Hunter

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18. How to Aggressively Negotiate


“So... what’s your name?” I asked casually, strolling along next to the werewolf who was so generously escorting me to the Alpha.

She stayed silent, a small frown playing between her brows.

“Come on, wolfie,” from what I’d gathered, this werewolf wasn’t the smartest one in the pack, and she wasn’t even that threatening. If I was still free, I wouldn’t have bothered to target her. Sure, if she got in my way, I wouldn’t hesitate to cut her from nose-to-tail, but if I randomly passed her in the street? My Hunter instincts probably wouldn’t have even kicked in. “You know my name, right?”

“Of course I do,” she snapped. “Every wolf in the pack knows your name now, Reese Hearne.”

I grinned. “See? Since you know my name, it’s only fair that I know yours.”

She pursed her lips, though appeared to be mulling my words over.

Three...

Two...

One...

“Jennifer,” she sighed. “My name is Jennifer.”

“See, was that so hard?” I threw an arm around her shoulder. She flinched away from me. “You and I, Jenny, are going to be fantastic friends.”

“I’m not going to be friends with you,” Jenny-dear snarled. “You’re a human.”

“Technicalities,” I waved her words off. “If you were a human, or if I, god-forbid, was a...” shudder for effect... “Werewolf, we’d be joined at the hip.”

Or not, my inner voice whispered. Didn’t you despise girls like her? Dumb bitches, I believe Cedric used to call them?

Yeah, yeah. Just let me have my fun.

She marched me along in stony silence for a minute or two. Growing bored, I felt like asking the age-old question of, are we there yet?

“What’s it like?” she finally whispered. “Being human?”

The question startled me. What was it like, to be human? Did she mean the human I was now or the human I was seven years ago? Honestly, the thought of being a normal human was something I’d dreamed about ever since the Takeover.

But in the years since that dreadful event, the definition of normal human has changed.

A normal human was oppressed. A normal human was terrified of supernatural beings. A normal human was used to being at the bottom of the social hierarchy and would do what they’re told without question. A normal human had accepted the idea that the chances of them being snatched off the street, whether it be by a vampire looking for a Blood Bag or a werewolf willing to sell and enslave them.

I was a normal human, up until I saw the grass of Victoria Park stained red with Dad’s blood. I was never the new definition. Normal humans know that being caught carrying a weapon is one of the stupidest things you can do nowadays. Normal humans don’t go out in the middle of the night during a full moon and kill two werewolves.

But what is it like, to be human? Does anybody really know? Is there even a definitive answer?

“I don’t know,” I responded. “I haven’t felt human in a long time.”

“I know a few humans,” Jenny-Jelly said. “They clean and they do yard work and they don’t complain about it. They’d never even consider lifting a finger against us.”

“Most humans don’t go through what I’ve gone through,” I said. “And those who do are too afraid to do anything about it.”

But one day. One day, we’ll rise and take back what you took from us. The oppressed will once again be the oppressors.

I read something like that once, a long time ago, during a history class. Reading further into it, you’ll discover a vicious cycle - the oppressed become the oppressors, who will oppress those who oppressed them. And so the cycle continues.

It’s kind of a sad thought. Today, it’s the supernatural beings who are on top. Seven years ago, it was the humans. In the future, I have to believe, due to statistical evidence, that the humans will once again have power, until another supernatural being like Michael Randon decides that humans are no better than roaches.

Of course, I didn’t say any of this to Little Miss Jennifer. I couldn’t since we’d stopped in a well-lit, cozy hallway, in front of a single wooden door.

This is much nicer than the prison.

Jenny-doo-doo knocked three times on the door, then stood back, wringing her hands nervously.

Ah. I take it this is where the Alpha is.

“Enter,” came a voice, muffled through the door. Jenni-unfair took a deep breath and opened the door, pulling me along after her.

Yes, I looked thoroughly around the room before looking at him, wanting to refrain from meeting his gaze for as long as possible.

But, unfortunately for me, the room wasn’t that interesting to look at - just a normal study, comfortable, with quite a few bookshelves lining the walls, though they were only about half-filled. A fireplace sat on the far side of the room, but it wasn’t lit, which wasn’t much of a surprise - it was only October, and wouldn’t be getting too cold for at least another month.

Then there was him.

He was sitting in a plush chair by the empty fireplace, one leg flung over the arm, looking much more relaxed than he had earlier - then again, would anybody be relaxed while witnessing the death of an innocent, besides a psychopath? He didn’t look up as we entered, his eyes fixed on the occupant of the chair opposite him. It was a young woman, appearing to be around my age, though one glance told me that though we shared an age, we definitely didn’t share a rating. She was without a doubt a ten, maybe a nine if I’m being ungenerous. On my better days, I consider myself to be a six. Next to her, I’d be lucky to be a three.

Her golden-blonde hair was drawn over one shoulder, the longest strands ending just above her hips. There was no doubt that she was a werewolf, but she was even more stunning than most. I could tell that, if she stood up, she’d have the long, slender build that most girls would absolutely die for. Me? I’m all hard angles and triangles, maybe with some human softness. She’s curves and delicacy.

