Written in Red Page 22

“Mr. Simon Wolfgard?” Monty asked, still holding up his ID.

“I’m Wolfgard,” he replied in a baritone that was pleasing if you couldn’t hear the growl under the words.

Pretending he didn’t hear the growl, Monty continued. “I’m Lieutenant Crispin James Montgomery. My officers and I have been assigned as your police contacts, so I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself.”

“Why do we need police contacts?” Simon asked. “We handle things on our own in the Courtyard.”

The Wolf snarled behind him.

Several girls who had been hanging out at the front of the store squealed and headed farther back where they could hide behind the shelves and peek out to watch the drama.

“Yes, sir. I’m aware of that,” Monty replied, lacing his voice with quiet but firm courtesy. “But if you know we will respond to any call for assistance, I’m hoping that you won’t feel you always have to handle things on your own. Take shoplifting, for example.”

Simon shrugged. “Steal from us, we eat a hand. But just one if it’s a first offense.”

Nervous titters from behind the nearest shelves.

“What if it’s a second offense?” Kowalski asked, moving closer to the counter while keeping an eye on the Wolf that was in Wolf form.

The predatory look in Simon’s eyes sharpened, just like the smile sharpened. “For a second offense, we don’t bother with a hand.”

Threat understood.

He could see the effort it was taking for Wolfgard to assume the mask and body language of human shopkeeper—which he assumed was the purpose of the glasses and clothing.

Not quite pulling it off today. Not quite able to hide the predator.

Or maybe this was as much as it was ever hidden.

“Why don’t we go next door for a cup of coffee,” Simon said, making the words less a question and more of a command. “Police officers like coffee. Don’t they?”

“Yes, sir, we do,” Monty replied.

Simon wagged a finger at a black-haired, black-eyed girl who hadn’t bolted to the back of the store with the others—had, in fact, been eyeing them all with a bright intensity that made Monty want to buy her some popcorn to eat while she watched the show.

“Jenni,” Simon said when she hopped onto the counter and then over it. “Can you watch the register for a few minutes?”

The smile she gave Simon had Monty reaching for his wallet to make sure it was still there.

“If someone wants to buy something, they will give you money and you will give them change,” Simon said.

“But not the shiny,” Jenni said, cocking her head. “We keep the shiny.”

Simon looked like he wanted to bite someone, but all he said was, “Yeah, okay, you don’t have to give anyone the shiny.” Then he looked at the Wolf, who came over and sat in front of the register—a large, furry deterrent to anyone who wanted to check out before Wolfgard returned.

He led them to the adjoining store.

Not a lot of customers, Monty thought as he looked around. A couple of people were working on portable computers while sipping from large mugs, but that was all.

“Tess?” Simon called to the brown-haired woman behind the counter. “Three coffees here.”

They sat at a table. Monty tucked his ID in his pocket when Tess set three mugs and a plate containing slices of some kind of cake on the table. When she returned with the pot of coffee, napkins, and a little pitcher of cream, Simon introduced Monty and then waited for Monty to introduce his partner.

Simon studied Kowalski. “Have I smelled you before?”

Kowalski turned bright red and almost dropped the mug. “No, I don’t think so.”

“You carrying another scent on you?”

A head shake. Then Kowalski paled and whispered, “My fiancée.”

“She likes books?”

“Yes.” Kowalski took a sip of coffee. His hands shook when he set the mug down. “We both do. We read a lot.”

Simon continued to study the officer in a way that made Monty want to knock over the table or start shouting just to break that focus.

“Polite,” Simon finally said. “Smells good. Doesn’t screech when she talks. Asked about books she couldn’t find in a human store. Should have that shipment tomorrow. She can pick up the ones that are available.” A teeth-baring smile. “Or you can.”

Kowalski looked Simon in the eyes. “I’m sure she would rather pick up her order personally to make sure the books are what she wanted.”

“Books weren’t the only thing your fiancée was interested in, but HGR doesn’t sell music discs, and the music store isn’t open to anyone but Courtyard residents.” Simon smiled at Monty. “But we could arrange a tour of our Market Square for our new friends in the police department. You could each bring a guest, even do some shopping.”

“As long as we don’t expect the merchants to give us the shiny?” Monty asked, struggling to remain calm and polite—and hoping Kowalski would do the same.

Tess, who had been about to top off their mugs, jerked back. “Ah, Simon. You didn’t let one of the Crows watch the register, did you?”

“It will be fine,” he said tightly.

“Say that when you’re trying to balance the cash drawer tonight.” Shaking her head, she walked back to the counter.

Monty looked away before anyone noticed him staring. Her hair had been brown and straight when they walked in. Now it looked like she’d poured green food coloring over strands of it and used one of those curling irons. But she hadn’t left the room. He knew she hadn’t left the room.

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