Absolution: The Clandestine Saga Book 4

Chapter 3 Practice Makes Nope


“Nice job,” Aaron’s voice came over the IAC. “Paxton, let’s get the Extracto 9000 down there, and take care of our mess before he blows away. Paxton, one of the less reliable members of the team, had recently been given sweeper duty, and as Cadence stood and dusted her hands off on her pants, she reflected on what a fitting position that was for him, though a fleeting thought of the Guardian who had fulfilled that duty for decades before crossed her mind momentarily. She pushed it aside, just in time to come face to face with what could only be described as an angry Jamie. “What?” she asked, confusion crinkling her pretty face. “What?” Jamie repeated, his hands in the air. “I thought… I thought you were going to take the shot. Jamie was a few inches shorter than her, even though his spikey hair gave the illusion that they were equals, and Cadence took a step back so she wouldn’t appear to be towering over him as she explained. “I was,” she admitted, “but instinct kicked in. You know it’s much more satisfying to rip their heads off than to shoot them. “How did you know he wasn’t armed?” he asked, following her as she began to cross the lawn in front of the courthouse. Paxton and Aaron had made their descent, and as the designated clean-up crew member made his way to the remains, she smiled at the handsome face of her fiancé, who returned the sentiment. Though she was tempted to ignore Jamie’s question and continue toward her destination, she stopped and turned back to face her partner. “I don’t know, Jamie,” she admitted. “I guess I could tell by the way he had his hands in his pockets. And the fact that he’s never been seen with a gun before. And most Vampires aren’t packing. So, I decided to go for it. I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to throw you off or confuse you. I just did what my instinct told me to do. By then Aaron had caught up with them and pulled her in, her arms wrapping around his waist beneath his black leather jacket. “Nice job,” he said giving her a squeeze. “Thank you,” she replied. “But that one was pretty easy. Jamie was clearly still not happy, and he kicked his foot into the grass, his hands on his hips, before he finally said, “Look, maybe… maybe this isn’t going to work out. Aaron’s piercing blue eyes studied his face carefully before he asked, “What do you mean, Jamie? I thought it went pretty well. Shaking his head furiously, the Healer replied, “No, no it didn’t. Look, Aaron, I j ust can’t keep up with her

I can’t anticipate what she’s doing. I just… I’m afraid something is going to happen, Cadence, and I’m not going to be there to prevent it. Aaron put a hand on his friend’s shoulder to steady him. By now, the rest of the team had joined them, and both Aurora and Hannah were standing nearby with confused expressions on their faces while Paxton stood smiling, his captured Vampire held careful ly in the device in his hands. “All right, Jamie,” Aaron began. “I know you have some concerns. Let’s head back to headquarters, and we’ll do a debrief of this hunt to see if we can come up with some better solutions for the future. It’ll take us about t wo hours to get back, so that will give us all plenty of time to think about any changes we’d like to make. In the meantime, this was textbook, in my opinion, and I’m really proud of how well all of you worked together. Now, let’s load up and head home. The trip from Carthage back to LIGHTS Headquarters was about 150 miles, but the teammates were able to cover that distance much more quickly than human drivers obeying the speed limit. Cadence watched the primarily empty farmland fly by, Aaron’s hand on hers serving as her only anchor to the vehicle she occupied. The rest of the team was also relatively quiet in the back of the SUV, or at least, if they were talking, it was through IAC, and those conversations were private. Upon pulling into the gated area where the home base for LIGHTS was headquartered, they all piled out and entered the building where they typically h eld debriefs, only incidental chatter amongst them. Cadence paused on the sidewalk, took a deep breath, and then, when she felt a small nudge on her shoulder from her fiancé, followed the others into the building. Silence said everything, and she felt they were in for an uncomfortable conversation. She took her spot next to Aaron at the head of the table. As the newly appointed Hunter Leader, she was now in charge of every single Vampire Hunter in the world, active and ina ctive, loyal or rogue, and part of her duties included offering feedback as to how the team operated during hunts where she was present. While she felt that her team of Hunters had performed very well, clearly there was an issue with the Guardians, and Aaron would be relying on her to offer some insight into her own performance to help manage his team. Jamie was sitting directly across from her, running his hand through his spiky hair. The other teammates had filled in ar ound the table, and most of them looked supportive, but nervous, as if they weren’t quite sure how this conversation migh t go down. Cadence folded her hands in her lap atop her black leather pants, and waited for Aaron to start the discussion. Utilizing the equipment in the room, the Guardian Leader pulled up a picture of Skyler, the recently deceased Vampire. “I don’t want to keep you guys too long,” he be gan, his hands on his hips as he stood behind the chair next to Cadence. “I think things went really well. We went in, did our job, and got out without a mess and with no witnesses. However, I am aware that there are some concerns, so if any of you have anything you’d like to discuss, let’s go ahead and get it out on the table now. There was a moment of complete silence while Jamie continued to run his hand through his hair

Every eye in the roo m fixated on him, and when he finally looked up, it was quite obvious they were waiting for him to speak. With a dee p sigh, he said, “I… I just don’t know. I mean, Cadence, I am doing my best. I just have no idea what you’re doing. “I know…” the Hun ter began before Jamie cut her off. “I mean, we even talked about it before th e hunt this time. You said you’d take the shot, that you weren’t going to close in…. “I said I wasn’t planning on c losing in,” she corrected, lean ing forward in her chair a bit. “Okay—but you did. And I had no idea it was coming,” Jamie continued. “If I had known, maybe. Well, no. Even if I had known,” he corrected midsentence, “I still would have had no idea what you were doing. I’m sorry. I just don’t t hink I’m the best guy for this job. I just cannot seem to anticipate what you’re doing or how you’re going to do it. “Maybe with a little bit more prac tice…. ” Aurora offered from her se at near the other end of the table. “We’ve been practicing,” Jamie reminded them all. “It’s not a big deal as long as you d on’t get yourself killed, Cadence, but I can’t guarantee we’re always going to be facin g brand new Vampires who are unarmed and have no idea what you are or how to kill you. Cadence sighed, shaking her head so that her brown hair danced aroun d her shoulders. “I know,” she replied quietly. “It isn’t your fault , Jamie,” she assured him. “You’ve done everything you can. Maybe I…” . Her pause was lengthy, and eventua lly Aaron asked the question everyo ne was wondering. “Maybe you what?” . Running her hand through her hair, she quietly repli ed, “Maybe I should just start directing, instead of actually taking part in the hunts, like Aaron does