Amber whistled as she spun in a circle, taking in the warehouse apartment. “Jack did this?”
Chelsea nodded, her face warming a bit. “Yeah, he set it up…”
The monster hunter turned, hands on her thick hips. “Jackson?”
“Jackson ‘I didn’t catch her name’ Hawk got an apartment, to share, without being prodded, in any way?” Disbelief threaded Amber’s voice.
Chelsea shrugged, ignoring the heat in her face. “I certainly never brought it up.”
“Well, shit.” Amber shook her head. “He might be in love with you.”
Her face officially on fire, Chelsea turned to her easel and picked up a pencil. “That’s ridiculous and we both know it.” She began correcting the arch of Jackson’s eyebrows.
“That’s… an outstanding likeness of him.”
“Thanks. I’m going to try an oil painting. It requires lots of layers, so I want an outline to start.” Chelsea lost herself in the angles of Jackson’s face, the high planes of his cheeks and the exact slant of his dimples. Amber and the rest of the bright apartment faded into a background fugue as she sketched.
When her laptop chimed, it took her a moment to place the sound. It had been a long time since she’d been so caught up in a sketch. She hurried over to the island that designated the kitchen.
The video chat pinged again, flashing at her. She took a deep breath and pressed play.
Her therapist smiled at her from the tiny screen, white teeth bright against the woman’s dark skin, as her thick Southern accent rolled through the warehouse. “Chelsea, you’re painting again.”
She looked down at her stained flannel shirt. “Yes.” She didn’t know if a tree in the bedroom she shared with Jackson really counted as painting, but she’d take it.
“Well, now I feel better about that excuse I faxed your school. You have this semester off though it’s all incompletes. You’ll have to redo the courses, but they’ll take you back in the fall.”
“Thank you.” Chelsea swallowed against her tightening throat. “When do I have to get my stuff off campus?”
Dr. Kinney shrugged. “That’s not my business, Chelsea. You’ll have to get that information yourself.”
She nodded, fighting tears. Regardless of whether she wanted to leave school, she knew she’d never make it through the semester with decent grades.
“Now, I took the liberty of refilling your sleeping pills, and I have a script for anti-anxiety meds. Do you want them?”
Chelsea paused. Her anxiety had been sky high since Dink died, but the medication left her listless. Which would be a death sentence in a fight against vampires. She shook her head.
“Let me know if you change your mind.” Dr. Kinney smiled again. “I can’t wait to see your new work.”
Chelsea smiled and shrugged, unsure what to say. She wasn’t about to have any kind of conversation about Jackson Hawk with her therapist. There was no way to do it without mentioning vampires or monsters to the woman. It would be a one-way ticket to the psych ward.
“Have a good day, Chelsea.” Dr. Kinney smiled once more. “We’ll talk soon.” The screen went bright blue and Chelsea took a deep breath. Her life was officially on hold, now.
“You’re dropping out?”
Chelsea jumped. She’d forgotten the other woman was in the apartment.
Amber leaned against the island. “I thought you were just killing ‘one nightling?’”
“I am.” Chelsea let herself snap at the other woman. “I’m taking off the rest of this semester to kill the nightling.”
Amber’s smile lit up her face. “Okay, then, let’s see what you can do in a fight.”
Chelsea froze. Amber and Jackson hadn’t been very forthcoming about when they’d actually attack the nightlings. If Chelsea heard, ‘Reconnaissance saves lives’ one more time she’d lose her mind.
“C’mon, step up.” Amber strode over to the wall of mirrors that faced the tall windows.
Chelsea took a deep breath and followed. “Jack hasn’t let me do anything but unsheathe my ax.”
Amber giggled. “At least, you’re doing more than unsheathing his.”
Chelsea laughed along, despite the bile that bubbled in her stomach. Amber knew full well how Jackson operated, she’d hooked up with him before. Chelsea swallowed her jealousy as she unbuttoned her flannel and stepped towards the larger woman.
Amber twisted her thick body, grinning like mad. “Jack told me you’re a kickboxer?”
“Since I was ten.”
A faint expression of surprised approval crossed Amber’s face. “Really?”
