"This stunning creature is Esmeralda Meredith? Riley, you didn't give me nearly enough warning." Gordon, the werewolf friend of Riley's, was more than a bit of a flirt, I quickly decided.
Shutting the front door, he shook himself like a bear in the doorway and the snow flew off him as did the scent of smoke and wet fur. However Riley's werewolf pals in Michigan had torched the abandoned building over by Wayne State University, they definitely had used a serious amount of firepower. Riley was standing in the living room wrapped in a large bath towel and a grin. He'd just finished washing off his brush with the fire, and with Gordon's arrival had come out before he'd dressed. Shaking my head I said, "Why don't you find Gordon something to wear after he takes his turn in the shower?"
There was no way I was going to put up with the scent of burnt fur any longer than I had to. My nose twitched at the smell, and I was pretty sure that I could detect the slight lingering tinges of cooked meat -- and I knew it wasn't coming from the stew I'd put on the stove. Nope, cooked werewolf, I concluded. And no, the cooked were didn't smell like chicken in the least.
"You are quite right. I must shower. Forgive my rather abrupt appearance, but Riley insisted that we needed to speak." Gordon didn't talk like anybody I knew. Not even Uncle Harry spoke as formally as Gordon. I wondered if that was his first name or his last name but dismissed the thought as none of my business. Gordon was probably much older than the forty or so years worn into his features; again, there definitely was something to werewolves that kept them looking decades younger than they probably were. But since Riley had said he'd known Gordon a while, I gathered that it wasn't just like ten or so years -- but now possibly five or so decades. The whole thing was creepy weird.
I went back to the kitchen while Riley went to dress and find Gordon something to wear after his shower. The stew was beginning to bubble with the broth and sauce I'd tossed together, and with a shrug, I added some cut up vegetables and stirred. If they didn't like the veggies they could just eat the meat, but I wanted some flavor. The house wasn't nearly as cold as it had been an hour before, and the smell of the stew added to the warmth. The furnace was finally working properly, so whatever Riley had done down in the basement was obviously enough to chase out the lingering winter blizzard hammering the house.
Setting the table, I pulled out the coffee maker I'd bought earlier and set up a pot of coffee to brew. I made it strong using espresso roast instead of Folgers because I liked the flavor of good rich coffee no matter what time of day. My domestic side wasn't overwhelming but I had my moments.
Soon I heard the rumble of the two werewolves talking and walking towards the kitchen. Whatever they were discussing stopped the second they got into the room. I wondered offhandedly what it was that they had to keep from me. Riley had a decidedly sly look upon his face. I ignored them and ladled out the stew into the large bowls on the table. Riley plopped into the chair before I'd finished filling the three bowls. Gordon stood next to his chair and cleared his throat pointedly.
"What?" Riley barked with his fist around the large tablespoons I'd set next to Gordon and his bowls. I figured they would laugh at me had I put the usual spoons on the table.
Not responding to his curt question, I simply slipped into the chair and let Gordon explain that gentlemen stood when a lady was present. I knew what he'd been trying to get Riley to do, but nothing good could come from me demanding anything from that werewolf. He was Uncle Harry's to command, not mine, and I certainly wasn't going to try to drill social graces into his repertoire. Gordon pointedly said, "She is a lady, Riley. You must exhibit more respect to her. We are not savages you know."
Riley grumbled and said reluctantly, "Sorry, Emma."
It nearly sounded like he meant it. I nodded and handed the bowl of warm bread to Gordon after he had sat down and placed the paper napkin on his lap as if it was fine linen. The man certainly had class. Riley growled lightly in the back of his throat. Had I not been focused on him I probably wouldn't have even heard the sound. Gordon actively ignored the rumble and turned to me saying, "This looks exquisite. Thank you for allowing me to join your meal."
Yep, he had manners all right. It wasn't like he was playacting to make me comfortable, but he genuinely was respectful and well-brought up.
"Riley indicated you have some questions about the vast array of salt mines below this city. He personally knows I am acquainted with the area in question and felt I could help dissuade you from venturing into the tunnels." He stopped long enough to tear off a sliver of bread which he carefully buttered before popping into his mouth. I saw him looking around and it dawned on me that he was looking for a small plate where he could rest the remaining portion of his bread. I felt like I'd flunked some basic domestic task. But mentally I shoved it aside since it wasn't like I'd invited him to a formal dinner. Instead I addressed his comment.
"Yes -- I truly don't think there is much down there from the supernatural world like Riley seems to feel but I am hoping instead to find some evidence of my past in one of the offshoots." My words tumbled from my lips at a near frantic pace. I hoped to convince Gordon of my need without having to reveal any of my secrets. Not a fair exchange, but the safest one as far as I was concerned.
