I dropped my bag in the corner of the apartment that would be my home for the next few months. Or so I hoped only the next few months. In my starry-eyed dreams, everything from the morning’s newscast will go viral, and I will finally be called up for a real meteorologist position at one of the top markets. Until then, I was Channel 10’s weatherman, Daniel Raines.
My family seemed to not see nor want to understand the difference between being a station’s meteorologist and their weatherman. They assumed me being on television was close enough to my dream job I should just be happy.
And maybe they were right. Sure, I got my current job because of my looks and not my 4.0 GPA at one of the best schools in the country, but it was in my field and so many of my contemporaries were working jobs not even close to what they studied in school.
I looked around the apartment, which had come furnished, and decided I needed out of there. It was one thing to be home alone, but this place just didn’t feel like home. Maybe it was the rattan living room furniture or the flowered wallpaper, or maybe it was the fact that I was completely alone.
I snatched my keys and decided to walk the four blocks to the bar that had caught my eye when I moved in a few days earlier. Its name, The Bar was what had me remembering it more than anything else. Who names their bar, The Bar?
My phone buzzed in my pocket and I reluctantly took it out and answered it when I saw it was my uncle Larry. “Hello, Uncle Larry.” I took a deep breath. He was probably still pissed at me for the way I conned him into helping me that morning. I really couldn’t blame him.
“All settled in, Daniel?” That was unexpected.
“Not really something I plan to do, Uncle Larry. That’s why I got a furnished place.”
Uncle Larry was from Vale Valley, and from the second I told him about the job a few towns over, he’d been all about me “becoming a local,” whatever that meant.
“It wasn’t as if I planned to hide from my shadow this morning but there you have it,” he jibed.
“I’m sorry about that. I just—I want to use my skills and not be a glorified teleprompter reader. You know?” I leaned back against the wall.
It really had been unfair of me to ask my uncle to shape shift into his groundhog so I could “rig” the results, and not only have an amusing video to share with the interwebs and get me noticed, but to be the newscaster who got the prediction right. I used science to determine what he was going to do and from the national circuit, he was the only groundhog to suggest six more weeks of winter. Of course the national circuit included Punxsutawney Phil and another wannabe from Iowa, so not really saying much.
In retrospect, it felt pretty darn scummy.
“Sorry about that. I was just—” I sounded like a broken record of shitty excuses.
“You were just letting your ambition get in the way of who you are.”
I totally deserved that.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. Do you want to come with me to The Bar? I was just heading out.”
“Like I want to be there for that?” He was teasing, but I couldn’t quite figure the funny in it.
“I don’t get you, you know.” I started out of my apartment, figuring he could keep me company along the way. Uncle Larry had been the one bright spot about being in Vale Valley so far. I missed being around family.
“You don’t need to.”
“Hey, do you know if tomorrow it’s going to rain?” a little old lady called out from the apartment across the hall. Sometimes I hated being a groundhog. People assumed the silly rumors were true about weather detection. Not that I helped with that by actually going to school for it.
“A little, but it will probably turn to snow pretty quickly,” I called back as my uncle broke out in laughter on the other end of the phone.
I hadn’t lied to her. That was what the weather models indicated. She just assumed it was my inner groundhog.
She was the fifth person that day alone to ask, not including work where it was expected.
Of course, at work they had no idea who I was. Probably why I liked living in the human sector of the world and not in towns like Vale Valley where the mask of normalcy is dropped and people can just be who they are. Which sounded fabulous if it didn’t mean getting accosted by weather beggars all day.
She shut her door as I kept on walking, very content to get out into the fresh evening air.
“Are you done laughing?”
“Sorry, but now you know how I feel.” I hadn’t thought about that. I only got that crap when I was here or happened to be in the presence of nonhumans. He was surrounded by people who knew who he was day in and day out and, unlike me, he had to pull all his answers out of his ass or from his daily paper.
“And yet you still suggested I come here.” I balanced the phone on my shoulder and I fumbled to zip up my coat. It wasn’t freezing out, but the cold was starting to seep in.
“It is your chosen field. I thought you would enjoy it.” He giggled. Like full-on giggled.
