DDisclaimer : Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings : Sex and love between women
Feedback : Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at email@example.com
Copyright © 2011 Geonn Cannon
Chapter Two, Three Dog Night
"I wish you'd just tell me where we're going."
Natalie chuckled and slid her arm tighter around Dale's. "If I knew, I would. Don't worry, I'm sure we won't have to go too far."
She didn't sound too sure about herself, but Dale was willing to give her a little leeway. Besides, the mystery was fun. After dinner they had stopped at her car long enough to change out of her heels and put on her emergency sneakers for the walk Natalie insisted they take. Natalie had worn flats, obviously planning ahead, so she was comfortable with however long the journey took. And to be honest, Dale could think of a great many worse ways to spend an evening. Dale was still feeling heavy from their meal so, if anything, the walk would help her burn off some unnecessary calories.
The sun was gone, but the sky was painting the sky in various shades of watercolor. The buildings around them were starting to light up like Christmas, fighting back the darkness and obscuring the stars before they even had a chance to start shining. At every street corner, Natalie would pull away from Dale and look to the north before continuing on.
When they were half a mile from the restaurant, Dale was about ready to call whatever journey Natalie was on a bust and plead to go back to the car. But Natalie suddenly made a victorious sound and pumped her fist. "I knew it wouldn't take too long."
Dale followed her line of sight and spotted the Space Needle in the distance between the buildings. It was lit up for the night, shining like something from a futuristic television program. Natalie guided Dale until her back was against the brick wall of a building, slipped her arms around Dale's waist, and pressed their foreheads together.
"I love those old romantic movies, black and white fantasies that never happen in the real world. And ever since I moved here, I thought about my perfect black and white moment. I decided it would be me and another woman, standing on a street corner in our very beautiful dresses, kissing with the Space Needle all shining and glorious in the background. And she would kiss me, because that would be the first time I ever said I loved her."
Dale's eyes widened slightly.
"I love you, Dale."
Dale kissed her. Natalie slid her hands up Dale's back, past the edge of her dress to touch her bare shoulders. Dale closed her eyes and clung to Natalie, leaning into the kiss. When they finally separated, Dale brushed her cheek against Natalie's. "Definitely worth the walk." She slid her hands up to tease the hair at the back of Natalie's head. "I love you, too."
"Good." She kissed Dale's cheek. "Glad to have that out of the way. I've been biting my lip the past couple of times we've been in bed."
"I don't like saying it at any time it can be... misconstrued. I wanted you to be sure I meant it and it hadn't just slipped out. Can't get more premeditated than this."
Dale laughed and spread her fingers over Natalie's cheek, her thumb resting on Natalie's bottom lip. "Nope. Your place tonight?"
"I'd love to. But I have an early appointment tomorrow, so I'd have to wake up by five at the latest. I need my sleep. You're bad for my sleep."
"I know how you feel. Tomorrow night? Do you work Saturday?"
"I don't. Tomorrow definitely." They kissed again and Dale turned her head to look down the street. There were other people around, but most were ignoring the show they were putting on. "You know the downside is that now we have to walk back."
Natalie laughed. "Yeah. I didn't exactly think this through. Who knew you couldn't see the Space Needle from every street in Seattle? Television has jaded us all."
"Next thing you know, people will find out you can't see the Eiffel Tower from every hotel room in Paris." She took Natalie's hand. "Come on. Walk slow. If I'm not going to spend the night with you, I want every minute with you I can get."
"Deal." She put her hand in the small of Dale's back as they started the trek back to where Dale had parked.
Ari ate dinner in the kitchen with the three of them, dining on sandwiches and potato chips. Sadie opted to make a salad for herself, sitting on a stool at the counter while the others sat around the table. Beck offered her a beer and Ari thanked her by raising the bottle in a toast before she took a drink. Once Ari had gotten relaxed, the real interrogation began.
"You said you lived on the streets for a while." Sadie's voice was casual, and she was half-turned from the counter so she could eat and join in the conversation at the same time. "How'd you pull yourself up out of 'em?"
Ari had decided to be as truthful as possible with who she was. "Sugar mama. She saw me in a café and decided she liked what she saw. Let me live in her guesthouse and bought me pretty things in exchange for, ah, the pleasure of my company."
Beck grinned. "Not a bad job, if you can get it."
"So you were a whore," Sadie said, just as casually.
Ari's smile faded. "I like sex. A beautiful woman was offering me that, plus a warm place to sleep at night. You want to label it, sure. Whore is as good a name for it as any other."
Beck was staring at Sadie. "We've all done things we're not proud of in the past."
"Who said I wasn't proud of it?" Ari said. Now was the time to start stretching the truth. "The sex was fantastic and she had a great house. I'd go back in a heartbeat if she'd have me."
"Why did she kick you out?"
Ari shrugged. "Got bored with me, I guess. She's got a younger pup on her leash now."
Pen snorted. "Oh. It was one of those . You were lucky."
A silence fell over the room until Beck cleared her throat. "Pen was with a guy for a while who would, ah, punish her if he saw her in human form."
"He wanted her to be in canidae form--"
"Not for sex," Pen said quickly. Her face had gotten darker in the past few seconds. "He wanted a fighting dog. One that could understand strategy and tactics."
Ari leaned back. She'd heard about bastards like that, but she thought it was just an urban legend or something restricted to the deep south. "Damn. How'd you get out of that?"
Pen met Ari's eyes. "I fought him."
"Did he live?"
"I didn't stop long enough to check." A pause. "But I doubt it."
Ari didn't feel anything about the man's death. If Pen was a killer, then surely the murder had been justified. The man used her as a weapon, set her against defenseless animals for the express purpose of watching them die and earning money. The world would be a little lighter without a person like that in it. She picked up her bottle and held it out to Pen.
"Let's hope it took him a long time to pass."
