Holy crap! It's almost been a month since our last post. I'll take a lot of that responsibility. I've been working on other stuff that has sucked up all my brain cells. We went to Dragon*Con then had to deal with the con laundry and a hint of con crud. Then there was my husband's motorcycle accident which threw everything into orbit.
We have not forgotten this story. We have been working on it. We've discussed possible plots and stuff to discard. It's just come so slowly, with either one of us or the other not being available. So, that's my sorry excuses. Here's the next installment!
The week at the cabin flashed like a blur for Brian. He sat at work, remembering the running, rutting, exploring, nurturing, and wonder of it all. Seeing his mate change, her ability to master her cat, and her inquisitive feline nature found him smiling as he ran a length of cable. Even Nulli’s gait had changed. She moved with a fluid grace before, but now she was even lighter on her feet. By some strange miracle, she’d become more flexible, turning their play time into totally new adventures.
How many bites had they exchanged in so few days? How often did he fall in love with her all over again? The moments spent rubbing his fur against hers, the quiet stillness of waking up with her in his arms in the solitude of the woods, the long talks, the closeness, no alarm clocks. God he missed their carefree escape.
He checked the time before wrinkling his eyebrows. “Just a few more hours and I can get back home.” To hell with what his coworkers thought. Where was it written that a man should be ashamed of loving his woman?
With just a couple minutes before lunch, he hooked up the remaining feeds for the next day’s event, and headed for the break room.
“Hey, Arcady, wait up!” He recognized the gravelly voice, it was Al from sales, but the sound of multiple footsteps stopped Brian in his tracks.
He turned in time to see most of the event staff all but jogging toward him, each man wide-eyed. “What’s up? Something wrong?”
“Dude!” Another coworker, Rich, leaned over, bracing his upper body on his knees while he huffed. “There’s a woman here looking for you.”
Al jumped in. “Yeah, and she’s fine as fuck. Is that your girlfriend?” Al swiped screens on his tablet and thrust the device into Brian’s line of sight.
Brian looked at the frozen image of Nulli on the screen. She was dressed in a knee length, green dress that wrapped around her sinfully gorgeous body. The garment was belted at the waist in a way that drew the eye to her luscious curves. She wore her hair down, allowing thousands of curls to fall freely past her shoulders. He grinned, before wiping the expression from his face. “She’s not my girlfriend anymore. She’s my fiancé.”
Rich stood up straight and smoothed his hair back. “That’s who you’ve been rushing home to see? Holy shit, man!”
The men in front of him asked a dozen questions one after the other, but he didn’t respond to any of them. He held up his hand and shook his head. “Looks like I have a lunch date. Check you guys later.” He stepped away from the group and did his best to walk casually toward the stairs. He succeeded, right up to the moment his foot hit the first step. He raced down to the first floor, threw open the door, and speed walked into the lobby where her scent met him before he even laid eyes on her.
The muscles in his chest tensed immediately as her familiar and tempting aroma reached into him. As he rounded the corner to the receptionist’s desk he found Nulli standing in front of a map of the conference center. “Hey, kitten.”
When she turned to face him her expression brightened, her cheeks flushed, and her natural perfume brightened. Her heart raced, sending his own beat higher. She closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Hey, kitty.” She whispered the words into his ear while she held him close.
A small purr burst from her chest and settled into his, dancing over and between his ribs. Holy fuck! Why don’t I have a resistance to this? He fought tooth and nail to keep his erection at bay, but his cock had other ideas.
“Are you hungry?” Her voice was warm like orange sunsets in the middle of summer, like honey from the comb, like every good memory he’d ever had rolled into one and transformed into a tone.
“I was, now I’m something else that starts with H and ends in Y.” He nuzzled into her neck and inhaled deep. “This was a nice surprise, kitten.”
“I’m glad you approve.” She lowered her gaze and brought it slowly back to his eyes. “Should we head home for a working lunch? Or are we actually going to have a meal? I’m buying.”
His gaze lingered on her full lips as she spoke, remaining there as she flashed her white teeth in mischievous amusement. Every instinct, every fiber of his being, and every thought screamed at him to take his mate home and lose himself in her, but that wasn’t an option. At least not today. “If we go home, I probably won’t come back here, so let’s eat. I’ll drive. I need the distraction of the road.”
“Then let’s go. You choose the restaurant.” Nulli looped her arm around his and walked close.
