Home > Midlife Bounty Hunter (Forty Proof #1)(8)

Midlife Bounty Hunter (Forty Proof #1)(8)
Author: Shannon Mayer

A groan, and then his eyes slowly opened. “Mom?”

Corb snorted. “She’s old enough to be your mom. You’re right about that.”

I threw a well-aimed glare over my shoulder. “Keep it up, chuckles. I’ll teach you what a bad idea it is to fight with your elders.” I turned back to the boy. “Gawd in heaven, what are you, a teenager?”

Big blue eyes looked straight up at me. “Turned twenty today.”

“Well, happy birthday. Why are you here?” The thing was, I knew why I was here. The money that Eammon had talked about was way too good, and it would solve problems I needed solved. Gran’s house among them.

“My mom is sick,” he said. “We can’t pay for the medical bills and . . .”

My throat tightened. Stupid hormones. To be fair, sometimes I got weepy with a well-placed kitten in a tissue commercial. I cleared my throat. “Then get up. Because they are about to oust your butt for being a pansy ass.”

I helped him to his feet, and he swayed where he stood. Before he could lift the gun again, I took it from him, cleared the chamber, and popped the clip out. Corb let out a strangled noise.

I looked at him. “Didn’t know I knew guns, did you?”

His look said it all. He didn’t know much about me at all.

I shrugged. “I don’t keep them around, and Himself is lucky I didn’t.” Because I would have shot the bastard the moment I found out he’d taken Gran’s house from me. For good measure, I patted the birthday boy down and took the remainder of his weapons and ammo. “You don’t need this, not with Sarge. He’s a good boy. Well trained.”

“Sarge.” The kid couldn’t take his eyes off the wolf who sat next to Tom. “That can’t be Sarge. I talked to him. He’s a person. Not a wolf.”

“Sarge. That’s the wolf. Didn’t you talk to him at the top of the hill?” I was confused. Corb had said that everyone had to have at least four votes to get them through. Unless he was lying about that too.

I swung around to look at Corb. “Doesn’t take four votes normally, does it?”

“Just in cases where one of us doesn’t think the interviewee is capable.” He stood his ground and I stood mine.

“Enough,” Louis said with a wave of his hand. “You have all been invited here, one by each of us. The master who invited you will be your main trainer. You will, of course, train with all of us over the next twelve weeks as we decide where your skills lie.”

My jaw dropped. “Twelve weeks?” I needed to be making the bucks like . . . yesterday. I had no idea when Gran’s house would go up for sale, and I had to be ready. Though I supposed maybe Blue Eyes here was in the same boat. Hell, maybe we all were. Let’s be honest, stepping into the shadow world was one of those things that took more than a little desperation if you weren’t raised in it.

Louis placed his hands together and steepled his fingers. “Yes, twelve weeks.”

The girl in the group piped up, her voice melodic in a way that reminded me of the songs at the water’s edge. I frowned and tugged on my ear closest to her as she spoke. “Will we get paid for the training?”

Louis nodded. “You will all receive a training stipend of three hundred dollars a week.”

A chorus of gasps slid from the others, but I was not surprised. Negotiations 101 were about to commence. They would lowball us; we would make a counteroffer.

I had, after all, worked for Himself as a law clerk for enough years to understand how these things worked. “No, that’s not nearly high enough. An even grand a week will be just fine, thank you very much.”

Louis’s eyes narrowed. “You have no place to demand—”

“I have every right.” I clasped my hands in front of my body. “That wolf over there? Totally not native to the area. The right authorities would have to be brought in to remove him. They’d likely neuter him at the same time, what with his obvious poor breeding.”

Sarge’s jaw dropped open and his tongue lolled out. I did a slow turn taking in the room, making sure I locked eyes with each of the men running this place.

“That graveyard we just came through? Not on the maps. I would bet my bottom dollar that the tour companies would love to tell their ghost stories here. The sister graveyard to Bonaventure Cemetery, emerged from the shadows,” I made a rainbow shape with one hand, as if seeing the name in lights. “None of us have signed NDAs that I know of. Any of you?”

I turned to the kids. Blue Eyes leaned forward. “What’s an NDA?”

“A non-disclosure agreement. Employers have you sign them when they want sensitive information kept from the public, or competitors. Did you sign one?” I asked again.

They all shook their heads. I smiled and looked Louis in the eye. “So. A grand a week? Plus, expenses for all the equipment we will need to be trained properly. I wouldn’t want to overlook that. So, an initial amount of . . .” I looked to Eammon. “Hey, boss, how much should initial setup be for each of us?”

