Chelsea watched the fire, ignoring the surrounding revelry. People laughed and drank, ate and flirted. These monster hunters could celebrate. They hadn’t seen Gene die. Torn apart by sea fairies.
Neither did you.
She scowled at herself. She had seen him go overboard. Had tried to save him. And failed.
The hunters celebrating around her had come out afterward, helped her and Carla get their bounty as well as extracting retribution for one of their own. Most of them had never met Gene, but they had gone out, anyway. And not one would accept a cent of the reward.
Chelsea shifted on the piece of driftwood that served as a bench. The only child of both old and new money, she could live off her trust fund for the rest of her life. These people needed money.
A whine came from her feet. Bright blue eyes studied her from the sand. Somehow Bentley managed to look worried; a cast to his upright ears, the tilt of his chocolate brown head, the huge mutt almost seemed to have a human understanding of language.
She scratched at his head. “You tried to save him too, Bent. Neither of us could.”
“At least you tried.” Carla’s low voice was thick with mucus and booze. “I couldn’t–.”
“There was no saving him.” Chelsea blinked away Gene’s confused panic as he fell over the edge of the boat.
Carla’s face crumbled, but no tears fell from her red and swollen eyes. “You sound like Bill.”
“No, I sound like Amber.” Chelsea felt blood rise to her face. She hadn’t meant to mention Amber. She never wanted to think about Amber.
Carla sniffed. “Who’s Amber?”
The urge to snap washed over Chelsea, but she had been the one to mention Amber. There was no graceful way out of this situation.
And no reason to be ungraceful to Carla.
Chelsea sucked in a breath and prepared for the pain. “Amber is— was an old hunting partner… and ex-girlfriend.”
Carla nodded, face miserable and eyes unfocused. “I didn’t think hunters dated.”
“We shouldn’t. That’s for damn sure.” Chelsea forced back tears with a laugh. “A lesson that my boneheaded ass has to keep learning.” Jackson, Keegan, and Amber. Only Keegan hadn’t lied or broken her heart. He’d only left as he always said he would. “But Amber was tough, even for a hunter. She had no tact, less patience, and fair fighting? Not even a concept for her.”
A faint smile graced Carla’s face. Chelsea took it as an invitation to keep talking. “My first hunt, we got caught by a nightling, in her house—”
Carla sat upright. “You went into a nightling’s nit on your first hunt?”
Chelsea shrugged. “I wasn’t supposed to. I was supposed to be the getaway driver, but Amber and Jack took too long so I went to investigate.”
The other hunter eyed her; shock etched into every line of her of face. “Okay. I’m officially holding questions until the end.”
“Whatever. They were… my partners.” I was in love with Jack and in awe of Amber. Maybe a little in love with her too, even then. “I got worried, and I went in. And got captured.”
Carla’s shock turned to awe, but she only nodded, urging Chelsea to keep going.
“Amber and I had a moment, we could have run. We could have left Jack and saved ourselves. And Amber told me to do it. She would have, too. It was the smart thing to do. But I wanted to save Jack…” Chelsea’s throat grew thick. She had ended that night on the brink of death, and alone. “And Amber came with me. We saved him.” She leaned back, rubbing a bare foot on Bentley’s ribs. The soft fur tickled at her callused feet. “My point about Amber is that she always spoke the hard, awful truth. We should have left Jack and saved ourselves. And there was no way to save Gene.”
She thanked God that her tears didn’t fall until after she had finished talking.
A hand settled on her arm before Carla eased on to Chelsea’s piece of driftwood. Her voice was soft, pitched not to travel through the cacophony around them. “I thought you were channeling Amber. Hard truths and–”
Words ripped from Chelsea’s throat. “Fuck her anyway. We saved Jackson. We killed the reaver. And I could have saved Gene.”
Confusion painted Carla’s face. “What reaver? How much have you had to drink?”
Chelsea glanced down at her beer. “None. And the reaver… It was another argument. Another fight she wanted to bail on.”
Carla leaned on Chelsea’s shoulder, her hands warm through layers of shirts. “I— Did Amber bail on a lot of stuff?”
Chelsea sucked in a breath. “She did.” The party around her tuned up a pitch. Voices seemed to blend and crack at the same time. People became hard blurs of color.
“I’m sorry.” Carla’s voice blended into Bentley’s whine as he shifted, pressing against her legs.
Eyelids too heavy to keep open, Chelsea didn’t fight the darkness. She welcomed it, needing to block out as much stimuli as possible. She could still hear the laughter all around her, but it lost the shrill edge she had perceived. “Thanks, but I’m okay with it. Especially tonight. She’s a bitch, but she’s alive to be a bitch.” Maybe. I hope. Please don’t be dead.
Her silent plea for Amber’s life shocked her. For the last year, she had resolutely hated Amber… and Jackson. Tonight, though, she would have given her car and duster to see both of them.
I want to know they are okay. I can yell at them later.
She wished Gene were alive to yell at too. She’d known him for a day, less than twelve hours, really. But he’d been nice and came to help her kill a monster.
More tears fell as Chelsea finally reached for her bottle of beer. She tipped her head back and emptied it as soon as possible. “I’m okay. Sometimes…” she sighed. “Sometimes life just sucks. And there is nothing to do but live with it. This is one of those times.”
“Yeah.” Carla wiped at fresh tears. “That about sums it up.”
Bentley’s sat up and rested his huge head on Chelsea’s knee, eyes intent on her face.
Chelsea rubbed at his ears. “I’m okay, Bent. At least, I will be tomorrow.”
Carla’s warmth on her shoulder brought comfort. Chelsea sighed as she laid an arm on her back. “Can you drive?”
“Yeah, I don’t drink.”
“Good. Let’s get out here.”
Carla sat up, relief clear in her voice. “My camper is up the coast.”
Chelsea staggered to her feet; dizzy from the beer she’d chugged. It would pass by the time they got back to Carla’s. Bentley danced at her feet, happy to be moving. It lasted until Chelsea opened the door to the backseat.
He stopped, looked into the car, then looked back at her, one ear flopped to the side.
Chelsea shook her head. “I’m not driving, and I am damn sure not riding in my own backseat.”
Bentley sighed before hopping into the car. Chelsea chuckled with Carla as they drove away from the haunt. The dark night swallowed them quickly.
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