Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The River Wolf is Here! #NewRelease #wolvesofwillowbend #PNR #wolves #shifters





Brett Dalton, Alpha of Hudson River, isolated himself from his pack mates after one betrayed him. The once, easygoing Alpha has become taciturn, remote and unforgiving. His pack worries for him, but they too have suffered a devastating blow. When several members leave to join Three Rivers, the pack faces the threat of dissolution until Brett’s best friend and Lone Wolf, Luc Danes returns to Hudson River accompanied by a beautiful young human—or is she? Something about the woman consumes Brett. Has Luc come home to help or to take the pack from Brett?

Colby Jensen wrapped up thousands of hours of community service working at the hospital in Maine when an injured Luc Danes rolled through the door. The impossible patient drove the nurses crazy, but when Danes offered her money no strings attached to drive him to New York, she agreed. The last thing she expected was to arrive in the small Westchester County town and to meet the craziest collection of residents—especially the devastatingly sexy Brett Dalton. Part of her wants to hit the road, the rest wants to make him smile and he keeps making excuses for her to stay.

Then she sees the wolves…and is exposed to a world she can barely imagine. When Brett discovers a secret about her, nothing will be the same again. Now she will find herself torn between a world she isn’t sure she can understand and the man who has taken her heart hostage…

Read the first chapter now!







PROLOGUE
Hudson River Valley

Full moon…

His wolves raced together through the state forest. For the last eight weeks, the healer from Willow Bend focused on Trent’s education, yet she’d managed to find time to bully Brett into pack-building exercises. The pack embraced her latest suggestion—a run together.

Despite the frolicking taking place below, Brett remained watchful and distant, overseeing the games from a hill where he could survey the valley and the old state road running parallel to the park. It was well after midnight, though the run began at sunset with Brett leading the way.

The families peeled away first, ushering their young children home for bed and school the next day. Exhausted and flush with pleasure, the young healer-in-training, Trent left with his parents. The seniors followed over the next hour, wreathed in satisfaction from playing together. The young adults, bachelors, and single females remained to play.. Owen and Gillian continued to run with Brett’s wolves, but he’d excused himself once it was down to only the singles, once a handful of the females began to cast speculative looks in his direction.

He didn’t know who to trust in his pack, so the last thing he needed was a lover or the wrath incurred if he spurned one for another. Better to not involve himself at all. A faint rustle along the path behind him alerted him to the arrival of one of his Hunters. The scent of humanity twined with the wolf’s natural aroma, revealing the Hunter walked on two legs rather than four.

Pierce.

One of the four trusted with the protection of the pack, Pierce earned his place within Brett’s inner circle following the debacle with Marco. Releasing a sub-vocal woof, he granted the Hunter permission to approach. The man appeared out of the surrounding foliage and dropped to a knee next to him. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, Pierce was adept at blending into his surroundings. “We received a call from one of the Enforcers in Maine.”

Brett flicked an ear toward him, a silent order for him to proceed.

“Luc Danes was struck by a car and has been admitted to a hospital.” Once a part of Hudson River, the Lone Wolf left when not long after Brett’s ascension as Alpha. The wolf had been Brett’s best friend—still was, in some ways. They occasionally got a beer together when Luc was in the vicinity. Their friendship survived Luc’s exodus from the pack, and it was because of Luc that Brett welcomed Mason Clayborne as a guest in the first few months when the current Alpha of Willow Bend had gone Lone Wolf several years before.

An irritatingly cheerful and charismatic wolf, Luc enjoyed living life on his terms. He was also clever and aware of his surroundings. Hit by a car? It didn’t fit.

“The Enforcer said they would monitor his recovery, but he’s in a coma.”
Brett’s gut clenched. Coma? How serious was the accident?

“The Enforcer is investigating the so-called accident but, as near as he could tell, Luc was in wolf form when he was hit. He’d shifted to human by the time he was found. We’re not in danger of discovery, but he may need a pack to lean on for full recovery…” Pierce trailed off, not adding the unspoken if he recovers.