Eammon’s eyes glittered with humor. “Easily two thousand dollars for the higher end . . . equipment.”

“Excellent. So, upon signing the NDA and our work contracts, we will receive not only our first week’s wages, but the two thousand dollars needed for our equipment.” I didn’t move from my spot in the middle of the kids. Jesus, they would have been eaten alive without me. Maybe literally.

Louis pursed his already thin lips. “I’m not sure I like you anymore.”

“We’re going to work together,” I said, not sure of that in the least, but I was bluffing all the way now. “Wouldn’t you rather work with someone who has a shrewd brain? And remember that these negotiation skills will at some point work in your favor.”

“Give them the money,” Tom said with a shake of his head. “I’m tired and my bones are aching. A storm is coming in off the water.”

Louis spluttered, snorted, and grumbled the whole way, but in the end, we signed the work contracts and NDAs that they apparently had ready, and were each handed three thousand dollars in cash.

Talk about a sweet way to end the weirdest night of my life.

Then again, the next morning wasn’t a whole lot better in terms of weirdness.

6

The next morning, I rolled onto my side in a bed that was not really mine, in a home that belonged to Corb, to get a blast of dog breath in my face. When had Corb gotten a dog? Was I not at his house? Sleep confusion made my brain fuzzy and uncertain, except for one undeniable fact. That breath was rank.

“Get out of here,” I grumbled and pushed blindly at the offending face, my hand going deep into a mouth full of tongue and teeth. I opened one eye and yelped, scrambling back from the wolf looking straight at me. The night before came rushing back, the night that I had partially thought I could chalk up to having eaten some sort of accidental hallucinogen.

Apparently not.

“Sarge,” I croaked his name out through a dry mouth and probably nearly as bad breath.

“What are you doing here?”

His wolf eyebrows rose, and he shook his head.

The thing was, Corb’s place was in downtown Savannah, on east Perry, not far from the Colonial Park Cemetery. I mean, really there was no place in Savannah that was far from some sort of cemetery or graveyard, it was just a matter of knowing where you stood. And who you stood on. That wasn’t the point, though, of my rambling.

The point was that there was a wolf. In a loft. In the middle of downtown super busy Savannah and I was struggling to understand how he’d gotten in unseen. “Did Corb let you in?”

Sarge grinned and his tongue lolled out, along with that rumbling voice that made me think of Gmork. “I was hoping for a better scream than that, but I’ll take it.”

He turned and trotted out of my room, the sound of four heavy feet shifting partway down the hall to a lighter tread, quiet, and fewer feet.

Fewer feet? Of course, he had a human form too. My gran would have had a field day with what had happened last night, and even more fun with this wolf that was not a wolf. What had she called them? Half-men.

I frowned, reached for the clock on the side table, and stared at the time. Noon.

Eammon had said training didn’t start until six at night, which meant I had time to get some of my equipment.

“Shouldn’t you be helping your trainee?” I yelled down the hall.

“He’s still sleeping,” Sarge yelled back, his voice clearer than before. Sharper, crisper. I tried to sit up and groaned.

Everything hurt. Whimpering, I rolled onto my belly, and my lower back reminded me I didn’t flex that way anymore. More whimpering ensued, cursing of my body.

I surely did not bounce back like I had in my twenties. I wasn’t the most fit I’d been in my life, I knew I had an extra twenty pounds or so on me—okay, maybe thirty. Probably would have been more if any of my pregnancies had gone past the twelve-week mark. I liked good food. My job as a dog groomer kept me moving every day, though, and while I didn’t have time to go to the gym—or the inclination—I was active.

Apparently, that was not going to be enough for working at the Hollows, and I knew that it was time to get into better shape. My head filled slowly with the memories of training with Gran, of the things she’d tried to teach me.

A good deal of the time she’d spent with me, I’d been only half paying attention, especially through my teen years—typical child who thought I knew everything.

I’d met Himself when I was seventeen, and he’d pushed the idea that she was losing it even then. I ignored the things I did see, pretending I didn’t see them at all. But Gran had kept trying.

Sighing, I lay there and cursed myself soundly for all the stupid mistakes I’d made. Some of them with my eyes wide open. Like Himself, one of my biggest mistakes. I closed my eyes, trying not to think about how I’d fought to keep the marriage together when I should have let it die. I kept thinking that a child was what we needed, but no pregnancy stayed with me. Not one. That had been the reason I’d stayed longer, because who else would want me? Nope, I was not going there.

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