In the words of Pain and Panic from Disney's Hercules... "We. Are. WORMS!" Yeah, we've left this hanging far too long. I blame the rabid were-platypii infesting the world with their strangeness. Or the holidays and other obligations. But I'm all about the were-platypii. Someone get on that.
“I was scared when you weren’t in bed and I couldn’t find you. I thought something dreadful had happened. Then, when I heard you in the gym.” He leaned against the closet wall with a sigh. “I went a bit nuts. I couldn’t believe you’d risk your health and recovery like you did. I wanted to shift and run until my paws were sore, but this damn cast kept that from happening. So, I picked a fight. With your treadmill.” He winced at her rising growls. “I won.”
“You broke my treadmill?” When her breath came out as a hiss, he wasn’t sure if it was from the pain of trying to sit up or pure anger. “What are you, two years old? Something happens that you don’t like so you break things?” Definitely anger.
“I’ll replace it. Just tell me what kind to get.”
“Are you serious?” She spoke through her teeth, but her fangs didn’t drop. “You can’t go around destroying my things every time you get pissed off. And you’re the guy who’s teaching me about control?”
He closed his eyes and banged his head against the wall. “I’m sorry. I’m not going to give you a lame excuse. Just let me make this right.”
Nulli pushed herself up, groaned, and headed for the door. “Of all the things you could have chosen, you pick something important to me. You have camera lenses that are worth thousands. Why not break your own stuff?”
Brian let his head drop to his knees as she left the closet. What could he tell her? He had no excuse for what he’d done. He had been pissed and lashed out. She was right in saying he acted like a toddler. When he fucked up, he did it royally.
He waited until he heard her walk down the stairs before he left the closet. Running his hand through his hair, he sighed and headed for the kitchen. The sun was already coming up. His mate was pissed. There was no chance for sleep at this point. He only hoped he wouldn’t be on the couch that night. He grabbed the coffee beans and dumped a handful into the grinder. It was going to be a long day.
He pulled down a mug and filled it to the brim. As he sat at the table, he wrestled with the feelings that led to the destruction of his mate’s treadmill. His initial instinct was to blame her. If she hadn’t been down there… If she didn’t think she was invincible… Not only was that unfair to her, it felt wrong. His actions were his own, not hers. He may have acted childishly, but he wasn’t a child to point to someone else and say “it’s her fault.” No. This foolishness was all on him.
So, why? He poured a second cup of coffee. Staring into the swirling black liquid, he walked through the morning. Not just what he did, but how he felt. The thing that stood out the most for him, the underlying emotion that fueled his words and actions, had been fear. A very real terror that he wouldn’t find Nulli in the house at all. That she had been taken by agents of PSI Tech while he slept. That once more, she had been injured on his watch.
He had been terrified, and to find her in the workout room, oblivious to that terror, had been more than he could handle. Relief had nearly brought him to his knees, but anger had followed hard on its heels. He’d wanted to snatch her up and shake some sense of self-preservation into her. He’d wanted to lock her away until the danger had passed. He’d wanted to shift and run and kill something, anything to release the pressure of his bottled up emotions. The treadmill had simply been the closest thing at hand.
It hadn’t helped. Staring at the wreckage, he had been shocked at his lack of control. There was too much going on inside of him. Too much he kept hidden in order to be strong. Too much he refused to acknowledge. Too much. The results had been a destructive melt down right when his mate needed him to keep a level head.
“You really know how to time it, Arcady.” He raised his mug to his reflection in the refrigerator, then drained it of the bitter brew. He sighed and rose to pour another cup.
Nulli entered the room with her normally seductive lips pressed together. A hardness had settled in her eyes, and she didn't speak right away, though she did stare at him. "I don't think I'll be able to fix it."
“I didn’t think you could.” He twirled the cup in his fingers. “I’m sorry, Nulli. I will replace it. I swear.”
"I'll use the ones at the gym." She didn't have to say how she felt. Disappointment saturated her voice and sent a chill through his veins.