Why am I even thinking about this? Why does it matter?

Jen-Z, who was a seven next to this girl, by the way, cleared her throat. I wanted to whack her across the back of her head for announcing our presence. Part of me - a startlingly large part of me - yearned to eavesdrop on whatever these two were discussing.

The girl looked up first, a welcoming smile spreading across her face at the sight of Jen-netics. I now had a full view of her face - perfectly formed, complete with a set of long, curving lashes that brushed against her cheekbones when she blinked, and a pair of bright green eyes that sparkled like emeralds - emeralds in the sun, covered in glitter.

“Jennifer!” she exclaimed - ugh, even her voice was alluring. “Hi! How are you?” her gaze fell on me. “Hello!” she greeted, clearly not knowing - or caring - who I was. “It’s nice to meet you! Who are you?”

“She,” came a growl from the other chair. “Is an unwelcome intrusion.”

Unwillingly, my gaze slid away from the beautiful - and very friendly - girl, meeting the gaze of just the man I’ve been wanting to see.

His own pair of green eyes drilled into mine, and a sharp tingle shot down my spine. Hells, not again.

Swallowing hard, I made my own retort. “I’ll gladly leave,” I said, shrugging. “If you’d be so kind as to point me towards the nearest exit, I’ll make my way to Union Station.”

“That,” he growled. “Isn’t what I meant.”

“Oh, come on, Eli,” the girl stood up and skipped - yes, skipped - over to me. “Be nice.”

“What’s she doing out of her cell?” he snapped at Jennilicious, ignoring the girl.

“She... she escaped,” the sorry-excuse-for-a-guard stammered. “She demanded to see you.”

“She escaped?” his eyes darkened. It was quite attractive. No, you nitwit, no! “How?”

“A cell?” the girl blinked, then turned towards the Alpha. “I thought you weren’t taking human prisoners anymore?”

“She’s not just a human,” he said, standing. “She’s a Hunter, Rebecca. The Hunter.”

The girl - Rebecca - looked back at me, giving me a once-over. “She’s the Hunter? But she’s so... young.”

“You’re not exactly ancient, either,” I snapped, offended.

She seemed surprised, then laughed. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. But most Hunters I’ve encountered have been middle-aged men who’ve worked for years to be able to kill a single werewolf. You managed to kill what, dozens, in the span of a few months?”

“Are you admiring her?” Elijah took a step towards us but kept his distance. “Have you forgotten that she killed our brother, not two days ago?”

Two days? I’ve been here for two days?

Also... our brother?

“Nick was on the path towards becoming a murderous madman, Eli, and you know it. It’s probably for - ” she broke off as a shudder ripped through her, and she inhaled sharply. She brushed it off. “Excuse my manners,” she said. “I’m Rebecca Randon, the sister to this asshole,” she jerked her head towards the Alpha. “And you’re Reese Hearne, I presume.”

Before I could answer - why was she so nice? - another shudder ripped through her, and this time her neck jerked backward.

“Rebecca,” Elijah was suddenly at her side. “You should go - ”

“I know, I know!” she snapped, glancing out the window. “The sun hasn’t even set yet; I still have time.”

“Even so,” his voice was surprisingly gentle. “Jennifer, take her outside, then go find Luca.”

Jenny-bean nodded, bowing her head slightly. Rebecca threw an indignant look at her brother, but followed the less-attractive female out of the room. As she gave me one last look, I finally noted the resemblance between her and Elijah, and I knew I was stupid not to see it before. Their eyes were the exact same shade, though Rebecca’s were glistening with compassion and less... negative emotions.

As the door clicked shut behind them, the Alpha turned towards me.

“Now,” he said. “How did you get out of your cell?”

“Quite easily,” I smirked. “You should probably step up the security,” I need to summon all over my sarcasm and wit before he can turn me into a flustered mess again.

“Be more specific, Little Hunter,” he said. “How did you do it?”

I blinked as I felt a wave of his power wash over me. It was dominating, trying to force me to comply to his will, but I resisted. I’m not an independent, free-spirited Hunter for nothing.

Still, part of me - okay, most of me - wanted to boast about my grandly-improvised escape plan. “I used my feminine wiles,” I said. “And when that didn’t work, I resorted to manipulation. Everybody here is absolutely terrified of me, by the way, though I guess it’s for good reason.”

He frowned. “Did you kill the guard?”

I let out a humorless laugh. “Don’t worry, I physically can’t kill anybody... yet. He’s busy keeping my cell warm for me.”

He stepped around me, heading for his desk. He leaned against the slab of wood and picked something up - something that glittered silver in the light.

My dagger.

“Yes,” he drawled. “I suppose it would be difficult to kill a wolf without this,” he twirled it between his fingers, carefully keeping the silver on his fingertips. Even so, I saw his skin turn bright red as it was burned by the metal. He set it back down. “You promise me,” he said. “That you wouldn’t try to escape. Am I to believe that you don’t keep your promises?”

