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The Thief and the Hound

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It was a gray, drizzly day, and Sansa was immensely looking forward to a night in, cooking dinner at Sandor’s house and then snuggling on the couch together. Sandor picked her up on the way to the supermarket – they’d decided to plan the menu in the store depending on what looked good. They ended up with steak and a green tossed salad, along with early sweet corn from a warmer climate, and delectable-looking lemon bars from the bakery for dessert. Sansa had been worried that she’d be nervous and shy, but they didn’t have trouble talking to each other at all. Now all she had to do was figure out how to keep it that way, and how to get them talking about subjects more important than dinner and nature documentaries. After all, they were engaged now.

Still, the teasing was fun, even flirtatious. The light conversation kept up through shopping until Sandor pulled his truck into his driveway.

“But have you seen the documentary where they interview the scientists getting ready to clone a direwolf?” she asked.

He snorted. “That’s crazy. Nobody’s going to clone a direwolf.”

“They are too,” she insisted. “Let’s watch that.”

He opened his door. “Why, are you planning to steal the clone?”

“Ha ha, very funny.”

She jumped out of the truck with her backpack and the bakery box before he could come around to help her. In the supermarket, he’d insisted on carrying everything. She didn’t want him to think she expected that kind of service all the time.

That would’ve been fine if it wasn’t for her shoes. She’d gone a little crazy with the shoes lately. After months of Joffrey shooting her dirty looks when she wore anything but flats, she’d been dying for an occasion to break out some of her old, favorite shoes with heels. For “quiet dinner date at home,” she’d selected jeans, a white flowing top, and her gorgeous half-black, half-gray pumps. The four-inch heels shouldn’t have been too much, but it was misting and it had rained earlier, and the path to the front door was muddy. When she looked back to see if Sandor was behind her, her feet slipped out from under her. She squeaked and tried to balance herself, but with her hands full, she plopped down in a mud puddle.

“Ohhh, not the lemon bars!” Didn’t that just figure? She must be the picture of grace and style, as always.

“Are you okay, little bird?” Sandor squatted down, his voice so full of concern that it was almost worth taking the spill so she could hear it.

“Fine, fine. I’m just wet and cold.” The fall hadn’t hurt at all, so that was one bonus compared to the spill she’d taken in Storm’s End’s kitchen. On the other hand, when she got on her knees to let Sandor boost her up, mud squelched through her favorite pair of jeans. Ugh.

Sandor picked up her backpack and now ruined box of lemon bars. “I thought you didn’t get cold. Why didn’t you let me carry this crap?”

“I can carry things.” Although apparently not. “I swear on the old gods and the new, I will learn to walk in heels again.”

“Maybe. You sure look damn good in them.”

When she stretched, she could just reach to give him a kiss on the cheek. And that right there was the point of the tall shoes.

When Sandor unlocked the door, Stranger started his desperate, lonely barking. It was a ruse and she knew it. She’d never met such an indulged dog, and she’d once bought Lady bacon-infused wine for dogs in both red and white because she wasn’t sure which one Lady would like best. Sandor took his puppy out first thing after carting in the groceries, leaving Sansa to get cleaned up. Which posed her a bit of a dilemma.

She’d packed a backpack full of overnight clothes, but she hadn’t actually told Sandor that she was bringing stuff to stay the night. She hadn’t known how to bring it up. She didn’t want to invite herself, as that would be rude, but on the other hand, she didn’t think he’d have any objections to her sleeping over. But maybe she was moving too fast. Her plan had been to bring her things but not say anything about it and let the night lead where it would. Except now, wet denim was tightening on her legs, and she couldn’t sit on any furniture without getting it dirty.

She paced in a circle, trying to figure out what to do next. This was ridiculous. She was completely overthinking this. She was uncomfortable, and she had dry, warm pajamas in her backpack. He hadn’t asked her what the backpack was for, so maybe he’d guessed? Anxiety fluttered under her ribs. He wouldn’t want her to be uncomfortable. Steeling her courage, she marched into the bathroom and peeled off her wet clothes. This would be okay. He wasn’t going to find it presumptuous. She was fortunate, really, that she’d planned ahead. That’s exactly what Sandor would say when he saw her in the silky, lace-trimmed matched pajama set – she was fortunate that she’d planned ahead. Right.

She returned to the living room just as Sandor came in with the dog. He took one look at her and tripped over the ottoman. Heat rushed to her cheeks. Shoot, she’d been moving too fast, and now this was embarrassing. He somehow managed to unleash Stranger and hang up the leash without ever taking his eyes off her.

“I just … well, my clothes were all wet.” He kept staring at her in his blisteringly intent way, making her wonder what that intent was exactly. She was frozen in place, standing in front of the couch, too unsure of herself to move. “So, ha ha, I guess you’re wondering where I got these clothes. Umm, I brought a backpack. You probably noticed that. Did you notice that?”

Somehow, he was in front of her in the blink of an eye. He reached down and gently pushed her hair out of her face. “You’re nervous. Why?”

“I didn’t want to presume anything.”

