Just a quick little announcement here. These next few stories are a little more… connected than normal for this series of shorts. So… for the summer… two stories a month.
See you on June 18!
Shivers pulled Chelsea from a deep sleep. She rolled over to bury her face in Jackson’s warm chest, only to find his side of the bed empty.
Alarm shot her upright, and wide awake. “Jack?”
No answer came from the bathroom. Chelsea threw on some clothes and thundered down the metal spiral staircase. The former warehouse turned apartment stood cold and empty in the bright afternoon sun.
Dread bloomed in Chelsea’s stomach. She and Jackson had settled into the monster hunter’s twilight lifestyle since she left school two weeks ago. They woke with the setting sun and began fight practice. Then after they ate, they joined Amber to stake out the house the nightlings had taken over. Amber and Jack wanted to study not only the rhythms of the household but the layout of the neighborhood before they attacked. Sometime in the early morning, they wandered back home for more fight practice and food.
Chelsea hadn’t woken up alone since the night Jackson had saved her from a nightling. Feeling lost, she hurried back upstairs to shower. Despite the hot water, she couldn’t stop shivering. Where had Jackson gone? And why hadn’t he woken her before he left?
By the time she had dressed and eaten, Jackson still hadn’t returned. Nor had he answered her texts or calls. Chelsea paced for a while before trying her hand at drawing.
Her easel held several reference photos of Jackson now, but she still didn’t feel that her sketch captured him. It lacked his self-satisfaction and… well, spirit. Jackson Hawk loved being alive, and it showed in everything he did.
Chelsea stared at the image, pencil in hand, but didn’t add a single line. She couldn’t see how the image was off, but it was….
When the door slammed open, she jumped, letting out a small scream from fear as well as cold. Jackson shuffled in, bundled against the subzero temperatures.
Her tight fists slammed into her hips. “Where have you been?”
“It’s time, Chelsea.” The bright, white winter sun flared behind his back, leaving Jackson a dim outline in the doorway.
She stared at him in confusion. “Time?”
“We’re going after the nightlings.”
As they sat in the car, waiting for the sun to set, Chelsea ran a finger over the head of her ax. Compact, but sharp, it would be completely covered by her coat while in public. The light weapon worked well with the self-defense she’d been practicing most of her life, but at the moment she felt wholly inadequate to the task of fighting vampires.
Bits of Jackson and Amber’s advice ran through her brain. The handle is still a weapon, you can bludgeon with it. It’s not just about slashing and cutting. The small curved head can capture and guide enemy hands. Think of it as an extension of your own hand…
Amber leaned forward from the backseat. “You look a little green around the gills.”
Chelsea shrugged. “I’m about to fight vampires—”
“Fucking hell, Jack!” Amber’s voice flowed, hot and heavy out of the backseat. “You didn’t tell her?”
“Tell me what?” Chelsea glared over at the steering wheel where Jackson sat hunched against their anger.
He cut angry green eyes at Amber. “No, I hadn’t discussed tactics with her, yet. I was going to do it here.”
Amber threw herself back. “You fucking coward.”
Chelsea pulled in a deep breath. For all that he insisted that she’d never be happy killing just one monster, Jackson had been reluctant to actually let her fight. Amber had been the one to start to her training.
Now he glared out the window at the fading daylight. “You aren’t coming in with us, Chelsea.”
“What?” Her voice came out flat and heavy. She had dropped out of school to do this.
He turned to her, face stiff. “You aren’t coming in with us. You aren’t ready for this kind of fight, b—’
“Jack, what about Dink—”
He refused to let her interrupt him. “But more than that, we might need a quick get-away.” His eyes studied the roof of her car. “All in all, it makes more tactical sense for you to stay here.”
In the back seat, Amber glared at the back of Jack’s head. “It’s true.” She glanced over at Chelsea, eyes dark and serious. “This is a mated pair of nightlings. They’re settled in pretty well, four minions a piece and a comfy home. We’re going to head in before dark, kill the minions and, hopefully, kill the nightlings. But if they rise together, we’re going to have to run.”
Rage exploded in Chelsea’s brain. “I want to be in there! I deserve to be in there.”
Jackson covered his eyes with one hand. “Can you kill a human?”
“Minions aren’t monsters.” He glanced at the house. “They’re people under a spell. But they are dangerous. They’ll kill to defend their nightling.” For the first time since she got in the car, Jackson met her gaze. His eyes seemed cold, their normal life dimmed. “You’ll hesitate, because you know, but you don’t understand. They’re humans… but they aren’t on our side. You’re a liability in that house. You could get us all killed.”
A chill to match the air outside settled in her chest, and Chelsea nodded.
Jackson pulled in a deep breath. “It’s not like staying in the car is safe, either.”
Amber let out something close to a sigh. “If something goes wrong, you will be noticed and attacked. That’s why we had to train you.” She smacked Jackson’s arm. “Despite what some people thought.”
Jackson hunched further into the driver’s seat, eyes fixed on the house. “Amber, you ready?”
“Always.” The back door opened and slammed shut.
Chelsea froze in the passenger seat, alternating between betrayal and fear. Jackson, finally, looked away from the house. For a long moment neither of them spoke.
Then he sighed. “I’m sorry, okay. I should have said something sooner.”
She shook her head. “I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. You could have been straight with me.”
“And deal with this argument for the last two weeks?” A ghost of his normal grin flashed across his face. “I was enjoying your company too much.”
She snorted. “Company? Is that what we’re calling it?”
“It’s not like you let me call it anything else.”
Before she could ask what that meant, Jack slipped outside, adjusting his ax in the cold. As he and Amber headed to the house, Chelsea scooted over to the driver’s seat. Hands gripping the steering wheel painfully, she watched them bust a basement window and sneak into the house.
As the sun headed for the horizon, she debated turning on the car. Jackson and Amber had been adamant about leaving it off while watching the house.
But I’m the getaway driver now, not the stalker.
Chelsea reluctantly turned the car on. As twilight blossomed, the lights in the house remained off. Fear took root in Chelsea’s stomach. The lights in the house always snapped on when it got dark. That’s when the minions woke the nightlings.
And if Jack and Amber killed the minions, then of course, no lights. They’ll be out any minute now.
Chelsea sat, watching the house, waiting for any sign of Jack and Amber. Slowly the night sky turned inky blue, but her friends didn’t appear.
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