Hunter

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21. How to Re-Enter Negotiations


***

The corridor leading to the Alpha’s study was going to become a familiar path if I didn’t get out of here soon.

I didn’t let my relief of finally leaving the room be known. It was hell, being cooped up in there for day after day, night after night. I wanted to leave. I wanted to go outside. I wanted to breathe air that wasn’t filtered and ventilated. I wanted to hear something other than the sound of my own voice.

Unfortunately, the price for even an amount of freedom as small as walking down a few corridors to the Alpha’s fancy office was actually conversing with the guy.

I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t want to see him. Actually, maybe I did, just a little bit. I can’t deny the physical attraction, but I also can’t forget the mental certainty that I absolutely hated and despised him and wanted him dead more than anything else in this world.

“So... what exactly does he want me for?” I chattered, silently pleased when I saw Keith’s jaw clench with irritation. “Is it for the simple pleasure of my company? I must say, my presence can be rather intoxicating and addictive. Mere mortals have trembled with anticipation for such a gift.”

“Fucking hell,” Keith cursed. “Do you ever shut up?”

“Only when it suits me,” I said cheerfully. “And right now, I want answers. Luca?”

“It’s Beta to you, Hunter,” Keith snarled.

I ignored him. “Oh, dearest, darlingest Luca, what does the Big Bad Alpha want with me?” I cringed internally at my words, but was content in the knowledge that at least I was entertaining whatever being was watching me.

“Good question,” Luca said, appearing to be unaffected by my sudden bought of weirdness. It definitely affected me more than it did him. I was slightly disappointed in myself. I shouldn’t be surprised by my sudden personality changes. “He never said. He just ordered us to go and get you.”

“And you never thought to ask?” hells, the amount of self-control he must have used to refrain from asking. My natural curiosity and burning desire to know things would never allow me to do that.

He glanced back at me. “He’s the Alpha. We don’t question his orders.”

We? Who’s we? He sounds like he’s trying to talk some sense into me.

Ugh. The Alpha’s going to try to order me around, isn’t he? Good luck with that.

Luca stopped us outside of the study door, raising his fist and knocking.

“Enter,” came the voice. Three guesses who it belonged to.

I guess half-heartedly shouting enter was his normal greeting method. I’d have to remember that for later. It might help to set the mood and show who’s really in charge of any meetings I might host in my glorified cell.

Luca pushed open the door. I entered after him, Keith bringing up the rear. I could feel the irritated werewolf’s eyes stabbing daggers into my back. It was not a nice sensation.

The Alpha was seated behind his desk, looking professional - though I found it quite amusing. A werewolf having a desk job? It’s laughable.

Rebecca was leaning against the desk, glancing up as we entered. A smile spread across her face. “Reese!” she exclaimed. “Hi! How are you?”

Well, this is not the greeting I had expected.

“Rebecca,” I said, not quite as enthusiastically. “I’m well, all things considered,” I glared past her at the Alpha, whose green eyes were already drilling into me like he could pry off the mask I had put on and witness the agonizing loneliness and boredom I’d gone through for the past forty-seven days. Sorry, Elijah, I thought, meeting his gaze. This mask is fused to my face.

His eyes narrowed challengingly. I lifted my chin, mimicking his every move. I wonder what he’d do if I stuck my tongue out at him. Childish, but amusing.

This was the first time I’ve seen him in over a month. Time to make a new impression. Don’t let him know how close you came to breaking.

He folded his hands together, resting them on top of his desk. I crossed my arms, tossing my frizzy hair over my shoulder. He leaned back, regarding me thoughtfully. I shifted all of my weight onto my right leg and tried my best to look intimidating. I think I did a decent job.

The sudden tension in the room could be cut with my silver dagger, if I had it. But unfortunately, life just seems to be playing against me these days.

And whose fault is that? went the Hunter.

Shut up. A sharp tingle raced down my spine. I wanted to wiggle. I settled for forcing every muscle in my body to remain statue-still. I needed to look away from him, but I suddenly found that I couldn’t. I was trapped by his gaze.

