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Jan 08

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Run With the Big Dogs

Summary:

Ari’s notoriety leads her to a case that becomes more complicated with each step she takes.

 

By and by, things stayed the same. There were only a few minor changes.

Due to her aborted transformation on the Gavin Estate, Ari was restricted from transforming for six weeks. It wasn’t impossible; she was sure others had gone so long between changes. Her former personal record was three weeks. She was now creeping up on five weeks, counting the days (ten; really nine and three quarters) that remained until she could assume the wolf form again.

The damage done to her skeletal frame was mostly healed. Canidae bones were remarkable at bouncing back even from devastating injuries. She still walked with the cane, but mostly because she had grown accustomed to it. Her limp was gone, and she was walking full speed again.

Dale was also still in recovery, but hers was less noticeable. She was out of the hospital, and had found a way of combing her hair so that it covered the scar. Her hair would eventually fill out and cover the bald spot, but until then she had taken to wearing an assortment of hats. Ari preferred her in the bowler, but Dale liked the trilby large enough that she could pull it down over her ears like Diane Keaton.

She was also trying to get accustomed to the sound of the phone ringing. Their agency was still in the news, as Katherine Gavin’s lawyers and the charities to which Laura Gavin had bequeathed her inheritance and all her worldly belonging butted heads to find out just how much of the Gavin fortune was going to be given away. Of course none of the television or print news agencies used their actual name. “Bitches Investigations” was hardly a TV friendly name. But ‘Private investigator Ariadne Willow’ was unique enough that people were still able to find her. The only downside was that she had to be more careful about newspaper photographers and news cameras plastering her face all over the city. Even if it did get out, once her recuperation period was over, she’d have a hell of a disguise.

The easiest adjustment was getting used to sharing her bed with Dale.

They were both still on the mend. Dale occasionally got headaches, though they were growing less severe with time. Ari’s hip, though capable of ambulation, didn’t quite appreciate having someone lying between her legs for any length of time. Sometimes they just slept, holding each other under the blankets, but they were nothing if not industrious. A hand between Ari’s legs didn’t aggravate her joints, and if Dale could lie back with a pillow under her neck, she was supported enough for Ari to take care of her by any means necessary.

Dale’s pillow for tonight was Ari’s stomach. Ari was making artful designs over her tanned flesh with the red-orange strands of Dale’s hair. They’d made love in the bathtub, testing the theory that being underwater would make things easier. They were wrong, as banged elbows and coccyges would attest. But it was fun proving themselves wrong.

Now, half dozing, Ari still couldn’t believe she and Dale were lovers. Years of holding herself back, eager to kiss but not to change their relationship, had crumbled. When she’d lost everything else, Dale was still by her side. She curled her finger against Dale’s cheek and stroked, and Dale lifted her head to look up at her. “Hey.”

Ari widened her smile. “I thought you were asleep.”

Dale rolled over, and Ari found her eyes drawn to the curve of her breast. She’d been naked with Dale long before they become lovers, but she had never seen Dale naked. It was quite a sight to behold. She moved her hand from Dale’s face to her neck, to her shoulder, and down over her breast. Dale’s eyelids fluttered and she arched her back to fill Ari’s hand with her breast. Ari pinched the nipple, and Dale whispered, “Ow,” in a way that told Ari not to stop. Ari found that she loved touching Dale. It didn’t even have to be a sexual touch to turn her on. Sliding her finger down Dale’s arm, or squeezing her shoulder at the desk… every touch had taken on a new meaning.

Eventually Dale squirmed away from Ari’s searching fingers and settled on top of her. “Okay?” she whispered against Ari’s lips.

“You’re okay.” She put her hands on Dale’s hips. She could feel Dale smiling as they kissed. It wasn’t just the fact she was with Dale that made her lightheaded; it was the fact she was in a real, authentic relationship. When she woke up in the morning, Dale would be there. When she went to bed tomorrow, Dale would either be beside her or they would call each other before going to sleep. Dale knew her secrets and her flaws, and she was still there.

Ari moved her hand down and cupped Dale’s mound. Dale lifted herself, held her breath, and let herself sink down onto Ari’s middle and ring fingers. She exhaled, lips puffing out and eyes closed as she rested her hands on Ari’s shoulders. Ari stared at her, watched as Dale slowly rose and fell, riding her, becoming breathless and then lifting her chin as she tightened around Ari’s fingers.

The room was silent except for the mattress protesting under their combined weight. The single lamp on the desk accentuated Dale’s curves, making her breasts look larger than they were. Ari lowered her thumb and moved it in slow circles against Dale’s hooded clit, drawing the little sighs and gasps she had come to know so well in the past month. She smiled when she realized she was familiar with Dale’s orgasms, and moved her thumb faster. She had her other hand on Dale’s hips, not guiding her but following her movements until Dale suddenly squeezed her thighs tight around Ari’s waist and said, “Ariadne… hah…”

Ari closed her eyes and opened her senses. She breathed deep and smelled Dale’s sweat, her arousal, her orgasm. The sound of Dale’s heartbeat was almost like a drum in the quiet room. With her wolf senses open, Ari could fill the room with Dale. Even with her eyes closed, she shone like a beacon. She opened her eyes and Dale sank down. She stroked Ari’s cheeks with both hands before kissing her top lip, her bottom lip, and then letting her tongue slip between.

“Love you.”

“Love you,” Ari whispered back. She moved her hand from Dale’s hip to the small of her back, holding her tightly as they pressed together. Dale stretched her legs out and rolled to the side, nestling her head against Ari’s shoulder. Ari sat up and drew the blanket up over the both. Dale made a quiet sound of approval and kissed Ari’s collar bone.

“How are you doing?”

It took Ari a moment to understand what topic Dale had landed on. She tended to think while in bed, moving from one subject to the next, and then randomly comment on one of them. Ari was finding it a challenge to keep up, but one she didn’t mind accepting. Finally she realized the topic was the fact it had been so long since her last transformation.

“I’m okay. I’ve heard of canidae who were clawing at their skin by week five. I want to change, but knowing I only have a week left makes it bearable.” She kissed the top of Dale’s head. “Having you here helps, too.”

Dale smiled. The worst moment had been during the third week. Ari had noticed her right leg was bouncing, and the last three fingers on her left hand were too stiff to move. She had called Dale to help her, and Dale lowered her to the floor and began an impromptu massage through her clothes. The muscles eventually unlocked, and the moment passed without incident. It wasn’t the only near-miss she’d suffered, but it was the worst. And Dale had gotten her through it. For that alone, she owed a debt she couldn’t repay.

“Did the doc say what would happen if you did change?”

