Puppy Problems

“I can’t find him anywhere.”

As soon as Alice heard the nanny sob those words over the phone, she had a few quick words with her classroom assistant, then she grabbed her purse and rushed out of the room, leaving her assistant to handle the class and notify the principal. While she ran down the hall, she called Gideon and breathlessly told him everything.

“I’m on my way,” Gideon told her. She didn’t bother to reply. She knew he would move heaven and earth to get home as fast as he could.

Don’t panic, she told herself, even as she slammed out of the school building and raced for her car. Gretta didn’t open doors or windows to anywhere but their small back yard, and that space was lined with a six-foot privacy fence and a locked gate. It was physically impossible for Robbie to have left the property on his own.

Robbie was short for Robert Vincent Riehl—Robert for her father, and Vincent for Gideon’s, but the name was such a dignified mouthful for such an adorable toddler, they quickly shortened it to Robbie.

She drove home in a clench, as fast as she dared, oblivious to beauty in the sunny, warm summer day, as she obsessively ran over all the safety checks they had in place for when this happened.

Robbie couldn’t have gotten out. He couldn’t have. He had to be on the property somewhere. Nevertheless, panic beat a quick tempo in her veins, and she knew she wouldn’t feel better until she held him in her arms.

She was the first one home, and as soon as she fitted her key into the lock, Gretta yanked the door open. The nanny’s white face was streaked with tears.

“It’s all right,” Alice said grimly as she brushed past the older woman. Ironic, that she offered reassurance while she barely held her own anxiety in check. “We’ve been through this before. Could he be outside?”

“I don’t know how,” Gretta stammered. “I just went out briefly to put the trash in the bin.”

Outside was the most dangerous place, so that would be where she would start looking. Pausing only to throw her purse on the couch, Alice strode toward the back door. “How soon afterward did you notice him gone?”

“He was taking his nap, so I didn’t check on him for forty-five minutes or so.” Wringing her hands, Gretta followed Alice through the apartment. “I checked outside, and I’ve called and called, but he hasn’t responded.”

Gretta had opened the back door, so it was possible Robbie had gotten outside. “Okay,” Alice said. “Thank you.”

A fresh summer breeze greeted her as she opened the back door. Everything in the small, New York sized garden was in bloom. There were lots of places for a small toddler to hide if he were of a mind to do so.

Taking a deep breath, she injected a light, relaxed note into her voice. “Robbie, Mommy’s home! Where are you? I’ve missed you, baby.”

As she called, she walked along the side of the garden, pulling aside the carefully tended foliage to look at the mulched areas underneath. Frustration joined her barely contained panic. Wyr were natural shapeshifters, and normally their senses were much more heightened than a normal human’s. But Alice was a rare Wyr, a rainbow chameleon. While she had some very unusual abilities, she didn’t have the best sense of smell and she couldn’t track Robbie by his scent.

She was so focused on searching for her small son that she didn’t notice Gideon’s arrival until he put a large, warm hand at the small of her back. Only then did a thread of unsteadiness shake through her frame.

She looked up at Gideon, wordlessly grateful for his large, calm presence. Sunlight glinted off Gideon’s short blond hair and lined the firm edge of his jaw, sparking the short bristles of his beard with glints of light.

In one quick glance, she noted everything about him, this tough, powerfully built man, the regulation issue firearm he wore at his belt, along with his badge, and her panic began to subside. Gideon’s Wyr side was a wolf, and he had an extremely sensitive sense of smell. He could track Robbie wherever the boy was.

After touching her, Gideon strode slowly along the edges of the garden, and she followed. After a few minutes, he gently parted the foliage in a sunny corner of the garden and bent down. Alice hovered behind him and peered over his shoulder.

There appeared to be nothing unusual in the mulched area underneath the broad, green leaves, but Gideon reached for the area anyway. Carefully he appeared to gather something into his arms, only there was nothing to be seen…

Gideon said in his deep, gentle voice, “Hey, buddy. Time to wake up now.”

Blindly Alice put her hand out. Her fingers encountered soft, thick fur and the round, sturdy body of her sleeping son in his Wyr form. Robbie had shapeshifted into a wolf again—only he wasn’t like just any Wyr wolf. Like all children, he had inherited some characteristics from his father, but he had also inherited a unique characteristic from his mother too.

