User:Throat Wolf/An Ocelot of Trouble
|Vore/Neko Campus story universe|
|This story contains adult content.|
An Ocelot of Trouble
|An Ocelot of Trouble|
|Series:||Lucy & Tina (#4)|
|Setting/Universe:||Vore/Neko Project Campus|
|This is a vorarephilia (vore) story, in which people get eaten for erotic purposes. Unlike many vorarephila stories, my flavor of vore is entirely non-lethal; I'm not interested in snuff. However, if vore is not your thing, you probably will not enjoy this regardless. It also features some elements of bondage.|
Lucy smiled as she rode the elevator up to Tina's apartment, coming home from a day of classes. She was still thrilled with the visit to her family. It had been good to see them again, even if they had been a bit uncertain what to make of her and Tina.
Of course, she hadn't been able to explain everything, and as a result she was pretty sure that her mother now believed her to be a lesbian. And it wasn't as if she could explain, No, mother, I have absolutely no desire to have sex with Tina. It's just that she owns me now.
Tina wasn't anywhere about as she came in, which was fine with her. It was nice to have a little time to herself now and then without her domineering mistress around. If Tina was there, it would be all "Oh, wanna pet my kitty. Come here, kitty" and she'd have to drop whatever she was doing and go.
Not that she minded it so much, by and large. It was kind of nice to shed the responsibilities of adulthood, to revert to being a helpless little thing under someone else's care. And Tina was good at taking care of her. But it was also nice to have a little time when she could be herself again, every now and then.
Lucy wandered over to the TV and was about to see what was on, when the voicemail light on the answering machine caught her eye. She hit the play button, and the message drove all thoughts of television from her mind.
"Lucy?" It was her mother. "Call me as soon as you get this. Cindy's gone missing. She hadn't been able to get becoming a cat-person out of her head since your visit, and we think she may have been trying to hitchhike to where you are. Have you or Tina heard from her? Call me."
As soon as the message was over, Lucy was dialing Tina's cellphone number.
Tina answered the phone as she always did, with a cheerful, "Meow!"
"Tina, Lucy. Mom left a message on the machine. Cindy's gone missing. Mom thinks she might be coming here. Have you heard from her?"
Tina sounded strangely calm. "Missing? No—she hasn't called me."
"I was afraid of that. I'm gonna call Mom back and let her know."
"Good idea, hon. I'll be home in a few minutes."
Lucy hung up and dialed her mother, and talked for several minutes. The last time anyone had seen Cindy was at the end of school, two days earlier. She had been seen waiting for the bus, but nobody on the bus had seen her get on it. It wasn't too far from Cindy's school to the Greyhound station, but nobody remembered seeing her there either. Inquiries were proceeding in all appropriate directions.
Then Tina was there. She came over, gathered Lucy into her arms, and gave her a hug. "Worried?"
"Uh-huh." Lucy said. "If something's happened to Cindy…" She sighed. "Maybe I should just have let you digest her after all. At least then she'd still be here with us."
Tina shook her head. "You don't mean that, kitten. You're just second-guessing yourself again. You really need to break that habit. I'm sure that before long, Cindy will turn up safe and sound." She smiled. "Now I'm going to go slip out of my street clothes and take a shower, then I'll call some of my friends at the Agency and see if they've heard anything. Back in two shakes of a kitty's tail!" She shook her own tail to illustrate, before letting Lucy go and bounding to the bedroom.
It was several minutes before Lucy thought to wonder why Tina's friends at the largely college-local Agency might have heard anything about a girl going missing in Saint Louis.
Just as Tina came out of the bathroom with a towel on her head, the phone rang again. Lucy, being nearer, scooped it up. "Mrrrowdy there?" she said nervously.
It was her mother again. "We just got—she just sent us—I've forwarded—"
"Mom, calm down. Slow down. What did you just get?"
"A video file. From Cindy. I've forwarded it to your email." Her mother sounded badly shaken. "I can't believe—just don't know what to do!"
"Um. From Cindy? What did it—no wait. Never mind. I'll go watch it and call you back, okay?"
"What was that about?" Tina asked
"Apparently Cindy's emailed them a video file. They've forwarded it to me."
Tina looked more puzzled than she'd sounded on the phone. "What, a ransom demand?"
"I don't know. I'm going to check my email and watch it now."
