After the night I’d had with my lovely companions, I still had a smile on my face when I came back to myself.
I might have missed my old stomping grounds, but the homecoming celebrations almost made up for that.
My first order of business was a shower, and I wondered why the house (or at least the wing where I was) was so still. The bestiality suite had been in full swing when I’d returned to my room just in time to die at dawn… and I was surprised I hadn’t been given another spirited wakeup call. Without someone to taunt, even Gawain was quiet.
I was drying off when I heard the rustling of shopping bags and hurried footsteps as Sookie and Asa moved through the house to their room.
They complained about London traffic being just as rifuckingdiculous as Houston traffic and jokingly mewled that it was as though they still had a piece of home with them.
They settled in their bathroom, and shortly after Sookie began trimming Asa’s hair, his phone rang…
He jokingly answered, “Ello! Fancy some spotted dick? It’s quite lovely.”
His accent wasn’t bad after only one day in the area.
The woman, his step-mother, wasn’t amused. She snarled via speakerphone, “What do you think you’re doing, Asa?”
“Getting a trim. London has big balls, and I need to be beautiful tonight.”
“You have big balls of your own… I guess you were tryin’ to get under my skin. Did you prove your point?”
“Uh… What did I do wrong this time?”
The acoustics were bad enough in their bathroom that I wasn’t even trying to eavesdrop from my room while I dressed.
“You acted like a spoiled little piss-ant and had a hissy fit. To teach me a lesson for ring shopping, you went out and spent fifty thousand dollars on your girlfriend. That’s really grown up, Asa. I’m sure your daddy would be real proud of you for pissing his money away like that. That little spree at Harrods was wrong on all kinds of levels. If you really love Erica, then why would you spend money on her to spite me? Fifty grand of salt in my eyes, Valerie’s and Erica’s, just to show me you’re digging in deeper with a girl you’ve got no business with… You know Trav heard about. He’s not exactly your biggest fan after you told him to fuck himself when he wanted money for prom…”
He stopped listening and told Sookie, “If you don’t have anything to say, I’m hanging up on her. I’m not doing this. I’ll end up being a dick again.”
Ouida shrieked, “YOU’RE LETTING HER LISTEN IN ON MY CALL!?”
Sookie sighed, “I’m trimming his hair because we have a formal function to attend tonight. Do you want to scream or listen, Ouida? His finger’s on the button to end the call.”
“This better be good.”
“I think you’ll be very proud of him.”
The woman snapped, “Waiting.”
“First, I’d like to point out that Travis wasn’t told to fuck off. He asked Asa for a grand so he could rent a limo, a tux, and buy enough booze to get himself and his friends hurt. Asa told him to go to George in the stables and work for it. Asa promised to pay for the tux and the limo and give Travis a hundred dollars cash if he put in forty hours of work. Travis called him a tight ass and hung up on his brother. I was there for that call too.”
Good. For. Asa.
After a moment of nothing but snipping scissors, Ouida sighed, “He didn’t… I got a tweaked version.”
Sookie snorted, “A lying teenager? Really?”
“Asa and Colton didn’t do this to me.”
“Asa and Colton knew their daddy would drag them into the yard for some bare-knuckle love. Travis isn’t old enough to remember much more than the aftermath.”
Good for Asa’s father too.
Ouida warned, “Don’t talk about my boys like you know them.”
“I was eight when my parents died. I was just speaking from personal experience… Do you want the details about our trip to Harrods or do you want to continue to fly off the handle? I’m assuming the bank called to make sure it wasn’t a fraudulent purchase, right?”
“Yeah. He didn’t buy anything since he gassed up in Shreveport. Then he’s dropping thousands in London.”
Sookie cleared her throat. “Check your email, Ouida. Asa sent pictures to you last night. He didn’t like the rings you picked, so he went shopping. Asa and Valerie have to wear them. You chose a ring Valerie wouldn’t ever be able to wear because the stone would cut through latex gloves. And how the hell is Asa going to keep track of a ring he has to take off constantly?”
