Hector bonus epilogue
Make sure you have read Hector (Outback Shifters 1) before reading this bonus epilogue!
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Last chance to avoid spoilers….!
Hector – Bonus epilogue
by Zoe Chant
“It’s here. Out in the middle of nowhere. Which I guess makes sense, considering.”
Hector looked down at where Trent Bowman’s finger was tapping against the map. He was right – the place he was pointing to really was in the middle of nowhere. Not that it would be too hard for his griffin to fly out there regardless, but with a new-found mate and an adoptive daughter to look after, he’d been hoping to avoid making any long trips for the next little while.
“How did you find out about this place?” he asked, looking at Trent and cocking his head.
His fellow agent smiled, tapping the side of his nose. “That’s for me to know and you to probably not find out,” he said – and then immediately caved in. “Okay. It was an ex-girlfriend. She’s an impala shifter, so you can imagine that here in Australia there’s not many places she can shift in peace and have a little run around. Having a sanctuary helped her a lot before she went back home to South Africa when her job finished.”
Hector rolled his eyes. “I guess I should have known it was an ex. It’s always an ex with you.”
“I’d say don’t be jealous, Hec, but now that you’ve got your mate I doubt you are,” Trent said, smiling at him – and was it Hector’s imagination, or was there a trace of wistfulness in his eyes?
Either way, Hector shook his head firmly. “No way. There’s nothing like it, Trent. Finding your mate… I can’t even describe it. I never thought it’d happen to me, but now that it has, I can’t imagine my life any other way.”
“Laying it on a bit thick, aren’t you?” Trent asked, though Hector could hear the smile in his voice.
“Believe me, this is nothing.” It was Callan McKenna who spoke up next, from his place across the other side of the room. “You should’ve seen him after he first met Myrtle – looking like a landed fish doesn’t even begin to cover it. All blinking eyes and gaping mouth. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Callan grinned at Hector, crossing his arms over his chest as if daring him to try to deny it.
“I’ll forever regret that you didn’t take a photo,” Trent said, laughing. “Our Hec, all googly-eyed and thunderstruck? I can’t even imagine it.”
“All right, all right,” Hector grumbled, though the grumbling was good-natured – mostly. “Don’t you two have anything better to do? Like pissing off and not bothering me?”
“Well, at least finding your mate has mellowed you out a bit,” Trent said, standing. “Time was if anyone gave you a teasing like that it’d be pistols at dawn with you.”
“Can I not just mellow on my own?” Hector asked, not that he was expecting a sensible answer. “Is it possible I decided on my own to pull my head out of my arse and not treat every little thing as if it were life and death?”
“No.” Callan’s answer was flat. “Face it, Hec – fatherhood looks good on you. And with Myrtle around to straighten you out, you might even be good at it.”
Hector swallowed as he thought of his mate, Myrtle, and the baby alicorn they’d adopted together, Ruby. The warm glow in his chest when he thought of them glowed even brighter for a moment as he pictured them together. He’d never known he could love anything as much as he loved them – despite the fact until he’d met them, he’d never really thought he was cut out for fatherhood. But now that he was, suddenly, a father, there was nothing else on earth he’d rather be doing.
“Anyway, I thought you’d like to know about it,” Trent said, looking down at the map once more. “Given Ruby’s… situation. A place where rare and extinct shifters can go and know they’re safe, that they won’t be spotted and cause a media sensation – or worse – that sounds a little hopeful, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” Hector said slowly, nodding. Ruby was an alicorn – and everyone had thought they had become extinct hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. Ruby was nothing short of a miracle. And if it hadn’t been for Myrtle, we might never have found her, Hector thought. As it was, Ruby’s existence was a closely-guarded secret – only he, Myrtle, and his team of shifter law enforcement agents knew what she was.
Hector had thought she might be the only one left in the whole world – or at least, the only one who was still willing to talk to humans and other shifters. But was it possible they might find another alicorn hiding here in this sanctuary?
