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My eyes narrowed. Oh, we were about to have a verbal battle. God, I hated those. “I’m not sure what you mean, Mr. Wilks.”

Mr. Wilks motioned to a bodyguard standing just behind him without saying a word. The man simply nodded and walked away.

Music blared from the surround sound speakers. I nearly jumped out of my seat, surprised at the sudden heavy beat and rapid tempo. It was catchy and heady, encouraging anyone listening to dance, but I wasn’t used to music that loud. I glanced down at the floor below and saw Bethany standing in front of the DJ booth, talking to a man behind a bunch of spinning equipment. The guard Mr. Wilks had dismissed was standing in front of the bar.

I turned back Mr. Wilks.

He had a finger resting on his lip, watching me with flat blue eyes. His coloring was so similar to Bethany’s, but he lacked her whimsical flare. “My baby girl has talked a lot about you in the last few months.” The music was loud, but I was still able to hear his smooth voice through the booming beat. That being said, someone standing ten feet away would be hard-pressed to hear our conversation. As for someone like Bethany on the lower level, it would be impossible. I couldn’t help but think the music was intentional.

“In fact,” Mr. Wilks went on, “I’d say that nearly forty percent of what she talks about has your name involved with it. She seems to think you’re made out of gold, a true friend. As a member of the Hunter’s Association Council, I naturally can’t look down on E Hunters. I thought it was a good thing for Bethany. Give her a better sense of what the world is like outside of her protective bubble. As the face of the Hunters, it was even a good thing for her to be seen with a low leveled Hunter. Gives an image of compassion.” He paused. “But then I find out that you have some weird thoughts. And, if I’m not mistaken, you might be the one that causes the Hunter’s chat forum to explode negatively every month?”

Hmm. I was starting to think it was unfortunate that this guy was Bethany's dad. In theory, I shouldn’t hate him. Bethany thought the world of him, but I had to say, he was a lot more cold-blooded than I thought. “I’m not a danger to anyone.” Well, as long as they weren’t trying to hurt me or my family.

“Not intentionally,” Mr. Wilks amended for me.

The guard walked up from behind Mr. Wilks, holding a tray with two cups on it. The first was a short cocktail glass filled with red liquid, several ice balls, and a decorative orange slice. The second was obviously a Coke with crushed ice and a straw inside a decorative clear glass. The guard set the cocktail in front of Mr. Wilks and the Coke in front of me then retreated a couple steps back with the tray.

Mr. Wilks motioned to the Coke. “Have a drink.” With that, he took a small sip of his cocktail. “The biggest problem is, Bethany is a public figure. If she’s caught in the grips of any unsavoury activities, the consequences would be astronomical.”

I took a drink of my Coke. “I am not, in any way, affiliated with the cult, if that’s what you’re worried about. I thought it had been stamped out a couple months ago.” I mean, I was the one who turned over most of the evidence they used to get rid of it.

Mr. Wilks bobbed his head to the side in a mild acknowledgement. “Yes, for the most part. The leaders are all cleared up and most of the people addicted to the drug are on the mend or they’ve already killed themselves over the drug withdrawals.”

Wow, he said that sentence so baldly. It was clear he didn’t have an ounce of compassion for the people suffering. Then again, that was how the harsh Hunters’ society was. The cult members chose to go and partake of the drug. The only one at fault was them, so why pity them?

“But the ideas that those madmen spread around still linger in the back of people’s minds,” Mr. Wilks said. “It’s causing quite a lot of tension in the people. It would be unfortunate if those ideas spread even more. And my daughter would be the perfect candidate because of her media connections.”

I took another drink. “Huh. You mean the bizarre idea that the Hunters are going to abandon Earth and the humans to hide in a utopia in the Gate? That bogus idea?”

His eyes narrowed. “So you have heard it.”

I nodded. “Heard it. What about it? It’s wrong. It couldn’t be more wrong if they tried. Then again, they were more interested in turning a profit than actually helping the people or steering them in the right direction. It’s unfortunate that so many people believed that flashy light show.”

Mr. Wilks hummed under his breath and took another sip. “You know a lot.”

I shrugged. “I hear stuff. Bethany especially likes to talk.” I glanced down at her. She was now standing by the bar, talking to the handful of bartenders there. The bright blue lights reflected off her dress, nearly making her glow.

“Yes,” Mr. Wilks agreed slowly. “I have to say, it’s surprising how connected you are, considering that you aren’t even in a guild. Normally it would be impossible for someone like you to be affiliated with Mr. Noblē, never mind my daughter.”

My eyes narrowed. “I’m not a leech. They are the ones that came to me.” I paused. “You know, Bethany is very generous to those that she latches onto. I personally think it’s a good thing, since it makes her more relatable.” I frowned. “However, she has a serious problem where she thinks people only want to be with her because they want something from her. I can’t fix that alone. Maybe you should help her with that.”

“Yet, you sit there dressed in my money, enjoying the backing of an S Hunter.” Mr. Wilks took another drink.

I didn’t know if he was trying to rile me up, but he sure pissed me off in less than fifteen words. I frowned at him and flung my right hand in the air. The Guide screen popped up and I flicked my hand over it. In seconds, I set up the transfer of the cost of my clothes and flipped the screen around for him to accept. It was a ridiculous amount of money for five articles of clothing, especially after I spent the down payment for the condo, but my pride was worth more than this.

“By all means, I’ll happily compensate you for it. I’m not lacking in money. And this is money that I earned myself. No ‘backers’ or whatever the hell you call them.” My voice was low and hard. “Even though it’s not like anything I’ve worn before, I quite liked this outfit. Because Bethany picked it out and it made her so happy. Now I find it rather distasteful. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything else appropriate to change into or else I’d leave it with you right now.”

