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Avenger Assembled

Blood Rose

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Blinking back the glare of the sunlight all around him, Jack pushed back his sunglasses and peered up again at the shop name to make sure he had the right address. Flowers By Design had come recommended to him as one of the leading florists in the city, a good, discreet place that wouldn't ask any questions about arranging certain rare flowers in a particular discreet location in the Theatre District, and then making sure all their personnel were cleared out before sunset. Melinda's party had a floral theme.

Walking inside, he looked around, trying to take the unfamiliar place in. "Hello?" he called, reluctantly removing his sunglasses once he stepped inside. He looked pale and blotchy as usual in the sunlight, his handsome face looking like any other night dweller who didn't get out in the sun nearly enough.

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The inside of the shop was a little surprising to someone used to florist who dealt in, well, selling flowers. There were certainly flowers around, pots of cheerful spring blossoms, elegant roses in bud vases, bursts of stargazer lilies arranged in urns, but they weren't in coolers and it didn't look like they were actually for sale. They looked more like decorations in a very high class waiting room. As soon as he stepped to the counter, a smiling woman came out to greet him. The most noticeable thing about her was definitely her hair, which was green as a leaf in the springtime and pulled back in a bun that was ringed with pink daisies. She brought the smell of flowers with her, either as perfume or simply because she'd come from a back room where all the flowers were.

"Welcome to Flowers by Design," Stesha said cheerfully, taking him in with a look. He didn't seem like exactly the type who patronized her establishment, but she didn't like to judge. Sometimes people came in with the wrong idea, wanting to buy a vase of flowers for a girlfriend rather than all the flowers for a large wedding. But she could always steer him to the place down the street. "How can I help you?"

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"Hello," Jack replied, focusing gratefully on the cute chick behind the counter. He was dressed in a casual dress shirt and slacks, the anonymous wear of thousands of men in Freedom City. "You're the establishment that serviced the Macon funeral, is that correct?" When Stesha confirmed his guess, he smiled warmly. "Good, then I'm in the right place. Do you still do custom work, arranging flowers in a particular design?"

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"We absolutely do," Stesha confirmed warmly. "We can create floral themes and viewscapes for any occasion. We have books you can look at to get ideas, or we can work with anything you already have in mind. I'd be happy to help you with that. My name is Stesha," she added, obviously expecting that he would reciprocate with his name. As she did so, she picked up several idea books from behind the counter, stacking them up helpfully.

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"Hello, Stesha," he said with a very warm, friendly smile, "I'm Jack." He leaned over the book with her, enjoying the scent of flowers that arose from her body. "What I need is an arrangement made of night-blooming flowers, especially moonflowers, evening stock, and, ah, Nottingham catchfly." He fished into his jacket pocket to dig out a list. "I was wondering, do you have any rose varieties that bloom at night in particular? I'd like to find a night-blooming barkarose if possible."

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"Night blooming? How unusual," Stesha replied, still smiling. "I'm sure we can find something for you, if we have enough lead time. What sort of time frame and event are we looking at?" Gathering up her books and a small laptop, she stepped out from behind the counter and walked with him over to one of the small tables near the window. "Nottingham catchfly is not, I don't believe, cultivated for the flower trade, mainly because it's not very showy and some people find the smell really objectionable. I'm sure we can find other night bloomers, though, and if you're not averse to dyed flowers, we have created some really stunning black roses in the past."

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"It's to celebrate a birth," Jack replied blandly. "The party is a week from tomorrow in a private residence at Midtown. We would want your people to come in and look the place over the day before, and then install it the day of. Can you do cleanups afterwards, or is that something we'd need to contract through our own resources?"

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"A... birth?" Stesha hesitated, looking up from the notes she was typing. "You want black roses and moonflowers for a baby shower? Are you sure?" She knew it was rude to ask, but she just couldn't help herself. It was the weirdest thing she'd heard in all her years of floristry thus far. "I mean, of course we can arrange with your caterers to take away the arrangements if you like, though most guests choose to keep them. Our arrangement fees include the cost of the glassware, so it's all yours to keep."

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"It's for a friend," said Jack with a quick laugh. "Their request was very specific." He shrugged and grinned, the normal guy dealing with crazy friends. "Oh, so we can keep the fixtures?" He scratched his chin. "In that case, I think we could just hang onto the flowers." He described the venue to her, a two-story house in Midtown that sounded big enough to be a full 19th century mansion. "We'll want bouquets in every room, of course, and some kind of big sculpture in the receiving room if you can manage it. A big heart, made of red and black roses? If you could do all that, I think we can definitely do business."