“Thanks, Trent. I really appreciate you letting me know about this. Though I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to go out there,” Hector said. “It’s a long trip. I don’t want to be away from home for too long.”
“Why not just take Myrtle and Ruby with you?” Callan asked. “It’s long, but c’mon – who doesn’t love a family road trip?”
“I vote road trip,” Trent said, raising his hand in the air. “Two against one, Hec – it’s gotta be a road trip.”
“Are either of you coming on this road trip?” Hector asked, throwing his hands up. “Do either of you want to take responsibility for a cranky alicorn foal who wants another serve of pureed apple, and she wants it now?”
“The joys of fatherhood, Hec,” Callan said, grinning, before moving quickly to the door. “We’ll see you when you get back. Have fun!”
“Yeah, say hi to Myrtle and Ruby from me,” Trent said, following Callan out the door. “Let her know that if she has any single American friends who need a tour of the town, I’m always here.”
“I wouldn’t inflict you on any friend of Myrtle’s,” Hector shot back – but Trent was already gone, closing the door behind him.
“A rare shifter sanctuary?” Myrtle asked, looking up at Hector, feeling her eyes widen. “Is that what it sounds like?”
“If you think it sounds like a sanctuary where rare shifters can feel safe to shift and be who they are without risk of being seen, then yes,” Hector said with a grin.
“Well, good. Because that’s exactly what it sounds like.” Myrtle couldn’t help but return Hector’s smile. He still dazzled her with it – wide and open and loving, she almost fell in love with him a little more every time she saw it.
Which isn’t easy, considering I’m already pretty crazy about him, she thought. The last thing she’d expected when she’d touched down in Australia from the United States was… well, anything that had happened to her over the past couple of months. She definitely had never imagined she’d find a man who was her mate, or that he’d turn into a griffin, or that he’d be the hottest guy she’d ever laid eyes on… and as for the other new addition in her life –
Myrtle’s smile grew even wider as Ruby fluttered into view, her tiny, pure white wings carrying her unsteadily through the air. She was still getting the hang of flying, after all – she was still only a baby, and though she looked like a horse with white, feathered wings and a tiny golden horn on her forehead, she was only about the size of a puppy.
“What do you say to that, Rubes?” Hector asked, as Ruby alighted clumsily on his broad shoulder. “A little road trip to see if we can find you some friends?”
“Mee-eh!” Ruby let out her small, soft bleating sound as she cocked her head, blinking her large, silvery eyes. “Me-eh?”
“It’ll take a couple of days to get out there,” Hector told her, lifting his hand up for Ruby to step delicately onto. It made Myrtle’s heart glow to watch them together. Hector might have been as wide as a barn door, but he was gentle as a lamb when it came to Ruby. “You think you can behave yourself for that long?”
Ruby tossed her head, giving him the bleated equivalent of a What do you take me for? A rambunctious little rascal whose father can’t help but spoil her rotten anyway?
“I’m sure you can manage it,” Myrtle said, smiling at them both. “And I for one would love the excuse to get out and see more of Australia. You said this place was pretty remote, right?”
Hector nodded. “Yeah – out near Innamincka. It’s a huge bit of land owned by some rich shifter who wanted to give back, or so Trent says. It’s all a bit mysterious, as you’d expect. They try to keep a low profile. He knows about it because his ex-girlfriend had some pretty swanky connections apparently, and she spent some time there.”
Myrtle whistled through her teeth. “Swanky connections, you say. I’ll be expecting great things when we get out there.”
“To be honest, I have no idea what to expect,” Hector said. “It might be nothing but a shed and a shitter… I mean, a toilet. Uh. Bathroom.” He glanced at her, grimacing. “Sorry.”
“Oh please, I’m not that sensitive,” Myrtle laughed. “As long as there’s toilet paper in the shitter and it’s spider-free, then we’re good. If you can promise that, I’m there.”
