I spent the first few moments as I rose trying to comprehend what I was hearing…
Grunting, groaning, panting, moaning, slapping, splashing…
I’d just realized I was overhearing Sookie and Asa’s encounter in their bathroom (probably because of the way she was panting his name) when Gawain shouted, “Could the couple in the bestiality suite kindly shut the fuck up!?”
At least Tyson and Atum thought he was funny enough to be laughing from their suites further down the corridor.
The couple in the bestiality suite finished as quietly as possible, and after a few minutes, Sookie and Asa began passing soaps and shampoos back and forth… Why wouldn’t they be interrupted?
My hilarious friend had walked into their bathroom and gasped, “That’s not very ladylike!”
Sookie groaned, “Thank you, Eric, for suggesting Sir Douchebaggery as my fanged guard. Is it too late to trade for Miss Uncongeniality?”
I wasn’t the only one who laughed. Tyson was still chuckling when he ordered, “Leave them alone, Gawain. Wait. Is he trying to breed her? She’ll finish the contract heavy or not.”
Gawain answered, “Either a parade passed through her room or they used condoms-”
Sookie shouted, “It’s a parade! It’s Asshole Day! For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow…”
It was difficult enough to keep from laughing when Asa started whistling and clapping, but when Tyson began singing with Sookie… I laughed hard enough to realize Pam would want to hear about it.
They sang the song through and when they were done, Gawain asked, “Are you quite finished?” as dryly as he could. I knew him too well to think he wasn’t amused. Jealous she’d turned the table on him maybe, but definitely amused.
I heard Sookie hum and a moment later she giggled, “Yeah. Now I’m done. Have a happy Asshole Day, Gawain. You deserve it.”
But what I would have given for a camera…
Only a moment after Sookie excused Gawain, the door to my room opened to reveal Sookie’s finishing touch…
Blood. Red. Geisha. Lips.
“Pam called her a spitfire.” Gawain dry tone made the movement of his lips that much funnier.
I chuckled, “I think that’s a good color for you.”
Without warning, Atum appeared with his camera behind Gawain and tapped his shoulder… he proceeded to take a nonstop array of photos as he backed towards my bed to recline next to me.
“When is holiday Humans make cards?”
At least he was trying to speak English.
I answered, “Christmas… but it’s Asshole Day. We could make our own.”
He chuckled, “Holiday? Cards?”
When Tyson settled his curiosity by joining us, he chuckled, “Welcome to London postcards,” and then he licked Gawain’s lips. “Not bad, right? Waxy without the chemicals.”
As eccentric as his taste-test was, Gawain nodded to agree. “Not much scent either.”
Sookie stepped into the doorway, wrapped in a towel and drying her hair with another. “Asa prefers it because it doesn’t leave a funky taste behind, and Pam wears it at least occasionally… Lancôme. It’s not heavy either… So what’s the plan for the night?”
Completely casual even though no one was clothed…
Tyson shrugged. “You’re to scan the staff…”
“I already did that. You’ve got a virtual soap opera going on with their personal lives. Family dramas, money and romances. Everyone is as honest as they can be except for the garbage-keepers, but I doubt you care about that. You should consider adding some sort of clothing allowance or some way to hide a raise for your guards though. You do pay them fairly, but the pay scale on the property doesn’t really reflect that security is much more important than laundry and snacks for Human guests. Oh, and you have a Witch on staff already, but I didn’t catch any reason to think she knows what she is. Her name is Charlie… She daydreamed about her boyfriend while she vacuumed and dusted.”
“Good to know. What is a garbage-keeper?”
She giggled, “Every girl knows how to get blood out of sheets and clothes, Tyson. You just throw them away, but I get that it’s an old habit. You are much older than Tide and Zout. Mrs. Donovan recycles as much as she can but most of your staff sleeps on Egyptian cotton. She delegates leftover groceries to everyone fairly without keeping anything for herself… She’s a goddess of efficiency who takes pride in a job well done. You might want to consider a little reward for dedicated service.”
“Do you have any suggestions? Joyce is too literal to trust her with anything abstract.”
“What scale are you thinking?”
“Fuck if I know. You suggested the reward!”
She snorted, “Good point… How about… A mattress and linens? In appreciation for the hard work, she can have somewhere comfortable to relax? If you want to go smaller, a comfortable settee, maybe? She doesn’t strike me as the kind of gal to like spas.”
“The bed is good. Done. I’ll have Joyce take care of it. Anything else?”
“Did you not sleep today?”
“I only left the bed long enough to open the door for breakfast. Asa took Dali out for a run a little while ago. I’ll be here long enough to talk to everyone one on one, but preliminary scanning didn’t reveal anything to fret over.”
“Good… It seems you freed your evening then. You might want to shop for the formal tomorrow night. I can make arrangements for you to have access to Harrods for the evening.”
“I’m all set for the ball, but I think I could probably find some souvenirs for the family back home. That would be great. Thank you.”
