Chelsea examined her reflection in the mirror and tugged on the edges of her black shrug, desperately wishing she’d been a touch less rebellious. Her school had a strict dress code, and the miniature jacket had been the band-aid on many an outfit. Now, it was the only thing making her acceptable for a funeral.
She willed the tears not to fall. Dink had been a fan of elaborate eye makeup, and she’d spent a good forty-five on hers this afternoon. She owed Dink more than winged eyeliner and false lashes, but killing the vampire that had mangled him would have to wait.
She pulled a deep breath and tugged on the shrug again. The skin-tight, black tank top underneath was also low cut. Thankfully, she owned a longish black skirt and conservative black heels.
“You look amazing.” For once, Jackson Hawk’s voice was devoid of lust. Instead, the monster hunter sounded sad and maybe a touch wistful.
She pushed her asymmetrical, red bangs behind her ears. It didn’t help. Multiple piercings lined each ear. The spikes, hoops, and studs glinted in the faint, February sun. “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I look like a grown up? I’m twenty years old.”
Warm arms wrapped around her, but wearing heels meant that Jackson’s eyes barely cleared her shoulder. They gleamed over the black cloth now. Their bright, clear green studying her before he kissed her exposed spine. “You’re gorgeous.”
She shuddered and her words came out in a wail. “I don’t want to be gorgeous. I want to look like I care that Dink’s dead.”
Jackson kissed her neck again. “No clothing will make you more or less of a friend. You cared about him. That’s more important than any shirt.”
She tore away from him, hands once more going through her closet. Maybe there was something she had overlooked. Didn’t she have a gray sweater? Where was it?
The springs on her bed creaked as Jackson sat down. “Do you want me to go with you?”
She froze, stuck halfway between wanting company, and not wanting Jackson Hawk anywhere near the clergy who ran her college. She half-feared he’d burst into flame just walking into the chapel. “Do you have anything respectable to wear? We’re talking tie and a jacket.”
Jackson’s laugh floated across the room. “For you, my little nun, I can wrangle something.”
Her heart thumped against her ribs, and she hated herself a little as she went back to searching her closet. “For me? You make me sound special.”
He ducked under her arm, slipping a hand around her waist, green eyes serious. “You are special.”
She forced herself to be rational. “And Scott’s wife? Was she special? And what about Amber?”
He licked his lips and grinned. “So only one woman can ever be special to me?”
The laugh ripped out of her, followed quickly by guilt.
“Don’t. He liked making you laugh.”
She choked back tears. “How would you know?”
He shrugged. “I was following you two that night.”
Her lungs and diaphragm couldn’t sync up properly. Her voice came out wispy. “You followed us?”
“There’d been a few attacks in the area. I was keeping an eye out.”
“Then why…” One hand balled into a fist and she brought it down on his shoulder. “Why didn’t you save him, too?”
“No chance.” His voice was light, unburdened by any guilt. “The other vampire was hungry. He grabbed Dink and ran before I could react.”
She turned away, staring at her hanging clothes, not seeing them. She’d been drunk, stupid drunk, and Dink had walked her home, as he had so many times before. Chelsea’s knees shook. She wobbled downward and would have fallen if Jackson hadn’t grabbed her.
She leaned her head against his, babbling to fight off tears. “It was all my fault, again.”
He kissed her hair. “Again?”
“My parents. I begged to go to South Carolina for Thanksgiving. They went down the day before to open the cottage. They were mugged and killed outside the airport.”
“Not your fault.”
She shook her head. “No, it is. I threw a tantrum. I begged and begged. I wanted to feel like a kid again. I got them killed, j-just like I got Dink killed.” And there was no stopping the tears as there hadn’t been for the last four months.
Her knees gave out, but Jackson didn’t stumble under her dead weight. Instead, he scooped her up and carried her to her bed. He laid down beside her, rubbing her back as she buried her face in his chest.
When she finally cried herself out, he kissed her nose. “Here’s the deal, my little nun, you take a shower and by the time you’ve redone your makeup, I’ll be back, looking respectable.”