Pen gave a half smile and tapped the neck of her bottle against Ari's.
Sadie slipped off the stool and gave her lips a dainty tap with a napkin. "Come with me, Ariadne. I want to speak with you in private."
"Sure." Ari took another drink of her beer before she stood up, following Sadie into the living room. In the dim twilight glow coming through the curtained windows, Ari could see the vague outlines of furniture and a tall roll-top desk in next to the stairs. Sadie turned on a lamp and gestured for Ari to sit on the couch.
Sadie walked behind her, out of sight, and Ari resisted the urge to twist to watch her. Instead she faced forward and scanned the room. There was no television, but a handful of framed pictures hung on the wall. One of them showed a much-younger Sadie with long, wavy red hair. Like in the photo at the bar, Sadie wasn't smiling in the older picture. Ari forced her focus past the photographs to see the reflection in the glass of the frame. Sadie was leaning against the wall just behind her, arms crossed, staring at the back of her head.
"We're a tight-knit group here. Just because you're in this house right now doesn't mean you're one of us. Do you know what you smell like to me?"
Ari smirked. "I'd love for you to tell me."
"Domestic. Beck and Pen, they're dogs. They should smell like they've lived in a house, pampered and cared for, but you and I? We're wild dogs. A wolf should never smell like people. How many canidae friends do you have?"
"Right. I smelled you the other night, too. Hanging out with the felidae in the field. I don't care how cute her person form is, that's simply not done."
Ari's smirk had faded. "Sorry, I didn't get the rulebook."
"Tonight we're going to do a trial run. We're going to see if you have the chops to run with us full-time. You're not going to get a full cut at first even if we do decide to keep you around. Ten percent."
"That's a joke, right?"
"It leaves an even thirty percent for the rest of us. Prove yourself and we'll see about raising it a little. But you're definitely the Dixie cup. If something goes wrong, you're cut. If something doesn't smell right, you're left behind." Sadie began to move, circling the long way around the couch. Ari finally turned her head to watch as Sadie stopped right next to her. "So what do you say, Ariadne? Do you hear the call of the wild?" Her lips curled into a cupid's-bow of a smile, and Ari couldn't help returning it.
"Loud and clear."
Sadie held out a hand to help Ari stand. "Then let's get on with it. We've got a long night ahead of us." She walked into the kitchen with Ari trailing behind her. "Okay, ladies. We're a pack of four tonight. Pen, everything all set?"
Pen wiped her hands on a napkin as she stood. "The bags are waiting for us at Kingston Jewelers. I checked out their security this morning. Should be a piece of cake." She looked at Ari. "I only put three bags, though."
"That's okay." Sadie went into a narrow linen closet and withdrew a bag just like the one from Bull and Terrier. She tossed it to Ari. "You can take one with you. Do you know how to get into it?"
"Yeah, Milhous explained it to me the other night."
Sadie nodded. "Beck, you ready?"
To Ari's surprise, the other three women began to undress. Sadie had peeled off her tank top before Ari knew what was happening, reaching back to unhook her bra before Ari cleared her throat. "Uh, there's no... changing room?"
Beck laughed, and Pen raised an eyebrow. Sadie reached out and touched the side of Ari's head like she was petting her, and Ari pulled away from the patronizing petting.
"She's domesticated. Been around too many people." She unhooked her bra and let it fall. "Changing isn't dirty, Ari. A couple of bars use changing rooms because of the nudity involved, but in private and among friends..." She shrugged and unbuckled her belt. "If you'd rather change in the living room, I'm sure none of us would think any less of you."
Beck and Pen were already down to their underwear, and Ari saw Beck was trying to suppress a smile. She had always thought her taboo about nudity was eliminated by constantly ending up naked in public, but to strip down in a kitchen with three women she'd just met was a little beyond the pale. Still, she didn't want to be the butt of their jokes all night, so she began to undress.
Pen began to transform first, with Sadie and Beck following soon after. Ari draped her blouse over the back of a chair and arched her back as the first tremors passed through her body. Her fingers curled into claws and slipped off the back of the chair, and she dropped to all fours as her hind legs - no, just her legs - stretched out behind her and then contracted. She heard Beck moaning, and Sadie's breathing was heavy enough for Ari to hear each harsh exhale, but Pen was remarkably restrained.
When Ari lifted her lupine head, Sadie was staring at her through small eyes. Her snout was long and narrow, her ears flared out on top of her head. She was definitely a fox in more ways than one, and she dipped her chin to Ari in greeting. Ari nodded back and slipped into the bag the way Milhous had shown her. Pen sneezed and shook her entire body, then turned and went to the door.
Beck was a gorgeous shepherd up close, prettier than she'd seemed in the parking lot. Ari pressed her snout to Beck's head just below her ears and Beck playfully danced away from her.
Pen opened the back door the way Ari had seen her manipulate the back door of the jewelry shop earlier in the week. When they trotted out into the sunroom, Sadie used a leather strap hanging from the door to pull it closed. Beck passed Ari and she caught a flash of mental communication from her.
Just follow us.
Ari ruffed in response and the four of them left the sunroom in a single file line, Ari bringing up the rear. They leapt the chain-link fence and crossed the street. Pen and Beck crossed a neighbor's lawn, staying close to the house where the shadows were deeper. When they reached a house with the porch light shining, they all moved at a quick lope so they weren't exposed. Ari and Sadie were more careful than the others; a shepherd and a boxer might get a call to Animal Control, but a wolf and fox in a residential neighborhood often led to gunfire.
Sadie's house wasn't far from the edge of neighborhood, something Ari was sure had been intentional when the house was purchased. A rickety white fence blocked a dead-end street. Ari and Sadie went over it, while Beck went through a hole and Pen found a way around the far end. Once they hit the wide open field, Ari opened up and began to run. Sadie took a moment to catch up and then kept pace with Ari as they crossed the field.
