The Benders are a family that lives way in the backwoods of Hibbing, and it's almost pure coincidence that Jess winds up there. She was driving, following Kathleen to check on a lead, when she turned the wrong corner and wound up lost.
And her first impression of them is not a good one: the father's face is bearded and scarred, and the sons all look stocky and intimidating, but it's the little girl that gives Jess the shivers.
She's got to be at least fourteen, but the way two of her brothers are hanging onto her, Jess gets a very creeped out vibe. She supposes it's somewhat unfair of her to judge, but somehow, things look different from the outside, and when the relationship implied is between brother and sister.
The father watches her car as she pulls back out onto the road, and she casts one quick glance back as she drives away.
But that fleeting glimpse of them pings something on Jess's radar, and she already knows she needs to go back and snoop around.
Jess lets Kathleen know where she's going next, and she heads back to where she saw the little wooden sign carved with 'The Benders' and parks out a ways.
In the end, she discovers that the Benders are crazier than she thought, as Kathleen has to come to her rescue before the creepy family makes sure Jess is what's for dinner.
When it's all over, Kathleen is stripped down to a white, sleeveless ribbed tank, face smeared with dirt and chest heaving with exertion.
Jess wants to take her back to bed, but she knows she won't be able to: Kathleen has just discovered that this is where her brother disappeared to, and that he won't be coming back.
So Jess settles for taking her hand, rubbing circles into the palm, as she says, "I really enjoyed meeting you. And now that the case is solved, I need to head back and make my report."
"Of course," Kathleen says, still a tad tearful. "Thank you for helping us out here. I really appreciate it--and in spite of everything, at least this gives me some closure."
Jess knows that, more than anything, rather than closure, Kathleen would like to have her brother back.
It makes Jess think of how she'd kind of like Jo back, even though that was obviously never meant to be.
So, with the first case on her agenda out of the way, Jess points her car in the direction of Palo Alto, California, and turns the music up loud.
Time to see what Ellen's important gig is.
The gig is a dorm fire. It really appears totally innocent on the surface--no-one saw anything suspicious, and there was no-one home at the time, so the fire destroyed only the apartment, but didn't kill anyone.
In Jess's experience, that sort of thing usually means someone got careless--if it had been anything else, well, there should have been casualties.
Jess is about to chalk it up to a wasted trip when she stops in the bar just outside of campus for a quick drink, and runs into this absolutely gorgeous brunette. She knows she should just move on, but she can't help eyeing the girl from where she's sitting.
And apparently she's very obvious about it, because the girl gets up and strides over, definitely heading for Jess and with a definite purpose to her long-legged walk.
She slides onto the barstool next to Jess and holds out her hand.
"I'm Ruby," she introduces herself. Jess shakes her hand and smiles. She likes being the one getting hit on sometimes, too. Not for nothing, she thinks again about how nice it is, too, to chat up a girl who's not a slim blonde. Ruby's really tiny; she's petite and her body, while curved generously in the chest and hips, is still probably a size zero.
Jess isn't jealous, though. She knows she's good-looking enough even if she's taller and slightly more built.
She's also really feeling the vibe here.
And then Ruby tips the mouth of her beer towards Jess and says,
"I saw you down at the site of the fire." She turns the beer bottle round and places it at her lips, then pauses, sets it on the bar-top, and adds, "You're a hunter, right? Me too. That fire? Was not an accident."
"No-one was hurt," Jess says. She's starting to feel a little out of her element.
"Yeah, but you didn't check out the EMF." Ruby nods solemnly and takes a long pull of her beer. Jess is even more attracted to her because she doesn't have a girly drink in her hand.
"Couldn't get past the police tape," Jess admits; "Not with the security around."
"Gotta learn to work that body," Ruby tells her. Her eyes are a deep, velvety brown that shimmers in the barlight like a ribbon of chocolate.
"I'm..." Jess swallows, drinks from her own beer to cover her awkwardness. But Ruby seems to know what she's trying to say.
"Don't tell me you never learned to flirt with a guy, too," she says. "It's really not that hard to pretend you're interested."
Jess shrugs, a little helplessly. "I might've tried harder if it seemed more like my kind of thing," she says. "But there were no casualties and it could just as easily have been the wiring, like the police said."
