Night Shift Page 24

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To reinforce her maternal role in the boy’s life, she offered Diederik some biscuits.

He was delighted at biscuits. She’d figured he would be. Diederik loved food, especially home-cooked food. Perhaps the way he looked at Fiji was because he thought of her as the source of deliciousness. She smiled to herself at the thought as they sat on the back porch with tea and a plate of buttered goodness.

“What’s your dad up to today?” she asked.

“My father is at the hotel, still, working on the Internet.” Diederik licked some butter off his fingers. Fiji looked away. “He is preparing for a packleader challenge in Wyoming.”

“Soon you’ll be going with him.”

“Yes, and I want to see some of the world,” Diederik said, slowly and thoughtfully. “I do. I don’t really remember the journey here. But I love Midnight, which my father thinks is strange. Apparently, most people my age are not content with their homes.”

“It can’t be very exciting living with the Rev,” Fiji said gently. “He is a great man and I admire him, but no one would think of him as fun.”

“In some ways, no,” the boy admitted. He pointed at the last biscuit, asking a silent question. Fiji nodded. He ate it slowly. “But he tells wonderful stories about the creation of the world and all the animals in it, including humans, and he prays very much, and he tells me how to be grateful for work and friends. And now I know how to read, and my father got me an account on the Internet, and I can go over to Mr. Manfred’s house and order books directly onto my e-reader. Mr. Bobo is teaching me how to play the piano. And Madonna shows me how to cook. And Marina who works at the hotel at night . . .” He stopped in his conversational tracks and smiled. It was a look both delighted as a child’s and satisfied as an adult’s.

“Oh, Diederik!” Fiji tried not to be taken aback by this honesty.

“But Marina, she was not a virgin,” he said anxiously. “I know that if she had never . . .”

“No, no, it’s not that. It’s the birth control issue. I know your dad talked to you about that,” Fiji said. She could not imagine the consequences if a weretiger got a human girl pregnant, especially since Marina was in her teens and clinging on to her junior college scholarship. Fiji knew Marina needed the money she earned at the Midnight hotel. She also knew that Marina’s huge extended family was a drinking and fighting clan who never missed a weekly Mass.

“She takes a pill,” Diederik said. He beamed at Fiji. “So she will not become pregnant.”

“I’m very relieved to hear that,” Fiji said. “But you know, Diederik, there are diseases people having sex can catch from each other. Some of them are very terrible.”

“STDs,” Diederik said, very matter-of-fact. “I’m a weretiger, and I can’t catch them.”

“Good,” Fiji said weakly. “That’s really good.” She took a sip from her cup. “I’m glad you’re happy here,” she said, knowing it was a weak ending to the conversation. Fiji could hear Kiki moving around in the house, and she was thankful the conversation had been concluded before her sister came out to find out who was visiting. (Kiki did not like anything happening that she didn’t know about.)

Diederik’s acute hearing had also informed him Kiki was up. He leaned over, gave Fiji a quick kiss on the cheek (just as his father had), and bounded away to find someone else to play with.

From inside the kitchen, she heard her sister say, “I smell biscuits. Where are they?”

Fiji sighed. Something else she’d have to explain.

 

 

9

 

 

The next morning, Bobo was glad to hear the bell ring as soon as he’d unlocked the door. For days, he’d been brooding over his catastrophic failure with Fiji. He’d called himself the chicken who wouldn’t cross the road. (What happened to the chicken who wouldn’t cross the road? Nothing. Ever.) He had made up his mind to go over to Fiji’s house and straighten things out. If she’d let him in.

But Fiji’s sister was there, and Bobo had to admit to himself he was not a fan, from the little he’d seen of Kiki. She’d visited the pawnshop, asked him a lot of questions about his romantic status and income in a not-very-subtle way, flirted with the same blatant obviousness. He couldn’t think of way to have a heart-to-heart with Fiji with her sister around.

He’d bungled asking her to go on vacation. He should have led with his strength; he should have told her he found her beautiful, and kissed her, and then asked if they could spend time together. But he’d been trying to lead up to that, and in trying not to sound presumptuous, he’d blown his chance. It had taken him too long, anyway, too long to realize that he had a wonderful woman right across the street, too long to understand that she cared about him, too long to appreciate that she was keeping her feelings clamped down so she would not intrude on their friendship. Too long to realize he felt the same way about her as she did about him. His blunder had alienated the person he most cared about.

Maybe over time she’d return to her former warmth? But Fiji seemed really, truly put out with him.

Fiji was so smart, and powerful way down deep, and the way her hair fluffed around her face . . . it turned him on. He found himself dreaming of sex with her, and (even better) after-sex, when he would put his arms around her and hold her to him and nuzzle her neck. Bobo hadn’t known guys could dream of cuddling—and it was embarrassing, sort of.

But it was also massively alluring.

It was an understatement to say that Bobo was preoccupied that morning. He scarcely registered the truck pulling up in front of the pawnshop until the bell rang. His first reaction was pleasure. He needed to think about something else.

Then he recognized the newcomer. Instantly, Bobo tensed up and retreated behind the counter. “What are you doing here?” he asked Price Eggleston. He hadn’t seen Price in months, and that had suited him just fine. Price was a right-wing fanatic, and he’d tormented Bobo and kidnapped Fiji a few months before.

“Leave,” Bobo said.

“I’m here to buy a gun,” Price said quite calmly.

Bobo glanced down to be sure he had his own gun handy. “I don’t believe you,” he said. He was almost certain Olivia had returned during the night: her car was in the parking lot behind the pawnshop. He pressed the buzzer under the counter. It couldn’t be heard up here, but it sounded in Olivia’s and Lemuel’s apartments. Lemuel would not hear the buzzer in the daytime, but Olivia would. The way Bobo’s luck was running lately, she was probably in the shower with the water turned up to full volume.

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