Did you finish reading Poison and Honey already? You may have noticed the afterward where I promised a free prequel short story on my website.
Strange Hunt is a look at how Leigh and her team fought the Others before going to Otherworld. It’ll give you a bit more insight into the world and characters of the series–plus a fun story about friendship and monster-hunting. Read and enjoy!
The cue ball struck the five-ball with a crack, sending it rolling into the corner pocket. Leigh Morgan straightened up, pushing back her long hair. Not a bad shot, considering she was only half paying attention to the game.
“Nice.” Garrett strolled around the pool table, surveying his options. “Too bad I’m about to win. You want to play darts next? You’re good at that, right?”
He looked up from the table, his face scrunching. “But you have a dart board in your apartment. I’ve seen it.”
“That’s not for darts.”
His head tilted.
“It’s for knives,” she said. “Why would I practice throwing darts? They’re not gonna hurt the Others.”
Unless she dipped them in poison first. Maybe she should talk to Sal about that.
“My bad.” Shaking his head, Garrett returned his attention to the pool table. “I thought you had an actual hobby for a second there.”
As he bent over to line up his shot, Leigh let her gaze drift across the bowling alley. It was a big, crowded space. The front entrance and a small backdoor were the only ways in or out. Tables and a couple of old arcade games would provide cover if things went south, and there was no shortage of potential weapons: cue sticks, beer bottles, and bowling balls. And it was loud. Talk and laughter warred to be heard over pop music and the constant smash and clatter of balls striking pins.
“What do you think of the guy in the red hat at four o’clock?” she asked in a low voice. “He’s just been sitting there alone, watching those kids at the birthday party.”
Garrett paused his shot, chalking the tip of his cue stick as he casually glanced in the direction of the man she’d mentioned. “He’s a dad keeping an eye on his daughter. Look at the unicorn water bottle in his hand.”
Now she saw it. False alarm, then. The dad looked too normal to be an Other anyway, slightly overweight and wearing a Superman t-shirt.
Garrett leaned down and eyed the cue ball, adjusting his angle. The game wasn’t serious, just a cover, really. If the two of them just stood there studying everyone, they’d look like creeps and people would ask questions—or worse, the Others would notice.
Leigh wore a pair of faded jeans and worn leather combat boots—practical enough to fight in but nothing that stood out. Tall and fair-skinned, she had dark brown hair and a lean, muscular build. She also had a knife holster strapped to each forearm. They were hidden beneath the sleeves of her jacket, the inner pocket of which held an expandable steel baton.
Garrett was even taller and buffer than her. Handsome and Black, he had a high and tight haircut and a thin scar that split his left eyebrow. He had weapons under his trendy jacket, too, though not as many as she did. He didn’t need them with his bit of magic.
No one paid them much attention. A group of women dressed for a night on the town chugged beer and threw mostly gutter balls, and two couples on a double date were playing pool at the next table over. Some older people in matching shirts bowled seriously in the far lane, and a few skinny guys shouted at each other as they hogged the arcade games. Then there was the kids’ birthday party, which made Leigh’s stomach clench. The Others would happily steal children; she knew that fact all too well. She wanted to shout at everyone, to warn them of the inhuman creatures in their midst, but if she tried, they’d probably just think she was high on something.
“Anybody else jumping out at you?” Garrett asked.
Maybe the Others weren’t here. It was the busiest spot in town, which should make it prime hunting grounds for them. Or was it too crowded? They might avoid it to keep from attracting notice. Were Leigh and Garrett in the wrong spot? Some poor soul in a dark parking lot could be getting snatched right now, and she and Garrett would never know. They couldn’t be everywhere.
Garrett took his shot, the eight-ball missing the pocket by half an inch. As he swore, Leigh searched the room again. Nobody was sizing up the crowd like a predator or wearing mismatched, overly formal clothes. If any Others were here, they were experienced. Leigh wasn’t a wizard like Sal who could sense their magic, but Sal’s magic meant the Others would spot him like a flare, which was why he had to wait in the van as backup. Garrett didn’t have enough magic to notice, and Leigh had none at all.
