Home > Sweep of the Heart (Innkeeper Chronicles #5)

Sweep of the Heart (Innkeeper Chronicles #5)
Author: Ilona Andrews




A new adventure begins. But first, cake.



There was great wisdom in striking the iron while it was hot.

I took a sip of my iced tea and brushed a little bug off the skirt of my yellow sundress. I was sitting on the back porch of Gertrude Hunt Bed and Breakfast in a comfortable wooden recliner. In front of me our backyard spread, flooded with golden sunshine. The lawn was still green – we’d had a lot of rain this year – but the heat of Texas summer poured from the sky, bringing everything to a standstill. The squirrels napped in their nests deep within the oaks. The mice and bunnies hid in their burrows. Even the bugs fell quiet, too hot to trill. Beast, my tiny black-and-white Shih Tzu, lay on her back by my feet and snored softly. The fan in the porch roof above me was going full force, but my forehead was still sweating.

Such a lovely hot day. Perfect day to take a nap.

I drank another swallow of my tea and closed my eyes. Behind me, Gertrude Hunt unfolded, a complex collection of rooms and passageways many times larger than its physical footprint visible from the street and the subdivision on the other side of it. I focused on the kitchen. A seven-foot-tall shape moved within it, big, with foot-long quills thrusting from its back. The shape wiped down the counter, holding the rag with large, clawed hands.

Nap. Nap, nap, nap, you want to nap… If only I had powers of suggestion, my life would be so much easier.

I opened my eyes.

Next to me Caldenia fanned herself with a glittering fan and took a sip of her Mello Yello. “Still no luck?”

I shook my head.

“Then I will have to help you, my dear.”

She rose, put her straw hat on, and strolled into the kitchen. At first glance, our permanent guest looked just like an older Southern woman with a gentle tan, long platinum-gray hair pulled into an elegant updo, and a beautiful face with what people called “good bones.” She chatted with neighbors, grew tomatoes with resounding success – I made sure that the inn watered them and added fertilizer at appropriate times – and mastered the art of smiling without showing her teeth. They were pointed and sharp, like those of a shark.

I concentrated on the kitchen.

“This heat is stifling,” Caldenia announced. “I’m going to retire for the afternoon. You could use some rest as well, Orro. If I were you, I’d take this opportunity to nap before dinner begins.”

Orro rumbled something.

I felt Caldenia move through the kitchen and up the stairs toward her suite.

In the kitchen, Orro stopped, stared out the window…

Come on…

He carefully folded the towel, hung it on the towel rack by the sink, and ambled out of the kitchen, heading toward the narrow winding stairs leading down.

I held my breath, tracking him with my magic. Down the stairs, down, down, and to the cozy den where he made his lair. He stepped inside and shut the door.


I jumped out of my recliner. Beast leaped three feet into the air, landed on her feet, and barked once, looking from side to side.


I swung the back door open and dashed inside the kitchen. Beast chased me.

I sprinted to the oven, turned it on to bake at 350°, and spun around. The door of the pantry flew open, displaying 3,000 square feet of space filled with shelves and refrigerators. Tendrils of striated wood burst from the ceiling, shot into the pantry, and dragged ingredients onto the island: sugar, flour, baking powder… I grabbed eggs, butter, and a bag of Granny Smith apples from the only refrigerator visible in the kitchen. The inn hauled a heavy KitchenAid mixer out.

“Not that one, the small one,” I hissed. “That one is too loud.”

The KitchenAid vanished back into the pantry and another tendril delivered the handheld mixer into my hands. I put two large bowls onto the island and reached out with my magic.

The creature who ruled our kitchen with an iron claw was settling into his nest bed. Operation Apple Cake was a go.

I creamed the butter in the bowl and added a ¾ cup of sugar to it. Baking a cake for the man you love was stressful enough. Baking a cake in a kitchen run by a Red Cleaver chef was an impossible feat. Orro viewed both the kitchen and the pantry as his sole domain. Trying to cook anything meant being observed over your shoulder, treated to a detailed critique, followed by multiple offers to help, followed by hurt feelings when said offers were politely and repeatedly declined, culminating in pouting and declarations of woe. If he was really in the moment, he would throw an existential crisis into it.

Orro typically slept for at least an hour and a half. My cake only took 50 minutes to bake. If I played my cards right, it would be cooked before he ever caught on. He would not mess with it once it was cooked.

I folded my dry ingredients into my wet ones, mixed everything, poured it into a greased springform pan, and focused on peeling the apples.

Sean had gone out this morning to get more firewood. The inn required wood in the worst way, and we’d been going through a cord, sometimes two, every few days. It wouldn’t have been a problem if we were a BBQ joint, but we were masquerading as a quaint bed and breakfast that did very limited business. Sooner or later, someone would start wondering what we were doing with all that wood. Sean staggered our firewood orders between different suppliers and bought waste wood whenever he could find it. Usually we ordered firewood online, but he had found a supplier a couple of hours away who would deliver a full tri-axle load, seven and a half cords. The only catch was, they wanted payment up front in cash.

Sean didn’t like to leave the inn.

He didn’t mind it as much when he had to go to places other than our planet. Earth was home, the place where he was born and grew up, and Sean had learned how to pass for a human. But then he walked out into the Great Beyond. The universe bathed him in its breath. He saw the countless stars and other planets, fought enemies he couldn’t have imagined, and learned the true nature of his people.

Out there, he could be himself, an alpha strain werewolf. Here, on Earth, he had to pass for an ordinary man and, after years in space, it no longer came easily to him.

I mixed cinnamon, sugar, and lemon juice into my peeled, sliced apples, added a bit of flour, layered them on top of the dough, popped the pan into the oven, and exhaled. Halfway there.

“Thirty minutes,” I told the inn.

The inn creaked in acknowledgment.

Sean wanted to get the firewood. I offered to go with him, but he declined. I couldn’t make it easier for him while he was out, but I could greet him with his favorite cake when he came back.

A gentle chime rolled through my mind. A familiar presence entered the boundary of the inn. I motioned with my fingers and the wall sprouted a screen. On it, Officer Hector Marais carefully maneuvered his Red Deer PD cruiser up my driveway. Usually, he parked on the street. Driving up like that meant he had a special delivery.

I wiped my hands with a kitchen towel and headed to the garage. No rest for the wicked.



Officer Marais opened the trunk of his cruiser and bent down to give Beast a pet. In his mid-thirties, bronze-skinned, athletic, with blue-black hair cut short and a clean-shaven jaw, he was the very definition of the modern police officer. Everything from the collar of his uniform to the soles of his boots was “squared away” as Sean said. If the police department ever needed a model for a recruitment poster, there was nobody better.

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