Before I can stop her, Keely jumps forward and extends her arm, saying, “Hey there, boy!”
“Keely,” I whisper, urgently, and put my hand on her shoulder to pull her back.
But I’m wrong: across the courtyard, the massive beast lurches into a run, tongue suddenly lolling out and tail wagging furiously. Keely turns, confused, and I withdraw my hand.
“Sorry . . . I . . . .”
“What, him?” she replies with a snort, “I know him—he’s harmless. He just likes to play.”
As if to prove her point, he slows in his approach and stops short. He drops downward, tongue still hanging out, daring her to chase him. She doesn’t wait for my permission to oblige him.
“Careful, Keely—they’re not called wolfhounds for nothing.” But the body language is pretty clear . . . . I guess I’m just being paranoid.
Keely darts at him, then again as he dekes aside. In spite of myself, I turn to Brennan and smile, but his eyes are fixed across the courtyard.
“Something wrong?” I ask, suddenly alert again.
“Hmm?” he replies, turning back. He shakes his head—“No, it’s fine.”—then looks over at Keely and the dog. “Don’t we have business here?”
The smile fades from my lips. “Yeah.” I guess.
One dog down, a dozen to go. Maybe it won’t be so bad.
“Keely, let’s go!” I call.
She takes one more pass at him, then stands. “Okay, boy, I’ve got to go now.” She holds her hand out and waits. The dog stays low, holding out for more, but only for a couple of seconds. Then he climbs to his feet and steps up to her hand. “Good boy,” she says, rubbing his side.
“They’re used to Torrin,” she adds as she returns, the dog trailing happily behind. “I’m sure they know the difference, but they treat us like humans.
“I mean, they’re not all like this guy,” she adds, laughing. “But Torrin once told me wolfhounds are useless as guard dogs, and all of his seem pretty friendly.”
Funny, that’s not what I remember of wolfhounds.
“Let’s get this over with, okay?”
I turn down the corridor and Keely and her not-so-little friend drop in behind me. I hear Brennan take up the rear.
The carving on the door really is quite impressive: a Sessile Oak, stylized, but still very recognizable, carefully detailed with leaves and acorns. I run my fingers over a branch—the wood is smooth and solid to my touch—then reach up and pull the cord beside the door. A bell peals out loudly inside, but only once. A real, actual bell. Of course. I pull the cord twice more, for good measure.
“Um,” Keely says, from behind me, “I know you had to make sure I got here safely, but . . . shouldn’t I be the one doing that?”
Oh. “Right, sorry,” I say, and step quickly to the side. “I forgot.” I turn to her and grin, a little sheepishly. “Kind of got used to being in the lead, I guess.”
“Mm, it’s okay. Just”—she grins dangerously as she steps forward—”don’t let it happen again.”
I laugh, as I’m supposed to.
On the other side of the door, footsteps approach. “Well, somebody’s home,” I say, to no one in particular. Beside me, I feel the dog’s nose on my elbow. He starts wagging his tail as my eyes connect with his. For an instant, I’m tempted to do something about it, but he’s just being a dog . . . . I guess it’s not his fault what he is.
“Fine,” I growl, and gently tousle the hair between his ears. He licks at my hand as I take it away.
Finally, somebody arrives and fumbles with the bolt. After a moment’s confusion, the door swings open to reveal a tall, thin, middle-aged woman wearing a very bright pink and orange outfit, a flowy thing of silk, from the look of it. She has a tall glass in her hand, that looks like orange juice, but smells like vodka. She looks past Keely, and her eyes rake me up and down. A smile that would chill even Cormac spreads across her face.
“Hey, cutie, what can I do for ya?”
Cutie. Um, yeah, sure. Whatever.
“We’re here to see Torrin,” Keely says, kindly inserting herself between me and the woman.
She glances at Keely—a spark of annoyance flits across her face—then returns to me. “Sorry, hon’” she says, shaking her head. She’s back to smiling like she’s looking at dinner. “He took some of the dogs out for a run. I don’t know when he’ll be back. Was he expecting you?”
Her gaze is so intense, I feel compelled to answer. “Um, no. We need to speak to him about . . . ”
“Family business,” Keely interjects.
The woman tears her eyes from me and looks Keely up and down, her smile waning quickly to a scowl. “I didn’t know Torrin had any family.”
“Well, he does,” Keely continues. “So are you going to invite us in, or what?”
My jaw almost drops open, but I catch it in time. Shit, Keely. I hope you know what you’re doing.
The woman glares daggers at Keely for a tiny instant, before covering it with an easy smile. She steps aside and sweeps her arm in. “Why, of course! How rude of me to keep y’all standing out there in the cold.”
She winks at me, and adds, “Please, why don’t you come on in.”