"If Ellen Harvelle sent you here," Ruby says, "then it's not nothing. And believe me, that desiccated wreck lit up the EMF metre like a Christmas tree."
"You know Ellen?" Jess asks, pushed a little off-balance by the offhanded reference.
"She runs the Roadhouse," Ruby says casually. "Most hunters know her."
"All right," Jess capitulates. "I give in. What is it we're dealing with?"
"I'm not entirely sure yet," Ruby says with a grin. "I need to get an even closer look, so I'm going to head back after dark and just kind of... sneak my way in. Wanna come?"
Jess gets the impression that that's actually a come-on, an invitation, and while it's an odd set-up and situation for a date, she's a hunter, Ruby's a hunter, when is anything hunters do normal?
So she grins back. "Yeah," she says. "Sure, why not?"
Jess has felt this silly on hunts before, but usually she's alone with no-one to witness it; she can tell Ruby's not even thinking about that, but she still feels self-conscious dressed in all black, with her hair pushed up under a black baseball cap--"It's too blond, it will stand out", Ruby'd said.
And she's following behind Ruby as the girl creeps around the corner into the alley next to the dorm building. Ruby looks good in the charcoal grey she's wearing. Her long, wavy brunette hair is a jumbled mess down her back and on her shoulders, and she has a tight grey sweater on with a square neckline and short sleeves. She's wearing a pleated grey skirt, and grey tights.
Jess is actually jealous, because she would have preferred an outfit that was less conspicuous if they get caught, but she can't really argue that Ruby looks good and she didn't have anything quite like that.
She's hoping she won't have to actually try and flirt with one of the security guys or policemen, because that's what trick she never learned.
In point of fact, she was lucky that back in Hibbing, Minnesota, the local law enforcement had been Kathleen and not some guy.
Ruby ducks under the police tape, so petite that she barely has to lean down. Jess has a more difficult time, the police tape fluttering as she bends down onto her knees to creep beneath it.
Ruby's waiting patiently as Jess gets back to her feet, wondering what the knees of her black jeans look like now.
"It's this way," Ruby says, pointing. The faint glow of the streetlights illuminates Ruby's gesture.
"Is it safe," Jess starts, "to climb those stairs?"
Ruby grins wickedly. "Probably not, which would explain all the precautions taken by the police, don't you think? But don't worry. I don't think we'll have a problem."
Ruby produces a set of lock-picks from somewhere--Jess would really like to know where, considering her current outfit--and breaks into the side door.
"This is..." Jess searches for the correct word. "Thrilling," she settles on at last. "Somehow hunting is more attractive when you're not doing it alone."
They're standing just inside the door now, Ruby on the step above Jess, and she shoves the door shut, dipping them into immediate darkness. The stairs do feel sturdy beneath Jess's feet, which turns out to be a good thing when she finds herself suddenly pressed against the wall of the stairwell, Ruby's breath sweetly hot against her lips just before the kiss.
It's a prelude, Jess can tell at once; this kiss is only the beginning. They don't have time for more, not now, not really, but Ruby kisses her just the same, tongue thoroughly dominant in her mouth.
There's the faintest flavour in Ruby's mouth that Jess can't identify; maybe something she'd eaten earlier?
Jess pushes back against Ruby's body, enjoying the soft-yet-firm press of Ruby's breasts against hers as she fully engages in the kiss, biting at Ruby's lower lip.
Ruby's hand is suddenly cupping Jess between her legs over the denim. Jess can feel the hot, insistent throb there, the slow seep of wetness into her panties--it's almost an itch, a piercing kind of sensation that starts at that epicentre and spreads.
She tears her mouth away from Ruby's, pressing her hand to her lips, feeling their heat and the swelling there; swelling that mimics another part of her body.
"Not yet," she whispers. "We've got work to do first."
It's too dark for her to see Ruby's expression, but Ruby's warm hand slides down her thigh a bit and disappears, leaving the cold feeling of absence behind.
"I'm sorry," Ruby says. "I just couldn't help myself."
"We'll just check this out--" Jess says, and Ruby's hand covers her mouth this time.
"Let's hurry," Ruby urges.
Jess clicks on the flashlight they'd brought with them--stashed in the duffle that Jess has been carrying over her shoulder--and directs the beam up the stairs.
