Chelsea woke with her stomach in knots. And no amount of pampering from Andy changed that.
He tried, though. The fresh fruit for the crepes, French press coffee, and mimosas were an adorable effort. He even made a chicken offal pate for Bentley’s crepes. He swept about the room, black silk whispering in the air as he deposited brunch in front of her.
But the kitchen was empty this morning, just the two of them at the long, metal table with its mismatched chairs. Andy had obviously sent the crew away.
For his sake, Chelsea attempted to lighten the mood. “My dog is going to miss you more than I am.”
He sighed and rolled cat-lined eyes. “You are really going to do this?”
She snuffed out a flame of anger. She adored Andy, and none of this was his fault. “Yes. With or without your information. I know she’s alive now. I can find her.” It was pure bullshit. She had no idea how to track down a human bent on hiding, but she’d learn.
He sat down with a plate of fresh crepes and rolled a few for himself. “She’s here. I got her a place in Brooklyn a few months ago.”
I’ve wasted so much time when I was right by her.
Bentley rested his head in her lap. She scratched at his ears, trying to ignore the pit in her stomach. “I’m okay, Bent. It’s just that I have to stay in this fucking hellhole when I thought we were finally getting out.”
Andy raised a sarcastic eyebrow at her. “I’m taking that personally, on behalf of my city, which you have slandered considerably during your stay.” They both chuckled and relaxed. But he wasn’t done yet. “Also, does the dog actually understand you?”
“Yes.” She met his skeptical gaze with a smile. “He found me in the sewers.”
“Dogs can smell really well. I’m sure you’ve heard.”
“He once tunneled out of my backseat and popped my trunk to get to me during a hunt.”
Andy sat up. “No shit?”
Chelsea nodded. “Trust me. He didn’t smell his way out this building. He waited until you were distracted and then busted through the flimsy lock on the back door. Jess and I watched the security tape. She’s fixing the door. But he planned his breakout. Made easy since you weren’t watching him.”
Doting filled Andy’s voice as he rolled yet another crepe for her huge mutt. “Because he’s such a good dog.”
Chelsea laughed. “He’s got you well-trained at any rate.”
Bentley yipped in seeming agreement and Andy’s shocked look had Chelsea wiping away tears as she laughed.
Eventually, Andy joined her. “At least I get the two of you for a while longer.”
Reality crashed into her again. “I have to talk to her.”
He busied himself arranging his plate and sweetening his coffee. Finally, he glanced up at her. “Have you considered that she doesn’t want to talk to you?”
Chelsea folded arms over her full stomach, hoping to keep her breakfast down. “She owes me a fucking conversation at the very least.”
Andy winced as he finally cut into his own breakfast. “Look, I’m in a bad position here. I know everybody’s secrets, and why they’re keeping them. That includes Jackson Hawk, by the way.”
Chelsea nodded absently before taking a sip of mimosa. Finally, she got her thoughts together and swallowed. “Wasn’t the hunt last night about doing a favor big enough to get those secrets?”
Andy sighed. “And the ginger gets to the point.” He pinned her to the chair with a hard look. “Hang on tight and please keep all questions until the end.” He resettled in his chair, wrapped his robe tighter and stared at his plate. “I knew Jack long before I knew Amber. We were saved by the same woman, Charlotte. She took in lots of kids like us. Teenagers, hunting monsters, with no home.”
He rolled his eyes as he leaned back. “She died. Horribly. But Jack and I stayed together.” Andy shook his head. “Eventually, we came to a crossroads. I wanted to stay here, monitoring the molepeople situation. Jack…” Here Andy sighed. “Jackson Hawk has no concept of permanent attachment.”
He stopped and flashed her a big grin. “Or so I thought. Anyway, I was his hub. He floated around the East Coast, but he always came here to clean up and get some food. Until Amber.”
Here Chelsea sat up. Jackson’s background wasn’t boring per se, but Amber was what she was here for.
Andy took a long drink of mimosa. “I found her when I was putting together a team. Newbie hunter, but already had a reputation for being tough and dependable.” He flashed a grin. “Like some other woman I can think of.”
Chelsea couldn’t quite return the gesture.