She had her fists and knives, though, and that was usually enough.
“Oh, hey,” Garrett said. “Party for my birthday next weekend. You coming?”
Leigh snapped her head toward him so quickly that she almost hurt her neck. Her mouth opened, but it felt like someone had shoved one of the pools balls down her throat. She couldn’t respond.
“Wow.” Garrett leaned against the table, smirking. “Your face right now. You look like a teenager whose parents just caught them watching porn.”
“I’m not… Ugh.” Leigh set down her pool stick and grabbed her cup of soda, trying to buy herself some time. She didn’t even know what she was trying to deny, and the few seconds it took to drink didn’t help any.
“You’re not going to sit alone at home and sulk next weekend when you could be hanging out with me instead?” he prompted hopefully.
She fiddled with the plastic cup, feeling nauseous just thinking about it. Unlike Leigh, Garrett had a life and a social circle, family members who were alive and wanted him around and a boyfriend who adored him. Which meant there’d be people at the party. Normal people. Who’d want to talk to her.
“I’m just…surprised you invited me,” she said, still stalling.
He squinted like she’d pinged his bullshit detector. “Why? It’s a party. I want all my friends to be there.”
Leigh went still. The only thing moving was her heat pounding against her chest.
“Oh.” He wilted. “That’s cool. No pressure or anything. You don’t have to come.”
Leigh still didn’t move, her shoulders tight. They stood in silence, both pretending to search the room as an annoyingly happy song played over the speakers. Eventually, Leigh realized that it was her turn at pool, but she couldn’t bring herself to even half-ass the game anymore.
“I’m going to check the back again,” she said. Then she walked off without waiting for him to reply.
Hurrying down the short hallway by the bathrooms, she muttered about twenty f-bombs before reaching the door. It took her thirty seconds of deep breathing before she got her head together enough to go outside.
The door opened to a narrow parking lot with four cars, a lone streetlamp illuminating it with weak yellow light. A dumpster lay a few feet to her right, filling the evening air with the stench of rotten, greasy food. Leigh pretended to sway and stagger like she’d drunk too much and didn’t know where she was going. Perfect Other bait. But as she moaned and bent over like she was going to be sick, no one came out of the shadows to prey on her.
She waited a few more minutes for nothing. If any Others were here, they must have been inside, but she didn’t want to go back and see Garrett just yet. Instead, she found the women’s restroom, went to the sink, and splashed cold water on her face.
She didn’t even know how to explain what her problem was. Things had been easier back when it was just her and Sal. Not that she and Sal didn’t care for each other, because they did—they’d nearly died for one another plenty of times. They were just…focused on the mission and only the mission. They tracked the Others, took them out, and then went on with their separate lives until they got another lead. Sal always made it clear he was open for her to talk with whenever, but he never pushed.
Garrett didn’t push either. He was just himself, and that changed everything. He didn’t want to talk about hunting Others twenty-four/seven. He wanted to talk about video games and drag shows and what Leigh was doing over the weekend. He joked and smiled and got her to hang out with him—to spar, which she considered mission-related, but maybe he didn’t? They usually had dinner after.
Shit. Were they friends?
Friends. Leigh vaguely associated the word with some kids she used to play with as a child before the Others had taken her sister and her life went to hell. Mostly, the word made her think of the assholes she’d met in high school, the ones she used to play hooky with, who’d sworn the little store on the corner had zero security and plenty of cash, who’d run off and abandoned her the instant the cops came.
Leigh hadn’t made any friends in prison, either.
Friends were shitty. Well, Garrett wasn’t shitty. Garrett was great, which must mean Leigh was the shitty friend. She’d just have to find a way to explain that he’d be better off if they kept their relationship distant and professional.
Later, though. She glared at her face in the mirror. The Others were probably in this very building, and she was hiding in the bathroom. She needed to get back out there and do her damn job.
