Vision in Silver Page 79

None of them said it, but Simon understood that part of the Panthergard’s and Lynxgard’s interest in Lakeside was the blood prophet who retained the sweetness of a child’s heart. Meg was the kindling that had started a different kind of fire among humans and terra indigene alike—a fire that burned just as bright as the blaze the HFL movement kept fanning.

Hope or hatred? Which fire would light Thaisia?

CHAPTER 39

Moonsday, Maius 14

Alone in the back room of the Liaison’s Office, Nathan tucked the blue checked shirt into his jeans. A T-shirt would have been easier to wear in warm weather, but Michael Debany had told him that would be too casual for an official meeting. And this was business with a Toland police officer who was a stranger and, while not yet confirmed, might well be an enemy.

That was the reason he was attending this meeting: because the Toland police officer might be an enemy. Since Nathan was the enforcer the Lizzy knew best, the Courtyard’s Business Association thought she’d be able to tell her story honestly if she felt safe.

At least he wouldn’t be confused this time if the Lizzy turned into a whiny puppy. Meg wouldn’t be at the meeting, wouldn’t need his protection from the stranger—or from the Lizzy. Not totally the Lizzy’s fault that Meg had needed to cut. But fault or not, being forced to make the cut for Meg had scared him badly, and that made him wary of the Lizzy.

“Why are you growling?” Meg asked as he entered the sorting room.

“I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

He shrugged, not willing to admit that humans were more difficult to deal with when you couldn’t give them a lethal bite or even a sharp nip.

Then he caught something in Meg’s scent and focused on her. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“You—” Probably shouldn’t say she didn’t smell right. In the books he’d read recently, human females got snappish when a male commented about her smell—unless he said it was a good smell. “You look upset.”

Nathan came around the table, eyeing the catalogs and envelopes. Nothing there that looked dangerous. But the envelope Meg was holding had her name on it. No one wrote to Meg.

“Let me see that.” He held out a hand. Couldn’t grab it from her. Paper could cut too.

Meg gave him the envelope. “I’ve never received a letter before. Not one that was mailed. It’s a new thing.”

“A scary new thing?” He watched her think, could tell by the look in her eyes that she was remembering training images in an attempt to match one to her own experience.

“A little,” she finally said. “Not because I received it, but because I don’t know what is inside. Some training images showed a person holding an envelope and looking excited or happy. Other images show a person looking scared or sad.”

“How do you feel?” He asked partly out of curiosity and partly so he could report a potential danger to Meg.

“Excited and scared,” she decided.

Nathan studied the envelope. The return address was Gardner Farm, Great Island, NER, and the postal code for Ferryman’s Landing. He sniffed the envelope, picking up the scent of chickens, cows, humans, hay.

“Smells like a farm,” he said, handing it back to her.

She looked at him, then sniffed the envelope. “If you say so.”

“Want me to open it?”

Meg shook her head. “Not ready for what’s inside.”

The Crows on the outside wall cawed a warning.

“The police are here,” Nathan said. “I have to go.” He hesitated. Something wasn’t right with her. “The letter is a new thing, but it’s not why you smell . . .” Back to smells again.

“Did I do the right thing, not making a cut when the flowers were delivered?” Meg asked.

Worry. A little fear. That’s what he smelled on her. Did she really think he’d say anything that would encourage her or give her an excuse to cut? Simon would rip him apart. And if Simon didn’t, the Sanguinati surely would. Vlad had made that very clear.

Neither of those things was important in the end. He worked as an enforcer. He protected the residents of the Courtyard. He’d gotten a little complacent as the watch Wolf because he hadn’t fully understood that Meg had one enemy that was always nearby: herself.

“What could you have learned from a cut that we didn’t learn just from your skin prickling?” he asked. “We know the flowers are for Theral, and we suspect they came from the mate she ran away from because he hurt her.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Meg said.

“We don’t need ‘for sure,’ Meg. We’re on guard now. We’ll keep watch. Theral is protected here. And she is kin to police. MacDonald’s teeth aren’t much use in a fight, but he has a gun, so he’ll protect her too.” When she didn’t say anything, he pressed because he couldn’t leave until he was sure Meg wouldn’t become her own enemy. “Is your skin still prickling?”

Meg shook her head. “Not since the flowers were taken away.”

He tapped the envelope. “No prickling about that?”

She looked surprised by the question. “No. I don’t feel anything that indicates there is a prophecy connected to the letter.”

<Nathan,> Elliot said. <The police have arrived. Lieutenant Montgomery is bringing the Lizzy to the consulate’s meeting room.>

<When?>

<Now.>

Nathan turned to Meg. “I have to go.” He opened the Private door, vaulted over the counter, and went to the front door. Then he stopped and returned to the counter, remembering what Crystal Crowgard had told him that morning. “Meg? Do you remember Charlie Crowgard?”

She smiled. “Of course I remember him.”

“Remember when that Phineas Jones came to the Courtyard, and you and Merri Lee saved Skippy by hitting that human with a teakettle and broom?”

Now she paled. “Yes, I remember. Sort of remember.”

“Crystal told me that Charlie Crowgard wrote a song about the fight. It’s called ‘Teakettle Woman and Broomstick Girl,’ and it’s so popular with the terra indigene who have heard it, he’s going to record it so the rest of us can hear it too.”

As he hurried out of the office, he heard Meg yipping for him to come back.

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