“A beauty contest,” Jamie said dubiously. “They got you judging a beauty contest? You? With women and all?”
“It’s ladies’ night,” Lamar said, with one of his elegant boneless shrugs. “Dante thought it’d be good for business. I agree. Look at this crowd.”
Jamie didn’t bother to look. The assault on his nose and ears told him powerfully enough the Pleasure Club was packed to the walls, without him having to throw his eyes in too. This whole business worried him. Every time Lamar dragged him to this place the whole night went into the litterbox.
Not that anything could go wrong with a beauty contest. Normally. Jamie reminded himself this was Dante’s, and that Lamar was involved.
“Didn’t know you were big on women’s beauty,” he said. “Didn’t know you had any interest in women at all. I’m surprised you’re not up there on the stage with ‘em, showing off that pretty body of yours.”
“I’m flattered you think I’m pretty.” He darted in to plant a quick kiss on Jamie’s cheek. “I’d be up there in a second, but employees aren’t allowed to compete. Gypsy’s judging the contest with me. Besides … ” He rushed the rest of the sentence out with a second, guiltier shrug. “It isn’t all women.”
Jamie’s stare shot to the stage. The contestants were taking their places, jockeying for the best position. Jamie’s nose picked out three she-wolves, a bobcat, a mule deer with one helluva rack, and –
“Spirits of the Loup-garou,” he blurted. “That’s Bo Ewing!”
“In all his glorious flesh,” Lamar agreed with a grin. “Mary’s around here somewhere. I promised him we’d keep an eye on her. Or you will. I’m going to be busy for a while.” His tongue flicked briefly, in and out. “That’s one fine piece of bighorn ram. I know who I’m voting for.”
“Is he, uh – ”
“Straight as an iron rod. Winner gets auctioned off for charity. Bo’s doing this for the hearing loss center.”
Oh. Well, that made it okay then, maybe. Off to the right of the stage he spotted Gypsy waving at them. Lamar squeezed his arm and slithered off through the crowd.
Jamie took a deep breath. Just because his every other trip to the Pleasure Club had ended in disaster didn’t mean this one would too. One of his visits had to end happy eventually. It all lay in the odds.
He nosed around a bit and finally found Mary Ewing up near the stage. He was careful to come at her from the side so he wouldn’t spook her. He was in no mood for a head-butt. Luckily she glimpsed him and greeted him with a big, friendly smile. He tried his hand at sign language, like Lamar’d tried to teach him. She stared quizzically at his hands, then his lips. “Gotta work on my accent,” he said, which got her grinning again. “Bo sure looks good up there.”
One of Dante’s assistant managers bounded up on stage. “Ladies, gentlemen, and undecideds,” he announced in a booming voice, “it’s that moment you’ve been hanging around and drinking all night for, the annual spring Hot Dam or Sire contest. Please make use of the napkins, folks, and keep the floor drool-free. Our first contestant is a beaut from Butte, Mindy LeFleur. She’s a – ”
Jamie rubbed his nose. Something was off close by, and it wasn’t beer or greasy food or something nasty wafting over from the restrooms. This was nasty on a whole other level, but with all the blamed odors running roughshod on his nostrils he couldn’t put a finger on it. Mary didn’t seem to notice anything funny, and she had a nose like a bloodhound. Then again, she was fixed on cheering on her brother, posing up there like a weightlifter and looking mighty tasty. The shes in the audience, herbies and carnies alike, sure found the boy likeable.
Jamie had to admit he wouldn’t mind going long with the football star himself. Lamar wasn’t the clingy type, in spite of him being a snake and all. Hell, the boy’d probably insist on joining in.
And what in the name of the Loup-garou was Jamie about, thinking thoughts like that with his boyfriend not even a stone’s throw off and the crowd all growling and howling and throwing chicken wings in the air but mostly growling and –
Oh. Oh hell. Son of a mangy hound!
Grabbing Mary’s hand, Jamie dragged her over to the impromptu judge’s table. Lamar had his eyes fixed on Bo and didn’t seem to register any of the other contestants. Gypsy had a high flush on her and fidgeted in her seat. No wonder there. Lamar’d be immune, so Jamie grabbed his arm. “Wrap it up! Pick a winner and get them shes off the stage!”
“What for, chico? We’re a hit. Listen to that crowd.”
“I’m listening. I’m listening and smelling. One of them she-wolves is in heat!”
“Huh?” Lamar said with a reptile’s incomprehension. Then the light went on. “Mierda.”
Jamie had her pinpointed now, the blonde next to the mule deer. Her mincing walk marked her as a low-ranker. Great. She wouldn’t know how to say no.
Mary was tugging on his sleeve. She could see and probably smell the crowd getting het up but not hear the reason for it. Jamie faced her square on and explained the situation. “I’ll get you out of here,” he said. “This place is gonna blow.”
She shook him off and waved her arms frantically at her brother. Her hands made patterns a wizard couldn’t follow. Bo read their message and stopped posing.
Lamar bolted off his chair. “We have a winner!” he shouted. Gypsy gaped at him. Lamar pointed at random. “You,” he said to the mule deer. You win. We’ll, uh, we’ll hold the auction in a couple of minutes. Gypsy, you want to take the ladies backstage while we set up?”
Too late. A pack of well-liquored wolves charged the stage, intent on their tantalizing prey. In seconds the place would be chaos.
Then Bo Ewing went into action. Already shirtless, he ripped at his pants and dove off the stage, shifting in mid-leap. The bighorn charged into the knot of wolves and scattered them like the opposing offense. Wolves, chairs, tables and beer went flying. The manager howled for security.
Meanwhile, Jamie managed to worm over to Gypsy and explain the cause of the chaos. She speared a look at the offending she-wolf, who’d somehow managed to lose her top although no one had touched her. With a growl of her own Gypsy clambered up onto the stage. She herded the contestants backstage with the businesslike skill of a sheepdog. Lamar and Jamie, with Mary between them, somehow managed to follow.
Backstage Gypsy rounded on the whimpering she. “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know your own cycles?”
“I thought it was next week.” Her heat transformed her voice into a throaty growl. Her nose found Jamie, and she panted, wagging her butt like a tail. Lamar oozed between them. “Nice try, chica, but no cigar-substitutes for you. He’s engaged. What do we do with her? We don’t let them at her, they’ll tear the place apart.”
“There’s only one thing we can do, this late in the game,” Gypsy snarled. “This is why Dante built in the woods. Help me get her to the back door.”
They weren’t a defensive line in Bo Ewing’s league, but together Gypsy, Jamie, Mary and Lamar got the moaning she-wolf to the woods. Once outside she instantly shifted and announced her condition with a full-throated howl. Glass shattered; wolves came pouring out the windows and through the open doors. The she-wolf raced into the woods, trailing her siren scent, with her flood of drunken beaux in hot pursuit.
“So?” Lamar said to Jamie once the wave had passed. “You going or what?”
“What for? She ain’t my type. She’s, you know, female.” He rubbed his crotch, which throbbed painfully. “Dammit. Now I’m horny as hell.”
“I’ve got just the thing for that. You ladies want to join us?”
Mary’s hands said something. Lamar winced. “Such language. You eat with those hands?”
“I’d better get back inside,” Gypsy said, “and see about damage control.” She hurried away with Mary in tow.
“I’m never letting you drag me here again,” Jamie said as he allowed Lamar to lead him into the woods. “Every dang time something bad happens. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you set this up.”
“Me? Hell no. Wish I had, though. And now, my little contestant winner, are you ready for your prize from the judge?”