Bodyguard Shifters bonus epilogue: Books for Dragons
This story contains spoilers for the Bodyguard Shifters series! This story, “Books for Dragons”, features Melody and Gunnar from Bear in a Bookshop, Bodyguard Shifters #3. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BVYYXV4
Books for Dragons
When winter closed down on the Northern Hemisphere, Melody decided that it made all the sense in the world to move the traveling bookshop south to the sun-drenched Florida coast. What was the point of having a bookshop in a converted RV if you couldn’t go wherever the mood took you? She had dealt with enough snowy, slushy, drippy winters to last a lifetime.
And so she and Gunnar enjoyed a few lazy, sunny months, drifting along the coast, opening the store’s pop-up awning and putting out cardboard boxes of used books in a series of touristy coast towns.
The twins, Dash and Daria, were crawling now. When they were tiny babies, Melody used to sit with them on a blanket in the shade of the bookshop awning, but now that they needed more attention, Gunnar usually took them while Melody watched the shop. On the gloriously sunny Florida coast, she often closed early so they could spend the evening splashing in the edge of the sea. She never had to worry for the children’s safety, not when their dad was a polar bear, and Melody herself was an accomplished swimmer in both her human and dragon forms.
Neither of the twins had begun to shift yet. Melody wondered which of their parents they would take after. So far, they definitely looked like their dad. Both of them were sturdy, rosy, blond-haired babies, in contrast to Melody’s willowy build and the long jet-black hair she’d inherited from her dad.
But that could change, of course. Melody was already noticing a reddish darkening to Daria’s hair. Their grandmother Esme would be thrilled if it turned out that her flame-red hair, which had thoroughly skipped a generation in Melody, had showed up again in her granddaughter.
Esme was turning out to be an attentive and doting grandmother—honestly more than Melody would have expected. She had been a loving mother, but a sometimes distant one. She definitely had her own life, and often treated Melody more like a sister than a daughter. But she had also been very unhappy back in those days. Melody hadn’t even realized that her mother was so sad until seeing her blossom with Heikon, the mate she had believed dead. Esme stayed closely in touch and sent gifts to the children from all over the world … most of which they couldn’t keep; there was little room in the RV for anything other than necessities and books. Melody sent the unwanted toys to her brother’s family or donated them to children’s charities.
“Florida is called the Sunshine State,” Gunnar reported, reading aloud from a book of Florida facts that had been left in the cardboard trade-in box. He sat beside the box with his legs sprawled out loosely, a sleeveless T-shirt showing off his developing Florida tan.
“I can see why,” Melody said, fanning herself with a copy of The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar. The twins were asleep in their breeze-cooled playpen in the shade of the awning, and she sat in the open side door of the heavily modified RV with her bare feet in the sand. Back in Autumn Grove, Gunnar and Melody’s brother Ben and his friends had done a marvelous job of rebuilding the RV into a traveling shop. The side panel opened up like a treasure box, with the awning going upward and the door opening outward to display the bookshelves on its inner surface and allow admittance to the bookstore part of the RV.
But they were still going to need more room eventually, she thought. When it was just her and Gunnar, the small sleeping area and kitchenette in the back of the RV had been more than adequate. And she had really enjoyed the feeling of traveling light, or at least as light as a book-hoarding dragon was capable of.
But the kids came with the need for a bunch of extra stuff, and there was only going to be more stuff as they got older. Not to mention the need for somewhere for them to sleep that wasn’t their parents’ bedroom. Right now it worked fine to set up the travel crib in the closed-up bookshop part of the RV every night, while she and Gunnar slept in their fold-down bed in back. But there was going to come a time, and it was rapidly approaching, when this arrangement and the ever more mobile children would start to put a serious crimp in her very satisfying post-pregnancy sex life.
“The name of Florida means ‘full of flowers,'” Gunnar reported. “That’s real pretty, don’t you think? Did you know that?”
“No, I didn’t.” She smiled, and stretched out her sandy foot to brush his leg with her toes. “You’re right, it’s a very pretty name.”
She still couldn’t stop being delighted by how thoroughly Gunnar had come to enjoy reading. He still struggled with dyslexia, but working together, they were slowly learning to work around his reading difficulties so that he could unlock the joy that Melody had always found in books. After some of their bookselling stops in various towns, they ended up with more trade-in books than they could find room for, so Melody quietly looked for places where she could donate them to adult literacy programs and prison libraries.