He nodded and chuckled, “Happy Asshole Day.”
She was in the hallway when she called back, “And a very happy Asshole Day to you, sir!”
Atum chuckled, “Fun.”
I nodded. “And clever. She could be Gawain’s nemesis…” I left my bed while Tyson teased Gawain for looking like a painted whore, and stepped into the hallway. “Erica, do you mind if I join you? I should ‘not shop’ for Pam.”
She leaned into the hall with an impish grin on her face. “Can we take pictures of all the stuff you don’t buy?”
She disappeared, slamming the door and laughing, “Asshole Day is my favorite day!”
Sookie and Asa were waiting for me in the hallway…
He was wearing long cargo shorts, a muscle shirt, and Sookie. She was on his back, with her feet in his hands as though they were stirrups, in a tiny pair of pink shorts and a black tank top.
As we made our way through the house, she chirped, “Our camera’s in my backpack. We have tons of batteries too.”
“Are you shopping for anything in particular?”
She moved one of her arms from Asa’s shoulder and ran her fingers through his hair… Even though he’d been walking as though he didn’t notice her weight on his back (even on the stairs), he acted as though his knees tried to give out.
She mumbled, “I need to give you a trim before the formal, hon,” before answering me. “Chocolates and jewelry…”
Asa added, “She needs sneakers and workout clothes. She forgot to pack hers.”
I asked, “Can she not run in those?” As far as I knew Converse All-Stars were designed for playing basketball.
“She could, but she’d ruin her feet. No support. She spends enough time in heels that she can’t really risk stress fractures.”
She giggled, “I don’t run like he does though. He does parkour with Dali, and I just run around stuff… This is cool. Private shopping hours. We could take all night…”
Asa raised an eyebrow to look over his shoulder at her. “Did you really just say that?”
She blew a raspberry at him. “It’s shopping for me I hate, not other people. Case in point, I love Christmas shopping.”
“If you have too much fun, I’ll call Wallace and tell him-”
She covered his mouth and turned to me. “I’ll do almost anything to avoid shopping. I’ll go, but…”
Asa mumbled into her hand, “It’s a tactical strike. She makes a list for clothes so she doesn’t forget anything and have to go back. And say she likes a dress, really loves it, she’ll put it back if they don’t have shoes to match it because she doesn’t want to have to go to another store…” Sookie gave up and moved her hand. “She’ll buy exactly what’s on her list, nothing more for herself, but she buys tons of little stuff for anyone she sees something for. We had to buy another suitcase for all the souvenirs from spring break. She bought a bikini and a sarong for herself, that’s it.”
“That was last year. We went to Cancun this year.”
Sookie explained, “Carnival was a blast, but it was totally wild. We found a quiet resort with private villas near Cancun. We partied and all, but we had to go looking for the craziness instead of trying to sleep through it. Hawaii was nice too. We went last summer.”
Globe-trotting with Sookie? Where did he plan to honeymoon with his wife?
“I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to explore London since you’ll be here for the summer.”
Asa offered, “We have a list a mile long-”
Sookie interrupted, “One point six kilometers, please.”
He chuckled as he continued, “Attractions, landmarks, museums. We’ll probably still need to come back eventually since we’re both history buffs.”
Eventually? Would his wife be in tow? If he’s the fucking Packmaster, who the fuck runs his pack while he gallivants around the world with Sookie?
Sookie giggled, “Is it silly that I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a contract in Italy eventually?”
I shook my head, but I couldn’t help but wonder how the fuck Asa intended to fit his family and pack into Sookie’s schedule, unless he’d thought of a way to be in two places at once.
We were just stepping outside when Sookie hopped from Asa’s back… his phone was ringing.
He answered, “Hey Val.”
She replied, “Hey there. I just got off shift and got your message. Are you busy?”
“Erica and I were just heading out for some shopping. Can you think of something you’d love to have from London?”
She giggled, “Christian Bale?”
He chuckled, “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Goody… I talked to Oui. She’s driving you nuts, huh?”
“Yeah. I already called her to apologize. I was shitty to her when she called yesterday. I have proof that weddings don’t need to cost millions though. She acts like she’s not going to be happy unless it’s a circus.”
Sookie mumbled, “Planning a big deal is just her way of trying to paint you into a corner to make sure it gets done…” She leaned towards Asa’s phone and greeted, “Hey sweetie, how’re you, other than workin’ too hard?”
After a pause, Valerie answered, “There’s something other than work? I musta missed that memo… I tell ya, I’ve been up to my elbows, literally in a couple of cases, all week. Maybe I need a vacation.”
As we settled into the car, Sookie snorted, “You’d find a way to work on vacation too. You’re just as bad as me. You’d be chillin’ by a private lagoon, workin’ on your tan… then an earthquake would rock through your tropical island and some poor bastard would need a splint or some shit.”
Valerie laughed, “That sounds completely exhausting. Thanks for saving me from the trouble, hon. Anyway… there’s a long bath callin’ for me. I just wanted to touch base. Y’all have fun. Love ya.”