Asa growled, “Erica picked them, Oui. She had to talk me into it because after the way you’ve been acting, I wanted to go to Wal-Mart for the rings. Don’t talk to Erica like that. She knows at least ONE of your boys better than you do. Erica isn’t doing a single fucking thing to get in the way of your dream wedding. You are… Oh, and this is unrelated to everything else, don’t you ever tell me how to spend my money again. I earned it. I’ll burn it if I want to…”
Sookie shushed him, “Calm down, sweetie, you’re moving too much…”
He huffed, “Do you have anything else to say?”
“No. I’ll kick your ass for glossing over the fact that if I want jewelry, I’ll buy the shit myself! I earn my way, and I do it without being a glorified housekeeper for a man with a fat wallet. Gold-digging hypocrite… like looking down on people from a mountain of someone else’s money is really something to be proud of. While we’re on it, maybe that’s why Travis still hasn’t EVER done as much as clean his own room. Like mother, like son. Standing around with his damn palm up acting like the world owes him a favor. Sit there with your tacky manicure and suggest I’m working Asa while you live in his house on an allowance he gives you because, God forbid, the gossip it would cause if you went back to teasing hair for a living. Sinfully proud of someone else’s accomplishments…”
Asa finally started chuckling, “Hon, you know I hung up on her, right?”
Sookie took a deep breath and sighed, “Yeah, but I feel better.”
Part of me felt like the same depraved voyeur I’d accused Gawain of being. I was lounging on my bed with a book I hadn’t opened… the other part felt like I was listening to a radio show…
And then it occurred to me that everyone else was listening too. Tilda was the only one with an excuse to still be quiet. She was younger than me. She rose later. The rest of the nosy assholes were so fucking quiet one could hear a pin drop on the lawn.
“Good. I had fun. I let you get in the bit about buying your own jewelry though. That was a good one, but I knew where you were going…”
She snipped the scissors a few times before pressing, “Which was?”
Asa sighed, “The bombastic anti-housewife rant. Housewives are important, and your point would’ve been lost on her anyway.”
“She isn’t a housewife. She’s a houseweight. Mrs. Donovan gets paid a fraction of Ouida’s allowance to do everything an American housewife is supposed to do. Ouida sits around making racist jibes about Bonita and Juanita while they keep house.”
“Like I said, your point would have been lost on her. Besides, to be fair, the generation she’s part of, that was the status quo. They only worked if they had to. Men were too proud to let it seem like their wives’ income was needed. We’re the deviation, hon, not her… If I remember correctly…”
She snorted, “You’re about to bring up that Gran didn’t work, aren’t you?”
“Except Gran pulled her weight.”
“She still does. She’s a Mack Truck, hon, no denying that, but think about it. If your grandfather had oil bubble up on the property, he would’ve hired a maid. Gran would’ve kicked his ass, but he would’ve thought that was the best thing he could do for his wife, the ultimate spoiling. My dad was proud that Ouida didn’t ever want for anything… You’d be lying if you tried to say you ever caught a girl daydreaming about living in poverty and counting pennies for diapers… all for love. That bullshit doesn’t happen. Ouida, pain in my ass that she is, loved my father. If they lost everything, she would’ve gone back to the salon to help make ends meet. You can’t fault her for how much my dad liked to spoil her, and you can’t fault her for being an old dog.”
As young as he was, and immature enough to have caused a small scene in Harrods, he seemed to have an excellent head on his shoulders.
“Sure I can. I’m an uppity skank.”
“With a mouth like a bullhorn… You just mediated between me and my step-mother. That’s a wife’s duty, I think.”
He was right about that.
“I’m running a tab. Val’s going to get a bill.”
“Or you could just marry me.”
“You can’t marry me. You couldn’t pick a ring without puking.”
“You know why I didn’t want to buy those rings… I could buy your ring without a problem. If I go buy it, will you marry me then?”