She stepped into the hallway just as the door to the men’s room opened. She stopped to let the guy go first, happy to put off her awkward return to Garrett for another second or two. But as the man stepped past her, she tensed.
His face was too perfect, like he had stepped out of a magazine post photoshop. His olive skin was flawless, and his honey brown hair fell in perfect waves and had a lustrous sheen even in the dim light. His leafy green shirt showed off every sculpted muscle on his chest, his slick black blazer and pants more suited to an upscale nightclub than a shabby bowling alley. He looked like he should smell of expensive cologne, but he didn’t. He carried a whiff of moss and damp, rotting wood.
As he walked away, Leigh pulled out her phone and texted Garrett.
Found him. Pretty boy in the green shirt.
Then she texted Sal. He responded immediately, telling her to be careful. By the time Leigh replied and walked down the rest of the hallway, Garrett had already made his move.
He was talking with the Other. Leigh didn’t know what he’d said to get the Other’s attention—she supposed it didn’t matter. He pushed Garrett playfully, pretending to flirt, and Garrett laughed.
Across the room, his eyes met hers. A flash of understanding passed between them, and Garrett turned back to the Other. They kept chatting, Garrett all smiles and charm. Leigh leaned against the wall and acted casual as she watched them. In the lane closest to her, a woman knocked down a single pin, groaning loudly as her friends jeered. A couple of kids chased each other, shrieking with laughter. None of them knew that danger was so close by.
Garrett and the Other strolled to the front doors, still chatting, close enough that their bodies brushed. The Other would be looking for any chance to lure a human away from the crowd, but Leigh was still impressed with how easily Garrett had gotten him to leave. A knot of tension in her gut unwound as he moved steadily away from the playing kids. She texted Sal that they were on their way out and then followed.
Outside, the night felt menacing. Garrett and the Other turned right, and Leigh hovered by the door, letting them get about thirty feet away before she moved after them. Hands in her pockets, she tried to look harmless and distracted, ambling past a Chinese takeout place and an empty storefront with a “For Rent” sign in the window. A cluster of cars was parked in front of the bowling alley, but the rest of the strip mall was empty, the shops and businesses closed for the night. The muffled thuds of bowling balls and low beat of music were still audible outdoors, but it was eerily quiet otherwise. A few cars whizzed past on the road, infrequent and quickly gone. Once Garrett and the Other got farther away from the bowling alley, they would be completely alone.
Something snapped, making Leigh stop for a second. Had that been Sal? She started walking again, peering at the dark parking lot on her left. She didn’t expect to see Sal—he’d stay too well hidden for that—but she hoped the sound had been him and not a second Other.
Garrett and the Other stepped off the sidewalk and moved across the parking lot. There were no cars near them, only a few abandoned shopping carts. Every ten feet or so was a small island in the asphalt hosting overgrown bushes and scraggly trees, but there was nothing big enough for Leigh to hide behind.
She kept strolling along the sidewalk, reaching the corner of the L-shaped strip mall. Turning, she was able to follow the sidewalk parallel to Garrett and the Other, though they’d gotten a good twenty feet ahead of her. She forced herself to keep slow, knowing a sudden burst of speed would catch the Other’s attention. Where was he leading Garrett? If Leigh lost sight of them…
Their voices drifted across the parking lot, sounding cheerful though she couldn’t make out the words. Leigh told herself to calm down. She wasn’t going to lose them in an empty parking lot, and it wasn’t like Garrett was helpless. Plus, Sal was out there too.
She walked past a nail salon, her reflection in the dark glass window following her like a ghost. A supermarket lay ahead, and the lights in front of its closed door would make it hard to—
The Other spun, punching Garrett in the gut out of nowhere.
Shit. Leigh dashed across the parking lot. Garrett’s groan reached her ears, but she was too far away. She couldn’t reach him before the Other brought his fist down on Garrett’s head, sending him crashing to the pavement.
Leigh nearly snarled. That bastard.