“He said this is giving my body a chance to re-learn itself. If I tried to change, I’d probably go into wolf-form just fine. But coming back would be bad. Joints out of place, bones snapping when they should bend. It’s the price I pay for holding myself mid-change the way I did.” She kissed Dale’s forehead and hooked a finger under her chin. They kissed, and Ari remembered how horrified she’d been at the sight of Dale falling. The spray of blood that had risen from the side of her head. Just remembering it made her tense. “I’d do it again.”

“I’ll try to stay away from any gunfire.”

Ari chuckled and let Dale’s head drop back to her shoulder. Ari stroked her hair. “Do we have any meetings at work tomorrow?”

“Mm-hmm. Two.”

“Want to get breakfast first?”

“Yes.”

Dale’s voice had faded, and Ari knew she was falling asleep. She waited thirty seconds. “Dale?”

An irritated grunt, Dale’s body jerking back to wakefulness. “Huh?”

“Sweet dreams.”

“Brat.”

Ari smiled and moved her hand to Dale’s shoulder, holding her as she fell asleep. One thing she hadn’t mentioned to Dale was the freedom that came with being the wolf. Some nights when she couldn’t sleep, she would transform and head out into the darkness. She would spend hours roaming in the wilderness, getting dirt under her nails and breathing in the scents of the Pacific Northwest. She usually out once or twice a week, but now…

She looked down at the top of Dale’s head.

Now she was finding it much nicer to just stay home.

 

#

 

Bright and early the next morning, a Tuesday, Ari was sitting in the front offices of Dr. Phillip Weymouth PhD reading a magazine article on how to have more powerful orgasms. There were ten steps, but Ari could narrow that down to one: sleep with your best friend. But she skimmed the article just in case there were any tips that could shoot them over the moon. She was on number seven (which she found questionable) when the receptionist said, “Miss Wolfe? The doctor is ready for you.”

Ari smiled at the cover name as she put her magazine aside. She straightened her blouse and leaned on her cane as she walked past the peroxide blonde and through the door she had been hired to guard. There was a small antechamber with potted plants and a pair of sconces providing mood lighting, and she passed them to enter the main office.

Dr. Weymouth was sitting in a leather wingback chair with his hands folded in front of him. He was tall and muscular, built like a diver under his tailored suit, and his gray hair was feathered at the temples. He was staring out the window but looked toward the door when she came in. His brow furrowed slightly but he covered it expertly as he pushed himself up.

“Ms. Willow, I presume?”

“That’s me.” She crossed the plush carpet and shook his hand.

“I pictured someone older.”

Ari smiled. “I’ve been told our agency name speaks to a certain immaturity.”

Dr. Weymouth chuckled quietly and gestured to the couch. It was underneath a window, wide enough for a patient to stretch out upon it if they wished. Ari doubted many still did that in this day and age. She opted to sit in the center as Weymouth returned to his seat. He sighed as he lowered himself, touching the side of his head as if to tame the fly-aways of his hair. Finally he looked at her and seemed to settle in.

“I hope you understand my need for subterfuge.”

“Of course. And you can be assured that whatever we talk about will be treated with the strictest confidence.”

Weymouth seemed to relax further. “I heard about your agency on the news. B Investigations, they called it. I was a little surprised when I found out what the B stood for.” He smiled, and Ari did as well. He had brought his hands together and was brushing the knuckles of one with the fingers of the other. “I decided on your agency because of the Gavin incident. You were most likely given a chance to close the case quietly, probably for a great sum of money, and you instead decided to do what was right. You chose justice and made a moral decision, which I find highly commendable. And you’re precisely the person I trust with a situation as sensitive as the one in which I currently find myself.

“To get directly to the point, Ms. Willow, my journal has been stolen. I keep notes in my sessions, both to organize my thoughts and refresh my memory for future sessions. I write them in shorthand, and it’s… encoded to a point, but I’m not exactly James Bond. Anyone dedicated enough to steal the ledger in the first place will be able to decipher it given enough time and attention. Needless to say, I would like to retrieve the journal before that happens.”

Ari said, “When was the journal taken?”

“Over the weekend. I had it Friday afternoon, and locked it in the drawer of my desk as I always do.” He gestured and they both stood, moving to examine the desk. He pointed at the bottom drawer, which had a gold lock on the face of it. “The drawer was unlocked. Whether that means I forgot to lock it on the one night someone broke in, or they picked it, or…”

He rubbed his forehead and sighed heavily. He turned back to face her fully. “Now you see why I chose you. With the police, I would run the risk of someone else getting their hands on my journal. Detectives, forensics, lawyers. I’d run the risk of having it entered into evidence during a trial. You can see why that would be unacceptable.”

“Sure. Was anything else taken?”

“No. There weren’t even any signs someone had been in here. There’s only that window over the sofa, and it’s always locked. There’s a screen over it that can’t be removed, and it wasn’t broken or tampered with that I could see.”

Ari knelt and leaned toward the drawer. She sniffed inconspicuously, trying to pick up residue of the thief. A perfume or cologne that she could match to a suspect would be great. The room was a closed environment, but Weymouth had apparently seen quite a few patients on Monday and it was too hard to pick apart a single thread.

“Your secretary…?”

“Brianna?”

“Does she have a key to the offices?”

Weymouth looked stunned at the possibility. “Well, yes. Of course she does. She comes in and makes coffee, and sets up the files for the day before I even get in. But she’s the only one, and she is beyond reproach.”

Ari had gotten a good scent of Brianna’s perfume in the waiting room, but that wasn’t due to her canidae abilities. She was wearing enough of it that someone with a stuffy nose would have leaned in the opposite direction. Her canidae nose picked up a thick cloud of it on or near Weymouth’s desk. Ari had a feeling the secretary’s early-morning duties went beyond coffee and filing, but she held her tongue.

“Is there anyone else who may have had access to your office? Any of your patients left here alone, even for a short amount of time?”

Weymouth considered it. “Not for several weeks. The building had a fire drill during one of my sessions, but I made sure the patient exited before I did. I locked the door when I left, and it was still locked when we returned twenty minutes later. Nothing had been disturbed. And I took my journal with me in that instance.”

Ari walked around the room, she closed her eyes and smelled. A stream of different scents moved from the door to the couch, a highway cut into the carpet by the passage of several feet. Some of Weymouth’s patients were pacers, but those scents were dull and blunted. Weymouth was strong, naturally, and she realized he smoked cigars. Brianna was on most of the horizontal surfaces; Ari was unsurprised.

“Who was your last patient on Friday?”

He cleared his throat.

“Your patients may be suspects, Dr. Weymouth.”

