He took two steps back, quite aware of the presence on the other side of the room. “You know, stealing someone’s kill is bad form,” he complained, cutting through the quiet tension.
“Looked to me like you could use the help.” The female voice came from behind him.
Conor turned around, his hand inching for his Glock.
She sat on the countertop, one leg hanging over the edge. Long strands of dark, messy hair hung past her face, brushing her cheeks as she lifted her chin. The woman had the sort of striking features that made men gape, and Conor fell victim. Her blue eyes intensified with a curious light as she scanned him, and in the shadowy room, her pale skin took on a silver hue. Even though her dark eyebrows knitted together, lending her features a sort of stark fierceness, her pursed mauve lips softened her face.
The girl tugged on the cord of her hoodie, and her eyes narrowed. “What’s a normal kid like you doing hunting a beastie like that?” Her boots hit the ground with a thud, and she brushed her knees off, making the buckles of her cargo pants jangle.
Conor arched his brow, wiping his jacket sleeves on the wall in a sad attempt at getting rid of the wight crud. “Sweetheart, whoever trained you in magic should’ve given you the rundown on everyone you might encounter—including hunters.”
He caught the recognition flashing in her eyes, as well as the careful way she stalked around him like a panther surveying an encroaching predator. “Well, feel free to piss off, then.” Her words were curt but not shocking. Hunters and casters shared a history of bad blood due to the chaos so many irresponsible witches caused. However, one bit of curiosity lingered within him—why had she been tracking the wight? Unless she’d created this monster.
His anger flared at the memory of the wounded dog. At the remains of what used to be a human male lying on the floor, all wreckage from some stupid caster playing around with powers he or she shouldn’t have been.
“Maybe my work’s not done yet.” He leaned against the wall and tugged his hunting knife from his boot. Her entire body tensed in a slight, almost imperceptible way, but the inquisitive look never left her eyes. Without further ado, he began picking under his fingernails with the tip of the knife. “Care to share why you were tracking that wight?”
“Hoping it would lead me to its master.” She shrugged. “You wouldn’t happen to be trailing him too?”
“If finding the source will stop these attacks, I’m joining you.” Conor didn’t leave any room for disagreement in his voice. Casters in a spat could get ugly, and he didn’t want to clean up more of these messes.
“Excuse me?” She placed her hands on her hips, those blue eyes of hers flashing. “From where I stand, you’re not much help.”
Conor tapped the side of his nose. “Unless you happen to have an item of his. You’ll never find a better tracker than a hunter, even with magic.”
A huff slipped from her lips, followed by a frown. “Fine, but the second you try to slip a knife in my back, I’ll torch you faster than those wight remains.”
Conor snorted. “I’m humbled to inspire such faith.” He ran his fingers through his hair and grimaced at the dirt he’d raked through. A rustle came from the door.
She snapped to attention as fast as his hand tightened around the hilt of his knife.
A whine followed by a snuffling sound came from the entryway. Conor squinted as the outside light cast the visitor in shadow.
He relaxed his grip and slid the knife back into his boot.
The small beagle from earlier made its way toward him, limping as it favored its side. Relief flooded through him to see the little guy survived. Even though his father had trained him to shut out emotions since they blinded fast and efficient decision-making, he couldn’t help the occasional indulgence. After all, he didn’t envy his father’s lonely existence. Crouching, he scooped the beagle into his arms, careful not to brush the wounded stump.
“I’m Conor Malone, by the by. If you want my help, we’re going to take a quick side excursion, because this guy needs medical attention and I need to clean up.” The dog whined again when he clutched the shuddering body closer.
She arched an eyebrow. Based on the curl of her lip, she must be more in his father’s camp of anti-emotion. Not like he gave a damn while a dog trembled in his arms. After a minute of stale tension that weighed heavily in the carnage-filled room, she spoke up.
“Fine. We can save your puppy, but if I catch you singing to the woodland critters, I’m out.” At that, she cracked a grin. Not one of those casual tossed-aside ones but a smile that lit her eyes with mischief and illuminated her whole face.
Conor made his way to the door, pausing before he stepped out onto the street. “You never told me your name.”
“And you never asked.” She outpaced him, hopping down the first couple of steps. “You can call me Brenna.”