“You could always just abdicate. We don’t have to be married.”
“I had to kill two men for my title. I’m not going to shit on their graves for anything but a marriage license with your name on it. If I’d known about you back then, they could have had Cactus Plains, but their widows deserve better.”
“They also deserve better than to have you parade around an outsider, sweetie. If you married me and took me back to Amarillo, you’d be challenged in a matter of days. You need to marry one of your own. They need to see me as your pocket pussy, the one you don’t respect enough to marry. Val’s amazing. She’d deserve your name even if she wasn’t willing to be part of the production. They’ll respect her. They’ll see y’alls wedding as your commitment to them. I’d never be welcome.”
“You deserve better than being a dirty little secret.”
At least he realized that.
She snorted, “Fuck ‘em all. Being wrong en masse doesn’t change the truth. I’m me. We’re us. I’ve been a freak all my life. If I didn’t stop giving a fuck about how people thought about me a long time ago, I’d be a basket case…”
Gawain had apparently decided to make a game of interrupting Sookie and Asa during intimate moments. He offered, “You could have plastic surgery. That would fix most of the problem.” He’d even gone all the way to their bathroom again.
Sookie’s appearance was anything but freakish.
She giggled, “They tried. This is the best they could do. You should’ve seen me before. I looked like your mom.”
Very nice recovery.
He chuckled, “What’s this? I’m not sure I’ve seen this position before.”
“It’s probably been a while, but I’m sure you’ve had a haircut.”
“He’s painting your toenails.”
She sighed, “Yes. Why ask if you can see that he’s painting my toenails while I trim his hair?”
I tried, but I couldn’t picture the position they’d have to be in to accomplish that combination of tasks.
Gawain scoffed, “That seems like a more epicene activity.”
Asa answered, “Maybe if I were critiquing her color choices… I’m just… If I don’t do something, I’ll fall asleep while she plays with my hair.”
Poor Gawain. Asa wasn’t at all insecure about painting his girlfriend’s toenails. Seriously. Did he expect Asa to be riled?
Gawain asked, “Why do you smell like magic?”
Asa snorted, “If you were much nosier, you’d be able to smell my lunch too.”
I snorted, but I wasn’t the only one. After Atum and Tyson chuckled, Tyson passed my bedroom door.
He waltzed into Sookie and Asa’s bathroom just as Gawain had, but at least he had a valid reason.
He started, “Did you pay a visit to one of the covens already?”
“We went to all three of them actually. The apothecary in Sutton is the one you need to keep an eye on. It’s primarily made up of natural Witches, most of them on the light side of magic, but there are a couple of ladies there, the ones running the shop, who lean toward the darker crafts. Keep in mind they could be influencing people for love, money, or other stuff that’s relatively benign to you. There’s enough power there to be a huge pain in your ass if you get on their bad side, but getting into bed with them could be pretty advantageous.”
“Noted… What of the others then?”
“The apothecary in Ealing is a tourist trap. They don’t know their asses from a hole in the ground. They’re a coven of wiccans, and their priestess is more Human than I am. When I asked for the ingredients for the gris-gris bags she actually asked what they were for… Deanna, the priestess in Sutton, gave me an impressed nod, commented about a Were practicing, and she even had some witches burr. And the ‘coven’ at the antique shop is a family of Witches rather than a coven. They’re natural, but the couple working at the time was worried Asa would mention them to you. They try to lay as low as possible and only really use magic to cleanse their inventory.”
Asa offered, “By the scent in the shop, they cleanse with sage several times a week. They have amulets on the windows. They have a few charms scattered in the kitsch. Everything is defensive, but the property isn’t even warded.”
Tyson chuckled, “Fuck me! Way to take London by storm. Well done. Anythin’ else?”
Sookie offered, “I heard about two other covens in the area. Deanna wondered if I was a spy for them. They work out of a spa right here in Camden and a florist in Southwark.”