Sookie and Asa answered in unison, “Love you too. Bye.”
At some point, Pam would probably call to tease me about how fucking curious the whole situation made me. Wait. Pam might know something. She could have heard more details from the family… but if I actually called to ask, I’d never hear the end of it.
Asa slid his phone into his pocket and cringed in Sookie’s direction. “Chocolates?”
She sighed, “She’s got that nut allergy so we need to be careful… We’ll find something. She’s easy to buy for… We could get lucky and run into Christian Bale. I bet you could get him into a gift box.”
While I watched them try to think of an appropriate gift for Asa’s fiancé, I tried to think of a conversationally appropriate question that would give me a bigger piece of the puzzle. I wouldn’t have cared who he fucked if it wasn’t for the fact Sookie was involved, but since Sookie seemed completely aware of his engagement… The curious situation, being leaked to me in dribs and drabs, was becoming maddening.
We arrived at Harrods one minute past closing time, and the manager was waiting at the door like a butler.
He started, “Good evening Miss Weiss, Mr. Forbes and Mr. Northman. I’m Andrew Dole. I’ll be your tour guide for the evening. The restaurants and salons have limited availability, so if I might ask, would your party care to start there?”
He was stodgy and I had the feeling that if he ever had a droll moment, he’d clean up after himself expeditiously.
Sookie looked at Asa and me, before speaking for the group, “We’re American tourists who want to send a few things home to our family- mementos of London. And we need to visit sportswear, ladies couture and jewelry… I’d hate for a lot of people to stay behind when we won’t be going to every department.”
“Of course. Where should we visit first?”
She took Asa’s hand and giggled, “Jewelry. We need to get it out of the way.”
Dole scanned Asa, probably trying to assess how much he could spend (based on Nike sneakers and Old Navy shorts) and asked, “Engagement jewelry, perhaps?” as he turned to lead the way.
Asa tightened his grip on Sookie’s hand when she giggled, “Yes sir. We’re having a problem finding something perfect.”
Sookie stroked his forearm and said, “Mr. Dole, since you’re a detached party, how do you feel about diamonds and engagements?”
“I believe it’s become the custom, ma’am. Unless the bride-to-be has a distaste for them or another item holds significant meaning to the couple, of course.”
“Thank you. Now, keep in mind that the bride and groom aren’t a conventional couple… If the groom, who has influential standing in the community and considerable wealth, were to buy a two-carat engagement ring…”
Dole began shaking his head and clicking his tongue.
Sookie added, “And the bride-to-be is a doctor.”
Dole actually gasped and looked back at Asa, completely appalled.
Sookie offered, “He’s not being a cheapskate, Mr. Dole. He just doesn’t see the symbolic significance…”
I sighed, “For a man with a blue-collar job, it’s just a token of love, if not a way of marking their woman as theirs. But for a man with standing, the ring is a symbol of proprietorship. The ring is the deed on the mother of his children… Bigger doesn’t make it better, but in your position and hers, she should be put on a pedestal amongst your peers, even if the ring means nothing behind closed doors.”
I wanted answers after that, or at least a puzzle piece. I fucking helped.
Sookie snorted, “Good God. I should’ve asked Eric last night… Thank you.”
Asa grumbled, “I see Eric’s point, but that isn’t the only reason I canceled an order for an eight carat ring. She’s a lefty and prong settings snag latex gloves… I was just a prick about it last night because my step-mother keeps going behind my back… The last time I was home, she had a tailor come to my house to measure me. I ALREADY HAVE A FEW TUXEDOS, DAMMIT. I know how to find a tailor. I’m not retarded.”
Sookie giggled, “You were being a baby.”
Sookie stroked his arm again and cooed, “Take a deep breath, sweetie. I’m filing down edges as fast as I can.”
He growled and kissed the top of her head. “Thank you…”
“And who are you pissed at?”
“Me. Not you.”
She giggled, “I love you anyway.”
He breathed, “I love you too,” as we stepped into the jewelry department… and his eyes glazed over.
Sookie led him to a settee, steered him backwards, and had him sit down. I almost laughed when he reached into his pocket and tried to hand his wallet to her.
She snickered and shook her head. “You’ll do it.”
Asa whimpered as Sookie turned away, he watched her, still holding up his wallet, until she began perusing the cases.
She didn’t spend more than ten minutes browsing, and only pointed to four items to have them removed from the case…
When she curled her finger to have Asa join her, Dole approved, “Excellent choices, ma’am,” and the clerk gave a nod to approve as well.
By the time Asa’s brain was sending messages to his legs, Sookie had leaned against the case and raised an eyebrow at him.
“Don’t be a pussy.”
He whined, “What if I’m an endangered pussy with a pavé name tag and…”
She snorted when she laughed at him. “You want to live the posh life as a lap pet, huh?”
“Why the fuck are you so calm about this?”