“Daddy said if I was gonna be a wanderer, he didn’t want to worry about me when I went out.” Chelsea forced her voice to lightness and stepped towards the mirrored wall. Amber’s hand lashed out, and Chelsea didn’t jump away fast enough. The larger woman’s heavy frame was mostly muscle and it all concentrated on Chelsea’s upper arm in an explosion of pain.
“Hey! I wasn’t—”
“No whining.” Amber’s raspy voice rang out hard. “There’s no such thing as ‘not ready.’”
Amber’s flashed a vicious smile. “Nightlings won’t wait for you to be ready, and neither will I.” The last three words were a roar as Amber charged.
Chelsea swung to the side, lifting a leg. She jammed her hip into Amber and began raining blows on the other woman’s neck and shoulders. Amber pushed her away, then lowered her shoulder and charged again. She swept Chelsea off the ground, slamming her into the nearest wall. Chelsea didn’t lose her breath, but pain settled in her lower back, ribs, and head.
She wiggled and squirmed until an arm popped free. She brought it down on Amber’s neck, right where it connected to the shoulder.
Amber swore and slammed Chelsea into the wall once more. Chelsea curled her fingers, ready to drive the edge of her hand into Amber’s neck again.
“Whoa!” Jackson Hawk pushed Amber away. “What the hell is going on?”
Amber grinned. “Wanted to see what she’d do if she couldn’t use her legs. Your little nun is a scrapper, Jack.” She gave Chelsea a weak shove, before heading to the kitchen.
Jack glared at her as she walked away. He turned back to Chelsea, worry in his eyes. “You okay?”
Chelsea nodded, fighting to catch her breath. That had been unlike any sparring she’d ever done. It had been raw and brutal. No searching blows or attempts at finesse. Amber had used pure strength to batter at her. She stretched and things popped into her back. She had a strange urge to take a swing at Amber, just to see if the next bout would be that… full of energy.
Jackson gave her a suspicious once-over before stalking towards the kitchen area. “Amber—”
Amber waved a blasé hand in the air over her head as she pulled an ice cube tray out of the freezer. “Jack, stop coddling her. You’re gonna get her killed. She handled herself.” She deftly spun the ice cubes into a dish towel and walked it over to Chelsea. “I’ve pushed past my welcome, so I’m out. See you tomorrow.”
Chelsea put the ice pack on her aching head with a smile. “Sounds good. I could use the practice, apparently.”
Jackson glared at Amber’s back until the door shut. “Are you sure—”
“I’m fine, Jack.” Chelsea wandered back towards her easel. Right hand occupied with the ice pack, Chelsea studied the outline of Jackson. The longer she looked, the more off his proportions seemed to her.
She turned slightly, studying the man out of the corner of her eye. She’s couldn’t quite pinpoint what the problem was. She turned back to her outline, trying to find the discrepancies.
She had no idea how long she stared at the canvas, but eventually, a warm and calloused hand slipped under her shirt and raised gooseflesh where it trailed along skin. “Is that me?” His warbling voice belied that casual question.
Chelsea hid a smile. Most people didn’t know what to say when they saw their portrait. “It will be, someday.”
“You need me to sit or something?”
She laughed. “No, but I might take a few photos if that’s okay.”
“What about nudes? I’m totally down with that.”
She laughed harder and leaned into Jackson. “Maybe the next one.”
“Next one, my little nun?”
She spun around and hooked a leg on his hip. “I’m thinking of a series. My favorite monster hunter in various mediums.”
He kissed her neck, sending shivers to her fingertips. “Can we do the sensual rubbing of each other with paint, like on TV?”
“Oh hell no.” Chelsea glared at him. “This shit is expensive.”
He laughed and then kissed her. “Are you sure Amber didn’t hurt you?”
Chelsea rolled her eyes and pushed out of his arms. “Jack, we’re going to fight vampires. Do you expect me to come out of that without any injuries?”
“Chelsea…” He tugged on her jeans, pulling her closer. “I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I—”
Heart pounding against her ribs again, she turned to place a finger to his lips. “Jack, don’t. Please, not today.”
His green eyes angry, he stalked towards the kitchen. She turned back to her canvas, wondering if she should have let him finish, and whether or not she would have believed him.
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