Lucy called the email up on her computer, and clicked on the Quicktime attachment. The movie opened, and there was Cindy. Only…not quite the Cindy they'd met in Saint Louis. She was now covered in fuzzy fur in the spotted and striped pattern of an ocelot, and cat's ears poked up through the red hair, which was now more a sort of reddish gold.
"Oh! She's adorable!" Tina purred. "Even more adorable than before!"
"How in the nine hells…?" Lucy gasped.
"Ah, hi, Mom, Doug," Cindy said, sounding distinctly embarrassed. An ear twitched nervously. "As you've probably guessed, I sorta found a way to become a kitty. Or…the way sorta found me. These guys came to my school and somehow they managed to snatch me right out of the bus waiting line. I couldn't even scream. Next thing I knew, it was just like Lucy said. I was in these weird labs being injected with stuff, floating in a glass tank, and all."
Lucy glanced over at Tina. Something in Tina's expression wasn't quite right, but she couldn't quite place her finger on it. She was starting to get an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"And then I woke up and I was the kitty I wanted to be! Yay! Um…but then there's the bad news. Turns out this rich guy had already placed an order for a kitty like me, and as soon as I came to, they told me about how, because of some silly old executive order, I now belonged to him, and they'd send the MIA after me if I wasn't a nice little kitty for him."
Tina was growling under her breath. "Why those sons of bitches. Those total sons of bitches! They weren't supposed to sell her!"
Lucy started at Tina. "Um…'supposed to'?"
"But the good news is, I met him and he's really nice! He's not creepy at all like the people you hear about on the Internet. Turns out he just wanted me as a friend for his daughter. She's really nice, too, though kind of a brat."
Someone off-camera yelled petulantly, "I am not!" and Cindy ducked as a vase flew through the frame where her head had been and smashed on the wall behind her. "Sorry! I take it back, she's completely and totally not a brat at all!"
"Anyway, it's really nice here, and I'm OK, and he's said you can maybe come see me after I get settled in. I'm sorry for making you all worry 'bout me. Please don't worry any more. I'm okay, and they're taking good care of me!
"Bye now!" Cindy winked, and the video ended.
Lucy was still staring at Tina. "Well…it's nice she got her wish to be a kitty, at least," Tina said weakly.
"You know something. Don't you." It was more of an accusation than a question.
Tina got to her feet, ignoring Lucy's statement. "But executive order or not, if they think they can get away with selling your sister, they've got another think coming. I'm going to go right down to the Project Neko office right now—"
Lucy stood, and moved in front of Tina. To Lucy's own astonishment, she was beginning to growl. She'd never ever growled at her mistress before. Tina seemed similarly taken aback. "Er…hon?"
Lucy bit off the words, fire in her eyes. "What. Do. You. Know." She sank into a crouch, her ears back and her tail lashing. Even if Tina was three feet taller and twice her mass, Lucy was positive she could at least make her know she'd been walloped.
Tina seemed to deflate. "It wasn't supposed to happen like this!" she insisted. "I was only doing what you'd said—if I could find a way for her to become a kitty without being eaten."
"Uh-huh…" Lucy prompted flatly, not leaving the crouch.
"So I called in some favors. She was supposed to be kidnapped, kittified, then held for me to pick up. I'd send her back home in her new furry pelt and life would go on."
"Uh-huh…" Lucy said again, still holding deathly still in the crouch.
"But they were't supposed to sell her to someone!" Tina said, anguished. "I don't know how it happened, but I swear to you I will find out and bust some heads over it! And then find out where Cindy's gone and go get her back!"
"Who gave you the right to decide Cindy should become a neko?" Lucy growled slowly.
"It's what she wanted—" Tina protested feebly.
"She's not old enough to be able to make that choice!" Lucy said. "She's not old enough to drink, have sex, or vote, either—kids that age don't know enough to choose responsibly! Why should she be old enough to…to change her entire body?"
"Would you rather she kept trying to find someone to eat her?" Tina retorted.
"And whose fault is it she knows about that to begin with?" Lucy shot back.
"Look, hon, this is not getting us any closer to getting Cindy back," Tina said, placatingly. "Let me go down to the project and bust some heads. We will find out where we need to go to rescue Cindy, and then…go rescue her. What could be simpler?"