As much as Ari bristled at being labeled domesticated, she couldn't deny there was a certain amount of unique freedom to the moment. She glanced over and saw Sadie's mouth was hanging open, her tongue lolling in what looked like a huge grin. Ari barked happily and put on an extra burst of speed, goading Sadie into a race. Behind her, she heard Pen or Beck barking at them, but she didn't care. The bag bounced against her back as they moved down an incline and followed the valley to the south.
She smelled thousands of things, a parade of aromas. Smells like peanuts, salt, sugar, grease clung to the litter people had carelessly left behind, and Ari had to fight the urge to stop and inspect each and every one. The field had recently been mowed, and the fresh-cut grass scent was like a drug to her. Leaves of grass sliced in half, releasing chemicals into the air, and dirt had been churned and sent bugs and fragrantly wet earth into the atmosphere. Ari wanted to drop and roll in all of it. But she kept her mind on task, as hard as it was.
Pen broke off at one point, causing Ari to slow and watch her run a diagonal path across the field. She started to pursue, but Sadie barked a quick, quiet " wow wow wow " and Ari caught up with her again. Beck moved out to one side, forming a quarter-circle as she came up on Ari's opposite side. Ari greeted her with a bark and Beck howled back at her.
Sadie barked at them when they reached the edge of the grass. Quiet quiet. There was a long, rectangular parking lot that was currently empty of cars. The three dogs formed a triangle with Sadie at point, trotting quickly across the pavement with their ears pricked up to the sound of any pursuers. Ari jerked her head to the side, responding to the sound before her brain even registered it, but she recognized Pen coming out of the woods to join them. There was something wet on her muzzle, and Ari wondered what she had caught. Her stomach growled.
They rarely encountered people until they reached the business district. It was late enough that there weren't a lot of pedestrians, but there were enough to be a hassle. Ari and Sadie were forced to hang back and hide as best they could to avoid being seen. One girl, a college student who'd had too much to drink, spent five minutes coaxing Beck to come to her. Beck resisted until the student's friend dragged her away to the car.
Kingston Jewelers was a small tan building next to an empty soccer field. There were a few lights burning inside the store, most likely so it wouldn't be an appealing target for criminals. They circled around to the back of the building and Sadie opened the fuse box. Ari and Beck went to the front of the building and kept watch. The front of the building was all glass; if someone happened by, they would notice the lights were off and might investigate. Ari doubted anyone would bother arresting a bunch of dogs, but she could do without being dragged to a kennel. Again.
The lights went off, and the store's parking lot was shrouded in darkness. Beck led the way to the back door, where Pen and Sadie were already waiting. Pen went inside first, turning over a trash can and dragging the bin liner out with her teeth. Three bags had been folded and stuffed into the bottom, and they each took one.
There were three main counters in the main room of the store. Sadie, Pen and Beck each took one. Ari watched as they manipulated the locks with muzzles, teeth and claws. The shouldered open the displays and then used their paw to sweep the contents into their bags. It was a good thing the security cameras were disabled; anyone watching would think they'd wandered into a science fiction movie.
Beck barked quietly. She had been unloading from the biggest display case and her bag was full, so Ari went over to help her. They filled Ari's bag together, Ari's conscience twinging at what she was doing. Hopefully she would be able to keep track of where this stuff went so Bryn could eventually return it to the rightful owners. Ari brushed against Beck's side several times, and Beck turned her head to lick Ari's muzzle.
Thanks for the hand, new girl.
Beck hooked a curved claw in the zipper pull, her other forepaw holding the bag steady as she zipped it up again. Ari struggled into her bag, surprised by how light it was. Pen had finished earlier and was standing at the front of her store, her pack already on as she watched out the window. Ari became aware of a low warning growl coming from the boxer and quickly figured out what caused it.
A white patrol car had just pulled into the parking lot.
Sadie barked quietly and headed for the door. Beck and Ari followed her, and Pen lingered behind to make sure everyone got out safely. They left the door standing open and made their escape across the soccer field. They had reached the forest at the far end of the field before the cop had even gotten inside the building to begin his search.
Sadie led the others through the woods, weaving through the underbrush and ducking below low-hanging branches until they arrived at the train tracks cutting through the woods. The trees formed a canopy that the train would pass through, and it provided enough cover that the moonlight barely reached them. Ari was between Sadie and Beck, with Pen once again taking up the rear. Ari occasionally looked back and saw that she was occasionally leaving the tracks to investigate something in the woods, only to return a few minutes later and rejoin their line.
Ari didn't know if they were going back to Sadie's house or not, but she hoped they would stay out for a while. She felt a buzz of excitement just from being out with other canidae . Communicating with them, sharing the same experiences, knowing they were intelligent... it was a relief to her. Maybe Sadie was right and she'd been too domesticated. Dale was really her only friend. She needed to expand her circle. She needed to embrace both sides of her self, not just the human part. She'd been unfair to the wolf, and she could feel its excitement at what she was doing.
Beck moved faster and Ari moved to one side to let her pass. But once they were side by side, Beck looked at her and yipped quietly.
Sadie looked over her shoulder at them, shook her head, and kept walking.
Home? Ari asked.
She tried to disguise her excitement, but she could hear a glass-like tittering noise in her head that came from Beck. Ari bumped roughly against Beck's side as Sadie stepped off the tracks. She headed down a slope of white stones and led them into the woods. They squirmed out of their packs on Sadie's cue, burying them under some dried leaves and twigs. Once it was covered, Pen and Sadie dropped and rolled in the debris to mark it with their scents before running out of the woods. Beck and Ari gave chase.
The dog park was magnificent. It was mainly a huge rolling park that looked like a lake had been frozen and draped with Astroturf. There were wooden constructs for them to climb, tall grass to run through, and a wide dirt pit where they could dig. Sadie let Beck and Pen run ahead and moved to stand in front of Ari.
