Marked in Flesh Page 40

Joe agreed with that, but he hadn’t liked being there to begin with. “We don’t need to go anywhere in Bennett except the train station.” As the implication of his own words struck him, fur sprang up on his chest and shoulders, and his canines lengthened to Wolf size. He stopped walking and took a moment to shift back to fully human.

“Our scent here becomes a sign of acceptance,” he said. “It sends a message, an indication that these are humans who work with us.” Would the Elders respect such a marker?

Tolya nodded. “That lack of scent also sends a message, does it not?”

Another warning under the words—especially after Tolya’s suggestion that the Others avoid visiting Bennett and his earlier remark about reclaiming the land.

They walked back to the motel. Nyx wanted to explore beyond the town. Tolya wanted to make a couple of phone calls. And Joe wanted to shake off thoughts of troublesome humans, go home, and find out what books Simon had sent to the Wolves.

At Tolya’s invitation, he stripped out of his clothes, folded them, and put them in the bottom drawer of the dresser.

“You may want to become a long-term renter of one of these rooms,” Tolya said. “It would be a convenient place to store clothes and have water to wash in when you had to be in human form.”

It was a good suggestion, and he would consider it. Instead of a Courtyard, the Others often had a house in a small human town, but there weren’t any empty houses in Prairie Gold. They had built only what they needed. A room would be sufficient, and having it might encourage more shifters to experience limited contact with humans.

Tired but satisfied, Joe left the motel and headed home, slipping behind buildings instead of trotting down the road. But thinking about markers and who could be a more devastating enemy to the people here than the yappy humans living in Bennett, he stopped long enough to lift a leg and mark Jesse Walker’s store.


Earthday, Juin 10

Jackson Wolfgard knocked on Hope’s bedroom door and waited to hear the words permitting him to enter. Not that he should need permission. He was the dominant Wolf, and she was living with his pack. But human females Hope’s age were . . . peculiar. It wasn’t his fault that, when he heard alarming sounds coming from her room the other day, he’d burst in, thinking she was hurt or under some kind of attack. And the jumping around and . . . caterwauling . . . turned into screams because he saw her without clothes. As if that made any difference to him. He had a mate. Besides, Hope was not only human; she was too fragile to be considering a mate, so he couldn’t see why particular body parts made any difference.

Of course, her screams brought more Wolves running, so plenty of Wolves saw those body parts—and wanted to know more about the thatch of fur between her legs and under her arms. Were those things that should be present on the females when they shifted to human form?

They were still waiting for Meg Corbyn and her pack to answer that question.

But it wasn’t fair to growl at him for responding the way he had. How was he supposed to know that sound had been singing? It hadn’t sounded like any human singing that he’d heard. In fact, it sounded more like a young Lynx whose paw had gotten trapped in some rocks. Which was why he’d thought Hope was in trouble.

Jackson knocked again and heard a timid, “Come in.” He stepped into the room, leaving the door open.

“Enough, pup,” he said. “Grace and I don’t mind if you draw every day, but not all day. The pack’s nanny is taking the pups for a walk, and you’re going with them. Get your shoes and your hat.”

“I lost my hat,” Hope mumbled.

Meaning the pups “accidentally” got hold of the hat and tore it to pieces. “Grace bought you another one.” Several, in fact.

He studied her. She usually obeyed, but she’d been a bit odd since the vision drawing she’d done of the dead bison. Since she continued drawing instead of putting her things away, he came over and crouched beside her.

“I’m making sketches of cards Meg will need,” Hope said.

Not finished drawings. Rough compared to her usual work. “Why does Meg need these?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you going to make the final drawings?”

She shook her head.

When the pencil stopped moving on the paper, he knew she was done, drained of whatever she needed to reveal. “Go outside, pup. Breathe in the good air. Play with the other pups.” He noticed the corner of another drawing that had slipped under her bed. “What’s that?”

Silence. Then Hope sighed and pulled the drawing from under the bed and handed it to him. “Are you going to leave forever?”

“I wasn’t planning to leave,” he replied as he studied the overlapping images. He was the Wolf herding ten . . . no, eleven . . . young bison. Then, in the center of the page, a train, its engine heading east through the grasslands of the Midwest. Then Talulah Falls, distinctive and unmistakable, and those houses she had drawn once before. The last piece of the picture was of him and Simon herding the bison.

“You wouldn’t leave Grace, would you?”

“I wouldn’t leave either of you. But I might have to make a trip to Lakeside.” He took the drawing and pulled her to her feet as he rose. “Outside. Walk, play, study the creek.”

She blinked. “Study the creek?”

“Yes. It’s clear water, not that deep. Look at what lives there. Then you can draw a picture of it when you get back.”

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