Lucy growled again. "Do you not realize why what you did was wrong? Are you really that far gone? Let me know right now, because if I can't trust your judgment in this, there's no way I can trust it enough to continue to leave my life in your hands. I will go cut this damn collar right off, and then agent or not, mistress or not, and regardless of how much bigger you are than me, I damn well will kick your ass from here to Cleveland."
Tina visibly wilted. "But—you're the one who said—"
Lucy sighed. "I know what I said. But I wasn't thinking clearly at the time. I just…didn't want you eating her, and any alternative seemed better than that at the time. And I guess I assumed you'd actually discuss possibilities with me, not go all 'easier to ask forgiveness than permission.'"
Tina sighed wryly. "My superiors keep having that problem with me too."
Lucy fingered the small padlock that held her collar on. With the adrenaline she was on right now, she felt like she could almost twist it apart with her bare hands. "So, the question stands."
Tina looked down. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm a better mistress than a mother. Sometimes I just want to give children whatever they ask for, if they've been good. It was in my power to give this to Cindy, and so I did. And I liked you so much that I just imagined Cindy with fur being like…like having another you."
Lucy sighed. She just couldn't find it in herself to be angry at her mistress for long. Perhaps the housecat instincts that drove so much of her life these days were to blame. Even so, this latest fiasco was just a bridge too far. "If one hair on Cindy's head—" she sighed "—or, hell, on her entire damn pelt is harmed because of this, I swear I'll be making a new lionskin rug for the den."
Tina looked down. "If Cindy is hurt, I'll let you. I still don't know why they sold her." Then she looked up again, her hangdog (hangcat?) look replaced by grim determination. "But I certainly intend to find out."
Tina swivelled on a heel and stalked back to the bedroom. She did something to the bedpost, and the wall and floor section with the chest of drawers on it swivelled on a hidden "lazy susan" to reveal a rack of guns of various sizes. Tina started taking them down, checking the action, and dropping them in her purse.
Lucy stared from the doorway. "Do I get a gun, too?"
"You're not coming."
"Like hell I'm not. Whose sister is she again?"
Tina frowned. "Well, then—have you had firearm safety training?"
"Then no, you don't need a gun yet. But remind me to give you that training as soon as possible." She smiled faintly. "My kitty needs to be able to protect herself when I'm not around. And it'll help you make that rug if you need to."
Other times Lucy might have softened at Tina's display of self-pity, but she steeled herself against it this time. This was the woman she'd trusted with her life, who had gotten her younger sister kidnapped and sold to be some rich man's daughter's toy. It was going to take more than a little whining to get back in her good graces.
"Right. You can tag along, but stay back. I don't want you to be in any danger."
"Need I remind you, my ten-year-old sister is the one who was just sold into slavery—"
Tina sighed. "Come along, then."
The Neko Project offices were not far away. They did not advertise what they were with anything so obvious as a sign, of course, but there was no mistaking the buildings where Lucy and Tina had been quickened into felinity. Despite herself, Lucy shuddered at approaching them again. The muddled memories of her time here still gave her nightmares; this was the place that had taken a foot and a half of her height, after all. But no matter how angry she was at Tina, she still felt comforted by the lion's armed presence.
They stopped just up the block from the building. "You should stay here while I go in, alone."
"No. Way. In. Hell," Lucy said firmly.
"Seriously," Tina said. "They know me in there, as an agent. They don't know you as anything but another experiment. It would look wrong—and certain people might talk more freely to me alone."
"I don't care. This is the place that sold my sister, and I'm going to be there!
Tina shook her head. "I had hoped I wouldn't have to do this, but—" she blurred into two separate people: herself, and a muscular, night-black jaguar neko—also female. Like Lucy, the jaguar wore no clothing. She wouldn't have needed it; it would have been a travesty on her perfect form.
Tina nodded toward Lucy. "Don't let her leave this spot. Eat her if you have to—but if you do, don't you dare digest her."
The jaguar growled and nodded, grabbing Lucy by the arms with a grip that felt like steel bands. No matter how she squirmed, she couldn't break it. "Why you—"
"It's for your own good," Tina said sadly. "And that of your sister. I'll be right back." She turned and started to go, then paused, turned back, and reached into her purse. She tossed a pistol through the air, and the jaguar easily, almost lazily plucked it out of the air with one hand. Her grip with the other hand was still unbreakable.
"Protect her," Tina added. The jaguar nodded. Then Tina was gone, up the block and through the doors.
