Sunrise filtered gold into the city and Chelsea sipped on coffee, trying to find a moment of peace.
New York was too full for her. Too many people, too much movement. She never felt this out of sorts in Seattle or Atlanta, but here, she couldn’t breathe.
As the day dawned on this rooftop, though, she could rest for once. The ever present breeze tugged on her duster, making the black fringe dance in the air. It almost felt like prairie.
A ringing phone destroying her quiet. The name on the caller ID raised her stress levels beyond what the city ever could. “Hey Jack.”
“Well, hello my little nun. I haven’t heard from you in a few days.”
Guilt weighed down her chest. And Jackson Hawk had given her the perfect opening to explain that she was in love with him and Amber, and that she had finally found the damn woman. Instead, she said, “Yeah, Andy has kept me busy. I swear there are more monsters than people in this city.”
Jack laughed. “That’s part of why I left. Eventually, you suffocate under all the supernatural. You can’t feel like you’re making a difference there.”
“In fact, I probably should be getting on with my morning.” Self-loathing rolled over her. “He has something big planned.”
“Take care, my little nun. And call me soon. I love you.”
He’s been saying it for months, when she wouldn’t, but his simple and heartfelt declaration stabbed her in the chest this morning. “Take care, and I promise to call soon and talk for a long time.”
His laughter as he hung up brought tears. Jack was a good person. Of course, he was also partially responsible for this mess too.
Chelsea wiped at her eyes and headed back inside. She did have a big hunt with Andy planned, and a late “night” one for hunters.
The third person in triangular hell sat at the table. Chelsea studied her from the door.
Amber was taller than Chelsea and broad to boot. Sweat pants and baggy t-shirt did nothing to hide the curves. Her thick black hair was much longer than Chelsea ever remembered and pulled up into a high ponytail. She glared at the wall, dark eyes hot and narrow, breakfast uneaten before her. Chelsea could almost see the monster hunter in the off-duty waitress.
Chelsea cleared her throat. “I’m heading out. Andy—”
“Is in the bathroom.” Amber’s sharp, dark eyes cut to the bathroom door.
Biting back a laugh, Chelsea settled at the table to the thumps of Bentley’s tail. “He ask for your help yet?”
“No.” Eyes still locked on the bathroom door narrowed to slits. “I’m sure he will, though.”
The man himself exited the bathroom moments later, for once, minus his cat-eye liner and lip gloss. “Okay, so this one is a doozy.” He settled at the table, eyes on Chelsea. “But nothing you haven’t seen before. We’re taking on a nit of nightlings.”
A chill ran down Chelsea’s back as Amber sat up straighter. The ponytail slipped over her shoulder as she leaned towards Andy. “A whole fucking nit?”
He waved a lazy hand at her. “Yes, a whole nit. They took over an apartment building in the Bronx. We have three teams in the building, plus one on top and one outside.” He turned back to Chelsea. “You’ll be with Jess and Charlie’s team.”
Amber’s clenched fist hit the table. “While you’ll be safe somewhere monitoring everyone else.”
He arched an eyebrow at her. “Yes, that’s how the hub works, as I’m sure you remember. You haven’t been retired that long. And since you refuse to help hunt, I’m not sure why you keep interrupting.”
Chelsea bit back a laugh at Amber’s outraged expression. The twinkle in Andy’s eye said he was laughing too, despite his calm voice as he turned back to her. “You’ll be cleaning up minions on the ground floor as they try to run.”
“Why do I always get minion duty?” Chelsea slumped in her chair.
Andy laughed. “Because you’re a newbie and that’s a newbie job.”
Even as Chelsea laughed with him, Amber’s thin and twisted lips ate at her. Eventually, Amber stood up. “I’m with Chelsea’s team.”
Andy leaned back in his chair. “I thought you didn’t hunt.”
Amber loomed over the table. “And I thought you had more sense than to put Charlie on anybody’s team during a hunt this dangerous, but here we are.”
Chelsea sputtered to Charlie’s defense as fast as Andy, but Amber cut them both off with a glare. “Let me get changed and we’ll head out.” She stormed off to her bedroom.
Chelsea met Andy’s eye, trying to share her shock. He, however, sat back, smug and satisfied, arms over his belly as he texted Chelsea the address.
Amber didn’t make them wait long. She emerged from her bedroom in patched jeans and an old hoodie; her axe barely visible in the fold of clothing.
Andy’s smug expression leaked into his voice. “The ginger has the address. I’m heading out. See you there in three hours.”
Amber’s thick middle finger followed his path to the door. “We’ll be there. And I’ll explain this kind of hunt to Chelsea since you’re taking off.”
“I figured, which is why I’m taking off.” He breezed out of the apartment, seeming unbothered.
Chelsea held in laughter as she readied herself. She strapped on her axe and various knives as Amber glared at the door and explained the hunt. “So the teams will start at the top and bottom floors, killing the nightlings and minions, until they meet it in the middle. Most nightlings will fight to the death, but the ones that run… well, it’s daylight. They’re pretty much feral animals. Don’t attack them and they won’t attack you. Let them run out into the sun and die. The outside clean-up crew will take care of the mess. But the minions that run… they need to be stopped or they can grab the remains and resurrect the nightling. You, me, Jess, and the himbo will have to stop them, so we’re stationed in the lobby.”
