"Because I helped Sam? That doesn’t make any sense." Though my sinking heart told me it did.
"Doesn’t need to. You helped him when she couldn’t. And that galls her. You ever seen her when she’s got a mad on?"
"I’ve seen her in action." Sam always liked such challenging women. I could only conclude that she saved her softer, gentler side for him.
"Then you know how she treats people she sees as a threat."
"I wonder why Alcide hasn’t picked Jannalynn as his first lady, or whatever the term is," I said, just to veer away from the subject for a moment. "He made her pack enforcer, but I would have thought he would pick the strongest female wolf as his mate."
"She’d love that," Mustapha said. "I can smell that on her. He can smell that on her. But she don’t love Alcide, and he don’t love her. She’s not the kind of woman he likes. He likes women his own age, women with a little curve to ’em. Women like you."
"But she told Alcide …" I had to stop, because I was hopelessly confused. "A few weeks ago, she advised Alcide he should try to seduce me," I said awkwardly. "She thought I would be an asset to the pack."
"If you’re confused, think how Jannalynn’s feeling." Mustapha’s face might have been carved in stone. "She’s got a relationship with Sam, but you were able to save him when she wasn’t. She halfway wants Alcide, but she knows he wanted you, too. She’s big in the pack, and she knows you have pack protection. You know what she can do to people who don’t."
I shuddered. "She does enjoy the enforcement," I said. "I’ve watched her. Thanks for the heads-up, Mustapha. If you’d like a drink or something to eat, the offer still stands."
"I’ll take a glass of water," he said, and I got it in short order. I could hear one of Dermot’s rented power tools going above our heads in the attic, and though Mustapha cocked an eye toward the ceiling, he didn’t comment until he’d finished his drink. "Too bad he can’t come with you to Shreveport," he said then. "Fairies are good fighters." Mustapha handed me his empty glass. "Thanks," he said. And then he was out the door.
I mounted the stairs to the second floor as the motorcycle roared its way back to Hummingbird Road. I stood in the attic doorway. Dermot was shaving the bottom off one of the doors. He knew I was there, but he kept on working, casting a quick smile over his shoulder to acknowledge my presence. I considered telling him what Mustapha had just told me, simply to share my worries.
But as I watched my great-uncle work, I reconsidered. Dermot had his own problems. Claude had left with Niall, and there was no way of knowing when he’d return or in what condition. Until Claude’s return, Dermot was supposed to make sure all was running smoothly at Hooligans. What would that motley crew be capable of, without Claude’s control? I had no idea if Dermot could keep them in line or if they’d ignore his authority.
I started to launch a boatful of worry about that, but I gave myself a reality check. I couldn’t assume responsibility for Hooligans. It was none of my business. For all I knew, Claude had a system in place and all Dermot had to do was follow it. I could only worry about one bar, and that was Merlotte’s. Kind of alternating with Fangtasia. Okay, two bars.
Speaking of which, my cell phone buzzed me to remind me we were getting a beer delivery that morning. It was time for me to hustle in to work.
"If you need me, you call me," I told Dermot.
With a proud air, as if he’d learned a clever phrase in a foreign language, Dermot said, "You have a nice day, you hear?"
I took a hasty shower and pulled on some shorts and a Merlotte’s T-shirt. I didn’t have time to blow-dry my hair completely, but at least I put on some eye makeup before I hustled out the door. It felt excellent to shed my supernatural worries and to fall back on thinking about what I had to do at Merlotte’s, especially now that I’d bought into it.
The rival bar opened by the now-deceased Victor, Vic’s Redneck Roadhouse, had taken a lot of customers away. To our relief, the newness of our rival was wearing off, and some of our regulars were returning to the fold. At the same time, the protests against patronizing a bar owned by a shapeshifter had stopped since Sam had started attending the church that had supplied most of the protesters.
It had been a surprisingly effective countermove, and I am proud to say I thought of it. Sam had blown me off at first, but he’d reconsidered when he’d cooled off. Sam had been pretty nervous the first Sunday, and only a handful of people talked to him. But he’d kept it going, if irregularly, and the members were getting to know him as a person first, a shapeshifter second.
I’d loaned Sam some money to float the bar through the worst time. Instead of repaying me bit by bit as I’d imagined he would, Sam now regarded me as a part owner. After a long and cautious conversation, he’d upped my paycheck and added to my responsibilities. I’d never had something that was kind of my own before. There was no other word for it but "awesome."
Now that I handled some of the administrative work at the bar and Kennedy could come in as bartender, Sam was enjoying a little more well-earned time off. He spent some of it with Jannalynn. He went fishing, a pastime he’d enjoyed with his dad and mom when he was a kid. Sam also worked on his double-wide inside and out, trimming his hedge and raking his yard, planting flowers and tomatoes in season, to the amusement of the rest of the staff.
I didn’t think it was funny. I thought it was real nice that Sam liked to take care of his home, even if it was parked behind the bar.
What gave me the most pleasure was seeing the tension ease out of his shoulders now that Merlotte’s was on an even keel again.
I was a little early. I had the time to make some measurements in the storeroom. I figured if I had the right to accept beer shipments, I had the right to institute a few changes, too-subject to Sam’s approval and consent, of course.
The guy who drove the truck, Duff McClure, knew exactly where to put the beer. I counted the cases as he unloaded them. I’d offered to help the first time we’d dealt together, and Duff had made it clear it would be a cold day in Hell before a woman helped him do physical work. "You been selling more Michelob lately," he remarked.
"Yeah, we got a few guys who’ve decided that’s all they’re gonna drink," I said. "They’ll be back to Bud Light before too long."
"You need any TrueBlood?"
"Yeah, the usual case."
"You got a regular vamp clientele."
"Small but regular," I agreed, my mind on writing the check for the shipment. We had a few days to pay it, but Sam had always paid on delivery. I thought that was a good policy.