Hunter Hunted – Keri Arthur

The woman sitting opposite me was plump, with merry blue eyes and purple-tinted gray hair. She was one of the café’s regular customers, and came in at least three times a week. If Belle—the café’s co-owner and my best friend—wasn’t helping her to communicate with the daughter she’d lost five years ago, I was using my psychometry skills to find whatever item she’d misplaced that particular week. I crossed my arms on the table and leaned forward. The candles flickered at the small movement, sending a warm glow across the older woman’s pretty features. “What can I do for you this week, Mrs. Potts?” “I need you to find my husband.” Amusement twitched my lips. “You’ve misplaced him?” Her expression became cross. “No, of course I haven’t. I’m not that forgetful.” The growing number of visits stated otherwise, but I kept my mouth shut. We’d only just reopened after the bomb—which had been an act of revenge for the rat infestation I’d left two fellow witches after they’d run us out of “their” town—had destroyed part of the first floor’s roof. While that area was still being renovated, we’d finally been given clearance to open the café. The last thing we needed three days out from Christmas was me losing us a very good customer.

“Then why do you want me to find him?” “Because the bastard’s run off with that floozy of his again, and I’ve had enough.” I blinked. Mrs. Potts was eighty-three, and her husband five years older. Meaning he probably didn’t exactly run, came Belle’s amused comment, but I’m seriously impressed he has the time or energy for a floozy at his age. Although I wasn’t telepathic, the ability to share thoughts so clearly was one of the many benefits that came with Belle not only being a witch, but also my familiar. If witch records were to be believed, it was something that had never happened before, and had caused much consternation to my high-profile, blueblood parents. Not only did I have the audacity to be severely “underpowered,” but I’d gone and gotten myself an even lowerpowered witch as a familiar rather than the more acceptable spirit or cat. I’d like to have that sort of energy now, I replied, let alone when I get to their age. She snorted.

The sound rattled loudly through my brain, making me wince. Your problem is more a lack of opportunity than energy. True. Between my natural wariness of relationships, Aiden’s initial distrust of all things witch, and the more recent complication of concussion—which he’d gotten saving my life —opportunities to do anything more than kiss had been few and far between. It didn’t help that fate herself seemed determined to interrupt my pursuit of satisfaction. But at least Aiden had a doctor’s appointment later today, and should finally get the all clear to resume normal activities. Is “normal activities” the new code word for hot monkey sex? Belle mused. Hardly. He’s a werewolf, not a monkey. I did my best to ignore the images that nevertheless rose at her comment, and said, “Perhaps you should be consulting a lawyer, Mrs.

—” “I have,” she said curtly. “But I need you to find Henry so I can serve the papers in person.” “I don’t think that would be a—” “Maybe not,” she cut in again, “but I want to see the bastard’s face. He never thought I’d have the guts, you see. Not after putting up with his behavior for so long.” “If he usually does come home, why not just wait?” “Because I’ve had all his stuff thrown onto the lawn. If he doesn’t collect it before the storm hits, it’s going to get ruined.” “You could always throw a tarp over—” “Why? He deserves ruination after all these years of legging it with other women.” I do like her style, Belle commented, even if she’s taken entirely too long to do something about the situation. She’s eighty-three, Belle.

I wouldn’t want to be starting over again at her age. You didn’t want to start over again at twenty-five, she said. I’m just thanking the stars and the spirits that we decided to come to a town where there’s a hot ranger to tempt your recalcitrant hormones. I couldn’t have stood another three years of bitching about a self-induced lack of sex. I didn’t bitch. I paused, thinking about it. Not much, anyway. I think our definitions of “not much” are vastly different. Amusement bubbled through me. I cleared my throat and tried to concentrate on Mrs.

Potts’s problem. “Have you told your lawyer you intend to personally serve the divorce papers?” “Of course.” She opened the purse sitting on her lap and carefully pulled out a gold watch in a plastic bag. “He was wearing this until a few days ago. I presume he took it off because he didn’t want the floozy seeing it.” I plucked the bagged watch from her fingertips. Even though the plastic was quite thick, I could feel the pulse of life. That my psychometry skills were picking it up so strongly without direct touch was a good sign. “Why wouldn’t he want his girlfriend seeing it?” “I gave it to him for our fiftieth wedding anniversary, and it’s inscribed,” she said. “Besides, given the amount of money he’s been taking from our account on a regular basis, she’d probably have it off his wrist and spent inside two seconds.

” Meaning the floozy is also a gold digger? Belle said. This just gets better and better. I undid the bag and slid the watch into my palm. While the reading room—a small, dedicated space at the back of the café—was packed with a multitude of artifacts and spells specifically designed to counter arcane forces seeking to enter or attack, they didn’t interfere with our psychic talents. The metal warmed my skin, and the beat of life grew stronger. It was pretty clear I’d be able to find the errant Henry without much problem. “Well,” Mrs. Potts said. “Are you getting anything?” I nodded and met her gaze. “You know how this works, though.

