The bright sunlight streaming through her window contradicted her icy feet. Chelsea tugged on her blanket, but it stuck on something.
That something turned out to be a naked, muscle-y bit of man with dark hair and sharp cheekbones. Chelsea sat up, flashes of last night coming fast.
Dink walking her spoiled, drunk ass home from the party. And the attack… the vampire.
And him, the naked man in her bed… Jackson Hawk.
“Morning.” Jackson rolled over, smiling.
Chelsea tried to return it, but it felt off as she wrapped herself in the blanket.
Impervious to the cold, Jackson popped out of bed. Amid the ropey muscles were scars, lots and lots of scars.
Another flash from last night came to her. Jackson had offered to help her kill the vampire that had taken Dink.
“Uh…” Chelsea had no idea what to say. This went beyond awkward one-night stand territory and asking for a phone number.
Jackson pulled on his pants and grinned over his shoulder. “Well, my little nun, since I’m not supposed to be here in the first place, what’s the procedure?”
“We sneak up to the roof and you use the fire escape.”
Jackson blinked before laughing. “Already have that worked out?”
Chelsea shrugged. “How else are we going to get kegs in here?”
He looked around for a moment before spotting his shirt. “So, if we’re gonna kill this vampire, you’ll need an education in monsters and a few fighting lessons.”
Jackson’s complete nonchalance melted Chelsea’s smile into something more natural. Her shoulders unknotted, and she moved to the closet to grab some clothes. “Well, I’ve been kickboxing since I was twelve, and started krav maga in college.”
“Excellent. You ever use an ax?”
Her heart skipped a beat. “No.”
“Good.” Jackson’s grin edged towards a smirk. “You’ll have enough bad habits to unlearn.”
“Bad habits?” Chelsea found her hands on her hips.
Jackson mimicked the pose, his black boots slapping his thighs. “Yeah, bad habits. Fighting monsters is nothing like fighting people. Here, you go for the kill, every time.” He dropped his hands, and those striking green eyes turned earnest. “First, aim for the head. Most things die when you remove the head. Second, limbs, especially anything with claws or a stinger. If neither of those is an option, run like hell, ‘cause you need back up.” He sat on her bed, his boots dropping to the ground. “Your life is over my little nun. If not now, then soon. You can try and live two lives, but eventually, the time you aren’t killing monsters… You’ll be hanging on to a relic. You aren’t the college girl drinking her weekends away and sneaking guys into the dorm. You’re a monster hunter now.”
The slamming of the closet door startled her as much as her back smacking into it. “I don’t want to hunt monsters, just this one. Just the one that killed Dink.”
Jackson shrugged. “We’ll see.”
Chelsea stopped at the bar door.
“What’s up?” Jackson glanced over his shoulder, most of his face hidden by his hoodie.
“This… this is not a great place.” The bar had a reputation for fights, massive, bloody brawls.
Jackson grinned. “This is a haunt, a hunter’s bar. We might get a head’s up on our nightling.”
“Nightling. Your vampire classic: pale, pretty, only goes out at night, sucks blood.”
“You make it sound like there are other types.”
“There are.” He pressed a speaker button. “My delish Trish, I have returned.”
A crabby voice grunted through the speaker. “Shut your hole, twerp.”
“She loves me.”
Chelsea’s heart hammered against her ribs as the door opened. The thick walls hid a grimy, dark space. Half a dozen tables littered the cracked tile floor. A number of mismatched stools lined the bar. The whole place was hazy with smoke. Chelsea pressed against Jackson’s back as everybody turned towards them.
One dirty if absolutely huge man chuckled. “Well, look who’s back, Jackson ‘Man-whore’ Hawk.”
Chelsea’s face burned.
Jackson shrugged. “Don’t blame me for the whole Judy incident. You need to bathe more often, Scott.” He sauntered past the glowering man amid the chuckles from the other patrons. Chelsea scurried after him.
Bar was tended by a tall man with tan skin and a dark glower. He handed Jackson a beer without being asked and stared pointedly at Chelsea.
Jackson beamed at the man. “This is my newest friend, Chelsea. We’re looking for a nightling. Took a college student last night. We have amends to make.”
The bartender shrugged and jutted his chin towards a table of four scarred-faced people. Jackson paused, then turned to her. “Sit tight and let me talk to them, okay?”
Panic burbled in her stomach. “What am I supposed to do while I wait?”
Jackson was already walking away. “Have a beer.”
“At ten in the morning?”
A low chuckle came from beside her, and Chelsea spun around. A woman sat at the bar. She was round. Round belly, thick arms, chubby cheeks. Her brown eyes twinkled as she nodded to the empty stool beside her. “Take a seat. I’m Amber, by the way.”
