Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Making the Rent the Hard Way - 46

 


Life returned to normal—finally. Or as normal as it can be when you love a shifter.

My business was booming. I figured it had to do with my recent notoriety after revealing that Tipton wasn't quite what he'd wanted people to believe he was.

Tipton's disappearance after the press conference—together with Farnham's apparent vanishing act—had pretty well ended the attempt by Farnham's shifter stooges to take over the city government illegally. The DA and police chief both retired, as they chose to call it. Two of the shifter city council members who were up for reelection withdrew. The other three came out publicly as shifters, admitting they had fallen for Farnham's line that it was time for shifters to run the city, and they promised to reform. One of them faced a recall election and lost. The other two are still on the council, carefully watched by their constituents for any signs of wrongdoing.

Luca hadn't been directly linked to what had occurred at the press conference—other than backing up my statement that Tipton was a shifter—or to the information revealed by The Tetrad. He went back to what he'd been doing before we brought Farnham down, creating what I, and his clients, considered fantastic designs for whatever they needed.

At one point, about a month after the press conference, over dinner at his house, Luca said, "I've been thinking."

"As compared to just reacting," I quipped.

"Shush. I'm serious. You spend half your time here. Maybe you should move in?"

I gave that some serious thought. Yes, I loved him. That was a given. But…

"I'm not ready," I told him. "Perhaps, someday. But right now I still need my freedom."

"But we spend all our time together when we aren't working," he protested. "How would living here take away from your freedom?"

"It's hard to explain. No, maybe it's not. I'm here because I want to be. If we were living together, I'd feel as if I had to be. I'm not sure that makes any sense to you, but it's how I am. You grew up with siblingsa lot of them, from what Gino said. You're used to living with other people, so for you it doesn't seem like a…an obligation I guess, though I'm not sure that's the right word. I'm an only child. I grew up being very independent and self-sufficient—and different. I relish my being able to do what I want, when I want."

"But that doesn't have to stop just because we're living together," Luca said quietly.

"I know that, up here," I replied, tapping my forehead. "But emotionally…" I took his hand. "Give me time. Please. I'm not saying it won't happen. I just need to get used to the idea first, instead of jumping in with both feet. I don't want either of us to regret it, if I say yes."

He turned his hand to squeeze mine. "I understand. I can't say I like the idea of waiting until you're sure, but I do see where you're coming from." He smiled, then. "As long as you spend all your free time here, I'm good with what we have now."

Leaning across the table, no mean feat considering there were half-empty dinner plates on it, I kissed him. Of course, the fact he leaned in, too, helped.

"I do love you," I said, straightening up again. "Never, ever doubt that."

"I never have, since we both admitted it, and I never will."

Monday, January 18, 2021

Making the Rent the Hard Way - 45


Luca appeared half an hour later, bloody but unbowed, as he put it. "I'm fine," he said as I tried to decide if he really was. He was bloody, but other than a few deep gashes on his arms, he seemed to be in one piece.

"You should see the other guys," he told me with a smirk. "And I don't mean Gino and Rocky, although they took their share of damage. Tipton's joining Farnham in Hell. The big guy won't be doing any fighting for a while. Rocky made sure of that. What's the saying? The bigger they are"

"The harder they fall." I almost smiled, adding, "I hope he didn't say 'I'll be back' when he left."

"Nope, because he's still lying on the basement floor, out like a light. We decided to let him live, to pass on the message to his punks that we're bigger and badder than them."

"He will be back," I said, shivering. I felt like a wuss but I couldn't help it. The bruiser scared me. He had since the first time I saw him.

Luca hugged me. "Maybe. Maybe not. Guys like him, they think their too big to lose, but they're cowards at heart, playing on their size. My bet is, he'll think twice before coming after you or any of us, now that Rocky showed him he wasn't unbeatable after all."

"I hope to hell you're right."

Luca smirked. "I always am. Why would it stop now?"

"Conceited ass," I grumbled, before kissing him.

"Nope," he said when the kiss ended. "Not a conceited bone in my body."

"Uh-huh." I smacked his butt. "If we're going to eat dinner, which you promised me, I'd better shut things down and lock up." 

We did eat, before ending up in his bed. From there, things went as expected. By the time we finished, we were both thoroughly sated—and the gashes on Luca's arms were gone, thankfully, as was the last of the damage to his shoulder. I didn't like the reminders of what he'd gone through.

