There was a lovely woman standing on Richie’s front porch.
His first thought, before he managed to take in everything she’d just said, was I haven’t cleaned the place properly in weeks.
His second thought was she’s carrying a suitcase.
By that point, his brain had caught up with her words. He swallowed. “You’re answering my want ad?”
“I am hoping to, yes.”
She looked far too well-dressed to be destitute and needing a place to stay, but if she was fae, it would not be all that hard to look good while starving to death. Hopefully, she was fae. She’d said Keeper, and given it the weight of a title and not just a throw-away word. That suggested fae or knowledgeable – or just wishful thinking on Richie’s part.
“Well, then.” If she was human, she might spook at the next bit. “If you mean me and mine no harm, please come in.”
She smiled approvingly and stepped inside his house. “I have to admit, I’ve never seen anyone advertise for a Keeper before.”
“Well, I don’t really like the club scene, and there a lot of places where saying ‘Hi, I’d like to be owned’ will get you in entirely the wrong situation.” Richie wrinkled his nose. “After I ended up having to sort out a couple, ah, misunderstandings, I decided to try something new.”
“I see. And have many people answered your ad?”
“You’re the first. Please, come on in. Can I get you something to drink?” He gestured her towards the living room. “Something to eat?”
“Thank you.” She followed his gesture to an armchair he kept just for guests. “I’d love some water.”
“Coming right up!”
When he returned a moment later with his best crystal glass, she had settled herself into the armchair and was watching him with an amused smile. “Thank you. Tell me, how long has it been since you’ve had a Keeper?”
“Ten years.” Richie grimaced. There had been good in those ten years, of course, and yet…
“And your last Keeper…?”
“Died.” Richie hung his head. “She was in a rather dangerous line of work, and a mission got the best of her. I wasn’t there to protect her.”
“And could you have, if you were there?”
He raised his chin. He was short, he knew, and he generally Masked himself, but when he dropped the illusion of a paper-pusher, even if he didn’t drop the rest of the illusion, he didn’t exactly look like someone to mess with.
“Ah. And yet you prefer to look… harmless?” Her eyes travelled over his muscle-dense body as if she could see every line under his clothes.
“It’s suited me well. Does that bother you?” He knew he sounded belligerent, but sometimes that was the way he sounded, and if she was going to live with him, to Keep him, she was going to have to know that, even if her first order was to tell him to never sound that way.
“Bother me? No. It intrigues me. It’s not a common combination.”
“Lots of people think that.” He put his Mask back up, hiding all of his muscle and a few other choice things. “But it works for me. Do you think it might work for you?”
“Hrrm. Why don’t we say… let’s give it a trial month. You lay out your terms, I’ll lay out mine, and we’ll live for a month as if we were going to continue that way for a decade. Then we can decide.”
Richie found a small smile sneaking over his face. “A month.” He nodded slowly. “I could agree to that – if our terms are compatible.”
She sipped her water from his best crystal. “I believe you’ll find me most agreeable. Why don’t you get a pen and paper and we’ll start?”Want more?