“We… could bring some toilet paper, just to make sure,” Hector said cautiously, clearly not wanting to over-commit himself. “As far as spiders go, I can’t make any promises on that score.”
“See, this is why we should have moved to the United States,” Myrtle said, waving a finger at him. “Fewer spiders.”
“I’ll be sure to remember that when there’s a mountain lion gnawing on my leg after I get trampled to death by a moose,” Hector said, as he placed a prancing Ruby down on the dining room table.
“Oh please, at least you can see those coming,” Myrtle shot back, laughing. “Anyway, are you forgetting that I know you’re a shifter? Like any mountain lion or any moose would be a match for you.”
She was teasing, but she meant what she said. Hector’s griffin was magnificent – she couldn’t imagine the animal that would pose even the slightest threat to the half-lion, half-eagle he became.
“Oh, fine,” Hector said, ruffling his fingers gently through Ruby’s silvery mane as her hooves tapped on the table in happiness. “Since I can’t argue with you without saying either a moose or a mountain lion could kick my arse, you win.”
“Hah!” Myrtle jumped up, punching the air. “And for my prize, you have to pack. I’ll be out the back catching up on my reading.” She scooped up an armful of entomology journals from the table, before leaning over to give Hector a kiss on the cheek. “You don’t mind, do you? I’ll help if you want.”
Hector just smiled and shook his head. “Nah. I can manage a bit of light packing. Whaddya say, Rubes? Wanna help me pack?”
“Mee-eh!” Ruby said, taking to the air again, the sunlight glinting on her pure white pelt.
“On second thoughts, the reading can wait,” Myrtle said, dumping the journals back down on the table. “Spending time with the two of you sounds way more fun.”
“Okay, this… is a little bit more than a shed and a shitter.”
Hector could hear the surprise in Myrtle’s voice as he touched down on the dusty ground. The flying had taken them three days, him carrying Myrtle on his back, while Myrtle carried Ruby in her jumper and a pack with a tent and their supplies – including Ruby’s favourite snack of pureed apples – on her back. Luckily, both of them were used to roughing it every now and then – Hector as a secret agent and Myrtle as part of her scientific field work.
It was pretty clear though that for the next few nights, things were going to be quite different. Trent had told him the owner of the rare shifter sanctuary was loaded, but Hector hadn’t fully appreciated what that meant. He’d assumed they would’ve had to be rich to afford the land. But aside from that, they’d clearly also had the money to build what looked like a massive – and luxurious – hotel.
Not that it looked out of place here, amongst the dry brown grasses and the tall green eucalypts. Somehow, whoever had designed and built it had made it look almost like it was part of the landscape itself. Built from curving wood, stone and glass, it had a look that was almost organic.
“It’s beautiful,” Myrtle said, raising the brim of her hat and lifting her head to get a better look. Hector shifted back into his human form and followed her gaze. She was right – it really was gorgeous.
“How much does it cost to stay here?” Myrtle asked, turning to look at him.
“Not a problem, apparently,” Hector replied. “Like I said, Trent knows someone who knows someone.”
“That’s because any friend of Zina’s friend is a friend of mine.” Hector turned at the sound of a woman’s voice, deep and rich, from behind him. Turning, he saw the owner of the voice coming towards them, a tall woman with dark skin, her hair piled on top of her head, a warm smile on her face.
“You must be Hector and Myrtle,” she said, holding out a hand for first Myrtle and then Hector to shake. “I’m Tahnee. I heard you had a… special situation from Trent.”
“What did he tell you?” Hector asked, trying not to sound guarded – he knew he could trust Trent, but he didn’t need the world to know about Ruby. The more people who knew about her, the more dangerous it became for her.
“You don’t need to worry about me,” Tahnee said. “Both because Trent didn’t tell me what the situation actually is, and because I’m the soul of discretion. You can’t run a place like this without building up some trust. And believe me, my guests here trust me, or they’d never come.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Hector admitted. “But this being the kind of place it is, you must have an idea of why we came.”
