When Erin walked into the main room of the inn the next morning, yawning and rubbing her eyes, she thought she had woken up far earlier than she meant to. With all of the windows and shutters closed, the overhead lights could only make a dent in the gloom that pervaded the room. She stumbled over a chair and made for one of the windows.
Erin jumped and whirled around. Following the sound of his voice, she finally spotted Miles sitting with his feet propped up on the reception desk.
“Or at least let me get a head start,” he added. “This time of the morning, the sun shines right in this room. Must be nice for the early birds.”
“Right now you’re our only guest,” Erin said. She paced around the room to hide her unease at not noticing the vampire until then and stopped to fiddle with one of the metal brackets over the fireplace where something must have hung once. After a moment or two she gave in and mentioned the thing that had kept her from falling asleep at once last night. “When you said you had to write a report…”
“Oh, more like a letter,” Miles said. He smiled, his white teeth gleaming in the dim light. “Ah, don’t look so worried. I’m not about to close this place, not yet. In fact, I’ll be coming back after my next little job to look in on you.”
“So we passed the inspection?”
A beaming smile lit up Erin’s own face when Miles nodded, and didn’t even go out when he added, “For now. I’ve made a list of renovations and repairs that should be made, goals to be met. No point in keeping this place open if no one wants to stay here.”
Erin nodded, hardly listening. She couldn’t wait to tell her dad and Mayor Geld, and rub it in their faces.
“You and Kota will be busy, if you want to make a start before the fall rush starts.”
“Fall rush?” Erin asked, snapping out of her reverie a little.
“Yeah, you should know. Traders and merchants traveling and selling stuff to make it through the winter, along with travelers trying to get to the capital or wherever they’re headed before the snow and ice lock them down.” Miles sat up in his seat and put down a sheet of paper he’d been reading. “You’ll want to stock up and save money and supplies to make it through the winter yourselves.”
Erin bit her lip. They had been getting by so far on a day to day basis, living off what the latest guest had paid for room and board. Even with all of the money from the merchants, it would be tough to stretch it out for longer than a few weeks, and that was without guessing at how much all of these repairs would cost. She remembered that Miles had paid for a week and said, “You sound like you’re planning on leaving soon.”
“Tonight,” he said. “Can’t really travel by day unless the weather and land cooperates, you know. Consider the rest of my payment as a down payment for my room when I return.”
“You’re coming back?” Kota asked, aghast, from the top of the stairs. He came down in his bare feet, his brown hair a mess and his mark showing. “I thought this inspection was a one-time thing.”
Miles sprang up and threw an arm around Kota’s shoulders even though the young man flinched away. “Afraid not. You know how they are, can’t find a decent field agent so they’re making me pull double duty. In between my usual headhunting, I’ll be staying around here.”
Kota frowned and Erin briefly wondered who Miles was leaving to go after next. It was bad enough to have a bounty hunter after you, but for it to be a vampire too? She’d rather turn herself in.
“Any plans for today?” she asked. “Oh, but you’d probably want to sleep since you’ve been up all night—Oh.”
Miles shrugged and Kota used that as an opportunity to escape and stand on the far side of the room. “Haven’t had to sleep much, but thanks for asking. I don’t know about you two, but I’m starving. No, no, it was a joke!”
He laughed when both hurriedly stepped back and Erin and Kota both tried to smile in return without quite managing it. Erin had to admit to herself, later that night, that it was a relief to see the vampire go. Not that she would say anything like it to Kota, who seemed to breathe easier once he saw Miles walk out the door and take the road outside the inn that led into the deep woods. He even waved back at the retreating figure before shutting the door and sliding the bolt home.
“What?” he said when Erin looked at him. “If anyone comes, they can knock.”
Not that anyone came, that night or the next. A few more days passed without incident, except for Erin and Kota arguing about how to paint the inn when Kota could hardly go outside and paint with his paws, or the long nights that Kota spent on the roof, hammering on new tiles and saying strange swear words that Erin had never heard before when he hit his thumb in the dark despite the light that Erin had out for them.
One thing of note did happen, in between the haphazard repairs and frequent, if rarely ever that serious, arguing. At some point, whether at night or during the day neither of them could be sure, the old, broken sign above the front door disappeared, along with the rusted old chains holding it up. In its place someone had put up a new sign on gleaming hooks, and in bright paint were the clear words: The Last Inn.
Erin and Kota barely had time to theorize on this discovery before the next guests arrived, and then they barely had time for anything at all.