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TRACKING THE TEMPEST
by Nicole Peeler

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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“What in hell are you doing here?” Anyan demanded. “And what do you mean, you got stabbed?”

I eyed him warily. “You usurped my lentils.”

“The stabbing, Jane,” he replied, not batting an eyelash.

“Did you add the garlic?”

“Yes. Tell me how you got hurt.”

“I usually cut the stock with water.”

“I don’t. Now what happened to you?”

“That’s kind of a waste of stock.” I noticed that the very tip of his nose was starting to twitch.

“I swear to the gods that if you change the subject one more time I’m going to put you in the lentils.”

“The pot’s about to boil over.”

Anyan swore and wheeled about to lower the burner and stir the broth into submission. He also took a moment to visibly gather himself before turning to face me. I took the opportunity to compose myself, as well. It’s not just that I was trying to be difficult, it was also that I didn’t know how to act around Anyan, the man. The dog Anyan was no problem, but the man was a whole different kettle of fish. Kettle of man. Kettle of supernatural shapeshifting man-dog. Whatever.

And he had usurped my lentils.

Anyan picked up the wooden spoon again to dredge up a bit of broth. He turned around, blowing on it to cool it, before holding it out for me to taste.

“Check the seasoning for yourself,” he demanded, so I did.

“Is it fine?” I nodded. “Good, now forget the lentils and tell me what happened to you.”

I glared at him, but did as he asked in as few words as possible. As I told him, I unconsciously rubbed at the aching spot on my palm where the knife had gone in.

When I was finished, he stood there, staring at me. Then he walked around to where I was sitting. His large hand gripped mine, and he held it gently, probing at it with magic.

I shivered at the touch of his power and pulled my hand from his.

“Anyan, it’s fine...” I began to protest, but he silenced me with a thumb over my lips. The barghest cradled my jaw with his hand, forcing me to meet his grey eyes with my black. I could smell cardamom and leather and man. And maybe the faintest whiff of clean doggie.

“Shush, you. You’re still hurting. Let me see it.”

I was still hurting, damn him. So I pushed my curled fist back into his palm

He gently spread my fingers open with both hands, stroking his thumbs over my palm. I didn’t know which was hotter: Anyan’s own skin or the healing magics he sent through me. I felt like a child, dwarfed by his imposing frame as he loomed over me, his attention turned inward as he fixed whatever was still wrong with me.

“You took a knife to save Ryu?” he asked, making me start. His voice had gone quiet, if still rough. His fingers tracing over my skin were ridiculously gentle.

“Yeah,” I said, blushing. “And it was a Crocodile Dundee ‘knoife,’” I clarified. Then I hung my head. “But Ryu had already jumped clear. So I saved a patch of empty air.”

“It’s not what you did, Jane. It’s what you intended.”

I frowned. But I don’t know what I intended, I suddenly wanted to tell Anyan, even though I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why it was so important he know that.

I was distracted, however, as another warm surge of power went into my hand and I felt - and heard - something pop. The ache was gone, finally, and I suddenly really wanted to stretch it out.

“You were very brave,” Anyan told me, his rough voice dark.

I blushed, stretching my hand out underneath his calloused palm.

“Never do something like that again,” he concluded, as he ran his thumb one last time over my palm before he turned back to the stove to stir the lentils.

Suddenly too warm, I took my cardigan off as I watched him fiddle with the fire until he got the lentils to simmer just so. My eyes widened as, suddenly, everything fell into place. I was such a moron.

“The cabin,” I breathed. “It’s yours, isn’t it. Not Nell’s.”

He snorted, still facing the stove.

“You thought it was Nell’s?”

I glared at his broad back. “Dude, you were a dog when I met you and I thought that’s all you were. Dogs don’t usually own property.”

“Okay, but how did you think Nell reached anything? Levitation?” he asked, as he finally turned back around to face me.

“Stepladders,” I replied, automatically.

“Stepladders?”

“Yes, stepladders. Like I have.”

Anyan’s big face opened up in a huge smile and I couldn’t help but smile back, it was that infectious. It transformed him.

“Poor little Jane. Your life must be one giant stepladder. When we get back to Rockabill, I’ll make you stilts.”

I laughed, looking down at his hands. I’d felt how rough the skin was on them, even if his touch had been gentle. They were scarred and rough and calloused. A working man’s hands.

Or an artist who sculpted metal.

 “Did you make all the stuff in there?” I asked. “The art?”

He nodded, looking a little embarrassed. “Yeah, most of it. It’s what I do. I’m not really good at the human money stuff, like the others, so I do what I’ve always done. I stick to art. Luckily, I have a few lifetimes’ worth of international reputation, so the money’s decent.”

“It’s beautiful. I love the one in the bathroom,” I admitted before I had time to reflect that probably sounded a little weird.

He laughed, a big, rich sound that filled the kitchen.

“I knew you would. That you’d get why it was in there.”

I thought about it. “It’s one of the stories you told me when I was in the hospital, isn’t it?”

He nodded. I leaned forward on my stool. “And those stories about the fighting dog who saved his people, those were really your stories, weren’t they?”

I think he actually blushed. “I didn’t know any other stories,” he admitted.

“They were good stories,” I told him, gently. “I appreciated them very much.”

His big hands clenched into fists and he turned back to the stove to stir the lentils.

“So you saved your people, and you made an iron cartoon about it, and then you hung it in your bathroom.”

He shrugged, silently, in assent.

“How very postmodern of you,” I grinned.