Two? Two fucking covens had slipped past Tyson’s all-seeing eye? That was funny in its own right.
Asa offered, “And I may or may not have beef with a member of King’s Guard eventually. One of the peckerheads touched Erica just to push my buttons.”
“Grabbed her, pulled her against him, and sampled her scent. Posturing bullshit that would end in a challenge from a peer. He was testing me.”
Tyson snorted, “Try not to leave a mess, boyo… You might have to do something to prove a point anyway. I heard a guard complain that you’re high and mighty for a lad. Said parkour is for thugs…”
Asa crooned, “And fuck them in their lazy asses for only running with a moon. They couldn’t keep up with me. They’d be toast if I wanted to get to you. Ravens on your roof? Are you fucking kidding me? What fucking good are they as Ravens? None of them are strong enough to shift up… You know what…”
Uh oh. As I knew it, ‘you know what’ was the equivalent of ‘hold my beer and watch this’.
Someone slapped the wall between bathrooms as my invitation to whatever show was about to start…
Asa had a full entourage following him (including Dali) as he stormed through the house, shirtless with his shoulders covered with hair trimmings…
He charged through the back door…
Leapt over the railing…
Darted around the corner…
Sookie breathed, “Reggie is so fucked,” but she seemed like she was struggling to keep up with the group… I scooped her up to carry her on our little hegira…
Asa broke into a sprint, running directly towards the garage, spryly leaping up to grab the edge of the roof… instead of pulling himself up, he swung his legs to the side, laying himself on the edge of the roof almost silently.
Atum had no patience for waiting to see Asa carry out his plans, so when he flew up just enough to see over the roof of the garage, I followed suit…
In the narrow path between the garage and the house was a Shifter lighting a cigarette…
And Asa stepped from the corner of the garage (in socked feet, no less) onto the Shifter’s shoulders, twisting his body as the man crumbled under the sudden load…
Asa had landed on his feet, and bent over to grab the man’s hair to lift his face and point it towards Sookie.
He snarled, “That woman is Mine. If you touch her again, I’ll snap your neck and leave you trapped in there. Got it, dickhead?”
The Shifter didn’t have much more than a grunt to offer, but it was enough for Asa. He shoved the man’s face into the lawn and stood up… completely aware of the three men who’d approached him from behind.
The one in the middle began removing his shirt and chuckled, “Ladies first,” to invite Asa to be the first to shift.
Sookie started giggling as soon as Asa smiled at the challenge. “So fucked.”
Asa began to shift as soon as he reached for his belt, shrinking into the form of a Red Wolf, hunched down, growling, and ready to lunge…
The other three Shifters were amused enough that they were still laughing as they began to shift… I had to assume they were mocking Asa by mimicking his shift, choosing Red Wolves as well…
And there was something completely eerie about the way Asa laughed in Wolf form. I was sure I’d never seen it happen… just like I was sure I’d never witnessed a Shifter morph from one familiar to another.
I was mesmerized enough by the sight to drift closer to the fray even though I was holding a very fragile Human.
But it was incredible to watch a Red Wolf transform into a Grizzly… the expansion in mass alone was remarkable…
Asa wasn’t finished shifting yet when the trio of Wolves took a step back, and as soon as Asa was on his hind legs, towering over them menacingly, the King’s Guardsmen retreated that much more…
And Asa only added to the entertainment value of the lesson he was teaching by making a series of gestures with giant bear claws…
Sookie translated, “He said it’s your turn,” and then bit her lip to keep from laughing at them… they looked completely defeated, and they hadn’t even seen Asa fight yet.
They had speed and agility as their advantage. Asa easily weighed close to a thousand pounds in Grizzly form, so strength wasn’t an issue, but his maneuverability would be lacking… and in my experience, it would be reasonable to assume Asa had exhausted his energy.
They still backed up, steadily beginning a full surrender when Asa snorted and lowered, easily lifting the man he’d used as a step and throwing him to his packmates.
That. Was. Fucking. Impressive.
