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Feb 15

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Puppy Love

 

Summary:

A few days before Valentine’s, Dale finds herself investigating a possible stalking case on her own while Ari is on a stakeout. (set after Dogs of War)

Two days before Valentines, just a few weeks after the insanity of wolf manoth, Ari and I were still trying to get back into the swing of normalcy. I was at my desk doing some of the database diving Ari loathed; digging through public records for information about a client. From where I sat, I could see through the open door to Ari’s office to where she was lying on the couch. She had her iPad propped up against her thighs and I could see on the screen that she was typing a report for the client whose case she closed the day before.

I was about to suggest lunch when there was a knock on the door. I saw Ari sit up and put aside her tablet as I called out, “Come in.”

The new potential client was an attractive woman, though she looked concerned and anxious. Most people who show up at a private investigator’s office have the same expression, but very few of them arrive with a vase of purple, red, and yellow tulips in a square vase. Given the date, I tried not to jump to conclusions, but my eyes darted toward Ari’s office before I spoke.

“Those are lovely.”

The woman looked at the flowers as if she’d just noticed she was carrying them. “Oh. I’m not delivering. Sorry for the… although you’re more than welcome to have them, if you want. I just… they’re evidence.”

“Oh! Okay. Ariadne can see you in just a few–”

Ari appeared in the doorway. “I can see her now. Hi.” She extended her hand, then dropped it when she realized the woman would have to juggle the flowers to accept it. “I’m Ariadne Willow. That’s Dale Frye.”

“Hi. I’m Jen Franklin. I was hoping to… I guess I was just going to see if hiring you was the right thing to do.”

“Come on into the office. We can talk about it.”

Jen went inside. I smiled at Ari, who winked to me as she shut the door. I went back to the record search as they talked. I had just finished when the door opened again. Jen exited without the flowers, rubbing her hands together in front of her as if she was trying to rid them of some stain. Ari followed her out and looked past her to me.

“Dale, could you get Jen a standard contract, please?”

“Sure.” I opened the bottom drawer of my desk and plucked one out. Jen took a seat in front of me and I put the paper in front of her. I offered her a pen and she held it as she read the form.

Ari leaned against the wall next to the office door. “I’ll do everything I can to get this wrapped up in a day or two. I don’t want you paying more than you have to.”

“I appreciate it,” Jen said, “but at this point I just want it to stop.” She signed her name to the bottom of the contract and put the pen down. Ari escorted her to the door. Jen thanked her again, gave me a half-nod, half-wave of acknowledgement, and then left. Ari closed the door behind her and walked back to my desk.

“What was that all about?”

“She’s been getting flowers and gifts from a ‘secret admirer’ for almost two months. They’re waiting for her at work every Monday morning. She’s asked people in her office, friends, relatives, anyone who might be well-intentioned, but they all claim ignorance. And the gifts keep showing up.”

She took a card from her pocket and handed it to me. She sat on the edge of my desk as I read it.

“To the sweetest woman in the world, thinking of you. See you again on Valentine’s Day. From a Secret Admirer.” I shrugged. “Out of context, it’s kind of sweet. But six or seven of those in a row might get tedious.”

“Six,” Ari said. “She’s afraid that it might have all been buildup to some big Valentine’s event. She wants me to see if I can find out who is sending them and ask politely that they stop.”

I looked at the card. It was high quality stock, with a blue-and-gold trim. The text was handwritten cursive in thick black ink. “Did she give you a list of all the presents?”

“Yeah, it’s in the office.”

“I can look around, see what florists and gift shops might sell everything. And I can find out where this card came from. It looks pretty distinctive, so maybe we’ll get lucky.”

Ari said, “You don’t mind doing that?”

“Nah, it’ll be fun. I just finished this morning’s project, so I have time on my hands.”

She retrieved the list of gifts from her office and handed it to me. “I appreciate it.”

“Sure. You have homework to do.”

“Don’t remind me. Let me know if you find anything juicy.”