You don’t want to look away, whispered the voice. Despite everything he’s done to you, all of your willpower washes away whenever you look at him.

That’s not true.

“Reese Hearne,” he finally said. Goddamn it, even after forty-seven days, his voice is still intoxicating. “You look well.”

He had the fucking audacity to smirk. Smirk.

I know he’s lying. I was starting to resemble a living corpse, and that doesn’t simply wear away after a few days. My four days of no appetite didn’t help with my physique, either.

So, I smirked right back. See, I can do it too.

“Ah, yes,” I drawled. “My aim has vastly improved since we last saw one another. I could probably pin a werewolf’s heart to a tree while belly-flopping onto a trampoline two hundred meters away. Did you want a demonstration?”

The mental image that went along with my words was quite satisfying. Ah, if only fantasies were real.

He brought a hand up to his chin. Wait - was he actually contemplating the idea? Jeez, he had more confidence than I thought. “Not now,” he said. “Perhaps later...”

The tension returned, crackling through the air between us like sparkers. Rebecca glanced between the two of us, bewildered.

“Hello?” she said. “Eli? Reese? E.T. phone home?”

Keith blinked. “What?”

Rebecca shrugged. “It’s a movie reference. Honestly, Keithie, have you never seen E.T.?” she glanced at Luca. “I know you have. I made Laurie make you watch it.”

“Yes,” the Beta said. “And I didn’t care for it.”

“It’s unrealistic,” Keith added. “Aliens aren’t real. The concept that they are is utterly ridiculous.”

I was half-tuned out of this utterly boring conversation. Elijah, too, didn’t appear to be listening. He beckoned toward me with a single finger. Spiteful, I stayed where I was.

“Reese,” he hissed. “Come.”

Haha. I don’t think so.

“Come,” he repeated, and this time, I felt the full force of his command wash over me. Suddenly, every cell in my body wanted to obey, to move. I closed my eyes against it, my arms shaking. My hands balled into fists, sending a wave of agony shooting through my knuckles. I hissed in a breath of pain, but the action had been a blessing in disguise - it snapped me out of it, and I brushed away his order like it was an inconvenient beetle that had the misfortune of landing on my shoulder.

This time, I laughed. “I’m not one of your lapdogs that you can command,” I said dryly.

His eyes narrowed again, flashing with the first glimpse of emotion I’ve seen in him in quite a while. “I’m waiting, Reese. I’m not a very patient man.”

“Good for you,” I said, clapping my hands. “Also, you’re not a man. You’re not human. You don’t get to call yourself a man.”

He waved my comment away. “A male, then. I believe that term applies to all animals, does it not? You can’t say it doesn’t apply to me as well.”

I made a show of looking him up and down, making sure to take my time. “Yes,” I murmured. “It definitely does.”

Indeed, he was a fine male specimen. But my mental willpower has always been stronger than anything physical. I hate him more than my body is attracted to him.

His eyes met mine again, and our gazes locked for the second time in five minutes. Confusion flew onto his face for a split second, before it was wiped away like it had never been there. “I have a job for you, Little Hunter.”

“No.”

“I told you she’d say that,” Rebecca said, abandoning her movie argument with Luca and Keith.

Elijah ignored her. “Trust me, Reese, you want to listen to my every word.”

“I really don’t.”

There was a snort of laughter from Rebecca that was quickly muffled.

“Luca,” Elijah turned to his Beta. “Tell us exactly what you heard last night.”

“I’m listening,” I said. “None of it sounds all that interesting.”

“Silence,” the Alpha hissed. “Luca?”

The esteemed Beta cleared his throat. Ah, very professional. “We were out patrolling up in by Lawrence Heights,” he began. “More and more patrols have reported in stating that the vampires have been growing bolder and more... reckless. Their Blood Bags have been awakening more and more frequently,” he peered at me, a crease appearing between his eyebrows as his features shifted into a frown. “You don’t have anything to do with that, do you?”

