David covered his eyes with his hand, steak forgotten on his plate. “You can’t drive.”
Chelsea lifted her right arm and twisted it. “Six weeks. Full rotation. It’s healed.” The longest she’d gone without hunting monsters in months.
“It takes an adult eight to t—”
“It’s healed.” She crossed her arms, with no pain or hesitation. She liked this hedge doctor, even though she knew damned well she shouldn’t. That contradiction meant it was more than time to be on the road. “I promise not to go nuts and attack any more elemental rock monsters. I will stick to small stuff and work with teams. But I am leaving tomorrow.”
A giggle announced David’s daughter. At fifteen, Sara was all long limbs and good-natured sass. She joined them for dinner a smirk on her face. “Dad, she’s going to leave whether you like it or not.”
Chelsea nodded. “Listen to your student. She’s wiser than you in this.”
David threw his hands in the air. “Fine, fine. She’s leaving tomorrow.”
Sara tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Since Chelsea’s leaving, can we take Sage his medicine tomorrow?”
“No.” David nearly growled the word.
Chelsea found herself smiling. “Who is Sage?”
Sara’s face warmed to pale pink. “Sage Ellis. He’s a hunter who got hurt. He’s staying at our camper until he gets better.”
A scowl twisted David’s friendly features. “He’s leaving, soon.”
Chelsea fought a laugh. “Sounds like a good patient.”
With a made-up name for sure.
“He’s super sweet.” Sara gave a sigh. “And so cute.”
Her father’s scowl deepened. “He’s also quite a few years older than you.”
“And?” Sara matched her father’s scowl. “It’s not like I’m trying to marry him.”
Chelsea raised a hand, stopping David’s retort. “I wouldn’t mind taking the medicine to him. I do owe you.”
David and Sara winced in unison, and David gripped her wrist, warm and gentle. “You owe us nothing.”
“Maybe not for the medical care, but I’ve been eating your food. You even bought food for Bentley.”
The big mutt shifted against her feet at his name. At well over one hundred pounds, he tucked away quite a bit of food every week. And David had refused any money.
The hedge doctor shook his head, protesting on instinct.
Chelsea refused to be put off. “It’s quite literally the least I can do to preserve the peace in this house. I really don’t mind. I miss being on the road and could use an easy, and short, road trip to get me going.”
David flashed her a big smile. “If you are going to insist, then I happily concede.”
Sara glared at her father before excusing herself. The girl’s normal sunny disposition was back by morning though. She hugged Chelsea and snuggled Bentley before saying goodbye, all smiles and giggles.
Her father’s relief was palpable as he packed a wooden crate of jars into Chelsea’s trunk. “Just let Sage know to keep taking this like usual. And he’s free to leave in another week. He can take the medication on the road.”
Chelsea swallowed a laugh as she pulled away. David must really dislike this hunter. He’d been nothing but welcoming to Chelsea even before the accident that had broken her arm.
There was no Motown to be found on the radio as she abandoned the Colombia River and headed over the mountains. The land beyond was desert without the river’s influence, dry and flat between the mountains. Huge rocks dotted the landscape and not much else.
Her GPS lead her down a dirt road and into the shadow of the mountains. The camper sat tucked away from the road, facing the endless flat. It looked deserted.
Wondering if this ‘Sage Ellis’ person had taken off, Chelsea opened the door for Bentley and pulled the crate of jars out of her trunk. She kicked on the door. “Anybody here?”
A muffled voice answered her, the words indistinct.
Chelsea set the crate down and took a step back. Only Bentley’s nonchalant wandering kept her ax in her sheath. Her last hunt had sharpened her paranoia once again.
The door creaked open. She skipped over the towel and naked torso. Instead, she narrowed in on eyes of the most brilliant green. Eyes she had never been able to replicate with paints. Slowly, the face that supported those eyes came into focus.
Throat dryer than the surrounding air, Chelsea could only manage a croak. “Jackson?”
A smile spread across the hunter’s face. “Well, hello, there my little nun.”
And Jackson Hawk was smiling at her, half-naked and utterly at his ease.
Nothing fucking changes, does it?
The thought grounded her. She had come a long way in the past year. A cold nose on her hand further settled her nerves. Bentley had her back, as always. “Sage Ellis?”
Jackson’s familiar exuberant laugh echoed down the road. “I… uh, didn’t want to be Jackson Hawk for a while, so I wasn’t.”
She found herself taking a step back. “What happened?”
He shrugged. “Lots of shit.” For a moment, a cloud passed over his eyes. But as always, he rebounded fast, all smiles and winks. “Please, c’mon in. I’ll put on some clothes.” The pause had to be deliberate. The timing was too perfect as he smirked at her. “Unless you don’t want me to.”
Chelsea rolled her eyes. “Fuck off and die.”
He froze then, one handheld out to her. “Okay, seriously, I’m sorry. I’ll be good. Please, come in.”
Utter sincerity destroyed her reservations. She and Jackson had unfinished business, and she owed him a conversation.
And he owes me an apology.
“C’mon, Bent.” She didn’t expect this to go well and was damn sure she’s need the backup before it was over. She picked up his medicine and followed Jackson into the camper.
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