Written in Red Page 43

Just a matter of time.

Spreading the blanket out on the sorting table, Meg climbed up and got as comfortable as she could on her hard, makeshift bed.

* * *

In the western part of the continent, where the terra indigene Grizzlies ruled as many Courtyards as the Wolves, some humans called his first form spirit bear.

Spirit bear moved through the world unseen, but some could sense his passing. Some would know he was there before he took on the tangible shape that had teeth and claws.

Now Henry followed the stranger’s trail until it ended farther up the street where the man’s vehicle had been parked.

Turning back to the Courtyard, he went to the glass door and studied the broken lock as he considered what it meant.

So much fear behind Meg’s door, so much desperation when she screamed his name.

If he hadn’t wanted to be close to the wood tonight, would she have disappeared, leaving them to think she was just another human who had used them for a few days’ shelter? Or would the broken lock on the door and the scent of a stranger stir up Simon and the rest of the terra indigene who lived here?

Turning away from the door, Henry walked up to the corner and turned left, following the boundary of the Courtyard, not sure what he was looking for but letting instinct guide him.

He prowled the delivery area, taking in the scents around the front of the Liaison’s Office and the consulate. The stranger’s scent wasn’t there, but moving closer to the sorting-room delivery doors, he picked up another scent that was fresher than it should be.

Moving around the office to the yard behind his studio, he saw the flicker of light in the sorting room. Taking up the full Grizzly form, Henry braced a paw on the wall and looked in the window.

Meg, sleeping on the sorting table.

Meg, who wasn’t in the apartment where someone would expect to find her at this time of night.

Moving away from the window, Henry called, <Owls!>

Five of them answered his call, landing on the wall that separated his studio from the delivery area.

<Why do you want us?> Allison asked.

<Intruder,> he said. <Keep watch here. Meg is inside the office.>

Two of the owls flew off, taking up position on the roof of the consulate. Another flew up to the roof of his studio. Allison and a juvenile male remained on the wall.

Satisfied that he would have plenty of warning if the stranger returned, Henry ambled back to the efficiency apartment, changed to human form, and retrieved his clothes where he had left them in the stairwell. He made himself a cup of strong black tea generously laced with honey, then settled into the rocking chair near the window that gave him a view of the Liaison’s Office. As he drank his tea, he wondered about the female who had suddenly come into their lives.

Throughout the rest of the night, he wondered a lot.

And he wondered what Simon was going to say in the morning.

CHAPTER 6

Simon got out of the shower and rubbed the towel briskly over his skin. He didn’t like conforming to the way humans chopped up days into little boxes. The sun and moon and change of seasons should be enough for anyone. But if he had to conform in order to run a human-type business, he shouldn’t have to think about it on the one day each week when he could live as Wolf from one sunrise to the next.

Earthday was the day of rest, the day the Courtyard was closed to humans so that the terra indigene could run and play and be what they were: earth natives. It was the one day he didn’t have to shift into the skin that was useful but never felt like home.

Because he dealt with humans so much, he needed a day with the Wolfgard, needed his own kind. That was the trap for Others who had excessive contact with humans—if you adapted too much in order to deal with them, you ran the risk of forgetting who you were and you could end up being neither and nothing. That was why even Sam’s distress at seeing him as a Wolf wasn’t enough for him to give up what he needed for himself.

But Henry’s message on the answering machine this morning had him breaking his own rule, since the Beargard had made it clear that it was the Wolfgard in human form that was needed at the studio.

He got dressed, then stopped in the living room to make sure Sam had food and water—and hadn’t messed in the cage. Since he was in this form anyway, he’d take the pup out before shifting to fur and meeting Blair and some others for a run.

After considering the benefits of walking from the Green Complex to the studio in order to give the human form exercise, he went around to the garage and got one of the BOWs. He made sure this form got plenty of exercise. Today, the sooner he could shed this skin, the happier he would be.

A couple more inches of snow had fallen overnight. Combined with what was still on the Courtyard roads, it added a little sliding excitement to an ordinary drive—and reminded him to talk to the terra indigene who worked at the Utilities Complex and also handled clearing the Courtyard’s roads. If Meg was going to be out making deliveries tomorrow, he’d have Jester explain about sticking to the main roads to avoid getting stuck. The BOWs could handle the snow just fine—as long as the driver wasn’t stupid.

When he reached the Courtyard’s business district, he parked the BOW in the employee parking lot, which put him in between the Market Square and the other shops, including Henry’s studio. Getting out of the BOW, he stopped and listened to the rhythmic sound of someone using a snow shovel.

Leaving the parking lot, Simon walked around the garages, then stopped when he saw the footprints outside the Liaison’s Office. There were no deliveries on Earthday, so there shouldn’t be fresh footprints coming out of the office this morning.

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