The second day of the storm had Chelsea pacing the hotel room. There were five steps between walls. The only five steps she had. She’d been walking them since she woke up.
Keegan and Bentley were napping on one of the beds. The big dog had nearly succeeding in pushing Keegan to the floor, despite the snores coming from both of them.
Her hunting partners may have enthusiastically taken to napping, but Chelsea couldn’t sleep through the screaming wind. Television had never held attraction for her. All she could do was walk the five steps between the walls, over and over.
The knocking on her door startled a strangled scream out of her. Bentley woke, clamored off the bed, ears up and tail still.
Chelsea put a hand to the hatchet on her belt as she headed to the door, Bentley on her heels. “Who’s there?”
“It’s me. Uh, Rick.”
She glanced down at Bentley. His tailed sailed through the air. She unlocked the door, and didn’t grab her ax after wards, even if she did stand in the door to block the other hunter from entering. “What’s up?”
Rick towered over her, perfectly coiffed sandy hair belying the howling wind outside. “I’m bored. And Florence essentially kicked me out of the Blind Bronco.”
His words did not relieve her anxiety. Florence kept a tight grip on her bar and the hunters who frequented it. Rick must have fucked up bad to get kicked out. “Why?”
He shrugged thick shoulders, bending to pet Bentley, who pushed past Chelsea for attention. “She said my pacing was getting on her nerves and told me to hang out with you and Keegan.”
She leaned against the door, showing Rick what Keegan’s current condition was. “We aren’t up to much here.”
Rick nodded. Then he sucked in a deep breath. “How about that fight training we talked about?”
Excitement coursed as her heartbeat picked up. Just as quickly, the bleakness returned. “Where at? There’s not a whole lot of space here.”
Rick shrugged, then gestured for her to follow. Chelsea swallowed her sudden anxiety and grabbed the keycard for the room, thankful that Bentley followed on her heels as always.
The big man lead her to the stairs from there out the lobby. Teeth chattering, Chelsea followed. They hurried around the corner to the back parking lot. There the building stopped the worst of the howling wind, if not the bitter cold. Bentley headed out nose to the ground.
Rick swung his arms back and forth, slapping his chest. Then he started jumping. “You ready?”
Chelsea barely managed to stutter out her reply. “Are you fucking crazy?” Hugging herself, she stumbled back towards the lobby.
Rick rushed ahead, wrestling the door open for her. “Sorry, guess I’m used to the cold.”
She tossed him a glare, as she and Bentley hurried back inside. “You’re from around here?”
He shook his head. “No, I went to school here. I’m from northern Florida.”
The twang of her youth grew stronger with every outraged word as she stomped into the empty hallway. “I always knew people who said northern Florida was essentially the South were full of shit. No decent Southern gentleman would take anybody out in that!”
Rick paused, looking at her with newly surprised eyes. “My gods, was that Georgia on your lips?”
She laughed and Bentley danced and bounded between her and Rick. “You miss it don’t you?”
“What? Sunshine, warmth, polite people, and the ocean?” He shrugged. “Sometimes.”
She rubbed at her still cold arms. “Me too.” For the first time in months, her smile didn’t feel forced or heavy. “So if we can’t head outside, what can we practice in the tight confines of my room?”
Rick continued down the hall. “Well, we could sheathe and unsheathe that hatchet.”
“Really?” She couldn’t disguise her disappointment.
Rick nodded; gray eyes solemn. “Know your weapon.”
Keegan still snored away when they returned to the room, though he had rolled back onto the bed. Bentley climbed up beside him and promptly fell asleep. Chelsea stood at the foot of the other bed, in front of Rick. She did not understand how someone practiced pulling her ax.
Rick adjusted her sheath. Pointing out the best angle for her left-handed draw, he also suggested she carry a second ax and learn to draw right-handed.
“What happens if your dominate hand gets broken or crushed? Have a back-up plan.” Somehow, despite the minimal age difference, he didn’t seem pushy or condescending.
He’s taught people before.
Chelsea lost track of the time as they practiced. The ever-present wind blended in with Keegan and Bentley’s snores. Rick finally called a halt when she fumbled her draw, sending the hatchet spinning through the air and onto the bed behind her.
He handed the weapon to her. “We need food.”
She sheathed it with a snort. “Nothing is delivering in this weather. It’s the vending machine or nothing.”
Rick shrugged. “Junk food and cable, I’m in.”
He had a surprising amount of change on him. Chelsea realized he’d planned on this, or at least had hoped for it. He damn near cleaned out the vending machine, buying everything from beef jerky to bubble gum.
They took their sugar bounty back to the room, to find a groggy Keegan looking at his phone. “There you are.” For a moment, he seemed shocked, eyes staring past Chelsea.
Oh yeah, he didn’t know Rick was here.
She tossed him a package of powdered donuts. “What’s up?”
He opened the cellophane and stuffed two donuts in his mouth before answering. “A reaver was spotted in Rapid City. Wanna head out in the morning?”
She paused, candy bar halfway to her mouth. “The two of us against a reaver?”
Keegan pointed at Rick. “The three of us, and Bentley.”
“Leave my dog out of this.” Still Chelsea nodded. Reavers were decent money. “Rick?”
The tall man nodded, swallowing three times before he could talk. “I’m in. Totally. I need something to hunt.”
Chelsea lifted a hand for him to smack. “You and me both.”
Keegan chuckled and unpackaged the rest of his donuts. “Let’s get planning.”
The howling wind seemed less menacing as it continued to slam into the hotel.
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