There was no doubt in my mind how he’d been strong enough to take control of a pack at seventeen.
And Asa was smiling tauntingly as he retook his Human form.
Standing in front of three Wolves, all but inviting them to move against him.
He finally offered, “Your packmate touched my woman. He was warned. You might want to help him understand he won’t survive if he forces my hand…” He turned to take his shorts from the ground, and with his back still to them, he said, “Also, leave your coins and keys in a locker or something, and condition your boots so they don’t creak when you walk. Oh, and one of you rickety fucks need cortisone shots in your knees if you want to sneak up on anybody.”
He’d only just stepped into his shorts again when one of the Wolves decided to be brave… He lunged for Asa, only taking two strides before leaping through the air… In one stunningly fluid motion, Asa crouched down and grabbed the Wolf around its neck, standing quickly to fling the animal over the brick privacy wall and onto the street. The Shifter landed on the pavement with a miserable thud.
He glanced over his shoulder scornfully shaking his head at the other Wolves before turning away again to walk towards us.
Tyson asked, “How many times can you shift?” It was amusing (to say the least) to see Tyson so impressed.
“I’ve gone five times without crashing. Two is my limit if I want to be strong enough to fight.”
“Those fucks will need a nap after shifting once, and you’re supposed to work as a guard tonight.”
He shrugged dismissively. “I’ll be fine.”
“How!? You said you were tired earlier.”
Asa corrected, “No, I said Erica could put me to sleep by playing with my hair. I’m not the least bit fatigued right now… My mother was a first-generation Shifter, if that means anything, and my father was strong enough to shift a couple of times in one night.”
I had no fucking clue what was significant about a ‘first-generation Shifter’, but the fact that his father was capable of multiple shifts in one night was worth noticing.
Of course, I’d just seen a man become a Wolf then a Grizzly in less than a ten-minute period. I might have just been in shock.
Asa chuckled and held his arms out, nodding towards Sookie. “Want me to take that off your hands?”
He didn’t seem to notice her weight any more than I had when I passed her to him.
She giggled, “I can walk. Eric just picked me up because your caveman parade was moving too fast for me.”
He set her down and grunted, “Good. Ass. Kitchen. Sandwich.”
She squeaked, “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.” He swatted her ass and left everyone standing there to laugh at the look on her face.
Judging by Sookie’s reaction, I didn’t need to worry that he made any sort of habit out of treating her like a servant. If nothing else, her gold toenails were evidence of that.
Sookie’s mouth was still hanging open when Tyson chuckled, “You asked for that, love.”
Sookie ignored Tyson to call to Asa, “Only because I’m making one for me!”
I paused for a moment in the foyer to listen to Sookie, slamming kitchen cabinets and mumbling to herself about learning her lesson while she made their dinner. She cussed and complained, and apologized to the staff for being in their way, asked if they had Captain Caveman cartoons in England and compared Asa to him.
When I entered the lightproof hallway, I heard Asa speaking in Latin, reciting the binding incantation that mentioned strongholds and safety… I stopped at the door to his room when I noticed Tyson, Atum and Gawain were crowded around Asa at the dresser. They watched as Asa distributed herbs over an array of open red fabric swatches. I thought of a few questions to ask, mild curiosities, but every time Asa reached into a small plastic bag, he recited the incantation again.
Once it seemed like all of the ingredients were in place, he began gathering the bags with black ribbon, using a simple overhand knot.
As he worked, he offered, “It doesn’t matter who makes it, because the user activates it with their blood. Red cloth, black ribbon, the knot, they’re all part of it. The amount of each ingredient isn’t really a factor, as long as it’s in there. No special storage really. We make them up in advance. We keep them in the nightstand in a freezer-bag just to keep the smell from permeating into the wood… You can use them in reverse, to confine someone to a space… You know how Wallace is about women…”
Tyson nodded, “Tragic history with his mum.”
