Fawn sat on the side of her bed and perused her surroundings. Being tucked off the kitchen and secluded from the rest of the house suited her just fine. She smiled. Tonight, she'd slip out the kitchen door and shapeshift into—she pondered only a second—a feral horse. Feral herds roamed the area and the thought of running with them ran goose bumps up her arms.
Lying on her bed, she retrieved her cell phone and called her friend Rainey.
Rainey answered immediately, "Hey Fawn, you've got a special ring on my phone."
"Yeah, and what's that?"
"A dolphin's chatter, of course."
Fawn laughed. "So Roth told you how much I love the species, but I've never received an assignment…" Her voice trailed, and she finished, "…you know what I mean." Fawn and her friend always refrained from going into details about shapeshifting while communicating via phone or internet.
"Yeah, I know," Rainey agreed. "So, how's the new assignment? You're in a beautiful area. With Roth hovering like a mother hen and insisting I rest, I've been reading about the Four-Corners region of the U.S."
"Well, I agree with Roth, you're as big as a house with that baby. You need to take it easy."
"Jeez, thanks Fawn, being as big as a house is just what I wanted to hear." Rainey pretended to be offended, and then laughed.
"Our little prince is going to make his debut soon and his mother doesn't need to be exhausted from lab work." Fawn knew Rainey understood the deeper meaning to her reference to "prince". The entire prophesy of the Great Prince was known only to a few humans and shapelings.
"You're right, of course. So, tell me about your new digs."
"I have a room away from the rest of the house which makes it nice for night escapes."
"Oh, I'm glad to hear that. What about the family?"
"Not exactly what I expected. Mr. Spencer doesn't talk much. And I don't think I'm what he expected either. For a minute, I thought he was going to tell me to catch the next hopper back to Denver."
"Well, Fawn, you're not exactly the matronly looking type. Goodness, I used to be so jealous when I thought you and Roth were having an affair. You're flat-out gorgeous."
"Rainey, I am not gorgeous. I'm just a hardworking—" She refrained from saying the word shapeling. "—girl, doing her best to complete her latest—" She refrained from saying, mission. "—job."
"Whatever," Rainey chuckled. So tell me, what's Mr. Spencer like? Is he a handsome cowboy?"
"Rainey, you are incorrigible. He's a…rough cowboy. According to human standards of handsome, I'd say he's average. The co-Princes said he was in the car accident that killed his wife, so maybe that's where he got the scar running down his jaw alongside his ear. It actually doesn't detract from his looks. His eyes are a lovely shade of green, he's tall and lean—probably 6'2", and wears typical cowboy garb: Levis, chambray shirt, boots, big belt buckle. His hair is brown with blond sun streaks. He…
"Whoa girl, for someone who doesn't pay attention to looks, I'd say you're paying a lot of attention."
"Rainey, you asked me and I'm just telling you what you want to know."
"Okay, okay. Tell me about the child."
"She's seven, small for her age. When I first arrived she was having issues—wanted the voices in her head to stop."
"Oh, my. What happened?"
"Actually, Rainey, I'm not sure if she was trying to get attention, or really hearing something. I sat beside her until she calmed down. She seems to be in her own little world."
"I can relate to that. I grew up in my own world believing my mother didn't love me. How wrong I was."
"Zoe's mother is dead and it appears she's never recovered."
"That poor child; I'm glad you're there for her."
"Well, things have sure started with a bang. I better run. Mr. Spencer said he'd show me around the ranch."
"Okay, Fawn. Call if you need anything. Talk to you later."
Fawn entered the small bathroom in her bedroom and pulled a brush through her straight, shoulder-length hair, pulling it into a pony tail. She splashed water on her face, pinched her cheeks, and returned to the kitchen. Wade sat at a small drop leaf table positioned in the center of the room, sipping a cup of coffee.
"Hello Mr. Spen…Wade. How is Zoe?"
"She's sleeping now. This would be a good time to show you around. Would you like a cup of coffee? I think there's tea if you prefer."
Wade started to rise.
"No, please don't get up. I see the pot. I'll get it myself." Fawn lifted a cup from the cup-tree. She poured a cup of the blackest coffee she'd ever seen. "Do you have flavored creamer?" she asked.
"Ah…no. We've got real cream in the fridge. I'll get it for you."
"No, no. I'll get it." Fawn walked to the refrigerator next to the back door. The many cartons of creamer were easy to spot in the well-stocked jumble of items.
"Zoe likes cream on her cereal," Wade offered as explanation. "Sometimes that's all she'll eat so we go through a lot of it. Sugar's on the counter." He pointed back toward the coffee pot.
"Thanks, just cream is fine."
An uncomfortable silence settled.
"Well, why don't we take our coffees and I'll show you around the ranch?"
"I'd like that."