“I can take a guess.” Tahnee smiled. “And I’m happy to help, if I can. But I have to warn you, if any of the guests here don’t want to talk to you, then that’s their decision. They come here for peace and quiet, and I won’t have that disturbed.”
“Of course not,” Myrtle said instantly. “We’d never dream of it. I promise, no harassing any of the other guests.”
Tahnee laughed, the sound warm. “No, I trust you, but these things have to be said. I say the same thing to all my guests – what happens at my resort stays at my resort. This is a safe haven.”
Hector nodded. “You don’t need to worry. I understand everything. We have our own things we’d prefer to keep quiet.”
“It sounds like this is the perfect place for you then,” Tahnee said with a smile. “Well. That’s enough with the formalities. Let me show you to your rooms.”
“Oh my God, Hector, is that –” Myrtle did her best to keep her voice down, but sometimes it was so hard. She’d promised Tahnee that she wouldn’t bother the other guests, but when the other guests were – were –
“Yep,” Hector replied, as the family of large, almost dog-like animals with long stripes across their backs walked by. “That’s a Tasmanian tiger all right.”
“I thought they were extinct,” Myrtle whispered, trying not to stare at the tigers – two parents surrounded by a litter of three joeys, all leaping and playing around their parents’ legs, snapping at each other and mock-fighting.
“Apparently not,” Hector said, smiling. “I’d heard rumors, but I’ve never seen any before. To be honest, it makes me happy, even if they have to keep themselves a secret. There’s a lot of animals that have survived as shifters. Maybe because they can hide in their human forms if they need to.”
“I guess they’d never get a moment’s peace if they were more open about what they were, huh,” Myrtle said, letting her eyes follow after the tigers as they made their way out of the hotel, quickly disappearing into the scrub.
“You can’t imagine the media circus if someone managed to get a photo of one of them while they were in their Tasmanian tiger forms,” Hector said. “People have been insisting for decades they never really went extinct. Some people have offered over a million dollars of reward money if they can prove Tasmanian tigers are still out there.”
“Well, I hope they manage to keep themselves a secret then,” Myrtle said. Despite the fact she’d never dream of doing anything that could hurt them, she felt a stab in her chest at the thought that no one would ever know they were still alive. It hurt her heart whenever she thought of creatures like the Tasmanian tiger, forced to hide when the species had been hunted to extinction. “You said there were lots of other animals who only exist as shifters now, though?”
“Well, you know about Callan,” Hector said. “Turns into a diprotodon – a wombat the size of a bus. Though he’d probably prefer you don’t put it quite like that.”
“I’ll bet,” Myrtle laughed. “He still hasn’t shown me his shifter form, though, so I’ll believe it when I see it. Do griffins count?”
Hector shot her a grin. “To be honest, I don’t know if griffins have ever existed as anything but shifters. Same goes for hippogriffs, dragons – maybe even alicorns.”
Sensing she was being talked about, Ruby lifted her head from where she’d snuggled it against Myrtle’s shoulder. “Mee-eeh?”
“One day you’ll have a human form of your own,” Hector said, patting her head. “When you get a bit older.”
“Do you really think we’ll find another alicorn here?” Myrtle asked, as Ruby, apparently having gotten bored of sitting on her shoulder, fluttered her wings and took off, swirling around the grand foyer of the hotel. Myrtle noticed a few of the other shifters who were hanging around staring at her with open amazement – she supposed even when you were a rare shifter yourself, an alicorn was something special. Most of the shifters here were in their human forms, but others weren’t. Aside from the Tasmanian tigers earlier, Myrtle had seen a dodo, a large capybara-looking mammal, and some kind of huge, flightless bird like a giant emu. But she hadn’t seen an alicorn – or at least, none of the shifters here were willing to identify themselves as an alicorn.