The question was clear, and Ari watch Beck and Pen as she mulled over her answer. She had spent her entire life thinking of herself as a person who could sometimes become a wolf. Even when she was with Eva, spending five-sixths of the day in wolf form, she was always a person in her mind. It was high time she accepted her dual nature. She was a wolf. She barked and bumped Sadie's shoulder as she joined the others in the park. A few seconds later, Sadie joined them all in the dirt pit.
Dale showered and changed into her comfy clothes, the baggy pajama pants and faded shirt she had yet to allow Natalie to see her in. Of course, now that she'd gotten an 'I love you,' she could wear whatever she wanted. She smiled at the thought as she padded barefoot into the bedroom. Her bed was beckoning, but she didn't want to call it a night just yet. She had a police scanner that she hardly ever used due to its questionable legality, but she'd turned it on before going into the shower. Now there was a broadcast going out for backup at a jewelry store near Lake City.
Dale listened to the dispatcher and the cops long enough to determine it was definitely the same group Ari had just infiltrated. She didn't subscribe to the trappings of religion, but she often found herself saying quiet prayers for Ari nonetheless. She closed her eyes and said, "Stay safe, Ari. Keep your guard up."
She turned off the scanner and the overhead light, leaving the bedroom curtains open so she could see the sky. Her bed felt lonely without Natalie, and she smoothed her hand over the pillow as she thought about their black-and-white movie moment. She smiled and folded the pillow under her head, closing her eyes to dream about other movie moments they could recreate.
Ari and Beck spent most of an hour in the area called The Big Dig, digging and then rolling around in the dirt. At one point Ari pounced on Beck, who rolled them both and pinned Ari to the ground. Ari twisted and bit at Beck's ears, but she stayed well out of her reach. By the time they left the pit, they were both covered with dirt and breathing heavily. Sadie and Pen had spent the time running around the perimeter fence, occasionally stopping to climb or play fight. Then, as if some internal alarm had gone off that Ari didn't hear, it was time for them to leave. They went back to the woods where Pen dug up their bags, they slipped back into them, and returned to the train tracks.
Ari hadn't slept in twenty hours, but the adrenaline rush was keeping her abuzz. She wanted to run some more, see if she could make the trek back home again if only to run back to Lake City. Beck stayed by Ari's side, drawing more backward glances from Sadie as they neared home. Ari could smell Beck on her coat, and it was slightly intoxicating. When they reached the house, they leapt the fence again and Ari reluctantly sensed the night was coming to an end.
They dropped their bags in the kitchen, their clothes still lying in piles as if the people that had been in them simply disappeared into thin air. They transformed, the sounds of muffled groans and cries of pain filling the small, dark space. Ari clung to the side of the chair as she stretched her back, wiggled her fingers and toes, and crouched nude in the middle of the kitchen. She lifted her head and saw Beck sitting with her back to the kitchen island, breathing heavily. Her skin was smeared with dirt and mud, and grass had stained her arms and feet green. Beck saw Ari watching her and smiled.
They were both coated with dirt and mud, and Ari had a few scrapes on her palms. They would heal, as minor wounds always did, within a few hours of transformation.
Pen struggled into her blouse and stepped into her overalls. She left the bib down, hanging from her waist, as she stood and arched her back to work out a few remaining kinks. She picked up the backs and slung them all over her shoulder. "I'll get these to Vicki. I'll have that number for you in the morning."
Sadie had stood up, naked and unashamed in the middle of the kitchen. Her eyes locked onto Pen with laser precision. "Penelope. Discretion."
Pen glanced at Ari. "Right. Sorry. See you in the morning."
Sadie tried to smile casually, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. "Not to leave you out of the loop, Ariadne, but there are some things you don't need to know."
"That's fine." She picked up her blouse, reluctant to put it on while she was still so filthy.
Sadie inferred her reasoning and hooked a thumb over her shoulder. "There's a shower through there. Other side of the stairs. Feel free to take it. Beck, you can take the one upstairs."
How about we conserve water and just share the downstairs one? Ari thought. Beck looked sharply at her as she stood up, and Ari realized that their mental connection was lingering a bit post-transformation. She smiled, embarrassed, but Beck just winked at her and continued out of the room. Ari gathered her clothes and tucked them under her arm. Sadie stepped between Ari and the door after Beck was gone.
"You did well tonight, wolf. There still has to be a discussion about whether or not we bring you in more permanently, but I think that conversation will be very optimistic."
Ari smiled. "Good to know."
Sadie stepped aside to let her pass. "Towels are in the cabinet outside the door. There's a robe hanging on the back of the door that you can use. If you want."
Ari crossed the dark living room and found the bathroom without trouble. A glowing digital clock on the counter told her that it was nearly midnight, and she wondered where the time had gone. She didn't feel like she'd been the wolf for more than two hours. Of course, considering the distance they had traveled, it had to have been a lot more than that. She turned on the shower and climbed under the spray without waiting for it to get hot. She could hear water rushing in the pipes for Beck's shower, so she didn't hold out hope on there being much hot water left for her.
She scrubbed until the grass stains faded, the dirt swirling around her feet before seeping down the drain. She sniffed her right forearm, closed her eyes, and tried to detect Beck's scent. She hated having to wash it off, but she wasn't willing to walk around dirty just to preserve it. The soap smelled like Sadie, so Ari exchanged wearing one woman's scent for the other. She didn't bother with the shampoo, instead merely wetting her hair and running her fingers through it to--
She clutched her stomach and closed her eyes. Oh, God, I ate something . She didn't remember anything in particular, but there were stretches of time in the dog park that she couldn't remember. It had been all playing and having fun, so minutes had blurred together. And at some point, she must have found something and eaten it. She knelt in the shower as waves of nausea passed over her, then she pushed back the curtain and voided her stomach into the toilet.
