This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Four for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.
Again, still in present tense, and I added conflict and sexual tension in future drafts. You can check out the current version of Chapter Four here.
I say I’m going to kill Sebastian Essex. I really mean I’ll try. Not only am I still beat to shit from the club fight, but Sebastian has at least two centuries on me. For the Cursed, age means power, and it’s going to be a bitch if it comes down to a fight.
Lucky Sebastian was never much of a fighter. Might mess up his suit.
My puke-green Mercury Montego is twice as old as the college-aged valet that has to park it, and looks twice as shitty in front of Millenium Towers, where base-floor studios go for a million. The hundred I hand the kid doesn’t soften the horror on his face. Maybe he’ll at least get a contact high from the coke Gordon snorted with it.
I disguise my limp as best I can as I walk across the lobby to the bank of elevators. Mirrors and brushed steel abound, and I can’t risk staying down here. The staff are too fixated on my bruises, ripped clothing and splattered blood to notice my lack of reflection anyway.
“Can I help you, miss?” The clerk asks. His voice cracks on the last word.
“Sebastian Essex,” I say, punching the elevator button. The doors slide open in seconds.
“He’s on the-”
“Top floor, I’d guess.”
“But he has to buzz you in!”
The closing doors cut off any reply.
I pound the button for the 35th floor and wait. The monitor above the panel shows the video feed from inside the elevator, empty.
The speaker clicks and buzzes. The elevator rumbles to life. There is no preamble, no questions. Sebastian would know exactly who the cameras weren’t showing.
The doors open onto a dim penthouse. The wall of windows looks out over the glittering sea of downtown Seattle, limning in silver the modern lines and sweeping curves of the room’s embellishments. Leather couches and recliners face a cold hearth. No artwork, no plants, no color but black and white. Even the granite, appliances and tile in the overlooking kitchen lack any disrupting shade.
Two lean, wiry bodyguards, clean shaven and angular, flank the elevator. Both step forward as I enter, one holding a metal detector wand. I’m used to some level of desire shadowing eyes that look upon me. Both of them stare with numb, lifeless eyes.
“The hand comes off with that thing,” I say, without looking at the one with the metal detector.
Both guards pause at my tone, and shoot blank glances toward the living area.
A flare of red – the tip of a cigarette – winks to life in the shadows.
“Tricia Fucking Priest,” Sebastian Essex says, proper British laid thick over his words. “Already threatening to remove limbs. You’’ve been in America too long.”
“So have you.”
“No shit. Please, be a dear. They’re only doing their vertical jobs.”
I glare the two monkeys away, then slide my twin kukri from their sheaths and drop them on to the countertop. The machine pistol next, then the pistol shotgun, knife, and phosphorescent grenades. Each lands in the pile with a satisfying clang.
“Christ. You are a Yankee now.” The cigarette tip floats across darkness as Sebastian steps into the light.
Sebastian Essex may have been black in life, I never asked. The ages have scoured all color from his skin save alabaster and pale lead. His one eye shines dark as he regards me, his other covered by an eye patch. His black dreadlocks cascade to his shoulders. His matching goatee frames his gray lips. A golden coin, its markings the dead orange of burning coals, is tucked snugly in one ear.
I make a show of looking around the penthouse. “Nice place.”
“Isn’t it. It will do, I suppose. I refuse to live in squalor while in this shithole of a hemisphere.” He makes a slow, appraising circle around me. My gaze doesn’’t follow him. “You’re still the ray of fucking sunshine I remember.”
“And you’re still an asshole.”
“With the same ten word vocabulary.” He takes another pull from his black Sobranie cigarette, lets the pale smoke slither from his lips. His eye lingers on my bruises, the blood on my clothes. “I thought Seattle was a haven of tranquility. Only you could manage to get into a fight here.”
“I just had a metric fuckton of shit kicked out of me by an Andrasi.”
“What’s the standard conversion for that?”
“I figured even pack demons would stay clear of you.”
“They came after me because you’re here.”
“Well, if you need a topper, feel free to take one of my guards. They’re shit outside of bed anyway.” He chuckles. “Speaking of, how long has it been since you’ve enjoyed a proper fuck?”
Our eyes meet, and his domination scrapes my mind. Raw desire, incubus and succubus fucking each other mercilessly, two Cursed the incarnation of desire unleashing our passions on each other. I feel jealousy swallow the two bodyguards. They can feel the temptation flaring between us. Even without Sebastian’s attempt to dominate my will, the seduction of demonic sex is luxurious.
I don’t move.
He lets out a one-breath laugh. “I see you haven’t let your mental guards slack.” His eye drops to the cross around my neck. ““I suppose our Curse doesn’t allow us to change much over the years, does it?”
Less than ten minutes and I’m already done with him. “Why are you checking up on me?”
Again he studies me. “You don’t know, do you?”
“Tricia, Tricia, Tricia. I don’t give a fuck about you.”
I can’t keep the surprise from my voice. “I’m the only Cursed in this city you’d care about.”
“You’ve gained American arrogance, too. You are a blunt instrument, Tricia. A pretty one, but no great mystery. The only way you could garner my attention is if you fucked the entire city into submission. Which, let’s be honest, would take even you awhile.”
I stare at him. “Then why are you here?”
“Because,” he says, taking another drag from his Sobranie, “Hinge is here.”
