Murder of Crows Page 23

Simon didn’t answer.

“Do you want me to make an excuse and leave?”

“No.” That’s exactly what he wanted, but he couldn’t figure out how to explain Ferryman’s departure to Meg. Besides, it was possible Ferryman could help her.

“Do all terra indigene react this way to a cassandra sangue?” Steve asked.

Simon just opened the back door and walked in. Hearing Nathan’s growl, he hurried into the sorting room with Ferryman on his heels.

“Give it back,” Meg said, pulling on one end of a catalog as hard as she could while Nathan pulled on the other end. “Give … it … back!”

“Stop,” Simon said. <What are you doing?>

<It made her angry,> Nathan replied. He stopped pulling but didn’t let go of his end of the catalog. <I tried to take it away, but Henry said not to pull paper away too fast because it can cut Meg’s hands.>

Meg looked over and saw the two men. Blushing, she released the catalog, which Nathan then dropped on the floor.

“Problem?” Simon asked.

“I’ve been trying to get some orders filled. Stores have the merchandise until they find out I’m placing the order for the Courtyard, and then suddenly they’re out of stock!”

“That’s a government problem, not yours. Make a list of the stores who are refusing to make deliveries and give it to Elliot. And include that pet store and Hot Crust on that list.”

“Why should Elliot have to deal with this?”

“Because there are penalties for refusing to make deliveries to the Courtyard, and it’s the government’s responsibility to enforce the agreements made between the humans and us.”

“There are penalties?” Meg said. “Good!”

See? Simon thought, slanting a look at Ferryman. She’s not a sweet, fluffy bunny. There’s a streak of Wolf in her. “Meg, this is Steve Ferryman, the mayor of Ferryman’s Landing. And this is Meg Corbyn.”

Ferryman reached out to shake her hand, and it was only Simon’s concern that he might miss and nip one of Meg’s fingers that kept him from biting Steve.

They barely touched hands before they both pulled back. To his credit, Steve looked concerned when Meg started scratching at her arm. But he looked at the box on the sorting table and said, “What are these?”

“Dog cookies,” Meg said at the same time Simon said, “Wolf cookies.”

“One of the items that are suddenly not available to Courtyard residents,” Meg said with a bitterness that surprised and worried Simon—especially when her fingers dug into her arm. If she scratched any harder, even the sweater wouldn’t protect her skin.

Steve picked up the box and shook out a cookie. After examining it, he said, “Do they have to be exactly like this?”

Meg stopped scratching. “Like what?”

Steve held up a cookie. “Like this. We’re always looking for ways to help our Great Island community prosper and make sure everyone has work, whether it’s Intuit or Simple Life or terra indigene. I can think of a few women who might be interested in developing a similar kind of cookie.”

“Fresh-baked cookies for Wolves?”

“Why not?”

Simon stepped away from Ferryman. Meg looked too interested in the man, and it was getting harder to remember that Steve wasn’t edible.

“I’d like you to look at something,” Meg said. She led them into the front room and pointed at the Wolf bed.

After glancing at Simon for permission, Steve crouched beside the bed and examined it. “Do you have a spare one I could take back with me?”

“I think there are a couple left in the general store,” Simon replied. “You can have one.”

“Thanks.” Steve rose and smiled at Meg. Then the smile faded. “When an Intuit gets a feeling, there’s always some physical sign—a fluttering in the belly or a particular group of muscles getting tight. But it’s so much harder for you, isn’t it?”

Simon moved closer to Meg, a protective stance.

“Do you know a blood prophet?” Meg asked. “Is there a girl on the island?”

Steve shook his head. “We couldn’t figure out how to help her in time to save her.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“So am I.” Steve looked uncomfortable. “I’d better be going.”

“I’ll take you over to the general store,” Simon said.

“Thanks for your help, Mr. Ferryman,” Meg said.

“Steve. No need to be so formal.”

She smiled—and Simon swallowed a snarl.