Ari kept her eyes closed as she flushed, refusing to open them again until the water was refilling the bowl. She didn't need to see the remnants of what she'd eaten; she'd seen enough of her late-night snacks to know that it was bad. It was a case of the reality being worse than her imagination, so she didn't linger on it.
She shut off the water when her skin was clean and pink, then stepped out of the tub. She spread some toothpaste on her finger and rubbed it against her teeth to clean her breath. She'd left her clothes on the counter and took the opportunity to check her cell phone to see if Dale had called. No call from Dale, but one from Bryn. The time was not long after they'd left the jewelry store, so Ari could assume what the content of the call had been. She deleted the call in case anyone happened to get their hands on her phone and wondered about it.
She put on her underwear but left the rest of her clothes on the counter. The robe Sadie had told her to borrow was blood-red and short enough to show off a fair amount of Ari's thighs. She cinched the belt at her waist and tugged on the lapels until they covered her cleavage. It seemed odd to cover herself up when they'd already been naked in the same room, but it made her feel more human. After the romp she'd just been through, anything that enhanced her humanity was to be embraced.
When Ari left the bathroom, she left the light on because the rest of the house was dark. She hadn't noticed when they first arrived home; her canidae night vision had lingered along with her sense of smell and the telepathy. The silence of the house, combined with the darkness, alerted her to the fact that the shower had helped settle her more completely in the correct form.
She went into the living room, pausing by the roll-top desk. She turned on a lamp and saw a leather-bound book sitting on top of the blotter. She flipped it open, letting it fall naturally to a page, and she saw that Sadie had been writing while she and Beck were cleaning up. The page was topped with the day's date. She had quickly gone over the details of their heist. A postscript near the bottom of the page said "Wolf worked out well. Pending approval from V."
Ari was about to close it when a fragment caught her eye. Sadie had noted the stats of the robbery, from how long it took inside the store to the amount of time they'd spent frolicking in the dog park. Already it felt more like a dream than something Ari had actually done. At the bottom, she'd written: V's Take and Actual Take. Actual Take was filled in with an estimate of approximately six thousand dollars worth of merchandise.
Assuming V was the Vicki Pen had accidentally mentioned, Ari figured she was in charge of the operation. The only reason her take would be different from the actual take would be if Sadie and the others were skimming. She made a mental note about the book and let it fall closed, turning off the lamp and casting herself back into darkness.
Ari glanced toward the stairs. She hesitated for only a moment before she started up. She would just tell them she'd had a great time, which was the truth, and then head home. There was only one open room on the second floor, and a lamp was burning inside. Ari knocked on the doorframe before she stepped inside. It was a bedroom, with a large queen-sized bed in the center of the space. Beck was facedown and naked on the mattress, chin resting on her crossed arms, and Sadie was straddling her waist to massage her shoulders. Sadie was also naked, her pink nipples standing proudly erect on her small breasts.
Beck opened her eyes and smiled sleepily. "Hey, wolfie."
"I, uh... was going to get going."
"Are you sure?" Sadie didn't interrupt the rubdown, nor did she look up. "We have plenty of space here."
Here in the house, or in that bed in particular? She cleared her throat. "Ah..."
"Rebecca tends to get pretty sore after she's spent a few hours as a dog. So we help each other out. How about you, Ari? How are your muscles?"
Tight, achy, sore, twitchy. She hadn't had a good post-transformation massage since Dale and Natalie started going out. The idea of getting one now made her muscles practically scream with desire.
"Come on, Ari." Beck adjusted her head on the pillow of her hands. "You deserve it. You were great tonight."
"Yes, she was," Sadie said softly. "Come on. I'm almost done with her, and you can be next."
Ari figured she'd have to visit a Sherwin-Williams store to determine just how many shades of wrong this was, but she walked into the room anyway. She didn't hesitate when she dropped the robe. It would have been silly to, considering she'd been naked with the two women for most of the night. She stepped out of her panties before she climbed onto the bed and stretched out beside Beck. Sadie's leg pressed against Ari's hip, the skin warm against the curve of her body.
Sadie lifted herself and knelt between their bodies. She pulled one hand away from Beck and used it on Ari's shoulder, massaging them both at the same time. Ari felt like she'd been injected at the spot where Sadie's hand worked her tired muscles, and a relaxing warmth spread through her entire back. "God, that's good."
Beck chuckled. "She knows what's she's doing. Sadie, I'm good. Focus on Ari. She looks like she really needs it."
Sadie stopped the massage briefly and stretched over Beck's body to get something off the nightstand. She unscrewed the top of a bottle and dripped some lotion into her palm. She rubbed her hands together, spreading and warming the lotion before she threw a leg over Ari's body and settled on her rear end.
The smell of almond oil filled the room, and Sadie closed her fingers around Ari's trapezius, where it curved up toward her neck. She squeezed, and pressed her thumbs into the soft flesh on either side of her spine. Ari felt like her head had just been popped off her shoulders, but she didn't particularly care. Sadie rolled her thumbs in ever-widening circles, and the muscles had no choice but relax and melt. Ari turned her head and pressed her face against the blankets. Only then did she realize that the room smelled strongly of Sadie, Beck, and their sex. The scent wasn't new, but it was pervasive enough that she knew they'd shared this bed many, many times.
Sadie moved down Ari's back, using her fists to work out the harder knots before she smoothed them out with her fingers. "Is that too rough?" she asked.
"No." Ari's voice was weak, barely loud enough to be heard, but she couldn't make herself repeat it louder. A third hand touched her neck and she opened her eyes to see that Beck was still lying next to her and had reached out to assist in the massage. Beck smiled, and Ari smiled back at her. She was unable not to; she felt like she was high. Beck scooted closer and, after a tiny moment where Ari could have told her to stop, she leaned in and kissed her.