I may not be able to give you something as specific as an address.” She frowned. “But you were the one who found Marjorie’s daughter in the forest, weren’t you?” “Yes.” And too damn late to save her life. I thrust away the images of alabaster skin and bloody neck wounds and added, “But I used a different level of psychometry to track her down.” One that involved me using a personal item to form a much closer connection to the mind of my target. Doing so generally made tracking them easier, but it was not without its dangers. While such connections were generally only light, there were some occasions where I’d been drawn so deeply into the mind of the other person I experienced whatever they were feeling or doing. Which was fine if they were doing something innocuous, but far less so if they happened to be in a life-or-death situation. It was not unknown for psychics to be so caught up in such events they lost their mind or even their life.

Which wasn’t likely to happen in this situation, but I still had no desire to risk a deeper connection with Henry, especially if he and the floozy were getting intimate. Considering your lack of late, maybe it’d ease some tension. Will you shut up and let me concentrate. Her laughter ran across my thoughts as Mrs. Potts said, “Yes, but if you can find Karen in the middle of a forest with just a locket, you can surely repeat the results here. I know this situation is nowhere near as urgent, but he’s betraying me—betraying the memory of our daughter—and I just need this done.” Now, while I still have the courage. She didn’t actually add that bit, but it was nevertheless evident in her expression and her eyes. The annoyance that had briefly flared disappeared. For Mrs.

Potts, it really was just as urgent; her whole life was about to change even if her life—and Henry’s—wasn’t physically on the line. Besides, given the steady pulse coming from the watch, it was likely I wouldn’t have to go deep. I could simply use that pulsing as a psychic GPS signal to locate him. I took a deep breath and then nodded. “Okay. But it means you’ll have to drive—I’ll need to concentrate on the vibes rolling off the watch.” Her eyebrows rose. “I don’t drive. You know that.” I knew a silver-haired man generally chauffeured her to the café, but I hadn’t realized she didn’t have a license.

“Freddie always drives me,” she continued blithely. “You’ve said hello to him often enough. Lovely chap, he is—can’t do enough for me.” Suggesting Mrs. Potts might also have a bit on the side, Belle said. I don’t even want to think about it. To the older woman, I said, “It mightn’t be best to serve your husband divorce papers in the company of another man, Mrs. Potts.” “I guess it might give rise to unnecessary presumptions. I’ll call Gina.

She’ll help.” She dug her phone out and then paused, frowning, “You will be able to do it this afternoon, won’t you?” “Yes.” I pushed upright. “You call Gina and I’ll go tell Belle what’s happening.” She nodded and started calling as I headed out the door. The stairs to the left of the reading room were blocked by heavy plastic, which stopped most of the dust if not the noise coming down from the renovations. The main café area—a warm and inviting space filled with mismatched tables and colorfully painted chairs—was half-full, which wasn’t bad considering we’d only announced our reopening two days ago. The Christmas lights strung across the ceiling spun color throughout the room, and there was a small but pretty Christmas tree in the corner close to the kitchen. We’d also hung a bunch of mistletoe over the doorway for a bit of fun, but so far only one young couple had stopped to kiss underneath it. The main serving area—where we made the coffee and plated up the cakes—was located to the right, opposite the kitchen.

Belle flashed me a smile as I headed behind the counter. She was a typical Sarr witch in coloring—ebony skin, long, silky black hair, and eyes that were a gray so pale they shone silver in even the dullest of light. She was also six foot one with an Amazon’s physique; to say she was stunning would be an understatement. I, on the other hand, had the crimson-colored hair of the blueblood Marlowe line, emerald green eyes that were now ringed with silver—the only fallout from my desperate and dangerous merger with the wild magic that inhabited this reservation— and freckles across my nose. I was also five inches shorter with a body that would never be described as athletic. “Will you be okay here if I disappear for an hour?” I grabbed three takeaway cups and began making coffee. Gina was another regular customer and a founding member of the local gossip brigade. If I made a coffee for myself and not the two older women, half of Castle Rock would know about my “selfishness” within minutes. While the brigade generally used their communication powers for good, I had no intention of ever getting on their wrong side. “It’s nearly two, and I doubt there’ll be a last-minute rush before we close.

” Belle finished decorating a piece of salted caramel cake then slid the plate next to the coffee mug already waiting on the counter. As Penny—our middle-aged waitress—swooped in to whisk both away, she added, “But don’t forget Zak and I are going down to Melbourne to see Les Mis this evening, so you’ll have to do the prep for tomorrow.” “I should be back, but if for any reason I’m not, just lock up and I’ll get to it when I can.” She raised an eyebrow. “Are you expecting trouble?” I hesitated. “Not with Mrs. Potts, no.” “Meaning you are expecting something.” “No, not really. It’s just that every time I’ve used my psychometry talents to track someone of late, I’ve ended up finding a body.