He and Steve walked to the Market Square in silence. In fact, Ferryman didn’t say anything until they picked up the Wolf bed and packed it into the back of his car. Then he turned to Simon.

“While I would like to have Ms. Corbyn as a friend, I’m not chasing after your girl, Mr. Wolfgard.”

“She’s not mine.” Since Meg made an excellent squeaky toy, why wouldn’t Ferryman want to chase her when it was so much fun?

Steve smiled. “She’s the Courtyard’s Liaison and you’re the Courtyard’s leader. In a way, that makes her yours.”

He tipped his head to acknowledge that point—and realized that Steve wouldn’t come sniffing around Meg. Simon wasn’t an Intuit or a blood prophet, but he had good instincts. “You want ties to Lakeside. That’s why you’re looking for a way to make the cookies and the beds. What are the terra indigene on Great Island going to say about that?”

“Something is going wrong in Talulah Falls. We feel it; so do the terra indigene who live on the island. Ming Beargard has tried to talk to the Others who are in charge of the Talulah Falls Courtyard, but they won’t talk to him because they think the island’s earth natives are too friendly with humans. Ming was told the Others are supposed to receive goods made by humans, not help the humans with the work. I don’t think that was always their attitude, but the current rulers of the Talulah Falls Courtyard want as little interaction with humans as possible.”

“So Ming wants a bond with the Lakeside Courtyard too?”

Steve nodded. “We used to sell some of our specialty items at shops in Talulah Falls—things the tourists visiting the Falls love taking home with them. When our team of sales representatives drove up to the Falls to talk with the shops and write up orders for the summer tourist season, none of those businesses would place an order with us, and a few of them muttered that they wouldn’t buy anything from anyone who put humans last. Our team felt a hostility whenever a terra indigene and a human came within sight of each other.” He paused, as if considering his words carefully. “When things go wrong in Talulah Falls—and I think it’s a matter of when and not if—the terra indigene who rule the Courtyard there aren’t going to talk to the police or give the government a chance to fix things. So, if possible, I would rather do business with you.”

Simon wasn’t sure he would be any more merciful if too much trouble stirred up the terra indigene in Lakeside, but at least, for now, he could take advantage of a business deal that would benefit both sides.

By the time Ferryman drove off, Meg had closed the Liaison’s Office for her midday break and gone out to lunch with Heather and Merri Lee. He would have growled about Meg leaving the Courtyard with two females who didn’t have a fang between them, but when he walked into Howling Good Reads, John informed him that the girls had gone to the Saucy Plate for lunch, and Henry and Vlad had gone to Hot Crust to pick up pizzas. Since the two places were in the same plaza, the girls would be guarded. And even if the humans at Hot Crust gave Meg a hard time about delivering to the Courtyard, no one but a fool denied food to a Grizzly.

Plenty to think about. Too much to think about and not a lot he could do about any of it right now.

But there was one thing he could do. Picking up the phone, Simon called Dr. Lorenzo to tell him about Officer MacDonald’s cousin.

CHAPTER 16

Toward the end of Viridus, the Crows from the Talulah Falls Courtyard flew to the part of town where most of the tourists walked and ate and bought souvenirs at the kiosks. For three days, they watched humans toss sparkly toys into the trash cans—toys that were only a little broken in ways that, for Crows, did not diminish their appeal. They watched humans throw away half a hamburger still in the thin paper wrapping so it wasn’t soiled by other debris. They watched little treasures being dropped into the cans—and they watched while city workers emptied the cans and took away that food and those treasures.

And there were bits of shiny nearby, coins that had fallen from pockets and caught the sun, a glittering lure.

For three days, the Crows resisted doing more than keeping watch. But on the fourth day, a few of the adolescent Crows dared to come down from the trees to grab a shiny or snatch a morsel of food or fly off with one of the sparkly toys.

And nothing happened. The humans, who were entranced by the water thundering into the river below, barely noticed them. So on the fifth day, more of the Crows flew down from the trees to snatch a morsel of food or make off with a shiny coin or a little treasure. On the sixth day, even more Crows gathered around the cans, enjoying the hunt for discarded items that sparkled.