She huffed, “Because ‘this’ is just jewelry,” and placed a box in his hand. “The traditional solitaire engagement ring is out, so how about a pendant? This one’s in a setting that looks a little like a moon with a winter halo.”
He gulped and set the box on the display case. “Okay.”
“You didn’t even look at it.”
“It’s not for me. What else?”
When she held up a band, I stepped closer. “If it freaks you out to think of this as a wedding band, then look at it like the ring you’re giving to the future mother of your child, your Duẽna, your friend…” He gulped and nodded as he finally looked at the piece of jewelry. Sookie explained, “It’s a Tiffany Cobblestone band in platinum. It’s only three carats, but everything is close to the finger and the bezel settings won’t snag latex gloves…”
I added, “And the design of the ring catches light better than a single stone… Since she won’t wear a solitaire with it, that ring’s a very good choice.”
His lip curled and he whimpered, but he didn’t say anything before Sookie passed the cobblestone ring to the clerk with a nod.
Sookie took the last two items from the display and pushed a ring onto each of his ring fingers.
She held them up and sighed, “I’m completely with Ouida on this, sweetie. The simple band looks so bland it needs salt on your big hand. The channel-set is simple, but detailed. It’s got a really low profile so it won’t get in the way of all the active stuff you do, and it’s got some weight to it, so you’ll hear it if it falls out of your pocket or something… Eric, what’s the guy vote?”
I’d wear it. It was actually a very nice ring.
I agreed, “The plain band isn’t at all interesting. It’s nap-inspiring. The channel-set band has personality without being pretentious. And you forgot to mention the only reason it looks like a wedding band is the finger it’s on.”
He squeezed his eyes shut and pulled the rings from his fingers, placing them on the case and groaning, “Okay. Alright. Fine. Anything else?”
Sookie shook her head. “Just pay the man, sweetie.”
His hands shook while he pulled a credit card from his wallet… and when he turned to leave, he left the jewelry on the counter.
As Dole turned to tend to the sale, the clerk boxed the rings and offered quietly, “Pardon me for saying, but… that doesn’t seem like a good sign.”
Sookie sighed, “He’ll be fine as soon as everything’s tucked into my bag and he can pretend it didn’t happen.”
Would Valerie be alright with that?
It occurred to me that my perspective on marriage had suddenly become incredibly fucking orthodox, but I didn’t care. Asa had just been talked into buying €40,000 worth of jewelry for his fiancé by his girlfriend. That was more bizarre than any wedding related anecdotes I could recall…
Sookie wasn’t even mildly exaggerating when she’d suggested Asa would be fine once he could pretend he hadn’t just bought his wedding ring…
We found him in sportswear with an armful of workout clothing and two pairs of cross-trainers for Sookie… He vamped as a mannequin for couture gowns to help me torment Pam… He helped Sookie shop for chocolates and gift hampers for their families… As we passed a display of small Union Jack pillows, he had the idea to use a marker to write messages on the back as though they were postcards. I actually liked that idea enough to buy one to send to Pam with her box of chocolates and photos of ensembles that could have been… He was in good enough spirits that when we left the store, he asked the driver to take us to a pub for fish and chips, and then bought the driver dinner…
But he hadn’t as much as looked at Sookie’s backpack again.
As the driver unloaded our new purchases, we walked through the house to the pool, following the sounds of watersports…
Sookie sat at the end of the chaise where Atum was lounging with Dali, but before she could do much more than coo at her pet, Tyson pushed his date away.
“Oy. Erica… You should know, Gawain won’t hurt you for taking the piss, but that’s the only thing he won’t do… Ya fuck with him, he’ll have his revenge.”
She nodded. “Understood… that being said…?”
He chuckled, “That being said, love, he’s in the snooker room.”
She stood from her seat slowly and started to do a little dance with an evil look on her face.
She took a step before she balked. “I need a guy vote. If I mess with him while he’s getting a really lame blow job, am I saving him?”
Asa offered, “Bad blow jobs are only temporary. He’ll give up and take the wheel.”
Tyson and I nodded to agree, and Atum chuckled, “Do it.”
Sookie didn’t hesitate before she charged off calling, “Tad! Tad! Where’d you get to!?”
A perfect South Wales accent…
When Tyson’s date reached for him, he scoffed, “Not now,” and he left the pool to follow Sookie.
Sookie continued, “Tad! Tad!” as she moved to the other end of the house until she was just outside the door to the snooker room. “Tad! Mam called! She says…” Sookie pushed open the door and gasped, covering her mouth with her hands to wail, “TAD! HOW COULD YOU!?”
Gawain’s blow job was over… his date ran through the house as quickly as she could, and she didn’t stop for her clothing…
Sookie controlled her laughter (which is more than I could say for the rest of us) while Gawain warned, “We. Are. Not. Even. You and your Were had finished.”
Sookie sniffled, “Mam loves you…” After a moment, she cried, “In her house? I don’t even think I can look at you.”
We were eavesdropping from the hall, but her performance sounded completely Oscar worthy.