Ari opened her mouth and curled her tongue into Beck's mouth, and Beck's hand slid up and down Ari's spine as Sadie continued to work her muscles as if nothing was happening. She moved down so that she was positioned on Ari's knees. She gave a brief massage to Ari's thighs, then pushed her legs apart and touched her sex with two fingers.
Ari breathed in sharply through her nose. Sadie shifted her weight and bent down, kissing Ari's neck through the veil of her hair. Beck's hand slipped between Ari's body and the bed, cupping her breast and teasing one dark nipple as they continued the kiss. Sadie lifted herself off of Ari, who immediately rolled onto her side. Sadie lay down and spooned Ari from behind, while Beck moved closer and pressed her leg between Ari's thighs.
With one arm, Ari reached back and stroked Sadie's hip. Her other arm went around Beck's waist and drew her closer. Sadie reached down and cupped Ari's mound, splitting her fingers on either side of Ari's labia and rubbing with the heel of her hand as Beck bent her knee and pressed her thigh against her center. Ari trembled and growled, biting down on Beck's bottom lip as Sadie bit Ari's earlobe.
An image of them playing in the park suddenly filled Ari's mind, and she realized it had been a form of foreplay. Rolling in the dirt, nipping at each other's necks and faces, had been a prelude to these kisses and the sweep of Sadie's tongue down her neck. Beck pulled away and scooted down the bed, pulling her leg away from Ari as she kissed a path between her breasts. Ari vocalized her pleasure with quiet noises, baring her teeth and squeezing her eyes shut as her nipple was taken into a warm mouth and covered by an eager tongue.
Beck used two fingers on her, assisted by two of Sadie's fingers spreading her open. Beck's thumb found and teased Ari's clit until she was lifting her hips off the bed in response. Sadie threaded her arms under Ari's, pulling her back and cupping her breasts. Ari writhed and turned her head, kissing Sadie hungrily and sucking her tongue as Beck pushed her legs apart and moved her hand to kiss her.
Beck went down on her as Ari and Sadie kissed, Ari's orgasm building with unfortunate speed. She was almost panting, her entire body sensitive to the touch as Sadie's hands roamed over it. Ari closed her thighs around Beck's head and thrust against her, an action Beck responded to by curling her tongue and pushing it deeper into Ari's body.
Ari put her hand on the back of Beck's head, holding her in place as she came. Her face was hot, her lips pulling back to bare her teeth as she thrust her hips forward. Afterward, Beck kissed and licked Ari's thighs before sliding back up her body. She kissed Ari's breasts, then pulled Sadie to her and kissed her hard. Ari sagged, draped across Sadie's bare thighs as she watched them. When Beck pulled away, she smiled at Ari and touched her face. "I wanted to do that as soon as I saw you in the bar. But Sadie has this rule about how she gets to watch." She rolled her eyes. "Perils of being in a relationship."
"Now I get to watch you two?" Ari asked hopefully.
Beck pulled away from her. "Uh-uh. You don't get to come and go. You have to pay us back for what we just did to you. And that massage wasn't free, sweetwolf." She kissed Ari's bottom lip, linked their fingers, and pulled her up. "Lay down, Sadie."
Sadie stretched out and Ari moved down between her legs. She pulled Sadie to her and lowered her head, wetting her lips before she used her tongue to part Sadie's labia. When she opened her eyes, she saw Beck straddling Sadie's face. Sadie put her arms around Beck's legs and pulled her down. Ari reached up and teased Sadie's nipples as her tongue went to work. She ran her eyes over Beck's body, pausing at her breasts before making eye contact with her. Beck smiled, her tongue sticking out between her teeth, and winked at her.
Ari folded the fingers of her right hand and rolled her knuckles against the soft, wet flesh she had just wet with her tongue. Sadie moaned, and Beck jerked. Ari licked her lips and kissed Sadie's bright red pubic hair. She closed her eyes, breathed deep, and her mind flashed on Dale. Dale, with her pale skin and red hair. She shook the image away and focused instead on how Sadie tasted and how Beck sounded.
Beck was the second to climax, followed quickly by Sadie. Ari kissed Sadie's stomach and retreated from between her legs. Beck fell to the side, and she pulled Ari toward the headboard with her. Sadie kissed their feet, licking between the toes before moving up to her ankle. Ari shuddered and rolled her neck, eyes closed as the muscles moved without twinging.
Beck laughed. "Yeah, she should patent her process." She lifted her foot and brushed the arch of it down Sadie's cheek. Sadie nuzzled it.
"You two do that a lot?"
"I wouldn't say a lot," Beck said. "Now and again it's nice to spice things up."
Sadie shook her head. "Pen is a little too rough for us in bed. She knows it, so she's never made advances. She gets hers elsewhere." She was now kissing the inside of Beck's knee. Beck had one arm around Ari, and she was breathing heavily as Sadie moved higher. Ari watched with dark eyes, licking her lips as she anticipated what she was about to witness. She moved a hand between her legs.
"Listen, uh..." She cleared her throat. "I should probably..."
"You wanna go?" Sadie brushed her cheek against the curve of Beck's hip. "We could have all kinds of fun."
Ari smiled. "Oh, I don't doubt that for one hot second." She bent down and kissed Sadie's lips, then kissed Beck's. "But I haven't gotten a lot of sleep the past couple of days and I've really exhausted my reserves. If I don't sleep in a bed soon, I may take a nap going down the highway."
Sadie was nodding. "I understand. Another time." She kissed Ari again, letting the kiss linger until Ari was rethinking her need for sleep. Then she pulled away and sat up, to Beck's disappointment. "Meet us tomorrow afternoon at the Bull and Terrier. Five o'clock. We'll discuss your payment. You really did well tonight, Ari."
The fact that Sadie didn't call her Ariadne wasn't lost on her. "Thanks, Sadie. And thanks for, uh, including me."
"Any time," Beck promised.
