Avaritia Prologue

© COLETTE RHODES 2023. Subject to change.



“So, how was your Criminal Law class? I feel like of the classes you’re taking, that one sounds the most interesting,” I said to my boyfriend, tucking my phone between my ear and my shoulder as I moved my pot of rice off the heat to finish cooking. 

“Well, obviously it’s interesting, but it’s not like a crime show, Verity,” Sebastian replied dismissively. “It’s a really complex topic.”

“Right, sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.” 

Sebastian was a nice guy. The best guy. Everyone said so. He clearly didn’t mean to make me feel like an idiot whenever I tried to talk about what he was doing at law school. It was an accident. Besides, I could have looked into it more, figured out what it was he was actually studying. 

Once Sebastian graduated and moved back home, and once we weren’t four hundred and forty-eight miles apart, things would be back to normal. Everything would be wonderful again. He’d find a job here, the Hunters Council would supplement his income, and we’d finally have that winter wonderland wedding we’d always talked about. 

Just two and three-quarter years to go. 

“Mom says you haven’t visited her in a while,” Sebastian said in a faintly accusatory tone, drawing me back to the unpleasantness of the present rather than the dreamy future I preferred spending my time in. 

“Work has been super busy—” I began, wincing slightly at the reminder that I was overdue to go kiss the ring at my future mother-in-law’s house. Sebastian was everything, and of course I loved him more than life, but he was a teensy bit of a mama’s boy. But it was fine. He’d probably grow out of it once we were married. 

As he regularly pointed out, I didn’t have a good idea of what a normal parental relationship looked like, so I couldn’t judge.

“It’s a pet store, Verity. You’re not curing cancer.” 

“No, I know that—” 

“And you know how hard it’s been on Mom with me deciding to go out of state for law school. It’s always been us against the world, and she’s really struggling. I’m really counting on you to help her out, V. Maybe take her a meal or something. Wifey shit, you know. I don’t trust anyone else to do it.” 

A small flutter of hopeful butterflies took flight at the word wifey. “She doesn’t like my cooking.” 

“You could make something she likes. You don’t have to put spices in everything. She also wants to know what time you’re picking her up to come and visit me this weekend?” 


“I, um, thought this weekend was just going to be the two of us?” Silence. “It’s just that it’s our anniversary, and we were going to do something special,” I tacked on hurriedly. He’d probably forgotten. 

I mean, it wasn’t great that he’d forgotten our ten-year anniversary, but he was busy. Law school was hard. I shouldn’t judge. 

“I’m all she has, Verity.” 

And there it was. The argument I couldn’t win. The fight I could never have because I’d look like the devil incarnate if I said anything to counter that. 

“You’re right, of course. Maybe we could do something for our anniversary next time I’m up.” 

Sebastian exhaled. “I knew you’d understand. You’re the fucking best. You’ll sort out the logistics with Mom, yeah? I’m due at a study session.” 

“Absolutely, of course. You should go.” I took a steadying breath, trying to find some sense of inner calm. Sebastian was busy. Law school was a lot of pressure, and Deb’s constant whining about him moving away wasn’t helping. He needed me. I didn’t want to add to the already huge load he was carrying. 

“I love you,” I added, hoping my voice sounded cheerier than I felt. I hated this feeling of constantly counting down, waiting for the good times to start, never being able to enjoy the present. My whole life was on hold, and while I’d voluntarily agreed to this arrangement, I couldn’t help but resent it a little at times too.

Which only made me feel worse in the long run. 

“Love you,” Sebastian replied easily. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” 

I swallowed thickly. “Yeah. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” 


By the time the end of my shift rolled around on Friday evening, I was the closest I’d ever been to bailing on Sebastian. I wouldn’t, of course, but I really felt like it. 

A delayed delivery meant that Mrs. Hartford couldn’t buy Rembrandt’s usual brand of kibble, causing her to have a complete meltdown in the middle of the store. Just when I’d calmed her down, a new customer arrived with an adorable little spoodle pup, who’d promptly peed on my foot. 

I’d had better days at work.

My phone rang through the car speakers, interrupting the big booty anthem I’d been bopping along to and making me jump. 

“Hello?” I said, accepting the call without taking my eyes off the road to check the caller. Or rather, assuming it was Sebastian, because no one else ever called me. 

V.” Nope, not Sebastian. It was one of my roommates, Da-Eun, who’d never called me. 

