Music pulsed throughout the warehouse apartment, rattling the high windows. Chelsea barely heard it. All her concentration was focused on Amber. The other demon hunter stood taller, weighed more, and had no idea what fighting fair might possibly mean.
Chelsea sported bruises on her ribs, shoulders, and legs from the woman. She was determined not to gain one more. Inflicting one on Amber didn’t seem likely.
With no more warning than the wind, Amber flew at Chelsea. There was no time to plan an attack. All Chelsea could do is wrap her arms around Amber’s shoulders, pounding on whatever came to reach. She kicked at Amber’s ankles, sending both to the concrete floor. Amber had no use for mats.
Not that we could afford them, anyway.
The other woman’s heavier frame pinned Chelsea down when she rolled, squashing Chelsea into the floor. Chelsea struggled as she considered slamming her head into Amber’s face.
Suddenly the mood changed. The intense, manic energy of fight practice thinned. Amber grinned as she leaned on Chelsea more forcefully. “How about a drink?”
Chelsea nodded, not trusting herself to speak even if she could have caught her breath. They clamored off the floor, Amber with more energy than Chelsea. She headed over to turn down the stereo, letting Amber deal with drinks.
The bottle of rum on the counter no longer surprised Chelsea. The soda did. Amber tended towards shots when she didn’t just drink out of the bottle.
“Here’s your poison.” Amber handed over the mixed drink and leaned against the counter. “You still mad at me?”
Chelsea rolled her eyes. “I was never—”
“Shut up. You were too.” Amber stood up straight. “But one of the first rules of monster hunting is don’t go into a fight with someone you don’t trust.”
Rage left her hands shaking hard enough to force to Chelsea to set down her drink. “You don’t trust me? One of us was willing to let Jackson die, and it wasn’t me.”
The harsh words rolled off Amber with her shrug. “Whatever. I went on your suicide mission and lived. Doesn’t make it any less stupid. Noble, but very, very stupid, however happy I am that Jackson lived. He was my friend first.” She flashed Amber a salacious smile before putting the bottle to her full lips and drinking deep. Chelsea had to laugh. Amber was nearly as bold as Jackson.
The hunter’s smile had faded to friendly by the time she finished with her drink. “But you misunderstood. Last week you were too raw over Alex.” Her dark eyes turned liquid and sad. “And I don’t blame you.”
Chelsea picked up her drink and chugged. She had loved Alex, in her way. The guilt of not being what he had deserved blended with the guilt of knowing they’d have broken up if she hadn’t let him die.
Amber tucked a hunk of dark hair over her ear. “You seem better though. Still angry, but anger and hunters… like peas and cabbage.”
“You mean peas and carrots?”
Amber shrugged, a smile lighting up her round face. “Different cultures, sweetie.”
Chelsea giggled. “Remind me to make you some fried green tomatoes.”
“I’m sure they’ll go great with fish amok.” Amber took a swig from the bottle. “But that’s not what we were talking about. I think you’re ready for—”
Fear coursed through Chelsea. “You’re leaving?”
“No.” Amber’s eyes went wide, then she laughed. “No, I already talked to Boney. This apartment is ours for as long we want to stay.”
Relief left Chelsea giddy, and she took another long drink. “So what am I ready for?”
Amber bit her full bottom lip, trying not to laugh. “I’m going to ignore the phrasing, because I want this conversation to move forward. But I think you’re ready to hunt.”
Letting out a whoop, Chelsea leaped to her feet and hugged Amber over the counter. The other woman froze for a moment before she patted Chelsea’s back with a ginger hand. “Okay, that’s enough touching.”
Chelsea laughed as she sat back down. “So beating on each other is fine, but hugging is a no-no?”
Amber’s smile sat stiff and crooked. “Speaking of beating on each other.” She pushed Chelsea off her stool before vaulting over the island. The bottle of rum went flying, its spraying contents burning Chelsea’s eyes.
She ducked on instinct even as she stumbled. A rush of wind over her head gave her a flush of pride. She swung wildly, eyes still clenched shut and aching. Her fist connected with something warm and fleshy, which could have been any part of Amber.
Grinning, Chelsea swung her right arm, watery eye still blurry with pain and tears. She made out the Amberish-shaped blob a moment before she connected. This time her fist hit something hard, and Amber cried out in pain.
Chelsea stopped short, rubbing at her eyes. “I’m sor—”
The words died in her throat as Amber shoved her up against a wall with a full body press. “Don’t be sorry, this is a fight.”
“And I concede.” To her shock, the pressure on her chest didn’t ease.
Amber crowded in closer. “You’re giving up?”
“No, I’m tired, sore, and want a bath.” Chelsea smiled at her friend.
Amber’s lips quirked up, deepening dimples in her round cheeks. Chelsea found herself staring at them as the warmth and closeness of Amber seeped into her flesh, raising hair and color.
They stood in that position for a few more long, silent moments before Amber took a step back, her eyes averted. Chelsea found herself out of breath once again. Her legs trembled. She locked her knees and took a deep breath.
What the hell was that?
Amber shuffled away, still not looking at Chelsea. For her part, Chelsea hurried to the black, spiral staircase, her feet causing the metal to vibrate as she ran upstairs.
The single bed she and Amber shared rooted her to the spot. Blushing, Chelsea hurriedly grabbed some clothes and rushed to the bathroom. The deep, claw-footed tub brought some relief from the last few heated moments. When the water turned tepid, Chelsea dressed quickly, something she wouldn’t have worried about that morning.
To her relief and horror, Amber was already in bed when she emerged from the bathroom. Chelsea watched her for a moment. The hunter only pretended to be asleep, but Chelsea decided it was probably for the best. So she slipped over to the stairs.
She turned on all the lights as she headed to the corner that held her unfinished portrait of Jackson Hawk. But she couldn’t concentrate. Amber’s dark eyes kept coming to mind instead of his brilliant green.
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