Chelsea’s hair whipped in the hot storm winds as she stomped across the empty quad. The dark clouds and thunder matched her mood perfectly. She flew through the doors of the tiny student-run coffee shop as heat lightning raced overhead.
Peter turned to her with a smile that quickly fled. He gestured to her with the largest cup, and she nodded, though her attention sat squarely on the woman in the far corner.
Tall, with golden skin and dark eyes, the woman’s round face sagged with exhaustion. Her small smile melted some of Chelsea’s tension.
Chelsea sucked in a deep breath, and found a smile for the woman. Mad though she was, she had missed Amber, too.
The monster hunter waved her over. “Go ahead and bitch me out. I deserve it.”
“This is a bad place for that discussion.” Chelsea slumped into a seat.
“So, who’s Alex?” Amber’s far-more-familiar smirk replaced the sad smile.
Chelsea rolled her eyes. “New boyfriend. Now, did you want something specific?”
“I can’t want coffee with a friend?” The voice was far too innocent.
Chelsea didn’t bother to respond with anything other than a glare.
Amber sighed. “Fine. I’m completely strapped for cash and I need a place to crash.”
As her normal triple espresso silently slid into view, Chelsea fought not to dash it in Amber’s face. “And you thought I’d be—”
“I thought you’d forgive me.”
Chelsea leaned forward, her voice a hot whisper. “You left me— half dead— and alone.”
Amber waved a hand. “Boney and the hedge doctor were checking up on you.”
“At least Jackson left a note.”
“He assumed my debt.” Amber stared out the window. “Hedge doctors don’t ask for money. They ask for a ‘favor.’”
“Do I even want to know?”
Amber stared at her hands. “It’s… a future favor. Literally, you might get called to help another hunter with a fight, or to collect a rare herb, or to house sit for a weekend. You don’t know until you get the call.”
“What happens if you say no?”
“Every haunt is closed to you. Which means you’re persona non grata with hunters.” Amber took a long drink of her coffee. “And no hedge doctor will help you ever again.”
Chelsea fiddled with her cup. She’d only touched the edges of the monster hunting world. It seemed a close knit society built on favors, alcohol, blood lust, and insanity. But she knew the women in front of her very well. Amber barely tolerated people she liked on her best days.
Another reason not to trust her.
“You wouldn’t have survived without one, so whatever, we took you… but Jackson begged me to leave with him… and his offer was not being in debt. So, I took it.”
Despite the heat, gooseflesh rose on Chelsea’s body. “He—”
Amber finally looked back at her. “You made it very clear that you wanted to go back to school, and forget all about monster hunting. He got out before it hurt too much.”
Chelsea forced her lips together and swallowed. She’d repeated those same truths to herself, over and over for months now. Well, except that last part. “Hurt too much?”
Amber rolled her eyes. “Chelsea, he got an apartment for you. He hadn’t so much as looked at another woman in months. Jackson ‘I swear, I’ll call’ Hawk.” She shook her head. “The both of you….” She stood. “Whatever. I’ll head to Boney’s. See if anybody has a mattress or a couch they can spare. It was good seeing you, Chelsea.”
I’m not going to invite her to stay. I don’t owe her anything. She would have left Jackson to die.
Chelsea sighed as she grabbed her coffee, and hurried after the hunter. “Amber, wait.”
The monster hunter put up her hands as she turned. “I have no idea where Jackson is.”
“I wasn’t going to ask.” Chelsea had promised herself that as soon as she agreed to this meeting. Jackson Hawk could go hang for all she cared. He’d left her, injured and alone, with only a note for a goodbye. “But you can crash with me, for a few weeks.”
Amber’s smile sat small and sad. “You sure?”
Chelsea waved a toward the dorms before heading that way. “I lost my single when I left, but I also don’t have a roommate, because it’s summer semester. So I have an extra bed. It’s not a hassle.” She found herself smiling. “Besides, you did have Boney and the hedge doctor check up on me. It’s not like you left me dying on the curb beside a hospital.”
“Lead the way.” A certain energy returned to the monster hunter’s step.
Chelsea fought down a wave of nostalgia. The months she’d spent with Amber and Jackson had begun to feel like a dream. But walking beside Amber now, the memories came screaming to the front of Chelsea’s brain in HD quality detail.
Fight practice had been her favorite times. Especially sparring with Amber. Jack had always pulled punches and gone soft on her. The fight with the vampire had proven that. Chelsea blinked away the memory of him, hands bound, kicking her hatchet through the neck of the nightling.
She waved to the nun on duty at the front desk. “Hey, sister. This is—”
“Anna King.” Amber smiled widely, pulling a wallet out of her jacket pocket and producing a driver’s license for the nun.
Sister Mary Ignatius smiled widely. “Wonderful to meet you, Anna. How long will you be staying.”
“A week.” Amber smiled. “I haven’t seen Chelsea since…”
“Grade school.” Chelsea looped her arm through Amber’s. “Anna and I used to be inseparable.”
“It’s so good to see you with friends, again.” The old nun’s wrinkled face lit up with her smile. “But get her settled quick, Chelsea. You don’t want to be late for class.”
“Of course not, sister.” Chelsea hurried toward the elevator, dragging Amber with her. Once the doors closed on Mary Ignatius, a giggle escaped Amber. Chelsea couldn’t stop her own. By the time they reached the third floor, they held their stomach, faces red with laughter.
Chelsea wiped at her eyes as she hurried down the quiet hall to her room. Huge windows lit the small living room. Chelsea gestured to her right as she grabbed a notebook and some pencils. “Your bed is over there. I’ll be back in two hours, with food.”
Amber flashed a grateful smile. “Thanks, again. I would have understood if you had tossed me out on my ass.”
Chelsea swallowed before she hugged the other woman. “I was tempted.”
Amber laughed and pulled away. “I need a shower.”
“I wasn’t going to mention that.”
The second wave of laughter from Amber stopped suddenly. “Is that the same picture of Jackson from this winter?”
Chelsea refused to look at the easel. “Yeah. I never got around to finishing it. And I have to go. You really don’t want to piss off nuns.” She hurried toward the door on another wave of Amber’s laughter. Once the door shut behind her, Chelsea took a deep breath and scrubbed at her eyes. This was going to end badly, she just knew it.
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