And to think, when she had first realized Gunnar was her mate, she hadn’t been able to see how it could possibly work between them, the woman who lived for books and the man who barely read above a third-grade level and hadn’t opened a book in years. Now she looked back on herself and could only laugh and shake her head at her own snobbishness.
Finding people who shared your own love of your most important things was always nice. But being able to introduce someone to it, and show them how to love it—that was a rare and precious thing.
She couldn’t wait to read her favorite books to the twins. But if it turned out that they never did come to love reading—if Daria would rather climb trees, and Dash just wanted to shift and run in the woods…
Well, she would love them just the same, of course, and learn to love the things they loved too.
“And the state flower,” Gunnar began, but just then Daria rolled over in the playpen and began to fuss. The two parents shared a look, and Gunnar put the book aside and got up, brushing sand off his swim trunks and legs.
“You don’t have to,” Melody said. “I can take a turn—”
“It’s no problem, and anyway.” He nodded down the beach. “I think you got customers.”
They had set up the RV bookshop at the edge of a parking lot beside the beach. So far it had been a very slow day. There were just a handful of people out and about in the middle of the day on a weekday, plus a bored-looking teenager selling ice cream at the other end of the parking lot. But when Melody looked where Gunnar indicated, she saw a mother and child just finishing up their ice cream cones as they headed toward the bookshop. The mom leaned close and whispered something, and the little girl nodded and took the crumpled dollar that was placed into her hand. Then she skipped toward the bookshop while the mom took off her shoes and waded into the sand, her skirt swishing around her legs.
“Hello,” Melody said as the girl skipped under the awning. Gunnar gave her a smile and a nod, scooped up both twins, and went into the RV.
“Hi!” The girl looked around, wide-eyed, and Melody recognized in that look the expression of a fellow book-lover.
She also recognized something else.
Melody wasn’t sure how she knew. It wasn’t any one single thing. The little girl looked like an ordinary little girl. She had light brown skin and dark hair drawn up into two curly ponytails and a pink sundress with ponies on the skirt.
But there was a certain lightness to the way she moved, as if her bare feet wanted to leave the ground and mount into the sky. And there was a glimmer in her eyes, just barely there, a glint of silver radiance that no ordinary human would have noticed.
But Melody did.
“Sweetheart?” Melody said. “Are you a dragon?”
The little girl’s eyes got very wide, and she clapped her hands over her mouth. Between her fingers, she whispered, “I’m not supposed to tell!”
“It’s okay,” Melody said quickly. She leaned forward, and for an instant she let her dragon flash in her eyes. “I’m a dragon too.”
The little girl’s mouth dropped open in delight. She scampered closer, and before Melody knew it, she was being treated to a torrent of excited babbling. The girl, she managed to pick out from the thrilled flood of words, was a water dragon. Melody had never met one before.
“—and we go swimming on the REEF every day! Did you swim on the reef? The fishes are very tasty! You should eat them! But don’t eat the yellow and blue ones, they taste like toothpaste, or the jellyfishes with the nasty sting, and you shouldn’t eat the turtles because they are endangered even though they taste really nice—”
“Shhh, shhh,” Melody hushed her, finally managing to break into the torrent of words as she choked on laughter. “My babies are asleep inside. Don’t wake them up.”
“Oh!” The child put her finger to her lips and nodded. “Are they dragons too?” she whispered.
“I don’t know yet,” Melody whispered. “They aren’t old enough to know.”
“Mama says that I could swim before I could walk,” the little girl whispered. “As soon as she put me in the water, I turned into my dragon and swam away! I… oh…”
She was silent for a moment, gaze turned inward, and Melody knew exactly what that look was. She just didn’t see it from the outside very often, because adults learned to hide it and she wasn’t around children of her own kind very often. The little girl was listening to the voice of her dragon.
The girl looked up, and the silver gleam in her eyes meant that her dragon was very close to the surface. “She says, do you want to go swimming with us?” she asked in a loud whisper.
“Not right now,” Melody said regretfully. “I have to take care of my shop. But maybe later.” She smiled and gestured around them. “Why don’t you look at the books? Feel free to pick out anything you like. It’s free, one dragon to another.”
“Oh,” the girl whispered, and her eyes went very round. She seemed overwhelmed.
“Here, some children’s books are in this box,” Melody suggested, and nudged a box forward with her toe.
She sat back, propped on her hands, and watched the little girl dig happily through the boxes. Occasionally she answered questions about whether she had more of a series, or if she had “any more books like this one.”
