Home > After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(12)

After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(12)
Author: May Sage

Chloe frowned. “Why?” She shrugged. “I'm not after his job.”

Gwen sighed. “Because you don't know what the future holds, and this sort of vow can be trouble. Martie is a witch. I doubt he had a binding hex ready, but he could have. Your vow means that now, or in ten, or a hundred years, you cannot ever be after his job. Let's say Martie's tired of minding birds and decides to apply to a job in a while. Then you see that job posted online and you apply to it too?”

Chloe couldn't see any of that happening, but for the sake of the argument, she asked, “So?”

“So, you'd die, if those are the terms of the hex. Or, maybe you'd just wake up with pustules all over your face. Who knows? My point is, you don't want to find out.”

Put like that, her warning was noteworthy.


“Words have power. With your real name, your word, your blood, your soul…our kind can shape your future. You have to guard yourself against harm.”

Chloe felt foolish and naive.

“All right. Well, next time I say something stupid, please feel free to interrupt and let me know.”


Chloe lifted a brow. “Can we promise, then?”

Gwen broke into a grin. “Sure. To you, anyway.”

Because she was the weakest thing in a ten-mile radius.

“Hey, look. Sundown.”

Behind the mountains, the sun was sinking deep in the lake. Chloe remembered Jack's offer.

“Do you want to go to that race?” she asked Gwen.

The witch grinned.

“Hell yes. And you should. Jack fucking Hunter asked you.”

The name meant nothing to Chloe, but evidently Gwen was familiar with it.

“Is he a big deal?”

“In London, definitely. He runs the city, with just a few dozen huntsmen under him. They're as powerful as mortals get, but their numbers have never been large, and they recruit once a year or so. I say if Jack wants to see you run, you show him what you got.”

Chloe paused.

“You mean to become a huntsman-thing?”

That sort of thing had never crossed her mind. She wanted a high-stakes position in a successful company. Maybe own a business by the time she was fifty. Kicking naughty paranormal creatures into behaving wasn't her idea of a career.

“That, and to show the rest of the Institute you're not a useless little newbie they can play with. There are vampires, werewolves, and so many other things here. You don't wanna look like prey? Taking a huntsman's challenge is a good start.”

Gwen might have had a point.

The problem was that she could run reasonably fast, and that was the extent of her skill set. If anyone did want to see what she was capable of, she'd make a fool of herself. Staying on the sidelines made more sense. Besides…

“I won't win.”

It had been too long since she'd run; this morning had been pretty hard.

“That's okay. Just don't lose.”

Chloe pondered her options.

“If you don't show up, I doubt Jack will ask again.”

Very true. And if she did show up, she'd spend the evening drinking beer with some students after the race—whether she paid for it or not. It certainly beat going back to her room and replaying every single moment she'd rather bury as soon as she was alone. She couldn’t hold out hope for another miracle sleeping potion from Levi.

“All right. Let's go before I change my mind.”

Circling the dorm toward the forest, they found Jack with about twenty people, most of them wearing brown leather gear. Belatedly, Chloe realized that she wasn't dressed as well as she could be for running in her jeans and baby pink Converses. The snow had melted away on the roads, meaning there was probably mud in the woods. Pink and mud did not go well together.

“Look who we have here. Just in time,” said Jack.

Great. Just in time sounded like too late to back out or change shoes.

“Crew, this is…” He turned to her. “What was that again?”

She didn't think he'd asked her name in the first place. “Chloe.” She pointed to her new friend. “And Gwen.”

“Right. Chloe, Gwen, this is Tris, Chris, Reiss, Ward, Bat, Bash…”

He lost her halfway through.

After the speedy introduction, he stated, “So, you know the deal. Five hundred to the winner, loser buys the drinks. No rules, but try to stay away from the northeast—the werewolves don't take kindly to strangers intruding on their territory.”

Wait, werewolf territory?

“Whoever gets to Lakehill first wins. Ethan is waiting at the finish line to determine a clear winner. On my mark!”

Shit. That was not nearly enough information.

“Get set!”

“Where's Lakehill?” she screamed over Jack's counting.

There were only three hills—Night Hill, then one at its right and another to its left. Jack pointed to the left one.