Nodding, he spooned some of the stew into his mouth and gazed off while consuming the bite. He kept his mouth closed and his eyes were at half-mast as he thought. Riley, on the other hand, was quickly shoveling the stew into his mouth and glaring at me. I suppressed a shiver at his intensity but reminded myself yet again that he'd invited Gordon to come over, not me. The two werewolves were approximately the same size and build, yet Gordon seemed more refined and polished wearing some of Riley's clothing. They both had towel-dried their hair, but Riley had slicked his back almost in a duck tail like the rough bad boys wore in the fifties, while Gordon's seemed to be stylishly shaped yet damp. The flannel shirts were appropriate for the weather outside and they both wore blue jeans. Somehow Gordon looked like he could be on the cover of a men's magazine with the back drop of some exotic locale; Riley looked more like he belonged next to a huge truck with tires the size of a small pony. They didn't even seem like the same types of werewolves.
I went to the fridge and grabbed out bottled water, setting the three of them next to our bowls, then went back to the counter and poured the coffee into some heavy mugs. Without adding anything to my comment about the tunnels I simply sat back down and sipped my coffee. I wasn't much for cream or sugar, and both werewolves didn't seem to want any either. Both of them nearly simultaneously sampled the hot brew.
"This is quite delicious, Esmeralda. Thank you." Gordon said while sipping more of the coffee. The warm stew and hot coffee finally drove some of the deep chill from my bones. The winter blizzard hadn't let up any but at least my teeth weren't chattering.
I picked up my spoon and continued to nibble at the stew. I noticed that Riley had nearly finished his bowl as had Gordon. Neither appeared ready to get up and help themselves so I went back to the stove and brought the pot with me. I arched an eyebrow at Riley as I held the full ladle up.
"Yeah, please." Riley shot Gordon a look, as if waiting for a pat on the head for using his words. Gordon ignored Riley's seeking approval and buttered more bread. I filled the werewolf's bowl back up and then went to Gordon's bowl and automatically filled his bowl as he had food in his mouth. He wouldn't be uncivilized and speak with a full mouth, but he'd cleaned his bowl up so I knew he could eat more.
Sipping some water Gordon spoke slowly, "Thank you, Esmeralda. You certainly are an excellent hostess. Not many would easily accommodate a stranger so quickly. "
Like I'd been given a choice?
I waited for him to continue while sitting back down and trying to get a few mouthfuls inside me before they needed anything else. I knew there was a reason I didn't entertain much. I really didn't care for lukewarm food. I chewed a tender bit of meat and looked over to see Riley had nearly finished his second bowl. I didn't plan on serving him any more so I concentrated on my own food and hoped that Gordon would talk.
"The tunnels that are down in those salt mines aren't normal. They have been magically enhanced, to create an environment conducive to protecting any and all supernaturals -- and the assorted humans that worked in the mines -- from the creatures stored in the caves chiseled into the rock salt. Despite all the precautions and the layers of protection woven into the cells -- because there really are no other proper words to describe the dwellings, there was once an uprising that resulted in the slaughtering of dozens of humans and a few of the watchers." Gordon jumped right into the tale without my having to prompt him. I sipped my coffee and nodded.
"The local werewolves who had been tasked with protection and imprisonment of the creatures hadn't been beneath the earth when the uprising occurred. The Gatekeeper knew that the werewolves weren't overly fond of being trapped deep beneath the ground with limited escape routes, and instead had used them primarily as muscle to enforce the rules topside. A few of them would go down when necessary, but the area had been so calm for so long, rules relaxed."
Here he looked off as if recalling a specific event, tempting me to interrupt his flow. I resisted. Riley tapped his spoon lightly in his bowl, as if letting me know it was empty would make me move. I arched an eyebrow towards the stove and shrugged mentally, telling him to get off his tush and serve himself. I must have projected well because he reluctantly got up and served himself from the stove. Gordon still had more than half a bowl left so Riley returned to his place and shot me a look that I interpreted to mean he wasn't thrilled at me not serving him in front of Gordon. I guessed from Riley's scowl werewolves played dominance games when they were together. Not my problem.
"The uprising came from a rather unusual source. One of the humans who controlled the workers had taken it upon himself to begin to explore areas not approved by the upper management, and the word was getting around that he'd opened up a portal that had been sealed for a reason."
Here I had to interrupt, "You mean there weren't doors to all these cells?" Horror etched on my face -- I knew I sounded stupid but still, that was way harsh by any standards.
"No, my dear. There were creatures being held that could influence fragile minds and escape back into the world. That wasn't to be allowed. It wasn't a decision the Gatekeeper made easily but it was made." Gordon again sank back into his memories.
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