“Jack came too, of course. I needed the manpower and he was my partner and best friend.” Here Andy grimaced. “Amber though, our girl fell hard. Too hard.” He bit at his lower lip and studied his plate before continuing. “Amber took the death of her family like a hammer to the head. Shit caved in and was never quite right again. She didn’t have friends, didn’t let people in. All she had was vengeance, and she was good with that.
“So, falling for Jackson, for anybody, fucked her up. That person must mean more than her family, her mission, if she could fall in love. That love must be epic. She loved Jack to an insane degree, but she hated herself for it, too.”
A pit grew in Chelsea’s stomach.
“She couldn’t hate being around him though. You know how he is, all charm and winks, and come lay down by the fire with me and forget about life. She needed that.” Andy rubbed at his eyes. “We all do.”
He finally looked up at her. “And when he moved on, as Jackson inevitably did, she couldn’t… believe it. He had replaced her need to avenge her family, and to him, she was a friend, a casual friend even. Tears and drinking and how could she forget her family for someone who didn’t care?”
Chelsea nodded, unable to speak.
“Jack, of course, had no idea, because talking to the person he’s sleeping with? Well, why? So, the next time he rolled into town and needed a bed to crash in, there’s Amber. And the next time. And the next time.” Andy rolled his hands along, indicating a habit. “Until he found someone else willing on a random hunt, and she lost it.”
He nibbled on a crepe, grimacing at the temperature. “I stepped in at that point. Jack is Jack. He doesn’t do subtle or hints. I told him straight up what he was doing to Amber and to talk to her about it before ever sleeping with her again.”
“I said no questions until the end. And yes, he did. But Jack also took Amber at her word, because he’s naive as hell. So, when our girl said, ‘no I’m fine, we can still have casual sex,’ he believed her. And the cycle started again. I told her then to take a step back. Amber said she was done, and she was, until Jack came back into town and was perfectly fine not sleeping with her.
“She started chasing him around the country. Always a “co-incidence”, but if she didn’t end up with him at the end of the hunt, I had a seething drunken hunter to deal with.
“Finally, I got sick of dealing with it and called an intervention. Both of them got ragingly pissed at me and at each other. That was the end of them using me as a hub. We all stayed in contact, but Jack went out of his way to avoid Amber, even using me to keep tabs on her. He genuinely likes her, but he’s not in love. And she is still obsessed.” He swallowed, but met her gaze with a clear, honest expression. “This all brings us to you. From what I know, Amber really, honestly, ended up in the same town as Jackson on accident. Boney’s is the only haunt in any direction for miles out there.”
Chelsea nodded, she was intimately familiar with the less urban side of hunting.
“And I get his bringing her onto that nightling hunt. For one thing, he had you as a shield. He was with you and open about being so. And Amber is damn good in a fight.
“What he didn’t count on, is how vicious she is. So after the fight went to shit and ya’ll nearly died, he took on her debt with the hedge doctors and then bounced. Made it clear that the hunt was over and he wasn’t going back to her, even if he wasn’t with you. And she took that personally.
“Originally, she went to see you just to spite Jack. Because he made her promise not to.” He studied the ceiling. “Then things get murky. She has a coupledifferent versions of events and I think, in a way, they’re all true. First, she says, she wasn’t in love with you and it was all to hurt Jackson.”
Chelsea shrank into her chair, reaching for Bentley and trying to breathe.
Andy grabbed her hand. “Then another version is that she fell for you the first time you kissed her. She also mentioned knowing that she was in love with you before that disaster of a nightling hunt.”
Confusion and fear swirled in her head and chest and all she could so was chug her mimosa.
“Eventually, she didn’t know who or what she wanted anymore, but she knew the whole thing started as a way to get back at Jackson and that wasn’t fair to you. So she left.
“She tried to make a living hunting solo, but you and Jack… she no longer felt worthy of avenging her family, so what was the point? She quit hunting. Came here and asked for paperwork to start a new life.” Andy played with his fork. “I said yes and promised to never tell Jack what had happened. She wanted to disappear, and I let her. I set her up in Brooklyn, but I thought she’d run. She’s still there.”
Chelsea gave him a beat to make sure he was done. “And now you’ll give me her address?”