Written in Red Page 13

With minimal information to work with, despite having friends who had friends in Lakeside’s government, Bigwig had suggested two potential targets as her ticket into the Courtyard: Elliot Wolfgard and Simon Wolfgard. With Elliot, she would have rubbed elbows with government officials and social climbers who might have provided other information of monetary value. But at the last minute, Bigwig discovered that, before relocating to Lakeside, Elliot had once told a society girl who was flirting with him that monkey f**king wasn’t any different from barnyard banging, and neither was of interest to him. No one remembered what she said in reply, but a few days later, the society girl was found partially eaten in her own bedroom. So Asia crossed Elliot Wolfgard off the list.

That left Simon, who looked to be in his mid-thirties—young enough to like a frequent rub and old enough that he wouldn’t be likely to lose control, leaving a human partner rutting with a Wolf. So she’d chosen a persona and a look that fit in with the other university and tech-college girls who hung around the store. She even signed up for a couple of classes at Lakeside University as a way to fill time. And what had she gotten for her efforts so far? Nothing. No job, no sex, no pillow talk, not even a few minutes in the stockroom for some tongue and tickle. She couldn’t even wangle a membership to the fitness center.

She needed to show some progress soon. If she didn’t, her backers might end the assignment and send in someone else. And if they did that, Bigwig wouldn’t deliver on his promises, and she could end up back in Podunk instead of being the star of her own TV show.

Cawing announced the arrival of a handful of Crows who landed on the shoulder-high brick wall that ran along the left-hand side of the delivery area. One flew down to a flat-topped wooden sculpture positioned in front of one of the Liaison Office’s windows. That one watched whatever was going on inside the office. The other four watched her.

Turning as if she had paused momentarily and had no interest in anything that concerned the Courtyard, Asia walked away.

She wasn’t getting anywhere with Simon Wolfgard. Maybe she would have better luck with the new Liaison.

* * *

Meg opened the door marked PRIVATE, then closed her eyes and pictured the Liaison’s Office as if it were drawn on paper. A rectangular building divided into three big rooms. The back room had the washroom, which contained the toilet and sink. It also served as break room and storage, and had a door that led outside and one that accessed the sorting room. The sorting room had a large outside delivery door, an inside delivery door that provided access to the front room, and the door with the PRIVATE sign that was directly behind the three-sided counter area. The front room, where she assumed most deliveries would be made since it had the counter, had the one glass door and two large windows.

She studied the sorting room again and wondered who had designed the Liaison’s Office. For a room that was supposed to be private, private, private, the sorting room had an awful lot of doors, not to mention a window that would accommodate illicit access.

Not her problem. As long as she kept the delivery doors locked when they weren’t needed, she could avoid being eaten. Maybe. Hopefully. Right now, she had to get ready for business.

Turning on the lights in the front part of the office was easy—the switches were on the wall next to the Private door. Getting to the outside door to open it was a problem because she couldn’t figure out how the short left end of the counter opened to let someone into the main part of the room. So she got the stool from the sorting room and used it to climb over the counter. She turned the simple lock to the open position and then realized the simple lock was augmented by a heavy-duty dead bolt that required a key—which might or might not be on the key ring she’d left in the sorting room.

Caw caw

Three black birds were perched outside on a flat piece of wood, maneuvering to get a better look through one of the windows. She almost dismissed their presence, then wondered if they were terra indigene Crows that had come to take a look at the new Liaison.

Trying for a happy smile, Meg waggled her fingers and mouthed the words Good morning. Then she went back to the counter and tried to boost herself up enough to swing her legs over.

The Walking Names didn’t tell the girls anything about themselves, but she had overheard some things. She was twenty-four years old. She was sixty-three inches tall. She had black hair, gray eyes, and fair skin. Her cheeks had a light rosy hue that would show scars to advantage, but her face was still unmarred by the razor. The girls in the compound were kept healthy and were walked daily, but they were not allowed to do things that would give them unnecessary stamina or make them physically strong.

Sometimes determination could make up for stamina and strength. But sometimes it couldn’t.

The fourth time she landed back on the wrong side of the counter, a voice quietly said, “While this is highly entertaining, why don’t you just use the go-through?”

Meg backed away from the counter as a lean man stepped through the Private doorway. He had light brown eyes and brown hair that was made up of a variety of shades, including gray.

“Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to startle you. Name’s Jester. Henry thought you could use a little help figuring out what to do, and since Simon’s chewing his own tail this morning, and I look after the ponies, I was elected to help.” He held up both hands. “No tricks. I promise.” Then he gave her a smile that was both friendly and sly. “At least, not today.”

“I have to get the door open before the deliveries start arriving,” she said, wishing she didn’t sound so anxious. “The keys I was given are on that ring in the sorting room, but I’m not even sure there’s a key on it for this door.”

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