Marked in Flesh Page 108

“Good to know.” Steve stepped away from the counter. “I’ll be in touch.”

They waited until they heard the back door close.

“First come the storms,” Simon said. “Then come the Elders.”

“Then comes death,” Vlad finished. “There won’t be much mercy, if any.”

“How much mercy did the humans show when they killed so many of the Wolfgard in the Midwest and Northwest? How much mercy did they show when they attacked us here? Or when they dropped bombs on the terra indigene who watched the borders of Cel-Romano?”

“And that’s how we should behave?”

He shook his head. “I don’t want to be that human. We can’t protect everyone in Lakeside from the storms or the Elders, but we can try to protect the human pack. If we bring them into the Courtyard, the Elders might leave them alone.”

“Some members of that pack have connections with humans who want nothing to do with us. Do we let in a potential enemy in order to protect a friend?”

“No. If anyone in the human pack can’t accept that, then that’s their choice.” The phone rang. Simon growled at it.

“The call might be about an order. We still get orders from the terra indigene.”

Good point. He picked up the phone. “Howling Good Reads. Yes, I am. Yes, I remember who you are.” He must have started growling, because Vlad poked him. “Stay there. We’ll come and get you.” He hung up and turned on his friend. “Don’t poke me.”

“Just trying to help.” Vlad tapped the phone. “Who wants a ride?”

“Agent Greg O’Sullivan. And Lieutenant Montgomery’s pack. I’ll go with Blair and pick them up at the train station.”

“I’ll call the lieutenant—and ask Captain Burke to drop by for a quiet word.” Vlad started toward the stock room and the stairs, then stopped. “Do you know where Michael Debany is now?”

“He was working at the Green Complex’s garden. Might still be there or heading this way to get ready for work.” Simon tried to stifle excitement as he added, “He is riding a bicycle to and from the garden.”

He had no interest in learning to ride a bicycle, but he really wanted to chase one. On foot, humans weren’t fast enough to be fun play-prey. Except Meg, but that was a different kind of chase game. But the bicycle . . .

That game would have to wait.

“Why do you want him?”

“I have something to discuss with him on Tolya’s behalf,” Vlad replied.

They walked out the back door together, stopping long enough to tell Merri Lee that she was minding the store for a while. Then Vlad shifted to smoke and headed for the Green Complex while Simon waited for Blair to bring a van around.

When a pack got too big, it was hard to bring down enough game to feed everyone. Problem was, their numbers were swelling with two-legged predators who wouldn’t be much good at bringing down meat.

They would have to earn their keep, just like everyone else in the Courtyard. This not working in the summer was a strange idea. You had to eat in the summer, same as in every other season. That required work.

Couldn’t tell yet if the storm that would hit Lakeside would come across the Great Lakes or swing in from the storm coming up the East Coast—or both. No way to tell how much time they had left to bring in supplies.

While he waited for Blair, he dashed into the Liaison’s Office to tell Meg that she and the female pack needed to order the schoolbooks today. With a bit of luck, they would receive some of them before the storms—and the Elders—arrived.

• • •

Vlad shifted to human form and waited for Michael Debany to notice him before approaching the garden.

There was that delicious moment when both hearts beat faster, and prey and predator recognized each other for what they were. But with the human pack, it really was just a moment before recent experience quieted generations of instinct.

“Hi,” Debany said. “It’s looking good, don’t you think?”

Vlad didn’t see anything different from yesterday in terms of edible food, but he nodded. “It is, yes. Do you have a minute?”

“Sure.” Debany pulled a towel and water bottle out of a small pack. He drank deep, then poured some water over his face and wiped it off. “What’s up?”

Casual. Trusting. At least trying to be those things.

“You have a sister.”

“Yes, I do.” The voice was still casual, but the eyes were wary.

“She likes animals.”

“She does. She has enough schooling to qualify as a veterinarian’s assistant. The family couldn’t afford to pay for more schooling, so she came home to find some work and save up to continue later. She was looking to work with animals as a job. Practical experience and a paycheck, you know?”

The same could be said for younger members of a Courtyard. “Has she ever considered living out west?”

“Don’t think she’s ever said, but with all that’s happened, I wouldn’t want her to go out there.”

“Even if her safety was assured as best it could be?”


“We can’t be responsible if she sticks her hand in a hole and is bitten by a rattlesnake. But the not-edible rule would apply.” Vlad studied Debany’s face. Police stance. Listening but no longer reacting. “Tolya Sanguinati is now in charge of a town called Bennett.”

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