I saluted her and she went back into her office. She lay down again, iPad back on her lap, and began typing again. I looked at the list of gifts to see if there was a chance they all came from the same shop, but it was a fairly generic bunch. Teddy bears, flowers, balloons. Miss Franklin had included photographs of the gifts, and I examined each one for hints about where they might have come from. The cards that came with each gift were also distinctive. If I found a store that carried a majority of the gifts, the cards would be the smoking gun. One of the teddy bears was wearing a T-shirt with the Public Market sign on the chest. I decided to start with him and did a search to find shops that sold anything similar.

“Thirty-seven. Still better than nothing.”

I saved a list of the shop names and started another search looking for the specific box of chocolates Miss Franklin had received. Another list of forty shops, which I compared to the first one. Only two shops carried both the bear and the chocolates, but neither of them offered flowers. Still, it gave me an area to work with. And the secret admirer could have gone to multiple shops for his gifts. It made my search harder, but not impossible. If I could narrow it down to a specific neighborhood, I’d still have plenty for Ari to go on.

I looked over at her, my girlfriend, my puppy, the wolf. She was amazing to me. She was kind and strong. She was fiercely loyal. She had stood up against an army by shaming an entire room full of people who wanted to eliminate her kind, and she made them stop fighting. That is awesome to me. And to think someone who is so powerful in so many ways chooses to be with me? That’s just mind-boggling.

My alarm went off at a quarter to one. “Puppy. You need to be outside Richard Moore’s apartment in an hour.”

“Right. Thank you.”

“Mm-hmm.”

Richard Moore was an ordinary man. He worked from home, he went bowling on the weekends, hung out with friends to watch Seahawks games. But the past few weeks he’d become secretive and paranoid. His wife, Janice, knew he left the house every day at two o’clock, but he wouldn’t tell her where he was (“Just out. Nowhere.”) and was crafty enough not to let her follow him. The two times she’d tried, he just sat down on the first bench and waited until she got bored enough to leave. A friend advised her that Ariadne Willow could track absolutely anyone without being spotted, and Janice came to us as a last-ditch effort.

Ari came out of the office having stripped down to her T-shirt and jeans. I twisted and closed the blinds as she finished undressing.

“You don’t mind dropping me off?”

“Not a bit,” I said, eyeing her body as she folded her clothes and dropped them onto the chair Jen Franklin had recently vacated. “I’m going to swing by a few of these shops to see if any of them have stuff they don’t advertise online. I could also ask if anyone remembers writing the notes, if you want.”

Ari nodded. “I’d appreciate that. Seems like you’re doing the lion’s share of my work on this case.”

“Well, maybe you’ll be generous on payday.”

“Maybe so.” She dropped into a crouch. I averted my gaze. Though what was about to happen was spectacular, something very few humans ever had an opportunity to see with their own eyes, I couldn’t bear to see it. I knew the pain it caused Ari. I couldn’t appreciate how glorious the transformation because the end result was a girlfriend who sometimes had trouble standing up straight.

I heard the familiar sounds, wincing at the crack and pop of bones, and then I felt her wet nose pressing against my thigh. I looked down at the wolf, Ari’s intelligence burning behind its eyes, and I crouched down to scratch its head. My girlfriend, my employer, my wolf. I kissed her between the eyes, hooked a leash onto her collar, and straightened up to lead her outside.

I drove her to Beacon Hill, where Moore lived, and let her out of the car where the street dead-ended at a hilly lot. “Stay out of trouble,” I warned her. She huffed indignantly and shook herself, then turned and trotted up to the top of the first hill. I looked around to make sure no one had seen me before I drove off. We once got into a bit of a pickle because someone reported me for dumping my pet. It took a lot of explaining before we got Animal Control to believe I was just letting her go for a run. It helped that I was able to produce a “dog” that matched the description of the one I supposedly dumped. I doubted they liked me very much, but at the very least they let me go with a warning.

While Ari was busy tracking her target, I checked the list of gift shops and drove to the nearest one. It was a small shop near the Medical Center. The front window had a display of candles and flowers. As I walked in, the multitude of odors hit me in the face. I put my face into the crook of my elbow to stifle a sneeze and then dabbed at my eyes.