Ari slipped out of bed and left the bedroom without looking back. She knew if she saw them, she would just fall right back in next to them and sleep would be a lost cause. She pushed her hair out of her face and headed downstairs to get her clothes out of the bathroom. When she dressed, she looked in the mirror and caught a flash of Bryn's face in her mind's eye.
We're done. We're just waiting for the funeral to make it official. I didn't cheat on her. She shook her head and closed her eyes. Yeah. You did. Twice, technically. If I needed a trick to make Bryn break up with me first, I just found it.
She dressed and left the house, going through the living room and out through the back door. Her car was waiting at the curb, and she took a moment to gather her thoughts after she got behind the wheel. She looked back at the house. The only light was coming from the bedroom window, and she tried to imagine what Beck and Sadie were doing. She licked her lips and shook her head. No. Home. Rest. Business. You shouldn't have done that, Ari. That was a Bad Thing, and it's only going to be worse when you have to take them down.
She started the engine, her Rambler coming to life with a steady growl.
Maybe the jail they're going to allows conjugal visits.
She pushed the thought out of her head and pulled away from the house.
Something soft touched her cheek and Ari swiped at it. Her hand hit someone else's, and she heard Dale yelp. She opened her eyes and blinked up at Dale, who was waving her right hand in the air with exaggerated pain. "Well, try to do something nice. You look terrible."
"Thank you," Ari grumbled. She realized the soft thing touching her cheek was the blanket that normally draped the back of the couch in her office. The couch on which she was currently sleeping. She sat up, taking the blanket with her, and whimpered at the movement. Dale backed away and pulled a chair over. "God. I didn't mean to sleep here all night."
"You didn't. At least I don't think so. What time did you get in?"
She remembered glimpsing the clock when she got out of the car. "Ugh, around... half past two. What time is it now?"
Ari dropped back onto the couch and Dale laughed. "What are you even doing here?"
"I wanted to do some paperwork. Get it down before I went to sleep and forgot everything. For Bryn. I owed it to her."
Dale went behind the desk and looked at the printout. "Wow, Ari."
"Good work, huh?"
"This is almost more indecipherable than your usual babble."
Ari smothered herself with the pillow. She'd spent an hour working on it, trying to keep her head from impacting the keys while her libido kept sending reminders of how stupid she had been to walk away from a warm bed with two warm bodies. Meanwhile her brain was slapping her in the face for jumping into bed with two women before she officially ended things with Bryn. She'd done some bastardly things in relationships, but she'd never been a cheater before.
"I met up with the gang and they let me tag along for one of their jobs."
"So that was you. I heard it on the scanner and I kind of wondered." She had opened a new Document and was transcribing Ari's attempt at notes into something coherent to readers of English. "Is Bryn granting you immunity for that?"
Ari shrugged. "God, I don't know. Hope so. Hopefully when we take them down we'll be able to get the stuff back. No harm, no foul. I hope. I don't think Bryn's going to be in the mood to grant me any favors in the near future."
Dale looked up. "What did you do?"
"Wow. Okay, uh. Maybe we won't let her know you participated. She'll just be happy to take 'em down, she won't focus on the details."
"Fingers crossed. How did your date with Natalie go last night? Did you make up for all the cancellations?"
"Uh, kind of." She watched the screen for a moment and then paused when she reached the end of a sentence. "She told me she loved me."
Ari sat up straight. "Really?"
"The sun was setting, and we were standing on the street with the Space Needle behind us. And she kissed me and said she loved me for the first time."
"Dale, that's amazing. That's just amazing." She stood up and went around the desk. "Come here." They embraced and Ari tried not to categorize her feelings. She was happy, and that was it. No loss, no sadness. Just happiness for her friend. She kissed Dale's temple and straightened, rubbing her friend's shoulder. "So it's long haul for you guys?"
"Kind of looks that way at the moment. I told her I loved her, too."
"I kind of figured." She looked at the computer. "Thanks for making me sound literate."
Dale chuckled. "Hey, you do the heavy lifting and I make you look pretty. Well, prettier. Anyway, I'll take care of this and take it down to the police station. I take it you want to avoid Bryn as long as possible."
Dale cleared her throat. "Did you sleep with someone?"
Dale frowned up at her and then realized what she meant. "Seriously?"
Ari shrugged. "Post-heist rush. What can I say?" She scratched her neck. "I didn't plan it. Bryn and I are on the way out, but I still want to avoid that 'I cheated on you with two other women while I was doing you a favor' conversation as long as possible."
"Okay, I'll do the paperwork and you go home and get some sleep. Do you need me to drive you?"
"No, thanks." She bent down and kissed the top of Dale's head. "I'm proud of you, kiddo. Give my love to Natalie next time you see her."
Ari was at the main door when Dale called to her. She turned and walked back to her office and leaned inside. "Yeah?"
"You and me... we're good, right?" Dale looked uncomfortable. "I mean, Natalie and I are getting pretty serious. I know that you and I have kind of..." She shrugged and rubbed her lips together. "I just want to make sure you're okay."
"Dale. You're amazing. I want you to be happy. Just be happy, and I'll be fine."
Dale nodded. "Thanks, Ariadne."
Ari winked. "Bye, Dale." She thought of adding an 'I love you,' but she felt that it would just add to the awkwardness despite being platonic. She waved and left the office, dragging herself downstairs to where she had parked. She hoped she could make it home before she passed out. She stopped by the diner down the street for a cup of coffee to give her the boost she needed, and it was half-gone before she even got behind the wheel.
She made a mental note to pump up the caffeine the next time she topped off a canidae crime spree with a threesome.
