A couple of years before, Virgil McBride’s life changed... for the better. He’d been working as a ranch hand at a cattle ranch in Texas while hiding the fact that he was a cougar shifter. Then his boss brought home a gargoyle mate. It didn’t take long for staff to transition, wheedling out those humans who weren’t trustworthy. Virgil loves his new freedoms, allowing him to shift and explore the ranch in animal form. While out running as a cougar, Virgil scents something amazing, and he realizes his mate is near. Searching out the source, he finds something he’s never seen before... and it isn’t the dilapidated hunting stand. Virgil meets Shaw, a wombat shifter. Even though he assures his mate that he would be welcome at the ranch, Shaw isn’t convinced. After learning why—the beta of Shaw’s wombat wisdom is claiming him as his mate—Virgil realizes he’s not going to be able to fulfill his wombat’s dreams on his own. Can Virgil win Shaw’s trust enough to get the help they need to free his mate and give them a future?
“Hey, Virg! What are you up to this evening?”
Turning upon hearing the shout of Stanley Redfeather, Virgil McBride grinned at the Native American. He was also the ranch foreman, but he knew his friend wasn’t asking in a work capacity. Between the darkness beyond the window and the way Stanley was dressed for dancing, Virgil figured the man was heading toward the local honky-tonk and wanted a wingman.
So not happening tonight.
“Hi, Stan,” Virgil greeted, giving the handsome man an appreciative sweep with his gaze. “Goin’ out, I see.” Lifting his hands with a laugh, he winked. “See me in these comfortable sweats? I’m puttin’ on my flip-flops and takin’ a jog in the woods.”
Stanley groaned. “So you’re going to say no if I ask you to join me at The Rockin’ Station, aren’t you?”
Virgil nodded as he thought about the local dive bar, which had a decent-sized dance floor in the back. Their jukebox had a large assortment of tunes to fit just about everyone. Well, except rap or heavy metal, but those who enjoyed that kind of music probably wouldn’t be caught dead in the hick bar, anyway.
On Friday nights, such as the evening stretching before them, The Rockin’ Station also had a live band. Virgil knew Stanley swung both ways, same as himself, but if he were to try picking up a guy at the bar, they would probably have their asses handed to them—or at least, someone would give it a shot. That meant Stanley was going to try for a little lady-action.
I’m so not in the mood for human shenanigans.
Instead, Virgil wanted to indulge in something else that evening. “Sorry, man. I already have a date”—he winked—“with nature.”
Stanley nodded even as he sighed, his disappointment clear in his scent. “All right. Guess I’ll ask Walsh. Maybe he’ll be down for it.”
“Down for what?” Walsh asked, walking into the room. The dark-haired human grinned at Virgil. “You letting your kitty out for a walk?”
While Walsh’s tone sounded teasing, an interested gleam had entered his brown eyes.
“Yep,” Virgil confirmed. “Goin’ for a run.” He pointed at Stanley. Then he dropped his flip-flops on the floor and slipped into them before starting toward the front door. “Stanley’s lookin’ for a wingman.”
Walsh arched an eyebrow. “Really? Where ya goin, boss?”
As Virgil grabbed a jacket and slung it over his shoulders, Stanley answered, “There’s a live band at The Rockin’ Station on Fridays, and I’m going to look for a lady to dance with.” A low chuckled entered the foreman’s tone as he added, “And maybe a little more. You want to come?”
“Oh, sure,” Walsh replied, sounding pleased. Then he called, “And I still wanna see that someday, Virg!”
Virgil knew what Walsh was talking about. The human wanted to see him turn into his cat form. While Walsh had known about vampires for years due to an altercation with a rogue—he was part of the one percent of humans who couldn’t be compelled or mentally manipulated by a vampire’s trancing ability, so the memory couldn’t be deleted from his mind—he’d never met a shifter before being hired at Nicholas’s ranch.
Laughing, Virgil grabbed the door handle as he nodded. “You got it, buddy. Next time.” Then he strode outside.
“I’ll hold you to that!” Walsh called. Virgil waved as he allowed the screen door to close behind him, knowing the man returned his attention to Stanley when he heard Walsh say, “Give me fifteen minutes for a quick shower and shave, and I’ll be ready to go.”
As Virgil stepped off the porch and sauntered across the yard, heading toward the tree line, he thought about the many changes that had taken place over the last few years. When he’d been hired on as a hand to work the cattle over six years before, he’d had to keep his nature hidden. No one on the place had known about the existence of the paranormal.
Then, almost three years before, the ranch’s owner—Baltus Lindson—had insisted on taking his eldest son—Nicholas—on a business trip. While Baltus had owned the place, Virgil had rarely seen him. He was fine with that, too, since his scent bothered his cat.
The smell of greed, manipulation, and expensive cologne was not a good mix…on anyone.
Virgil had known Nicholas quite a bit better, although his scent confused him a little, too. The human worked beside them on the ranch, handling the running of the place. He’d also been engaged to a woman named Sandra, but he’d never had her scent on him.
Nicholas’s return from that fateful trip revealed everything to Virgil…and outed him as a shifter at the same time. The man had stumbled across gargoyles and had been the mate of one. In fact, not just any gargoyle, either—Nicholas was mated to a gargoyle elder—the rulers of their kind.
With Elder Bodb’s arrival, who’d been introduced as a rancher from Montana who was studying Texas practices to see how he could improve his own ranch, Virgil had been certain the wedding to Sandra would be called off. It hadn’t been. While Virgil had been surprised, it wasn’t his mating, and he wasn’t close enough to Nicholas to be asked for advice on how to work through personal issues.
What Virgil found even odder was that Sandra had moved into the ranch house…with another woman, Maggie.
Virgil had wondered what was going on, but it wasn’t his place to ask. Instead, he’d been more concerned about the arrival of more gargoyles and a couple of vampires. Worried about losing his job, he’d steered clear of the ranch house and the whole lot of them, taking his meals in the bunkhouse.