought of the big shape upstairs. The big man shape.

“Oh,” I said, withdrawing my hand, feeling my face flush. Anyan was a barghest, a two-formed like my mother. Only he could shape-shift between a dog and a man. And by dog, I meant the hellhound whose ears I'd just been scratching. And by man, I meant a huge, very muscular, rugby-thighed, gorgeously gadonked, throw-you-over-his-shoulder male. And I know this because I had been thrown over his shoulder, while he was na**d, where I got a good gander of the whole thighs-slash-gadonk combo.

We'd never talked about what happened at the Compound, and I'd dealt with everything by convincing myself that man-Anyan and dog-Anyan were two entirely different entities. Which I knew was inaccurate, but it was also an easy delusion to maintain, as I never saw man-Anyan. I'd met Anyan when he was furry, and I had only seen him furry since, except for that time he'd saved my life at the Compound. Because of this, I had no trouble forgetting there was a man inside the gargantuan puppy that played Frisbee and liked his belly rubbed. Every once in a while, however, I was reminded of the truth, which made things decidedly weird.

“Are you all right?” he rumbled, scanning my black eyes with his gray ones, until he leaned down to nuzzle my fingers again. “You look tired.”

I smiled. “Just busy. And I hate glamours, by the way.”

He chuckled, a gravelly sound that should have sounded abrasive but didn't. “They're tough. You'll get it.”

I sighed. “I hope so. 'Cause they're killing me right now.” Suddenly, a stabbing pain emitted from my bladder as it reminded me, brutally, of its existence. “But I really need to pee. I mean, I need to use the ladies' room. Excuse me.”

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