Shifting Sands bonus story: Detective Breck
This short story is part of the Shifting Sands Resort series. It occurs during the events of Tropical Bartender Bear, and lays some of the groundwork for Tropical Dragon Diver. Really, this story was an excuse to write more of Breck, who is one of my favorite characters ever.
Are you new to Shifting Sands? Each of the books can be read alone, but it’s best to read this series in order. Start with Tropical Tiger Spy, or the Shifting Sands Resort Omnibus, 4 volumes that include all the books, short stories, novellas, and three exclusive stories, all in the author’s preferred reading order, available in ebook, paperback, audiobook, and hardcover!
“It’s like Christmas!” Breck sang as he came into the bachelor house common area with his arms piled in books and magazines. “It’s like Christmas in a candy store. Have you seen the specimens coming in?”
Shifting Sands Resort was hosting the World Mr. Shifter competition, and the first contestants were arriving to do photo shoots with the staff to set up the events and awards. The island resort was as busy as it had ever been, and the week was only starting.
“Specimens is just about right,” Bastian growled from the kitchen. “This whole place is like a petri dish of ego and vanity. Are those dirty magazines?”
Breck dropped his armload on the counter. “The very dirtiest. Consider it my contribution to our new bachelor’s house.”
“That’s disgusting,” Bastian said, slamming the refrigerator door shut.
“Absolutely deliciously disgusting,” Breck agreed cheerfully, but he gave Bastian a concerned sideways glance. The dragon lifeguard had been much grouchier than usual since the staff had been moved out of the hotel and Breck didn’t think that it was only that everyone was so busy keeping up the influx of guests…or that he’d brought media of questionable morality to the kitchen. “What’s got your scales in a twist?”
“Nothing!” Bastian stormed from the room and Breck could hear him stomping up both levels to the master bedroom that he’d claimed as his own and slamming the door.
Breck frowned and vowed to get to the bottom of Bastian’s baffling behavior. Breck had a soft spot for unfriendly people — they were such a challenge! — and he was protective of the resort staff. Detective Breck was on the case.
Sexy Detective Breck.
“These for anyone?”
Breck turned to find that the landscaper, Graham, had come quietly in and was flipping through the tower of magazines.
“Help yourself,” Breck said expansively. “It’s fine literature from my collection for the common room.”
Graham’s stony face cracked into a smile. “Very generous of you.”
“Let me know if you need me to demonstrate any of the techniques,” Breck teased.
Graham didn’t answer, but his eyes did crinkle in amusement as he selected a few of the magazines and tucked them under an arm before disappearing down the hall.
Breck’s investigation was stalled by the fact that he had never been so busy in his life. There were more meals to serve, more beautiful people to flirt with, and more messes to clean up. Even with extra hands in the restaurant, Breck was up early and out late every day. Tables were set up in the gardens to accommodate the restaurant overflow, and he was scrambling further than ever with heavy platters and trays of drinks.
“It’s torture,” he moaned, when Scarlet finally enforced some downtime for the senior staff and they gathered in the bachelor house common area. “All those pretty contestants who need consoling when they lose their events, and I haven’t had time to sleep with a single one of them.”
“That’s probably a good thing,” Travis said. He was sitting at the kitchen bar trying not to fall asleep in his food. He’d been running from cottage to cottage, unclogging pipes and making endless minor repairs. Some of the older resort fixtures weren’t made to withstand shifter strength. Breck helped out where he could, but his long hours at the restaurant made him an unreliable assistant. He added Travis to his mental checklist of people to keep an eye on. He’d have to make sure that the handyman was actually getting sleep. “Less drama.”
“Fewer regrets,” Bastian growled.
“No one ever regrets a night with me,” Breck assured him.
Usually Bastian’s teasing was good-natured, but there was that undercurrent of grouchiness that Breck still needed to get to the bottom of. Was it because he was staying in human form to do his lifeguard duties? Bastian usually preferred to do them in dragon form, but had chosen to keep a low profile while there were so many photographers and video crews around. It was something about being a dragon, Breck suspected.
