As soon as I crossed the bridge, the temperature hit me. Cold. I held my arms tight to my body. Even the air smelled different here. Thinner and crisper. The crisp part was fine, but the thin quality made it feel like I couldn’t take a full breath.
I inhaled deeply, trying to get in more air, and failed. I’d never been at such a high altitude. Muraco had said to be careful and take it easy, but I didn’t have time for that. I had to adjust quickly.
I stepped into the terminal and looked around for the old wolf, but Muraco was long gone. I couldn’t find a hint of him anywhere. The mass of people moving up and down the areas between gates made it hard to really find anyone. Overhead signs pointed the way to the exit—baggage claim and car services—and I started along my way. At least I’d already gone through customs in Lima.
I tried to search for Muraco in the crowd ahead, but didn’t see him anywhere as I walked forward. He must be waiting for me somewhere outside.
He’d better be waiting for me somewhere outside.
I made it to the baggage claim and grabbed my bag, hefting onto my shoulder before continuing my search for Muraco. The closer I got to the exits, the more chaotic the airport got. Tour guides held up signs trying to get their groups together. Stands advertising different tourist attractions took up space along the walls, crowding me in as workers shouted about deals.
I thought I’d made it out of the worst of the mess when someone shoved a bowl of dried leaves in my face. “Coca leaves. Take some. Gratis. Free.”
The bowl smelled of earth and something totally unfamiliar and I stepped back on instinct. The lady smiled at me, showing off a few missing teeth. She wore a beautifully embroidered full skirt. Her bright pink cardigan picked up the colors of the thread flowers. Her browned skin was thin and wrinkling, but she kept on smiling at me, holding the bowl, urging me to take what she was offering.
No witch with any common sense would accept unknown herbs from an unknown source. The lady seemed nice, and if she really was offering dried coca leaves, they weren’t harmful by themselves, but that was the problem. They could have other herbs mixed in with them or be coated in something else. And even if taking things from strangers at airports wasn’t stupid to the nth degree, I didn’t know what she wanted me to do with a bunch of dried leaves. They didn’t look particularly edible.
Yeah. I wasn’t going to go down that road. “No, thank—”
“You should take some, princess,” a deep, gravelly voice said from behind me.
Nope. Not gonna happen. I opened my mouth to tell that to the speaker, but as soon as I saw him I couldn’t breathe.
He was the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen. He grinned down at me, and I nearly melted on the spot. As it was, I was going to embarrass myself staring. His hair was black and cut short, but it looked a little messy. Not like he’d spent all morning trying to get it right, but more like it was just naturally like that. Effortlessly handsome.
And his eyes…
They were so dark brown I couldn’t see the difference between the iris and pupil. Like twin dark pools. If I wasn’t careful, I could get lost in them.
I was inching my gaze down his body, taking in the lovely browned skin, when I finally focused in on his aura. Golden.
A wolf. Of course the mega hot guy was a wolf.
Which means he’s utterly off limits. It was a good thing. That way I wouldn’t be tempted. But as I looked at him, he was more than tempting. I should’ve been used to Weres after St. Ailbe’s, but apparently I wasn’t. He’d taken me totally off guard—so much so that I was forgetting to speak.
He cleared his throat and motioned back to the lady. “The leaves. They’re dried coca—”
“I know what they are, but isn’t cocaine bad? Plus, it’s not good to take things from someone you don’t know.”
He laughed and I held my breath, not wanting to cover that beautiful sound. He picked a couple leaves out of the bowl. “Cocaine happens when you do all kinds of awful things to the plant, but this—” he held them up for me to see “—is natural. Helps with the altitude. If you’re feeling dizzy or short of breath, then chew on the leaves—just let them rest in your mouth—or steep them into a tea. It’s a local remedy.” He stuck one in his mouth and chewed. “See? Perfectly safe.”
I was definitely feeling dizzy and short of breath, but I couldn’t say for sure if it was because of the altitude. “I’m fine.”
He grinned, showing off a perfect row of pearly whites. “If you say so,” he said as he moved past me toward the exit.