He must have realized I was checking, because he said, "Stop worrying. The only one who can damage me permanently is you."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. If you ever decide I'm not really the man for you and walk away, it will break my heart. I don't think even being a shifter could heal that."

"It will never happen," I told him. "I'm in this for the long haul."

He laughed. "Not a very romantic statement, but I get the idea."

"How about I say 'I love you more and more each day'? Does that work?"

"Yes, it does," he replied softly. "I love you, too, in case you haven't figured that out."

"I have." I kissed him, then we set out to prove one more time that we were in love, before falling asleep in each other's arms.

 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Making the Rent the Hard Way - 44


I'd have backed away except I was still sitting. Besides, there was nowhere to go.

"I figured you'd be halfway to nowhere by now," I said, trying to put up a bold front—and stall for time.

"I was. Then I decided I had business to take care of first, beginning with you." He put his hands on the arms of my chair, trapping me there. "Do you know what you've done? You and your shifter friends? Your fucking pantywaist shifter friends, afraid to make a stand and take their rightful place in the world. We could have ruled the city. Farnham had it all planned out. Then you killed him and ruined me." Tipton was so angry I felt spittle hit my face as he ranted. 

"Boss," the bruiser cautioned when Tipton backhanded me, "not here."

Tipton turned angrily, took a deep breath, then said, "You're right." He returned his attention to me. "We're going to have some fun with you, then drop you at… Yeah, The Lycan Den. Show those pantywaists what happens when they mess with a real shifter."

He backhanded me again, his rings adding more gouges on my face than they had the first time.

"You're overusing that word," I spat out, wiping blood off my cheek. "Poor language skills?"

"Very poor," Luca said as he, Rocky, and Gino appeared in the office. "He'd never have been elected mayor. He can't put two sentences together without making a fool of himself."

"What would a pansy know about talking?" Tipton said as he made a lunge for Luca—and missed because Luca wasn't there. He was between me and the bruiser, who looked as if he wanted to tear me apart on the spot.

"Bad boy," Gino said, joining Luca. "Did Tipton forget to feed you your ration of kibble this morning?"

"Basement," Rocky called out, gripping Tipton's arm before he moved away.

Gino grabbed the bruiser's wrist, then he, the bruiser, and Luca vanished, leaving me sitting there in stunned disbelief. "I don't get to join the party?" I muttered, getting up to check the damage to my face in the mirror in the lavatory off to one side of the waiting room. Not that I wanted to be there to watch my friends deal with Tipton and Mr. Bracco. Okay, I did, but only if they won. Rocky was big, but the bruiser… I shuddered.

My cheek looked as bad as it felt. Tipton wore four large, garish rings, and each one had left their mark—twice. I washed off the blood, applied antiseptic, then returned to the office to wait.

 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Making the Rent the Hard Way - 43


 

Luca and I took advantage of the pandemonium to slip out of the room. Rocky joined us as we made our way to the building's exit.

"That was as successful as I'd hoped," Rocky said gleefully.

"Yeah, it was. There might be some backlash from humans who hate shifters, but we've dealt with that before." Luca put his arm around my shoulders. "I say we celebrate."

Gino and Jack—one of the shifters who'd been at the meeting last night—joined us. They'd been at the press conference as backup in case of trouble.

"Did I hear the word 'celebrate'?" Gino asked, grinning.

"Go ahead," I said. "Me? I still have a business to run if I'm going to make next month's rent."

"You can…" Luca started to say, until I shook my head.

"I can't, and I won't. I've been away from it for too long." I grimaced. "I probably have a million messages from potential clients. Or at least I hope I do." I never had gotten around to putting a message on my machine saying I'd be out of town for a while.

Luca sighed. "All right. Do you want a lift to your car?" He didn't give me a chance to reply. Instantly we were beside it, in the parking lot of my apartment building. "I'll call you before you leave," he said. "We can do something tonight to celebrate." From the leer he gave me, I knew exactly what he meant. I had no problems with that. We kissed, then he took off and I drove to work.

*****

I spent the rest of the day exactly as I'd suspected I would—returning phone calls. Well, not the whole day. Two people who had wanted my help came in to talk and then sign contracts. Both of them had heard the news about Tipton's press conference, so, naturally, they asked about it. I filled them in on my ability to know who was or wasn't human. Neither of them seemed the least bit fazed by that.

Then there were the calls, not too surprisingly, from reporters wanting to do a follow-up on their press conference stories. I put them off, telling them Tipton and Farnham were who they should be focusing on, if they could find them to talk to. I had the feeling Tipton was long gone from the city by now. And, of course, Farnham would be a no-go, all things considered, but I didn't tell them that.