“You can’t even say it without giggling like a schoolgirl,” I chastised, turning the corner as two more people asked me the weather. Because of course they did.
“Fair enough.” He waited until I was done giving the same report yet again. “I have to go. Have a really fun time tonight.”
The way he said fun had me on edge. Uncle Larry had a way of knowing things, and if he was saying that that way after his earlier comment about not being there for that, there was something to it.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I didn’t even know why I bothered. He wasn’t going to tell me. He never did. It used to drive my Uncle Elmer bonkers before he passed. Sadly, I had a feeling the reason Uncle Larry hid that part of himself from Elmer was because he knew what was coming—knew that Elmer wouldn’t live to see his first grandchild.
“Oh, you’ll see.” He clicked his tongue. Huh. “Dinner tomorrow?”
“Is Ivan cooking?” I asked hopefully. Ivan was Uncle Larry’s second husband and the world’s best cook. I’d drive all day to have one of his meals. Not that I’d turned Uncle Larry down if he said he was cooking, I’d just plan accordingly and eat before I left.
“You think I would offer if it was my slop?” Yeah, he would.
“Then I’ll be there.”
Once again I was interrupted, this time by a young couple pushing a baby buggy. This was getting old and quickly, even if it did give me an opportunity to talk to everyone in town. Sometimes a man just wanted peace and quiet.
“Night. And remember, Vale Valley is not like anywhere else,” he singsonged.
“Umm okay.” I didn’t bother asking him what he meant. It was fruitless at best, frustrating at least.
I slipped my phone into my pocket just as I reached the front entrance to The Bar. From the looks of things, it was closed up tight, the dark door firmly in place, the windows, for I assumed there were windows, around back giving no light from the place other than a tiny bulb above the door. There wasn’t even an open sign.
They were open, though, the sound of the music echoing in my ears.
“Here goes nothing.” I swung open the door and walked inside. It was dark and loud and smelled of musk. Basically, it was your average shifter bar. Only it wasn’t a shifter that drew my attention. No, it was a man sitting at the bar drinking what I guessed was a scotch. He most definitely wasn’t a shifter, but that didn’t make him human.
I found myself walking in his direction, my body on autopilot, ignoring the bear who was asking me about the weather. Nothing in that room mattered except for the man at the bar.
As I got within two steps of him, I figured out why. His scent, it was the scent of my dreams—literally—I’d been dreaming of the blend of fresh-cut grass and pine mixed with amber since I hit puberty. Not that I ever shared that with anyone because it was weird. Just plain weird except maybe it wasn’t weird. Maybe it was fate. I was going with that. At least until the man opened his mouth.
“Piss off,” he mumbled into his drink. “I’m off duty.”
Just then the bear I’d ignored fell in behind me. “Are you going to ignore me, groundhog?”
Umm, yeah, I’d been planning to.
“Piss off. I’m off duty.” I mimicked the man behind mean and was rewarded with an almost chuckle, all rich and sexy.
The bear, however looked beyond pissed. And I got it, I really did. Winter was not their best times. “Sorry, man, bad day. Rain turns to snow tomorrow. Deep freeze is coming.”
He gave me a curt nod and skulked away.
“This seat taken?” I turned my attention back to the man at the bar.
“It is now.”
I sat beside him, wanting to be even closer than the barstool allowed.
“I’m Daniel.” I offered my hand and as he took it, my body warmed deliciously. He was not human. I had no idea what he was, but he held some kind of magnetic power over me. Could he be an incubus? Crap I needed to learn more about this town and stat.
“You gave in too soon. They are going to keep at it if you are so nice about it.” He turned to face me, a smile growing on his face, our hands still connected, and if I had it my way they’d stay that way.
“Thanks for the advice. You sound like you get it.”
“Being a cupid in a town of paras near Valentine’s Day has you learning right quick how to set boundaries.” He shrugged as the bartender interrupted, asking me for my drink order.
I was sitting next to a cupid in a bar full of shifters, with a raging hard-on and no desire to let the man’s, whose name I’d yet to learn, hand go. So I didn’t.