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Shifters in the Shadows

By:Liv Brywood

Chapter 1





As Sasha drove her truck under a wooden sign marked Curvy Bear B&B, a smile spread across her face. To the right of the dirt road, a crop of bright orange pumpkins sat on drying vines. A scarecrow dressed in a Tyrannosaurus rex Halloween costume hovered over the patch, adding a festive charm to the ranch’s entrance.

A spark of excitement awakened her bear. She couldn’t wait to spend a week at the artist’s retreat. Her bear sniffed the pine-scented air with approval. She’d never expected to discover a ranch dedicated to helping shifters find a community so close to her home. The website had promised a week of inspiring exercises in a variety of artistic mediums—everything from metalworking to oil painting.

After battling piles of uninspiring clay, she needed a break. But she couldn’t play around too much. Her favorite patron, Nancy Bran, expected a fully fired piece of unique art for her mansion by the end of the week. If Sasha couldn’t design an amazing clay creation, Nancy would drop her in favor of an artist who wasn’t wallowing in creative hell.

Gravel crunched under the truck’s tires as she approached the parking area. Several cars formed a line to the right of the barn. She pulled up beside them and turned off the engine. As she hopped out, a curvy woman with fluffy golden-blonde hair approached her from the direction of a large ranch-style home.

“Welcome to the ranch. I’m Abigail, but you can call me Abby,” she said.

“I’m Sasha,” she said.

“Did you find the place okay?” Abby asked.

“Yes, your directions were great.”

“Here, let me help you with your bags,” Abby said.

“Thank you.” Sasha pulled a bag out of the back seat and handed it to her. “I usually pack a lot lighter, but I wasn’t sure which tools I was going to need this week. I have clay in the back, but I’ll come back for that.”

A tall, muscular man with wavy brown hair and bright green eyes strolled around the side of the barn. Dressed in jeans, a red-and-white checkered shirt, and sporting a tan Stetson, he carried himself with a cool confidence.

“Hey, hon.” Abby stood on her tiptoes as she stretched to kiss the man. “This is my husband, Cody.”

“Nice to meet you.” Darn, too bad he was already married.

“I heard you say you have clay in the back. I’d be happy to grab it for you,” Cody said.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to be a bother,” Sasha said.

“It’s no bother,” he said.

“He likes showing off his muscles,” Abby joked.

“Any chance I get.” He winked at his wife. “I’ll take this up to your room, Sasha. It’s nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Sasha said.

As Cody hauled two ten-pound blocks of clay out of the truck’s bed, Sasha pulled a second bag out of the back seat. She followed Abby up the road past the ranch home toward the two-story B&B.

“Wow. This place is huge,” Sasha said.

“We have twenty rooms for guests, but we’re only about half full this week,” Abby said. “During the summer and at Christmas we tend to fill up, but business is slower in the spring and fall. That’s partially why I decided to run this retreat.”

“I can’t wait. I have a feeling this week is going to be great,” Sasha said.

“We love to host other shifters at the B&B. I’m surprised by how many of us live in areas without other bears. You’re a grizzly shifter, right?” Abby asked.

“Yep.” Her bear stretched in her chest. “She can’t wait to come out and run around the woods. Is it fairly safe, or do you have problems with hunters?”

“We used to have a few issues, but we managed to scare away the humans,” Abby said. “So it’s basically safe, but as usual, you should be careful if another bear approaches you. Some of the creatures in this area aren’t shifters. If you’re cautious, you should be fine.”

“You’re a painter, right?” Sasha asked.

“Oil and acrylic.”

“I work with clay.”

“Bowls and plates?” Abby asked. “Or figurines?”

“A little bit of everything,” Sasha said.

“Is it your full-time job?”

“For now,” she sighed. “I have a piece due at the end of the week and I can’t think of anything new and original.”

“Can you get an extension on the deadline?” Abby asked. “What’s the piece for?”

“It’s for my main patron. Without her, I’d be in trouble right now. The economy’s been terrible the last few years and I have very little money left. If I don’t fulfill this order, I’m going to lose my business.”

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