She also noticed the girl’s mom down on the beach. The woman had hitched up her skirts and waded into the edge of the water, but kept looking up the beach, keeping a close eye on the small figure under the bookstore awning. Melody had no doubt that if any danger had threatened, there would have been a furious water dragon instantly on the scene. She remembered similar incidents with her own mother, who seemed to have the ability to very nearly teleport to her daughter’s location if she had any reason to believe that Melody was in trouble.
Maybe it’s a mom thing, she thought. Like mates have a sense for when each other are in danger.
That thought had never occurred to her before. She knew that she could tell when Gunnar was in trouble. Maybe she would be able to know the same thing for Dash and Daria.
Does it last your entire life? she wondered. If she was in trouble, would Esme always come running?
She had a feeling that Esme would.
She knew that she always would if anything ever threatened Daria or Dash. Even if they were grown up with dragonets of their own.
Eventually the little girl had an armload of books clutched to her chest. By this time the child’s mother had left the water and was walking up the beach toward them, wading through the sand.
“Hello,” Melody said when the mom ducked under the awning.
“Hi,” the mom said. She ruffled the little girl’s hair. “Sofia, did you find something you like? Oh, no, baby. I’m sorry, we can’t buy all of those.”
“They’re free,” Melody said. When the mother looked up quickly, starting to frown, Melody let her dragon rise to the surface, a brief flash in her eyes, and said quietly, “She’s hoarding them, isn’t she? I know what that’s like.”
A quick series of expressions crossed the woman’s pretty features: shock, delight, wonder. “Yes, exactly.” She dropped her voice and looked around, but there was no one nearby. “I hoard shells myself. All our family hoards things of the sea. I didn’t expect her to want something that can’t get wet, but of course, you never know what it’s going to be, do you? They’re the little people they are. Do you have children of your own?”
“I do,” Melody said, and her toes curled a little in the sand at the sheer delight—she still wasn’t used to it—that she could say that, and it was true. “But they’re very young. I still don’t know what they’re going to shift into, if they’ll even be dragons. Their father is a bear.”
“True mates?” Sofia’s mom asked quietly. And then she said quickly, “I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to pry. It’s just, a dragon and a bear… it’s unusual.”
“We are,” Melody said, and she knew that her own happiness showed on her face; she could feel it by the soft warmth in her chest. “What about you and her father?”
Sofia’s mother nodded, and her gentle smile echoed the way Melody felt. “Her father has a fishing boat. We’re going to swim out to meet him. In fact…” She looked around. “Oh, Sofia, we have to go! We’re going to miss the rendezvous with Papa if we don’t hurry.”
“Papa!” the little girl cried, delighted. And then she looked down at the books in her arms, and her face fell.
“It’s okay,” Melody said. “You can leave them here and pick them up when you get back. Look, I’ll label them for you so I’ll know not to sell them to anyone else.” She reached beside her for a sticky note pad and a pen. “Sofia. How do you spell that?”
The little girl spelled it for her, and Melody took the books and put the sticky note on top. She wrote underneath with a flourish, RESERVED.
“There you go. When you come back, these will be waiting for you.” She set them on a low shelf and patted the top of the pile.
The little girl’s eyes longingly followed the books, but then her mother gave her shoulder a pat. “What do you say, Sofia?”
“Thank you!” Sofia burst out.
“You’re welcome,” Melody said.
Smiling, filled with warmth down to her toes, she watched the mother and child walk away hand in hand, down the beach in the sunshine. They waded into the water, the mom looked around, and then they both ducked below the surface.
They didn’t come back up again. But there was a ripple farther out—no, two ripples, side by side.
Melody watched the ripples until they were out of sight. She was still watching the sun glimmering on the ocean when Gunnar knelt behind her and wrapped a strong arm around her, looping it across her chest. She leaned back against him.
“So there’s good news and bad news,” he murmured into her hair. “Which do you want first?”
Melody smiled and pressed her lips against his arm. “Let’s have the good news.”
“Our son is asleep.”
“Well, that sounds good,” she murmured. “What’s the bad news?”
“Our daughter isn’t.”
“Which means soon neither of them will be.” Melody smiled. “You know what? Let’s close up the shop and take them down to the water. We can go swimming and play in the sand and tire them out so we can all sleep tonight.”
And maybe their new dragon friends would come back and they could swim together. She wouldn’t mind learning some swimming tricks from real water dragons.