Switching his attention to the healer, Brett considered his options. Gillian’s link to him gave her access to his energy and her boundless enthusiasm for caring had made her an ideal fill-in healer while she trained Trent. The young man, though, was years away from assuming his full duties as pack healer. Hudson River didn’t possess a full-time healer. Could he ask Gillian and her mate to travel to Maine and check on the Lone Wolf?

They were due to return to their pack in a couple of short weeks, and they would take Trent with them. They would return in the winter and continue to divide their time between the two packs. A perfectly equitable—he stifled the growl before it formed in his chest. Nothing about the solution is equitable, but demanding more would be an insult to Mason. Worse, it would be an insult to Gillian.

Adoring the healer compromised his emotions. The desire to see her happy conflicted with his desire to protect his pack. If he could lure Gillian into not only leaving Willow Bend permanently and attaching herself to Hudson River, but also to being happy about it… Enough. She loves her pack and has every right to refuse the concessions she’s already provided.

Pierce cleared his throat, a subtle reminder that he waited for a response. The trouble was, Brett had no quick response. He had no healer to send to Maine. Another failure on his part—no, Luc wasn’t a part of his pack, but he was a friend. The churn in his stomach soured his disposition further. Letting the fur slip away, he shifted while trusting Pierce to hold his post on bended knee.

The Hunter didn’t disappoint. Standing, Brett blew out a breath. “Ask the Enforcer to keep us informed. If Gillian will consent to going north, I’ll send her and Owen to check on him. We can do no more at this time.” As much as the fact chewed on his soul, he had no other resource to send to Luc’s aid.

“As you say, Brett.” Pierce didn’t leave immediately. Instead, he waited and a question lingered in his scent.

Glancing at his Hunter, Brett raised his brows. “Ask.”

“Do the Enforcers not have a healer of their own they can send?”

“Not that I’m aware of.” Although he wouldn’t put it past Julian to keep the information under wraps if he did. The Enforcers were an entity unto themselves. “If they do, and they are that concerned for Luc’s well-being, they will most likely dispatch the healer.”

Frowning, Pierce scratched his chin. “I never thought about how Lone Wolves cope without access to a healer.”

“A lesson we are learning.” Brett returned his attention to the pack. The males were showing off, battling and gamboling through the underbrush as they wrestled for dominance. Owen was close enough to intervene if anyone got too stupid, and none of his pack was so foolish as to challenge the Willow Bend Hunter. Gillian had been right. Again. His pack needed to play together more. They were all isolating themselves. 

“Pierce…wait to call the Enforcer. I’ll talk to Gillian first. Luc may be a Lone Wolf. But he was ours before…he belonged to Hudson River. He didn’t follow the other idiots to Three Rivers last summer. If we can help him, we will—and if he needs a place to recover…” Pausing, he considered their options. He’d given the use of his grandfather’s house to Gillian and her mate. It was equipped for a healer, close to his home and he could protect them, but also not in his home which alleviated Owen’s territorial nature where his mate was concerned. “He can stay with Gillian and Owen—or at least in my grandfather’s home after they return to Willow Bend. He can convalesce here.”

“Yes, my Alpha.” Pride surged beneath the other wolf’s tone. Pride and perhaps relief. “Should I ask the Enforcer to bring Luc here?”

A possibility. “Tell him to use his judgment. The last thing we need is widespread human discovery, however Hudson River doesn’t leave our wolves behind.”

“Yes, sir.” A moment later, the wolf vanished along the trail, a fresh spring evident in his step. Was the Hunter so pleased with Brett’s taking responsibility? Or did the pleasure root in the idea of Luc coming home?

Probably both.

Crossing his arms, Brett remained in his human form as both he and his wolf watched over their pack. No one would hurt them again.

He’d failed them once. He’d die before he allowed it to happen again.