Ruby climbs them first, giving Jess peek-a-boo views of her white, lacy panties as she takes each step. The panties are a cross between a thong and a bikini and Jess is, therefore, kind of hypnotised by the flashes of Ruby's taut ass.
If Ruby knows about this, she doesn't care; Jess realises hazily that those dark tights she thought Ruby was wearing are actually thigh-highs held up with a garter--God, so sexy.
She can't wait to get her hands on her, to push up the pleats of her skirt and cup each silky ass-cheek, slide her fingers into the lacy panties until she finds the slick opening to Ruby's body.
Jess is so distracted that she almost runs Ruby over when the girl stops at the top of the stairs.
"This way," she says, and she pushes open a door that's hanging crookedly on its hinges, giving them both a view of the room that had been torched. It's been destroyed, ashes and charring everywhere, and Ruby takes the EMF metre from Jess and turns it on, showing her as it lights up immediately.
"Ghost?" Jess questions, but Ruby shakes her head. There's a streak of moonlight slashing across the floor from the broken window. It's turning everything in the room silver, including the ends of Ruby's hair.
"I don't think so," Ruby says. "Maybe a poltergeist, I'm not sure. Or it could be caused by a person who was either extremely frightened by something like a ghost, or... I got nothing, but--" Ruby casts a glance at the window. "Wait."
Jess isn't sure what they're looking at when Ruby picks her way through the debris in the room and wipes her finger over the windowsill, but that's okay, because Ruby tells her.
"Sulfur," she says grimly. "I know what we're dealing with now."
"So what is it?" Jess asks. This is obviously out of her purview by this point. Ruby's wearing a very somber expression.
"Not something you want to mess with alone," she says darkly. "Not at all a good thing. We're hunting a demon."
Something dark and primal shoots through Jess: fear. Fear that she's unused to, because in all her hunting, this is the first time she's been faced with something like this.
"So what do we do?" she asks. She realises that, without noticing, she's crept closer to Ruby as if the other girl can protect her.
"It's gone by now," Ruby says. "But we have to figure out how to track it; figure out what it wants. Why torch this dorm room?"
Jess picks up a picture off the floor. The glass is cracked and spiderwebbed, and the edges of the print within are curled and black, but she can make out one of the people in the photo.
It's a girl, tall and slender. Her hair is short and uneven like it's been feathered badly, and the picture was taken in bad lighting, making the colour of her hair impossible to tell.
She's pretty, from what Jess can see under the smoke damage.
Jess sets it down on the floor again. She's not sure whether the girl in the photo lived in this dorm, or if she's someone else, someone precious to the person who lived here.
"Come on," Ruby says, "I think we've learned everything we can from here."
Jess can still feel that tingle between her legs; it hasn't subsided and her skin feels so sensitive that the slightest brush of anything against her might make her fly apart.
She takes Ruby's hands and pulls her through the doorway into the bedroom, which is dim and fills her mouth with the taste of ash; the bed is relatively untouched, even though, oddly enough, the ceiling is utterly black as if the fire originated there.
She pushes Ruby down into a sitting position on the bed, then straddles her lap, her knees on either side of Ruby's waist. Jess immediately claims her lips in a filthy kiss, and as she distracts Ruby with her tongue and her teeth, she slides one hand down over Ruby's sweater, shoving it up to touch her soft belly briefly, then down, rucking up the pleated skirt, cupping her hand over the front of Ruby's white panties at the crease of her body.
Jess works her finger into the elastic at the leg and finds Ruby wet already, body willing and swelling open for Jess's fingers.
Ruby gasps, a moan filling her throat and Jess's mouth as Jess begins to finger-fuck her.
Ruby hitches her hips up as best she can under Jess's weight, trying to get Jess's fingers in deeper; Jess crams a third finger in and jams them up as deep as she can.
"God, yes," Ruby cries out, and she's rocking beneath Jess's body, her own hands fluttering over Jess's shoulders as if she doesn't know where to put them.
She clutches at Jess's sides, just under her ribcage, and hangs on as she continues to fuck herself against Jess's fingers.
Ruby is dripping all over Jess's hand and down her wrist, and Jess's own body is swollen and chafing at the seam of her jeans, her panties soaked through--Jess is fairly certain her jeans are dampened through as well, and Ruby can probably feel it against her bare thighs.