After a short trip to the parking lot they were off. Brian chose a nearby establishment, and soon after, they enjoyed a relaxing lunch. They sat close while he threaded his fingers in hers. He stared at his ring on her hand, still full of emotions every time he saw it. As always, her presence alone was enough to calm him and send him into a frenzy all at once. Would he ever get used to the effect she had on him? Did he want to?
The time to leave the restaurant came much too quickly for Brian’s liking. He elected to take a different route back, just to have more time with his mate.
“I started a new book.” Nulli glanced out the window before turning her head toward him. “It’s about shifters.”
“Oh?” He pulled up to a stoplight at a busy intersection. “What kind of shifters?”
“It’s not about us, kitty.” She chuckled and reached across the center console to grip his wrist. “This one’s about dragons.”
“Do I get a sneak peek?”
Her tone deepened, becoming something more sultry, inviting, and purely sexual. “Of course, and you can help me do some research.”
“I love being your research assistant.” His mind wandered back to the last time she needed his help with research and a loud rumble shook his chest.
“Easy, kitty. Watch the road.” She shook her head.
Brian looked up in time to see a large SUV in his rear view mirror, an SUV that wasn’t stopping. “Shit!” He reached across and braced his arm against Nulli’s chest. They both lurched forward when the larger vehicle slammed into them. The airbags deployed with an explosion that was deafening within the confines of the car. His ears rang for a split second before another impact turned his world into darkness.
“Nulli!” Brian jerked awake to the sound of a beeping monitor and the antiseptic scent of a hospital. He ignored the pounding in his head as he searched the room for his mate.
“Careful, son. You’ve got a broken arm and a nasty bump on your head.”
His brow wrinkled as he focused on the woman beside him. Her scent was both familiar and comforting. “Mom? What are you doing here? Where’s my mate?”
“The hospital called me and told me you were in an accident. Of course I’m here.” She stroked his forehead, her cool fingers soothing the incessant pounding. “As for your mate, the doctor is calling around trying to find out where the ambulance took her. She’s a good doctor, Brian. A wolf shifter. She says she knows your mate and will track her down.”
He growled and settled back onto the pillow. The dim light hurt his eyes, his head felt like he had an army of dwarves mining for gold in his skull, and his arm throbbed. But most of all, he missed his mate. “Find her, Mom. I want her here. I need to know she’s okay. That damned truck hit her side of the car.”
“We’ll find her, honey. Dr. Roberts knows your mate. She said they’re good friends.”
His mother sat on the edge of the stiff mattress. Her sleek bob haircut had more grey than he remembered. Her face had more wrinkles. She looked tired. When had she gotten old? He sniffed the air. Her scent comforted him, but it wasn’t the one he wanted or needed. It didn’t have his mate’s mix of freshly tilled soil, springtime flowers, and spicy musk.
“I want her here,” he repeated with a slight growl. “I also want my cellphone. I need to make a couple of calls that can’t wait. This was no accident, Mom.”
“What do you mean?”
The door opened, and he clamped his lips shut on his answer. A willowy redhead entered wearing a white lab coat and carrying a clipboard. Her name tag declared her his doctor. Her scent proclaimed her a shifter.
“I, too, would like to know the answer to that, Mr. Arcady. Nulli is my friend. If this wasn’t an accident, I would like to know who and why.” She approached the bed, copied some numbers off the monitor, and sat the clipboard on a table. “By the way, she’s on her way here. We found her at County General and requested a transfer. God only knows why they took her there.”
“Is she okay? Was she hurt?” He pushed himself upright, ignoring the accelerated beeping of the monitor. “Are you sure it’s safe to move her?” His eyes widened as terror gripped his heart. “Fuck. Do they know she’s allergic to latex?”
“Hold on, tiger.” The doctor eased him onto his back with help from his mother. He bared his fangs and hissed. She growled right back at him, her eyes flashing yellow in the dim light.
“Then tell me.”
“She has some injuries from the accident - a few broken ribs, a concussion, some bumps and bruises, and a slight chemical burn from inhaling the accelerant in the airbag. I’ll know more after I examine her for myself.” Dr. Roberts stepped back, eyeing the monitor until the beeps levelled out again. “Unfortunately, they weren’t aware of her allergy. Damn fools almost sent her into anaphylaxis before someone finally figured out why she was in distress.”