Rainbow chameleons had a natural ability to blend into their surroundings. When Robbie didn’t want to be seen, he simply wished for it to be so, and it happened. It was one of the most natural things in the world, and right now, one of the most dangerous.

He’s going to be the death of me, she said telepathically to her husband. This is the third time in two weeks. My heart can’t take it.

I know. I get it. Gideon shortened his stride to match hers as they walked to the back door.

Once inside, they came face-to-face with Gretta again. She was still wringing her hands. She looked at Gideon. “Did—did you find him?”

“Yes, I’ve got him right here.” Gideon smiled at her.

The nanny didn’t smile back. Instead, tears streamed down her face. “Oh, thank God! I’m so, so, so sorry, but—much as I love Robbie, I-I’m not the right nanny for him.”

With a sinking heart, Alice met Gideon’s unsurprised gaze. They had been through this before too. “It’s okay, Gretta,” she said. “We understand.”

Gideon offered Robbie to Alice. Carefully she gathered the invisible, sleeping wolf pup into her arms. Burying her face in his soft, clean fur, she let Gideon handle Gretta. After paying Gretta for her time, he walked her to the front door and let her out.

Robbie stretched in Alice’s arms, and with a small, surprised yip of joy, he began licking her face. As he did so, his natural camouflage fell away, and he became visible again. With a prickling of grateful tears, she kissed and hugged him tight. It felt so good to hold his sturdy little body, the last of the panic dissolved into warmth and comfort.

“He never wants to disappear when you’re with him,” Gideon said from the doorway.

“I know, but I’ve got to get back to work,” Alice said. In spite of her efforts, a note of distress entered her voice. She set Robbie gently on the floor, and he gamboled around her feet, clearly delighted she was home. She continued more calmly, “We can’t afford for me not to. You’re a cop, I’m a teacher, and we live in New York.”

Pulling out a chair, Gideon sat facing her. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, as he watched his son. Robbie bounced over to greet him, and his rugged features creased into a smile as he scratched behind the pup’s ears.

“We can go back to cutting corners. I like eating mac and cheese. We can get rid of cable. Half the time, we end up binge-watching shows on Netflix anyway. I can ask for more overtime, too. And it would only be for another year or two, until he’s old enough for us to reason with him a little more.” His icy blue gaze lifted, and he smiled at her too. “We tried you going back to work, and it just isn’t the right time yet, not for Robbie, and I think not for you either. Come on, sweetheart. It’s okay to give in to this. You know you want to. We’ll make it work.”

Gradually, a tight coil inside of Alice began to unwind, as she relaxed into the strong, deep reassurance in Gideon’s steady words. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” he said without hesitation. He leaned forward to kiss her. “I want you to do this, and if you’re honest with yourself, you want to do it, too. And clearly, Robbie does too.”

“You’re right, I do want to, but I also love teaching. And I’ve felt the need to get back to work to bring in the income.”

Gideon was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Try to look at it the way it really is, as a temporary measure. Does that help?”

“It does.”

“Then let yourself have what you really want—the best of both worlds.”

It was not just what she really wanted. It was everything she wanted—more time with Robbie while he needed her and then a return to a career she truly loved. Her life was so good, sometimes she felt she had to earn the right to it, which was why Gideon’s words struck a deep chord with her. What he was really telling her was, relax, be easy. It’s okay to want what you want, and I can help you have it. No wonder she loved him so much.

With that, she smiled and let herself accept the situation for what it was—a gift to both her and Robbie. . “As long as you’re sure you don’t mind, I would love to be at home with Robbie for another year or two. I’m looking forward to getting back to work too, but that can wait for a little while longer. I’ll call the principal and tell her I can’t continue working right now. She’s not going to be happy with me, but after these last few months, she won’t be surprised.”

“And I had to leave work for a family emergency,” Gideon said. “They’re not expecting me back today. Go make your phone call, then we can steal the rest of the day for ourselves and do something fun. How does that sound?”

Leaning against his warm, muscled arm, Alice told him, “It couldn’t be more perfect.”