“Technicalities,” I said for the second time in the past ten minutes. “I promised I wouldn’t try to escape, and I didn’t. I broke out of my cell, but I didn’t spring for the nearest exit; no, a wandered around for a good half-hour looking for you. And something tells me that you’re not the first person to go searching for when I want to make a quick exit.”

“Then why did you leave your cell?”

“To prove I could,” I shrugged. “Which leads me to my actual point; I’m here to negotiate.”

A soft chuckle. Was he amused? “A negotiation,” he repeated. “For what? Your freedom? The freedom of your friend? Your arsenal back?”

“No,” I said. “For better living conditions.”

“You think I’m going to give you better living conditions? After you murdered a quarter of my pack? Murdered my brother?” he laughed again. “You deserve to rot in a cell, Little Hunter.”

“Not for me,” I said quietly. “For Opal.”

He stayed quiet - a first for him, I assume. I took that as an invitation to keep talking. “You’re clearly keeping her alive to control me; without her as leverage, I’m a loose cannon, and don’t think I don’t know it. But in that cold, dingy, hard cell? She’s grieving, she’s in shock, and she’s going to die if her conditions don’t improve.”

He still didn’t speak - instead, he took a few slow, leisurely paces towards me, circling around until I stood between him and the desk.

I felt a sudden yearning for my dagger. It knew I was close, and it was calling me.

“You think,” his voice was soft, dangerously so. “That I care whether or not the witch lives or dies? Even if she does die, there’s nothing you can do to escape this place, Reese Hearne.”

I took a step back, edging closer to the desk. My head started to pound.

“Even if you do manage to get out of the prison on your own, you still have to dodge dozens of my pack, patrolling the grounds twenty-four hours a day,” he paused, his eyes glittering. He was enjoying this. “And even you can’t take on more than two wolves at once.”

I felt it then - a stirring deep in my mind, like a predator awakening after a long hibernation. My Hunter instincts. I back up even more, until I hit the edge of the desk. Then, slowly, carefully, I moved my hand, searching for the dagger.

“Now that I think about it,” he continued. “It’s pointless keeping the witch alive. Either way, Reese, you’ll rot here, and you’ll die here. I should have just had her killed yesterday with that pathetic human - ”

I snapped.

My hand found its prize. His words echoed through my head, and my vision washed over with red. I lunged, gripping the silver dagger that got me out of many run-ins with his kind. The blade had been repeatedly stained with the blood of werewolves, and I wanted to add one more to the count.

I had surprise on my side. There was no way he was expecting me to be this reckless.

This is it. He’s going to die, and I’ll be free.

I saw the path my hand was going to take, even before I began to move. The blade sang through the air, light glinting off the silver blade, it was on a set path, about to drive straight through his heart...

Then its path changed.

At the last second, he moved, faster than I’ve ever seen a werewolf move. I was across the room in a heartbeat, pressed up against the wall - and the dagger was no longer in my grasp.

It was in his hand, a thin line of smoke rising up from where the handle burned into his skin. He pressed the blade to my throat, a sadistic grin creeping across his face.

“Oh, Reese,” he purred. “Are you in trouble now...”

A sharp sting inflicted my neck. I felt a warm trickle of blood spring free from the tiny, shallow cut the dagger must have inflicted. A burning sensation followed - but not from the dagger, and it wasn’t a painful burn.

The sensation came from his hand resting against my chin, and it was quite a pleasant feeling. A warm feeling spread across my chest, traveling down, past my stomach...

Still holding the blade to my throat, he leaned closer. His lips brushed against my cheek, and he pressed a light kiss against my jaw. I inhaled sharply.

“Please,” I said, my voice shaky. I wanted this to end, now - I didn’t like the stirring of feelings awakening in me. I hated how much I liked his touch. “Just give Opal the room - and I’ll go back to my ‘cell’ and rot.”

He pulled away, bringing the dagger away from my neck, tossing it back onto his desk. I didn’t look at it. My eyes were utterly fixated on him. He looked thoughtful, even as he brought up a thumb to wipe away at the blood steadily descending down my neck.

“Fine,” he said. “She can have a room in the servants’ wing. I’m sure another witch would come in handy - she’s gifted with fire magic, isn’t she?”

Finally, I thought, brushing away the events from moments before. Results. “What about me?” I decided to press harder, hoping that maybe his mood was actually cooperative. “Since I obviously can’t stay in the prison - it’s too easy to escape - can I have free range?”

“Absolutely not,” his tone was final. That was a fast response. “I’m keeping you on a tight leash, Little Hunter,” he paused. “I will, however, upgrade your own living conditions. Perhaps a more... lavish cell.”

Outwardly, I sighed, looking downcast.

Inwardly, I was grinning like the Cheshire cat.

Ah, the trick to negotiating with a stubborn werewolf. Ask for too much, and you’ll receive something better than what you had in return.

And so, said my inner voice, the predatory glint still visible in its tone. The game has begun.


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