“But she’s okay?”
“She will be with proper treatment in a latex-free room. Which this is, before you ask.” She pulled a notebook from her pocket. “The police will be here shortly before Nulli arrives. They want to talk with you both about the accident. Before they get here, is there anything the Wardens need to know?”
“Yes,” he hissed. His fangs pressed against his lip. “Nulli told you about the woman at the gym, the one who worked at PSI Technologies? Yeah, well, we were going back to my office after lunch and had stopped at a street light. An SUV rear-ended us, pushing us into the intersection. That bitch from the lab was behind the wheel.”
“Are you certain?” Dr. Roberts looked up from her notes. Her lip curled in a snarl that revealed a sharp fang when he nodded. “Damn it. If PSI Tech. organized this whole thing, that means you weren’t taken to separate hospitals by accident. County only has a few shifters on staff, and not all of them work in the ER. I’ll check the hospital and find out who worked on her, admitted her, drew blood--”
“They tried to kill us just to get a vial of blood? What kind of fucking monsters are we dealing with, here?”
“Hold on.” Brian’s mother lifted a hand. Her voice was more growl than the soft lilt he’d grown up with, and the hardness in her amber eyes spoke volumes. “What is this PSI Technologies? Why did some woman hit you on purpose?” She leaned forward and her growls increased. “And where can I find her?”
“PSI Technologies is a research facility specializing in proving the existence of nonhumans.” Dr. Roberts’ growl matched mother and son’s. Hers were deeper and lacked the high pitched undertones of a cat’s roar. “They probably weren’t looking for just a vial of blood. Do you know how much a body would be worth to those butchers? The Wardens have been trying to stomp out these labs for over a decade but it’s damn near impossible.”
“She wanted us dead.” Brian rubbed his forehead with his good hand, wincing at the ache in his muscles and the throbbing in his temples. “That bitch who tried to act all friendly with my mate tried to kill us so she could cut us up like a goddamned science experiment? Fuck this shit! I want in on that ass kicking when the Wardens go in. Sign me up, do what you have to do, but I want to taste her blood on my fangs.”
“No!” His mother clutched the sheets on his bed and stared him down. “They tried to kill you and your mate and the first thing you can think of is rushing to meet them? Are you crazy? You have to heal, and then stay the hell off their radar. I will not lose my only son to this.”
Dr. Roberts put away her notepad and pulled up a chair. “I doubt this woman was trying to kill Nulli. She’d come to the gym more than once, probably to scope her out. It’s even more clear now why she was taken to another hospital. We weren’t full, there’s no way the dispatcher would have told them to take her to County General. This had to be organized.”
Anger and pain lanced through Brian’s body making it almost impossible to focus. “You think she set this up? For what?”
The doctor clenched her teeth and spoke in a threatening tone. “You know why, Brian. She’s valuable dead, but even more so alive. They could do all sorts of tests on her before--”
“I get it. Let’s not talk about those bastards carving up my mate right now, okay?”
“They won’t get their hands on her. I made sure the ambulance transporting her was staffed with shifters. She’ll be here soon.” Dr. Roberts checked her watch, stood, and grabbed her clipboard. “I have to finish my rounds. When the police get here, don’t tell them you’ve seen this female at the gym. She either stole the SUV or rented it under a false name. The Wardens will take care of her.” She flashed her fangs in a silent snarl. Digging out a card, she passed it to his mother. “If you think of anything else, call me.”
Brian watched the doctor leave then turned to his mother. She held the card like it was a snake, a snarl frozen on her lips. He leaned over and plucked the small rectangle from her fingers. “I’m not Dad. I’m not going to run off half-cocked. I will not leave my mate like that.”
“You’re already running off without thinking. You’re badly hurt. The only thing you’re thinking about is revenge when you should be focused on getting better. What do you expect me to think? I’ve seen enough of what the Wardens have to offer. I won’t watch it happen to you too. Your mate deserves better than this.”
“Will you tell her the same thing?” A smile teased the edges of his lips as he thought of his strong-willed and fierce mate. “Nulli’s already mentioned joining them. She’s no shrinking violet. Not that you are, Mom. You’re awesome, but she kicked my ass as a human. She’s perfect for the Wardens.”
His mother blanched and tightened her grip on the white sheet. “You can’t let her. I don’t want to bury another Warden, Brian. I want a normal life for you, one with happiness and children that you’re both around to raise.”
