Pale morning light barely brightened the tiny camper, but it was enough for Chelsea. She found her underwear quickly. The bright-white cotton glowed on the kitchen table. But her bra eluded detection.
She swore under her breath, not wanting to wake Carla. She didn’t exactly regret sleeping with the other monster hunter, but…
Oh no, I exactly regret this.
Chelsea had enough regrets where hunters were concerned.
She thought she had learned her lesson, but after watching Gene die, she had just wanted comfort. And so, apparently, had Carla.
Melancholy washed over her. It had been thoughts of Amber and Jackson that had led to this morning. She hadn’t been so jaded last night. No, last night she had been lonely and worried about them.
Screw it. I have other bras.
Chelsea patted her leg as softly as she could. It was enough to wake Bentley. The big mutt stretched off the couch, a huge yawn cracking his strong jaws.
Muttering curses for Bentley to move faster, Chelsea opened the door to the camper. The forest-filtered light glowed green, molding her car. Freedom was in sight.
“Chelsea?” Carla’s sleepy voice couldn’t hide her amusement. “Are you really sneaking out?”
Panic flooded Chelsea’s face. “Hunters don’t date well.”
Carla gave a giggle as she shimmied into pajama pants. “I wasn’t aware that we were dating.”
Chelsea stood frozen and unsure in the door as Carla got coffee brewing. The other hunter sang under her breath, dancing a little in the tiny camper kitchen. The quiet normalcy soothed something in Chelsea.
The glacier in her brain melted, and she slipped over to the kitchen. In a few moments, hot coffee and stale donuts graced the table.
Carla smiled as she sat down. “So… you seem nervous.”
Chelsea nodded, her tongue thick in her mouth. “Amber… Amber said most hunters kick you out holding your clothes. I wasn’t up for that.”
“Depends on the hunter.” Carla shrugged. “Same as most people, really.” She sipped at her black coffee. “Honestly, not to judge someone I don’t know, but Amber doesn’t sound like someone to take people advice from.”
The unknowing understatement brought a bubbling laugh from Chelsea. She found herself wiping at her eyes. “Yeah, you m-might have a point.” She and Carla shared a smile. “Do you have any sugar?”
They took Bentley outside, chatting through two coffees and all the donuts. Then they found Chelsea’s bra tucked under the mattress. Carla laughed, petted Bentley, and generally acted normal. Eventually they wandered out to the car, Bentley on their heels.
Carla leaned on the hood. “So you sticking around or heading out?” The question was light and curious, no judgment apparent on either option.
Chelsea shrugged. “I’m not sure. I was loving the ocean vibe, but Gene…”
“Nope.” Carla shook her head. “The ocean didn’t take Gene. Monsters did.”
Pain pulsed in Chelsea’s hands when they curled into fists. Bentley whined, head up and ears forward as he hurried over to her.
Carla grabbed her shoulder. “You can’t… If you are going to be a hunter, you can’t… let death chase you around.”
Chelsea’s hands unclenched and she wiped at her wet cheek. “Weren’t you wracked with guilt last night?”
Warm arms wrapped around Chelsea, and Carla’s low voice tickled her ear. “I still feel guilty, because I froze up. But I didn’t kill Gene, even if I couldn’t save him.”
Chelsea hugged the other woman, relishing the muscle under the soft skin. “I have to go. I… I’ll be around. Not at Ocean Shores, not for a while. But around.”
Carla pulled away, a huge smile on her face. “Keep in touch.”
“I will.” She might. For a little while, anyway.
The road out of the tiny beach town lead to farm land. Western Washington lacked the endless sky of the prairie. This could have been Ohio or Indiana. It was just farm land. Chelsea kept going inland.
The trees came back with a vengeance and she breathed deeply. For lunch, she found a food truck in a small city on Hood Canal. The water was salt and moved with the tides, but there were no waves.
As she breathed in the good clean smell of the ocean, her cell phone caught her eye. She sucked in a breath. She was going to do it. It would hurt, but she was going to do it, anyway.
She pulled up Keegan’s number and hit ‘call.’
He picked up on the first ring. “Hey princess.”
Amusement outweighed the pain, and she laughed. “Hey asshole.”
She shook her head. “You just assume that something is wrong.”
“My asocial ex-girlfriend calls out of the blue? Something’s up.”
“Nothing’s wrong.” She lumbered to her feet and pulled a tennis ball for Bentley. “I just… someone died… hunting.”
Keegan’s voice lost the edge he usually carried. “I see.” Then he snorted a laugh. “But I was right. Something is wrong.”
“I hate you.” She sucked in a deep breath. “Yeah. See, I couldn’t save him, and then I hooked up with—”
Keegan laughed, warm and long. “Good for you.”
He casually cut her off. “You shut up.” He laughed again. “So, you’re feeling guilty that you don’t feel guilty.”
“No. I felt plenty bad. I feel plenty bad.” She sucked in a breath. “It was… last night, I— I— missed you. I was really worried about you and wondered if you were safe. Kind of easing my mind on that score.”
You fucking coward.
She and Keegan had always been straight with each other, and here she was lying about her feelings for Amber and Jackson. Like Keegan wasn’t aware of her pain.
He didn’t say anything for a long time. When he finally did, the words were gentle. “I’m okay. Doing a lot better with all this warmth and sunshine. You could come and visit.”
“Maybe I will.” Another lie, but this one she knew Keegan had forgiven as she spoke it. “I miss you.”
He took a moment before he cleared his throat. “Amber and Jackson are fine, too. I saw Amber post on a message board the other day, and if Jackson had died… well, I would have heard about it.”
The warm salt breeze off the water chilled the tear tracks on her face. “Thanks.”
“Any time.” She could all but see the smirk on his thin face. “Princess.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.” And she did. And she wasn’t afraid of it. “I—”
“Have to hit the road.” He snorted. “Take care.”
“You too.” She stood and stretched. A cold breeze blew off the canal. She pulled her duster out of the trunk. Fringe blew with it, whispering. “Come on, Bentley. Let’s go.”
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