Asa was laughing so hard his face was bright red.
Gawain finally broke, chuckling, “I can’t decide if I like you or hate you.”
Sookie giggled, “Hey, if you go after Brooke and glamour her to forget, I can tell her how to give a better blow job.”
“No. Happy Asshole Day.” She tore out of the snooker room (because he let her), but he grabbed her before she could hide, moving through the house at full speed to toss her into the pool, past the four waiting donors.
The best part… Asa immediately tossed his cell phone and wallet to the floor and ran towards the pool, breathing a constant drone of, “Nononononononono…”
Gawain caught on to the fact that Sookie was ‘drowning’ just a split second before Asa dove in to ‘rescue’ her, but Gawain reached her first…
And she was kissing his cheek when they emerged.
His face was pinched together so tightly that his eyes were closed. “I. Hate. You.”
She giggled and put her thumb and forefinger to the corners of his mouth to force him to smile. “Gotcha.”
He pushed her head under the water and swam to the side of the pool to push himself out.
Atum and I situated on chaises and I chuckled at Gawain, “You’d be hysterical if she did that to any of us.”
His jaw was locked… his last defense. He was too close to cracking.
When Sookie came out of the water again (on Asa’s shoulders), I asked, “Is Asshole Day a movable feast?”
Sookie shook her head. “Every Wednesday.”
Gawain asked, “When’s Cunt Day?”
Sookie wiped water from her face and offered, “I don’t know about here, but in America it coincides with Mother’s Day so no one’s left out. You know, while good moms are waking up to breakfast in bed, shitty moms get ignored or have their graves pissed on. Sad that it’s not as popular. Let’s blame the Christians. They’re the ones who decided to make hijacking holidays the new black.”
Tyson chuckled as he returned to the pool, “Four years was too long with Wallace.”
Asa walked to the bar without setting Sookie down and began pouring drinks. He chuckled, “Wallace looked like he hit the lotto when she first started spouting off about holidays. There was some shit on the news about a nativity in the area… She called it ‘Bastard-mas’ and said we should all go to a homeless shelter and give a kid who doesn’t know his father a bunch of shit he doesn’t need…”
While Asa settled on the chaise between mine and Atum’s, practically laying on her lap, Sookie added, “Come Thanksgiving, we should kill grocers, farmers and fishermen to thank them for providing us with food we’re too stupid and lazy to produce on our own…”
Gawain finally smiled. “I changed my mind. I do like you.” And he was completely ignoring four naked donors to focus on, what equated to, hearing his own opinion from someone else.
She narrowed her eyes. “I’m still going to torment you.”
“I’m still going to repay the favor.”
As Asa kicked off his shoes, he warned, “She’s been pranking all her life and she’s a crafty bitch…”
She swatted his shoulder. “Hey! Whose side are you on?”
“Yours, but y’all should establish some rules of engagement before you cross any lines with someone who’s supposed to have your back in the immediate future…” When his phone started ringing from somewhere in the foyer, he groaned, “Shiiiiit… I’m soaked…”
He said that like Tyson hadn’t already tracked pool water through the house.
He grabbed a towel as he ran to answer his phone, and Sookie playfully downed both of their drinks on her way back to the bar for refills. “Is Dali bothering you, Atum?”
He’d resumed stroking her head as soon as he settled again.
He shook his head. “Like cats.”
Tyson offered, “He flew out to the golf course to bring her a rabbit while you were gone.”
I chuckled, “An offering, Atum?”
He breathed, “Bouse tizi,” and Dali hissed at me.
Sookie asked, “What’s that? Bouse tizi?”
“He told me to kiss his ass for teasing him. He’s Egyptian… and has a cliché appreciation of cats.”
Atum scowled at me and Dali hissed again.
Sookie giggled, “That’s bullshit. The Egyptians by and large worshiped everything. And cats make great companion animals… Wait- you… YOU… Norse wedding traditions include giving a kitten to the bride vis-à-vis good luck and fertility.”
I tried, “But I’m not flying out to the golf course to bring Dali something to play with.” It sounded more like a question than I wanted it to.
Atum showed me the V sign while Sookie shook her head. “No. You had a cat. Recently. You bought mice for it.”
Another V from Atum, followed but the victorious chuckle he usually saved for when there were bodies to dispose of.
Sookie was just finishing at the bar when Asa returned, and she was distracted enough to forget my hypocritical lapse. He’d changed out of his wet clothing in favor of a pair of gym shorts, and he’d brought her turquoise tank dress to her…
It was another display of the routine they’d developed. He held their drinks (in one hand) while she stripped and used the towel draped over his shoulder to pat herself dry before slipping her dress over her head… They settled onto the chaise again; Sookie first, then he lounged back against her and began untying her Converse sneakers… All while he listened to a Texan complain about his daughter’s sex life.
When the man was finally finished, Asa offered, “I’m sorry, Chris, but this isn’t a pack matter. Bree’s seventeen, so unless Diego forced her or hurt her, she’s just fucking her boyfriend. This is a family matter and the only way another pack member needs to be involved is when you take Bree to Doc Upton.”