He grinned, and oh, that was what a lascivious grin looked like. Interesting. He traced his fingers from her temple to her neck and behind her ear. Her pulse danced under his touch, although not so much from nervousness.

“The only thing you need to presume,” he said, “is that dinner is going to be late.”

He leaned down for a soft kiss. It wasn’t pushy at all, but fond and warm and reassuring. After kissing her, he studied her expression. Could he read her well enough by now to know that everything about today was making her very happy?

She was suddenly struck by an idea. “Let’s make a pact,” she said.

His eyebrows rose. “Alright. If that’s what you want. Can we sit on the couch while we do this vow thing?”

“It’s not a vow thing, and yes, of course.” She arranged herself cross-legged on the middle of the couch. He sat next to her and looked her over appreciatively. Her pajamas, she had to admit, were super cute. “I’m proposing an agreement.”

He squeezed her thigh. “Can you sit on my lap while you propose this agreement?”

“Oh, definitely.” That was actually a great segue to her idea. She snuggled herself into his chest on his lap. “Do you like it when I sit on your lap?”

“Always. Any time you want.” He rubbed his short, trimmed beard against her cheek. She was beginning to realize that Sandor could be a very tactile person with the right encouragement, open to nuzzles and cuddles. She scratched his beard and then the back of his neck, making circles with her fingernails. He closed his eyes and tipped his neck to give her better access.

“Mmmm, you’re trying to make me agree to your pact before I even hear it,” he said, but it definitely wasn’t a complaint.

“No. I just got distracted.” That definitely wasn’t an apology. She ran her fingernails up the back of his head and listened to him hum with pleasure. “Do you like that?”

He tried to glare at her suspiciously, but it fell apart as he fought a smile. “Why do you keep asking me that?” he said.

“Because that’s my idea.” A little anxiety spiked through her, but she took a deep breath and persisted. This was a good plan, and he wouldn’t dismiss her outright, and she shouldn’t worry. “I think we should agree to tell each other what we like and what we don’t like.”

He put his lips on her ear. “You want to know what I like,” he said quietly, breathing heat into her, his words leaving an echo that took away her power of speech. So she nodded and kissed him. This was a much deeper kiss, and she opened her mouth to let his tongue touch hers and send electrical shocks down her spine.

But then she broke it off. “Wait, I’m serious.”

“I never said you weren’t.”

“Okay, but …” She was already second-guessing herself. Courage, Sansa. “I’ll start. I like it when you talk to me because I like your voice. You have a sexy voice.”

He froze, because Sandor was absolutely terrible at listening to compliments. He opened his mouth to say something and stopped. Then he slipped his fingers under the lacy shoulder strap of her pajama top. “You’re not wearing a bra under this.”

She felt herself blush. “No, this is pajamas. They’re for, um, sleeping in.”

“I like that.” He pushed down the strap and kissed her bare shoulder. “Your turn.”

“It’s not a game.” He trailed kisses down her chest, and she struggled to keep on topic. “It’s just that I think we should talk to each other more. I really want to know what you’re thinking.”

He splayed his palm over her stomach, skin touching skin. “You want to know what I’m thinking right now?”

“No.” That came out wrong. “I mean, yes, I do. But I also want to know what you’re thinking in general. Like … what’s your favorite color?”

He laughed suddenly, but it wasn’t a mocking laugh. Then he messed up her hair, saying, “This is my favorite color, right here.”

“Oh, you’re so sweet.” She kissed the hollow of his neck, tasting salt and rainwater. “Do we have a pact then?”

“Sure, why not?”

They met each other’s eyes, and before she knew what she was going to say, she blurted out, “This is going to work out, isn’t it?”

He looked away so quickly that she almost missed the worry line creasing his forehead. “I mean, you’re here,” he said. “I like it when you’re here.”

“I like being here.” She snuggled in closer, leaning up against his chest. “I really, really like being here.”

“And I got my job back.” He wrapped his arms around her.

As if that was of the utmost importance. “I’m glad you got your job back, because you deserve it, but I’d love you if you were poor and homeless.”

There it was, the first time she’d told him that she loved him, and it had just sort of slipped out.

He rolled his eyes. “You could do a lot better.”

Gah, he was so stubborn. She poked him in the ribs, but he didn’t even flinch. “You need to learn to take a compliment. Now sit and listen to me. I love you just the way you are.”

He wrapped a strand of her hair around his fingers. “I love you too, Sansa. Just the way you are.”

Warmth and happiness and a feeling of rightness radiated from her heart. Per their pact, she tried to put it into words. “That makes me very happy, you know, hearing you say that.”

He kissed her on the forehead. “Me too, little bird. Me too.”

“So … not super presumptuous of me to bring a sleepover bag?”

He cupped the side of her face and made sure she was looking directly into his eyes. “Never. You belong here. Everything here is yours.”

She ran her hands down his arms, which, my goodness, wasn’t he a powerfully built man? “Everything here is mine, you say?”

She liked that. She liked that a lot.

Dinner was very late that evening. Stranger was the only one who seemed to mind, but he generously allowed Sansa to make it up to him by sneaking him pieces of steak and lulling him to sleep with belly rubs. Dogs understand love, after all.