The Other must have heard her racing footsteps, because he looked up, eyes widening when he spotted her. She swung, putting all of her anger behind the punch, but he dodged her fist with inhuman speed.
Leigh stopped her momentum, kicking as she turned. He lurched back, and the toe of her boot barely nicked him. The slippery bastard tried to grab her leg, but Leigh snapped it back too fast for him. He slashed at her like he had claws and not perfectly manicured nails—which he probably did under the illusion.
Leigh jerked back, his fingers narrowly missing her cheek as she reached into her jacket pocket and grabbed the steel baton. She spun, aiming a roundhouse kick at him. He twisted out of the way, and Leigh lunged forward, extending the baton with a flick.
The Other must not have been counting on the longer reach of the weapon. It bashed against the side of his head.
He staggered, and his illusion dropped.
He was vaguely human-shaped. Solid black eyes glared from a monstrous face that bore only a passing resemblance to the man she’d seen inside the bowling alley. His pale green skin looked smooth and moist, and his long hair was tangled with moss and twigs. Shirtless, he wore a dark, tattered cloak and trousers. He hissed at her, revealing rows of sharp teeth.
Leigh raised the baton, putting her weight on the balls of her feet and preparing to move. The Other flexed his hands. He did have claws—nasty-looking things that Leigh was lucky hadn’t cut her face. She decided to feint with the baton and then go for one of her knives, but before she could take a step, the Other scrambled back.
His black eyes bulged, staring at something behind her. Then he turned and bolted.
Leigh raced after him for about five seconds before slowing to a stop. He’d already left the parking lot and was disappearing down the street, moving as fast as a spooked rabbit. She glanced over her shoulder to see what had scared him.
A massive brown wolf almost the size of a horse stood in the parking lot, growling at the Other’s retreating form.
Leigh sighed. “You okay?”
The wolf shook himself like a wet dog and transformed into Garrett. He winced, putting a hand to his stomach and looking like a regular guy who wasn’t magical in the slightest. “That jerk sucker-punched me right in the middle of my third-funniest joke.”
He was okay. Leigh walked back toward him, compacting her baton.
“Eh, he didn’t deserve to hear it anyway,” Garrett declared.
Leigh was glad he was in good spirits. The attack had taken them both off guard. She’d been hoping the Other wouldn’t strike until he’d brought Garrett closer to where the portal opened. She guessed it was somewhere out-of-the-way, a place the unsuspecting humans he was luring would question if he tried to lead them there. Better to knock them senseless and drag them. A lot of them probably wouldn’t come to until they’d been brought through the portal, finding themselves in the nightmare that was Otherworld.
She gritted her teeth, wishing she’d gotten to fight the jerk a bit more before he ran away.
“How’s your head?” asked a low voice.
Sal appeared about ten feet to their left, dropping the illusion he’d been hiding behind. With a gray beard and weathered, tanned skin, he just needed a robe and a pointy hat to look like a stereotypical wizard. Instead, he wore a long brown coat that looked almost as old as he was and a pair of scuffed cowboy boots and faded hat.
“Doesn’t feel too bad.” Garrett rubbed his skull.
“Let me know if that changes. Head injuries can be deceptive.” Sal turned to Leigh, but she cut him off before he could ask.
“I’m fine. He didn’t touch me. Fast as hell, though.”
Sal nodded. “I saw.”
Leigh would have lost him even if she’d kept running…so it was a good thing that wasn’t their plan. She’d just needed to put up the appearance of chasing him. They didn’t want him to get suspicious, thinking he’d gotten away too easily.
“You did your magic thing?” she asked.
The edge of Sal’s mouth twitched upward. “I did my magic thing,” he confirmed. Holding out his hand, he conjured glittery, golden light that formed an image like a compass over his upturned palm. The arrow pointed in the direction the Other had run. “The tracking charm stuck. He’s not far.”
Sal led the way into the night, and as Leigh followed, she hoped they weren’t in for any more surprises.
Part 2 will be up in two weeks! Part 2 is available now! CLICK HERE to keep reading.
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