“I know. Poor guy. Anyway, he used the reverse to hold a woman for a few days. Erica caught that her Master was being a conniving asshat. Wallace held on to her for long enough to take care of the problem so she wouldn’t be collateral damage.”
“Have you seen Weres breach the ward?”
He nodded. “I did it myself. You don’t trust something like this without testing it first. Trial and error. So…” He walked towards the door and invited me into the room with a nod. “For this kind of thing, like when we have an idea that some nosy bitch might need to know everything about us right down to how much toilet paper we use…”
Gawain blurted, “I’m insulted!”
Tyson and I offered, “But you knew who he was talking about.”
Asa chuckled as he continued, “So this, the basic do-not-disturb version…” He pulled a pushpin from his pocket to prick his finger, and rubbed a drop of blood on each of the two bags in his hand… then he stooped down to press one bag against the wall at the floor and slide it up, finally pinning it to the wall above the lintel. He repeated the process on the other side of the door.
He stepped into the hallway and chuckled, “If it was Asshole Day, this could be fun… So, yeah. Come at me.”
I took the invitation, knowing Gawain had already compared it to an uninvited threshold. As soon as I touched the invisible barrier, I questioned Gawain’s comparison… the incantation was harder, less forgiving. An uninvited threshold was more pliable. I’d bounced out of several entryways. The ward made me feel like a bug on a windshield.
Asa didn’t show any swagger for my shock, and as Atum and Tyson repeated my attempts (Tyson went as far as punching the invisible wall until he’d broken a few bones in his hand), Asa offered, “Inanimate objects and animals, shifted and natural, can still get through it. You could shoot me from in there or flip a blade through it… So it does have its weaknesses. You have to be sure you hang it high enough to keep someone from being lifted through the gap. Now the reverse… you’d just take a couple and pin them on the other side of the door, like if you’re dealing with a Human. But if you’re holding something stronger, you can peg a perimeter along the outside of the room to contain the prisoner. Warning: They’ll fuck up the walls, tear them apart, but they wouldn’t be able to pass through the holes they make.”
When Sookie joined him in the hallway with their sandwiches, she snorted, “You just told them how to lock us in our room.”
He thanked her for his sandwich and nodded as he took a bite… It didn’t take a mind reader to know why that wouldn’t be a problem for him.
She was blushing when he left her standing in the hall, and took another bite of his sandwich before removing the gris-gris bags from the walls.
He set his plate on the dresser and carried the bags to the bathroom. After the toilet flushed, he returned, explaining, “To cancel the juice in the bags, you have to separate the ingredients from the pouch. Flush the contents. Toss the bag. Done…” He took his plate to sit on the end of his bed. “When we stay in hotels, we usually just leave the same bags up the whole time. I wouldn’t try it for longer than a week. In our room at Wallace’s we had bookshelves that we set them on so the wall wouldn’t end up perforated and looking like shit.”
Beautiful. My new favorite recipe.
I asked, “Wallace had a Witch that offered the recipe?”
“No. His Witch’s recipe only warded out the same breed as the user. Helpful huh? Since y’all are all on the same schedule. So Erica stole the recipe from her head and we experimented. Our recipe was good, but when Zee spotted our bags, she added her Voodoo Queen twist. She’s why the ward’s strong enough to trip over.”
Nice collaboration effort.
Tyson snorted, “Quite the investment you are… Alright. Ballroom dancing?”
Sookie nodded. “Got it.”
“I was Wallace’s date to more formals than I care to remember.”
“He’s not a horrible dancer.”
“I didn’t mean his dancing. I meant the pretentious, humorless drones who host them. Why is this one scheduled for a Thursday night?”
“So the problem children can clean out their desks tomorrow morning and interviews can begin on Monday.”
“Okay, but I probably won’t find much.”
“I might find a handful of embezzlers, but only if they’re feeling guilty about it. You invited your business contacts to a formal fundraiser. They’re all going to be thinking about pinching shoes and the waitress’s tits. They’ll compare your event to so-and-so’s. The younger ones will obsess over if you noticed their attendance/donation/cooperation/ass-kissing/whatever. The older ones will whine to themselves about jumping through hoops for you.”