The man complained, “Giving her birth control isn’t going to make it stop, Asa!”
“If you don’t like Diego, then you sure as hell don’t want him fathering any of your grandchildren, Chris. Diego’s a good kid. He’d probably even propose.”
“Doc Upton it is then. Look, the more you hate Diego, the more Bree’s gonna defend him. If you’re a big enough prick about it, you’ll push them together. Chill out and let it run its course.”
“She wasn’t supposed to grow up, Asa.”
“Yeah, but the pack can’t help that, man. Call Norm McGraw. He’ll commiserate with you, and then tell you how much worse it could be. He had three gymnasts… G’night.”
After he closed his phone, I asked, “Did he want permission to challenge the boy fucking his daughter?”
Asa took a sip of his drink and answered, “Yeah. Diego would light him up too. A young Jaguar versus old Wolf would end in a bloodbath.”
“You have a mixed pack?”
“Yeah. Cactus Plains is huge. Almost six hundred committed members, nearly a thousand if you count the lofters, guests and pledges… We have three sub groups. Canine, Feline and a small group of Shifters…”
And they all answer to a Wolf?
Sookie sighed, “Speaking of which… You’re edgy… You need to run.”
“Nowhere to run in the city. Handguns are a no-no here, but they’re allowed to have hunting rifles. Locals go out to the country.”
He smelled like a Wolf. How the fuck could he fly?
He took a deep breath and hummed as he exhaled. “I could do that… What’ll you get yourself into while I’m gone?”
“I’ll probably tackle the shipping labels for the goodies we got for everybody.”
He tilted his head back and ordered, “Behave,” before she kissed him.
He downed his drink while he left the chaise and set his glass in the sink as he jogged past the bar, calling back that he’d be sure to return before dawn…
While he was shifting out of sight of the donors, I realized I wasn’t the only one watching their interactions. Four mewling donors were waiting at the other end of the pool… being completely ignored. It was probably the first time that had ever happened on Tyson’s property.
Asa returned briefly as a Bald Eagle, gliding over the patio to drop his shorts on Sookie’s chair, before soaring out of sight.
But… he smelled like a Wolf.
The one perk to the situation was that Gawain was dependably inquisitive.
He didn’t hesitate before he occupied Asa’s place, sprawling on the chaise, using Sookie as a pillow and demanding, “Explain how he smells like a Wolf, but is in fact a Shifter.”
“He doesn’t know. His father’s a Wolf. It’s a genetic fluke.”
“What is his mother?”
“She was a Shifter. She died having Asa though. He was a twin and his twin didn’t make it either.”
“Yeah. When two babies gestate within the same womb simultaneously, they’re called twins.”
He snorted, “I’m aware of that, thank you. Do you know how rare twins are for Shifters and Weres?”
“Yes. I’m very aware of how fragile fertility is for them in general… Can you explain why you’re on me?”
“I’m training to be your guard. Isn’t this how it’s done?”
Of course, that was his excuse.
She shoved his shoulders and snorted, “In your dreams, turd.”
He chuckled without budging from her lap, “So how did Asa come to be your guard?”
Sookie giggled, “When I met Wallace and started working for him, he went to the Packmaster in Houston and asked who could be a personal bodyguard for his new pet. Asa was a senior at the same school as me, running as a guest with the local pack. Wallace found out he’s a Packmaster… so he sent three of his strongest guards to kidnap poor Asa… and, well, since Asa nearly killed them, Wallace went to him to offer him the job personally.”
Tyson chuckled, “Leave it to Wallace to make kidnapping part of a job interview.”
Gawain probed, “And you’ve been fucking your guard since he was hired, yes?”
“Pretty much… Is there anything else you want to know?”
“There’s a lot I want to know… For starters, how does his fiancé, Dr. Valerie Upton, factor into your relationship with him.”
“She doesn’t. As Packmaster, he has responsibilities to his pack. He has to name a Duẽna and add to the pack. He picked Valerie.”
All I could do was hope Gawain was as frustrated by her answer as I was.
“Are you a little threesome?”
“He’s taken you to Rio, Cancun, Maui, Cabo, Lake Placid, Las Vegas and Key West… Where does he take his fiancé for romantic little getaways?”
“You forgot Napa and it wasn’t Las Vegas, it was Lake Tahoe and Reno.”
“Where does he take his fiancé?”
Sookie was clearly annoyed, so I couldn’t have been prouder of myself for being patient about getting answers.
She huffed, “He doesn’t. They aren’t really a couple. They’ve known each other since they were kids, and they’re both getting pressure about getting married and adding to the pack. They’re getting married to shut everyone up.”
“Why didn’t you say yes when he proposed?”
“Because he’d have to abdicate if he married a Human. I can’t serve as Duẽna and his stepmother is sick and can’t keep doing it.”