“Let her?” The smile turned into a chuckle. “You don’t let a force of nature do anything, Mom. You simply hope it doesn’t trample over you on the way to its destination. She’s so strong, so focused and skilled in ways I’ll never be. In ways Dad never was, from what you’ve said. She kicked a bear’s ass. As a human.” His chest swelled at the memory. She was his everything. He would never be the one to tell her she couldn’t do something.
“Neither of you are indestructible. Look where you are!” She raised a hand and moved it in a sweeping motion toward the room. “These people know how to hurt shifters. You want to go toe to toe with them beside your mate. You haven’t even joined the Wardens and you’re in the hospital. Think, Brian. Please. They can take away everything you love. They’ve stolen enough from this family.”
“They can’t take away everything, Mom. They can’t take away how I feel about her. They can’t take away the night I asked her to marry me. They can’t take away the first time I heard her purr. But if I hide away and do nothing to protect myself and my mate, they will take away something even greater. They’ll take away my self-respect. I’ll be damned if I give them that, or any of the rest.”
“You’re walking down a path where all those things you hold dear will be turned into memories. Memories that haunt you instead of filling you with joy. Memories that become nightmares in the waking world. Think about what I’m saying. I’ve lost my mate. I know how that feels and I don’t want it for either of you.” Her upper body shook as she inhaled deep. Her eyes went glassy, but she didn’t shed a single tear. “You might not survive it if they kill her, Brian. She might not survive losing you either.”
“I won’t lose her, Mom!” The very idea of a life without his mate was inconceivable. Even though his response was visceral, he couldn’t help but look at his mother and feel sadness. She was right. She’d lost her mate and the first few years after his father’s death were the hardest for all of them. “I’ll--we’ll be careful. I promise, but I won’t let this lab continue hunting my mate.”
“Mom, come on. You’re going to have to trust me, trust us.” Two long breaths did nothing to dull the arcs of pain resonating through his skull, so he redirected his attention. “Do you know where my phone is?”
She rose from the bed in silence before moving to a nearby counter. Her delicate hands rummaged through a plastic bag where she pulled out his mobile phone, and brought it over to him. “Don’t be selfish, Brian. You think diving into danger is the best way to take care of her, but what you’re planning isn’t about her at all. This is about you satisfying your rage. Just take some time to think about what Nulli needs.”
Damn it! Are all mothers born with the ability to twist a knife in your heart? He couldn’t afford to argue with her any more. After scrolling past the screen displaying several missed calls from County General, he opened his contacts, selected a number, and called. “Killian, it’s Brian.”
“What the hell happened to you, cat? You sound like shit. Did that bendy, flexy, sexy mate of yours drain you dry?” The big bear laughed loudly on the other end.
“Listen, that woman from the gym made a move. She rear-ended my car and knocked us into traffic. We’re in the hospital and--”
“Us? What the fuck? That bitch hit you and Nulli?” Loud rumbles vibrated through the receiver as Killian’s tone dropped. “Which hospital? I’ll be right there.”
“Nulli’s not here with me yet. They’re transferring her to where I am. These PSI bastards are crafty. They had her taken somewhere else so they could--” He paused as a grim realization crashed down on him like a landslide. “They could have been experimenting on her while she was there. Oh fuck! What did they do to my kitten?”
“Easy, cat. Calm down. We don’t know anything yet. Text me the address and I’ll be right there.” The sound of rapid keystrokes clued him in that the bear was working on something. Had he found any new information? “Hey Brian?”
“Yeah?” Brian tried and failed to banish the images of the woman from PSI hovering over his unconscious and defenseless mate. If only he could shift. He’d burn off some of the adrenaline coursing through him in pursuit of the human he’d come to despise.
“Whatever you need from me, you got it. If I find the people responsible for this, they’ll have a bear-sized problem on their hands. I can guaran-fucking-tee you that.” A loud grunt and a solid thump against what sounded like a wooden surface punctuated Killian’s words.
“Thanks. I mean it, Killian.”
“I’ll fill Terry in. You just focus on healing and getting your mate where you can see her.”
“Right.” Brian sent the address to Killian and ended the call. The police arrived not too long after and asked for his account of what happened. He told them what he was allowed to, and when they were satisfied, they left, promising to return when Nulli was there.
He just needed her to actually be there. “What the hell is taking so long?”