Jess grabs at Ruby's hip, trying to keep her still enough to get her off.
Ruby frees up one hand and presses it hard against Jess through the crotch of her jeans. Jess throws her head back and throws out an equally throaty cry as Ruby begins to grind the heel of her palm against Jess's softness.
Jess keeps up her rhythm, her thumb circling the apex of Ruby's sex, crooking her fingers deep within the incredibly hot, silky-rich walls of Ruby's body.
And even as she hurls Ruby over the edge into unbelievable pleasure, Ruby's palm is still snug and forceful against Jess.
Jess doesn't even need any direct contact; the friction of her panties, the squelch of her wetness against her throbbing, swollen flesh, and the firm contact of Ruby's palm take her into the promised land just the same.
She closes her eyes, and as Ruby starts to come down, she falls backward onto the bed, and Jess moves with her, until they're lying, panting, on the mattress.
"We should go, so we don't get caught," Ruby says, out-of-breath.
Jess can feel Ruby's heart still hammering her chest.
"In a few minutes," Jess mumbles. "I can't move."
She's having enough trouble catching her breath on her own.
"When we get out of here," Ruby says, "we should hunt this thing together. Never a good idea to go after a demon alone."
"Sounds good," Jess says, and rolls to Ruby's side to keep from squashing her. She plays her damp fingers along Ruby's neckline, leaving smears of wetness across the tops of her breasts.
They do need to get out of here, but Jess figures they can spare a few more minutes.
Jess doesn't want to do it, but if Ellen texts, she had better fucking read it. So she slips out of bed with Ruby and pads as quietly as she can into the motel bathroom.
It's been a few months, and they haven't found any information on the demon, such as where it is, or even how to track it--and honestly, Jess likes Ruby, but something feels strange and off lately.
She clicks the button to view the message and tries not to think about how, when she lies next to Ruby in bed each night, she feels a yawning distance between them.
At first it had seemed so perfect: Ruby was beautiful, she was spunky, she had guts and drive. But after they started sharing a bed--cheaper, occasionally--something just changed. Suddenly Ruby's possessive, and her personality seems darker than it had been.
The message is short and to the point, because Ellen doesn't have the patience for long texts (for all Jess knows, Jo typed it out for her anyway): Call Ash; has info.
She glances around the partially open door. Ruby's still asleep, her dark hair tousled where it peeks out from under the blanket, one bare leg outstretched. And as much as Jess wonders if this is the right thing, she still wants to ignore the directive from Ellen and go over, run her palm up Ruby's calf, and press damp kisses at the back of her knee, just where Ruby loves it.
But she doesn't. She knocks the door shut quietly with the toes of her bare foot and obediently dials the Roadhouse, praying Jo isn't the one to pick up.
The phone rings and rings, and then, to Jess's surprise and great relief, Ash is the one to answer.
"Yo, this is the Roadhouse," he says. Nothing else. Jess finds herself smiling and wishing she could see Ash again--his mullet's probably all messed up from sleeping on it, the party temporarily flattened, and she can just imagine he's probably standing just outside his room in a long t-shirt and no underwear.
"Hey, Ash, it's Jess," she says. "Ellen sent me a very commanding text just now."
"You're lucky," Ash says, muffled like he's cupping his hand over his mouth to keep from being overheard. "Ellen really thinks you need to talk to Jo, but she relented this morning and said I could wait for you to call."
"Let me guess," Jess teases, "she's got bets on how long it would take me to do as I was told."
"I just won ten bucks," Ash tells her cheekily. "Anyhow, listen. Don't even ask me how El keeps up with what you're doing, but she told me to keep an eye out for..." he pauses. "I'm rambling. Omens."
"Storms, especially with a lot of lightning, severe weather, tornadoes... out of season, mostly. Residents saying they 'came out of nowhere'. That's your ticket. Track the weather, babe, and you ought to be able to track down... whatever it is. Gotta go now. I'm supposed to be researching for Ellen."
"Thanks, Ash," Jess says. She wants to say more, but doesn't know what to say--what's expected of her in this situation. Probably, I'll see you soon, but she won't say that, because it isn't true.
She's not going back to the Roadhouse for as long as she can manage it, if ever.
part four! -->