Ray was reading the morning paper when a pair of panties appeared in the middle of the sports section. They were purple, sheer lace, and, if he recalled, a size 5. He recognized them immediately.
“These yours?” Crow Horse asked. “I ain’t never seen you in them. Not that I don’t want to, mind.”
“You went through my stuff?” Ray asked without looking up. He resisted the urge to touch the lace; his fingers remembered the feel of it, and twitched.
“Don’t try to squirm around the question. I was looking for my gloves you stole—”
“Borrowed,” Ray muttered, finally looking up.
“—and I thought maybe they’d be in your dresser—”
“In a box way in the back under everything. A locked box.”
“Lock wasn’t what you’d call sound,” Crow Horse said, but Ray thought he looked a little uncomfortable. “You gonna tell me about your undies, or what?”
“They’re not mine,” Ray said irritably. He set the paper down, and—gingerly, like they might be hot—picked the panties up. They were soft and familiar in his fist.
“So you stole someone else’s britches?”
Ray blushed. “They were—they were more a gift.”
Crow Horse was just staring at him. Ray sighed. “Jessie,” he said. “That was her real name.”
Crow Horse’s brow rose. “Real name? What was she, a—”
“She was a dancer.”
“Ballerina wears fancy underpants like that?”
Ray blushed darker. “No. She was . . . she was an exotic dancer.”
Crow Horse’s jaw hung a little loose, and Ray felt a flash of pride for shocking him. “You dated a stripper, Ray?”
“Yeah,” Crow Horse mocked. “You can’t just leave it at that; you owe me a story.”
After you broke into my stuff? Ray thought, but he went on with it, anyway. “I was working undercover, lower level management for the mob. There was a gentleman’s club on my route, and she worked there.”
“And you liked her.”
Ray’s blush was becoming serious, strawberry-red and all the way down to the triangle of chest visible under his undershirt. “Yeah. I liked her a lot.”
“Obvious she liked you okay, too,” Crow Horse said, “since she gave you her crazy underthings and all.”
“Yeah, we—we had an affair. It—it’s one of my biggest regrets.”
Crow Horse’s brow creased. “Cuz she was a stripper?”
“What? No—God no, of course not. Because—because I was undercover. And when I left her—when I had to leave her—I had to do it without ever telling her the truth.”
Crow Horse feathered his fingers through Ray’s hair, and Ray found himself leaning into the touch. Crow Horse bent down and kissed his cheek, and then stayed low, speaking softly against Ray’s cheekbone.
“Well, sweetheart, it was for her own protection, eyah? You did good by her.”
Ray wanted to argue, but Crow Horse was kissing him; Crow Horse’s hand was sneaking down under his undershirt, the touch rough but fond. Ray felt his grip on the panties loosen, and he relaxed against Crow Horse.
Crow Horse chuckled. “Still like to see you in them britches, though, Ray.”
Ray bit him, and then dragged him into the bedroom. The panties stayed on the kitchen counter.