“And here’s your cut.” Keegan whipped dark hair out of his eyes in a smooth motion before handing Chelsea a few tens. The chupacabra had been an easy hunt, not worth a whole lot, especially not split between four people.
She pocketed the money, studying the other monster hunter. She considered him a friend, but things had turned sour this afternoon.
And why? Because I know how hunters are after a hunt and called him out on it.
Tall and thin, Keegan rarely smiled. His caustic humor and knowing eyes made him seem sour and unapproachable, but he’d been nothing but kind to her. He’d cared for her during drunken rages, been a sounding board for her relationship issues, and found her work when she needed it.
But hunters had a habit of jumping in bed together after they buried monsters. Something she wanted to avoid at all costs. Not just with Keegan, but with anybody.
I’ve had my fill of sleeping with hunters.
She picked at the label on her empty beer bottle, wishing she could have brought Bentley into the bar. The huge mutt had become her only source of comfort the past few weeks. She needed comfort at the moment.
Keegan folded his arms over his chest. “You just gonna stare at me?”
She shrugged. “Thanks for the job.”
He flopped into the other chair at her table. “Seriously, what’s your problem?”
“I don’t have one.” She couldn’t meet his gaze though.
“Jesus, Chelsea. You’re getting as bad as Amber.”
Mention of her ex-girlfriend brought her anger boiling to the surface. She glared at Keegan for a long moment before slamming the her bottle on the table just for the satisfaction of seeing him jump.
She stormed to her feet. She had her money, it was time to be moving on. The road, and her dog, beckoned her.
She has halfway across the dirt parking lot when Keegan called out. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, stop.”
Chelsea didn’t stop walking, but she did slow down. “What do you want?”
Keegan jogged up to her. “Nothing.” Then he shrugged. “Maybe a ride to the next town.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, ‘cause I want to be trapped in a car with you for a few hours.”
His eyes narrowed. “One of us is being a total bitch, and it isn’t me.”
“Yet you’re still asking for a ride.” She unlocked her car but hesitated before getting in. “You coming or what?”
He sighed as he hurried over to the passenger door. “I must really hate myself.”
Chelsea settled herself in her seat. As soon as her seatbelt clicked, Bentley rested his jaw on her shoulder. She scratched at his ear and leaned against his giant head. The soft black fur soothed her. “Hey buddy, we’ll stop soon.”
Bentley’s heavy tail thumped against the backseat. He sniffed at her hair, licked her ear, and then settled down again. Chelsea smiled in spite of herself.
She pulled out on the mostly empty highway and headed for the setting sun. Endless fields sat ahead of them, glowing gold as the day died. She wished Keegan hadn’t asked for a ride. She would have loved nothing more than to jack up the radio and sang along with Bentley beside her.
She fiddled around until she found an oldies station. Her father had loved Motown and imprinted that onto Chelsea at a young age. She knew all the standards. Offkey and not caring, she crooned along with the greats.
After the first six songs, Keegan eyed her with a small chuckle. Once Bentley joined in, the other hunter laughed until he wiped at his eyes. Bentley’s soft whining, subhowls matched Chelsea’s singing, offkey and utterly without restraint.
They kept it up until the rest stop popped out of the ground. Chelsea pulled over, and let Bentley out. He wandered over the grass, nose to the ground, looking for a spot to mark.
Chelsea leaned against her car, stretching her legs and enjoying the purple and blues of the evening sky. Soon endless stars would dot the night. She loved the prairie. It made her feel small in the best ways.
Keegan’s voice intruded on her peace. “You ready to talk?”
“You really do sound like Amber.”
She whirled around. “If you keep this up, you can hitch your way to the next town.”
He stared at her from over the car but said nothing. She waited, anger bubbling, ready to give him some real hell. After a few tense and utterly silent moments, she pulled out her keys and popped the trunk.
Bentley rushed over, bumping into her as she pulled out his bowls. She refused to acknowledge Keegan while Bentley scarfed his dinner and slopped water. All too soon, they were back in the car, radio on, and music filling the gaps.
Eventually, a sign for a motel appeared. Chelsea normally just slept in her car, but there wasn’t enough room for Keegan.
She pulled up to the front doors. “Wait here.”
Inside was beige and yellow, cheap carpeting and uncomfortable chairs. “You let pets in here?”
The woman at the faux-wood front desk smiled as she put down her magazine. “We sure do. Just a ten-dollar cleaning deposit.”
“Then I need two beds.” Chelsea fidgeted as the woman tapped at her keyboard. One credit card later, two keycards were handed over. Chelsea stormed out of the lobby, and into the car. She only had to drive a few more feet to the door.
Neither she nor Keegan spoke as they settled in. The room was salmon pink and blue, the beds a little hard, and the ceiling had a stain. It seemed a palace after weeks of living in her car.
Once Bentley had been walked again, Chelsea stretched on her queen-sized bed, eyes already closing. Bentley hopped up, spun around three times and flopped down beside her. She snuggled up to him, ready to sleep.
“You really just going to keep ignoring me?” Keegan sounded amused from his bed.
“That’s the plan.” Chelsea wrapped her arms around Bentley.
Keegan sighed. “You know how you switch teams?”
Anger sizzling hotter than ever at the phrasing, Chelsea sat up, fists curling. “What?”
Keegan stared at the wall, eyes distant. “I don’t have a team.”
The urge to say ‘What?’ washed over her again, but she held it back. This wasn’t a wholly new concept for her, but neither was it something she had experience with. So instead she focused on sounding like she wasn’t leveling an accusation. “You always seemed ready to jump in with me and Amber.”
“Oh, so sex is only a joke to people who have it?” The giggle came of its own accord and Keegan smirked at her, some tension released from his face. “I’m a smart ass, and sex is funny. Did I ever actually try to trip you and/or Amber into bed?”
She shook her head. “Okay, but—”
He cut her off with a disgusted look. “Cause I like you. After today, I’m not entirely sure why, but I do like you. So please, get off my fucking case.”
She lay back down, cuddling Bentley. She breathed with the dog, fingers curling around his thick, soft fur, not knowing what to say.
Keegan’s hot, defensive voice broke the silence. “We good now?”
“Depends.” She rolled over, finding his eyes on his bed. “You gonna keep bringing up Amber?”
He finally met her gaze. “Only if you keep channeling her outer bitch.”
“You and I both know that she had no inner bitch. That shit was all on the surface.”
The laugh bubbled up and rolled out of her. Keegan joined in, and Bentley’s tail thumped. She settled back down, content as she hadn’t been in a long while.
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