Hi guys! I'm very excited to share the first chapter of Hunter's Revenge with you!
Hope you enjoy it :)
*Copyright 2017 Juliana Haygert*
This was where he had told me about my first mission. Right here, seated on this bench, turned toward the center of the square, gazing up at the tall, majestic willow tree.
“You’re ready,” he had said.
I had been fourteen.
Now, nine years later, I was again on this bench—alone this time—giving myself a pep talk about what I had to do.
“I’m ready,” I told myself in a low voice.
But was I?
This would probably be the most difficult mission of my entire life.
Movement to my right caught my attention, and I snapped my head in that direction. Across the street, Mrs. Ackerman walked her ugly dog. She stopped at the bookstore’s window, gazed inside for a moment, then kept on her daily trek.
“There you are.” Aidan’s voice came from somewhere behind me. He walked around the bench and sat down beside me. “Here,” he said, offering me a to-go coffee cup from the Urban Grind.
I took the cup from him. “Thanks.”
We both looked at the tree while we sipped our coffee.
“How are you doing?” he finally asked.
I shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
The rage from last night withered my strength, and all that was left behind was a cold numbness.
He put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “I’m here for you. We are all here for you. You know that, right?”
I nodded. “I know.”
But he wasn’t. Not anymore.
“Nathan told me you were on your way to USC.”
“I was,” I confessed. “I am. I just had to make a quick stop first.”
“Quick. How long have you been sitting here?”
I glanced at my cell phone. Shit. “Over an hour.”
“Hm. So, are you going to USC or not?”
I sighed. “I have to. I need to tell her myself.”
“I know.” He nodded. “And are you ready for that?”
You’re ready …
“It doesn’t matter if I am. I have to do it.”
Aidan didn’t say anything, and I was glad. He knew how hard it was for me to admit my feelings, and since last night I couldn’t deal with any feelings right now.
We remained seated side by side for a few more minutes, drinking our coffees and looking at the tree. Every few minutes, someone we knew walked by and greeted us with smiles. Nobody here knew yet. And they wouldn’t, not until I told her.
Aidan’s cell phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket and glanced at it. “It’s Douglas. Hey, what’s up?” he answered the call. “Hm, okay.” He paused, listening to Douglas. “Okay. I’ll be right there.”
He ended the call and lowered the phone.
He stood. “No. He just needs help setting up some things.”
“Yeah, something like that.” He frowned at me. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I will be.”
He sighed. “All right. I have to go, but if you need anything, let me know.”
“And good luck.”
“Thanks.” I would certainly need it.
Damn. I was going to be late.
I shoved my feet inside my boots, grabbed my tote from the chair at my desk, and hurried from my dorm. I rarely slept in on weekdays, so I wouldn’t be late for my classes. But I had insisted on taking three classes instead of only one during the summer semester, so now my days were packed and I always felt exhausted.
As I rushed from my building, I glanced at my phone’s screen. Damn. I only had ten minutes to get to class, and I still had to walk halfway across the damn campus.
I hurried my steps.
My phone vibrated in my hand. I glanced at it again and groaned at seeing the word Mom flashing on the screen.
“Crap,” I muttered before answering the phone. “Hi, Mom.”
“Good morning, Tessa,” she said in a tone too chirpy for so early in the morning. “Did I wake you up, dear?”
“Nope. I’m walking to class right now.”
“Oh, good. I’ll make it quick then.” And by that, she meant instead of talking to me for over an hour, she would try to keep it to forty minutes. Crap. “I talked to Marjorie, as you asked, and figured out something for you to give her.”
I smiled. Marjorie was my half-sister, and her twelfth birthday was coming up this weekend. I planned to go home so we could all celebrate together. Since I wanted my gift for her to be a surprise, I had asked Mom to find out what she wanted.
“What is it?” Being tight on time, I entered the bookstore in the student center, deciding to cut through it instead of walking around the building. “What does she want?”
“A cheerleader outfit from your school.”
“W-what?” I halted in the middle of the bookstore and almost bumped into a girl who was browsing books around a tall shelf. “Sorry,” I mouthed at the girl. I resumed walking, hurrying my steps even more.
“Yes.” I could see my mom pressing her lips together, trying to contain her disdain. “She’s into cheerleading now. She has two weeks of cheerleading summer camp starting next week, and she wants to wear something special. During a conversation, she mentioned that the cheerleaders from USC have the coolest outfits.”
