Chelsea had dreamed of the prairie often since leaving. She had never imaged she’d return the same way she had arrived, exhausted and heart-sick.
The cop studied her license. “Chelsea Childling? Did your dad write comics?”
“No.” She wasn’t in the mood for banter over her name. She had driven for sixteen straight hours and wanted some sleep.
“Says here you’re from Georgia?”
She nodded and deliberately thickened her accent. “Yes, sir. Born a peach, die a peach.”
“It’s healed.” She crossed her arms, with no pain or hesitation. She liked this hedge doctor, even though she knew damned well she shouldn’t. That contradiction meant it was more than time to be on the road. “I promise not to go nuts and attack any more elemental rock monsters. I will stick to small stuff and work with teams. But I am leaving tomorrow.”
David’s calloused fingers moved her arm. “This will hurt I’m afraid, but it’ll feel better soon.
A tear slid out. “That’s what everybody says.”
The impossible blue of the Columbia River called Chelsea, despite the reddening sky. While she knew the cold of night was coming, right that moment, it was still hot as hell.
Chelsea reached greedily for the proffered coffee cup with her uninjured arm. Hot, and somehow both bitter and smooth, she savored the drink. One of the hedge doctors had bought her one from the coffee shop downstairs when she limped in this morning. She was on her third. “I swear this almost doesn’t need sugar.”
Trees and cloud cover made a velvet darkness that hemmed in her flashlight. She couldn’t see much beyond her toes. But that didn’t matter in this well-kept wilderness with it distinctly defined paths.
“Okay, Bent. Unless a cool monster comes up, we’re taking off. The damp is killing me.”
The dog whuffed from behind, sounding more preoccupied with whatever animal had pissed on the towering pine trees the night before.
“Don’t patronize me.”
Pale morning light barely brightened the tiny camper, but it was enough for Chelsea. She found her underwear quickly. The bright-white cotton glowed on the kitchen table. But her bra eluded detection.
She swore under her breath, not wanting to wake Carla. She didn’t exactly regret sleeping with the other monster hunter, but…
*Oh no, I exactly regret this.*
Chelsea watched the fire, ignoring the surrounding revelry. People laughed and drank, ate and flirted. These monster hunters could celebrate. They hadn’t seen Gene die. Torn apart by sea fairies.
*Neither did you. *