Before she could tell him ‘no’, he was gone. Chelsea wiped a hand across her face and headed for her tiny bathroom. The hot water ran out before she was ready to leave the shower, but by the time she reapplied her false eyelashes, her heart stopped pounding. There was no disguising her red, swollen eyes, but Chelsea didn’t care. Dink and her parents deserved more than tears.
As she reapplied her lipstick, her dorm phone rang. “Miss Childling, there’s a Mr. Hawk waiting for you.”
“I’ll be right there, Sister Ignatius.” She ignored her mirror as she grabbed her coat out of the closet, refusing to contemplate the short shrug again.
Jackson was indeed, waiting in the lobby, and respectable had never looked so good. Chelsea had no idea where he’d conjured the black suit and gray tie, but it looked tailored for his slim frame. Jackson being Jackson, he ran an obvious eye along her body, grinning like a madman. Sister Mary Ignatius glowered at him as she fingered her rosary, and Chelsea had to fight not to laugh.
The nun patted her shoulder as she walked past. “It will pass, child. Time, and the Lord, heal all things.”
Chelsea found a smile. “Amen, Sister.”
Jackson held out his arm. “I’ll have her back before dark.” Sister Ignatius grunted, lips pursed, but said nothing. Chelsea was never sure how much the nuns knew or suspected regarding rule breaking, but Jackson had pretty much moved into her dorm room last week, coming and going by way of the fire escape.
Jackson walked her to an unfamiliar car. “Where to, Miss Childling?”
She opened her door and slid into expensive leather. “Seriously, Jack, the suit, the car… where did you get all this?”
“You don’t want to know.”
She glared at him.
He shrugged and started the engine. “Scott’s wife, Judy… well, she liked going out and made sure I looked good when we did. And she barely uses the car these days.”
Her hand tightened into a fist.
You know better. Jackson Hawk… is Jackson Hawk. Do not get attached.
He put a warm hand over hers. “Where to, Chelsea?”
She had no time for jealousy. A friend needed to be laid to rest.
“The cathedral at Fourth and Craig.” They rode in silence, which remained unbroken as they stepped into the cathedral. Chelsea wasn’t sure they spoke the rest of the day. She bounced from person to person, a human pinball of muted grief.
All she wanted was a seat, but there were Dink’s fraternity brothers, somber and glassy-eyed. They’d all but adopted her after her parents’ death. As they begged her to come by on Saturday, her lie of a promise sat bitter in her mouth. She couldn’t go back there until the vampire was dead.
Once she escaped the fraternity, she faced Father Patrick and Sister Mary Clarence. They also worried about her. Father Patrick extracted a real promise to go to his office. The portly priest was a damn good listener, but she couldn’t confess how she’d get relief from this death. Still, it would be good to cry on his shoulder, again.
Sister Mary Clarence was, as always, harping on her grades. “You’ve missed all three of my classes this week.”
“I’m sorry, Sister. I’ve been keeping up online though.” She had been going to the demon hunter’s bar with Jackson in the morning instead of Renaissance Art History.
“Barely,” the nun harrumphed. “I check, you know.”
When she’d made enough apologies, she walked toward the chapel, bouncing off the muted sympathies of people she only vaguely knew.
The doors to the chapel came into sight, but her worst nightmare stood just outside them. Dink’s mother was unmistakable. She could see Dink in every line of the woman’s face. Her tight curls and brown skin, her dark, sad eyes. She stared at nothing, barely acknowledged the people around her. Her grief surrounded her like barbed wire, keeping everyone at bay.
Jackson’s warm hand gripped Chelsea’s elbow, and he guided her past Dink’s mother and through the doors. The ceremony was a blur. Chelsea sat frozen to the hard, wooden pew as all the people around her, but Jackson, knelt or stood along with the priest.
She didn’t hear Father Benedict’s eulogy. She barely registered the children’s choir. One thought ran through her mind as she stared at the shining wood of the closed casket.
I will find the monster that did this, and I will kill it.
Jackson put a hand over hers and squeezed. There was little comfort there, either.
Keep the Haven running!
While writing is free, websites, editing, and graphics aren’t. Any donations to keep the site up and running would be appreciated.