“No,” I said, the words truthful. “I don’t even know how to wake a Blood Bag,” they normally tend to wake on their own if they haven’t been fed vampire blood for a few days, but besides that, the only other way I know if is by using powerful magic. Not many magic-wielders are strong enough to break a vampire’s influence. Suggesting that I, a human, had somehow found an easier way to achieve such a task was both simultaneously flattering and utterly ridiculous. I remembered the night I tried to run, when I came across those two annoying vampires prancing around in the streets, whining about how all of their Blood Bags were awakening. They had been from Christian Roy’s clan, and every being in the city knows Christian isn’t one to be sloppy.

If the Blood Bags are awakening at this rate, it wasn’t the work of the vampires. There was a magic-wielder involved. A witch or a warlock. Normally, when there’s a touch of magic involved in an issue that positively affects me, I instantly suspect Opal. But Opal’s strength lies in fire magic. She doesn’t have the power to free hypnotized humans. Only a powerful magic-wielder with a strong gift for mental bonds and curses could do such a thing.

Which meant there was another human sympathizer out there. A powerful magic-wielder. A Cursebreaker.

Sometimes, my life sucks. But sometimes, the sucky stuff uncovers some amazingly good news.

There was a freaking Cursebreaker on my side. The rarest type of magic-wielder, and the first sign that there might be one in Toronto proves that whoever they are, they’re fighting with me, not against me.

There’s a first time for everything, I guess.

“They’re getting antsy, abducting more and more humans off the streets,” Luca continued, believing me, as I knew he would. Even he had to follow the logic and realize that I was no witch. “They’re complaining about the laws you set down about only hunting in the territory you gave them.”

“They kill too many humans otherwise,” Elijah said. “And half of the Blood Bags they own eventually Turn. We don’t need the vampire population to explode.”

“Aw, worried about us helpless humans, are you?” sarcasm dripped from my words.

The Alpha glanced at me. “Without humans, Reese Hearne, who am I supposed to rule over? Every social hierarchy has somebody at the bottom, the weakest links. Society wouldn’t function properly without the strong ruling over the weak.”

“It’s not ruling,” I snapped. “It’s oppression.”

“Same thing,” he waved me away. “Luca, continue.”

“There was talk of revolting,” the Beta said. “Overthrowing the pack and taking over in our stead. And apparently, Christian Roy himself is leading this revolt.”

Elijah barked out a laugh. “The mosquito means to take on the wolf? Adorable. Do you see, Reese, what I must do now? My pack must show these leeches that we are not taking these threats lightly. And that if they want to mess with me, it will be their downfall,” his eyes rested on me. “After all, I have the Hunter now. And how many of their kind have you killed, exactly?”

I gaped. “Are you asking me to kill your enemies for you?”

“Of course not. I’m ordering you to.”

Outrage shot through me. “I told you, I’m not an obedient dog like the rest of your posse. Besides, why would I ever fight your battles for you?”

“Because I gave you an order, Reese Hearne, and unless you’d like to spend the rest of your days rotting in your bedroom - ”

“It’s a glorified cell, not a bedroom,” I cut him off. “Is the all-mighty Elijah Randon scared of getting his paws dirty?”

“I believe that the vampires are your enemies as much as they are mine,” he said. “Don’t you kill them for a living?”

Damn it. He’s managed to back me into a corner. I can’t disagree with him without making it look like I was standing up for the vampires. Which I wasn’t. I hated them almost as much as I hated the werewolves.

But still, I couldn’t give in. Not yet.

“I do,” I admitted. “And I enjoy doing it, too. But there’s no way I’ll kill a handful of vampires just to help you keep your precious crown,” it was a metaphorical crown, of course. Invisible, but real. “There’s nothing you could ever offer me that would make me want to - ”

“What about free-range over the campus?”

I blinked. What’s that now?

He shifted back in his seat, clearly enjoying this. “That’s what you asked, wasn’t it? It’s got to be an improvement to your current conditions, right?”

I narrowed my eyes. Well, that was easy. “I will agree,” I said. “If you let me see Opal.”

