Lani glared at Miles as he examined the wolf. “Who are you supposed to be?”
Miles glanced up at her, his stare unusually icy and his usual smile nowhere to be seen. “Name’s Miles. Imperial bounty hunter, with occasional odd-job government work. I am also a very testy vampire who never has enough to drink, so I would advise you to stop looking for a way to run and keep your mouth shut until I’m ready to deal with you. Got it?”
Erin heard a sharp gasp from the tamer, whose face went as white as if Miles had hit her, but she didn’t say anything else.
Miles lifted the upper half of the wolf and pulled back one of the eyelids to examine its eyes. A faint whine greeted him and he sighed with relief. “Kota, can you hear me?”
The wolf opened its eyes and gave a faint whimper before trying to pull away from the vampire’s hands.
“Good to see you too,” he said as he set the wolf down and stood up to face the others. Behind him, Kota’s head sank back onto the ground and the wolf made one or two efforts to stand up before giving up on the idea. “You, with the flute. Explain.”
Lani opened her mouth and he immediately put up his hand to stop her. “Never mind. Erin?”
“She’s a tamer, hired by the mayor to catch the wolf,” Erin said. She pointed at what remained of the flute and added, “She played some kind of song this morning and it made Kota act strange, and, well, you saw what happened this time.”
He nodded, confirming Erin’s idea that he had been watching everything too. “Common trick for tamers, using music as a long distance means to get at the beast. You used it to control the phoenix and the earth creature, right?”
Lani flung out a finger in Erin’s direction and said, “And she snapped it in half! I was just doing my job, hired by the local government, mind you. The law is on my side.”
“And what, exactly, does the law say about a tamer using her magic on a known shapeshifter?” Miles asked, his eyes narrowing. “Any being that, however temporarily, can attain the shape of a human can not be controlled by a tamer against its will. There are a few exceptions, yeah, but I don’t see any of them here.”
“Oh, and what are you going to do, arrest me?” Lani asked. She stepped closer to Miles, to Erin either displaying a lot of bravery or a deathwish. “You know these two, you know what Kota is, but you haven’t told anyone, have you? So that means you don’t want anyone to find out their little secret, but if you arrest me you’ll have to explain why.”
Miles shrugged and grabbed Lani’s hand. From his pocket he pulled out a set of cuffs that glimmered in what light there was out here and slapped them on the tamer’s wrist. “Fine by me.”
Behind him, Kota gave a low growl and managed to get up onto his paws, even though his legs were shaking so much beneath him that it was only a matter of time before they gave out again.
Miles looked over his shoulder and said, “Oh, come on. People are going to have to find out sometime.”
“Miles,” Erin said, and bit her lip when the vampire turned his stare on her. She swallowed back the bile at the idea of helping Lani and continued, “Her flute’s broken, so she can’t do anything else, right?”
“Except tell people the wolf is Kota.” Miles said, locking the cuff around her other wrist. “If it’s going to happen either way, I’d rather she go to jail.”
Lani looked from one to the other. “Why would I tell somebody? Like you said, it’s forbidden for me to use my talents on people. If I out Kota, I out myself.”
Miles stared around at all of them and then swore. There was a click and Lani quickly stepped away. “Fine. Just remember that when you tell, I’ll be more than happy to escort you to the Judges.”
“You mean ‘if,’” Lani said.
“No, I don’t.” Miles pocketed his cuffs and turned back to Kota when he collapsed to the ground. “Give it up before you hurt yourself, man. Erin, do you mind checking the inn to see if the coast is clear?”
Erin nodded and went inside. Miles checked Kota and saw that he had passed out from the effort of trying to stand.
“You said you were hired by the mayor?” he asked.
He glanced over his shoulder and saw Lani nod. “He sent me a letter, just like the hunter.”
“Oh, that’s right, you don’t know,” Lani said, not even trying to hide the glee in her voice. “He hired a hunter too, and he’s staying right here at this inn. I was the humane option. Still am, if you want to change your mind.”
Miles did not waste the effort it took to hide his disgust as he said, “Pass.”
Lani gave an obviously fake sigh. “Shame. He would make such a great pet, don’t you think?”
Miles had her up off the ground before she could blink, her jacket knotted up in his hands. “I’ll give you one warning: I don’t care two bits about his little secret, and will still drag you to the capital right now if you give me one, just one, reason to do it.”
He dropped her when the door opened and Erin stepped out.
“Everyone’s headed upstairs to their rooms,” she said.
Miles nodded and hefted the wolf up into his arms with a grunt. “Get the door, will you?”
Erin held the door for him and followed him upstairs to Kota’s room, where she got the door again. “Do you think he’ll be okay?”
“Don’t know,” Miles said. He stopped in the center of the room and looked around, as if unsure what to do now.
Erin opened the closet door and they stared down at the blanket on the floor. “He sleeps in here, apparently.”
“He definitely will tonight,” Miles said, unceremoniously dropping the wolf onto the blanket and rolling his shoulders with a faint popping sound. “You wouldn’t think he’d be so heavy.”
“Must be all the fur,” Lani said from the door as she leaned against the frame.
Erin whirled on her and said, “Pack your things. You’re going to turn in your key and leave, first thing in the morning.”
“You are unless you want me to throw you out myself,” Erin said.
“Do it now, I want to watch,” Miles said and Erin glared at him. “Oh, like you want her to stay the night.”
“She can leave in the morning, when she can explain to Mayor Geld she received a better offer to work somewhere else,” Erin said as she closed the closet door on the sleeping wolf. “Or just leave, I don’t really care.”
Lani watched the door shut and did not put up a fight when they ushered her out of the room and into her own. Miles claimed the key to his own room, but as Erin went downstairs she had no doubt the vampire would sit up somewhere he could keep an eye on both the tamer and the wolf.