“You don’t have to do that. I can have a new one delivered in a day or two at the latest.” His shoulders drooped, and he pushed back his chair to stand. “Though I suppose I could understand if you’d prefer to use theirs.”
A long sigh slipped through her lips before she shook her head. "That treadmill was over $3,500. Just let it go."
“I’ll replace it. The cost isn’t the issue. I should have enough set aside to cover it.” He emptied the pot into his cup, then went through the motions of making another. “It’s only right that I replace it. You deserve no less.”
Nulli flexed her fingers and rolled her eyes. "What the hell are we doing, Brian? I don't want to go back and forth about whether or not you're going to replace the treadmill. Not if this is going to be a recurring theme."
He ground the coffee beans as he collected his thoughts. Now was not the time to stumble over his words. Taking a deep breath, he started the second pot and returned to his seat. “It shouldn’t happen again. I’ve been torn between scared to absolute death that I was going to lose you and so terribly furious at myself that I was unable to protect you from harm. The danger from PSI Tech, the wreck, the fuck up at the hospital with latex that nearly killed you… how much of that could I have prevented? How much should I have? Then, when I woke up this morning, and you were gone?” He rested his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands. “I thought, ‘you’ve done it again, Arcady. You’ve let them take your mate right from under your nose.’ I searched the house with my heart in my throat. When I found you, when I saw you were okay, I lost it.”
"Why didn't you say that? Those are things I understand. Do you know why I was down there? Because you have a broken arm. If those bastards come back, your entire right side is vulnerable. I need to be your right side, Brian. I need to be able to cover you if I need to." Her eyes were soon brimming with tears, but she wiped them away. "I don't understand these PSI people. I don't know when they'll stop or if they'll stop, but I won't sit around and do nothing while you could be in danger."
“I didn’t say that because I haven’t taken the time to sort through everything until now. All I’ve known is fear and worry and anger and relief then right back to fear again. I’ve never felt so responsible for someone and yet so utterly helpless before in my life.” He rubbed a hand over his face and risked looking into her eyes. He wondered if his looked as haunted as hers. “But, sweetheart, you’re just as injured as I am. Even more so because busted ribs make you feel like an elephant is sitting on your chest. We have friends around who will help us until we’re well. Let them. Then you can kick ass.”
"These people want to hurt shifters and I'm supposed to let my friends step in front of us? No, Brian. Those PSI people can't have them too." She shook her head and turned her back to him, leaning on the sink.
“They are shifters, too, Nulli. They want these guys stopped just as much as we do. They have volunteered their time out of love for you. Let them help us. There is no shame in taking help when it’s been freely offered.”
"They're exposing themselves. What if PSI didn't know about them? We're grouping my friends together here. Do you want to paint the actual targets on their backs for those psychos?" Her body appeared to vibrate as she gripped the edge of the sink. "I know they'd do anything to help and that's what I'm afraid of."
“Each one of them patrolling the woods right now are Wardens. Each one. If anyone is on PSI Tech’s radar, it’s them. I can’t make you rest or take care of yourself, but if you continue to push your limits, you’re going to wind up back in the hospital where the Wardens can’t patrol with ease. I’m trying to keep you safe, but you’re not letting me.”
Nulli whipped around and flared her nostrils. "There is no such thing as safe! Did you forget everything you told me? About what they're capable of? I'll never forget what they can do." She held her side and shook her head.
“Don’t forget, but don’t let it run your life, either. Yes, they attacked us. Yes, they might do it again. I refuse to change the way I live because of them. I refuse to give them that much power over me.” He rose from the table and paced the room. “This isn’t the first time I’ve had a run-in with a group like PSI Tech. They took my father from me. They took several of my friends. Some returned. Most didn’t. My father didn’t. It haunts my mother to this day that she lost her mate to those kinds of monsters. But I can’t let fear rule me. I can’t. I did today, and see what happened!”
Nulli closed her eyes and took slow breaths. She didn't say anything, and he wasn't sure how to interpret her silence.
