Written in Red Page 146

That much settled, Simon finished locking up the office. He poked his head into the Three Ps long enough to tell Lorne to close up and come to HGR. Then he trotted to the bookstore’s back door. Nudging the Ruthie inside, he found the stockroom full of confused, anxious people. And there was Tess, who looked amused.

“Cars are stuck in the parking lot, so you two aren’t getting out,” he said, pointing at Ruthie and Heather. Then he pointed at Merri Lee. “And taking a bus tonight is foolish. So you’re staying. We’ll open the efficiency apartments and bring food for you. You’ll have shelter. Marie and Julia Hawkgard will also stay here tonight.”

“I have a box of chocolates and a couple of movies,” the Ruthie said. “I figured this would be a good movie night.”

“What about other people who might be stranded?” Merri Lee asked.

He shook his head. “Someone is trying to hurt the terra indigene. Let strangers find shelter elsewhere. They won’t be safe here.”

While Tess went up to Simon’s office to fetch the keys for the efficiency apartments, John drew Simon aside.

“I can stay too,” he said. “Having the Hawks stay is good, but having a Wolf guarding the door will be better.”

“All right. Take the delivery sled and go to Meat-n-Greens. Get enough food for everyone for tonight.” When the back door opened, Simon added, “And take Lorne with you.”

That much settled, he bounded up the stairs and reached his office doorway at the same moment Tess was leaving.

“I’ll be heading out in a BOW in a few minutes,” he said. “Do you want a ride?”

Her brown hair kept twisting into corkscrew curls then relaxing, a sign of indecision. Finally, she shook her head. “I’m going to keep an eye on this part of the Courtyard.”

“I don’t want us scattered.” He didn’t think she would willingly share a room with anyone overnight, and even though they were in sight, the rooms above the Liaison’s Office felt too far from company or help. He didn’t want any of his people isolated.

“I’ll be fine,” she replied. “I have a change of clothes at the shop. I had planned to take a couple of books from our library and indulge in a snow day reading feast, but I’ll just pull a couple of books from HGR’s shelves instead. I might even bake a batch of cookies and join the girls for a movie.”

It all sounded normal and reasonable, which was why he didn’t believe her. This was Tess, and she was rarely interested in things that were normal and reasonable.

“All right,” Simon said. “I can—”

“Stop sounding like a pack nurse trying to keep the pups in one place. Go home and work on keeping your own brainless pup from romping outside in a blizzard.”

If she was going to put it that way . . .

“I’ll walk the humans over to the apartments,” he said, his hackles raised a little about being called the pack nurse. He held out his hand. She dropped the key ring into it.

When he got back downstairs, Heather and the Ruthie were returning from the front of the store.

“I finally got ahold of Karl,” the Ruthie said, smiling at all of them. “He appreciates your letting me stay here.”

Simon couldn’t think of an appropriate response, so he led his gaggle of chatty humans to the efficiency apartments. He’d opened up some of the Courtyard stores in order to study humans more closely, to watch them just as Elliot kept watch over the ones who were the city’s government. Looking after some of them made it all so . . . personal. Humans and terra indigene weren’t supposed to be friends. It wasn’t done.

But, somehow, it seemed he had done exactly that.

* * *

Meg wanted to savor her first ride in a pony sled, but the wind had picked up, driving the snow and making it hard to enjoy anything but the prospect of reaching a warm, dry place. So she huddled in the back of the sled with Nathan while Jester sat on the seat, so bundled up she had barely recognized him. The only one of them who seemed to be enjoying himself was Twister, whose harness bells jingled and whose clumpy pony feet spun the snow all around him as he trotted down the road.

He might be removing enough snow off the road that someone could drive a BOW all the way to the Green Complex, Meg thought. As long as that someone didn’t wait too long.

Would it make a difference? How would it make a difference? She’d felt edgy, itchy, ever since the snow had started falling, driving Nathan nuts because he picked up the mood but didn’t understand the source. Edgy and itchy, but the real prickling under her skin didn’t start until she saw Simon.

“We’re here,” Jester said, twisting on the seat.

Nathan scrambled off the sled, then waited for her to pick up the carry bags containing the food she’d bought during her midday break. He went ahead of her, breaking a trail, for which she was grateful. She wasn’t quite as grateful when he stopped at her stairs, shifted into that weird and disturbing half-man / half-Wolf shape, grabbed one of the carry sacks, and bounded up the stairs with it.

The stairs were buried under snow, and it would have been hard for her to haul both bags because she couldn’t see where to put her feet, and he had been trying to help. Still, she avoided looking directly at him—and at the parts that weren’t adequately covered with fur—while she opened her front door, stomped off what snow she could, and stepped inside.

Shoving the carry bag into her hand, he immediately shifted back to pure Wolf.

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