“Fuck! Why didn’t Wallace mention that? I told him the fundraiser was on your schedule.”
Sookie shrugged and giggled, “I’ve never known Wallace to think a party was a bad idea. Is his enthusiasm for festivities a new thing?”
Tyson’s face pinched together while the rest of us laughed.
He growled, “What do you suggest then?”
“It won’t be a total loss. Your contacts will see us together. Of course, they’ll think I’m your flavor of the week. They’ll shit their pants when I show up at their offices. Word will circulate that you’re doing housekeeping. The best mindset for my victims to be in is paranoia. Every company pen that’s ever made their way into their pocket crosses their mind when they’re faced with efficiency and loss management evaluations.”
“I imagine I have to trust you on that.”
“You could have Wallace send you some video. He had Asa hide a spy camera in his tie clip once. He caught a woman practically having a nervous breakdown for taking copy paper home for her kids to draw on.”
He snorted, “Do you still have the tie clip?”
Asa nodded. “Wallace loves it so much he’ll actually put off watching 90210 and Real World to watch the footage we get.”
Tyson shook his head. “It’s a good thing we’ve kept Pam and Wallace apart. They’d never get anything done if they realized they’re cut from the same cloth…”
I nodded. “From everything I’ve heard, they’re practically sisters.”
Sookie nodded, but since her mouth was full, Asa offered, “Gran met Wallace. When she found out Pam’s still alive, she decided Tyson and you must have a lot in common to have the same kind of brat on your hands.”
Once again, Adele’s intuition was spot on.
Tyson nodded. “But Pam was a brat when she was alive. I found Wallace in rags. He’s obsessed with finery because he was a pauper and enjoys what he’s earned… So who’s coming along tonight?”
Everyone raised a hand except for Atum. I hadn’t expected he’d care to go, but since he’d been pinching the meat from Sookie’s sandwich and feeding it to Dali, I had an idea of what he’d spend his evening doing.
I usually had to struggle to think of gifts for him… Now, I’d just have to hope I could find an ocelot kitten before Wafaa Elnil since he’d chosen it as his documented birthday.
I couldn’t have been more curious about Gawain’s atypical silence, but as we parted ways to prepare for our evening, Gawain gave Sookie a dirty look.
If I had to guess, she was already fucking with the asshole for his secret.
When I entered the foyer, dressed for pretention and armed with a checkbook, I found Asa waiting in the foyer.
He very clearly knew where to find his own tuxedo… and a tailor who knew what the fuck they were doing. The only color in his black ensemble was in the teal green buttons in his Calvin Kline tux. His holster and gun almost blended in.
I chuckled, “Has Ouida never seen you in a tux?”
“I rented a few when I was younger, but I didn’t own one until I started guarding Erica. Oui rejects anything associated with Erica. I can’t even buy souvenirs for her when we travel. Know anyone who’d want vintage Chanel, Lanvin, Dior…?”
“You did meet Pam, didn’t you?”
He chuckled, “But you aren’t buying for her… The antiques place we went to has a few racks of vintage couture. Erica got some for Hadley’s Christmas gifts, but there’s plenty left.”
“I might have to make an exception. I can save it for her birthday.”
“Erica figured you’d say that. She took pictures.”
“Do you ever slip and use her real name?”
He shook his head. “I call her Erica around her family. She came up with her alias the week I met her, so for me it’s like everyone else is using a nickname.”
“That’s what I thought.”
He gave me a sinister smile and mouthed, “I heard,” and grumbled, “Fuckin’ earworms. Do you ever have that problem?”
Oh, that was too funny.
I shook my head. “Not usually.”
“I don’t know why, but I’ve got Cotton-Eye Joe stuck on a loop.”
Sookie joined us, “Better than me. I’ve got I’m Too Sexy stuck in my head.”
