It wasn’t much a town. A bad Chinese buffet and a few run down fast food joints. The glass and stone turtle by the highway was the high point. Chelsea had seen it flashing in the desert sun from miles back. She assumed the town survived based on its proximity to Reno.
The address she’d been given lead to a one story rambler. It had once been white, but the sun and the desert had rendered it a dust gray.
The heat had been creeping up as the morning wore on. Chelsea still pulled her black leather duster out the backseat of the car. Keegan would recognize her without it, but the weight settled her nerves, at least a little.
She had barely opened the door for her dog, when the front door of the house slammed. Chelsea spun around, one hand on her ax. There was no threat behind her, only her old hunting partner, Keegan.
Tall and thin, dark-haired, long-nosed, and a rare grin painting his face, he held out his arms.
Chelsea need no more than that. She rushed the hunter. All the tension of the last few weeks escaped with her tears and sobs. Keegan rocked her and rubbed her back for a few moments, before he kissed the top of her head. “Get inside, it’s getting hot.”
She sniffed, and waved to Bentley. The big mutt gave a short bark then wiggled between her and Keegan, tail thumping.
Keegan snorted a laugh as he scratched the pointed ears. “Good to see you, too.” His hand firmly locked around Chelsea’s waist, he ushered the pair of them into the house. “I got a couch you can crash on but that’s about it.”
Chelsea sniffed, already missing Keegan’s arm as he walked away. “Better than my backseat, even with that blow up mattress you suggested.”
The open floor plan meant he could keep an eye on her while he headed for the kitchen. “You been sleeping rough again?”
“When I’ve been sleeping.”
Keegan opened the fridge with a sigh. “So your partner in Washington died. What happened after that?”
Chelsea stared at her boots. The mud of the evergreen forest had been replaced with desert dust. “I got tangled up in hedge doctor bullshit.”
Keegan clucked behind her. “How deep in debt are you?”
She shrugged at his back before staring out a window at the sage. “They actually owe me a favor.”
“No fucking way.”
Laughing at the disbelief in his voice, she fished a pendant out of her dingy black tank top, a wooden leaf, inlaid with silver. She turned back to him, waving it.
“Holy shit.” He dropped whatever he had grabbed out of the fridge. “That’s fucking nuts.”
“The last few weeks have been that.” She rubbed at her eyes, turning away from him, not wanting to see his reaction. “And then I ran into Jackson.”
The only sound was the closing fridge, followed by the opening microwave. “How did that go?”
She shrugged. “Not bad until Bentley urged me to stay the night.”
“Bentley? You’re going to blame this decision on the dog?”
She shrunk into her coat. “I told Jack that it was over and that I was over him. I was leaving and Bentley pushed me into him. He’s smart. He–”
“He’s a fucking dog, Chelsea. Smarter than your average dog, I’ll grant you, but he wasn’t trying to get you laid.”
She shrugged. “When have you ever seen him do anything on accident?”
Keegan snorted. “I saw once him fall off the bed trying to lick his butt.”
She shuffled around, tears falling again. “Then it was just me being stupid, not following someone with better instincts for people.”
An arm wrapped around her shoulders and chest, pulling her into Keegan’s thin frame. “You have good instincts for people.”
The microwave beeped.
Keegan pulled away. “And they aren’t bad people. They’re just hunters. A lot of us have emotional issues.” He opened the microwave door and began messing with something. “You being exhibits A through G.”
She laughed and lifted a middle finger over her shoulder. Bentley inched over, looking for pets. She settled on the floor, happy as always to oblige him. “My issues started before I knew monsters were a thing.”
“And you think that’s not true for them?”
Chelsea studied Bentley’s ear, the veins under his pale skin. “Jackson told me some stuff, but Amber…”
“Amber doesn’t share well.”
“So… maybe, just maybe, you’re being too hard on them, and yourself, as usual.”
Her throat swelled shut again and she buried her face in Bentley’s soft fur. Before tears could fall the strangely familiar cry of a baby came from behind her.
“Shit.” Keegan hurried away.
Chelsea didn’t consider not following. In fact, there was very little that could keep her from doing so. The long, narrow hallway had several doors, but the open one at the end held her attention.
Keegan held a baby, swaddled tight and sucking heartily at a bottle. He crooned under his breath, eyes soft and a stupid grin on his face. He swayed a touch, before backing into a rocking chair.
The skin around her eyes pulled tight. “So… you obviously aren’t baby-sitting this child.”
Keegan studied the baby in his arms. “Says who?”
“Really?” She didn’t bother to hide her disbelief or her sarcasm.
Keegan snuggled the baby closer, eyes only briefly lifting. “Chelsea, meet my daughter, Kate.”
The muscles of her shoulders and arms tensed. “There’s a story here and I want to hear it.”
“But first…” Her smile came on its own. She couldn’t torture Keegan any further. “Can I hold her?”
He shook his head, but rose to his feet. “You like babies?”
“Other people’s.” She accepted the warm bundle and the bottle. “Especially yours.”
He rested his chin on her shoulder. “She’s not mine-mine. I’m not the sperm donor.”
Chelsea relaxed into him. “So the story is much less interesting than I thought.”
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