CHAPTER ONE

 

Colby Jensen whistled as she strode through the hospital doors. Eight hours of emptying bedpans, distributing magazines, flowers, and lunch trays while entertaining cranky patients, then she was free. Free from community service, free from the halfway house, and free from Alba, Maine. God, I can’t wait. The mantra echoed in her thoughts as she headed for the elevators. St Martha’s had two major wings and seven floors for the residents of Kennicanton County.

The whole population of Alba could fit within the precincts of the hospital. Well, maybe not the whole town but most of it. The sooner she blew out of there, the better. The elevator dinged her arrival to the fifth floor ward, and she stripped out of her jacket as the doors parted.

Miranda Wilson stood like a sentinel awaiting her arrival. Her stony face gave Colby pause, and she exited the elevator slowly. No way was she late. Flicking a quick look at the clock on the far wall above the nurse’s station, she sighed with relief. The clock literally ticked onto the hour.

Whew. Heart still hammering, she met Miranda’s gaze. The floor’s charge nurse had overseen Colby’s community service from day one and she’d been a fair, if stern, taskmaster. “Your card?”

The dreaded time card—Miranda initialed it at the start of a shift and the end. Twice in the last twelve months she’d refused to fudge the time when Colby arrived late—once because her car had a flat tire and the second time when she’d overslept. Tardiness would not be excused, no matter how reasonable the reason. Tugging the card out of her purse, she passed it over. “Good morning, Miranda.”

“Good morning, Colby.” Miranda carried the time card with her to the nurse’s station and Colby trailed her. Her good mood diminished under the other woman’s cool attitude. At the desk, she studied the card before retrieving her pen. “You have an eight hour shift today?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Gripping her jacket tighter, she tried to keep her tone without revealing her nervousness. Eight more hours and her sentence would be complete—unless Miranda decided to dock her some time. She wouldn’t do that, would she?

“You’re going to be dealing with the brute in five-ten. He’s in a mood this morning.”
Oh, joy. The brute in five-ten arrived at the hospital in bad shape, then lapsed into a coma. When he woke, in a bear of a mood, he actually growled at the nurses. Colby almost liked the bastard, since he at least didn’t whine. Course, he hadn’t thrown a tray of food at her. “I’ll run across the street to the burger joint on my break.” She’d found the key to keeping him cooperative—super-sized double cheeseburgers.

“You don’t have to do that,” Miranda said, her distracted tone didn’t offer any confidence. “Though I won’t complain if you do. For some reason, he really likes you.”

“No, just really likes burgers.” She’d discovered his preference rather by accident. She hated hospital food, so a year of eating in the cafeteria had given her a whole new respect for ramen noodles. Once, during a late shift, she’d stopped to get a couple of burgers for herself. Five-ten had been assigned to their floor—two broken legs and a bad concussion.

According to his chart, he’d been in a coma, but when he woke they moved him upstairs. Personally, Colby thought the move had more to do with his sour disposition than his actual physical health. “And I don’t mind. Every time I’ve brought him burgers this week, he’s been much more cooperative.”

Miranda gave her a considering look. “Then run across and get them now, before you start your shift. That way you can beard the beast in his den. He thought you were on the night shift, and had no idea it was your day off yesterday. He’s been impossible.”

“It’s not my break.”

“Honey, you don’t have to waste your break on him. Just go get them and come back, then start on the rooms. You’ve got two to clean, and five-ten, and if you could take care of five-twelve, five-fourteen and five-sixteen after you feed him. Then come back here and go over the exit interview with me.”

That was it? Hope kindled inside of her. “I can do the other rooms, too.” She actually liked the patients. It was the only part of her community service she did like. Helping people was kind of cool.

After initialing the date, Miranda smiled. Her expression, so utterly rare and inconsistent with her bossy attitude, floored Colby. “We have a new girl starting today.” She nodded down the hall and Colby twisted to look. A slender waif-like girl with long stringy blonde hair pulled into a nappy looking ponytail grunted as she carried a laundry sack out of one room. Her sullen expression coupled with hostile eyes combined to radiate don’t fuck with me.

“Wow.”