Not just the method they’d chosen to irritate Gawain, but Sookie.
Her formfitting buff colored gown flared at the hips and swept the floor perfectly. Embroidered teal vines covered the bodice and matched Asa’s buttons and cufflinks. Smoky yet subtle eye makeup, simply elegant jewelry, and a loose up-do… She looked so much more sophisticated than usual. More grown up.
Asa sighed, “At least it’s fitting. You are too sexy… You look amazing.”
She stretched up to kiss him and then wiped her lipstick from his mouth. “You’re pretty delicious yourself.”
“It’s the haircut. I have a girl who makes house-calls… I was just telling Eric about the Pamish pretties at Ealing Heirlooms.”
He draped his jacket over her shoulders, and she took his gun from the holster to slide it into the pocket as she nodded. “If you were to break and go shopping for her, you could have her pretties shipped to Gran for safe-keeping.”
As Tyson and Gawain joined us, Tyson sighed, “I shouldn’t ever find out if you give a proper blow job. I might not let you leave…”
Unrefined as it was, that was actually a high complement coming from him.
She blushed and giggled, “Thanks, I think.”
“We’ll go dancing tomorrow night. My Lord in London has a club. He gets a little twitch whenever I’m around. Maybe you can find out why while he’s surrounded by his lackeys.”
She nodded as we started for the door. “It could just be that he’s terrified of you.”
Tyson crooned, “But I’m a pussycat.”
Sookie laughed so suddenly she snorted. When she finally calmed down, she countered, “Even pussycats are threatening to mice…” When she noticed Joyce was standing next to the limo, waiting for everyone, Sookie complimented her evening gown and told Tyson in German, “That mouse has already chosen names for your children. The kind thing to do would be firing her.”
He groaned, “But she’s competent.”
“And infatuated. It could go south quickly… Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned...”
Not only did Sookie make an excellent point about Joyce’s potential to become a nightmare, but she’d correctly quoted one of the most misquoted passages ever… and translated it to German.
As we waited to file into the car, Sookie offered, “I’ll do my best to help you find a replacement.”
I asked, “Would it be poor form to offer her a position with me?”
Sookie snorted, “Sukhdeep not working out?”
“He’d be a better fit at the Special Olympics.”
Ladies first, then Vampires… Asa was the last of us who wasn’t in the car… I noticed a brief smile before he turned around and punched a Shifter in his nose. The Shifter had tried to sneak up from behind, more than likely trying to avenge one of his embarrassed packmates, and it hadn’t taken any effort on Asa’s part to splay the man out. Joyce actually shrieked.
He grabbed the Shifter’s shirt and dragged him away from the car, calling towards the guard post by the gate, “Anyone else want to take me for a test-drive or are you all so stupid you think you’ve got a shot?”
Sookie sighed, “He gets tested more than I do,” as a King’s Guard ran from the post.
He stopped short, far enough away to call the distance passive. “You broke our Packmaster’s arm and leg.”
Asa flung the unconscious Shifter towards his packmate and offered, “One of you touched my woman. Two of you tried to jump me from behind. You’ll need to plan a funeral for the next asshole who crosses me.”
As Asa walked towards the car, Tyson rolled down the window and announced, “And I’ll have my fun with the family of anyone stupid enough to test him. Expect to be mustered when I return.”
As soon as Asa was seated next to me, Sookie shrugged off his jacket, passed it to him, and then used a Wet Nap from her clutch to clean the blood from Asa’s knuckles.
They’d been prepared for the attack.
It could be a new game; instead of our usual mall-based game of trying to find a child who wasn’t an asshole, Pam and I could look for a couple who was more in sync than Sookie and Asa.
Four years together and they had more syzygy than some Makers did with their children after centuries.
I actually caught myself trying to think of a loophole to help them, a way for Asa to keep Sookie and his status with his pack.
If ever there was a couple who deserved a fighting chance, Sookie and Asa were it.