“One of them may be a thief, but that doesn’t give me the right to compromise all of them. I’m sorry if this makes your job difficult, Ms. Willow, but I won’t share their information with you. I could call and ask for permission to share, but if that patient is who I’m hiring you to find–”

“Probably best not to tip him off. Or her. That’s all right.” She continued her circuit of the room. The question had mostly been a test, just to see if he would answer. But the patients were good suspects, which meant he’d just tied her hands. “Has anyone called you to make any demands? Ransom or…?”

He shook his head. “No. But I assume they’re waiting to decipher it to see if it contains any blackmail quality information. In that case I would assume they would just go straight to those people with their demands.”

“Right. And can you tell me if there are people in the journal who might pay to keep the information quiet.”

He breathed in deeply and, on the exhale, said, “Oh, with certainty.”

“You said your entries were encoded. How tough would it be to crack?”

His shoulders slumped. “You’ve probably spent less time on the cryptogram in the Sunday paper.”

“Okay. Did Dale give you the terms of hiring us?”

“She did.” He walked back to his chair and opened a ledger, removing a check. “That will cover two days of investigations. You’ll receive another for expenses and for any extra days you accrued when the case comes to a finish, whatever the finish may be.”

Ari tucked the check into her blouse. “Thanks. I’ll keep you informed on any progress I make.” She started for the door.

“Ah… As far as Brianna knows, you’re a new patient. You’re booked for the entire hour, and it may look peculiar if you leave so quickly. If you want to stay until your time is up, we can talk. Free of charge.”

Ari smiled. “Thanks but no thanks, Dr. Weymouth. I like my demons. Some days the voices in my head are the only people who will talk to me.”

 

#

 

Ari looked away from the front door of Weymouth’s building when the passenger door of her car opened. Dale slid into the passenger seat, a bag from a nearby sub shop hanging from two fingers. “Hey.” They kissed hello, something Ari wasn’t used to and hoped she never took for granted, and Dale handed her one of the carefully wrapped sandwiches. “Got us some lunch.”

“Thanks. Dr. Weymouth gave me a check. Did you up our going rate?”

“A little. I mean, we’re getting so many calls now, we can afford to lose a couple of people who think we’re out of their price range. If they’re willing to go somewhere else, it lightens our load. And the people willing to pay will have problems worthy of your time and effort. Plus you have notoriety now. You’re famous. People expect celebrity pricing.”

“Keep that up and I’ll have to give you a raise.”

“As long as you’re not just giving it to me because we’re sleeping together now.”

Ari snorted. “Nah. That’s a perk of employment.”

Dale laughed and looked across the street. “Any action yet?”

Ari shook her head. “People going in and out… could be going to any of the offices in the building. We don’t have any way of knowing if they’re Dr. Weymouth’s patients short of going up and asking them directly.”

“Not exactly subtle.”

Ari shrugged. “I did consider staking out the elevator and smelling everyone to see if who had the smell of Weymouth’s office on them when they left. I figured building security might have an issue with that.”

Dale shrugged. “So what’s your plan?”

“I’m putting my money on the receptionist. Brianna.”

“Oof. That’s a dangerous name. Every now and then you’ll find a nice, sweet Brianna, but the peroxide beach bunnies give the whole name a bad rap. Which one is she?”

Ari smiled. “Beach bunny. Speaking of employment perks… I’m waiting to see if she leaves for lunch, and follow her if she does. She has access to the office, and most likely knows where Weymouth stored the journal and what was inside. It would explain how the thief knew exactly what they were after. According to the doctor, nothing else in the office was disturbed.”

Dale said, “Did he think she was a suspect?”

“No, but he’s not exactly thinking with his brain. He claims to trust her, but he didn’t want her to know that I was a private investigator. If he really trusted her, he would have confided in her.”

“Ah. The big brain is getting a few messages out.”

Ari laughed. “Subliminally, maybe, but yeah.” She unwrapped her sandwich and they ate. Dale had gotten a large soda with no ice, and they shared it. Ari took a sip, then turned the straw as she handed the cup back to Dale.

“When you say follow her… you sure you’re not too out of practice following…” She walked two fingers across the air in front of her. “Usually you’re on all fours.”

“But enough about our love life.”

“Ba-dum-ba,” Dale said, badly mimicking a rim shot. Ari chuckled around a mouthful of food. “Seriously. She’s seen you. She might notice if you’re following her down the street.”

“I’ve been practicing. Following you when you leave my apartment.”

Dale shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, I know. I’ve seen you every time.”

Ari frowned. “What?”

“Thursday you were wearing that weird hat. On Friday you had a scarf…”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

Dale looked down at her food. “I liked looking back and seeing you there.”

Ari smiled and leaned across the console. She cupped the back of Dale’s neck and kissed her cheek, her ear, and Dale turned until their lips brushed together. Dale’s tongue tasted like ranch dressing, and Ari knew there were black olives on her breath, but neither of them cared. Ari was still reeling from the fact that she could kiss Dale any time she wanted. She’d spent years fighting the urge, ignoring it, pressing against the glass of the “Just Friends” display. But now she was behind the velvet line. She chuckled and rested her forehead against Dale’s.

“What?”

“I just mixed a metaphor in my head. Zoo and museum.”

Dale laughed. “Your mind must be a crazy place. But it’s apt. You’re a wild animal, and I’m a work of art.”

Ari’s smile faded and she brushed her thumb over Dale’s cheek. “Wow. You’re right.”

“I was joking.”

“Doesn’t make you wrong. Priceless.” She kissed Dale’s lips again and said, “I should watch the building I’m staking out.”

Dale shrugged. “At least glance at it once in a while.”

Ari dropped back into her seat, but she kept her arm stretched so her hand was on Dale’s shoulder. She was nearly finished with her sandwich when she spotted Dr. Weymouth’s secretary leave the building. She nodded with her chin as she cleaned up the leftovers of her lunch.

“There she is.”

“Wow, you were right. Buxom.”

Ari took another sip of soda and wiped her lips on a napkin. She held up her cell phone and slipped it into her pocket. “Okay. I’ll call you if I need a hand.”

“I’ll be here.”

Ari got out of the car and jogged across the street. Brianna was nearly at the corner, but Ari didn’t feel the need to hurry. She picked out Brianna’s scent on the air and weaved casually through the crowd, keeping a good distance. She could still see the back of Brianna’s head, the shoulders of her surprisingly conservative blue blazer. When she stopped at a restaurant and emerged in the outdoor seating area, Ari made an executive decision. She walked inside, offered the hostess a tight smile as she went past the podium.

Brianna glanced up as Ari approached, recognition dawning on her face as Ari pulled out the chair across from her and sat down. “Ms. Wolfe.”