He turned off the coffee machine and set his cup in the sink. With a heavy heart, he kissed her cheek and moved towards the stairs. “I need a shower.” He hoped time apart would help. He was out of ideas.
The sound of the bathroom door opening sent his heart beating faster. Was it anxiety or relief?
Nulli stood next to the shower and spoke in a quiet voice. "Need help with your hair?"
“Yeah, I’d like that.” He pulled back the curtain and offered her a tentative smile. “I can’t do it by myself. Damn cast. Gonna chew it off.”
She stepped into the spray and fixed her gaze on his eyes. "I know." She smiled back and held her hand out toward the shampoo bottle on the ledge behind him.
He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her against his chest. “I love you so much it scares me, Nulli. I can’t imagine being without you.” He teased her with soft kisses. “Try not to hurt yourself too much.”
"I love you too, and I'll try to stay in bed more if you’ll stay with me." She winked and lifted a hand to pinch his ear.
“Now that is a plan I could definitely get behind.” He nibbled her lip. “And in front of. And beneath.”
"I think I'm a bit limited on those options right now, kitty." A light chuckle eased out of her as she ran her fingers through his hair. "You're going to get bored, aren't you?" Her tone was teasing, and she poked out her tongue.
“Never in a million years, mate. I’ll never get bored with you.” He captured her lips and teased her tongue with his. Ignoring the shower spray, he walked her until her back pressed against the tiles as he ran his hand over her wet body. His purrs echoed in the small room as he trailed his lips across her cheek to nip her ear. “I need you. Tell me if I hurt you.”
Brian placed his cast against the tile for support. This time he wore one of those protective bags from the drugstore. It gave him the freedom to bathe without worrying about soaking the cast. It gave him the freedom to tease his mate. He traced the silky whirl of her ear with his tongue as his purrs grew louder. He suckled the lobe. Nipped it. Whispered all the things he wanted to do to her once she healed.
He ran his hand along her side. She was sleek and lean. Firm and muscular. He cupped her breast and thumbed her nipple. She was feminine and soft in the best of places. She hissed when he scraped the hard peak with the edge of his nail. He hid his grin in her hair when she pressed her breast into his hand.
“Naughty kitten.” He nuzzled her neck with a soft chuckle. At her frustrated growl, he bent to take her nipple into his mouth. She moaned when he lapped at the sensitive flesh. She growled when he purred around the hard peak. She hissed when he pulled away. “Patience, sweetheart.”
He followed the rivulets of water down her stomach with his tongue. He nipped at the curve of her hip. Placed a kiss on the satiny skin above her soft curls. Her fingers tangled in his slick hair as he nuzzled against her. God, how her body called to his! Everything about her pulled him, beckoned him to lose himself in her. Her scent. Her taste. Her strength. Her love.
He used his cast since he couldn’t use his arm. He rested it on his bent knee against the tiles just under the firm cheeks of her ass. He inhaled her heady scent as he lifted her leg over his shoulder. “I’ve stabilized this damn cast, kitten. Sit if you need to. You won’t hurt me.”
The water pounded against the back of his neck as he lapped and tasted his mate. He nibbled her fleshy lips. Tasted her nectar. Purred around the sensitive nub of her clit. Her answering growls and purrs made him ache to feel her body gripping his. She tugged on his hair one moment, pushed him away the next. She whimpered and hissed. Her sexy little noises were driving him crazy.
“I wanted to take my time. Make this last. But damn if you’re not making it hard to wait.”
He lowered her leg from his shoulder and wrapped it around his waist as he stood. With a smooth thrust, he buried his cock in her warmth. Her inner muscles massaged his length. He gritted his teeth as her purrs added that extra level of sensation.
He withdrew slowly, savoring the smooth slide of her body. The tightness. She arched her back as he hovered on the edge of pulling out. As he bent to taste her lips, her fingers dug into his arms. Her sharp intake of breath and her muffled whimper, were not due to pleasure.