“Insemination. Once Valerie has a healthy baby, they’re both off the hook and can do whoever and whatever the fuck they want to do.”
Finally! It all made sense… and I could go back to my regularly scheduled programing.
“And Asa marries his charge, yes?”
She snorted, “Why is that the obvious conclusion for someone as old as you? We like our relationship the way it is.”
“But doesn’t that make him a prostitute?”
She laughed, “Now you’re grasping. He’s paid to guard me. He guards me. Sure, he’d protect me anyway, but you can’t be jealous that no one’s willing to pay you for being a tool.”
“I’m being paid to guard you. We should discuss my benefits package.”
“The last thing I’m going to talk about with you is your package. Are you done?”
“No. How can you tell Charlie’s a Witch if she didn’t think about her craft?”
“A natural Witch’s thoughts are tinted yellow or brown.”
“What’s the difference?”
“A weak Witch is barely noticeably tinted. The strength of the tint gives away their power capability. The color gives away their craft. If they lean towards the dark side of magic, they’re more orange to brown. Wallace’s Witch in Houston has a mind like a yellow crayon, but he keeps a sharp eye on the priestess of the local coven because her thoughts are in sepia.”
Tyson ordered, “You’ll need a reason to visit, but there are three shops in the suburbs where covens meet. Before the end of the week.”
“Magic shops or storefronts?”
“Two apothecaries and an antiques shop.”
She shrugged. “Easy enough. Asa and I can shop at the antiques shop, and I need ingredients for my wards…”
She nodded, “You can do them. Anemone, clove, devil’s bit, and a witches burr in a gris-gris bag. Say a simple binding charm, add a drop of your blood to each bag, and pin them to either side of an entrance. It’ll keep anyone from entering your room as long as they’re up.”
I asked, “Were the set you used last night defective? Gawain waltzed in without a problem.”
“I used my blood. When Asa went for a jog this afternoon, I had to take them down when he got back…” She plucked Gawain’s forehead. “And now I know better than to not put them back again.”
Tyson asked, “And what the fuck is a witches burr?”
“We call them gumballs at home. They’re a spiked seed pod from the sweetgum tree. You’d know one if you’d ever stepped on one. They rank right up there with LEGOs and thistles.”
I nodded. “I had a sweetgum removed from one of my properties because I stepped on one barefoot. They’re indigenous to the States though.”
“Shit… I’ll have Jason box some up and mail them to me. He’ll think it’s hilarious that anyone would want the damn things. I have enough to last the week. I didn’t even think of that. You have to try really hard to find an acre without one at home.”
Gawain teased, “Is Jason your fiancé?”
She plucked his forehead again. “No. Jason is my brother.”
“Oooooh, a clue.”
“Yeah. I have a brother named Jason. Good luck with that. It was a Top 10 name in the seventies.”
“And he was born in the seventies.”
“He sure was. You’re still up to your ancient balls in hay looking for a needle though.” Except for the uniqueness of her first name and the fact that he knew it.
“Not as much as you might think… I’ve gotten other clues.”
“Okay. If you figure out my real identity you get a cookie.”
“You graduated college this year.”
She rolled her eyes and slapped my arm. “Thanks again. He’s awesome.”
I chuckled, “He’s a pain in the ass, but he’ll keep you safe.”
The pain in the ass offered, “How many vets could there be who care for ocelots?”
Sookie sighed, “A handful.”
He took her hand to study her palm. “And how many tattoo artists could there be in northern Louisiana?”
“Nothing says I didn’t have it done in Houston or Amarillo, but you have a point.”
“Do you make your donations to Childhelp as Erica Weiss?”
I didn’t know that.
Pam wouldn’t know that unless Adele mentioned it…
Unless Sookie mentioned it before I boarded the plane…
Sookie narrowed her eyes at him for a moment, most likely trying to figure out how he knew about her pet charity like I was, and eventually moved to stand up. She shoved him and grunted, “Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do…” As she collected her clothing and shoes, and then Asa’s, she huffed, “Let me know when you’ve got more than guesses. I make excellent cookies.”
As she walked away, she asked, “Did Eric tell you that?”
She stopped for a moment and seemed to be staring at her armful of wet clothing.
After a moment, she looked at me over her shoulder, but before she could ask I shook my head. “I didn’t tell him.” I didn’t want her to think I would leak information… and I certainly didn’t want her to think I’d been making light of anything she’d done as a child.
Instead of seeming suspicious, an eerie smile developed on her face before she walked away. “I’m going to clean up the mess we left in the foyer. I’ll just put your stuff in your room, Eric… Atum, if Dali becomes a bother, let me know and I’ll take her off your hands. Thanks again for the private shopping hours, Tyson.”
Nothing to Gawain?
Tyson watched her leave, and I was almost sure part of that would be because her dress was only semi-opaque, and once she was gone, he tossed one of the donor’s stilettos at Gawain.
“I know you’re a nosy fuck, but I told you Wallace doesn’t hide shit from me. The only reason she works under a pseudonym is because her family lives in an unfriendly territory. What the fuck are you doing? Are you trying to scare her? As helpful as her ability can be?”
