Chelsea’s piecemeal car pulled into the large and largely empty dirt lot on the side of the lake. She and Amber had left early. Mostly because Amber hadn’t been able to wait to leave.
And not in a good way. She’d paced, drank, paced, snapped at Chelsea, and then paced to burn some energy. As soon as they had gotten in the car, she’d quieted. Chelsea hadn’t needed the ominous silence to drive the point home.
Amber didn’t trust this Sonja person, but every other monster hunter in town did. Sonja had been put in charge of their polearm training.
Chelsea gave serious thought to just not bringing the subject up. Amber could be caustic and standoffish on her best days. Which today was not.
But every day, Chelsea knew she loved the woman a little bit more. Amber’s course exterior hid an intelligent and caring person. One who stood terrified of showing real emotion.
Chelsea found herself smiling at Amber’s dark scowl. She leaned across the gear shift and settled her head on Amber’s shoulder. “So, if screaming helps, you can scream at me.”
Amber sighed. “I’m sorry for being so bitchy, but you can’t—”
“Trust Sonja,” Chelsea finished with her. “I believe you, but I’d like to know why.”
“Why?” Amber’s voice heated with every syllable. “Isn’t my word good enough?”
Chelsea didn’t let the hot tone bother her. “Of course it is. I just want to know what I have to be worried about.”
Amber sucked in a deep breath and one strong hand clutched at the seatbelt like it was the only thing keeping her afloat. “It was about a year ago. Me and some buddies tracked a hell hound. Sonja nosed her way into the hunt and at the last minute, she just disappeared. We survived, but…”
Chelsea nodded. Hunting monsters wasn’t easy work, and the people who did it, not the nicest. But they always had each other’s back. Amber might advocate abandoning someone who couldn’t survive a fight, but she’d never bail beforehand.
Amber stared out the window. “I ended… I got hurt. That nasty scar on my leg…”
“I like that scar.” Chelsea found a smile. “It’s a neat design, especially if I just tweak…” She trailed off under Amber’s cold glare.
“I ended up at the hedge doctor. I still owe them a debt.”
Chelsea swallowed before pushing Amber’s hair behind her ear. Every hunter she had met feared to end up in a hedge doctor’s debt. Apparently, they could ask for literally anything, and you’d be expected to make good or risk everyone turning on you.
There was no point in delaying, so Chelsea simply asked, “Did you tell Scott?”
Amber swallowed twice before she could answer. “He didn’t tell me he was asking her to come. And frankly, she is an expert with a polearm. As long she’d not leading us in the fight…” She settled back into her seat. “That’s the issue. It’s too late now, she’s here. And I trust Scott.”
“So, we keep our eyes open, and watch each other’s back.” Chelsea leaned over to taste Amber’s neck. “And your front… the profile is nice, too.”
A smile eventually broke the plane of Amber’s fear. It rose with the color in her skin. “You might be worse than Jackson.”
Chelsea sighed and pulled away. She had no idea why Amber kept talking about Jackson Hawk. He wasn’t the only person they mutually knew, especially these days.
Amber sighed. “You still refusing to talk about him?”
“Why?” Frustration had Chelsea’s hands curling. “Seriously? Why? I’m so far beyond caring about Jac—”
“Is that why we have an unfinished portrait of him in our living room?” Amber looked out the window. “It’s not good to go into a big fight with emotional baggage.”
“I. Do not. Have. Emotional baggage.” Chelsea took a deep breath, hanging on to her temper by a hair. “At least, not in regards to Jackson Hawk.”
“Do you know that you almost always use his full name?” Amber stared at the top of the car. “A painting that you won’t work on or throw away. A refusal to talk about him. And yet you jump on any little mention of him.”
“Little?” Chelsea gave a short, clipped laugh. “You bring him up all the time.” She crossed her arms. “You ask about him at Boney’s, you constantly bring up that portrait as if I don’t have dozens of works in progress, and you work him into conversation at least once a day.”
Neither of them said anything for a long moment.
Then Chelsea reached across the car. “Amber, I l—”
Amber’s car door opened and shut so fast it took Chelsea a moment to realize what had happened. She wanted to run after Amber, but some instinct, blind as love itself, kept her glued to her seat.
Or it might be the bubbling rage in my stomach.
She decided to ignore the sickening despair that bubbled beside it.
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