” I shrugged. “But Ashworth is the acting reservation witch now, so he can take care of any damn problem that arises.” Ira Ashworth had initially only come here to take care of a soul eater and the witch who’d called it into being. He’d offered to stay not only because the Faelan Reservation was without a government-approved witch to protect it, but also because he was apparently fascinated with the “conundrum” Belle and I presented. One that had nothing to do with the fact we were witch and familiar—something he wasn’t yet aware of—but rather his conviction that while we might separately be underpowered, together we were as strong as any witch outside Canberra. According to him, our magical abilities combined in a way no one had ever thought possible. We’d long been able to draw on each other’s strength, but neither of us had—until that moment—been aware the merging was much deeper than that. “Don’t be surprised if Aiden and his rangers still come to us for help,” Belle said, amusement evident. “I don’t think they really like dealing with Ashworth’s forthright cantankerousness.” A smile twitched my lips.

I actually liked that in the man, if only because he very much reminded me of my grandfather—one of the few relatives I’d gotten along with. Of course, he was also one of the few who didn’t see the need to constantly bemoan my lack —maybe because he, too, hadn’t come up to expectations, be they his own or that of others. “I think you’ll find it’s more a case of them liking the free chocolate brownies we give them whenever they’re here.” Even Aiden had readily admitted his lust for those brownies was almost as fierce as his desire for me. I glanced around as Mrs. Potts came out of the reading room. “All set?” The older woman nodded. “She’ll be out the front in five minutes. Come along.” Her imperial tone had my smile growing.

I slipped lids on the three takeout cups, grabbed my handbag from out of the open safe, and dutifully followed. “Good luck,” Belle called after us. And just in case the unease you’re feeling is something wicked this way coming, be careful. Let’s hope it’s not, because I’d really like to spend our first Christmas here in peace and quiet—and maybe even in the arms of a good man. Amen to that, sister. The wind swirled as I stepped outside, flipping my hair across my face and tugging at the ends of my dress. There was nothing untoward to be felt in that breeze, and the day was bright and warm, holding a promise of the heat supposedly coming over the next couple of days. And yet…. And yet that vague sense of unease was getting stronger. I studied the street but there was seemingly nothing out of place or wrong.

Nothing that twinged the radar of my “other” senses, anyway. But energy—dark energy—was nevertheless gathering beyond the confines of Castle Rock. “I hate this weather,” Mrs. Potts said, with an abruptness that made me jump. “I much prefer the colder months. Ah, here’s Gina now.” A silver Mercedes came to a halt in the no parking zone outside the café. Once we’d all climbed inside, I handed the ladies their coffee, then wound down the window. “Is that really necessary?” Gina said, somewhat crossly. “The air conditioning—” “I know and I’m sorry, but the open window allows me to track locations better.

” “It won’t be for long,” Mrs. Potts said. “You know Henry won’t be too far away—his eyesight isn’t all that good these days.” Gina sniffed then glanced at me through the rearview mirror. “Where to, then?” “Straight ahead for the moment.” “You’ll tell me when to turn?” “Yes.” Gina nodded and pulled out into the traffic, seemingly oblivious to the screech of tires that immediately followed. Which made me wonder if the unease was nothing more than the fact I was placing my life in the hands of a woman who didn’t appear to take much notice of other road users. I hid my amusement and tried to concentrate on the steady pulse coming from the watch. Despite Mrs.

Potts’s conviction that Henry wouldn’t be far, we were soon heading out onto the Pyrenees Highway. But the farther we moved from Castle Rock, the sharper my unease became. Whatever I was sensing, it was very dark and very powerful. No good would come from it, of that I was sure. At least it wasn’t coming from the watch, and didn’t seem to involve Henry even if it did appear to be in the same general area. I shivered and fought the desire to call Ashworth. If I was sensing it, surely he would. He was, after all, the more powerful witch. Besides, Mrs. Potts was paying me to find her husband, and the task deserved my full attention.

As the pulsing directed us past Muckleford South, Mrs. Potts sniffed, a sound that somehow managed to be both unimpressed and haughty all at the same time. “The bastard’s gotten gamer in his old age. Normally he struggles just driving me to the supermarket.” Gina snorted. “Even near blindness hasn’t got a hope when the dick is involved, my dear.” I just about choked on my coffee. Mrs. Potts turned around and raised an eyebrow. “You okay?” I nodded and somehow kept a straight face as I added, “We need to slow down—the vibes from the watch are getting stronger.

” “Newstead,” Gina mused. “Karla comes from here, you know, and she’s been missing a lot of our gatherings of late.” Karla wasn’t someone I knew, but then, the entire brigade seldom came out in force. They were twenty-seven strong when in full cry, and we rarely had enough vacant tables to cater to them en masse. “Can’t be Karla,” Mrs. Potts said. “She’s smarter than that.” Gina snorted again. “She also has a liking for fine things, and you did say he was spending money like it was water.” Though I couldn’t see the older woman’s expression, the glow of her aura jumped into focus.

It ran with a mix of muddy red and orange, indicators of both anger and stress. “She wouldn’t do that—we’ve been friends for ages.” But there was doubt in her voice. I wanted to reach forward and squeeze her arm in comfort, but knew enough about Mrs. Potts to know she wouldn’t appreciate it. The watch’s pulsing shifted as we entered N

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