Tex only moped, picking at the seafood pasta left over from the night before. Breck wasn’t sure what was wrong with him, either. For a cowboy who listened to songs with really depressing lyrics, he was usually very cheerful, but he’d been distant and scattered since the extra guests started arriving. He’d even gotten drink orders wrong, which was something Tex never did. He had a memory almost as good as Breck’s.
Breck’s list of people to take care of was getting longer instead of shorter.
Graham shrugged at him. Graham was always five words shy of a sentence, so that wasn’t the slightest bit worrisome.
“Well, on the plus side, my calves have never looked so good,” Breck said, putting his foot on the counter to show one off. “All those stairs are great for my already amazing physique.”
“No one wants to see that!”
Breck only left his bathrobe untied because nudity was comfortable in the tropics, and because it gave people something to laugh about. He didn’t care if he was the object of humor or respect, as long as people were happy.
Most of them were trying to hide smiles as Breck pretended to be mortally offended and huffed off to his room to snatch a few hours of sleep.
Breck got more clues about Bastian’s moroseness the following day, when they were all stealing a quick break to watch the televised events.
“He had to move his hoard. It’s a dragon thing,” Graham explained after the lifeguard had stormed out after ranting about speciesism.
That made some sense. But Breck didn’t think that it really explained the depth of Bastian’s bad mood.
After a while, Breck followed him up. The top floor of the house was all Bastian’s, a suite that had clearly been intended as a master bedroom when it was built. It was the only one with a private bathroom.
Bastian had added a hasp and padlock to the door, so that no one could get in while he was away, but it was unlocked now and Breck knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” Bastian’s voice was muffled from within, but Breck thought he could hear the strain in it.
“The sexiest guy in the house,” Breck sang.
“You don’t even know what I’m offering,” Breck protested.
“Everyone knows what you’re offering,” Bastian snorted.
“I promise I’m only offering an ear,” Breck said, leaning on the door. “Something’s bothering you, and I thought you might want to talk about it.” Sometimes, the best way to investigate was just to listen.
Bastian was silent for so long that Breck thought that was his answer, and he’d turned away to the stairs when the door cracked open.
“You won’t tell anyone?”
Bastian was adorable when he let himself be vulnerable. Breck regretted not being his type, because adding a dragon to his list of conquests would have been quite a coup. “I’m not a kiss and tell kind of guy.”
“You are entirely a kiss and tell kind of guy,” Bastian protested. “You tell everyone everything, even when they don’t want to know it.”
“Then I will refrain from kissing you and there won’t be anything to tell,” Breck suggested.
Bastian chuckled, and Breck thought that maybe he had a chance now.
Bastian managed to get out of his room without opening the door enough to show what was behind it and locked it with the padlock. Was there something in there that he was hiding? He’d moved his entire hoard during a series of nights by flying it piece by piece, not showing anyone a shred of it.
Breck sat down on the top step and patted the space next to him. He wasn’t going to coax Bastian down into the common space, and the dragon might think an invitation to Breck’s room meant more than it did. And he very definitely didn’t want to invite Breck into his own space.
Bastian reluctantly sat down next to him.
“So, it sounds like Tex has met his mate,” Breck said.
“That’s great,” Bastian said, like it wasn’t great at all.
“Tex is welcome to it,” Breck said with a shudder. “I cannot imagine being tied to one person forever.”
“Doesn’t seem like your style,” Bastian agreed.
Breck let the conversation lapse, and then invited Bastian, “So, you want to tell me what’s eating at you?”
When Bastian didn’t answer, Breck suggested, “Is it something about being a dragon, maybe about your hoard?” Bastian was a dichotomy of tough dragon manliness and the kind of sensitivity that was found in musicians and artists. Breck thought maybe the direct approach would work with him.
Bastian shot him a surprised look. “Am I that transparent?”