I pushed the bookstore’s door open and exited into the center courtyard. “You mean the sluttiest.”
“Tessa!” My mother cleared her throat. “Anyway, that’s what I found out.”
“And you would be okay if I gave her a micro skirt and a cropped top?”
“Not really,” she confessed. “Maybe give her a picture of them? Or just the pompoms? I don’t know. I gave you a tip. Now you make do with that.”
I shook my head. “All right, Mom, thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” She paused. “And how are you doing?”
I sighed. My mother always asked me that. Even when she didn’t call, she texted me at least twice a day to make sure I was okay. Since she married Paul fourteen years ago and had Marjorie and Melissa, she had been trying to give me more attention. She always emphasized I was an important part of the family, even if Paul wasn’t my real father and the girls were only my half-sisters. I appreciated her concern, but she would never truly know how I felt. To be honest, not even I knew. However, I did know I wasn’t really part of that family, and when I moved away for college a year ago, I confirmed that. I left and nothing changed. They didn’t need me. They didn’t even miss me.
“I’m fine, Mom.” I rounded a corner and the science building came into view. “I need to go. My class is starting soon, and I don’t want to be late.”
“Of course,” she said, and I pretended I didn’t hear the hurt in her voice. “Of course. Hm, text me later, okay?”
“I will. Bye.”
I turned off the call and shoved my phone inside my jacket’s pocket. Crap. I had only two more minutes to enter the damn building and get to the fourth floor.
I climbed the front stairs leading up to the doors two by two, and after a few steps over the wide landing, reached for the doorknob.
My hand froze. I froze.
“Hey, get out of the way,” someone said, shoving past me to open the door and get inside the building.
Slowly, I turned around and sucked in a sharp breath.
Landon stood at the base of the stairs, his eyes on me and his hands shoved inside his jeans pockets.
Damn. He was even more handsome—and hotter—than I remembered. When he was a teenager, Landon had worn his light brown hair past his shoulder, and I couldn’t decide what was sexier: when he left it down, or when he pulled the strands into a ponytail on his nape. But for the last few years, he had cut it short on the side and a couple of inches longer on top, just enough to touch his bright eyes. The new cut emphasized his chiseled jaw, wide shoulders, and overall tall, strong frame.
Since my father had taken him in when he was ten years old, and I had been seven, I had hated him with every fiber of my being, but I could never, ever deny that he was too handsome for his own good.
And, from the lopsided grin he always offered to me, I was sure he knew that.
He didn’t carry that lopsided grin now. In fact, his full lips were set into a thin line. A knot formed between his thick eyebrows, and his always-amused hazel eyes now stared at me as if he had committed a crime and was here to confess.
Landon took two steps up the stairs. “Hi.”
“Hi.” I considered being civil and polite by asking him how he was and how things were going, but I didn’t have that kind of patience. Not with him, not with my father. I walked to the edge of the stairs. “So, why are you here? Is my father in town, and he wants to have dinner with me? Oh, wait, dinner is too long for him. A coffee from some sidewalk vendor while you two go over clues of your latest investigation?”
Landon flinched but didn’t break the stare. “I’m here because I need to tell you something.” I hated how even his voice was, rough and deep. It went too well with his entire package. Shame he was my father’s adopted son, and I hated him for that.
“Then tell me.”
Landon ran a hand through his hair, pushing the strands back, but a moment later, they were in his eyes again. He climbed the rest of the stairs and towered over me. “You better sit down.” He jerked his chin to a wooden bench a few feet to the side.
I crossed my arms. “I’m fine like this.”
He groaned and caught my elbow. “Then at least, let’s get out of the way.” He pulled me to the side, so we weren’t standing right in the middle of the building’s entrance while students and professors walked past. He fixed those eyes on mine. “Are you sure you don’t want to sit down?”
“Landon …” I sighed.
“You’ve been warned,” he said, his voice hard. “Isaac was working a case this past month and …”
He paused, making my patience spike. “Spit it out.”
He let out a long breath. “Your father was killed.”
My heart seized. I took a large step back and fell on the bench. It couldn’t be. My father was one of the best, if not the best out there. He had been in the business since he was born. He knew all there was to know.
Landon shook his head. “The details don’t matter.”
I glared at him. “It matters to me.”
He held my deadly stare. “We were played. We didn’t know what it was. I still don’t. I just know it was playing with us.”
“It,” I whispered. “So, he was killed by a …” I sucked in a deep breath.
Landon nodded. “Yeah. Your father was killed by a demon.”