I snap invisible out of reflex. My senses lash out around the condo, hunting for the presence of my former master.
Sebastian breaks out in laughter. “He still makes you jump, doesn’t he?” He sweeps his hand in the direction of the windows. ““I meant in the city. Even I have difficulty feeling his presence.”
I slip back into visibility. “What is he doing here?” The panic in my voice is humiliating.
“That should be obvious, even to a blunt instrument.”
I grind my teeth together. “Me.”
“The prodigal daughter. You didn’t think he would just leave you alone, did you?”
“I’d hoped.” It has been almost a century.
“Hinge has many irritating qualities, but the most vexing is his patience. Which seems to go against his typical batshit insanity.”
I bite my lip, watch Sebastian’s face. His expression betrays no thought or emotion, but I can feel it. “You’re scared of him.””
His gaze narrows. He turns away from me, walking back toward the leather recliner. “You would know he’s the scourge of all Cursed in Europe if you had any way to find out.”
“How’s he a threat to other Cursed?”
“He’s eating them.”
My open shock renders my long-practiced mental guards irrelevant. “You can consume other Cursed? Is that possible?”
“Christ, you live in the wild Goddamn west out here.” He rests his elbows on the armrests and steeples his hands as if giving a lecture. “You get old enough, mortal souls no longer sustain you. So you start feeding off other Cursed. Hinge is ahead of the curve by several centuries. We usually don’t worry until someone hits a millennium.”
“When a Cursed goes off the rails, the most powerful of us organize to stop them. The one time Cursed of all types can get our shit together.”
It’s my turn to laugh. “You’re what, three centuries old? There were Cursed older than you… and Hinge… in Europe. Victorian. The Roman. Why aren’t they dealing with him?”
“Hinge has consumed them.”
“That’s an understatement. No one noticed what he was doing until he ate Victorian. These days, even a mildly content Hinge is a disaster of biblical fucking proportions.”
My head swims. “How powerful is he now?”
“Powerful enough that mortals don’t even remember him when they see him. He can rewrite the memories of newly Cursed with impunity.”
“That was always his gift,” I say. “Probably how he got away with eating those elders from under your noses.”
“Slow down there. You keep thinking, your brain will fucking explode.”
I glare at him. “I came here ready to destroy you. I still might. Don’t treat me like an idiot.”
Sebastian lets a cloud of smoke stream from his lips. “No, you are definitely not an idiot.”
“How did he manage to destroy elders? He’s barely half Victorian’s age.”
“Never underestimate the power of a Cursed who Descended.”
“Hinge Descended.” It’s as much a statement as a question.
Sebastian rolls his eye. “He told you fuckall about anything, didn’t he? No one made him. He was fucked up enough as an inquisitor to become Cursed all on his own.” He points his cigarette at the cross around my neck. “He must still have some Catholic guilt knocking around somewhere for that thing to work.”
“Which means his age means nothing,” I breathe.
“Not nothing. If someone Descends, I assume their age is doubled.” The corner of his mouth curls. “And I’m conservative.”
“So you came here to try to destroy him. Alone.”
“Fuck no. I’m here to watch him.”
“Really. And leave me out there as bait.”
Sebastian shrugs without answering.
I run my hand through my hair. I never expected Hinge to give a shit about me, much less come after me. My brain scampered through the facts I knew, assuming Sebastian wasn’t feeding me utter bullshit.
“There have to be other Cursed that could stop him. One Memnonite would do the trick. Hell, look what one Andrasi did to me. A pack would rip him to shreds.”
Sebastian shakes his head. “Beings fuck for lust. They also fuck for pride. They fuck for greed. For envy. For gluttony. For wrath. A powerful lust Cursed will take any other Cursed with ease. It’s hard for a Memnonite to fight through an orgasm so powerful it would turn a mortal’’s brain to mush.”
“What am I supposed to do about Hinge, then?” I turn to the countertop and start re-stowing my weapons. The bodyguards both start, but retreat further when they sense my fury.
“I don’t give a shit. Ignore him, fight him, fuck him, it makes no difference. I’m only here to see what he does about you.””
I hold the kukri in my hands, feeling their weight, balance. I imagine Sebastian’s head flying off his shoulders.
I gasp and force the sudden building orgasm down. My hands tighten on the kukri as I steady my breath.
“That’s just a taste of what Hinge can do,” Sebastian says.
“Thanks for the help,” I growl, and sheathe the kukri under my jacket. “You’re still an asshole.”
“Tricia,” Sebastian says. I turn to him in surprise. For a second, his voice holds a note of concern. “Don’t trust any memories of your time with him. There’s no telling how long he’s been fucking with all of us.”
“Hopefully that means my past is a lie.”
“Oh, no. You were a murdering, stark-raving bitch. You still have to seek forgiveness for that.”
I can hear the mockery in his tone.
“Stay out of my way, Sebastian.”
“No worries. I plan to.”
I can’t even muster a retort. I spin on my heels and pound the elevator button.
“But if I did want to get in your way,” Sebastian said from behind me, “I’d probably start with your friend, the good pastor.”
Anger again swells at my vulnerability – Sebastian has laid bare how out of practice I am – but fear sweeps it aside. Sebastian isn’t the one who wants to fuck with me.
I bolt into the elevator and try to will it to plummet to the lobby. Descended or not, Hinge will pay if he has touched Pastor Tom.