As Tina left, the jaguar looked around, then dragged Lucy off the sidewalk to a space between some bushes and the side of the building—more defensible, Lucy assumed. The jaguar shoved Lucy to the ground and knelt with one knee on the small of her back—not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to keep her pinned. "Oof," Lucy complained.
"Shh," the jaguar said, raising her head so her eyes were just above the flat trimmed tops of the topiary and looking around. Lucy sighed and subsided, while plotting the revenges she would have on Tina for this—starting small, with tying all her shoelaces together, and working up.
She had just gotten to staking Tina out on an African anthill and pouring a jar of honey over her head when she heard Tina whisper, "Back. Any trouble?" The jaguar shook her head. "Good. I've got the ID of the buyer."
The jaguar faded away. The pistol didn't—and it fell toward Lucy's head. Lucy had just enough time to wonder if the jaguar had held it in that position knowing that would happen when Tina swiped the gun out of the air inches from her cranium.
Lucy was ready to give Tina the tail-biting of her life, but curiosity—the dominant trait of felines everywhere—reasserted itself instead. "Who was that?" she asked, rubbing her back.
"Her name is Sapphira. Sorry about her." Tina dropped the gun back into her purse. "She doesn't like me very much, and that's putting it mildly." She offered an arm to help Lucy up, and Lucy took it.
"But she works for you?"
"She's part of me. She doesn't have any choice. And she's a good fighter, I have to give her that."
Lucy shivered. "And if I let you eat me—I wouldn't have any choice either?"
"Well…I could make you do stuff if I wanted you to," Tina said. "It's part of why I only want you willingly, hon. I want it to be a gesture of trust in me that I wouldn't do something like that…" She sighed at the expression on Lucy's face. "Yeah, I know. Getting further away all the time, isn't it?"
"Uh…yeah." In the interest of changing the subject, Lucy asked, "Anyway, who's the buyer?"
"We're lucky. It's someone local. A stockbroker named Pritchard. Made his fortune as a young punk by short-selling back during the 2008 financial meltdown, then investing cleverly after that. He lives just across town." She rummaged in her purse for her phone. "I'm going to call a taxi."
"Did you find out why they sold her?"
"Yeah." Tina shook her head. "Damned bureaucracy. This guy had put a buy order in for a neko of that approximate age a few months ago. But the snatch wagons almost never bother with anyone that young, and they don't take special orders. So the order hung around in the system until I caused the snatchers to make an exception for Cindy. And since it was a pre-existing order, it had priority over my catch-and-release order."
"Well, I guess that explains it," Lucy said. "Well, let's go beard the lion, so to speak."
"I resemble that remark," Tina said, as the taxi pulled up.
"And this time, no leaving me behind,, got it?"
"I would not think of it," Tina said virtuously.
"Pretty well-guarded, isn't it?" Lucy asked. Their cab had circled the block so they could take a good look at the enclosed estate, before dropping them off a half-mile up the road. The estate took up an entire city block, with 9-foot-high walls with spikes set into the top. There were security cameras every few yards, and armed guards at the gates.
"I've seen better," Tina said as they walked back toward the estate. "And I already know how we're going to get in."
"Oh yeah? How're we gonna do it?"
And Tina split into herself and Sapphira again. "First of all, you're going to try to climb over the wall…"
Lucy walked up the sidewalk to the estate, a rope coiled over her shoulder with a grappling hook on the end, not making any attempt to hide. She knew that she was showing up on the security cameras, and was positive that instructions to watch out for her were being relayed to the guards at the gate up the street. That was good.
As she reached the spot Tina had pointed out to her, she uncoiled the rope from her shoulder, swung the grapnel around her head, and tossed it upward at the top of the wall. Of course, she missed. The wall was over twice as tall as she was. But she kept trying. The important thing was to look like she was breaking in.
"Hey, you! Hold it!" The shout came from the direction of the gate. The guards were running toward her. Lucy carefully judged the distances. Tina had said to run when they got to right…about…there. Lucy broke and ran for the alley across the street which the lengthening evening shadows had filled with a dusky murk. Being careful to be seen doing it, she dived behind a dumpster.
As they had hoped, the guards took the bait. "Stop right there!" Lucy chuckled. It was just as Tina had said. Pritchard hired cheap rent-a-cops, not professional guards; apparently he put most of his trust in his security cameras. Well, there were areas those couldn't reach—and as they entered the alley, the gate guards learned this fact too late.
