WATCHING the other new dogs sniff out their hidden team members, John sifted his fingers through the shepherd’s fur. Sir shifted under John’s hand as if he wanted to run out and join the half-grown rescue dogs and show them how this test was meant to be done. “Easy,” he said.
Rachel sat next to him, holding her four-month-old Golden on her knee, watching. John hadn’t known her for long. She had just moved to Colorado from Montana. Gold Dust was her second search-and-rescue dog, or at least one she hoped would have the ability. “Your dog is really beautiful.” She eyed Sir’s rich, thick black fur. “What is Sir Barksalot? Part wolf?”
At his name, the dog looked up at her with an expression of near-human ire. John thumped the dog’s side. “Sir is part Lab and mostly Belgian Shepherd and 100 percent spoiled.”
One of Sir’s tawny eyeballs favored him with that irritated look.
“I believe that.” Rachel patted her puppy’s head. “This is a really amazing course you have set up here.”
John nodded, proud of the test he helped construct for the dogs in training. “Skiing and snowboarding are big here, but avalanches, luckily, not so much. Still, you never know. It’s usually the hikers who give us problems, even in the winter.”
“It’s so close to Christmas, I hope no one goes missing. I know no time is good to get lost in the woods, but the holidays make it seem worse.”
John nodded. “I agree. Hopefully, Sir and I won’t have to come out,” he replied, but her answer was a startled sound. He glanced over to see Sir snuffling in her pocket, where she no doubt had her treats. He flicked his dog’s ear. “Sir, you know better.”
Sir rolled a mournful eye at him, then huffed.
Rachel laughed. “Isn’t it amazing how human they can look? Can I give him a treat? I know he’s not done anything to earn one.”
The “and usually treats are reserved for training” was left unsaid. He shrugged. “Go ahead.”
She gave Sir a piece of freeze-dried liver. As Sir munched nosily, her puppy went after his ear like it was the best furry chew toy in the world. With a long-suffering look, Sir swallowed, then caught the puppy’s muzzle gently in his jaws. Gold Dust yipped in surprise.
“That should teach you some manners.” Rachel tapped her puppy’s head.
“Hopefully better ones than Sir has, mooching like that.” John petted Sir’s ruff, the luxurious fur slipping through his fingers. The high-visibility orange harness with its “Search and Rescue” logo seemed half-buried by the thick raven fur. It was nearly impossible to see the Starship Enterprise dangling off one of the D-rings.
A whistle sounded, signaling one of the teams had found a “lost” person. Saying goodbye to Rachel, John went to check it out. It was a pretty good finishing time and he wanted to see which team it was. By the time the whole exam was done, with only one wash out, John led Sir back to their truck with its “My other car can do the Kessel run in under twelve parsecs” bumper sticker. He opened the car door and let Sir in. He belted the dog into his riding harness, then looked back at the mountains.
“Rachel is right. I don’t want to get called out over the holiday.”
Sir barked and John patted his head before going around to the driver’s side. Sir barked at other things on the way home, at a cloud-shadow moving over them, at the cute guy at the red light, and one unfortunate incident when he saw a Schnauzer bouncing around inside the car next to them at another light, barking its fool head off. John’s head was pounding by the time he opened the front door to his house and Sir raced in.
Even though they lived rurally with no neighbors to peek in on them, John went around and drew the curtains in the living room, which he’d left open so the sun would take the burden off the heater. Once he was done, he sat on the couch to pull off his boots.
Sir shook, making a low, pain-filled noise. The dog’s form began twisting and heaving, limbs reforming, fur withdrawing, face and tail shortening until there was nothing left of the hound. In his place was a very shapely, very naked man on all fours.
John knew Sir—no, Anthony Cornpeach—didn’t like him to stare at his ass just after a transformation, but he couldn’t help it. It was so round, tight, and just plain perfect, if a bit fuzzy.