Ari smiled. “Hi. It’s Willow, actually. Ariadne Willow. I’m the private investigator Dr. Weymouth hired because something got stolen out of his office.” There were two glasses of water on the table and Ari picked up the closest one to her. “Expecting someone?”

“N-no. Something was stolen?” She tilted her head to the side. “He didn’t say anything.”

“Well, he suspects you.” Her eyes widened. “Don’t worry. It’s mostly a subconscious suspicion. He doesn’t want to suspect you because he likes having sex with you too much.”

Her cheeks pinked and she glanced around to make sure no one had overheard. She lowered her head and used both hands to tuck her hair behind her ears.

“He told you that?”

“No. But I’m good at my job.”

Brianna sipped her water as the waitress came over. She was too shaken to order, so Ari asked her to come back in fifteen minutes. When they were alone again, she leaned forward.

“Did you take the journal?”

“No!” Ari stared at her until she withered. “You don’t know that I had anything to do with this. You’re just trying to make me screw up and tell you something.”

Ari shrugged. “Partly. But I do know two things. You and Dr. Weymouth are the only ones who have a key to his office. You knew where the journal was kept. And you were the only one with access to the office when Dr. Weymouth isn’t there. Without signs of a break-in, I have to assume it was either him or you. Since he’s the one who hired me…”

Brianna took a deep breath, which did interesting things under her blazer, and put her hands together on the edge of the table.

“How much trouble am I going to be in?”

“That’s up to Dr. Weymouth. I get the feeling he doesn’t want a lot of press, so he’ll probably just settle for firing you. And I wouldn’t count on a recommendation.” She glanced down at the cleavage exposed by Brianna’s blouse. “Of course, he may just let bygones be bygones. He could decide you have other attributes that make up for being a thief.”

She winced. “I’m not a thief. And I’m not a slut, either, despite what I’m sure you think. Dr. Weymouth and I are in love. I didn’t steal the journal. I just…” She swallowed hard. “We were supposed to get it back before he knew it was missing. He was supposed to give it back to me Monday before work so I could put it back. But he didn’t know it was all coded and stuff.”

“Who is ‘he’?”

Brianna made a face. “Teddy. This guy I used to be with before Phil. He said I owed him for… uh.” She wet her lips. “Stuff.”

Ari glanced at Brianna’s chest again. “Aha. He paid for you to upgrade, and now that he doesn’t get to play with them anymore, he wants compensation.”

“Right. He wanted me to repay the whole amount, but I don’t have that kind of money. I was gonna ask Phil, but I didn’t want him to know… you know… that they weren’t real.”

Ari smirked. “Trust me, guys don’t care if they’re fake or not.”

Brianna looked at Ari’s chest, and Ari self-consciously tugged her jacket closed around her chest. She’d never gotten any complaints, but whatever.

“Look, when Phil didn’t say anything, I just assumed he thought he’d misplaced it. Teddy spent the whole weekend trying to crack the code, but he couldn’t do it. So he’s copying everything so he can work on it as long as he wants. I was going to get it back tonight and put it back, and Phil would never know it was even missing. I guess… that’s not gonna happen now.”

Ari felt bad despite herself. “Look, I’m sure Dr. Weymouth will understand you didn’t intend to hurt anyone. You can still make amends. No harm has been done yet as long as you do the right thing now. You have to tell me where I can find Teddy so I can get the journal back.”

“Do I… have to?”

“You can either help me get the journal back, or I could let Dr. Weymouth know you were involved in the robbery. He may want to keep things quiet, but he can always just tell the police you were breaking and entering. They may not even ask for details about what was stolen if he says it was sensitive information.”

Brianna put her fingers on her forehead, covering her eyes with her hands. “Oh, God. Oh, my God. I’m sorry. Of course I have to help you. But if I give back the journal, I’ll still owe Teddy. He’s not a good person.”

“Really? Because he sounds like a prince.” She immediately regretted it; Brianna was obviously trying to move up in the world, and having the past rear its ugly head couldn’t be fun. “Be honest with Dr. Weymouth. Be repentant, let him know you’ll never betray his trust again, and make him believe it. You let me worry about Teddy. I can be very persuasive when I need to be. Now tell me where he is.”

 

#

 

Ted glanced over his shoulder to make sure his manager wasn’t lurking, then took the folded papers out of his pocket. He smoothed them out on the counter and stared at the photocopied handwriting of Brianna’s new sugar daddy. He had only managed to copy a third of the pages before his shift. He was working every free moment copying and trying to crack the code. It was horribly frustrating. The doc couldn’t be bothered to use full words, so the mishmash of letters could mean anything. Trial and error was driving him crazy.

He had to put the paper away when a customer came in. His irritation faded when he saw how hot she was; athletically slender, in a form-fitting T-shirt and jeans, with her brown hair hanging loose and flapping like wings on either side of her face. She pushed her sunglasses up and blinked to adjust her eyes to the dim light of the office, then smiled when she saw him. “Hi. Hopefully you can help me.”

Ted stood up straighter. “I hope so, too.”

She put her elbows on the counter and leaned forward. Her eyes were amazing. “My car just started making this… chug-chug-chug noise. I could barely get it into the parking lot. I’m really lucky you guys were so close.”

You’re not the only lucky one, sister. “Well, uh, Barney is out back with another customer. Why don’t I see if I can help you?”

She smiled. “Well, thank you…” She poked the oval on his shirt embroidered with his name. “…Ted. I bet all the girls call you Teddy, huh?”

He grinned. “Some do.”

“Well, hi, Teddy. I’m Tule.”

“Tool?”

“Too-lee.” She shrugged. “My parents thought it was unique.” She pushed her sunglasses back down and nudged them into place with her knuckle. Ted squinted in the light. “Why don’t you get into the car and I’ll start it, so you can hear what the sound is?”

“Sure.”

Ted walked around the front of the car. “A Rambler Marlin? Wow. This baby is cherry. You take real good care of it, huh?”

“I only take it out when I have to. I’m afraid I let it sit too long under a tarp.”

“You let me be the judge of that, Tule.”

They got into the car and Ted stretched his legs out. He twisted to look in the backseat as she got behind the wheel. She started the engine and he listened to it rumble. It might not be in the best shape, but it seemed to be running well enough. She put her hands on the steering wheel and looked over at him, eyebrows raised behind the glasses.

“Well?”

“I don’t really hear anything. We could give it a tune-up if you want, but…”

“No, it was… there was something really wrong. Could I…?” She looked out the back window. “Could I drive it around the block, maybe? Just in case it needs to get up to speed or something? I just, I’d rather not be alone if it started doing it again.”

He smiled and reached back for his seatbelt. “I’d hate to think of you stranded by the side of the road. Take it for a quick spin. Worst thing happens, I’ll buy you an early dinner.”