On the seventh day, the trash cans that had the choicest morsels of food and the best little treasures exploded, killing Crows and tourists alike.

That night, one of the Sanguinati who had been hunting for the humans responsible for murdering the Crows didn’t return to the Talulah Falls Courtyard.

And early the following morning, in Lakeside, Meg Corbyn woke up screaming.

“Meg!” Standing in their common back hallway, Simon pounded on Meg’s kitchen door, then paused to pull on the jeans he’d grabbed when he heard her scream. “Meg!” He snarled at the door when it didn’t open, when he didn’t hear anything.

Jamming his hand in the jeans’ pocket, he pulled out the keys to Meg’s apartment and turned the lock—and still couldn’t get in.

Why did she have to use that slide lock as well as the regular lock? It wasn’t like anyone used the kitchen door for visiting. Except him. And Sam when the pup was with him. The common outside door was locked, and he checked it every night before turning in, so she didn’t have to worry about an intruder coming in through the back way. He knew she didn’t have company, since she’d quietly told him she wanted to sleep alone tonight.

“And that’s the last time I listen to you about who sleeps where,” he grumbled as he pounded on the door again. “Damn it, Meg. What are you doing that you don’t want me to know about?”

The answer to that had him scratching at the door before he remembered he was in human form.

“Meg!”

Fur suddenly covered Simon’s shoulders and chest as he threw his weight against the door, breaking the wood and the slide lock. He rushed toward Meg’s bedroom, but the fresh scent of blood pulled him toward the bathroom. He shoved at the door and Meg cried out, so he squeezed through the narrow opening to avoid ramming her legs again.

She was on the floor, bleeding. The cut ran all the way across her torso just under her br**sts. Too long a cut. Too deep a cut. Too much blood.

“Meg.” Barely enough room to straddle her legs when he dropped to his knees to reach her.

“Simon,” she gasped. “You have to listen.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

His friend was bleeding. It didn’t matter that she was human. His friend Meg was bleeding too much.

He lowered his head, then paused.

It would make him so angry. Like the last time when she fell in the creek and cut her chin and he had to get her to the human bodywalker.

I don’t care. She’s one of us now. Clean the wound. Get rid of the blood scent and hide the fact that she’s vulnerable.

He quickly licked the blood flowing from the cut. Licked and licked to keep it from dripping on the towel Meg had put on the floor to soak it up.

“Simon,” Meg moaned. “Simon. I see … It’s too much. I have to speak. You have to listen.”

For a moment he’d been very angry, and now he wasn’t. He heard Meg’s voice and something changed and he wasn’t angry at all.

Lick, lick.

She always tasted good. But this was wonderful.

Lick, lick.

He liked the sound of her voice. Even when she was yelling at him. Which she wasn’t doing now. She was …

The scent of arousal, as alluring as the scent of blood.

He sat back on his heels to bring his face closer to this new, delightful scent. His human body responded with pleasure, responded with a willingness that was hard to ignore.

“Simon.”

Something not pleasing in her voice now. Something … that should bother him.

“You have to remember,” she pleaded.

Remember? Yes. Lick, lick. The wonderful taste of Meg. But no biting. No tearing the flesh because … Why? It would feel so good to taste flesh. So very good. But not Meg’s flesh. He wouldn’t hurt Meg. Would never hurt Meg.

Something he was supposed to remember. Something about Meg talking when there was a cut and blood.

“Have to write it down,” he mumbled.

“Yes,” she said. “Hurry.”

He tried to get up, tried to leave the bathroom and fetch paper and pencil to write down … words! Write down words. She smelled so good. Tasted even better. Even her hair, still all weird shades of orange and red, didn’t stink anymore from whatever she had done to it.

Words. Important to write down Meg’s words.

Using the sink for support, Simon struggled to his feet. Maybe his feet. Couldn’t feel his feet. Did he still have feet?

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