Written in Red Page 71

The clerk looked so relieved when she handed over her big zippered shopping bag, she wondered if the store would be closed from now on when the Others usually came to the plaza.

“Do you have a catalog?” she asked.

He slipped two into the bag. “Orders are usually next-day delivery.”

She paid for her purchases and sighed with relief when she was on the sidewalk. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but she wasn’t sure how the Others felt about pet stores. She started to walk between two parked cars, then stopped, unable to take another step.

Rememory. A car door suddenly opening as a young woman walked past. Strong hands reaching, grabbing. Dark hood. Hard to breathe. Impossible to see. And those hands touching and . . .

“Are you all right?”

Meg jerked back and almost slipped, then almost slipped again trying to avoid the hand reaching for her.

Crows cawed, sounding a warning.

She focused on the man, who now stood very still. Police officer. Not one of the two who had introduced themselves, but not unfamiliar.

“Officer Kowalski, ma’am. I work with Lieutenant Montgomery.”

She let her breath out slowly. She’d seen him in the car the day the lieutenant stopped in.

“My thoughts wandered,” she said. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.” That wouldn’t explain whatever he’d seen in her face when he reached for her, but the way he looked at her told her plainly enough her explanation, while true in its way, wasn’t quite good enough to be believed.

“Let me give you a hand back to the bus. The parking lot is a little slick today.”

Feeling unsteady and understanding that making an excuse to refuse his help would cause trouble, she accepted his arm—and noticed, even across the parking lot, the way Vlad stiffened as he watched them. She also noticed the way two more police officers got out of a patrol car and began looking around.

“Was anyone abducted from this plaza recently?” Meg asked, only noticing the prickling in her legs when the sensation began to fade.

“Ma’am?” Kowalski gave her a sharp look.

Rememories and images didn’t use to flood her mind like this when she wasn’t focused on a particular question, wasn’t strapped in for a cutting and prophecy. When other people talked about recalling memories and information, was this what they experienced—this immediate association of one thing to another?

Did that mean she was starting to process the information around her like other people did, or was this the first stage of madness in a cassandra sangue? The Walking Names told the girls they would go mad if they tried to live outside the compound. Only Jean insisted that they wouldn’t, but she really was half mad.

“It’s nothing,” Meg lied. “Overactive imagination. I have to stop reading scary stories before bedtime.”

He nodded. “My fiancée says the same thing. Doesn’t stop her from reading them.”

Releasing his arm when they reached the bus—and Vlad—Meg smiled at Kowalski. “Thank you for the escort.”

“My pleasure, ma’am.” Nodding to Vlad, he returned to his patrol car.

“Problem?” Vlad asked.

She shook her head.

“You want to do any more shopping?”

She shook her head again. She wanted to get out of sight, wanted to hide. The need to do that was almost painful, and she didn’t know what was making her feel that way. But she did remember how Simon had calmed down in response to her acting calm, so it wasn’t hard to guess that predators didn’t react well around fear.

“I’d like to put this in the bus and then make some notes about what stores are here,” she said.

“I’ll take that.” Vlad’s hand closed around the top of her carry bag.

She couldn’t think of a way to refuse his help without making him curious about her purchases, so she surrendered the bag, then pulled a notebook out of her purse. As the Others trickled back to the bus with sacks bulging with merchandise, Meg made a list of the stores—and tried to ignore the feeling that more than the police and the terra indigene were watching her.

* * *

Asia slumped in her seat, peering over the dashboard as the Courtyard bus pulled out of the parking lot.

“Gods,” she muttered when White Van pulled out moments later. “Can you be more obvious?” The fool had been walking toward Meg and was barely a handful of cars away when that police officer approached her. Cops and Crows and a freaking vampire all watching the parking lot. Watching Meg. Did that idiot really think he could have gotten away if he’d even made a grab for her? At best, he’d be having a long chat with the cops. At worst, pieces of him would be all over the damn parking lot.

Satisfied there was no one left who would notice her, she started her car.

Time to call Bigwig to see if he had any other information about Meg Corbyn. Someone who was supposed to be a thief shouldn’t be getting police protection. Could be a cover story. A woman on the run being smoked out of hiding by a false accusation of theft. She’s taken into custody, and one cop believes her story and helps her escape. Then the two of them are on the run, racing against time to uncover a deadly conspiracy.

That kind of movie could be a hit. She’d have to write up the idea and talk to Bigwig about it. Instead of a movie, maybe it could be a two-part special story in the Asia Crane, SI, TV show that would introduce the cop who might be an information source and/or lover.

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