Home > The Hunt (Devil's Isle #3)(9)

The Hunt (Devil's Isle #3)(9)
Author: Chloe Neill

   “Hilarious, as always.” I hugged him. “Be careful.”

   “No need to get emotional,” he said, but his arms were steel bands around me. “You’re only gonna be gone a few days.”

   Assuming we found him and managed to make it back alive.

   “We’ll be fine,” I said, trying to assure both of us.

   “Damn right you will. Now get in that jeep, start your hunt, and claim your bounty.”

   • • •

   The clouds had burned off by the time we reached the edge of New Orleans, and the sun beat down on Highway 90 like a drum, sending up shimmering waves of heat. It was much too early to be this warm, but magic hadn’t just affected electricity; it had made our weather less predictable.

   We stayed on the highway as long as we could, then veered off to Old Spanish Trail when Gavin caught sight of a Containment convoy—jeeps and trucks heading into New Orleans with goods and sundries to be distributed to stores around the city.

   Royal Mercantile would probably be getting some of the freight. Bottled water, soap, maybe a few sticks of butter packed in dry ice for the trip. But that was Tadji’s responsibility now. She was my beautiful and brilliant best friend, the woman I’d given the choice to run the store or let it sit until I came home again.

   She’d decided to enter the exciting world of postwar retail and was doing a damn fine job of it, based on what I’d seen the couple of times I’d managed to sneak into the Quarter. She’d apparently gathered up every volunteer left in the neighborhood to fix glass broken in the battle, to reorganize overturned furniture and scattered stock. From what I could tell, business was booming. Tadji might have been trained as a linguist, but she was really, really good at merchandising. Even in the mostly deserted Quarter, people had milled around, looking at the goods and making purchases.

   I wondered if the convoy had skipped this road to keep from destroying the vehicles and the cargo. I had to grab the jeep’s handle as we bounced over pitted asphalt.

   “Are you hitting the potholes on purpose?”

   “Man’s gotta have a hobby,” Gavin said.

   The narrow highway ran between railroad tracks on one side and the remains of stores, small houses, and mobile homes on the other. Rural parts of the state hadn’t been hit by Para attacks as hard as the urban areas, but there were even fewer services out here, and a lot of people hadn’t stayed after the war. Plenty of solitude, if that’s what you preferred, but the living was hard.

   We passed a store on stilts, a bait shop with “fresh” painted in rough black letters along one exterior wall. The windows were boarded up, and a rusting car sat on blocks in front. Once again, my mind tripped back to my store, to the Quarter.

   I pulled out my water bottle, took a drink, trying to focus on something else.

   “Tadji’s handling Royal Mercantile,” Gavin said.

   I guess his mind had taken the same turn.

   “Yeah,” I said, screwing the lid back on the bottle.

   “Have you talked to her?”

   I shook my head. “I check in on the store every once in a while. But I don’t want to put her in danger. The less she knows about me, the better.” As far as I was concerned, plausible deniability was my friend’s best option. “Have you talked to her?”

   He shook his head. “I haven’t been around.” The vehicle shuddered, and he slammed a hand on the dashboard, which seemed to settle the issue. “I left after the battle.”

   My eyebrows lifted. Yesterday, he said he’d just gotten back into town, but I didn’t know he’d been gone the entire time. I’d assumed he’d been here but was doing his own thing—or he’d been avoiding me. That he’d been out of town made me feel a little better, and more curious.

   “Where were you?”

   “Reconnaissance contract,” Gavin said.

   “For Containment?”

   “For Containment. They were surprised by Reveillon. They don’t want to be surprised again.”

   “Do they think there are more Reveillon members out there?”

   Gavin made a sarcastic sound. “Nobody doubts there are more Reveillon members out there. Or at least sympathizers. Plenty of people hate magic, blame magic for what the Zone’s become. Containment’s looking for organizing, collective action. Any sign that people are clustering again, planning violence, posing a threat.”

   “Find anything?”

   “Lot of talk, no action to speak of.” He gave me a sideways glance. “Did you think I was in New Orleans and just avoiding you?”

   He’d nailed it, which made my cheeks burn. “Kind of, yeah.”

   He shook his head, looked back at the road. “We’re family, Claire. Granted, kind of a weird, dysfunctional family, but family all the same.”

   “Yay,” I said, and spun an imaginary noisemaker. But family was family. And it wasn’t so bad to have this one.

   • • •

   Before we hit Houma, the rain started up, the kind of heavy and steady downpour that set in for the day.

   Twenty minutes later, Gavin pulled the car off the highway and onto a long gravel drive.

   At the end of it, stately as a queen, sat a plantation house. White, with two stories, both lined with porches, fluted columns, and floor-to-ceiling windows. The front yard featured a boxwood hedge in a pretty pattern, and the drive was marked by enormous oak trees whose branches bent in graceful arcs toward the ground, with Spanish moss draped like scarves across the boughs.

   There weren’t many plantation houses left in Louisiana. There’d once been dozens along the Mississippi River outside New Orleans. The Civil War had knocked down some of them. Time and history had knocked down others. The war with Paras had done a number on the rest, especially after Paras targeted the petroleum facilities that shared the prime real estate along the river.

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