City of the Lost Page 30

“I’m accustomed to dealing with the press and nosy neighbours, sheriff. I’ve worked on high-profile cases.”

He looks at me as we walk to the front door. “Do you want to go out?”

“I’d like to see Diana, obviously.”

“She’s free to come to you. Otherwise, do you want to go out?”

When I don’t answer, annoyance crosses his face. “So you’re just arguing for the sake of challenging my authority?”

“I—”

“This isn’t how you’re used to working or living,” he says. “I get that. But you forfeited your civil liberties when you came up here. That was made very clear. You want to get on my bad side? Whine about your rights, like Hastings this afternoon. This isn’t a democracy. It’s a police state, and you’re the police, so start acting like it. If you want to go out tonight, then I’ll arrange something. But don’t argue for the sake of arguing. We’ll find plenty of real issues to fight over up here.”

He doesn’t give me time to agree, just locks the front door and leaves out the back, expecting me, as usual, to follow.

Ten

The forest starts about fifty feet from the rear of the buildings. That gap has been left not so much for yard space, I suspect, as security, making it tough for large animals to wander up unseen.

We cut through those “backyards” from the station to the north edge of town. From what I saw in the air, houses near the core are tightly packed, the configuration loosening at the edges. All the boundary houses are identical—one-and-a-half-storey buildings with steeply pitched roofs. A rear deck and upper-level balcony add extra living space to homes that probably have less than a thousand square feet inside.

Dalton walks onto one rear deck and opens the door. We go in and it reminds me of a cottage. A nice cottage, that is, with polished wood floors and tongue-and-groove walls.

The back door opens into the kitchen. He points out the amenities. No electricity—generators are only for food service buildings. An indoor water tank is filled weekly from one of the two nearby springs. The tank is elevated, allowing pressure, and there’s a hand pump if needed. The stove takes wood. There’s an icebox, which contains actual ice, harvested in winter and stored for warmer weather. The icebox itself is under the floor, to keep it low and cool.

Dalton walks into the living room. I follow. There are two chairs and a sofa. All are rustic but sturdy, with wooden frames and thick cushions.

I look around. “I’m staying here?”

His gaze moves to my bag, which someone has left across the room. That answers my question, saving him from speaking.

I gingerly lower myself onto the sofa. It’s big and soft and wonderfully comfortable.

“There’s a fireplace,” I say, and I can’t fight a small smile. I’ve never had a fireplace. My parents turned ours into a significantly safer media cabinet.

“Two fireplaces and a wood stove,” Dalton says. “You’ll need to learn how to chop wood.”

“Okay.”

He looks at me as if I’m being sarcastic. When he sees that I’m not, he nods. The front door opens, and he starts for the hall.

“Casey?” Diana calls.

I smile and rise from the sofa. “In here.”

She barrels past Dalton and throws herself at me in a hug. “Finally! I kept asking when you’d come in, and no one would give me a proper time, and then all of a sudden I hear that you got in this morning.”

“She was busy,” Dalton says.

“I asked to be notified—”

“And I vetoed that. She’s here to work. I had work for her.”

He’s already heading for the kitchen. Leaving out the back, I presume.

“Ignore him,” I murmur. “How’s everything going?”

She grins then, a huge blazing grin, the sort I haven’t seen since the day Graham asked her to marry him.

“It is amazing,” she says. She runs her hand through her hair, droplets of water flying. “I just got back from a quick dip. It’s freezing, but it feels so good.”

“There’s a pool?”

She laughs. “The pond. There’s a lake, too, but you need an escort to go there.”

“Um, you do know there’s no filtration system in a pond, right? Or a lake?”

Her grin widens. “Yes, we went swimming in a dirty pond.”

“We?”

From the way her face glows, I know the other half of that “we” isn’t a woman. I try not to stare at her. I probably do. Thrown into a new situation, Diana usually just lies low and observes, like a rabbit in its hole. I was certain she’d be hiding in her lodgings, waiting for me to come and take her around. Obviously not, and I’m thrilled to see it.

“So are you boarding here?” she asks.

“I guess so.”

“Hopefully it won’t be for long. I had to board the first night because my place wasn’t ready. I have an apartment now. If you’d like, you can bunk with me until they find you a permanent place.”

“I’m sure this will be fine. But thanks.”

We walk into the kitchen and find Dalton poking through boxes on the table.

“There’s dinner in there,” he says, pointing at one. “Enough for your friend if she stays. Basic supplies in the rest.”

“When do I get to meet my landlord?”

He frowns at me.

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