“Chelsea.” She gingerly lowered herself onto the scarred wood.
“Well, Chelsea, welcome to your new life.” Amber waved a fleshy hand at the bar. “You’ll get used to the weird hours.”
A flash of irritation hit her. “Why does everybody think I’m going to give up my life to hunt monsters?”
Amber rolled her eyes. “Did Jack explain anything before tearing off your clothes with his teeth?”
Chelsea face burned again.
Amber chuckled as she waved to the bartender. “It’s simple, Chelsea. Your whole life you were lead to believe that monsters and magic were fantasy. A plot device to add more drama to stories. Now you know that it’s real. Every story, every movie, every monster you’ve ever thought of or seen on TV is real. Now that you know, how the hell are you going to go back to your normal life? You’ll hear someone talk about a strange attack or a weird coincidence and you’ll know that it’s a monster.”
Chelsea shuddered as the bartender placed a beer in front of her. “I— I just want to kill the thing that killed my friend. I don’t want to be a monster hunter.”
Amber sighed. “So you’ll let someone else’s friend get killed?”
“Uh…” Chelsea folded her arms over her chest and shivered.
Amber flashed a sympathetic smile. “It takes some getting used to, but trust me, you’re a hunter now.”
Chelsea grabbed her beer and began chugging it as her eyes sought Jackson. He stood talking to the four stone-faced people, a charming smile playing across his lips.
When she put the bottle down it was half-empty. “He did try to tell me this.”
“Before or after you hopped into bed?” Amber’s raspy voice shook with laughter.
“Both.” Chelsea sipped at her beer again. “So Jackson has a lot of friends?”
Amber’s eyebrows rose. “Jealous?”
“More worried about pissy ex-lovers.”
Amber snickered. “Not something you’ll have to worry about with hunters.”
Chelsea couldn’t keep the skepticism off her face.
Amber shrugged. “We live on death’s doorstep. And nothing gets the blood pumping like dodging the reaper every night. So there you are, ax in hand, all hot and bothered, and there’s someone else, hot and bothered, too. Falling into bed with hunting partners is common and nothing to be ashamed of.”
“That guy called him a man-whore.”
Amber giggled. “Okay, so Jack… takes the whole thing to extremes. Scott’s just pissed because Jack hooked up with his ex. Like a real ex. They used to be married.”
Chelsea nodded, sipping her beer again.
“Jack’s a good guy.” Her voice dropped. “He may sleep with anything that has tits and a pulse, but he cares. Most hunters kick you out in the morning holding your clothes. Jack… Jack thinks genital bumping means friendship.” Amber smiled. “And he’s a charming little shit with lots and lots of friends.”
Chelsea found herself giggling and shooting Jackson a glance. He was good-looking and sweet.
Amber bumped her shoulder. “Just remember, don’t take him too seriously. He has no concept of saying no to anyone who’s willing or keeping his hands to himself.”
There was something in the other woman’s voice that caught Chelsea’s attention. A certain wistfulness. “You speaking from experience?”
“Yes.” Amber shrugged. “We’ve partnered up to hunt a few monsters in the past.”
Chelsea downed the rest of her beer. “That’s one hell of a euphemism.”
There was a long pause before Amber burst into giggles. Chelsea only held out for a few moments before joining her. They laughed together while the silent bartender got them more drinks.
“Hey.” Jackson’s voice held curiosity. “What’s so funny?”
Chelsea turned to him. “Just comparing notes.”
Amber snorted a moment before she spit beer all over the bar.
Jackson grinned. “On what subject, my little nun?”
“Oh, my favorite.” Jackson’s grin stretched wide.
“That’s what I hear.” Chelsea sipped her beer again. “So this vampire that killed Dink?”
Jackson’s smile faded. “I have an idea where the nit might be, but we’ll need to confirm and then come up with a plan.”
Amber slammed her bottle on the bar. “I’m in.”
“We didn’t ask.” Jackson’s smile grew wider.
“You didn’t have to, Jack. I owe you more than a few favors.”
Chelsea giggled. “Was that supposed to sound dirty?”
Amber laughed, as Jackson gaped at her. “Why, my little nun, that was almost scandalous.”
“I may go to a Catholic college, but I’m no nun, Jackson.”
He smirked. “Not after last night, anyway.”
Amber rolled her eyes. “I’ll hold him and you can punch him.”
Jackson’s smirk encompassed both of them. “Are we talking a three-way or is it just me?”
“I don’t know.” Chelsea licked her lips. “You have another man who’s interested?”
Jackson froze as Amber roared with laughter. She fought to her feet, holding her stomach. “Better watch yourself, Jack. You may have finally met your match.”
Keep the Haven!
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