“Only to anyone who’s looking at you,” Breck said dryly. “Or listening to you rant about how the World Mr. Shifter events are stacked against mythicals. Or who saw you move your hoard piece by piece over the course of an entire week under cover of darkness without letting anyone see so much as a shiny bit.” He gestured behind them. “You locked your door just to sit on the stairs and talk to me.”
Bastian looked back at it like it surprised him.
Breck leaned forward earnestly. “Look, no one here is going to steal from you. Not a single one of us would be working here if riches and wealth were important. I can’t remember the last time we actually got a bonus! We totally respect that a dragon’s hoard is sacred. Besides, you could probably eat any of us if you tried.”
Bastian stared back. “You think I’m worried about you stealing from me?”
“Aren’t you? It’s the only reason I could put together for how you’ve been acting.”
Bastian started to laugh weakly, leaning against the far wall.
Breck enjoyed coaxing people to humor, but he wasn’t sure how what he’d said was funny. “Care to share the punchline with me?”
“My hoard is worthless,” Bastian said, his chuckles dying into shame. “I don’t have anything worth protecting.”
He was embarrassed by his hoard?
“You certainly have…a lot of stuff,” Breck offered. “It must have taken you a hundred trips to get it all over here.”
“It’s all junk and trash,” Bastian growled. “There’s no value to any of it.”
If there was one thing Breck understood, it was people who’d lost sight of their worth…and dragons tied their worth to their hoards. Everything fell into place. “There is value in it because you love it,” Breck said. “Look, I don’t know much about dragons, but I know that whatever is in that room, that’s your treasure. Don’t you dare call it trash if it’s something you care about.”
Bastian was quiet, but Breck hoped that he was taking his words to heart.
“It wouldn’t matter to anyone else,” Bastian said quietly.
“But it matters to you.”
Bastian chewed on that like a piece of tough meat, and Breck went on. “There are a lot of gorgeous people in the world, and they aren’t all to everyone’s taste. Some people like skinny guys, and some people like curvy women. People prefer big watermelon boobs, or little cherry tits, or giant muscles, or slim grace. Are you going to define what you like by what you think you ought to like? You’ll miss out on the banquet of other choices available to you. You’ll fail to understand who you are and what you like if you limit your palate to what magazines and Mr. Shifter competitions tell you that you should appreciate.”
“It always comes back to sex with you, doesn’t it,” Bastian said grudgingly.
“Hey, I lean into the analogies that work for me. You can take it or leave it.”
“Do you…want to see it?” Bastian asked it so reluctantly that Breck knew he didn’t actually want to share it. Breck was wise to the difference between eager consent and someone who felt like they had to do something, and he always respected it.
“Nah,” he said carelessly. “I wouldn’t know a good hoard if it bit me on the foot, so my opinion is worthless. Someday, when you’re ready, you’re going to meet someone that you actually want to show your hoard to. Someone who will appreciate it like you do.”
“A mate?” Bastian said hopefully.
“I wouldn’t wish a mate on anyone I liked,” Breck scoffed. “You should see what Tex is going through. And remember Neal with Mary? Besides, have you seen what else is out there? It’s like a package of Skittles—every color of the rainbow and I am dying to taste them all.”
“American candy. Like M&M’s if they were made of pure sugar and imaginary fruit flavor, in Technicolor.”
“Sounds…pedestrian,” Bastian said, then he gave Breck a sideways look. “But I’m sure that some people would like them.”
“I’m sure they would,” Breck agreed. He got to his feet and made a show of stretching, letting his bathrobe gape open. “I don’t know about you, but I need my beauty rest. We’ve got a lot of beefcake left to service this week.”
Bastian laughed as he averted his eyes and stood up to return to his barred door. “Thanks, Breck,” he said honestly, pausing before he unlocked it.
“My pleasure,” Breck said, sauntering downstairs to see what other mysteries needed solved and who else he could shock with his open bathrobe.
And maybe he should get one of those hot noir detective-style fedoras to go with it…
Learn the secrets of Bastian’s hoard in Tropical Dragon Diver…