Chelsea slid a hand along Amber’s spine. Under her fingers, Amber squirmed and wiggled.
“You’re ticklish?” Chelsea’s eyes opened. She squealed and pounced on the naked woman beside her.
Amber batted at her hands. “Don’t you dare. I will throw punches.” Their giggles cut off abruptly when someone pounded on their down.
Chelsea met Amber’s eyes. “Who the hell could that be?”
Amber shrugged. “Boney, Tiggy, the hedge doctors, a ton of people.”
do we have to answer?” Chelsea leaned over to kiss the skin between Amber’s
heavy breasts. “I mean putting on clothes does not appeal to me.”
Amber heaved herself into a sitting position, laughing. “Boney is technically our landlord.”
Chelsea groaned, but clamored off the low pallet that held their bed. It took her much longer to find her underwear than Amber. Then again Amber’s panties hadn’t been used a slingshot earlier. By the time she found them, the laughter from downstairs was calling her.
Keegan leaned against the kitchen counter. Beside him stood their most recent employer. Chelsea had never picked up his name. Younger than her, dark-haired, and more than a little country about summed up her knowledge of the boy.
She smiled and waved before grabbing a cup of coffee. “Welcome to my apartment.”
Keegan smirked. “There’s no place for me to crash here. You ladies need a couch.”
Amber looked between them, then rolled her eyes. “Oh great, you two are friends now.”
Keegan snorted. “I’m just happy that you two are. Again.”
Chelsea bit at her lip. Beside her, Amber blushed and giggled. Keegan’s eyebrows rose and a great smile bloomed. Their employer looked between the three of them, a touch confused.
Deciding that she’d deal Keegan’s teasing later, Chelsea focused on the kid. “I have to apologize, but these two heathens never properly introduced us. I’m Chelsea Childling.”
The kid held out his hand. “Harry Cook.” He had a twang that that tugged at her heartstrings. It wasn’t as familiar as her mother’s had been, but it certainly brought a smile to her face.
She felt hers rising, and didn’t try to stop it, as she shook his hand. “You’re not from around here.”
“You neither.” The boy grinned at her. “And you didn’t talk like that this morning.”
“Well, you know how it is. You stay from home too long…”
He laughed. “Yeah, people sure do talk funny up here.”
Chelsea laughed with him and sipped at her coffee. Amber’s snicker accompanied her hand on Chelsea’s lower back. Chelsea leaned towards her but addressed Harry. “How long are you in town for?”
Harry shrugged. “I was supposed to leave this mornin’ but I had a hangover and figured I’d head out tomorrow. Right now, I’m fixing to find some dinner.”
A smile grew on Chelsea’s face, hurting her face. “We can do dinner here.”
Amber snorted. “Glad we talked about that.”
Chelsea stuck her tongue out. “I’m cooking, so stop it. Were you going to throw him out?”
Keegan laughed. “Oh, this is going to be fun.”
Rolling her eyes, Chelsea turned to the fridge. Practically empty, there was, nonetheless, eggs and a loaf of bread. Fried eggs and toast would have to do.
The easy meal sat on individual plates a scant thirty minutes later. Harry’s easy country charm twinkled as he told funny stories about his family, apparently one of the few settled demon hunting families.
As the laughter died down, Chelsea collected the plates, ready to send the boys on their way and pull Amber back upstairs. She walked around the kitchen counter, only to trip over a low wire cage she hadn’t noticed before.
She gasped at the pain in her shins as the cage tumbled across the floor. Swearing, Harry and Keegan jumped to their feet, but they were too late. The door popped open and two long, dark, furry creatures scurried across the floor in opposite directions.
Chelsea groaned. “Not again.” The nearly forgotten stitches in her arm began to itch as she searched the floor for the dronkes. “You really need a better cage for these fuckers.”
Harry sighed. “My goddamned Uncle Bart… those things are his pets. And they like, literally, live in his coat.”
Amber giggled as a dronke wiggled past her hand. “So he lives in a drunken stupor?”
“No, he only lets ‘em mate at certain times. But they ain’t used to being caged, and he wouldn’t leave Pittsburgh, so here I am.” Harry glared at the cage as he unbent the lock. “Fuckin’ hedge doctors have him tied uptight there.”
Chelsea edged toward one ferret-like creature, trying not to alarm it. “Are hedge doctors really that bad?”
Harry swooped on the unsuspecting dronke. “Uncle Bart don’t think so, but he ain’t been home in years. He owes them damn hedge doctors in Pittsburgh so many favors that he can’t even leave the city. Or so my mom says.” He shrugged before stuffing the wiggling dronke into the cage. “I thought he seemed happy, to be honest.”
Keegan sauntered over, the other dronke in his hands. “Why are you traveling with these things?”
“My cousin Jen. She wanted to get samples of the pheromones to a colleague up here.”
“Samples?” Chelsea glanced over at Amber. She’d been under the impression that demon hunters were rough folks, traveling knights errant, protecting people from monsters. This sounded much more… academic.
Harry nodded. “Yeah, Jen’s a cryptozoologist. She went to college for the zoologist part and then right back to being a hunter.” His smile, crooked teeth prominent, warmed his whole face. Chelsea itched to sketch the unabashed cheer he exuded.
Once the dronkes had again been secured, they gathered around the kitchen island, talking shop for a bit. After a while, the mix of voices blended into cacophony for Chelsea. She didn’t want to kick out the boys out, but their presence was quickly becoming an annoyance.
She wandered over to the corner that held her easel and other art supplies. The unfinished portrait of Jackson called out to her as always. But uncapping the oil paint didn’t. Instead, she picked up a sketch pad and some pencils. Without a comfy chair to curl up in, she was forced back to the kitchen area of the open room.
Keegan’s right. We need places to sit.
The thought came and went. Chelsea concentrated on the blank white paper. First, came a quick sketch of Harry and his skewed smile. Then came Keegan’s knowing grin.
Lost in the motions, Chelsea flipped the page and started a more abstract design. Broad at the top, it tapered at the bottom before flaring out again. She covered it in a monochromatic design that combined flowing lines and hard, almost jagged edges.
“Later, Chelsea.” Keegan’s amused voice cut through her concentration.
“Uh?” She looked up. The boys were headed out the door. She waved vaguely, thoughts already on the design she had made. Before she could return to her sketch, Amber’s hands covered hers.
Dark eyes in their golden-beige face stared intently into hers. “This thing… us… I know—”
Chelsea leaned in, and kissed her, stopping the words. “For now, we’re happy. Right?”
Amber nodded, her full bottom lip between her teeth.
“Then don’t worry.” Chelsea stood, letting the sketch pad and her pencil fall to the ground. She grabbed Amber’s hand and led to the spiral stairs. “Worry when we have another monster to fight.”
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