“Oh, sorry, dear. Are you all right?”

“I am.” I sniffled and smiled self-consciously at the older woman behind the counter. A fish-shaped balloon was bumping the ceiling above the cash register and, right next to it, was a balloon identical to one sent to Jen Franklin. I took out the pictures as I approached the counter. The woman might clam up if she thought she was talking to a private investigator – even though I’m not one – so I thought I’d get further pretending to be Jen.

“I was wondering if you could help me. I’m trying to figure out who is sending these gifts. They’re labeled as being from a ‘secret admirer,’ but they’re… well, I hate to say they’re unwelcome. But I have a girlfriend and it’s just kind of a bother.”

The woman put on her glasses as she leaned forward to examine the photos. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Well, that balloon definitely came from us. And this flower arrangement looks familiar, too.” She shuffled the pictures and focused on the cards. “That’s my son’s handwriting. He does all the greetings and special messages. He has just gorgeous handwriting. Let’s see. These three I know for sure came from us. Let me check…” She took a laptop out from under the desk and pushed open the lid with what seemed to be a great effort. “What are the dates?”

I had to check the pictures and read them off one by one.

“The balloon was purchased three weeks ago. The flowers were five and six weeks ago. Boy, he’s been busy, hasn’t he?”

“Do you have a name of who bought them?”

“No, hon, I’m sorry. These are all marked as being paid in cash.” She tapped her finger on the keyboard and chewed her bottom lip. “The most I could do is make sure we don’t ship to your address anymore. If someone comes in and asks, we would regretfully inform him that we can’t deliver there. He might just go to another store, but I’d prefer to lose the business than help pester someone.”

“I would appreciate that,” I said.

The woman took out her cell phone. “Hold on just a second. I want to help you out, sweetie.” She poked at the screen a few times and put it to her ear. “Kevin? It’s me. I wanted to ask you about a couple of sales you made. It’s a balloon and two bouquets…” She rolled her eyes. “Well, let me describe them before you say you don’t know.”

I covered my smile as the woman described the vases and arrangements, along with the balloon.

“Apparently they were all purchased by the same person and delivered on the Monday after… right! You do. Okay.” She gave me a thumbs-up and I returned it. “Okay. Uh-huh. Excellent! Thanks, Kev. I’ll talk to you later.” She hung up and began writing on a pad. “He remembered the guy because he was a little weird. Nervous, not making eye contact. A few weeks ago he asked if we sold chocolates. We don’t, but Kevin suggested a little place not far from here. This is their address and the day Kevin said he sent the guy over. I hope it helps.”

I said, “It’s better than I had before. Thank you.”

“You said you have a girlfriend… have you gotten her anything for Valentine’s yet?”

“Uh… no, we don’t really do Valentine’s, really…”

The woman smiled. “Everyone wants something on Valentine’s day. Even if they claim they don’t. It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering. You could just buy her a flower. We do sell them individually, you know.”

Ari didn’t like flowers, what with her heightened sense of smell, but the woman had a point. It would be nice to buy something for Ari just to show her how much I loved her. If I got it a few days early, it wouldn’t necessarily be a Valentine’s gift.

“I’ll think about it,” I told her. “Thank you.”

“Sure thing, hon.”

I left the gift shop and took a deep breath of the fresh, harbor-tinged air before I started to the next shop. When I arrived, I went through the same routine with the teenager behind the counter. He also remembered the “weird dude” who ordered chocolates for Jen Franklin. That shop was equipped with a security camera he was eager to flaunt his skills with. He zoomed back to the date in question and gave me a printout of what the guy looked like. It wasn’t a CSI-quality zoom-in job, but it might be enough to figure out who he was. He was an average looking guy. Long curly hair, glasses, square-ish jaw. Not bad to look at, if you were into that sort of thing.

I used my phone to take a picture and texted it to Miss Franklin using the Bitches account. I got a reply back by the time I’d walked to the car. “I don’t recognize him. Sorry.” I texted back that it was okay, but I was already thinking about how many hours Ari would have to put in following Miss Franklin around to see if the secret admirer showed up.

