Page 20 of Revenge Hunter (The Rover 3)

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Chapter Twenty

The chief stood inthe doorway, arms crossed, glaring down at me, not even acknowledging Fin’s presence. He looked the same, still built like a brick building, even at sixty. His face and head were cleanly shaven, even this late at night. The lights inside the house played across the hollows and lines in his face, especially the long scar that bisected the entire right side. He wore a black t-shirt, black cargo pants, and a soft pair of bunny house slippers I’d given him for Christmas a few years ago.

He raised a gray eyebrow, daring me to comment on them.

I couldn’t hold up Fin’s weight much longer. Everything in me had been stretched almost to the breaking point, so I met his steely gaze and said, “Please.”

I don’t know if it was the word, or if he’d already given in the moment he saw me, but he stepped closer to the threshold. “What’s wrong with him? I need exact details.”

“We were fighting the Black Mage at Fin’s mansion, and he got stabbed with a knife that apparently makes an unhealable cut.”

The chief stared me down, waiting for me to add more to the story. “Then how is he still alive since I know this man lives a solid couple of hours from here?”

I gestured at the wound, and the red aura around it. “He did something with his magic to recycle the blood back into his body so he doesn’t bleed out, but I think it’s a temporary solution. He’s getting weaker by the second.”

The chief nodded at us and looked at Fin directly. “Once you step across my doorway, magic won’t work here. So whatever you did, and whatever that knife did, will shut down. It means you’re going to start bleeding hard and fast. I can stabilize you, but it will hurt like a bitch and you’ll have a wicked scar.”

My mouth dropped open. He had wards on his doors? Since when? And why? I knew the Chief hated magic but even for him it seemed a bit extreme.

Fin spoke in my head. “Tell him to do whatever he needs to do.”

The chief stepped back from the door. “Wait here while I gather everything we need. I’ll have to work fast once you cross the threshold.”

I stared at the doorway. Would I have known about my magic sooner if I hadn’t lived here until I turned twenty and got my own place?

Doesn’t matter now.

When the chief returned, he gestured to us to come inside. Fin stumbled in my hold and the chief came around to help lead him to the floor in front of the cabin’s fireplace. Warmth seeped from it and I resisted the urge to stay there and ease some of the chill in my bones.

We laid Fin down on a plastic lined sheet. Good thinking on the chief’s part. Blood poured out of Fin’s wound while the chief cut off his shirt and rolled him on his side to get a better look.

“I don’t know if they hit any major organs, so I can apply this powder, but if he’s bleeding internally after that, well, you should say your goodbyes.” His tone said he preferred option two. He held a packet of brown grainy powder that almost looked like dirt. “Hold him down. This is going to hurt.”

I braced myself and dug my hands into Fin’s shoulder and hip to try and keep him steady, but I worried more if the pain would blast through the bond or not.

The Chief poured the powder over the wound. Fin let out a sharp hiss and jerked once in my hold.  None of the pain he must be feeling reached me. The anti-magic of the chief’s house had nulled the bond then. If I wasn’t so worried about Fin’s head lolling to the side, I would have found it interesting.

While the chief packed his wound, I crawled up the plastic and patted Fin’s face. He didn’t move, but his pulse beat strong in his neck. That had to be a good sign. I met the chief’s hard gaze over Fin’s shoulder, and he gave me a nod.

Once the wound had sealed, we worked together to strip his bloody clothes, wash his wounds, and lay him in the guest bedroom bed, which used to be my room. Afterwards, I cleaned myself up, and put on some old pajama bottoms and a t-shirt I’d left here for anytime I stayed the night. Something I never did.

Clean and so very tired, I dropped myself onto a stool at the chief’s countertop. He had funnels, baking products, and flour, all arranged on the countertop like little soldiers.

“What are you doing?” I asked, lifting a jar of cream-colored sludge.

He grabbed it back and placed it in the neat little row again. “I’m making sourdough bread. Why don’t you tell me the full story of what has been going on while I work?”

A protest formed in my head, but then I brushed it away. He deserved the truth. And if there was anyone in the world I trusted, it was the chief.

“Well, you know we’ve been hunting the Black Mage. His actual name, I believe, is Esteban. I met him the first week after I left the office. Of course, we failed to take him down because neither Fin, nor I, trusted each other. Afterward, I left, went home, and decided to continue on my own.”

The Chief grunted as he measured things and tossed them in a large clear glass bowl. “Sounds about right.”

I ignored that little comment and continued. “Fin begged me to come back and help him again. I didn’t want to at first, but he convinced me. We fought Esteban again. This time we got our asses handed to us and two of our team almost died.”

Grief swamped through me, and tears prickled at the corner of my eyes. I pressed on since the story wouldn’t get any easier as I spoke.

