Written in Red Page 7

Simon shook himself to fluff out his fur. Wouldn’t want to be out here in his human skin, but the snow had stopped falling and, as a Wolf, he didn’t mind the cold—especially when some of the Wolves were heading out for a romp and run through the Courtyard.

Spending too much time in human form made him edgy. Yes, he had volunteered to run this Courtyard and had been the one to push for opening up a few stores to humans as another way of keeping an eye on them. But that didn’t make him less edgy about being around them or wearing that skin for so many hours when he was in Howling Good Reads. He needed time in this skin, needed to run.

Elliot trotted up to him. Simon was the dominant Wolf at Lakeside, but his sire was the Courtyard’s official face. Elliot had no interest in running businesses and wasn’t comfortable dealing with the other terra indigene, especially the Elementals and the Sanguinati, but he had a knack for dealing with human government and was the one among them who could talk for hours with the city mayor or other officials and not bite anyone.

So Simon was often thought of as the business leader, while the more social and sophisticated Elliot was mistaken for being the leader of the Lakeside Courtyard. And that suited Simon just fine. His sire could shake hands and attend dinners and have his photograph taken. And if the mayor and his buddies were very lucky, they would never discover that Elliot’s sophistication really was only skin deep.

Seven more Wolves joined them. Pleased with the company, Simon headed up the snowy road. Each species of terra indigene that lived in the Courtyard had a section that was respected as its home territory, but the rest of the land was shared by all of them. Once Simon and his friends crossed the Courtyard Creek Bridge, they would be in the Hawkgard area, so they would take the first road that led into the interior for their romp and run.

Wolf, he thought as they all settled into an easy trot to warm up their muscles. Maybe wolves had looked like them when the world was young, but the terra indigene— swift, strong, and lethal—had kept the larger, more primal form. Now the animal humans called wolf was to the terra indigene Wolf what a bobcat was to a tiger.

They trotted over a couple of inches of snow on the road; the rest of this evening’s snowfall was artfully drifted on either side. He’d have to remember to thank the girls at the lake for that.

Muscles warmed up, Simon stretched into a run, leading the pack over the bridge. Good to run. Good to feel the clean bite of weather. Good to taste . . .

The wind shifted. An Owl, one of the Courtyard’s nighttime sentinels, flew overhead, calling a warning. <Intruders!>

There shouldn’t be anyone out on the road that wound between Lakeside Park and the Courtyard except for the snowplows that would rumble through the night to clear the roads for all the humans heading to work the next day. If a city worker had to come into the Courtyard, especially at night, a government official would have called Elliot beforehand. So no human had a reason to be here tonight.

Catching the scent, Simon turned onto a narrow service road that ran close to the Courtyard’s fence, pushing for all the speed he could get.

No howl, no sound, no warning. Just black, white, and gray shapes blending with the snow and the night as they raced toward the enemy.

A danger if the humans brought weapons, since the deeper snow on the service road was slowing the Wolves down enough that the intruders might get off a shot or two. But the humans had to break a trail through that snow too, so even if they wounded a couple of Wolves, they still wouldn’t get away.

<There,> Simon said.

Three humans slogging through the snow, heading away from the black wrought-iron fence that served as the Courtyard’s boundary.

<Rifle,> Elliot said.

<I see it,> Simon replied. Only one coming into their land with a weapon? Not likely. Just because he couldn’t see other weapons didn’t mean they weren’t there.

He caught sight of the black smoke moving just above the snow, rushing toward the intruders. Ignoring the smoke, he focused on the man with the rifle. The fool wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see him or the other Wolves coming until the third man looked around and shouted a warning.

The rifle swung in Simon’s direction.

They wouldn’t reach the enemy fast enough. The shot was going to hit one of them.

The black smoke suddenly surrounded the man with the rifle. Some of the smoke changed into hands that jerked the rifle skyward just as the man pulled the trigger.

Simon raced past the smoke and leaped, hitting the second man so hard they both lifted out of the broken trail and landed in fresh snow. His teeth closed over the thick scarf wrapped around the man’s neck, and the crushing power of Wolf jaws slowly strangled the prey while other Wolves clamped down on the man’s wrists, preventing him from fighting back.

The man engulfed in the smoke screamed.

Simon held on to his prey until it stopped struggling. Releasing the throat, he raised his head and sniffed the man’s face. Just unconscious.

Perfect.

Blood spread on the snow from the throat of the third man as the Wolves ripped open the clothes to get at the meat.

The smoke around the first man condensed until it became a black-haired man dressed in a black turtleneck and jeans. His arms were around the human; his hands were still clamped over the hands holding the rifle.

In their smoke form, the Sanguinati engulfed their prey and drew blood out through the skin. Not much skin was exposed in this weather, but the man’s face was sweating beads of blood that froze almost instantly.

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