Lucy peered worriedly at the lion and jaguar who were sitting against the alley wall, next to each other, cradling identically swollen bellies. She had to admit, she wasn't sure how she felt about her part in consigning two more human beings to voracious neko bellies. But on the other hand, they were the key to rescuing her sister…
Tina purred happily. "It's great to be able to snack on the job, eh Saph?"
The jaguar just growled sullenly.
Tina snorted. "Oh, get over yourself, will you? You have to admit you deserved it."
"Um, I hate to rush you guys," Lucy said, "but don't you think you'd better go ahead and, well…do what you do? They'll get suspicious if they don't see those guards come back out soon."
Tina stifled a belch. "Hm, well, I do hate to rush a meal, but…I guess there's not much choice." Her belly began to make wet gurgling noises, and the struggling inside ceased. Sapphira followed suit, and gradually, both guards were absorbed into the predators. Once her belly was back to normal, Tina stroked it gently, swishing her tail. "Ready when you are, Sapph."
A few moments later, Lucy was frog-marched out of the alley by two security guards, who led her up to the gate and said into the intercom, "We caught her. She says her sister is in the compound."
"Give me Cindy back, you bastards!" Lucy shouted for the benefit of whoever was on the other end.
"Bring her in," the man on the other end of the intercom responded with a sigh. "I should probably see her. It's just about time for your relief to take over anyway."
"Yessir." The guard who was actually Tina keyed the access code to open the gate, and they led Lucy inside and up the long gravelled path to the mansion.
Not having to concentrate on being authentic, Lucy was free to look around at the surroundings, and she had to admit it would be a nice place to be a kitty in. Plenty of green grass to run around in, water to play and fish in. There was even a playground that she knew ten-year-olds would appreciate. And all that with high walls and security to keep out the vores and other hazards of life near the projects.
The mansion was no disappointment, either. It seemed to grow taller the closer they came to it: an immense white domicile rising three stories, with smaller wings to other side forming a sort of sideways "C". As they approached the front door, two other guards passed them going the other way, heading for the gate. Lucy stuck her tongue out at them, but they did not show any sign of noticing.
Inside, the mansion was just as impressive as out. It was furnished with rich, wooden panelling and furniture, and everything was polished until it seemed to shine with a deep inner glow. "His office is upstairs," the Tina-guard whispered to Lucy. She gave the tiniest of nods.
They walked up a long curving staircase, with an equally long railing that looked like it would be great fun to slide along. Might have to try that on my way out, Lucy thought. I wonder if Cindy's tried it yet?
There was another stairway through a door, though not as fancy as the one they'd just come up. The guards marched Lucy up that one, and stopped at the door opposite it.
The Tina-guard nodded to the Sapphira-guard, and she took up a position next to the door, guarding it. Then Tina brought Lucy into the room and closed the door behind her.
The man behind the desk was in his 40s or well-preserved 50s. He had an oval face, dark-brown hair, and brown eyes; he was clean-shaven except for a trace of five o'clock shadow. It was hard to tell from behind the desk, but he looked like he might have a decently-sized "spare tire."
"Ah—you'd be Lucy, right?" the man said. "Jim Pritchard, pleased to meet you. Please have a seat." He gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk.
"I'll stand," Lucy growled. "Where's my sister? What have you done to her?"
Pritchard shrugged. "As you will." He then noticed the guard in the room. "That will be all, Carson; you can go now."
The guard shimmered and grew into Tina's natural form, eyes blazing and tail switching. "Thanks, but I think I'll stay," she purred. "If it's all the same to you."
Lucy had to give Pritchard credit. He was badly startled, but controlled himself very quickly. "All right, stay then." He pressed a button on his desk intercom. "Vanessa, sweetie, could you and Cindy come to my office? Her sister is here."
A ten-year-old voice came from the intercom. "Okay, daddy!" And right before it cut off, Lucy heard Cindy's voice in the background asking, "Lucy's he—?"
"I have got to know," Lucy growled. "What sort of person buys a ten-year-old neko as a plaything for his daughter? What's wrong with a normal housecat? I mean, a creep like you could even afford purebreds!"
"I'd rather like to know that myself," Tina purred dangerously.
