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Exile’s Hunter Chapter Eighteen: Free Sci-fi Romance

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Mad made Kenzie put her hood back on and hoped it wouldn’t draw attention to her. They had to cross a good portion of Orion, and he didn’t want her recognized. If word got back to Jadirel, things would go poorly for both of them.

But word wouldn’t get back to the exile king. Mad would kill anyone who tried.

He felt naked without his weapons, but Kenzie had knives enough for both of them, and she’d even offered one to him. She might not have realized it yet, but he wasn’t giving it back. He would take as many tokens from his mate—his suspected mate—as he could.

The outside of Jaek’s cave looked as abandoned as it always did, but Mad knocked anyway. There was no answer. He knocked harder. Was Jaek still in a sour mood?

But after a few minutes, Mad was willing to believe that Jaek truly wasn’t home, and he let himself and Kenzie inside.

“Do you bring every girl to your… cave?” Kenzie asked, wiping her finger against the stone.

Mad grinned back at her. “My friend Jaek lives here. He’s been on Guerran longer than I have and has a surprising number of contacts throughout the city. He might have heard something about Carise. If there’s even the tiniest hint of a rumor, he can track it down.”

“You met Jaek in the market after I left you, right?” She eyed Jaek’s table, and Mad followed her gaze. Two tea cups.

“After you ran away, you mean?” There was a challenge in his words. He didn’t want Kenzie running again, and especially not from him.

“A strategic retreat.” She didn’t touch anything, and Mad wondered if part of that was her training from her time in security.

“Yes, that was Jaek,” he confirmed. He still didn’t know why his friend had come to the market. It wasn’t like him.

“He was looking at clothing for a person much smaller than him. Does he have a girlfriend? Boyfriend?” She took a deep breath and braced herself before asking the next question. “Human slave?”

Audible

“Jaek would never.” The denial was instant and absolute.

She held her hands up in surrender. “Okay. I believe you. So who’s his partner?”

“He doesn’t have a woman. Or anyone else.” Mad couldn’t remember Jaek ever staying with someone. He wasn’t sure Jaek even cared about fucking. And he liked his privacy too much to let a lover into his home.

The clothes could have been nothing. People looked at random things in markets all the time. But there was evidence of another person in Jaek’s space. And since Mad was Jaek’s closest—really, only—friend, and he hadn’t put out those tea cups, there had to be another person in Jaek’s life.

One he hadn’t told Mad about.

The blanket was rumpled on the couch again, and there was a small shawl hanging on the edge of the couch. Too small for Jaek. Mad picked it up.

“Can I see that?” Kenzie asked, leaving her investigation of the tea cups behind.

Mad handed it over.

She ran her fingers over the fabric and stopped when she came to a label subtly sewn in along the hem. “This was mass produced in the Oscavian Empire.”

“Okay.” Mad didn’t know much about where his clothes came from. He got them in the market. Sometimes they had tags, sometimes they didn’t. He didn’t question it.

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“We’re way too far away for them to be supplying much to Guerran. Either this was a very expensive import… or someone who was near the Oscavian Empire at some point got it from there. I tracked Carise around the empire for almost six months.” She held the fabric up to her face and smelled it. “It’s clean.”

He could see her mind working and knew the conclusion she’d come to. “That’s no proof Carise was here. But if she was, there’s no safer place on Guerran than with Jaek.”

Her face grew fierce. “She’s safest with me, not some criminal.”

It stung. Even worse than that, it hurt. Kenzie didn’t seem to realize or care that Mad and Jaek were no different. He knew her emotions were running high and that she was desperate. But he didn’t need to take her insults.

“I’m just a criminal to you?” It was important to hide emotions on Guerran. Otherwise they’d be used against a person. But Mad didn’t want to hide from Kenzie. He wanted her to understand.

Her brows furrowed. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. Don’t turn this around on me.”

Before he could open his mouth to say something he’d regret, the front door burst open and Jaek stomped into the room, a dark storm of a look on his face. “What the fuck are you doing here?” he demanded. “And who’s she?”

“I’m—”

Mad cut her off. He didn’t want her leveling accusations against Jaek as well. “I’m helping Kenzie find her sister. She thinks she was dumped on Guerran in the last month or so. Do you know anything?”

Despite the evidence of another person sharing Jaek’s space, the exile was alone. Mad didn’t ask about the extra teacup or the shawl. He’d press if he had to, but not yet.

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Anger was riding him fast and hard, and he had to get it under control. But Jaek didn’t help.

“Haven’t seen anyone,” he practically growled, shoving Mad aside. “Get out.”

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