Riding the Rapids
Rob is an otter shifter and perfectly suited for his job as a river guide on the Animus River in southwest Colorado. When his boss requests him to take a solo tourist up the river for a private tour, he’s reluctant at first. He’s instantly drawn to his hunky client, Paul, and the two set off on a journey of discovery and adventure.
Rob Cranston dove off the boulder and swam deep into the river. There along the center of the river bed, large trout basked just outside of the turbulent waters. Rob often hunted those waters, and there was nothing he liked more than a nice rainbow trout for lunch. He spotted a likely quarry and swam after it. His sharp claws grabbed the fish. It struggled for a moment, then he bit into it, taking a big enough chunk out of it to stop its thrashing. He swam up to the surface, then over to the shore, where he jumped out of the water and sat on a rock to enjoy his lunch. It was good to get a little while to himself. It was tourist season, and he’d spent most of his time taking people on rafting trips down the Animas River. He often laughed that he was taking people down the river of souls, but somehow, they all came back. It was the perfect life for an otter shifter.
He finished off the trout and dove back into the river. If he was lucky, he’d have enough time to swim back to the launch beach before the next tour group showed up. He had to be careful shifting. He didn’t want to get caught and freak anyone out. The river had crested two weeks earlier and was dropping quickly to its normal summer depths, although there was still plenty of white water to keep the customers happy.
When he hopped out of the water, the parking area was empty, so he ran to his old Ford truck and shifted. He managed to put on his shorts before the tour bus full of people, rafts, and canoes came careening around the corner and stopped a few feet away, kicking up a cloud of dust.
Coughing, Rob grabbed his T-shirt and walked toward the bus door.
It swung open, and Charlie, the head guide stepped out. “All right, everyone, remember what we went over in the safety class. Grab your life vest from the truck over there.” He pointed at Rob’s truck that had vests and other emergency equipment in the bed. “If you need help getting them on, Rob, our other guide will be happy to help you.”
A couple dozen people poured out, along with five more guides. It was two more than they normally had on a tour this size.
Rob strolled over the Charlie. “Hey, what’s with so many guides?”
“Oh, didn’t you get the text?”
Rob shook his head. “Sorry, went for a bit of a swim while I was waiting.”
Charlie cocked his eyebrows and stared at Rob. “You don’t look wet.”
Rob raised his hands in surrender. “It’s been a few minutes since I was in the water. Spent the rest of the time on that boulder over there.” He pointed to the huge rock near the shore. “Haven’t checked my phone. It’s in my car.”
“Oh well. We’ve got a special request and needed the extra hands. If you’d checked your phone, you’d know that you’re taking the double kayak up the river, then back down. It’s an all afternoon package. The guy’s paying double our regular rate for an impromptu private tour. He’s got a bit of camera gear. Special adventure stuff in waterproof cases. Heard about some of the wildlife we see along the river, but also wants some shots from the kayak in the white water. He said he’s got some special suction-cup mounts. We need you to take good care of him.”
“Me?” Rob frowned. “You know I don’t like special tours.” He didn’t like the extra one-on-one time the special tours tended to get. The advantage of the larger groups was he didn’t have to worry about people trying to get too much information out of him. He liked keeping things simple and sticking to the script Charlie used when he was taking people out. With larger tours and more people asking questions, he didn’t have to worry about people wanting to get specific answers when all he wanted to do was be vague.
“Look, dude, you’re our best kayaker. With the money this guy’s tossing around, I want him to have a good time, tell his friends, and come back with his friends to throw more money around.” Charlie glared at Rob. “Don’t screw this up.”
Rob hated it when Charlie got in his face. He didn’t do it often, and most of the time it was about money. Charlie was always about money, but that was why White Water Runners was one of the most successful rafting companies in the valley. Charlie wasn’t some laidback hippie who’d decided to spend his life riding the river. He’s come from a prestigious business college on the east coast and saw a market that needed a change, and he was that change.
“When was the last time I screwed up a tour?” Rob put his hands on his hips and glared back.
Charlie looked away first. “Never.”
Rob nodded. “Right. Now, which one of these guys is your big spender?” He glanced over the people milling about between the bus and his truck.
“Over there.” Charlie gestured to a young man, maybe twenty-five, with broad shoulders, short brown hair, and a trim waist. He had a couple of camera bags slung over his shoulder and was fishing a life vest out of Rob’s truck.
Rob had to admit the man was very attractive. One of the things he really enjoyed about being a river guide was the hot guys he met. He rarely connected with them, but during the summer there were a lot of hot ones that came his way. White water rafting on the Colorado Rivers was a pretty big thrill for a lot of college-aged guys, and a lot of them left their girls either at home or in Durango to do the sightseeing thing or shopping.