And I guess we have to accept their decision, Myrtle thought as she watched Ruby flittering around the foyer, seeming to be having the time of her life. It’s sad, since I was hoping Ruby might be able to make more friends. I know Aleta and Tassos are out there somewhere, but…
But Aleta and Tassos hadn’t left any instructions on how to contact them. It had very much been a case of Don’t call us, we’ll call you. And Myrtle had a lot of questions for them about Ruby. Like Will she ever get her powers back? How can we help her once she’s old enough to shift? If she’s lost her powers, will she ever shift? And what about –
Shaking her head, Myrtle pushed her questions aside. If they couldn’t get the answers they wanted, then she and Hector would just have to do the best they could. The only thing she did know was that no matter what happened in future, Ruby was very, very loved, and that they would always do everything they could to protect and care for her.
As if he’d read her mind, Hector put his arm around Myrtle’s shoulders, leaning down to kiss the top of her head.
“We’ll figure it out,” he said, his voice soft. “Even if we can’t get help, we’ll know what to do.”
Myrtle nodded. “I know you’re right,” she said, as she watched Ruby come in to land a little clumsily on the hardwood floor. “She’s just so special. I want to make sure we do right by her.”
Hector nodded, as together they watched Ruby as she pitter-pattered across the floor, her tiny hooves sparkling. As they watched, one of the Tasmanian tiger joeys from earlier bounded back in through the door of the hotel, happily heedless of where it was going.
“Ruby –” Hector called out, as the tiger frolicked its oblivious way in her direction, but it was too late. The baby Tasmanian tiger bumped right into her, and both of them sprawled on the floor. Myrtle started forward, momentarily worried, but it was clear that neither Ruby nor the baby tiger was hurt. Quite the opposite, in fact: they’d picked themselves up at once and were now curiously sniffing at each other, cocking their heads this way and that as if not quite sure what to make of each other.
“I’m sorry about Danny,” came a voice a moment later, and Myrtle looked up to see a tall man standing beside them, smiling sheepishly. “It was my fault for not keeping a closer eye on him. I hope he didn’t cause any trouble. Is that your daughter?”
Myrtle looked over to where Danny and Ruby were now gamboling around each other, charging and then backing off, obviously playing and having the time of their lives. Ruby’s white feathery wings glistened, while Danny’s striped tail whirled around as he leapt up, trying to follow her when she flew.
“That’s our daughter all right,” Myrtle laughed. “And she’s fine. In fact, I think they may be making friends.”
“They sure are,” Danny’s father laughed. “It’s actually good to see him playing like that – it’s been hard on him, having to be so secret. But I feel like here, people understand us. I’m glad we can come here so often.”
“You stay here often?” Myrtle asked, before whistling through her teeth. “That must cost you, but I’m sure it must be worth it to feel safe.”
“Cost us?” Danny’s father looked confused. “It doesn’t cost anything. Tahnee never charges her guests. The only thing she asks is that people keep what they see here secret. That’s it.”
Myrtle blinked, surprised. She glanced at Hector, but clearly he’d also been none the wiser, since he also looked quite surprised at the revelation.
“How kind of her,” Myrtle murmured, still feeling amazed. “I wonder why she’d be so generous?”
As she spoke, a movement from the top of a staircase leading to a mezzanine above the foyer caught her eye. Looking up, she saw Tahnee standing, looking down at the guests below – and specifically, watching Ruby and Danny as they rambunctiously played with each other, growling and meeeh-ing without a care in the world.
And for shifters who have to spend a lot of their lives making sure nobody knows they exist, maybe that’s priceless, Myrtle thought.
Myrtle felt Hector’s hand tighten on her shoulder as if he’d just had the exact same thought that she’d had.
Providing somewhere for shifters to feel safe – and maybe even make a new friend or two, Myrtle thought, as Danny’s siblings came bounding over to join in the fun. That’s worth all the money in the world.