The chill in the air was just enough to make fog when they spoke. Cloudlets of breath that lived and died from their conversation.
“And then she said she’d take care of Bentley and to get some sleep. And she asked if he could stay with her tonight. Maybe I should have pushed her, but…” Chelsea huddled in her fringed duster.
Andy shrugged, his eyes on the window they were supposed to be watching. “You probably did the right thing. Push too hard, too soon, and she’ll lock up completely. Look at how she treats me, and we were tight.”
“Why is she so mad at you?”
“I spent the first month she was here actively trying to get her to hunt. Now she takes any mention of the supernatural as a literal attack.” He leaned against the brick wall of the alley. “I still can’t believe she volunteered for that nightling hunt for you.”
Warmth flooded her, but it wasn’t embarrassment. “I hope it’s a good sign.”
Andy snorted. “You tell Jackson that you’re here on a mission to recruit Amber to your harem?”
Now her face heated with embarrassment. “It’s not a harem and no. I haven’t really talked to Amber yet. She wants to, though. At least she knows I came here to talk and offered to sit down and catch up.”
For the first time, Andy looked away from the window. Shock filled cat-lined eyes. “How did you manage that?”
She shrugged. “No idea.” The light went out above them. “It’s bedtime though.”
All conversation stopped as they waited. Brain leeches didn’t attack until their victims fell asleep, but repeated attacks left humans more tired in general. A vicious cycle.
Andy kept track, and at the thirty-minute mark they climbed the fire escape. Once they got to their target, there was only more waiting.
The dark behind the window never faltered, but slowly frost crept up the glass. Chelsea’s heart sped up, and she pulled her ax off her belt. Andy fiddled with the window for a moment, lifted it silently, and gestured to her.
She stared into the darkness. She could just make out a bed and the monster leaning over it. The darkness hid the insect-like mandibles and the proboscis. But she could hear the slurping.
She slipped into the room as quietly as possible. Leeches focused on feeding and could be walked up to if you were careful.
The vampire never noticed her until her blade chopped through the proboscis. Then it screamed and scrambled away.
Chelsea had fully adjusted to the dark now and followed. Her second swing caught it in the neck. The leech went down.
The third and final blow finished it off as Andy came through the door. “Well, that’s one way to do it.”
“So you have cleanup right?” She sheathed her ax. “When can I expect my cut?”
He laughed. “Get back to your dog and straighten out our Amber mess. I’ll stop by tomorrow with your cut.”
“Later.” She went back through the bedroom, barely checking to see if the victim was still breathing.
Her car sat on the other side of the alley and she almost didn’t need the GPS to find Amber’s place in Brooklyn. The woman herself was still up. Bright lights and Chinese take out warmed the apartment as Chelsea let herself in.
Amber sat in pajamas on the couch, Bentley eying her egg roll from beside her. “You’re back early.”
“Just a brain leech. I stuck Andy with the cleanup.”
Amber laughed. “Good for you. And ‘just’ a brain leech?”
Chelsea shucked off her duster and reached for her boots. “You have to let them start feeding. Sucks for the victim, but it is the easiest way.”
“And here I was worried you might be too soft-hearted to be a hunter.”
Chelsea settled on the other side of Bentley and grabbed an egg roll. “I mostly hunt on my own.”
Bentley’s head whipped around and he whined.
“I said ‘mostly’.”
The huge mutt huffed and leapt to the floor, his tail thwapping her in the face.
She batted it away. “Jerk.”
Amber burst into giggles. “So, he’s your partner these days?”
“Pretty much.” Chelsea examined her egg roll and plucked Bentley’s single hair off it before eating.
“And you just found him on the side of the road?”
A sudden sadness rolled over Chelsea. She hadn’t thought much about that time. “After…” She sucked in a deep breath. “After you left me, I– I didn’t have a plan or anything, I just couldn’t be there anymore. It was one thing too many.”
Amber swallowed but Chelsea talked over her. “I hit the road and ended up in South Dakota. And one day I was taking a picture of the prairie and he crawled out of it. He was a mess too. Matted fur and you could see ribs.” She held out a hand and Bentley rushed over for pets. “At first, I kept him out of hunts, but he kept coming to save me. Eventually, I had to accept it. It was give him up or give up hunting, and I wasn’t doing either.”
Bentley climbed back up on the couch. He licked Chelsea’s ear before snugging himself into a ball between them.
“You, uh, you spent time in the Dakotas, huh?” Amber kept her eyes on her food.
“Yeah, I met up with Keegan out there. We stayed near the Blind Bronco and hunted. It was a good time.”
Amber’s smile grew. “What is that shithead up to?”
Chelsea talked long into the night. She and Keegan had been together for months. Amber laughed and enjoyed the stories. She kept asking after hunts, which lead them to Washington state, and lamenting Chelsea’s adventure with the hedge doctors. “So, why did you come back?”
Here we go.
“After I healed up, I ran into Jackson, and well, things went like they always do with Jackson.”
Amber’s laugh didn’t seem bitter, but Chelsea didn’t buy it. So she told the absolute truth, the one she couldn’t tell Jack. “And while I was with him, I kept thinking about you. And… well, it took me awhile, but I realized that I want—”
Amber stood up. “Look, this isn’t going to work out how you want. He’s doesn’t want me, and I’m not willing to be a second place trophy.” She turned her back on Chelsea. “Like if he takes me just to be with you, I’ll hate you, forever.”
A chill ran down Chelsea’s spine. “And if we say fuck him? What if I want you more than him? What if—”
“You don’t.” Amber spun around, eyes dark with anger. “And even if you do, I don’t. I love him. You were… are a distraction.”
“Bullshit.” Chelsea found herself on her feet, eyes inches from Amber’s. “We were happy. You and I. We were happy. You ran away from it. I don’t get why, but it’s true.”
Rage narrowed Amber’s eyes as she leaned forward. “Happy? Who gives a shit about happy? I have a mission. I have to kill the bastard demon lord that killed my family. Jackson can at least help with that.”
Humiliation flooded Chelsea, and she stepped even closer. “I can help too!”
Amber froze for a second, confusion washing over her. “What?”
“You have a monster to kill? Sweet, let’s fucking end it. Why do we need Jack for that?”
All the blood left Amber’s face, and she stumbled to the couch. “What is with you? Like I’m objectively a shitty person, who set out to hurt you. Why are you doing this?”
Chelsea sat beside her. “I’m not about to judge someone. Well, not unless they are actively out to kill me. Not only would the nuns have shit to say about that, but I’m the queen of bad decisions. If there’s a shit option, that’s the one I’m going to choose.”
Laughter broke through Amber’s desperation. “Not making me feel better about this.”
Chelsea laughed with her and took a chance. She laid her head on Amber’s shoulder. The other woman sighed and put an arm around her. They sat like that for a while before Bentley settled on the floor in front of them.
Amber’s arm tightened around her. “So now what?”
Chelsea leaned into the woman. Amber felt exactly how she remembered, warm and soft, with that hard core underneath. “Now, I talk to Jack.”
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