Erin did not see Kota return, breathless and covered in sweat after his escape from the farm. She even smiled at him when he came down the stairs a few hours later, after some uneasy rest.
“Hello,” he said warily, wondering if she had not heard about the wolf running around the Farmers’ place or if she was trying to get him to drop his guard.
“Hey, do you think you can watch this place while I take care of some errands in town?” Erin asked. “It won’t be for long, I just need to get a few things before the stores close.”
“But what if…” Kota glanced in the direction of the merchants who were sprawled around the common room, relaxing after the business of the day and lowered his voice. “What if someone needs me to go outside? There’s a few more hours before the sun goes down.”
“Well, you’re just going to have to think of something then. I’m not going to be gone that long,” she said, and walked out the door despite Kota’s continuing protests.
Kota wondered how fast news traveled in such a small town. He then wondered if he should go ahead and pack now, or wait until Erin returned with the mob before sneaking out the back door. Then one of the guests asked him about the broken shower head in the bathroom, and he found himself fixing that along with the toilet that kept clogging up and the door that wouldn’t unlock, which turned out to be a problem of not knowing which way to turn the key. Then there was dinner, for a group of hungry guests who couldn’t agree on what they wanted. By the time he had more than a few seconds to string together another thought, Erin was trudging in the back door under the weight of several bags and packages.
Kota looked in the kitchen at the sound of the door slamming and almost managed to back out again.
“Don’t you dare. Come back in here, right now.” Erin’s level voice was betrayed by the way she dropped the bags on the counter and spun around on him. “I heard about the farm.”
“Oh.” Kota bit his lip and waited, but Erin’s stare drove him into speaking. “After what you said this morning, about something attacking the farmer’s livestock—”
“About you attacking them!” Erin’s finger came out and struck Kota’s chest. “What, you heard about the cow and thought you’d go for a snack? Free meat?”
“No! I was trying to figure out what did it, but I couldn’t find anything,” Kota said. “No tracks, no scent, just the remains of a cow that looked like it had run into something much worse than some bear or wolf.”
“You’re not helping your case there,” Erin replied.
Kota frowned and for a moment, shorter than a breath, his expression darkened and his mouth thinned as it tried to hold back what he wanted to say.
Erin ignored the warning signs and added, “Do you know, they’re talking about starting a hunt back in town? They say that if a wolf is willing to risk getting that close to humans in broad daylight for food, it won’t be worried about attacking humans.”
“Well then, it’s a good thing it’s not a wolf, and it’s not looking for food,” Kota answered.
“You don’t understand! They’re looking for you now, and if anyone sees you, if they figure out what you are—”
“Then it won’t be any different than if they figured it out before.” Kota turned and left the kitchen.
Erin used one of the words her father saved for the forge and started emptying the bags for something to do. Her hands shook and she had to force herself to stop and calm down after she kept dropping everything. The image of Kota, that stick-thin young man who always looked like he was cowering from the world, turning into the wolf kept running through her head. She felt sick, but she couldn’t tell if it was from fear or worry.
When she finally left the kitchen, Erin found the common room empty except for Kota, slowly sweeping his way around the room.
He looked up and said, “The guests have all gone to their rooms.”
Kota hesitated and then added, “I’m sorry to have caused you trouble, Erin. I only meant to help.”
Erin flushed red, but her acidic reply was cut off by a knock at the door.
They looked at each other and then Kota walked over and opened the door to find what appeared to be a well-dressed young man with bright blue eyes and strawberry-tinted blonde hair standing in the dark outside with a wide smile.
“Hello,” he said in a rich voice that lingered on the ears. “May I come in?”
“No,” Kota said and swiftly shut the door in his face.
“Kota!” Shocked, Erin pushed him out of the way and opened the door, where the young man still stood with a slightly more fixed smile. “I’m so sorry about that. Please, come in, and welcome to the Last Inn.”
Kota facepalmed as the young man walked in and said, “Thank you. So, the name of this place really is the Last Inn? Why is that?”
“Well, the previous owner chose the name and I’m not really sure— What is it, Kota?” Erin asked, pushing him away when he tried to pull her to the side.
“Why did you invite him in?” Kota asked, not even bothering to keep his voice down.
“Why did you shut the door on a guest?” Erin replied. She smiled at the young man and said, “I’m sorry, he’s really not like this most of the time.”
“Yes, well, I’m sure I can understand,” the young man said. He was still smiling, but to Kota it seemed to be mocking him. “Although I am impressed. Most people can’t recognize a vampire that quickly.”