“Things were good, we were making a solid plan. One where we’d actually thought things through. And they were teaching me about my magic. Then Esteban attacked at Fin’s home, going on the offensive, I guess. He killed one of our friends and injured Fin.”

The chief turned his mixing bowl out onto the granite countertop. “What made you come here? You know how I feel about magic.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. It was more like I didn’t decide at all. I just started driving, and I needed to come home.”

It was the first time I’d called this little cabin home.

The chief stilled in forming a ball of dough with his scarred hands, dusted in flour. I couldn’t meet his gaze, so I focused on the granite pattern in the countertop instead.

“I guess I don’t know what to do now, and it felt safest to be here with that uncertainty. Esteban, no doubt, knows where I live. But what I haven’t figured out was when things went from us hunting him, to him hunting me. For some reason, he’s after me and thinks he can drag me off to his compound to have his evil mage babies.”

The chief’s answering grunt of disgust matched my own feelings. I would die first, and I hoped Fin knew that. He might have to kill me if things went sideways and it looked like Esteban might get a hold of me.

I watched the chief knead the dough, rolling it over and over, and back and forth on the countertop. “When did you start making bread?”

He sighed, as if he’d been waiting for me to ask him. “Since Hawk threatened to make me see a doctor if I didn’t do something. He suggested meditation. This is the neutral ground I settled on.”

I cocked my head. “Is it restful?”

He stepped back and waved at the dough. “Wash your hands and you can find out for yourself.”

The chief and I didn’t really have moments. There were a few memories of my training I cherished between us, but nothing like this, so I feared rebuffing him.

I shoved out of the stool, scrubbed my hands in the sink, and stepped up to the counter. “What do I do?”

He gestured at the bag of flour. “Dust your hands with flour first. Then push your wrist into the dough and shove up, almost like you’re shoving the heel of your hand into someone’s nose.”

I laughed and did exactly like he instructed. The dough stretched around my hand to the sides, as well as upward toward the edge of the countertop.

“Now scoop it down again and repeat,” he said, watching over my shoulder.

He smelled like yeast and butter. Not scents I usually associated with him, but I wasn’t complaining.

“Do I get to eat this when I’m done? How do you know when to stop kneading it?”

He shrugged. “I just do it until it’s kind of springy and shiny. Also, once it stops sticking to my hands.”

I kneaded the dough a few more times and then stepped back. “I’m too tired to do this, but I don’t mind watching.”

When I resumed my seat on the stool, he picked up where he left off. “So that fae in there, do you know anything about him?”

“Do you?” I countered.

He gave me the same quelling look he had so many times in my youth. “Of course. From the moment I saw you with him that day in the office, I made it my mission to learn whatever I could. He has a long history and a lot of secrets, Zoey.”

I waved at myself. “Look who you’re talking to. I may be young, but somehow I have the same.”

“It’s not the same. You don’t know what kind of man that is. I’d hoped you’d never find out about his kind, that whole world. But, I guess, it was inevitable.”

“You mean, when I discovered my own magic?” I pressed. “Are you ashamed of me now?”

He jerked up his head and scowled. “I could never be ashamed of you, Zoey. Not now, not ever. You may not be my blood, but you’re my daughter. I know what it is I was given all those years ago. And despite how you feel for me, I’ve always been grateful for it.”

I swallowed the thick lump that formed in my throat. “You’re not disappointed in me then?”

The chief came around the counter and pulled me into a flour coated hug. I breathed in the scent of him and let him hold me. Let him take some of the pain and uncertainty away.

“I’m sure we’ll be disappointed in each other many times over the years,” he said. “That’s temporary. It’s how we get around the realization that we’re all human and move forward that keeps us together.”

I sniffed, absolutely not crying, and hugged him tighter. “Thank you. And thank you for helping us tonight. I couldn’t watch him die. Not after...”

He patted the mess of my hair and released me to finish his work on the bread. Once he stuffed the dough into a bowl and lay a warm rag over top, I eyed him. “What now?”

He crossed the kitchen to wash his hands. “That has to rise for an hour, and we’re going to wake up your friend. I have a few questions of my own.”

We shuffled back to the guest room, but Fin already sat on the edge of the bed in nothing but his black boxer briefs. Heat washed into my face and I carefully kept my eyes off his body.

The chief grabbed a wooden chair from the other side of the bed and placed it in front of Fin. “Now, son, it’s time to get the truth out.”

Fin glanced my way and visibly sagged, his hands cradling his face. “What do you want to know?”

“How about we start with this bond I felt between the two of you when you stood on my doorstep? A bond I know shouldn’t exist.”

I watched the pair of them and then stepped forward, my heart pounding out of my chest. “What a minute. Do you two know each other?”

Fin met my eyes first, guilt written in every line of his face.

The chief looked up at me, with the same steadfast expression he always gave me. “We do. I met him years ago, on the day you and I met for the very first time. The day your parents died.”


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