Ari set her alarm for noon, but she slept through it. At half past, she woke up enough to stop the buzzing and rolled over. She covered her head with the pillow and drifted off again. Her dreams were disjointed memories of the night before, running through crystalline moonlight with Sadie and Beck. She remembered Beck pouncing on her, rolling together in the mud, and then the scene shifted to lying beside her in bed. In one dream, Bryn had shown up in the jewelry shop and opened fire. Beck and Sadie were both shot and killed, and the explosion of the gunshot meant for her shook her from a deep sleep.
She pushed her pillow and blanket off the bed and looked out the window. It was mid-afternoon. She rolled out of bed and went to the bathroom, where she took a long and scalding shower. She realized with despair that Bryn's sense of smell was enhanced by being a cat. She would be able to smell Beck and Sadie on her for days. Ari scrubbed harder and realized she was doomed. She might as well confess as early as possible and hope she got points for honesty.
After the shower, she dressed in clothes from the back of her closet. She hoped they were thick enough with the smell of age and dust bunnies to hide the truth. She didn't want Bryn to take a deep breath and put all the pieces together before Ari said two words. She pulled her hair back in a ponytail and headed out to meet Bryn.
She was halfway down the stairs when her phone rang. She was surprised to see Sadie's number in the display. "Sadie. I thought we said five."
"We did. Look, it's been a really busy morning. Can you meet us at my place now?"
"Is everything okay?"
Sadie actually sounded more excited than worried. "Yeah. Everything's fine. We just need to regroup before we make any decisions."
"Okay. I was on my ay out anyway, so I'll come on over."
"Great. See you soon."
Ari disconnected the call and dialed Dale's number to let her know where she'd be. The call went to voicemail and she smiled. "Hey, Dale. Don't let me interrupt whatever you're doing with your lover. I just needed to let you know I'm going to be at Sadie Dillon's place. I figure Pen and Beck will both be there, too. Just in case anything goes down. Talk to you soon." She slipped the phone into her pocket as she got into her car.
Two cars were parked in front of Sadie's house when she arrived, so she figured she was right about who would be present. She parked across the street and went through the gate. She knocked on the sunroom door as she went in. She didn't know the etiquette when she'd only known the owner for a day but had slept with her and her girlfriend the night before. She saw Beck in the kitchen.
"Hey. What's going on?"
Pen's blow came out of nowhere, knocking Ari to her hands and knees out of shock as much as surprise. She had been standing next to the door, and her arm shot out like a piston as soon as Ari crossed the threshold. She looked up only to get a second punch where her shoulder met her neck. She dropped hard to the tile and Pen stepped over her. She grabbed Ari in a full nelson and hauled her up onto her knees.
Sadie came around the dining room table. Ari's nose felt stuffed up, and something wet was trickling over her lip. Sadie crouched so she could look into Ari's eyes, resting her arms across her knees as she leaned forward. Her nostrils flared. "You smell like her."
"Who? What the hell is going on here?" Ari looked past Sadie. Beck was standing on the other side of the kitchen island, arms crossed and looking betrayed as hell. "Look, whatever you think..."
Sadie hit Ari in the throat. It wasn't a hard blow, but it was enough to choke her. She gagged and lost the ability to speak.
"A couple of days ago, Beck thought someone was following her home from the bar. So she called Pen to come check it out. She went to a supermarket while Pen drove over and got the car's license plate. She got a good look at the driver, too. This morning one of her buddies looked up the car at the DMV and found out who the car was registered to. Turns out it's a lady named Dale Frye who works for a little firm called Bitches Investigations." She chuckled. "I do like the name, by the way."
Ari pulled forward, but Pen tightened her grip and held her where she was.
"So we went over after lunch and picked her up. We just wanted to let her know we don't appreciate her snooping in our business and politely request that she stop."
Ari's heart was pounding against her ribs.
"So we demonstrated we meant business. You know, just a little bit of roughhousing." Ari bared her teeth, on the verge of barking. "And do you know the first thing she asked us?"
Beck answered. "She asked what we had done with Ari."
Sadie cupped Ari's chin, squeezing her cheeks. "I... am not... good... with... betrayal, Ariadne. There are few things that make me lose control. Betrayal is, is at the top of the list. When were you planning to spring the police on us, mm? We got the little report your secretary was typing up for the cops, so don't you worry about that."
"What do you want?" Ari's voice was barely stronger than a croak.
Sadie smiled. She leaned in and kissed Ari's lips. Ari winced and tried to pull away, but Pen was holding her too tightly. Sadie's tongue slipped into Ari's mouth but retreated before she could even think to bite down on it and cause her some pain. She pulled back and ran her tongue over her lips.
"You're going to help me out. You're going to give us exactly what we want."
"She's our leverage. You do what we ask or--"
"Or you'll kill her?" She looked at Beck again. "You're not a killer."
Beck shook her head. "You're right. That's not the plan."
Sadie leaned in again and pressed her lips to Ari's ear. "I'll change her."
Ari bucked against Pen, throwing her weight back and getting just a fraction of freedom in her arms. She rolled forward and tackled Sadie, knocking her into the table. They grappled briefly, neither of them able to get a good angle for a solid punch. Ari sat up to give herself more room, but she opened herself up to a blow on the side of the head from Pen's stone fist. Ari sprawled on the tile floor. Sadie jumped on her and pinned her with a straight arm across the back of her neck.
"She'd make a lovely fox, don't you think? That lovely red hair, those eyes... she has such delicate features. Of course... well, that's assuming she survives the first transformation. You know that's why we don't change adults, and we start changing during puberty... young bones knit so much easier. They learn and adapt. So the canidae decides that's the perfect time to train our skeletons how to go back and forth. But Dale is all grown up, isn't she? Why, I bet the first time she transforms, every bone in her body will break. And if she tries to be human again, she'd be crippled for life. If she--"
"Shut the fuck up." She was on the verge of hysteria. "What do you want?"
Sadie laughed. "My dear Ariadne... I thought you'd never ask. Listen closely, wolf. Here's what you're going to do for your new best friends..."
To be continued...
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