She grinned. “Well, now. You’re just a perfect gentleman, aren’t you?”

“I try, ma’am.”

She backed out of the spot. Gravel crunched under the tires as she checked traffic and then pulled out onto the street. Ted figured he could fix whatever was wrong off the books, and give her a chance to make it up to him. In his mind, he already had her half-naked and bent over the hood when she suddenly sped up. He braced his hand against the window frame.

“Whoa. Are you doing that or is that part of the problem?”

“What? Speeding up? That’s me.”

He smiled nervously. “M-maybe you could slow it down a little.”

“Nah. Oh, and I wasn’t entirely honest with you before. My name isn’t Tule; it’s Ariadne. Your pals send their regards.”

Ted’s eyes widened. “Oh, shit.”

“Hold on, Teddy.” She stepped on the gas, and Ted tried very hard not to wet his pants.

 

#

 

Ari had no idea what friends Teddy was so afraid of, but the gamble paid off. He looked ready to jump out of the car, which she wouldn’t advise at the speed they were traveling. He sank into the seat, hand braced against the car door and the console, color draining from his face as he watched her weave in and out of traffic. He occasionally glanced at her, but she kept her jaw tight and her face neutral. As long as he didn’t know what she was capable of, his mind would make her capable of anything.

“You’ve been a bad boy, Teddy Bear.”

“Oh, God.” It was barely more than a whimper. “I’ll get the money back. I just need a little more time. Please!”

Ari smiled as if he’d said something so painful it was almost funny. “Oh, we’re way beyond begging. Hold on.” She took a tight corner, her mind racing for the conclusion of this little powwow. They were on a side street that ran between rows of warehouses. The land dipped sharply down toward the water, and she waited until she saw more empty parking lots than buildings obviously in use and pulled off the road. Her tires bumped over cracked an uneven pavement and she parked in a lot ruled by weeds and gravel.

“Out of the car. I just got it detailed.”

“Please.”

“Get out of the car.”

He covered his head with his hands, and Ari rolled her eyes. She got out of her side, walked around the front of the car, and pulled his door open. He shrieked as he was yanked out, his knees hitting the ground as Ari dragged him toward the hood. She half dropped, half tossed him forward and he caught himself on his hands before smashing his face on the pavement. He was blubbering now.

“Look out at the water. Even people like you deserve a pretty last sight.”

“Please… I-I’m… I’m going to get the money. It’s a matter of hours.”

Ari laughed. “Right. And where is this windfall coming from? The journal?”

His trembling ceased and he half-turned. “How–”

“Don’t look at me.” His head snapped forward. “How do I know about the journal? Who do you think hired me? Who do you think Dr. Weymouth is? Do you think all shrinks encode their notes? He did that because he works with criminals. Criminals who hire people like me when their secrets get stolen.”

Teddy covered his face with both hands and found religion.

“So what was the plan? You find out their secrets and hold it over their heads? Use it as leverage to forgive your debts? Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. These people do not respond well to threats. I thought you understood that.”

“I do. I do. Oh, hell, I didn’t know. I didn’t know, okay? It was opportunity. My ex girlfriend, she’s the doc’s secretary. She had access, so I thought it was…” He twisted, remembered her order not to look, and snapped his head back forward. “I just thought it was an easy way to get their money back. Honest, I had no idea Bob and Stevie even saw a shrink. Please. Please.”

“Where’s the journal?”

“It’s at my place. There’s a loose floor molding in the hall by the bathroom. I slid it in there. Please don’t kill me.”

Ari sighed. “Okay, Ted. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave you here, and you can walk back to work. I’ll get the journal from your apartment and I’ll do my best to convince Bob and Stevie that you’re repentant. And I’m going to let them know you are going to pay back every penny you owe them, with interest. Got me?”

He was nodding so fast Ari was worried about whiplash.

“And you’re gonna forget you ever heard of Dr. Weymouth. Any copies you made of the journal, they get tossed. Shredded, burnt, I don’t care. They don’t exist anymore. And this ex-girlfriend might as well be a figment of your imagination. In fact, so am I. I’m just a bad dream you had one day when you fell asleep at work. Got me?”

“Yeah. Yes.” He was sniveling. Ari almost felt bad for him.

“Give me your wallet.”

He fumbled for it and tossed it onto the ground between them without turning around. Ari picked it up and checked for a driver’s license. She noticed his address and took the money out. Eighteen dollars. She stepped forward and pressed the money into his hand, and he jerked as if she’d handed him a grenade. “Go on. Be glad I didn’t take your shoes, too.”

Ari walked back to her car, while Teddy got to his feet and ran without turning around. She took out her cell and dialed Dale’s number.

“Howdy.”

Ari smiled. “On my way to pick up the journal. Should have it back to Dr. Weymouth by the time he finishes with his last patient.”

“You’re so conscientious.”

“I do what I can. Call you in a bit. Love you.”

“Love you.”

Ari hung up and tucked the phone into her back pocket. She was halfway to Teddy’s apartment when her phone rang again. She glanced at the display to see who was calling and pulled over at the first opportunity to take the call. She sat with her left wrist draped over the steering wheel, right hand holding the phone, and made only brief statements to the caller before they ended their conversation. She closed the phone and stared at it, looked out the window, and tossed the phone onto the passenger seat before pulling back out onto the road.

When she arrived at Teddy’s address, her mind was back in the case. She took his wallet upstairs, expecting to test her lock-picking skills on the door to get the journal out. She was pretty good at picking locks. Playing a naked and temporarily amnesiac woman in a big city at night had honed her skills, so she was confident she would be able to get in.

She noticed the smell first. She slowed down and tried to isolate it. Body odor, pot. She’d smelled it before, but where? She reached Teddy’s apartment and determined that two men had gone inside ahead of her. They hadn’t been there very long; the smell was still strong. Judging from the splinters on the door jamb, she wasn’t his first guest of the afternoon.

Ari paused, then banged on the door. “Teddy! Yo, Teddy. Come on, man, open the… oh. It’s open.” She pushed the door open and went inside, all her senses on guard as she entered the living room. Two men were standing in front of the couch, staring at her with their hands resting on the butts of their guns. The first guy was a stranger, but the one farther away looked familiar. He was tall and skinny with shaggy brown hair.

Shaggy. She remembered him from a previous case. He was a recruiter for someone named Bob, a Faginesque pickpocket working one of the city parks. Ari assumed Bob was the other guy currently staring daggers at her. He was small, swarthy, and had a receding hairline that put her in mind of Joe Pesci in all those mobster comedies that came out in the nineties.