When I was in the car, I looked up the next few shops on my list. I was going to stick to anything nearby the two I already knew he’d used, which meant my next stop was a few blocks north. Most people didn’t travel far from home if they didn’t have to. If he wanted to spread his purchases around, then his choices might be more limited, but I had a feeling I’d get luckier if I stayed in the same neighborhood. My phone buzzed when I was en route but I didn’t look at it until I had parked. It was a text from Miss Franklin.

“I DO KNOW HIM. He doesn’t wear glasses usually. I recognize the jacket. His name is Josiah. He works at the diner where I sometimes have breakfast.”

She included the address, so I looked up directions and left the florist behind. When I arrived the lunch rush was just tapering off. I managed to get a seat in the corner where I could scan the entire dining room without having to turn my head too much. There were five waiters I could see, all wearing button-down shirts and ties in a rainbow of different colors. A woman in a red tie approached my table. Her nametag said her name was Rachel. I was only going to order something to drink when I realized I hadn’t had lunch yet.

“Hi! Welcome to Raven’s. What can I get for you?”

I ordered a sandwich and a glass of tea, then said, “I’m actually the friend of a friend of a waiter who works here. Josiah…?”

“Oh.” She twisted at the waist and looked around the room. “I think his shift just got over, but he’s still around here somewhere. Do you want me to see if I can find him?”

“That would be great. Thanks.”

She smiled. “I’ll be right back with your tea.”

Rachel hurried off and I took out my phone to text an update to Ari. She couldn’t exactly receive it while she was in wolf form, but she’d want to know where I was when she changed back. I had just hit send when someone approached my table. Josiah, minus the glasses and with shorter hair than he’d had in the video, was looking at me as if trying to figure out where he knew me from.

“Do I know you?”

“No. But I like the haircut. It looks good.”

He narrowed his eyes.

“My name is Dale Frye. I’m here on behalf of Jen Franklin.”

He tensed, looked confused. “Jen?”

“Sit down, Josiah. Please?”

He settled across from me. I folded my hands in front of me and tried to think of what Ari would say. There was no reason to tell him that Jen had hired a private investigator to root him out. It would be humiliating to know she’d gone to such lengths to stop what I’m sure he considered to be generosity and kindness.

“Jen was flattered by the first few gifts, but it’s gotten out of hand. She doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, but she can’t keep having all these flowers and balloons and stuffed animals showing up at her work. She’s got a job to do. You understand, right?”

He was fidgeting. “I just wanted her to know I liked her, you know? I was trying to be a nice guy. I always overhear her telling the women she works with, you know, about bad dates and bad guys. She just wants to meet a nice guy. Well, what if the nice guy is just too shy to say anything? I guess maybe I did go overboard on the presents.”

“You went way overboard, Josiah. It was way too much. You should just tell her how you feel. Ask her out. You don’t need some grand gesture to trick her into noticing you. Just be open and honest, okay?”

“What if she says no?”

“Then you have closure. You can move on. You can save your money to buy balloons and flowers for a woman who really appreciates them. If it had worked, if she agreed to go out with you because you showered her with stuff, where would it end? You’d be constantly buying her things just to keep her happy. That’s no way to start a relationship. So… just be open and honest with her. If she says no, find someone else who might say yes.”

He sighed. “She must think I’m a creep.”

“She doesn’t know anything about you. Maybe she’ll think you’re a little overzealous, but that’s not exactly a dealbreaker.”

“Okay.”

Rachel arrived with my order. “Everything okay over here?”

“Everything’s fine,” I said. “Josiah and I were just talking about our mutual friend.”

When she was gone, Josiah said, “No more presents.”

“No more presents. And whatever you were planning on Valentine’s day… you should probably call that off.”

“Oh, shoot. The singing telegram. If I call now I can probably avoid the cancellation fee.” He slid to the end of the booth. “Tell her I’m sorry. And she’s gotten the last secret admirer package, I promise. But you should probably warn her that I might ask her out the next time she comes in here. Just so it doesn’t feel like an ambush.”