He cocked his head to the side, not looking offended at all. “And why would that matter?”

I sneered at him. “I might be a lowly E, but I know full well who I associate with. Even I have to play the part, as long as I’m seen together with Kesstel or Bethany. I might not necessarily know exactly how to act, but I know I have to look good so they don’t look bad.”

He nodded, as if I gave the right answer. “As you should. It’s good that you understand that.” He waved the transfer screen away and it came back to me. “If I can’t afford this little bit of charity, I’d have no right to raise my baby girl.”

My mouth twitched. After a second, I cancelled the money transfer screen but I didn’t feel any better. “You know, not everything is about money.”

People started to slowly stream into the club. Every Hunter was high leveled and dressed in obviously expensive clothes. They paused at the front doors for a moment before they dispersed, some going down to the lower floor and some choosing seats at the tables on the mezzanine. Waiters in black slacks and white button-down shirts began to mingle into the crowd, taking orders and bringing drinks on trays.

Mr. Wilks sipped his drink again. “I feel like this is another subject you and I won’t see eye to eye. You see, everything is about money for me. As long as I have enough money, my baby girl can be happy.” He rested his elbow on the table and leaned towards me. “If everything isn’t about money, why would an E go out of her way to enamor an S Hunter so much that he can’t even go on a simple trip without her?”

“We both know it’s not a simple trip.” I glared at him. “And I can still pull up the transfer request, since it seems to burn you so badly.”

He shook his head. “Not at all. What bothers me is that the little girl that my daughter is so attached to is going to a place where no E has business being. Now I’m struggling to find the right bodyguards for you and fit them into the limited number of Hunters allotted to go, just to make sure you don’t die.”

I shook my head. “I don’t need or want bodyguards. I’ll be just fine without them.”

He waved his hand in a dismissive manner. “That’s not an option. You’re going to a place that will kill you in seconds. No matter how strong the spell you have on him is, Mr. Noblē won’t have time to protect you every minute of the day. This isn’t a picnic. He has a job to do.”

“I don’t need bodyguards,” I stressed. “Honestly, would you trust your back to the people of someone who just said they wanted you to disappear?”

“Disappear can mean a few different things, Ms. Devhro. I’m aware of your family situation. I could very easily relocate you and your family in a snap of my fingers. I don’t believe you’re a bad person, but even good people can cause negative effects.” He sipped his drink.

The corner of my lip curled up. “Either way, Kesstel would follow me.” It wasn’t even a guess. If he was willing to tear through the voids of space to get back to me, he would easily follow me across the country. “Then Eden would lose their strongest Hunter. That’s something to brag about, right? I might not know a lot about politics, but I understand that much. He used to be under your thumb. How much more are you going to let him get away from you?”

You think I couldn’t tell that Mr. Wilks was a calculating man? This one conversation with him gave me a very deep impression about his control over the people around him. Bethany was happy in the easy life he set up for her, but there must be other people who weren’t. There was no way in hell I was going to be pressed under his thumb. Any favor I had to repay was just another tether he could use. I always rejected Bethany’s offers out of pride and because I wanted her to see herself as more than an ATM machine, but now I was even more concerned about accepting her gifts.

He lifted a brow. “You sound so confident.”

I took a drink and turned the straw in the cup. This thing had to be made out of real crystal. “I am.”

Mr. Wilks set his glass down with a decisive clunk. “Then do us all a favor and don’t go. I’ve sent more than half my life, making sure that my baby girl doesn’t cry. Don’t complicate it now. Nor do I want to see Mr. Noblē lose his mind again. Especially over something that’s completely preventable.”

Kesstel’s familiar presence entered the room. I turned my head and looked towards the door and his back light figure. Our gazes met from across the distance. He turned and started to close the distance between us with a lazy prowl.

I focused on Mr. Wilks again. “I’m sorry, but that’s not an option. I’m going. As Kesstel’s emotional support person,” I never thought I’d actually like that title, but right now it wasn’t that bad, “I’m especially obligated to go. I’m not going to die. With or without Kesstel, I’ll be just fine.”

By now, Kesstel had crossed half the mezzanine length along the room. Several people tried to stop him to talk, but he brushed them off and they didn’t try to make him stay. Mr. Wilk’s bodyguards turned as Kesstel got closer. They’re bodies stiffened for a second, and they didn’t try to stop him from getting closer.

I stood up and pressed out a smile that I didn’t feel. “I appreciate the intentions. And I do understand where you’re coming from, even though I believe it’s wrong on nearly all accounts. Don’t even bother trying to fit the bodyguards in, please. They’ll be useless because I’ll lose them as soon as we land and they will never find me. I can guarantee that.” I nodded towards my half empty glass. “Thanks for the drink.”

*****

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About the author

MichelleRReid

Bio: I am an author, mother, wife, and jack of all trades. I mean, every mom is, but I’ve found that through my research for different stories, I’ve picked up a lot of random (and sometimes actually useful) knowledge and skills.
I’ve had a vivid imagination since I was a child. And as much as I wish I could actually live in the worlds in my head, the closest I can get is with the words I put on the page. These characters are like real people to me. The funny lines they say, their emotions that make my heart bleed, the amazing things they can do that I physically can’t, the adventures and sights that I can see in my head. I love sharing those things with my readers and hope that they can feel at least a part of what I do.
I do have other works that are published through Amazon. They are not LitPRG, but I'm still really proud of them. Check them out if you have the chance.

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