Written in Red Page 5

She looked at him with eyes that were the clear gray of a Wolf, except she wasn’t a Wolf. The pale skin blushed with a hint of rose on the cheeks. And now that it was drying, he realized her hair was a weird shade of red—and it stank.

They would have to do something about that.

“I can have the job?” Meg asked, her voice lifted by something he would have called hope.

He nodded. “It’s a basic hourly wage—and you’re responsible for keeping a log of your hours. You also get the use of one of the efficiency apartments above the seamstress/tailor shop, and you can purchase items at any store in the Market Square.”

Tess returned and dropped a ring of keys on the table. “I’ll fetch a few basics from our stores while you show Meg the apartment. Leave the dishes on the table. I’ll take care of them later.” She left as quickly as she’d arrived.

Meg ate one more spoonful of soup and drained the coffee mug. “Is she angry with me?”

“You? No.” With him? Sometimes it was hard to tell with Tess. Other times it was all too easy to see the warning signs.

He held up the keys. “We have rules, Meg, and we enforce them. Access to the Courtyard is restricted. You don’t bring guests to your apartment without us knowing about it first. If we smell a stranger, we’ll kill him. We aren’t interested in excuses, and we don’t give second chances. The storefront on the corner is the place where humans and Others can socialize without needing a leader’s permission. You can bring guests there. Is that understood?”

She bobbed her head.

“All right. Come on. We’ll go out through the bookstore.”

He led her back through HGR, picking up his winter coat, which John had left on the counter for him. Shrugging into it, he pushed open the door, holding it against the wind until Meg slipped out. Then he locked the door, took a grip on her arm to keep her from slipping, and walked her past A Little Bite to a glass door in the seamstress/tailor’s building.

“First key is for the street door.” He pulled out the ring of keys and slipped the first key into the lock. He opened the door, nudged her into the small entry, then locked the door behind him. Remembering that humans didn’t have the same night vision as Wolves, he flipped on the light switch, revealing the stairs that went up to the second floor.

She went up the stairs, then stopped on the landing to wait for him.

He went ahead of her, checked the apartment number on the key, and made an almost soundless grunt of surprise. Tess had given him the key for the front apartment that was farthest from the Crowfield Avenue door—and closer to the stairway that led into the Courtyard.

He opened the apartment door and flicked the switch for the overhead light, automatically toeing off his wet boots and leaving them in the hallway. While he waited for Meg to wrestle her feet out of the wet sneakers, he looked around. Clean and basic. Bathroom and closet at one end. A kitchen area that held a half fridge, a wave-cooker, a small counter and sink, and minimal cupboards for storage. A single bed and a dresser. A small rectangular table and two straight back chairs. A stuffed chair and hassock and a reading lamp next to an empty bookcase.

“There should be a set of towels in the bathroom,” he said. “You look like you need a hot shower.”

“Thank you,” Meg whispered.

“Bathroom’s over there.” Simon pointed.

She was shivering so hard, he wondered if she’d be able to get out of those wet clothes. But he had no intention of helping her.

The bathroom door closed. Couldn’t hide much from animal-sharp hearing, but he ignored the sounds. While he located the extra blankets in the dresser’s bottom drawer, the toilet flushed. A moment later, the shower turned on.

He was staring out the window, watching the still-falling snow, when Tess walked in carrying two big zippered bags.

“I put it all on your account,” she said. Her hair, usually brown and straight, now curled wildly and had green streaks—a sign that Tess wasn’t feeling calm. At least the streaks weren’t red, the indication that she was angry.

When her hair turned black, people died.

“Put what on my account?” he asked.

“Two sets of clothes, sleepwear, toiletries, a winter coat and boots, and some food.”

The coat was a bright red, which was a color that attracted a lot of the Courtyard’s residents because it usually signified downed prey. Since that was the most likely reason no one had bought it, he wondered why Tess would bring it for Meg.

“I thought we could offer the midday meal as part of her pay,” he said.

“You might want to discuss this with the rest of the Business Association before you make so many decisions, especially since you just hired a new Liaison without talking to the rest of us,” Tess replied with a bite in her voice.

“You brought me the apartment keys before I asked for them, so you must have made a decision too,” Simon countered.

She didn’t respond. She just set one of the bags on the bed, then took the other into the kitchen area. After putting the food away, she joined him by the window. “You’re not in the habit of taking in strays, Simon. Especially not stray monkeys.”

“Couldn’t leave her out in the cold.”

“Yes, you could. You’ve left other humans to fend for themselves. Why is this one different?”

He shrugged, not wanting to talk about the scarred old woman whose words had shaped so many of his choices.

Prev Next