ALFIE DOZED in his stable, dreaming of a home he’d never really known. Around him the alpaca herd munched contentedly on grass. Snow-topped mountain peaks towered above them, and the flat, verdant plains stretched into the distance ahead. An eagle, wings spread wide, floated on a thermal current, searching for prey.
He stirred in his sleep. That had been his grandfather’s existence, not his. All Alfie had ever known were the confines of the farm where he’d been born, then the petting zoo, and beyond that, the landscaped gardens of Mattock Hall. It was a comfortable, even pampered existence, but nothing like the wild, rocky landscape of his family’s native Peru.
It wasn’t only his dreams that made him restless. Shifter blood flowed in Alfie’s veins. As he’d grown, he’d done his best to suppress the urge that sometimes came upon him—the urge to take human form. Before he’d left the farm, his mother had taught him to be cautious.
“We need to take care not to let anyone know what we are,” she’d said. “They won’t understand.”
It was a hard secret for a young alpaca to keep to himself, but he’d managed it. The two females who shared his pen, Dolly and Daisy, were sweet and kind. Indeed, Dolly had become a kind of surrogate mother to him, protecting him when he’d first been introduced to the crowds of people who passed through the petting zoo every day, with their noise and their strange smells and their endless desire to run their fingers through his soft, caramel-colored pelt.
In recent months, though, it had become harder to keep the human side of himself under wraps. This was down to two reasons. First, he’d reached adulthood, the time when shifters gained full control of their ability to transform themselves. Second, Simon Mattock, the heir to this estate, had returned from a couple of years at agricultural college to work in the petting zoo.