“What’s wrong, kitten?” His legs shook with the effort to remain still as he searched her face. “Did I hurt you? Maybe this was a bad idea.” As he started to withdraw, she not only tightened her leg around his waist, she also raised the other to lock her ankles at the small of his back. He groaned as she pulled him deep inside her.
“Stop now, Brian, and I will eat your soul.” Her golden eyes narrowed as she growled. “I took a deep breath. That wasn’t a good idea. I’ll be fine, kitty. Don’t stop.”
He adjusted his hold on her, setting the cast under one of her thighs while gripping her firm ass with his good hand. His strokes were smooth, slow, and deep. She clenched her muscles to grip him on each withdrawal. Her purrs vibrated down his shaft straight to his aching balls. His teased her clit with every thrust.
As his climax approached, he sank his fangs into his mating bite with a growl. His thrusts grew shorter, harder. He ground against her. His purrs rumbled through his chest and along his erratically pumping cock. She clawed at his shoulders. She growled and hissed. Her purrs drove him crazy. Her roar of pleasure echoed in the small chamber. His was muffled against her shoulder as he released deep inside of her.
The water cooled as he lapped at her bite. His shoulders felt like he’d run naked through a briar patch. The rest of him felt like heaven. He couldn’t have stopped his purrs if he tried. Easing her legs from his waist, Brian supported her until she could stand on her own. He gave them both a quick wash before the water turned frigid. Stepping from the shower, each patted the other dry while stealing teasing kisses and playful caresses.
Brian slipped on a pair of cotton gym shorts with Nulli’s help. After she dressed, they piled onto the sofa facing the patio. “I only have about a week of medical leave before I’m not drawing a paycheck. I don’t think PSI Tech will come for me in the middle of the conference center, but I don’t want to leave you here by yourself.” He wrapped one of her many curls around his finger. “I suppose I could give you a collar and leash and bring you in as an exotic pet?”
“I suppose I could kick your ass and buy you a few more days off?”
“Hmm. As enticing as the idea is, I’ll pass.” He picked up another curl and twined it around his fingers. “I don’t like leaving you here. I don’t like you going to the gym. Knowing you, you’d try to teach a class. So how to keep my beautiful but stubborn mate safe from PSI Tech as well as herself?”
“I can’t breathe well enough to teach a class. I know my limits, kitty. Unfortunately, they managed to take away something I really need.” A small frown took over her face, drawing her eyebrows down while she pursed her lips. “Now I want to punch something. Or claw something. Or chase things.”
“You could claw me in the most delicious of ways.” He waggled his eyebrows with a comical leer. “Give it at least a few days, and you’ll be able to shift. Right now, the pain would be off the charts.”
“Would I heal faster if I did it? I’m not saying I’m going to shift, but I don’t know how that works. You told me we heal faster. Would changing give that healing factor a jolt?”
“It might, but there’s a downside to that. You’re fairly new to shifting. There are times when I still have to talk you back to your human form. Add pain to the mix and there’s a good chance you’d be a bobcat until you’re healed. It may speed things up, but it may trap you for a while, too.” He shrugged. “It happened to my sister and she was born a shifter.”
“Well, it was worth asking.” A long sigh slipped through her lips and her shoulders sank. If he had to guess, his mate was feeling defeated.
“Hey.” He released the curl and pulled her close. “It won’t be forever. You’re moving around better than anyone else I’ve seen with busted ribs. Take it easy a few days and reassess then, okay?”
“Very well, Dr. Kitty.” She shook her head and closed her eyes. “What do you want to eat? There are still a ton of leftovers from the stuff my parents brought over.”
“If I’m allowed to fondle the hired help, I’ll be glad to get in your way while you’re fixing my plate.” He grinned. “I’ll take a bit of everything. I had a wild bobcat in my shower this morning and need to renew my energy.”
“More than a little wild.” She winked and flashed her fangs before pushing herself out of the sofa. “Come on. Let’s go.”
“Woo hoo!” He followed her into the kitchen with a soft but constant purr.