“You should leave,” Mike said.
“Can’t.” Nica turned her back to him, making a show of checking out the small kitchen.
“Why. Not?” Mike ground his teeth and clenched his jaw. He didn’t care why she was there, and he wanted her out. She was lucky he didn’t stake her right now for hurting Crandall.
And Ash, he reminded himself. He and Ash were close, like brothers, but seeing Crandall bloodied in his own home make Mike see red. He struggled to rein in his anger. The only thing keeping her alive was the uncertainty about how valuable she might be to the vampires who knew where he lived.
“Max wants us to work out our differences,” Nica said, still facing away. “We have to work together or you’ll never catch Judas.”
“Until you are willing to work with us, I doubt you’ll get very far.”
“You know what?” She spun around, the fire back in her eyes. “Just fuck you!”
Mike hardened his expression and took the two steps forward he needed to tower over her and glare down into those angry eyes. “You hurt my friends so I’m in no mood to talk.” He spoke very low and quiet. “If you don’t leave, I will personally drive this stake through your heart.” He hadn’t meant to draw the weapon, but as her eyes widened and her gaze dropped, his followed. They both stared at the stake pressing a divot in her once-pretty now blood-spattered blouse.
“You wouldn’t,” she whispered. The quiver in her voice betrayed her. Mike let a small smirk creep across his lips at the sound of her fear. No matter what happened before he arrived, Mike knew three hunters in close quarters were plenty fearsome to all but the worst vampires.
“Out,” he said. “Now.”
She took a step back, her gaze flicking between his eyes and the stake. “Max would kill you.”
“Oh?” Mike’s smirk curled into something mostly evil and dreadfully unlike him, but Nica had hit the one nerve that couldn’t be stretched. Crandall. “Are you more important than Judas?”
“You can’t do this without my help.” Desperate. She sounded very, very desperate.
“Out!” Mike roared the word and took a fast step forward.
Nica jumped and back-peddled two steps before she recovered her demeanor. “Fine!” She snarled the word and wrinkled her nose at him. She strode to the counter, and tipped over a canister of cocoa mix. She drew her finger through the mess before heading toward the door. As she passed Crandall in the living room, she paused and said, “My number is on the counter. Call me when you realize you’re screwed without me.”
The moment the door closed, the vampire on the far side, Mike rushed to Crandall. He took a deep breath and reminded himself that if a Hunter survived a fight with a vampire, he survived, period. They healed fast. Crandall and Ash would be stiff and sore for a day or two, but they’d live.
It didn’t help. He trembled as the adrenaline high abandoned his body. Nausea twisted his stomach in knots. If it hadn’t been Nica; if it’d been another vampire who hadn’t agreed to work with them…
Mike pulled Crandall into his arms and buried his face against Crandall’s neck. Mike tried, and failed, to bite back the whimper of relief. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he said.
Crandall squirmed. “I’m not okay. I fucking hurt. Stop squeezing bruises.”
Mike snorted a chuckle and drew back. He captured Crandall’s face between his hands and pressed a kiss to his lips. When Crandall shoved him away, muttering about personal space, Mike laughed. “Ash? You good?” he asked.
Ash eased himself off the sofa, rubbing his lower back as he stood. “More or less.” He looked away, studying the mess that was the coffee table. “I…” He glanced at Mike and Crandall — Crandall trying to put space between them and Mike unwilling to let Crandall out of his reach – and then at the floor again. “I was out of control. I’m truly sorry.”
“Hey, man,” Mike said. He still didn’t know exactly what happened, but the least of his worries was the cheap yard sale table.
“I’ll buy you a new table.” Ash shook his head again. He seemed to be arguing with himself in silence, but instead of saying more, he turned away and said, “I’m going to grab a quick shower.”