“Charlie’s a treasure, bless his heart.” Georgia rolled off her tongue instinctively and Amber froze before bursting out laughing.
Her laughter roused Bentley from his nap. He stretched and yawned before heading over to Chelsea for pets. “So we ready then?”
Amber shrugged. “I guess.”
Chelsea grabbed her beanie. “C’mon, Bent.”
The address Andy had given them was an apartment building was covered in white plastic, but the “fumigators” all had the swagger of monster hunters despite the furtive glances up and down the street. Chelsea understood. Fighting monsters in bright day light felt… weird.
Once past the plastic, Chelsea relaxed a little. Jess and her purple mohawk stood in the lobby with Charlie already. The part-time model seemed comfortable with his axe, but Amber’s doubts lingered in Chelsea’s head.
Jess beamed at them, eyes widening at Amber. “Glad you’re here. A little extra muscle on is always good on minion duty.”
Amber glared at Charlie. “I figured you could use the help.”
Charlie shrank into his hoodie, dark eyes on his feet. “I’m sorry, okay, I didn’t mean to be late—”
“Whatever.” Amber absently scratched at Bentley, who was butting against her leg. “Let’s just focus on the minions.”
Charlie scurried over to the far side of the lobby. Jess, head shaking and eyes suddenly worried, handed them their earpieces.
Andy’s voice crackled to life. “Okay, our last two hold outs are finally in place. Jim, Linda, start clean up. Roof top and lobby teams, stay on alert. Minions will run soon. Outside team, have those wet vaccs ready.”
Amber’s glares kept the lobby silent as they waited. Only Bentley seemed at his ease while sitting between her and Chelsea, tail wagging. It might have been minutes or hours or days, but eventually the hair on Bentley’s back rose and he growled at the stairs.
“Bentley, stay.” Chelsea pulled her axe as did the others. All too soon, a woman ran down the stairs. She saw them, paused, and then pulled a knife with a scream.
Chelsea moved with Bentley. He leapt, pouncing on the woman, and Chelsea beheaded her with one powerful motion. As she rose to her feet, the elevator pinged, and more people, some bloody and wounded, poured out.
One of them screamed, another ran for the door, and then it was pandemonium. Amber tackled the screaming man. Two of the other minions jumped on her. Chelsea grabbed one by the collar and took an elbow to the nose.
Eyes watering, she punched the man in the back of the head and kept it up until he stopped moving. By then, Jess had the second minion, a woman, engaged.
Amber was now on her knees, grappling with her original target. Chelsea dropped her unconscious minion and kicked Amber’s in the head.
The man slumped and Amber tossed him roughly to the ground. She jumped to her feet and grabbed Chelsea’s arm. “Are you okay? Your nose is bleeding.”
“Probably.” She swiped at it, feeling the warm wetness for the first time.
Another ping announced the elevator and this time all of them, including Bentley, turned as a team, ready to fight.
The second wave was as brutal and chaotic as the first, but none of the minions made it past them. A few more single minions came down the stairs, but the elevator waves came steadily.
By the sixth wave, all five were panting. Jess had a cut over one eye, and Charlie cradled his left arm to his body, though Chelsea saw no blood. Amber, however, still stood alert and predatory, axe in hand and eyes on the elevator.
The next ping brought wave a fear and exhaustion. The doors opened to only three people, one a skinny boy with scarred arms under his tank top. He looked to be in his early teens, longish dark hair unkempt and dark eyes too big for his face.
He stood frozen in the elevator, watching Jess and Charlie attack his companions. Chelsea raised her axe, and the boy swayed on his feet.
Amber rushed past, bellowing, ax swinging. The boy shrank against the wall of the elevator and covered his head.
Chelsea grabbed Amber’s arm. “Stop, it’s a kid.”
Andy’s voice crackled through the earpiece. “A kid?”
Chelsea nodded to thin air. “He’s scarred and pale and weak.”
Amber glared and slammed a hand on the closing doors of the elevator. “He’s a minion.”
“The ginger is right.” There was no silk or velvet in Andy’s voice. Just pure carbon steel. “We’re almost done here. I’ll have some reserves take your place. I’m texting Chelsea an address. Take him there.”
Face tight and eyes hard, Amber finally lowered her arm. “This will end badly.”
Chelsea slammed the open door button on the elevator and whistled for Bentley, trusting the dog’s instincts far more than her own or Amber’s.
The big mutt whimpered before dropping to his belly and inching toward the boy. Chelsea heard the doors open and their replacements coming in, but all she had eyes for was her dog.
Bentley gave soft whines, cries for attention, as his tail thumped on the floor. The boy lowered his arms, jerking fearful looks between Bentley and Amber.
Eventually, Bentley reached him, nose out, whining quietly. The boy slipped shaking fingers over the soft fur. Bentley eased closer until he could rest his head on the boy’s shoulder. Tears and sobs came next as the kid collapsed on the huge mutt, wrapping scarred arms around Bentley’s thick neck.
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