“Everything okay?” Please don’t say there’s a gas leak. I can’t take another thing going wrong today. 

She whispered something too low for me to catch, and I stabbed the volume button a few times. “Can you repeat that? I didn’t catch it—”

I said that your boyfriend’s mom is here. She said you were supposed to pick her up two hours ago or something? But you never showed?” 

“I was supposed to pick her up at six,” I gritted out, which was still half an hour away. Just enough time for me to get home, change, scrub the pee-foot, and grab my bag before driving until one a.m.

I’m not getting into it. I couldn’t be mad about that. My roommates and I were passing acquaintances at best, and it’s not like Deb was the politest of house guests. My roomies were also one-hundred-percent human, so I couldn’t mention the fact that Deb was not only my boyfriend’s mom but my superior in a secret monster-killing organization. “I’m just telling you that she’s here and she’s waiting in your room.” 

“In my room?!”

“I did try to suggest she wait in the living room, but she’s kind of terrifying for a five-foot-nothing suburban soccer mom.”

“I appreciate the effort, thanks,” I replied weakly, already reaching for the end call button. “I’ll be there in five, okay? Thanks for the heads-up.”

Shit, shit, shit.

She was probably just sitting on the edge of my bed, quietly fuming. Right? Right. She wouldn’t snoop.

I mean, she’d never showcased any understanding of boundaries before, but it was probably in there somewhere, buried under layers of hostility. 

Please don’t be snooping. 

I’d put everything away carefully last night, hadn’t I? Of course I had. I was always careful. What I was doing was wrong; I didn’t take any unnecessary risks with it. 

I parked in my usual spot a little up the street, my tote bag snagging on the handbrake as I half fell out of the car in a rush. 

“Fuck, fuck, come on,” I mumbled to myself, yanking it free and slamming the door behind me before booking it down the street, my drink bottle banging uncomfortably against my hip as I shouldered the bag. I was panting with exertion by the time I got to the front door, and Da-Eun kindly opened it for me after twenty seconds of me fumbling around in my pockets, looking for my keys. 

“Good luck,” she muttered, flopping down on the couch and pressing her phone nearly to her nose. 

“Thanks,” I panted, skidding slightly on the greige floorboards as I rounded the corner and headed down the hallway to my room. 

Positive thinking. Positive thinking. She’s just sitting on the edge of your bed, scowling at you in disdain, acting like you’re the one who got the time wrong. Apologize profusely for having the gall to be at work, usher her out to the car, and drive to Albuquerque in silence. Easy. Nothing to stress about. It’s going to be fine

It was not fine. 

I pushed open the not-quite-closed door to my bedroom, finding the exact scenario I’d hoped to avoid. I was pretty sure I’d had a nightmare about this exact scenario once after I’d eaten too much cheese at dinner. 

At least she’d only found half my stash. 

“What. Is. This?” Deb asked, her usually pale face flushed crimson with outrage. 

I opened my mouth, hoping that some kind of logical, acceptable explanation would magic its way out of my brain, but eventually gave up and closed it again, quickly shutting the door behind me so my roommates didn’t overhear this horror show in progress. 

“I know it looks bad—”

“You are a Hunter,” Deb hissed, thankfully keeping her voice down. “Have you forgotten that? You are meant to rid our world of the creatures of the night. And all along, you’re hiding this, this disgusting hoard? It’s… it’s depraved.” 

I swallowed thickly, the guilt I’d always wrestled with whenever I added a new one to my collection all rising to the surface in one crushing wave. It was depraved. I knew it was wrong, and yet I couldn’t help myself. 

It had been a stupid fantasy that I’d sworn to myself that I was only going to indulge in once, but I was so lonely without Sebastian here and it had gotten out of control. 

“I know it’s wrong. I’ll stop, I swear—”

“I’ve sent a photo to the Council. And to Sebastian,” Deb interjected. “I know you have no parents, and I tried to take you under my wing and show you how to be a good partner for my son, but enough is enough. Some people just can’t be helped, and you’re one of them, Verity. You are just… broken. That’s who you are.” 

She shook her head in disgust, and I mutely moved out of the way as she stalked past, pulling open the door. “Stay away from my son. Let him move on with his life, let him be happy for the first time in a decade.” 

And with that parting shot, she was gone, leaving me alone with the collection of brightly colored tentacle dildos strewn across my bed, and a broken heart.