Chelsea had planned hunts at monster hunting bars and more than one picnic or bar-b-que. She never planned one with monster hunting hackers at a literal party until now.
Once Andy had discovered what she was hunting, the booze had started flowing, as had his advice. Now, as the sun crept over the horizon, his crew of hunters sprawled across the couches and chairs that littered the house.
Chelsea sipped at her beer, studying Andy. An obvious and close friend of Jackson’s, she liked him and had immediately, without her usual sense of distrust at a stranger. He still wore the silk pajamas and robe he’d sported when she’d showed up, though a satin sleeping cap now covered the tight, black curls.
He caught her looking and winked one cat-lined eye. She laughed. He sauntered over, stepping across passed out hunters. “You need to sleep.”
She shrugged. “Eh. Give me an hour. I’m still on my first beer.”
Andy joined her on his black leather divan, resting an arm on her shoulders and his feet beside hers on Bentley. The enormous mutt’s tail thumped twice before he fell back asleep. “Jackson never mentioned a missing hunter.”
Chelsea’s stomach bottomed out. “Yeah, she’s a… friend.”
The other hunter leaned away from her. “How significant is that pause?”
“I thought you and Jackson were together.”
Chelsea shrugged again. “Together is a word with many meanings.”
“Hoo boy.” Andy rested his head on her shoulder. “You know he’s stupid in love with you, right?”
A chill ran through her. “Yeah, I know. I have to find her though.”
“Why?” Andy sounded genuinely concerned, but she knew it was for Jack, and not her.
So she hedged. “Because if I really want to be with him, then I have to go in honestly. The opposite of the first time we tried this. And I won’t know what I really want until I find Amber and talk to her.”
“Amber?” Andy stood up. “Amber Neill? Asian, tough as nails, and bitchy as hell itself?”
“The same.” Chelsea laughed at Andy’s all too accurate description. “I miss her. And I’m scared.”
“Well, I was about to be pissed at you stringing my boy along, but…” He sat back down. “You give me a number, and a real one. I know you traveling hunters love your burners and being able to disappear.”
There was something in his voice. Chelsea turned to study him. Behind the makeup and playful attitude was a seriousness. He was up to something.
She gave in to her rising belligerence at being jerked around. Spotting a black marker on his desk, she grabbed it and started writing phone numbers on his wall. She spoke loudly over his squawking protests. “The first number is my phone. Haven’t gotten rid of it yet and don’t plan to. However, shit changes… so the second number is my lawyer. She can always get a message to me.
Andy eyed her again. “What kind of hunter has a lawyer?”
“Some day, if you are very good, I’ll tell you.”
“Fine, be that way. Although, I have a phone.” He pointed to the table. “Writing on my wall was needlessly flamboyant.” Andy forced himself to his feet. “Now, Miss Little Nun, you need some sleep before you head out. I’m going to insist.”
She let him bully her to an empty room upstairs. A few hours and some bad coffee later, she and Bentley headed back to her rented cabin in the Hudson Valley, a packet of information from Andy in hand.
Even with the camp site filled to the brim with weekend sightseers, she felt better. New York City had not been good for her, however much she had enjoyed Andy himself. She even texted to let him know she’d made it back okay.
She cooked hamburgers on the grill outside and then watched the fire die with the sun. Once darkness lay velvet over the sky, she retired to the cabin.
The two easels by the large windows caught her attention immediately. The one held her latest portrait of Jackson. It was based on one of her sketches from when they had lived together.
The other had held a corkboard with all the useless information about Bob Kestal that had pointed her away from the nix. Once she cleared it, she pulled out the map Andy had printed for her. It listed potential attacks and areas the nix was mostly likely hiding.
There was an obvious bend to the river where she could sit and wait. “But how do I get out there, Bent?”
The big mutt whined from his bed as his tail thumped.
“I mean, maybe we could hike out there… but then what do I do with the body of the nix? Just leave it in the river?” Usually she worked with a local haunt for disposal, if she couldn’t handle it herself. But this little town on the Hudson didn’t those sorts of resources.
She bit at her lip. “Bent… this is too big for just me, isn’t it?”
The big mutt yipped and sat up, tail wagging. His enthusiasm sparked something in her. When was the last time she and Bent had something too big for them… and she recognized it?
For a moment, the smell of a prairie wind hit her, and she found her phone in her hand. It was barely late here on the east coast. Keegan would definitely be up.
He picked up on the first ring. “What’s up, princess?”
“Well, asshole, I need some help with a monster. And someone to talk my way through exactly what I need.”
A familiar snicker settled comfortably in the small cabin. “Isn’t that what the dog’s for?”
“Weren’t you the one who was worried about how much I talk to him?”
“No, I was worried that you seemed to think the dog was making the decisions for you.”
“Look, are you going to help me, or are you going to snark?”
Keegan laughed. “Of course, I’ll help. Why aren’t you asking at the local haunt?”
“’Cause I just got back from an info gathering trip to NYC, and I’m not heading there again if I can help it.”
“Too many people?” His empathy and amusement were readily apparent.
“So many people.” She settled on the couch, resting her head on Bentley’s hip. “But it’s a nix. That’s a mermaid, FYI.”
“Glad you know that. I had no clue.”
“Okay, but I have a place that looks likely and a list of mermaid facts. I figure I need a boat, but I don’t know what to do next.”
“A boat and a crew. Probably two people will do, as long as one of them can drive the boat. Pilot the boat?”
“I have no idea on the verbiage, or where to get a boat.”
“You can probably rent one right?”
The phone in her hand no longer seemed to have weight as Chelsea’s eyes locked on to the mess of papers on the floor. All the speculation about Bob Kestal. Bob, who ran a boat rental business. “Yeah, I can probably rent one.”
Keegan didn’t seem to notice anything was wrong. “Okay, I’d say secure the boat and then post for some help. You might have to take some money out of the trust fund, but that seems best to me.”
Chelsea nodded, and it took her a moment to hear Keegan’s words. “Sounds like a plan. I’ll get on it. Thanks for all your help.” She hung up the phone, her heart pounding. This wasn’t going to be fun.
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