Written in Red Page 12

“You sure have your tail in a knot this morning,” Henry said easily. “Might not want to scare off our new Liaison before she gets some of that mail sorted for us.”

He rammed his key into the lock and turned it, but he didn’t open the door. “She doesn’t smell like prey. She’s rested and fed and not cold. Why doesn’t she smell like prey?”

“Not all humans do,” Henry replied quietly.

Simon shook his head. “With some, we decide they’re not edible because it’s smart to have them around. But they still smell like prey, and she doesn’t.”

“Not all humans do,” Henry repeated. “There aren’t many that give off that signal, but there have been some.” He paused. “Maybe you’re not picking up the prey scent because of the stinky hair?”

Simon stared at the Grizzly. “You could smell it from where you were standing?”

“No, the wind wasn’t in the right direction for me to smell it, but I could hear you yelling about it. So could everyone else who’s aflutter at this time of day.”

He rested his forehead against the door. “The lack of prey scent confuses me.”

“I can see that. But she’s not terra indigene. Of that much I’m sure.”

“So am I. She smells human. She just doesn’t smell like prey.”

“If she’s causing this much trouble before most of us have even seen her, maybe you should force her out of the Courtyard.”

Simon stepped back from the door and sighed. “I’ll let the rest of the Business Association take a look at her before I decide. We need a Liaison. Might as well let her stay for a while.”

Henry nodded. “Did you explain what she’s supposed to do?”

He snarled, a frustrated sound.

“Then stay away from her for the rest of the morning and let someone else explain it.”

“Who?”

“You know who.”

Yes, he did know. He also knew that if he argued about it, Henry would swat him into the wall to knock some sense into him. For friendship’s sake.

“All right. Let the Coyote deal with her for a couple of hours.”

It wasn’t until he was inside the bookstore and hanging up his coat that he realized he was still wearing the loafers and his feet were wet. He’d been so annoyed and confused and desperate to get away from Meg before he shifted and bit her just to prove she was prey that he’d forgotten to exchange the loafers for his boots.

Savagely angry now at all humans—and that stinky-haired one in particular—he stomped up to his second-floor office to deal with paperwork before checking out the new stock that had arrived yesterday. The store didn’t open for another hour. If everyone was lucky, he’d have himself under control by then and wouldn’t eat any of the customers.

* * *

The freaking Help Wanted sign was gone.

Asia stared at the glass door, not daring to get closer when the shoveled delivery area was a sign that the Others were up and about.

She wanted that damn job. Really wanted that job. She’d been in Lakeside for months now and hadn’t gotten a look at anything in the Courtyard that everyone else hadn’t seen. Her backers were getting restless, were starting to hint that they might need someone more professional for this assignment.

Her looks had gotten her out of Podunk and the nothing future she would have had in her hometown. Her looks had carried her all the way to Sparkletown and into a few auditions. But she’d done more acting on the casting couches than she’d done in front of a camera—until she uncovered a tidbit about a Sparkletown bigwig’s wife that gave him the leverage he needed to divorce the wife without financial penalties.

Under the guise of developing her for a starring role in a to-be-determined television show, he helped Asia refine her natural intelligence-gathering skills and then sent her off to find some information about a competitor.

She still wasn’t sure if that first assignment had been a test, but she was given another assignment and a fat envelope of cash when she returned with the information.

It was like being paid to research a role as an undercover cop or a corporate spy. Yes, that would be the perfect role for her: Asia Crane, Special Investigator. Sometimes she spent time in one of the bigger cities and had fancy clothes and baubles. Other times she spent a few weeks in a town that was a variation of Podunk, playing the role of shy young widow starting a new life, wearing twin sets and pumps while she ferreted out information about the selected target—or helped ruin his business career or political ambitions.

The work was exciting, it was fun, it paid well, and now that Bigwig had brought in a few other interested parties to finance her, she was being given extended assignments with more challenging targets. It wasn’t the way most actresses built their careers, but she’d return to Sparkletown in another year or two with enough juice to get any part she wanted.

Infiltrating a Courtyard was her biggest and riskiest assignment to date. She had relocated to Lakeside because it was the only Courtyard in the whole of Thaisia that had any human employees beyond the Liaison. Even Toland on the East Coast and Sparkletown on the West—the financial and entertainment centers of the continent—didn’t have Courtyards with as much tolerance for humans. Her task was to get in, observe, and report anything and everything that might help with dealing with the Others or, better yet, breaking their stranglehold on the human cities in Thaisia.

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