I nodded. “Will do.”

“Enjoy your meal.”

“Thanks. Good luck, Josiah.”

He smiled and moved off through the sea of tables. I was proud of myself for closing the case, and I hoped Ari wasn’t too disappointed that she’d missed out on it. Of course, now Jen would have to have an uncomfortable conversation the next time she came to Raven’s, but I figured she was capable of suffering through it.

My task complete, I finally dug into my lunch.

 

#

 

I had been back at the office for close to an hour when I heard a scratch at the door. I stood up and let Ari inside. She was still in wolf form, breathing heavily from her pursuit. She went immediately into her office. I lagged behind until I heard the first human grunt from within, then joined her. She was slumped over on the couch, skin slick with sweat, her face smashed against the pillow. Her shoulders rose and fell with deep breaths, and her face was bright red.

“How bad?” I asked as I rearranged her body on the cushions.

“It’s not… not too bad…”

I’d been tending to her pain long enough to know the tells: the twitch by her eye, the tremble in her upper lip. “Liar.” Once she was stretched out, I straddled her waist and closed my hands on her shoulders. The transformation twisted and pulled her bones and muscles in ways they were never meant to move, since she was born without the canidae gene. I don’t know how much my massages helped her. She insisted they were a godsend, and she definitely moved easier afterward, but even if it was just a placebo, I was happy to do whatever I could to ease her pain. I began kneading, gently at first until she grunted, “Harder,” against the pillow. I dug in with my fingertips and moved down her spine.

“How did the pursuit go?”

“Inconclusive. I followed him – ngh… – to a building downtown, but I couldn’t get in. He stayed in there for almost an hour. Tomorrow I’ll go back on two legs and see what I can find out inside.”

I nodded. “Meanwhile, I solved the other case.”

“What other case? Oh… Jen Franklin? Already?”

“Yeah. Found the guy and talked to him. The gifts will stop.”

Ari said, “Wow. Remind me to pay you more.”

I smiled as I remembered the days when we were just friends, when I had to put aside any latent feelings I had for Ari. I had to ignore the fact I had a half-naked woman underneath me. There was nothing sexual about what I was doing for her, even if my hands did sometimes graze the side of her breast or get a little too close to the waistband of her underwear.

Now, though… after I had loosened the knots in her back, I scooted down to her thighs. I brought my hand to my mouth, dragged two fingers across my tongue, and slipped my hand between her legs. Ari shifted and arched her back, slipping her hands under the pillow as I began stroking her. A massage could work wonders, but there was no better pain relief than a nice orgasm. I kept my other hand on her back, massaging away any lingering aches or twinges as I eased my middle finger into her. She sighed softly and wriggled a bit under me.

“Good?” I asked.

“Yeah…”

I bit my bottom lip and moved my free hand to her waist. I squeezed and then moved it around over her stomach, over her mound, and pressed my fingers against her. I found her clit and she tensed for a moment before melting once more. My shoulders were hunched so that I was almost looming over her, my hand working between her legs. I had one foot on the floor for leverage, my toe pointed, and I ran my eyes up and down the length of her body. Ari bent her knees and lifted her ass to give me a better angle. I scooted forward, my crotch against my forearm, and I used my hips to press against her.

Ari grunted. I whispered, “It’s okay, puppy.” She turned her head and pressed her face into the pillow. Her hands tightened their grip around it and she came with a quiet, strangled groan of pleasure. Her body trembled under me as I bent down and kissed through her hair, my lips on the skin just above her collar as I gave her one finger brush with my fingers.

She twisted and reached up for me, pulling me to her for a kiss. Looking back, I have no idea how I ever kept our massages platonic, or how I ever ended one without getting a kiss for my effort. She pulled back and kissed along my cheek until she reached my ear. I ran my fingers through her hair.

“Are the blinds behind your desk still closed?”

“They are.”

“Then go out to your desk and take off your pants.”

I laughed. “Puppy…”

“I mean it, Miss Frye.”

