The Wild Adventure of Jasper Renn
Page 7

 Kady Cross

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Yes, said his mind. No, said his heart. Both of them could just shut the hell up for the time being.
They walked into a tavern called The Hart and Crown. It was popular with the theater and artistic set, especially the younger members. If Sparrow was in the area, then this was their best chance at finding her.
Outside, the building looked to be at least two centuries old. Its dark wood was made even darker by an earlier rain, and the old gas lamp above the sign—which could stand a fresh coat of paint—flickered in the evening breeze. The windows were made of small diamond-shaped panes of that old sort of glass that you couldn’t really see through. The door was heavy and the hinges squeaked, but inside it was pleasantly warm, lit with a golden glow and filled with low chatter and laughter. It smelled of meat pie and ale. Behind him, Wildcat’s stomach growled. He chuckled as he glanced over his shoulder at her.
“Reckon we might as well grab some food while we’re here.”
Her cheeks actually turned pink. “Sure. That would be good.”
They took a table not far from the fire. Jasper chose that one on purpose because he knew how much she enjoyed the heat. She’d curl up on the tabletop and nap if they’d let her, he thought. She was so much like a house cat, which made sense, given her appearance and abilities. He didn’t know how she’d come to be as she was, and he didn’t care, but he assumed it had to do with organites—the little critters that were responsible for all life, and for the current mutations in the human race that made some of them more than human.
“Can you smell her at all?” he asked. Cat’s intensely keen sense of smell was what made her an excellent tracker, along with her sharp eyesight.
“I’m not sure,” she replied. “There are so many other scents here it’s hard to focus on one. With this amount of people all I can smell is them, and food, and beer. I think I can smell her, but it’s weak. Maybe just wishful thinking.”
“We’ll find her, Cat.” He meant it, and he didn’t make promises he didn’t intend to keep. “I won’t stop until we do.”
Were those tears in her eyes? She’d blinked so quickly they were gone, but he could have sworn he’d seen tears. “Thanks, Jas.”
The barmaid came over, so Jasper ordered ale and two pies for them. “Any chance you’ve seen this girl?” he asked, taking the photograph from Cat’s fingers and handing it to the girl.
The buxom, freckled blonde looked at Sparrow’s face. “Oh, aye. Come in just two nights ago with some of the girls from Pick-a-dilly. Sung a right pretty song, too. She’s not in any trouble, is she?”
“No,” Cat replied before he could. “I’d just like to find her.”
“You’re her sister, ain’t you?” The barmaid grinned, revealing slightly crooked but clean teeth. “You look just like ’er.”
Cat smiled—truly one of the loveliest things Jasper had ever seen, even with her lips closed. “Yes, although I’d be most obliged if you didn’t mention that I was here looking for her.”
The girl nodded. “Right. You’re the elder. Got a baby sister and brother meself, and I understand your meanin’. I won’t say a word. She’ll probably be back with the girls tomorrow night.”
Jasper offered her one of the calling cards he’d had made a little while ago. It was simply his name, his telegraph number and the address for a postal box he kept. On the back he had scrawled the address of King House. “If you see her, talk to her or hear anything about her, maybe you’d be so kind as to let me know.”
Either the girl had a tic or she was fluttering her eyelashes at him. “Of course, ducks. Anything for you.” As she walked away he heard Cat emit a dramatic sigh.
She rolled her eyes at him. In this low light her pupils were dilated, but that made them rounder and more normal-looking. “You can’t help yourself, can you? You’d flirt with a tin can if you thought it was female.”
“Flirt?” His voice cracked, the accusation was so incredulous. “How was I flirting?”
Cat made a face. “Maybe you’d be so kind as to let me know.” She’d made her voice so deep she had to tuck her chin to her chest, and every word and gesture was overly exaggerated. She snorted. “Should’ve winked at her while you were at it. Maybe give her a little pat on the bottom.”
“I have no desire to go anywhere near her bottom,” he retorted, not caring how it sounded. “And I wasn’t flirting. I was asking about your sister.” He tossed the photograph back at her. “Next time you ask.”
“You really don’t think she’s pretty?”
“She’s pretty enough.” He shook his head. Cat wasn’t the least bothered by his surliness. She was more surprised—apparently—that he didn’t want every girl he met.
In fact, other than Mei, she was the only girl he’d really wanted. He had flirted a bit with Emily, but only because she was such a sweetheart and it irked Sam when he did it.
“So, we’ll come back tomorrow night,” he said, changing the subject. “We can always check with the circus, as well.”
“Yeah, what is the Pick-a-dilly Circus?”
“They do a lot of acrobatics, animal stunts, freak shows. They’re just like any other circus except they seem to be good to their employees and their animals. They seem to have a lot of people like you and Sparrow working for ’em.”