Pritchard looked at Lucy, who was glaring, then up at Tina, who was glaring as only a seven-foot anthropomorphic lioness can glare, and mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. "No, no, you don't understand. I didn't buy her as a plaything…"
There was the sound of something fragile breaking in the hall outside, and a hasty, "Sorreee!" Then the door slammed open and a small tawny shape bounded into the room—a lioness, Tina in miniature. Ignoring the other people, she bounced up to the desk. "Daddeeeee!"
Cindy the ocelot neko dashed in a moment later. "No fair, you had a head start! And you left all that broken glass I had to run around!" She paused. "Oh—Lucy, Tina! Hi! How ya like my new look?"
Pritchard shrugged helplessly, glancing from his daughter to Lucy and Tina. "…I bought her as a playmate."
After a couple of minutes of girlish squealing, Pritchard told the kids to run along again. "You can talk with Lucy and—" he glanced at the computer on his desk "—Tina later, okay?"
As they turned to go, the little lioness suddenly noticed their guests, and she stared at Tina. "Whoa! Am I gonna look like that when I grow up?"
"If you always clean your plate and eat lots of healthy food," Tina said.
"Among other things," Lucy muttered.
After the kids had scampered away again (to the sound of more breakage in the hall outside), Lucy turned her attention back to Pritchard. "All right, let me rephrase my question," she said slowly. "What sort of person makes his ten year old daughter into a neko?"
"You don't understand," Pritchard said again. "I didn't…I couldn't…" He sighed. "Ever since my wife died, I've never been able to deny my daughter anything she wanted."
Thinking of Cindy's reaction to her and Tina's own furriness, Lucy realized she understood better than she thought she would. "And she saw some of the campus neko crowd…"
"And wanted to be one, too." Pritchard shrugged. "I have friends on the Project Neko board. I pulled some strings. They thought I was crazy, but…Nessie loved me for it. And I like to think it makes her safer, too, since the kind of people who'd use my daughter against me will think she's just a pet. But the thing is, since then…"
"She's gotten wilder," Tina said. "She's got the same instincts I do, in kid-size."
"That must explain it," Pritchard says. "She…runs all over the house. She isn't as careful as she ought to be. And, well…she's a bit…all right, no, she's a lot…"
"Spoiled?" Lucy suggested.
Pritchard nodded. "I guess I'm just not much of a father…not here for her as much as I should be. Not able to discipline her like I should. I'd hoped that having a neko playmate her own age would calm her down a little, so when one became available…"
"But it hasn't helped, has it?" asked Lucy.
"No. And that's why I've just now decided to try something else." Pritchard was really sweating now.
"What's tha—" Lucy began. Then Tina's cellphone rang.
Tina picked it up. "Yes?" She listened a moment, then she stared at the phone as if she had just realized she was holding a poisonous snake to her face. "I'm what?! But you can't do that! I'm an active-duty agent, it's always my choice—what?" She stared some more. "Discharged? As of when?" She listened some more. "As of five minutes ago." She looked like she wanted to grind the phone into fine powder now, but stopped. "Yes, she's here…oh, her too, huh? How is that even possible? …oh. Right. Yeah, you have a nice day, too." She hung up the phone and dropped it into her purse.
"What is it?" Lucy asked.
"Apparently, as of just a few minutes ago, you and I are both the property of one Mr. Jimmy Pritchard. They discharged me from the Agency, and your papers were still on file with them even though they'd stopped actively trying to sell you. So, they were able to transfer ownership of both of us over to him. All legal and by-the-book, executive order yadda yadda." Tina sounded strangely calm. It was the calm before the storm that grew into a hurricane and sank Cuba.
Lucy turned back to Pritchard. "All right, then, what the hell do you call this?"
"You know, we don't have to sit here and listen to this." Tina stalked forward. "Funny thing…I know I just ate, but I'm suddenly getting hungry again."
Pritchard mopped his face with a handkerchief that was clearly soaked through. "I, uh, wouldn't do that. Really." He gestured to a camera in the upper-right corner of the room. "The Agency's watching, live. They'll know. You'll be a renegade—" he glanced at his computer monitor "—like your friend Sapphira."
Tina growled and backed down. "What do you want."
"It's…like this," Pritchard said. "I really wanted to just hire you."
Tina stared at him. "Hire me?"
"Yes. As a, um, nanny for my kids. And, frankly, bodyguard. I've made plenty of enemies."
"No, really, a sweet thing like you?" Lucy scoffed.