Gawain shook his head and asked Tyson. “Do you know her real identity?”
“I do. I’ve got her since she was born. Her secret’s safe here, but she’s justified to want to keep her family safe too. Her real name doesn’t mean anything and if we use it, even occasionally, we’ll slip and use it at the wrong time. I’m surprised Asa hasn’t.”
“He did. He used her name several times during the flight…”
No. He didn’t. Not once. I might have believed it at first, but I’d even heard him call her Erica while they were fucking earlier… After four years, Asa didn’t slip.
“Like when he asked her which color tie to wear.”
No. That wasn’t… They changed their clothes without speaking to each other.
I’d assumed he’d been thinking to her occasionally, but…
I left my seat and found Sookie with an armful of bags in the foyer. I grabbed the rest of the bags and followed her to her room…
Once her hands were free, she showed me the sign for C. Chess, meaning thinking.
I nodded and slowly signed S H I E L D S, but she smirked before I was finished and turned to the bed to begin rummaging through her purse.
She wrote on the back of a receipt, “Why would I need to use my shields?”
I raised an eyebrow at her and signed G A W A I N.
She snickered while she wrote, “What did he do after I left?”
Instead of waiting for me to spell it out in sign language, she passed the receipt and pen to me. “He said Asa called you Sookie when he asked about ties.”
She lifted her hands to sign and then growled when it occurred to her that the pen was faster.
She scribbled, “Asa teased me before you got on the plane and asked if I brought cookies for you, but he was thinking because we already knew he was onboard. If you didn’t tell G about the cookies, then the only way he knows is if he heard Asa’s THOUGHTS.”
I’m not sure how long Sookie and I stared at one another, silently screaming that Gawain was a fucking telepath.
She finally broke the stunned motionlessness by rummaging through her purse again, finding a lighter… then she lit the receipt on fire and tossed it into the fireplace.
That about covered it.
I nodded. “Wow.”
“I only have one option.”
“Fuck with him until he breaks and then die knowing he’ll never live it down.”
I chuckled. “I need to be part of that. Nine. Hundred. Years.”
I nodded again and repeated. “Wow.”
“By the way…” She made an ‘okay’ sign with her hand, but she held her hand sideways so the ‘O’ would be on top. “The sign for asshole. Guess who has his own codename.”
I nodded and repeated the sign. “Perfect. Does anyone else have one?”
She swept her hand in front of her face. “Tyson is lovely.”
I chuckled, “Of course he is… So now that all the blanks have been filled in for me, I assume Asa wasn’t working during the wedding. He was pouting about his own impending nuptials.”
She made a fist and twisted it at her cheek. “Baby. Yes. That’s him. I don’t rag on him too much about it… The poor bastard is trying to make good on a promise he made while he was watching his father bleed to death when he was sixteen. I mean, that…”
“Bleed to death? Battle?”
“They were out for a run. Some drunk yahoo shot them. Asa did what he could, but…”
“His tattoo is covering the scar?”
“From taking a bullet?”
“From taking a bullet through his thigh.”
“I know. I’ve seen his memories of it. He almost died. He was in the hospital. They were sure he’d have a massive scar, but it just kept healing until the wound was completely gone within a few months. We’ve got no explanation for it. He remembers it healing, so it wasn’t Vampire blood or glamour, but it didn’t leave a scar. By the way, that’s his third tattoo. He has to keep having it touched up.”
“And he smells specifically like a Wolf rather than… Will he smell like a Wolf even after he’s been an eagle?”
She nodded. “I can’t tell the difference, but Wallace was intrigued as hell. God only knows what goes on behind those mental doors though. He could know why and just think it’s redundant to mention it. Wallace might actually be weirder than me. Eccentric would be understating it… Whenever we’d go out for something, and I’d stop for something to eat, he’d order a kids meal and plays with the toy.”
I chuckled, “That’s a new one, but I’ve heard plenty.”
“He’s fun though. He gives Asa red roses and a butt plug for Valentine’s Day… every year… and they keep getting bigger… and he jokingly tried to hook me up with other pets so Asa would be available. He’d climb in bed with us and spoon Asa.”
“That explains why he yelped when I grabbed his ass.”
She nodded, but then a pair of arms slid around my sides, up to my chest. Tilda mewled, “I think I’ll cry if I hear you’re on men.”
I chuckled, “When have I ever been? Are you asking for my dance card?”
She breathed, “I think, between me and my friends, we can fill it for the rest of the evening.”
I glanced over my shoulder because I didn’t hear heartbeats…
“You pulled out all the stops for little ole me?”
Simza sighed, “It’s not as though she needed to call in any favors, Eric.”
Bronya added, “We might owe her one. Supper’s waiting in the foyer.”
As I let Tilda pull me from Sookie’s room, I offered, “Something’s just come up. An emergency…”
She giggled, “I can see that. Have fun.”