Written in Red Page 21

“Simon gave it to me to give to you.”

A test, Meg thought. Simon Wolfgard was giving her a test to see if he could trust her. Which meant she shouldn’t count on the map being accurate. If he thought she was some kind of spy trying to gain access to the Courtyard, providing an enemy with false information was almost as good as providing no information at all.

Then Jester grinned, an expression that was at odds with his sober tone of a moment ago. “I’ll get you that pass now.” And he was gone again.

When a half hour went by without a delivery or any sign of Jester, Meg checked out the music disc player. No discs, which was a disappointment, but as she fiddled with the buttons, she found the one that changed the player from discs to radio and connected her with Lakeside’s radio stations. She spent a few minutes turning the dial as she tried to tune in a station that had approved music. Then it struck her. She didn’t need anyone’s permission or approval. She could try a different kind of music every day and decide for herself what she liked.

Excited, she tuned in a station and got back to work.

* * *

“Run and Thump?” Monty asked as he read the sign over one of the terra indigene storefronts.

“Fitness center,” Kowalski replied. He turned into the parking lot that had a third less space for cars because the slots near the lot’s back wall were taken up by mountains of snow on either side of a wooden door. “Treadmills for running, and the thumpy sound of weight machines. Not sure what they do on the second floor. Not sure why the Others would want such a place when they can run around in more than three hundred acres.”

Maybe even they were bothered by the smell of wet fur and preferred to run indoors in inclement weather. “What about the storefront that doesn’t have a sign?”

“Social center. This Courtyard does employ some humans and occasionally lets some of them live in the apartments above the seamstress/tailor’s shop. But entertaining outsiders in an apartment that can access the Courtyard?” Kowalski shook his head. “You gather with friends at the social center. And you gather there if you want to socialize with an acquaintance who is terra indigene.”

“And if you want a more private kind of date?” Monty studied the younger man.

“The rooms above the social center can be used for that kind of date.”

“Is this street talk or personal knowledge?”

“Am I ever going to introduce you to my mother?”

Monty hid a smile, but it took effort. “Probably.”

Kowalski blew out a breath. “I really don’t have that much personal knowledge. I’ve heard that if you use one of those rooms, you’re responsible for putting fresh linen on the bed and tossing the used sheets in the laundry cart that’s left at the end of the hall. There’s a jar next to the laundry cart. Five dollars for the use of the sheets and the room.”

“And if the money in the jar doesn’t match the number of sheets that were used?”

“The next time there aren’t any clean sheets—and girls get pretty insulted if they’re asked to cuddle on seconds because you were too cheap to put five dollars in the jar the last time.”

Now Monty didn’t try to hide the smile. “You are a font of information, Officer Kowalski.”

Kowalski slanted a look at him.

Laughing, Monty got out of the car. Despite the wind, which was still cold enough to cut to the bone, he left his topcoat open so that his holstered gun showed. Then he pulled out his leather ID holder so it would be in his hand when he walked into Howling Good Reads.

“After the shooting two years ago, all the windows in these stores were refitted with bulletproof glass,” Kowalski said.

“A gunman could walk into the store and start shooting,” Monty countered.

“He could walk in, but he wouldn’t get out alive.” Kowalski tipped his head slightly as he pulled the door open.

Monty looked in that direction as he walked into the store—and froze.

Amber eyes stared at him. Lips lifted off the teeth in a silent snarl as the creature lying in front of a bookcase rose to its feet. The damn thing was big. Its shoulder would be even with his hip if they were standing side by side, and he was sure it outweighed him.

The girl he’d rescued had looked like a rough version of the wolf puppies he’d seen in documentaries. But there was no mistaking this for the animal. There was something more primal about its body than the animals that lived in the world now. The first humans to set foot on this continent must have used the word wolf as a way to lessen their fear of what stared at them from the edge of the woods—or hunted them in the dark—and not because it was an accurate description.

Kowalski quietly cleared his throat.

Aware of how everyone was standing still—and trembling while they did it—he held up the leather holder that contained his ID and walked over to the counter.

At first glance, he thought the man behind the counter was human. The dark hair was a little mussed but professionally cut. The shirt and pullover sweater were workplace casual and equal in quality to things he’d seen in the better shops in Toland. And the wire-rimmed glasses gave the handsome face an academic quality.

Then the man looked at him with eyes that were the same amber color as the Wolf’s.

How could anyone look into those eyes and not understand that a predator was looking back at you? Monty thought as he took the last steps to the counter. How could you not know that there was nothing human behind those eyes?

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