The Hollows series
This is close enough. Thanks,” I said to the cabdriver, and he swerved to park a block from Carew Tower’s drop-off zone. It was Sunday night, and the trendy restaurants in the lower levels of the Cincinnati high-rise were busy with the March Madness food fest—the revolving door never stopped as laughing couples and groups went in and out. The kids-on-art exhibit had probably brought in a few, but I’d be willing to bet that the stoic pair in the suit and sequined dress getting out of the black car ahead of me were going up to the revolving restaurant as I was.
I fumbled for a twenty in my ridiculously small clutch purse, then handed it over the front seat. “Keep the change,” I said, distracted as I tugged my shawl closer, breathing in a faint lilac scent. “And I’m going to need a receipt, please.”
The cabbie shot me a thankful glance at the tip, high maybe, but he’d come all the way out to the Hollows to pick me up. Nervous, I readjusted my shawl again and slid to the door. I could have taken my car, but parking was a hassle downtown for festivals, and tawny silk and lace lost a lot of sparkle while getting out of a MINI Cooper. Not to mention the stiff wind off the river might pull apart my carefully braided hair if I had to walk more than a block.
I doubted that tonight’s meeting with Quen would lead to a job, but I needed all the tax deductions I could get right now, even if it was just cab fare. Skipping filing for a year while they decided if I was a citizen or not hadn’t turned out to be the boon I originally thought it was.
“Thanks,” I said as I tucked the receipt away. Taking a steadying breath, I sat with my hands in my lap. Maybe I should go home instead. I liked Quen, but he was Trent’s number one security guy. I was sure it was a job offer, but probably not one I wanted to take.
My curiosity had always been stronger than common sense, though, and when the cabbie’s eyes met mine through his rearview mirror, I reached for the handle. “Whatever it is, I’m saying no,” I muttered as I got out, and the Were chuckled. The thump of the door barely beat the three loud Goth teenagers descending upon him.
My low heels clicked on the sidewalk and I held my tiny clutch bag under my arm, the other hand on my hair. The bag was small, yes, but it was big enough to hold my street-legal splat gun stocked with sleepy-time charms. If Quen didn’t take no for an answer, I could leave him facedown in his twelve-dollar-a-bowl soup.
Squinting through the wind, I dodged the people loitering for their rides. Quen had asked me to dinner, not Trent. I didn’t like that he felt the need to talk to me at a five-star restaurant instead of a coffee shop, but maybe the man liked his whiskey old.
One last gust pushed me into the revolving door, and a whisper of impending danger tightened my gut as the scent of old brass and dog urine rose in the sudden dead air. It expanded into the echoing noise of a wide lobby done in marble, and I shivered as I made for the elevators. It was more than the March chill.
The couple I’d seen at the curb were long gone by the time I got there, and I had to wait for the dedicated restaurant lift. Hands making a fig leaf with my purse, I watched the foot traffic, feeling out of place in my long sheath dress. It had looked so fabulous on me in the store that I’d bought it even though I couldn’t run in it. Wearing it tonight was half the reason I had said yes to Quen. I often dressed up for work, but always with the assumption that I’d probably end the evening having to run from banshees or after vampires. Maybe Quen just wanted to catch up? But I doubted it.
The elevator dinged, and I forced a smile for whoever might be in it. It faded fast when the doors opened to show only more brass, velvet, and mahogany. I stepped inside and hit the R button at the top of the panel. Maybe my unease was simply because I was alone. I’d been alone a lot this week while Jenks tried to do the work of five pixies in the garden and Ivy was in Flagstaff helping Glenn and Daryl move.
The lobby noise vanished as the doors closed, and I looked in the mirrors, tucking away a strand that had escaped the loose braid Jenks’s youngest kids had put it in tonight. If Jenks were here, he’d tell me to snap out of it, and I pulled myself straighter when my ears popped. There were ley line symbols carved into the railing like a pattern, but they were really a mild euphoric charm, and I leaned backward into them. I could use all the euphoria I could get tonight.
My shoulders had relaxed by the time the doors opened and the light strains of live chamber music filtered in. It was just dinner, for God’s sake, and I smiled at the young host at the reception desk. His hair slicked back, he was wearing his uniform well. Behind him, Cincinnati spread out in the dark, the lights glinting like souls in the night. The stink and noise of the city were far away, and only the beauty showed. Maybe that’s why Quen chose here.
“I’m meeting Quen Hanson,” I said, forcing my attention back to the host. The tables I could see were full of people taking advantage of the festival’s specials.
“Your booth isn’t ready yet, but he’s waiting for you at the bar,” the man said, and my eyes flicked up at the unexpected sound of respect in his voice. “May I take your shawl?”
Better and better, I thought as I turned to let him slip the thin silk from my shoulders. I felt him hesitate at my pack tattoo, and I straightened to my full height, proud of it.
“This way, please?” he said as he handed it to a woman and took the little paper tag, handing it to me in turn.
I let my hips sway a little as I fell into step behind him, making the shift to the revolving circle without pause. I’d been up here a couple of times, and the bar was on the far side of the entry. We strode through tables of upscale wining-and-dining people. The couple who had come up ahead of me were already seated, wine being poured as they sat close together and enjoyed each other more than the view. It had been a while since I’d felt that, and a pang went through me. Shoving it down, I stepped to the still center portion of the restaurant with the brass and mahogany bar.