“And if I do?”

“You’ll receive my full cooperation,” I crossed my arms. “You know I’m one to keep my word. In those forty-seven days of being locked up in that room, I didn’t try to escape once.”

He paused, mulling it over. “Agreed,” he said. “You may see your witch - after you fulfill your end of the bargain.”

Fair enough. I nodded.

“Hmm,” he looked me over, a frown pulling at his beautifully crafted brows. What? No. Stop. “You three,” he pointed to the trio of werewolves who have been conspicuously quiet. “Out.”

Luca and Keith immediately bowed their heads and departed. Rebecca hesitated, glancing at me.

“Rebecca,” Elijah’s voice lowered dangerously. “Leave.”

She left, though her movements seemed forced. I’m glad my brothers weren’t such murderous assholes.

“What do you want now?” I sighed, suddenly exhausted, despite having done absolutely nothing for forty-seven days. “I’ve already agreed to your terms. I kill some vampires, you loosen my leash.”

He said nothing, merely standing up and moving around to the front of his desk. I eyed him warily.

“You’re quite a bitter human, aren’t you?” he said, gazing at me thoughtfully.

“You’re quite a prick, aren’t you?” I countered. Oof, Reese, not your best.

“You lost so much, so quickly?” he continued, ignoring me. He stepped toward me. Not this again.

“Excuse me?” I stepped away.

“Everybody you’ve ever loved was ripped away from you, and at such a young age...” he tilted his head, continuously moving closer. “Your mother, taken from you right before your very eyes. She bled to death, didn’t she? Your precious baby brother, his life ripped away by your own hand. How did it feel, holding him as he died, knowing you made the choice to end his life?”

“Stop it,” I whispered.

“How about your beloved older brother, who swore to protect you all his life? What was it like, watching life be ripped away by somebody he loved as much as you?” he stopped in front of me, towering over me. Though we only had a height distance of approximately six inches, I felt as insignificant as a grain of sand next to his magnificent mountain. “You’ve had to fight, Little Hunter, every step of the way. You found the silver dagger, hidden away in your brother’s bag. Why did he never become a Hunter? Why did you?”

How did he know where I found the dagger?

“You hated yourself for what you were forced to become, for what you turned yourself into. You were supposed to save lives, not take them away. A doctor, wasn’t it? Some form of medical career? You had such hopes and dreams that all vanished in a single moment.”

“How do you - ”

“And your father,” his voice quieted, and I recoiled. His arm wrapped around my waist, preventing me from backing away. His fingers brushed against the centimeter of skin showing on my back, and despite myself, a sharp wave of sparks and tingles shot through my body. Don’t react. “Well, I had the pleasure of seeing that for myself,” his head lowered, his mouth brushing against my shoulder. “So tell me, Reese. Why did you pick up the dagger?”

I couldn’t think. I could scarcely breathe. You hate him, I struggled to remind myself. Be as strong physically as you can be mentally.

Easier said than done.

“Because,” I whispered, my voice shaky and breathless. “I promised you.”

“Promised me what, Little Hunter?” he placed a searing kiss on the juncture between my shoulder and neck. I inhaled sharply, gasping.

“That I would find you,” I said. “And I would make you pay,” I jerked away from him, ignoring the heated sensation pulsing at the place his lips had touched. “Soon, you will be just as alone as I am. My father sunk a blade into the heart of yours. I killed your brother with that same blade. Your sister is drifting further away from you every day, repulsed by the things you do,” I leaned closer, my lips brushing his ear. “And then, when you have absolutely nothing left, that is when I’ll finally end you.”

And I’ll feed a nice chunk of satisfaction to my burning inferno of vengeance.

He only chuckled. “We shall see, Little Hunter. Mark my words; I will break you down to nothing. I will find whatever it is that is keeping you together, and I will crush it,” he brushed his fingers through my hair, winding his hand down to my chin. He lifted it with a finger. “And then I will make you mine.”

We shall see, Elijah Randon. May the best predator win.


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