“Two miles north. Through the woods, or down the path—but the path takes five miles. No rules. Get there first, you win. Got it?”

Definitely not. Her mouth opened and said, “Yes.”

“Good. Go.”

A Little Detour

Heart beating at a thousand miles an hour, she ran. She had no clue where to go, so she followed the handful of people ahead of her who seemed to know the way.

She’d had a hard time with her morning run, but now it wasn't just about getting to the intro on time; it was about running against people, trying to beat them or at least outsmart them. It didn't matter that she didn't know these lands; cross-country was her thing. She'd always known where to step, how to avoid roots and use her surroundings to her advantage.

In the distance, she saw a girl push one of the guys to the ground. He cursed her out loud, then got to his feet and set off after her. They were both laughing.

Right. No rules. Chloe heard someone catch up with her and decided to veer off the set path. She could still see and hear the other runners, so she knew what direction to take, but at least she wouldn't be tripped over.

Hopefully she wasn't heading toward a ditch.

“What the hell do you think you're doing here?”

Chloe stopped. She had come face to face with a rather tall and exquisite woman with dark blonde hair. She had scars all along her arms and was just wearing shorts with a tank top. Obviously, she was immune to the cold. A werewolf, no doubt.

“Avoiding the others? They're tripping each other and…”

“You know what you should avoid? Getting eaten, that's what. Stay away from the pack. Trust me on this.”

Chloe wasn't very intimidated. “I have a lot of werewolf friends.”

“Not here, you don't,” said the stranger. She looked behind her, watching the distance. With a sigh, the she-wolf said, “Come on. I'll show you out of here. Hopefully in one piece.”

The woman truly seemed rattled by something. Chloe hesitated for a second but decided to follow her.

“These damn arrogant hunter dudes,” the wolf grumbled. “They're taunting the pack with their runs around our land, always close to the full moon. Someday, they'll get what's coming to them.”

“I meant no disrespect,” Chloe said carefully.

“Yeah, right. This way.”

They'd arrived at a hamlet, smaller than Adairford, with red brick homes that seemed newer than the buildings in town. The she-wolf put her finger to her lips in a shushing motion and walked quickly along the outer edge, behind the rows of houses.

In the distance, Chloe could hear a voice say, “I smell something.”

“That's those guys again,” another added. “I tell you, they're trying to prove a point. We should show them.”

“Show Jack Hunter?” a woman said doubtfully. “Even if it would be easy to take him, what if his family—”

They left the voices behind, jogging as silently as possible on the pebbled ground. Soon, they arrived on the other side, back to the woods. Chloe could see Lakehill through the trees.

So, the she-wolf hadn't exaggerated. There was bad blood between huntsmen and weres around here.

“I'm sorry. I didn't know I shouldn't have been there…”

“Well, now you do. Stay away from these parts.”

She nodded, and the she-wolf walked away.

“Wait,” she called. “I'm Chloe.”

The shifter watched her, clueless.

“Your name?” she prompted.

“Avani,” she said, then returned to her village without giving Chloe a second glance.

Chloe tried not to take it to heart. She was a people person, and most of those she met tended to like her. When someone didn't, she felt like she'd failed in a way. A stupid point of view, really.

Thinking of failure, Chloe resumed her run, heading toward the lighter spots between the trees in the distance, hoping to reach the hill before the last huntsman, at least.

She emerged between two trees at the same time as Jack, who stared at her, baffled.

“No way,” he said.

Then his eyes returned to the hill in front of them. A dark-haired man was waiting less than five hundred feet away.

Chloe's brain understood in a split second that she hadn't arrived last—she was first, tied with Jack. And whoever reached the guy would have five hundred shiny pounds right in their pocket.

She didn't think she'd ever felt that much pressure in her entire life. She had to win. Had to.

Chloe's heart beat hard, the cold wind slapped her face and her lungs burned, but she pushed and pushed and pushed harder, her feet hitting the ground like it was her sworn enemy, and finally…

“And that's a tie!” said the dark-haired guy.

Chloe didn't even try to stay on her feet, falling right on her ass and laughing on the ground.

"Holy cheesecake."

Jack, hovering over her, laughed, too.

“Good run, Cheetah. And through the pack territory, too. Ballsy.”

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