“Whoa.” She backed up a step. “Neither one of you guys is Teddy. And you’re packing heat. Whoa.” She put her hands up, blocking her chest with spread fingers. “I’m just looking for a nooner. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m just gonna–”

Bob drew his gun but kept it by his side. “Hold on, sweetheart. You’re not going anywhere just yet. You and Teddy. You’re friends?”

She shrugged and tried to convey anxiety. “I-I don’t know. Not friends. I mean, we fuck sometimes, but friends…?”

“You’ll do. Come over here.”

Ari smiled. “I think I’m fine over here. In fact, why don’t I just mosey on…”

He brought the gun up as she moved toward the door. “You’re not going anywhere, honey. We’re just going to let Teddy know we mean business. He took something that didn’t belong to him, and we’re gonna get it back.”

Ari straightened. “Is this about the money?”

Bob glanced at Shaggy, then looked back at her. “What do you know about the money?”

“Just that he was gonna pay you back today. Whoa. You nearly gave me a heart attack, swinging that gun around. Can I just go get the cash and, you know, we can go our separate ways?” She looked hopeful.

“Why don’t you just tell my associate here where it is?”

Damn. “He said he kept it in a… there was a loose floor molding in the bathroom hallway, right in front of the door. He put it in there.”

Bob made a motion with his head, and Shaggy – or maybe he was the Steve Teddy had mentioned – stepped around the coffee table and crossed between Ari and Bob. Ari’s calf muscles were tight, and she’d been balanced on the balls of her feet from the moment she feigned trying to leave. As soon as Shaggy was blocking Bob’s gun, she pounced. She slammed into Shaggy and bum-rushed him across the room until he collided with Bob.

Someone’s gun went off, and Shaggy yelped. The three of them hit the ground with Ari on top. She reached past Shaggy, who was too dazed to do anything, and grabbed Bob’s gun hand. She twisted, his fingers convulsed, and the gun fell loose. She snatched it up by the barrel and got up, burying her knee in Shaggy’s stomach to further delay his recovery efforts. She stood up, and Bob shoved Shaggy to one side in order to get to his feet. “You’re dead, bitch…”

“Just hold on, Bob. Shaggy, you okay?”

He whimpered, holding his stomach as he cringed on the floor. Ari kept the gun steady on Bob’s head.

“Let me guess. Teddy works for you, but not as one of the park pickpockets. I imagine he uses his position at the garage to get people’s…” She smiled slowly. “Their keys. He makes copies of their keys, and you can break into their homes at your leisure. Plus whatever spare change is in the ashtray. But he decided it was too sweet a deal to settle for… twenty percent? Ten? How much of a cheapskate are you?”

Bob lunged for Shaggy’s gun, but Ari got to it first. When he bent down to grab it, Ari brought her knee up and hit him in the forehead. He stumbled backward, tripped over the upended coffee table. Ari winced at the sound of wood cracking as he hit the wood and tumbled to one side. He landed on his stomach and didn’t seem in a hurry to get up.

“Hey, Shaggy.” Ari kicked his leg when he didn’t respond. He whimpered again. “Stand up. I didn’t hit you that hard.”

He rolled onto his back, hands up to protect his face. “Don’t hurt me. Holy shit. Who are you?”

I’m your worst nightmare… punk. Focus, Ari. “Get on your feet. Make sure your boss is still breathing.”

Shaggy rolled onto his hands and knees and crawled over to Bob. He checked and said, “He-he’s breathing.”

“Good. You have a phone?”

“Yeah…”

“Call 911.”

“Ah, shit. Don’t–”

Ari gestured with the gun and the fight went out of him again. He took a phone out of his back pocket and dialed. He looked up at Ari. “What do I say?”

“Tell them who you are and where you’ll be.”

“Uh… I’m a… I work for this thief, and this lady is holding a gun on me.” Ari rolled her eyes but said nothing as Shaggy gave the address. He looked up at Ari. “She wants me to stay on the line.”

“Put the phone on the floor. Did you bring some zip-ties to help persuade Teddy to cooperate?”

Shaggy sighed. “Yeah.” He lifted his butt and pulled them out. Ari instructed him to tie Bob’s hands, and he secured the ties just as Bob started coming to. “Sorry, boss. She’s makin’ me do it. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry. When the cops get here, they’ll trade them for handcuffs. Much more comfortable. Shaggy, on your stomach. Hands behind your back.”

He did as she said, murmuring, “Oh, man, oh, man.”

She secured him as the sound of sirens began to fill the air. “Sit tight, boys. Cops will be with you shortly.” She went down the hall to the bathroom and immediately saw the loose molding. She crouched and used her fingernails to pry it loose as Bob started shouting taunts at her from the living room. She took out the ledger and thumbed through it to make sure it was intact before she walked back into the living room.

“Okay, kids. I’m going to leave you here for the officers to sort out. Shaggy, a word of advice. You seem like the ‘easy way out’ sort of fella. Easiest way out in this situation is telling the cops everything you know about Bobby’s organization. They want the big fish, and he’s a lot bigger than you.” She used the tail of her shirt to wipe her prints from the gun and tossed it onto the couch before she walked out of the apartment.

The stairwell door closed behind her as the policemen left the elevator. She heard their radios as they passed, already two flights down by the time they entered the apartment and found the trussed criminals waiting for them.

Two squad cars were parked outside the building, and Ari eyed them with false curiosity as she strolled down the street to where she had parked. She tapped the journal against her hip and smiled as she thought back over her day. Bob and Shaggy were dealt with, Teddy would most likely end up being taken in to account for his crimes, and Dr. Weymouth’s clients were safe.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day’s work.

 

#

 

Ari returned the journal to Dr. Weymouth, and he revealed Brianna had already confessed her part in the crime with assurances it would never happen again. He was willing to give her a second chance, and seemed relieved when Ari told him the man behind the theft was most likely going to spend a very long time in prison. When Ari brought up the check for another day of investigation, Weymouth told her he considered it a bargain compared to losing his practice. Ari thanked him and left the office feeling good about herself professionally.

And then there was the phone call…

She called Dale to arrange dinner at home. She didn’t mention the call she received while on the way to Teddy’s apartment; that needed to be done in person. Though it was still early, she picked up take-out and headed home with a promise to Dale she would absolutely, definitely write up a case report in the morning. Dale convinced her detailed notes were an important part of being a successful and semi-famous private investigator, just in case.

When Dale arrived at Ari’s apartment, their dinner was set out on the dining room table. The blinds were open, revealing the Seattle skyline spreading out to sea. The sun was still relatively high, and the glass and metal gleamed. Dale put down her bag and kissed Ari. The kiss lingered, and Ari stroked Dale’s back until she pulled away.

“Good day?”

“Successful.”

“Any violence?”