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Stesha typed notes rapidly as he spoke, pulling a calculator from her pocket and working some figures. "You're not giving us very much time," she warned him right off. "Most of the work we do comes in at least a month in advance, often as far as a year in advance, and June is, of course, our very busiest season. We're talking custom dye job, flower sculpturing, a fair amount of bouquet work, and in-house setup, while we're working you in..." She pursed her lips, did a little more math, and quoted the price they could do it at and still turn a profit. It was quite high.

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Jack winced a little. That price was doable, but it was on the high end of what Melinda had given him. Having things taken out of his hide wasn't just a figure of speech in the vampire world. "I know it's a rush job and that makes things more difficult for you," he agreed sympathetically. "So I can understand that you'd need to charge that much." He gave her a warm, magnetic look. "Is there anything I can do to make the job a little...easier on you?" Jack was ethical enough not to try and really boss this nice young woman around over a few hours as Melinda's toy. He was fairly sure she wasn't the boss here, and he knew what that was like. But she was feeling friendly towards him, well, all the better for everything.

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The movie star smile he turned on her was enough to have Stesha gaping for a few moments before she could gather her wits and return the smile with the best one she had. "We'll make it work," she promised him eagerly. "I know the price is steep, but we really are the best in town, and you'll get your money's worth. I wouldn't even be able to recommend another place in town to do the work at all on this sort of timetable. But I'll oversee your order myself and make sure it's perfect." She shook herself a bit, trying to stop her babbling. "Um, if you have blueprints or a diagram of the house we could work with and approximate dimensions of what you're looking for, that will help a lot."

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Jack found that he enjoyed having the clerk be so friendly towards him, her obvious interest in him enough to make him smile too. He could make her fall all over herself to do whatever it was he wanted, but he was ethical enough that he wasn't going to do that. That thought, unworthy though it might be, was comforting enough that he didn't mind paying what was a fairly exorbitant bill. "And you'll be keeping a close eye on the whole thing?" he asked with a smile. "Making sure everything goes just the way we want it? That's really good to hear, Stesha. I'm glad to know I'm in such capable hands."

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There was nothing inappropriate in the words, but something about the way he said them made her shiver, and not in a bad way. "Every step," she promised. "You won't have to worry about a thing." She wrestled with herself a moment, then boldly took a business card from the rack on the table and jotted her cell phone number on the back. "This is my personal number," she told him, passing it over with a smile. "You can call me if you have any questions about anything." A little embarrassed by her own boldness, she quickly printed out the estimate sheet and handed it over as well. "Make sure it all looks like what you want done."

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Jack happily took Stesha's number, thinking pleasantly about what he'd achieved. An arrangement made in more ways than one with an exotic, interesting young woman who just might be more than she appeared. It had been too long since he'd had something from a willing donor, and maybe Stesha here would be willing to open up to him in more ways than business. Either way, this was instinctive behavior; he wouldn't have done it any other way. He looked over the estimate sheet with interest, nodding in satisfaction as he looked up over his sheet. "All right, I think we've made all the relevant arrangements. For tonight, anyway. Shall I call you tomorrow night and we check up on our plans?"

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Stesha couldn't quite help blushing, the pink in her cheeks matching the daisies in her green hair. "Um, sure, that would be great," she told him. "I get off work at 5:30, so if you call after that, I can give your project my, ah, full attention." She inked her own initials on the estimate, then impulsively inked in the friends and family discount and wrote the new total at the bottom of the sheet. "Go ahead and sign there, and I'll start the ordering today."

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Even more pleased at what he'd wrought, Jack rewarded Stesha with one of his own phone numbers on the estimate sheet. "I think I can definitely approve this," he said with a smile as he signed his name. "I know I like what I see. Make sure you charge it through my business account, okay?" He grinned wider. "Thanks for taking such good care of me, Stesha. I know I'm in good hands with you."

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She nodded and took his credit card information, then got the specific address for delivery and made sure to set aside the sheet with his phone number. Stesha knew that, superhero or not, she was unlikely to ever have the courage to call, but at least it was an option. "It looks like everything's take care of. Your friend is going to be very happy with this shower, I'm sure. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

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"No, I think that's everything." He smiled, his hand touching hers for just a moment as she handed him the paper. "I'll see you later, Stesha. Thanks again for all your help." When Jack walked out into the daylight again, carefully putting on his sunglasses as he went, he was feeling pretty darn good about himself. Relatively inexpensive flowers for the latest turning, a potential date...it was a good start to the day.

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Stesha watched him go, then took a moment to fan herself off and regather her wits before she started actually ordering the flowers. She'd feel really stupid if after all that, he took his flowers and never called again, but it had been fun to be flirted with, she had to admit. Definitely nice to be flirted with by a guy who wasn't in buying flowers for his wife! Who knew, maybe it would all go somewhere.

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