Blazing Star

Her bag thumped when it hit the floor and she sank into my hug, hands pressed tight against my back. She stank of sweat and smoke, the bite of herbs underneath everything.

"Bathroom's free." I kissed her cheek. "There's bubble bath under the sink and fresh towels on the counter. That lime lotion you like so much is in the cabinet."

"Lifesaver." Her voice rasped, and my throat ached for her. "I'm about half suffocated by dirt."

"I'll bring you some lemonade."

The corner of her mouth twitched upward, and she kissed my lower lip. "You're a peach," she said, grabbed her bag, and headed inside. The screen door squealed when she jerked it open. I had a bottle of WD40 somewhere. Best track it down.

When Hope and I first met, the sight of us being even so slightly intimate might have brought disapproval from my neighbors. Bad enough men visited me at random, black men and white men alike, but for a white woman ten years younger to so brazenly kiss me... well. Even back then, there was nothing they could do—I cast strong protection wards—but they wouldn't have been happy. I did subtler magic, too, and over time, the neighborhood changed. Those potentially dangerous to the hunters who came to me moved out; more sympathetic neighbors moved in. I didn't force anyone to do anything, but my methods of encouragement always worked.

I put ice in two glasses and filled one with tea and one with lemonade, leaving the glasses cold and slick against my fingers as I carried them upstairs. I took the lemonade into the bathroom and set my tea on the counter. Hope was deep in the claw-footed tub, thick bubbles up to her chin. Her dark, curly hair was bound up into a messy bun, and her eyes were closed.

"Here's your drink, sweetie."

She blinked at me sleepily. "Thanks." I held out the glass, and when she reached for it, water sluiced along her bare skin. I watched it drip from her fingertips. When she shifted her weight, her breasts peeked through the bubbles, pale skin and light pink nipples.

What have you seen? bubbled to my lips, but I bit back the words. There was time for that later, after she rested. Maybe she wasn't here because she'd told a fortune that frightened her. Maybe she wanted the sanctuary I provided, a safe house where tired, wounded supernatural hunters could rest and heal.

A sliver of doubt wormed through my thoughts, and I rubbed the back of my neck. I wasn't a fortune-teller, but I wasn't stupid, either. I didn't need to read cards or tea leaves to fit puzzle pieces together. Too many hunters had come to my door carrying news of overwhelming odds and twisted monsters and strange portents.

Something big was coming, something dangerous.