“Moderate.”

Dale squeezed Ari’s shoulder. “You okay?”

Ari smiled. “The violence was all done unto others, not upon myself.”

“Good.” She took off her jacket. She wore a sleeveless white shirt, one strap of her bra visible. Ari was mesmerized by it, knowing she would get to see it later if she so desired. She was sleeping with Dale. Sometimes it was hard to believe they’d actually taken the step. She felt flush as she guided Dale toward the table. “Food looks delicious…”

“Dale. Hold on. Before we eat, there’s something I have to tell you. Dr. Frost called today while I was out for the case.” Dale’s face grew serious. “He looked at my latest test results, the X-rays he took on Friday?”

“Yeah, I remember. Is everything okay?”

Ari stroked her thumb over Dale’s upper arm. “Yeah. Better than okay. He said that I’ve bounced back faster than he expected. Everything looks fine, and he cleared me to change as early as tonight.”

Dale’s eyes widened. “Ari, I’m… that’s fantastic. No wonder you wanted to eat early.” She started to step toward the table, but Ari caught her hand. “What?”

“I’m not going to do it.”

“What? Ari, you’ve been walking the razor’s edge for five weeks. What do you mean you’re not changing?”

“Because the wolf isn’t the only place where I’ve been holding back. I can change tomorrow night.” She cupped Dale’s face and lightly kissed her lips. “Tonight I’m going to properly make love to you.”

Dale loosely gripped Ari’s wrists and smiled. “You’re choosing me over the wolf?”

Ari nodded without smiling. “Every time.”

“Good to know.”

They kissed. After a moment Ari pulled back. “I did think we should eat first…”

Dale laughed. “Right. Sorry.” She kissed the corners of Ari’s mouth and they sat down. Ari explained how the case had gone, pausing in her storytelling only to reassure Dale that she’d been very careful when the guns came into play.

“I used to just worry about my friend. Now I have to worry about my girlfriend.” She wrinkled her brow. “Lover?”

“Doxy.”

Dale laughed. “Seriously. What are we calling this, exactly? I know we’re in a relationship, but the only thing that’s really changed is…” She hooked a thumb over her shoulder, gesturing toward the bedroom. “I loved you before. The only difference is now when I say it, I get to kiss you.”

Ari smiled. “I don’t know. I like partner.”

“Yeah, but since we work together, it makes it sound like I’m… you know, people might assume I’m more than just your assistant there.”

“I like partner,” Ari said. “And you’ve always been more than just my… anything.” She took Dale’s hand and kissed the knuckles.

“Flirt.”

Ari winked. They finished their meal, and Dale stood up. She walked to Ari’s seat, straddled her, and linked her fingers on the back of Ari’s head.

“Since you cooked me dinner, I’m going to treat you. Why don’t you go take a bath and then, afterward, I’ll give you a… proper massage.” She bent down and lightly brushed Ari’s lips. “Would you like that, boss?”

Ari smiled, her eyes closed. “You’re employee of the month. Of the year. Decade.”

Dale stood up. “Go on and start your bath. I’ll be in the bedroom when you’re ready. Don’t take too long.”

Ari ran her eyes up and down Dale’s body. “I could just scrub up at the sink real quick…”

“Bubble bath. Daredevil drivers and people who play chicken with guns need pampering. Go on.” They walked down the hall together, Ari reluctantly breaking off to go into the bathroom. She undressed and examined a bruise she hadn’t noticed earlier. It didn’t hurt, and she quickly surmised it had come from tackling Shaggy. Better than getting shot. She just hoped Dale didn’t see it and worry.

She ran the bath and, as Dale ordered, added bubbles to it. She’d only bought the bubbles in anticipation of long, Penthouse-Forum type baths with Dale. What was the point of taking one by herself? She sighed and poured the mixture into the stream, swirled it around with her hands, and watched the cotton fields spread across the surface of the water.

She decided not to fight. If the biggest demand her partner made of her was that she take a bubble bath and submit to a massage, she could cope.

 

#

 

Dale changed out of her work clothes and put on a forest-green teddy and black stockings. It was an outfit Ari hadn’t seen before, something she had been holding back for a special occasion. Ari putting aside the wolf to sleep with her was definitely… She stopped and rested her hands on the edge of the dresser. That was huge. It was bigger than huge. Denying the wolf was physically painful. So the only thing Dale could infer was that it was also physically painful for Ari not to be with her. She blushed and smoothed down the front of her teddy. She could only hope she lived up to the wait.

Her bottles of lotion stood on the nightstand. A towel would protect the blanket from drips. She flexed her fingers so they would be nimble. Ari spent a good ten minutes in the bath, which Dale decided was acceptable, and she stood at the foot of the bed with her hands behind her back. She wanted to look sexy, but she would settle for not-ridiculous. Ari pushed the door open and paused on the threshold.

Her hair was wet, and the skin of her shoulders and upper chest was beaded with water. A towel was tucked under her arms, ending just below her hips to cover her while leaving her legs almost entirely exposed. Long, lean, toned legs.

“Wow,” they said in stereo. Dale smiled and reached up to toy with her hair. “Get on the bed. Face-down.”

“Are you giving me orders, Miss Frye?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Ari let the towel drop, and Dale’s smile dissipated. She slowly ran her eyes down Ari’s body, the body she had forced herself to see in a clinical light for so long. She felt like she’d been tied up, but now she was free. Ari was beautiful.

“Get on the bed, Ariadne.”

Ari put her knee on the bed and leaned forward, stretching out on the blanket. Dale pinched the hem of her teddy and joined her on the mattress. She walked on her knees and straddled Ari at the waist. Ari crossed her arms under her head and turned so Dale could see her profile.

“Can I tell you something?”

“You’re naked, I’m in lingerie… why make things personal?” She grinned and poured some lotion into her cupped palm. “You can tell me anything, Ari.”

Ari closed her eyes as Dale spread the lotion over her back. “I didn’t always hurt as much as I said. Sometimes I hurt more, sometimes I hurt less. I tried not to take advantage. But some nights were so… hard. Some nights I felt so alone. I just wanted to feel your weight on top of me, and a massage was the only way I was going to get that. So sometimes I accepted your offer even though I may not have needed it, or it may not have done any real good. I just… wanted… to feel you there.”

Dale tightened her thighs. “Here?”

“Right there,” Ari whispered.

Dale squeezed Ari’s shoulder where it met the neck, pressing down with her thumbs on both sides of Ari’s neck. She swirled her thumbs in wide circles, spreading the lotion as she felt Ari’s muscles relax. Before meeting Ari, she had never given a massage. Now she thought she might be in the top fifty amateurs in the state. She could have won a medal, except for the fact she had no desire to massage anyone else.

