Babysitter Bear (Bodyguard Shifters #7) - Zoe Chant
This couldn't possibly be the place. Could it?
Dan Ross stood in ankle-deep snow beside the rural road, looking across snow-covered pastures to a rambling farmhouse with smoke curling from a fireplace chimney. There was a collection of outbuildings, all with neatly shoveled paths, and an honest-to-goodness barn with an actual horse browsing on hay, inside a wooden pole fence that wrapped around the barn.
On a post by the driveway, a mailbox shaped like a barn read THE RUGERS.
Apparently this was the place, even if he hadn't thought a guy like his old buddy Derek would live on a farm in a million years.
He adjusted his duffel over his shoulder. It contained all his worldly possessions, mostly just a collection of spare clothes and a few books he was reading; he'd learned to travel light in the Army. He curled his gloved hand through the duffel strap. His other hand—a pair of metal clamps half-hidden in the sleeve of his military surplus coat—rested lightly against his thigh.
Inside him, his bear seemed to stir, rousing a little at the smells of pine and woodsmoke on the clear sharp breeze.
Woods? Run? Hunt?
His bear was a simple animal with simple pleasures. He wished he could let it run and hunt. He just didn't have a clue what would happen if he shifted into a bear with only three legs and he wasn't ready to find out.
He hadn't shifted since losing his arm, two years ago.
He'd hitchhiked out here on a farm truck after taking a bus to Autumn Grove, the nearest town. The small town was unexpected enough. He knew Derek lived somewhere kinda rural, but he hadn't been prepared for the little brick downtown with its handful of shops.
This, though ...
Standing there in the cold wind, Dan took out his phone. He hesitated. He was right here at the top of the driveway. He may as well just walk down and knock on the door.
Still, after a minute, he played back the saved message that Derek had sent him some months back, even though he already knew it by heart.
"Hey, Danny-Boy," Derek's voice said, and Dan couldn't help smiling.
"Yeah, up yours, Derek," he muttered at the phone.
The message continued, Derek's gruff voice speaking as if out of the past. It was strange listening to it here, looking down at the little farmhouse rather than sitting on a bed in one of a number of shitty motel rooms.
"Remember how we used to talk about setting up our own business when you got out of the service? I know that was years ago, but guess what. I'm finally doing it. Me and Ben Keegan from the old days got together and we're running our own private security company for people like us."
There was a slight, meaningful hesitation on that last part. Shifters were what he meant, Dan knew; the secrecy habit was too deeply ingrained to talk about it, even on a voicemail message.
"So anyway," Derek went on, "I'm reaching out to some of the guys I know from the old days. See if anyone's interested. We're just getting off the ground and we don't have much business yet, but hell, even if you don't need a job, let's get together just for old time's sake. I'm living in a town called Autumn Grove, and you're probably laughing right now because I was never a settling down in small towns kind of guy. But things change, you know? I'm gonna run out of message here, so I'll just text you my address and you can call or stop by. Assuming you're even in the same part of the country as—"
The message cut off.
Dan hesitated for a long moment with his thumb over the call button, then put the phone back in his pocket.
"Yeah, it's a nice thought, Derek," he murmured. He looked down the driveway again. "But we haven't seen each other in a long time, and there are might be a few things you don't know about me. I don't think they hire a lot of one-armed guys to run security detail."
Especially a one-armed shifter who doesn't shift.
Still ... he'd come all this way. If Derek was going to turn him down, maybe it would be harder to do it in person than over the phone.
He started walking slowly down the driveway. His low-topped town boots slipped and slid on the snow. With every step, he thought once again that he'd made a mistake. What was he thinking, dropping himself into the middle of the