The raw light of day rubbed at her red eyes a moment before Chelsea realized she was awake. She promptly fell off the couch. As she stumbled to her feet, the strangeness of her surroundings hit her.
This was not the brick and concrete apartment she shared with Amber. The dark faux-wood paneling should have tipped her off much sooner. She took a step and nearly fell again. Leaning against a recliner, Chelsea realized that she was drunk.
I need to get home.
A rough man’s voice rumbled down the hall. “Oh shit, she’s awake.”
Chelsea tensed, fear running down her spine, but Keegan stumbled down the hall. She relaxed a little as she was reasonably sure Keegan wasn’t a bad guy.
He waved behind him. “She’ll need the antidote.”
“Antidote?” Suspicion oozed once more.
Keegan nodded, a touch too vigorously. “The dronkes got out again. We’re poisoned, not drunk.”
Disgust welled up in her. “Fucking dronkes.” The stitches in her arm hurt. The ferret-like demons had been savage about defending their territory the day before.
A young kid, maybe seventeen or eighteen, hurried out of the backroom. Eventually, recognition pierced Chelsea’s brain. He’d been the one to hire her to catch the dronkes. He handed large green leaves to both her and Keegan. It matched the one plastered to his own upper lip and the ones he had given them the day before. “Bruise it a little and leave it under your nose. It’ll clear up the symptoms.”
The minty, almost astringent scent instantly cleared Chelsea’s head. While the room stopped spinning, her pounding temple and heaving stomach didn’t. “I don’t think mine is working right.”
The kid shrugged. “It ain’t gonna clear up a hangover, just the dronkes.”
Chelsea groaned before collapsing on the recliner. The night was coming back to her. Most of it seemed to involve alcohol.
The bright sunshine darkened as Keegan leaned over the recliner. “How about some food?”
She groaned again, but Keegan prodded at her shoulder. “C’mon. We need some open air and greasy diner food.”
Chelsea risked a smile. “Will the coffee be instant and the bacon suspect?”
“I wouldn’t dare take a hunter someplace better.”
The diner was everything her hangover could have hoped for. The booths were patched, the tables cracked, and the silverware mismatched.
She savored the cheap creamer and bitter coffee, over sugaring it to the point of cloying. “I so needed this.”
Keegan sipped at his orange juice with a snort. “You certainly do. You really ran as close to alcohol poisoning as possible last night.”
Fuck off, Chelsea Childling.
Amber’s torn and haunted voice ripped through Chelsea’s booze-induced amnesia. That had been what set off her binge. That and Amber storming out once again refusing to meet Chelsea’s eye.
“So, what are you two ladies fighting about? And please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t let it be Jackson Hawk.”
Heat rose all along Chelsea’s body at the hunter’s name. Could all this discord be about Jackson?
“No.” The denial felt real, and Chelsea nodded, convinced by her own assuredness. “Amber and I never had a Jackson issue and neither of us has seen him in months.”
Keegan snickered. “You nodded while denying it.”
Her mouth opened as her cheeks burned. She couldn’t think of a retort though.
The waitress refilling her coffee gave her a moment to gather her thoughts if not her wits. “It can’t be Jackson.”
“Why not?” Keegan sounded both genuinely curious and disgustingly smug. “Both of you were giving Judith the evil eye last night. And she’s one of Jackson’s lady friends. Then Amber blows up at you, and you go on a bender.”
Anger bubbled up. “Fuck Jackson Hawk.” She spat the words, leaning forward. “I am so sick of him. Judith obviously cares about him, and I know Amber never entirely got over him. But seriously fuck him. He ran off, leaving me half dead. I wish I had never met him.”
“Is that why you obsess over that painting of him?” Keegan’s smirk had been replaced with a frown. “Amber’s mentioned it more than a few times.”
Chelsea waved a hand at him. “I’m a painter. I obsess over any project.”
“But this one is Jackson “Man-whore” Hawk.”
He wanted to stay with me.
Chelsea swallowed. It wasn’t something most people knew. Maybe only Amber was aware that Jackson had tried, multiple times, to convince Chelsea that he’d been in love.
I refused to believe it though.
The sudden silence stretched until their food came. Chelsea poured the thin syrup over her greasy pancake. The yellow-brown color reminded her of Amber’s eyes.
Chelsea sighed. “It can’t be about Jackson. I know I’m not upset about him.” Keegan chuckled and Chelsea sighed. “Amber and I were friends while I was dating him. Why would he be the problem now?”
Keegan paused, the sausage on his fork dripping gravy. “That’s a good point.” He chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “But good luck getting Amber to talk in any case.”
Chelsea found herself wincing. Amber might be a friend, even a good one, but she wasn’t a people person by any stretch of the imagination. Still something had to be done.
“Or don’t.” Keegan shrugged. “You can crash at my place if you need to.”
Chelsea’s eyes narrowed. “You seem a little fast to offer me a place.”
Keegan flashed her a shit-eating grin. “What can I say? I like redheads.”
“That little shit certainly has a line for every woman he runs across.”
Chelsea sipped at her coffee. “Somehow I doubt you spend the majority of your nights alone.”
Keegan lifted his glass of orange juice at her. “You could stop by and see for yourself.”
“Fucking hunters…” Chelsea shook her head.
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