"But the problem was, as long as the Agency owned you…they could turn around and sell you to someone else—one of my competitors, maybe—right out from under me. And there wouldn't be a thing I could do about it."
Tina growled thoughtfully. "You know, I tend to forget that the Agency still owns us agents. I thought the prior approval on sale was supposed to protect us…but apparently there's a loophole."
"So now you belong to me—both of you. But, see—I'm content to let that be in name only, as long as you'll work for me. I'll pay you both a top wage—especially Tina. You'll be free to do whatever you like, go wherever you like, on your off hours. And after five years, I'll give you your papers and you'll be free in fact. And Cindy, too."
"And if we say no?" Lucy asked.
"I'll still own you in fact." He sighed. "I won't be able to make you do anything you don't want to do, but the Agency will at least help me keep you."
"So, in other words, the proverbial 'offer we can't refuse,'" Tina purred. "Intriguing." She had gone from being angry to being very thoughtful, and it was starting to worry Lucy.
"Why don't you just give us our papers now and then let us decide if we want the job?" Lucy asked.
Pritchard looked desperate. He mopped with his handkerchief again, though all he was doing now was pushing sweat around. Then he sighed and looked down. "Because I'm afraid you'll say no."
He looked at Tina. "I'm sorry for this, but…can't you see how much I need you?" In the distance, there was another crash of something fragile breaking—something fragile that went on breaking for several seconds—and all three of them winced. "I'm afraid I won't have any mansion left in another month. And Vanessa really needs a firm hand—the kind that I can't give her."
"You've got to be kidding me," Lucy muttered.
"Hmm. I think it sounds like a reasonably fair deal, actually," Tina said. "But I'd insist on having our papers after one year, not five."
"What?!" Lucy sputtered, staring at Tina.
"Three years," Pritchard said.
"Two," Tina said.
"All right, done," Pritchard agreed.
"And we'd want frequent home visits for Lucy and Cindy, and visits here for her family. At least every other weekend."
Pritchard nodded. "Of course. They can use my private jet. Vanessa could even go along, it would do her good to get out of the mansion."
"And I want a free hand in disciplining the kids," Tina went on. "As long as I don't cause them lasting harm, I do whatever I like to them."
Pritchard winced. "Like, um…what?"
"Spankings, most times," Tina said. "For times that spanking won't cut it, certain other means. Nothing that will cause them lasting harm, I promise—but you'd probably rather not know my methods."
"Well…" Pritchard's train of thought was interrupted by a loud "Wheeee!" and then a crash that shook dust from the chandelier above them. They all looked up at it for a moment.
Pritchard sighed. "If you can straighten Nessie out…do whatever it takes."
"I think I can do exactly that. In fact…it'll be fun!" Tina grinned for the first time since they'd gotten there—a genuine toothy smile that brightened up the room and made any nearby rodent run for cover.
"Hey, wait a minute," Lucy said. "Don't I get some kind of say in this? I don't want to be stuck belonging to this guy for two years."
Tina turned to her. "Well, you already belong to me. So if this is all right with me, it should be all right with you, too!" Her grin broadened. "Besides, weren't you the one wondering the other day if the millionaire program would take you back?"
"I was only kidding!" Lucy wailed.
"See if you say that after he buys you a whole wardrobe full of diamond collars."
Lucy rolled her eyes. "You just want the job because it appeals to your maternal instincts."
Tina chuckled, and swept Lucy into her arms in a hug. "Why would you think that? I have you for that." Lucy squirmed and blushed (and thanked fate that she was a neko, for once, since the fur largely kept it from showing) until Tina set her down again.
"So if we're all in agreement, why don't you go down and start spending time with the children?" There was another rattling CRASH! "…while I still have some mansion left?" Pritchard started looking for a dry handkerchief.
"All right, I'll be glad to. You can send someone for our things tomorrow; let me know if there are any other details to work out. Ciao-meow!" Tina grinned, turned, and loped from the room.
Lucy watched her go for a moment, then turned back to Pritchard. "You know, I don't think I like you very much right now. But I have to admit, I don't think I've seen her that happy before."
"That's good, right?" Pritchard asked, finding a fresh handkerchief.
Lucy sighed, remembering the reason they'd come to the mansion in the first place. "And the hell of it is, we got so wrapped up in arguing about us, we just took it for granted you get to keep Cindy. God, what am I gonna tell Mom?"
She groaned, and followed Tina downstairs.
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