Luca called around four to ask if I wanted to go out to dinner or eat at his place. Dumb question and we both knew it. I told him I'd be there soon after five and was about to hang up when I heard something in the waiting room. I turned to see what it was then hissed in a breath.

"What's wrong," Luca asked.

"I have company, and they're not clients," I told him as I looked at Tipton and Mr. Bracco, the bruiser who had been one of Farnham's bodyguards.

"I'll be… Damn, I've never been in your office."

By then Tipton was standing in the doorway. He did not look happy. In fact, he looked like he intended to do bad things to me, with the bruiser's help. The only thing I could think to do was use my phone's camera to snap their picture then send it to Luca. With luck, it would be enough to give him a visual. So I did, just before Tipton strode over to grab the phone from my hand. He dropped it on the floor, crushing it under his heel.

"That's how you're going to end up when we're done with you," Tipton snarled.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Making the Rent the Hard Way - 42

 


Tipton's press conference was going strong when Luca and I arrived. I was ready for whatever would happen, rested and relaxed, thanks to spending the night in Luca's bed again—even though for the first hour or more we definitely were not sleeping. We'd made a quick stop by my place, where I'd changed into good slacks and a button-down shirt, in deference to looking presentable for what I was going to do this morning. Jeans and a T-shirt wouldn't have done that.

"Mr. Tipton," I heard a reporter call out as we neared the podium, "there are rumors, suggestions, that you are a shifter. Is there any truth to that?"

"Absolutely not. I'm as human as you or any of the people running against me for the office of mayor."

I had to smile, whispering to Luca, "Since the reporter's a shifter, there goes part of Tipton's argument."

Luca chuckled. "I know. He's one of ours."

That surprised me, though not too much, when I thought about it. Someone had to set it up for what I was going to do.

I walked up to stand in front of the podium, turned to face the reporters and other attendees, and said, "Mr. Tipton definitely is a shifter. I know that for a fact."

From the corner of my eye I saw two burly shifters—who I could only presume worked for Tipton as bodyguards—start toward me as one of the reporters shoved his mike in my face then asked "How? And who are you?"

"My name is Cade Warner. Some of you may have heard of me. I have the unique ability, for a human, of being able to tell who else is human and, more importantly, who's a shifter."

"I know your name," one reporter shouted above the resulting babble, "and your reputation. Are you willing to swear that Mr. Tipton is a shifter?"

By then, Tipton's bodyguards were trying to force their way through the crowd of reporters now surrounding me. "I am," I replied to the man who'd asked the question. I can also tell you those two"—I pointed to the bodyguards—"are shifters, as well. They seem to be upset that I've revealed Mr. Tipton's well-guarded secret." I chuckled. "All right. Not quite a secret since The Tetrad revealed that information. Not that some of you"I paused, looking at the reporters"bothered to report it. But I understand why. The charges were, to some extent, unsubstantiated and you didn't want libel suits on your hands. That's why I'm here to state categorically that Mr. Tipton is a shifter." 

"He's lying," Tipton responded angrily. "I don't know what his agenda is or who he's working for, but that is a blatant lie!"

Luca stepped forward. "As a shifter myself, I can tell everyone that what Mr. Warner has said is the truth."

"As can I," said the reporter who had originally posed the question to Tipton. "I don't give a damn about the fact that the owner of the paper I work for has told me to keep quiet. As Mr. Warner pointed out, the owner's afraid of a libel suit. Tipton is a shifter." The reporter paused, his gaze going to the bodyguards. "Those two, and the two standing behind Tipton, are, as well. They all work for Richard Farnham, I believe—just as Tipton does."

"Where is Mr. Farnham?" Rocky called out from the back of the room. "Why isn't he here to defend Mr. Tipton against these charges?"

"Whoa," I said under my breath. I hadn't expected that, but damned if it didn't work. The reporters immediately turned to Tipton to ask him the same question.

"He doesn't need to defend me against lies," Tipton blustered, looking as if he wished he was anywhere but here. One of the bodyguards leaned in to whisper something to him. Tipton paled—then vanished. His men did the same, seconds later.

"I guess the cat's really out of the bag now," Luca said with a grin.

"No shit."

Of course, the reporters had already figured that out. They were calling in the story—or in the case of the TV personnel, giving the viewers their own interpretation of what had just gone down.