She knew every inch of Ari’s body intimately before they had ever kissed. She knew the spots that got sore faster, and she knew how to work out the worst kinks. But that was for post-transformation. Tonight’s massage was different. To prove it to herself, she bent down and kissed Ari’s neck as she brushed her fingers over Ari’s sides. She licked Ari’s ear.

“Lift up.”

Ari arched her back, and Dale cupped her breasts.

“You know how many times I wanted to do this? How many nights I kicked myself for ignoring your front?”

Ari smiled. “Someone implied they were too small today…”

“Blasphemer.” She squeezed. “I love your breasts. They fill my hands perfectly. And your nipples are delicious.”

Ari laughed, then moaned as Dale began to rock against her. She let Dale ride her for a few moments, then said, “I think I like this kind of massage better.” She turned her head and Dale found her lips. Their tongues met, quickly moving against each other before retreating. Dale kept one hand on Ari’s breast and moved the other down her stomach. She kissed Ari’s neck, and Ari turned to press her head against her arm as she writhed under Dale’s touch. Dale sat up, dragging her fingers over Ari’s skin, and lifted herself up. She moved to the edge of the bed.

“Turn over.”

Ari did as she was told. Dale took a pillow off the bed, dropped it, and knelt on it. She took Ari’s hips and dragged her forward.

“The doctor said your bones were fine. So we don’t have to worry about spreading your legs?” She eased them apart and bent down to kiss the inside of both knees. “But no reason to go overboard.” She kissed both inner thighs, and rested them on her shoulders. Ari crossed her ankles, and Dale found herself in a loose headlock. She smiled, made a show of wetting her lips, and leaned forward.

“Ahhh…”

“If you howl, I’ll kill you.”

Ari laughed weakly. “No howling. I promise.” She put her hand on top of Dale’s head, and Dale kissed her again. Dale swept her tongue against Ari’s folds, lightheaded from the moment. How often had she fantasized about Ari, about tasting her, about a massage disintegrating into this? She had one hand on Ari’s thigh, and her other came up to use her fingers to tease. Her first two fingers spread Ari’s folds, and she pushed the tip of her tongue forward.

“Oh-hoooo…”

“Mmm?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Hmm.” Dale smiled and pushed her tongue deeper.

Ari grunted. “Oh, Christ. We wasted so much time on your shitty massages…”

Dale furrowed her brow and said, “Mmf?”

“Relatively speaking, sweetheart, rela… tih-hively…”

“Mm.” She stroked with her fingers as she thrust with her tongue. She closed her eyes and tilted her head forward, her nose brushing Ari’s pubic hair as she withdrew her tongue and replaced it with two fingers. She breathed deep as she pressed her tongue to Ari’s clit, sucking it as she thrust into Ari. She uncurled her ring finger, looked up to meet Ari’s eyes, and pushed it inside when Ari dipped her chin slightly.

“Dale…”

She moaned Ari’s name, sending the vibrations through her tongue and over Ari’s clit, and Ari jerked. She squeezed Dale’s fingers, and gripped her hair as her muscles tightened. “Ahh… shit… Dale…”

When she relaxed and released, Dale turned her head and licked the moisture from Ari’s thighs. Ari twitched and jerked from the tender touches on sensitive skin, but soon she was too boneless to react. Dale had carte blanche, and used it to explore the heretofore out-of-bounds area of Ari’s body with her tongue. Ari sometimes hissed through her teeth, moaned, or cried out when Dale found a sensitive spot. She closed her teeth over one nipple and swept her tongue across it before looking up at Ari.

“Perfect breasts. My breasts.”

Ari stroked Dale’s hair. “All yours.”

Dale smiled and moved on top of Ari. They kissed, Dale between Ari’s thighs and Ari’s arms under Dale’s. “What now?” Ari whispered.

“Now we rest. For the next round.” She kissed the tip of Ari’s nose.

Ari smiled and pulled Dale close. “Okay…”

 

#

 

Dale kissed her awake. “Ari… honey. You have to go.”

“Rmph?” She sat up, and pain shot through her spine up to the base of her skull. It was like a cattle prod to the back of her head, and she cried out silently as she slapped her palm over the wound. She looked at her hand, expecting blood, but it was dry. Her legs were tensing under the blankets, and she realized what was happening.

To her credit, Dale was calm. Ari’s skin was coated with sweat. Her body had been denied too long; she had gotten the okay to change, and the wolf was ready. She started to say Dale’s name, but another surge of pain shot through her. She cried out, making a strangled sound this time, and she flipped herself out of bed and onto the floor.

Dale, still in her teddy and stockings, crawled out and joined her. Ari looked up, knowing her eyes were sunken and dark, knowing her skin was turning into a thick pelt. She could feel her jaw; it seemed longer. “Go…” she said. “You hate… I know you hate watching.”

Dale took Ari’s hand in hers. “I’m not leaving you like this. Change, Ari. I’ll be right here with you.”

Ari started to thank her, but the muscles of her abdomen tightened. Five weeks. How had she managed five weeks without changing? The wolf was mad. Mad for being caged for so long, for her foolish stunt at the Gavin house… Oh, the wolf was fucking pissed and it was making her pay. She curled into the fetal position on the floor. Dale’s hands were on her, and it only lifted when the fur began to erupt. Ari thanked whatever deity protected canidae that she had gone to sleep naked as her spine broke and her skeleton reformed.

At some point, her mind blanked out. The next thing she was aware of was being led down a flight of stairs. She felt tired, but her muscles were aching to be stretched. The lobby door was open, and someone – Dale – pushed through and into the chilly night. Dale shuddered in the cold and Ari realized she was only wearing a Mariners training jacket over her teddy. Her legs, protected only by stockings, were taking the full brunt of the cool wind off the water. She turned and licked Dale’s palm in gratitude.

Dale’s eyes were red, and Ari could smell the salty tears that had been wiped from her cheeks. So many tears. But she smiled as she rubbed Ari’s neck and sides.

“Come back to me. Find a stash and call if you have to. I’ll come running.”

Ari pressed against Dale, and Dale hugged her around the neck. “Be safe, Tule.”

Ari licked Dale’s neck and pulled back. Dale let her go, resting her arms on bent knee. Ari trotted to the corner and paused, turning to look back at Dale. She was haloed by the building’s security light, and she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her jacket. The wind twisted her hair into a red cyclone. She kissed her hand and flicked the fingers toward Ari. Ari wagged her tail and, giving in to the wolf’s urge to roam, turned and ran. She knew she wouldn’t wander very far.

There was far too much waiting for her back at home.

Permanent link to this article: http://underdogs.geonncannon.com/run-big-dogs/

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