As the setting moon left their damp alley dark, Chelsea withered under Andy’s condemnation and lofty expression. “You’re staying at her place? I thought you and Jack were together?”
Guilt flooded, and she fiddled with the hunter’s ax on her belt. “Like I said, together is a word with many meanings.”
Andy whistled. “So all you’re doing is adding drama to the situation just when it was settling down?”
Anger replaced guilt and she stood up straighter, squaring her shoulders. “First, I didn’t ask either of them to involve me in their bullshit. I didn’t even know about most of their bullshit. Second, you knew how I felt about Amber. Thirdly…” Her anger died. “She asked me to stay. When does she ever ask for anything?”
“She really asked?” Skepticism filled his voice.
“She invited, unprompted. I was trying to change the subject, and she hopped in.”
Andy shook his head and leaned against the brick wall of the alley. “Why did you accept? What do you think this will do?”
She studied the darkness, looking for any movement. Dawn was coming. “I don’t know… I guess… I don’t expect anything. I want to talk to her, and this seemed…” Chelsea sighed, and gave into the truth. “She was crying.”
Andy stood up straighter. “Crying?”
Chelsea nodded. “I couldn’t say no.”
He closed his cat-lined eyes for a moment and then sucked in a deep breath. “I get it, and I’ll let you tell Jack in your time, in your own way. Until then, though, I am keeping tabs on all three of you.”
The dam on her nerves broke, and Chelsea found a laugh somewhere. “Thanks.”
“We’ll see.” He leaned against the wall once more. “You ask for her help with this?”
“Yeah, but she has a shift tomorrow.”
Andy snorted. “She always has a shift tomorrow. And plenty of people hunt around jobs.”
Bentley let out a growl that ended all discussion as he took a step into the darkness.
“Stay.” She put all the command into the word that she could.
The giant mutt looked over his shoulder before backing up a step, but he never stopped growling.
Chelsea unsheathed her ax. “Our reaver is here.”
Andy eyed Bentley. “You sure about keeping him here?”
“Asks the man who failed to keep him out of the last fight.”
He reached into his coat and pulled out something small and silvery. “You don’t have to be bitchy about it.” His fingers flickered over the metal and threw it in the air. A pole sprang to life. Andy grabbed it and took a few steps forward, spinning a figure eight in front of him.
Chelsea grinned. “My old partner Keegan had one of those.”
Andy tucked the staff under one arm with a flourish. “And yet you still carry that hatchet.”
She shrugged around the strange contentment in her chest. She might hate this city, but Andy felt like home to her, and Amber…
Now I just have to figure out how to explain all this to Jackson.
All extraneous thoughts leeched out of her as the hiss rolled down the damp alley. The dim lights of the city at rainy dawn gleamed off the bald head of the vampire. It slunk, cautious and deadly, along the shadows on the wall.
She pulled her axe off her belt and moved with her dog. Bentley darted forward, drawing the reaver’s attention. It lunged, Bentley dropped, and Chelsea swung all at the same time.
Her strong left arm and the vampire’s momentum beheaded it in a smooth motion as it stumbled over her dog. The reaver shuddered and puffed to ash, stinging her eyes.
The flash of silver from beside her was the only warning she had of the second vampire. Andy’s staff hummed in the gloom, the sound of its passing wriggling through the air. He caught the reaver in the head, staggering it. In a whir of metal, he swiped the legs out from under it.
The reaver hit the ground and rolled. Bentley cut off its retreat with a snarl. The vampire froze before leaping back to its feet. It hissed around the mouthful of razor teeth.
Andy brandished his staff and the reaver backed up, head swinging between Andy and Bentley.
Chelsea took a deep breath and got a running start. While the reaver was distracted, she aimed her axe at its spine. Andy’s staff slammed into the head from the left. A sound like a ripe melon falling on the floor came moment before dust flaked through the air.
Andy spun his staff before it collapsed into his hand. “Not bad for a newbie.”
She sighed. “It’s been almost two years. When do I stop being a newbie?”
“When you give up that hatchet for an actual weapon.”
She re-sheathed her weapon with a smirk. “One of us removed two heads while the other one nearly lost their reaver.”
“And one of us has the dog helping them.”
“Like he wasn’t the one who stopped your vampire.”
Andy chuckled and scratched at Bentley’s ears. “That’s because he’s a good boy.”
They laughed as they piled into the car and headed for Amber’s apartment. The bakery by the parking garage wasn’t busy, so they climbed the stairs with muffins and coffee in hand.
Amber, sprawled on the couch in her sweats, snoring at the TV, quieted all three of them. Andy shared a smile before grabbing the blanket off the floor and covering the other woman.
They had barely settled at the table when she startled awake, snorting and blinking. Andy hustled her over the table, despite Amber’s glares.
Chelsea’s smile for the show had her wondering at her own lack of anger. She had hated Amber for months, but somewhere, that all disappeared. Now she just wanted to talk.
But that would have to wait until Amber was ready, which, given the looks she was tossing at Andy, would not be this morning.
For all the heat, Andy seemed as cool as ever, handing Amber a coffee and muffin. She snatched the food, a sneer growing even as she sat at the table.
Bentley whimpered before snaking his head into her lap.
Shockingly, Bentley didn’t cross his paws over his nose or pop any of his other cute poses. Instead, he whined and laid on Amber’s feet.
Andy also had his eye on the dog. “Where did you get him, anyway?”
Chelsea shrugged. “Found him in a wheat field in South Dakota. He was starving and dirty, so I kept him.” She narrowed her eyes as distrust washed over her. “Why?”
Andy shrugged and got to his feet. “Wondered what the story was.” He kissed the top of her head. “Sleep well. I have something that pays lined up for tomorrow.”
Amber lifted her middle finger at him. “I have work.”
He flashed a giant smile as he headed out the door. “I didn’t ask.”
Silence fell over the apartment as they ate. Eventually, Amber heaved a sigh. “I, uh, only have one bed, but I guess with hunter’s hours… not that it matters. I usually sleep on the couch.”
“Thanks.” Chelsea met wounded dark eyes and couldn’t add to their pain. “How about we shelve talking it out? At least for a day or so. Get used to each other again.”
Amber studied the table. “That won’t change anything.” Bentley whined again and put his head back her lap.
A whirlwind of contradictory emotions and replies came to mind, but what dropped from Chelsea’s lips was pure hunter’s needling. “Then you don’t have anything to be afraid of.”
Amber’s head jerked up, eyes hot and jaw clenched.
Satisfaction oozed as Chelsea walked to the bedroom, fighting a smile. “Good night.”