I HADNT TALKED to Irving Griswold in months, ever since he told me that my exclusives to him, and him alone, were beginning to make people question his humanity. He was a werewolf and a member of our local pack, buTHE was deep in the closet. His choice, but when he told me to back off, I did.
I could picture him on his end of the phone: short, a little round, built sort of like a square, not fat, but just that body build that if hed been taller would have made him a great linebacker. He had curly hair and a bald spot starting, but apparently that had begun before he became a werewolf, and being a werewolf meant it would never go further. Id seen him in wolf form and the animal didnt have a bald spot on its head. Interesting.
Anita, I know I told you to leave me alone about the exclusives, but I didnt expect you to vanish off the planet for me.
I had expected a lot of things from Irving, but not hurt feelings. Are you really upset I stopped talking to you, or did you just miss what the exclusives were doing to your career?
That is cold, Anita, very cold.
Just a question, Irving.
He laughed then, and his laugh was so nicely ordinary after the magic of Jean-Claudes that it made me smile. Couldnt I miss both you and the career opportunities?
I suppose. Jason filled you in on the problem.
Thats you, Blake, all business.
Were in deep shit, Irving, so yeah.
He sighed, and his voice was serious when he said, Yes, Jason explained the problem. Though someone here at the paper made sure I saw the segment about you. They said my old girlfriend was on the news.
Girlfriend? I made it a question.
Apparently, no man can be seen too often with you without it ruining his reputation.
I didnt know that, I said.
You didnt need to know.
So it wasnt just about your career, was it?
No, Im dating someone here at the paper pretty seriously. She was a good sport, but the office gossip was pretty virulent.
Virulent, huh, thats a big word, and a serious one.
Heh, they wont let me trot my vocabulary out in my articles; Ive got to prove Ive got that college education somehow.
I smiled again. Id missed Irving more than I thought. Can we fix this mess?
Articles by me can help minimize the damage, but a good rumor is really hard to kill once it hits the major media.
What can we do?
I was thinking a series of articles about what its like to be part of Jean-Claudes life. You know, talk to Jason about what its like to be his pomme de sang. What its like for you to be his girlfriend. Well start with a denial of the rumor, but maybe our Master of the City is overdue for some good press.
Press that makes him seem in control of his city.
Yeah, Jason hit the highlights that Im not allowed to write about. If I werent afraid of being outed, this would be such a better story.
Being outed would be the least of your worries if you wrote everything you know, Irving.
Is that a threat? he asked.
I thought about it. No, not consciously, but I am still Bolverk for your pack, the evildoer.
He lowered his voice. Yeah, you punish the bad little werewolves, I know.
But no, it wasnt a threat, just an observation. I think Richard would get to you long before I could.
Yeah, our Ulfric seems to have acquired a temper.
Sorry about that.
Is it true hes inherited part of your temper? Irving asked.
Then my compliments for your self-control all these years.
I wasnt sure what to make of the compliment, so I ignored it. Thanks, now what do you need from me?
Well run the first article about Jasons dad and the cancer, and how his master couldnt travel on such short notice so you came with him for moral support. Itll play very sentimental.
Wont that make Jean-Claude look weak in the eyes of the other masters?
Anita, there are only so many ways to explain this rumor away. Showing Jean-Claude as generous to his people may make the other masters think him weak, but trust me, us underlings will read it and go, Wow, hed be a great master to work for. I wonder how I get to move to St. Louis. Revolutions start from the bottom up, Anita, rarely top down.
Are we starting a revolution?
The way Jean-Claude runs his territory is revolutionary, Anita. Im not the only reporter whos in deep cover. There are a couple of us who sit around and bemoan the great stories we could write if we werent pretending to be normal.
I leaned back against the headboard, the pillow still in my lap. I guess I thought you were the only reporter in that deep a cover.
No, theres one swanmane, and another werewolf, and even a weretiger.
And youve all managed to hide what you are?
Must be hard, I said.
Its hard to hide, but youre seeing how hard it is not to hide.
I sighed. You got that right.
Though you being his human servant isnt going to be part of the articles, just the dating.
Ive looked it up, and me being his human servant isnt legal grounds for my dismissal as a federal marshal, or even an ordinary cop, if I were one.
You saying I can use it?
No, but Im saying its not legalities, but perceptions that Im hiding from.
Okay, Ill write up the article saying how misguided my fellow reporters are, and then well start with Jasons article. Then yours, and then well see who else wants to talk; my editor is going to love it.
How about your girlfriend?
Ill talk to her when I get off the phone. Shell be okay. Shes in the business.
You sound tired, he said.
I leaned my head against the wall behind the headboard. Maybe.
Ill go hunt up my editor and get this started. You guys be careful.
Im always careful, Irving.
He laughed then. If this is your version of careful, then be reckless; its gotta work better.
We hung up, both laughing. I put the phone in its cradle and went back to leaning against the wall. I even closed my eyes. I was tired. I couldnt even decide why I was this tired.
I felt the bed move and opened my eyes to find Jason kneeling in front of me. His eyes were very close to mine. He was also still nude, because other than the pillow in my lap, neither of us had thought to get robes.
Weve done the best we can, Anita, he said.
I gave him a smile to match how I felt, which wasnt all that much of a smile. Sometimes it would be nice not to have to do my best. Sometimes it would just be nice not to have a crisis to deal with.
He grinned. I know what you mean. The grin went from his normal to his Ive-thought-of-something-naughty-to-do grin.
What? I said, and the one word held a wealth of suspicion.
He laughed, and it made his face look even younger than he was, like a glimpse into a Jason I had never met. Jason before Raina nearly killed him, making him a werewolf. Jason before he became Jean-Claudes morning snack. Jason before life rubbed all his edges away.
The laughter leaked away and his eyes were serious as he gazed down at me. The look on your face, what are you thinking?
I shook my head. A dozen thoughts ran through my mind; that I was tired, that hed given a story to the media that would spoil our cover story with his family, thaTHE was being very brave, that I knew he must be hurting, thaTHE was my good friend and I wanted him to know that. What I finally said was, Kiss me.
He had a moment of looking startled, and then he smiled, and the smile was worth the careful choice of words. That smile that said I had asked first; without the ardeur loose, I had asked for a kiss from him.