Manuel doesn’t much care about what humans do to each other, but when a shifter drug lord risks exposing all of them, he knows he has to step in. While trying to find the man’s weaknesses, Manuel runs across Sydney, the drug lord’s son.

Sydney has always lived under his father’s control. He’s seen too much, and he only wants a chance to have his own life. It isn’t what his father wants for him at all, though, and Sydney has been looking for a way out.

Their attraction is instant, but before they can make sense of the pull between them, Sydney’s home is attacked by a rival drug lord. Sydney is taken and Manuel will need the help of the other Watchers to mount a rescue operation.

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Cover Art by Carmen Waters

Manuel loved living in Arizona. There was something so peaceful about waking up each morning and looking out over the desert. His back yard might as well have stretched for miles, with the only thing breaking up his flat isolation being a few Saguaro Cactus. It was plenty of room for one cat, especially one who liked to run as much as he did. He had been born and raised in Mexico, and Watcher territories were fluid enough around the southern states that moving between the two countries was easy, especially for an ocelot shifter.

Being small and generally unseen was his advantage over some of the larger Watchers. They had trouble sometimes going through even their heavily wooded territories. They would have stuck out completely in his land of mostly flat desert. It was beautiful, in its own way. He’d caught glimpses of where the other Watchers lived and sometimes running through the trees or going swimming in a big river looked like fun. But then he thought back to his bright sunsets and the endless stars he could see as he lay out on his hammock every night and he knew he’d never give up his life in the deserts of Arizona for anything.

He was home where the blistering heat made the rocks sometimes too hot for his paws and where rattlesnakes, those that were really animals and not shifters like he was, tried to give him trouble on occasion. He loved the barrenness of it, and how people at the bar he was walking toward as the sun set to his left liked to bitch about how there was nothing out there. It was the perfect place for a Watcher, though the humans did enjoy whining about it. The high temperature was routinely over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit and the rains only came when there were monsoons. Then there were the dust storms, those nasty things that forced him inside even when he didn’t want to be. He bundled up in those times as the wind whipped against his steel house and shook the walls in its fury.

Those storms never lasted too long, though, and then he was back to being outside with the sun warming his fur as he lay out on his hammock. It was all part of living so far away from people, and he loved it.

Sometimes, though, a Watcher did have to come into town. He didn’t get too many visitors, other than folks coming out to see him when they needed help, so his source of information was the local shifter bar. What he got was mostly useless chatter, especially while the humans were around, but sometimes there was good information to be had.

He had downed two vodka cranberries before deciding that the trip had been a waste. His ears were open for trouble, and he was ready to leap into action and go be a Watcher for these shifters, but the only information he was able to gather as he eavesdropped on the various conversations around him was something about some new runners getting drugs to the humans.

Manuel was pretty sure he was supposed to care about what happened to the humans, but he just couldn’t bring himself to bother. His responsibility was to the shifters. The humans were not his problem, and what they decided to do with their own bodies was not his business. He had enough issues, usually, with wayward shifters trying his patience.

“... A coyote targeting the humans...”

Manuel whipped his attention around to the group of shifters talking softly. They were being quiet, but not so much that he hadn’t been able to pick up their conversation earlier, and now that he knew the shifter getting the drugs to the humans was actually going after them, this group had his attention. He left his drink at the bar as he came over and took their empty seat.

“Hey!” one shouted at him, but Manuel gave him a dark look that had him instantly shutting up.

Manuel met each of their gazes. Three lizards stared back at him. They were prey, and therefore completely harmless to him. “I’m Manuel. I’m assuming you’ve heard of me.”

One of them nodded. “Only in tales, sir.” The other two quickly caught on, and they became defensive as they rounded their shoulders and leaned away from him as if he’d shift right there with humans around and attack them.

“I need you three to quickly tell me everything you know about this coyote who wants to expose us,” Manuel quietly snapped at them. He could not risk the humans finding out about their kind, but dragging three young shifters out by their shirts would have brought too much attention from humans and shifters alike.

“I don’t think he wants to expose us,” one of them protested.

Manuel had to bite back hard on the growl that threatened to come out. Even though he currently looked human, it would still have been far too close to the sound he made as a cat for the ears of the humans who had wandered in mistakenly. “If he’s dealing with humans he’s risking exposure, and if one of them finds out what we are, then we’re all in deep shit. So, again, tell me everything you know. Don’t make a Watcher angry.” He flexed his fingers like they were razor sharp claws.

“Look, we needed the money,” one of the lizards said quickly. His eyes flicked between his friends like he was ready to run, but wanted them with him.

“Everyone down here needs money,” the middle one said. “If it ain’t drugs, it’s helping people migrate across the border.”

Manuel fixed them with a stern look. “So you’re helping this coyote? How many others are there?”

“Dude.” The first one nervously worked his tongue in and out. “We honestly don’t know.”

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