I grinned and pulled back to kiss her lips. “Whatever you say, Miss Willow.” I pushed myself up off of her. I stopped at the doorway to look back at her. She was lying on her side, one leg pulled up as she pushed her hair out of my face. I gestured at my blouse. “Shirt…?”

“Leave it on.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I went out to my desk and, after making sure the office door was locked, toed off my shoes and unbuckled my belt. The blinds on the window behind my desk were drawn, but it looked out on the street. I pushed my pants down, then my underwear, and sat down. A few seconds later Ari came out and I had to stifle a laugh. She’d put her blouse back on, but she’d added a necktie that was loosely knotted around her throat. Her hair was up in an untidy knot, one wave of it still falling over her face and shading her cheek as she approached me.

“You went above and beyond in your duties today, Miss Frye.”

“Well, anything to help the business.”

Ari smiled and knelt down in front of me. “Still, I believe in rewarding my employees who have done a good job.” She put her hands on my knees and eased my legs apart. I chuckled and scooted to the edge of the chair as she bent down and kissed her way up the inside of my thigh. I glanced toward the window, self-conscious. I could hear cars passing. I heard people on the street. If I was loud enough, I knew they would probably hear me through the glass.

I was so focused on the idea that I was startled when Ari’s mouth finally found me. My hips jerked forward in the seat and I put my hand on the back of her head, loosening her hairdo even further. I pulled it completely out of the twist and spread her hair out across my lap as the tip of her tongue spread my lips open. I whimpered quietly, my cheeks burning as I rested my legs on her shoulders. She looked up at me through her tangled bangs and I winked at her. She smiled and pushed her tongue inside of me, shattering my expression into a moan.

“There, there,” I said. I moved my hand down to the base of Ari’s skull, then slipped my thumb under her collar. The collar she bought for me to put on her, the one I think is more intimate and meaningful than a diamond ring could ever be. I gripped the arm of my chair and lifted up to meet her tongue and lips as I came, trembling in the aftermath when I dropped back down to the seat. Ari kissed my thigh, licked up the wetness she had transferred there, and then sat up straighter. I leaned down and kissed her, my legs still on her shoulders so I was bent into an uncomfortable pretzel.

“Good?” she whispered.

“Very good, Ariadne,” I said. I put my feet back on the floor and she rocked back onto her heels. She retrieved my pants and I started clothing myself again. “A lady at one of the gift shops I checked out asked me what I was giving you for Valentine’s day.”

Ari stood up and went back into her office. “Oh. I haven’t gotten you anything.”

“I haven’t gotten you anything, either. But maybe we could go out for dinner or see a movie.”

“I’d be up for that.” She came out of the office with her pants mostly on, pausing at the doorway to button them. “Of course, I’d be up for anything as long as you’d be there. Karaoke?”

I wrinkled my nose. “Not really into humiliation as a romantic night out.”

“I’ve heard you sing. You’re fantastic.”

“You’re biased.” I pushed my hair out of my face, still tingling from the orgasm she’d given me. I sat up straighter and Ari came back to me. “Whoa, what are you planning to do?”

She smiled as she put one knee on the seat next to my hip and climbed onto me. I laughed and cupped my hands under her ass to keep her balanced as she put her hands on my shoulder.

“Suddenly you’re a lapdog?”

“When I want to be.”

I angled my head and kissed her neck, just under her jaw. She made a noise of approval and moved her hands up into my hair.

“We don’t need Valentine’s day. I’ll take you out if that’s what you’d like, and I’ll buy you enough flowers and candy to put a gift shop’s owner through college.”

“I don’t want that. You just have to show up.”

She kissed the top of my head. The chair creaked under us as our weight shifted. “That, I can do. But maybe we can find somewhere nice to go. Not on the fourteenth. Just because.”

“I’d like that.”

The chair creaked again and Ari laughed. “I should probably get off of you.”

“In a minute. If you break it, you can buy me a new one as a Valentine’s present.”

“That seems like a good gift.”

“Yeah.”

I smiled and rested my head on her chest. I didn’t think there was really any chance we’d break the chair, but it was nice to have a plan, just in case.

 

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