“Oh, she’s got spunk, that one. She reminds me of another handful that was assigned to St. Martha’s a year ago.” The tender, almost nostalgic tone pulled Colby around to stare at the charge nurse. “You’ve really come into your own, Colby, and if you ever decide to complete your RN training, I’ll write you a recommendation.”

Her mouth opened then snapped closed again. How did she respond to that?

“Enough socializing. You have burgers to fetch and work to do.” Miranda thrust the timecard at her. “I’m looking forward to signing and dating it for the last time this afternoon. Don’t worry, I already filed the paperwork with the court. You’ll be free to go when your shift is over.”

Free to go.

Tears pricked her eyes, and she blinked them rapidly. “Thanks. I’ll go get those burgers.” She stuffed the card back into her purse then tugged her jacket on. At the elevator, she paused and glanced back to the nurse’s station, but Miranda had already gone.

The cramp in her gut was back, and her nerves fluttered. She’d been counting down the days forever, or so it seemed. So why was she all of a sudden worried about it being her last day?

Maybe because I have no idea where I’ll be tomorrow…

Twenty minutes later, she returned to the floor with a bag of burgers, fries and even a vanilla shake in hand. Well, one vanilla and one strawberry, because she could drink either and she’d give five-ten the other. At room five-ten, she juggled the tray of shakes with the bag of burgers to raise her hand to knock. Her community service made her a nursing assistant for a year and, while she’d attended nursing school, she’d never completed her degree or licensing. So, she knocked before she entered—she had no desire to see anyone naked and she was pretty sure they didn’t want her to see them that way either.

Before her knuckles made contact with the wood, a gruff voice called, “Come in.”

Dude has ears like a bat. It wasn’t the first time he called for her to let herself in before she could knock. It had as yet to become creepy. Releasing the latch, she leaned her hip into the weighted door and shoved it open while still balancing the food.

Bare-chested—he hated the hospital gowns—with his blankets resting somewhere in the vicinity of his waist, Luc Danes stared at her with raw hunger in his deep green eyes. 

“Burgers?”

“Three of them today. I actually ordered five, but I plan to eat one.” She hadn’t been hungry until she’d stood inside Mac’s Shake and Grilled. The local place was the only place she went for burgers because they were off the chain—real meat, fresh fries, and hand-mixed shakes.

“So that means I get four?” The corners of his very full mouth curved into a grin.

“I figured I’d save the fourth one for later when you get grumpy.” Another perk to being an assistant on community service wasshe didn’t have to be as nice to him as the other nurses were. Considering he threw food tray across the room the first day he’d been assigned to her floor, narrowly missing the worker who’d delivered it, the nurses maintained a healthy distance from him.

At her quip, his grin grew wider. “Come closer. I smell fries.”

“Dude,” she said, pausing at the foot of his bed. “Can the creepy wolf playing grandma act, cause you’re not eating me today. Got it?” Some patients needed a firm hand, others needed a brick to the side of the head. Luc had always struck her as the brick type.

Surprise flared in his eyes, but his grin didn’t waver. “I’m starving. They tried to serve me runny eggs, cold bacon and something they called a muffin but had the consistency of fossilized bread.”

“Eww,” she said, wrinkling her nose. Sympathy flared through her. “Personally, you couldn’t pay me to eat the eggs here.” She passed him the bag of burgers.

“I don’t care what they called it, but it wasn’t eggs.”

Surreptitiously, she glanced at the wall nearest the door. No trays were on the floor and, thankfully, no eggs dripped down the wall.

Luc pulled open the bag. His left arm was in a cast, but he had the use of his fingers. Both of his legs were casted as well and strung up for support. “I didn’t throw the food. I thought about it though,” he admitted in a grumbling tone as the paper bag crumpled. He pulled the first burger out, unwrapped the foil then took a huge bite. “Oh my God,” he groaned with his mouth full of food. “I love you.”

“Yeah, you say that to everyone who brings you burgers. Strawberry or vanilla?” She held the shakes up then froze when his gaze locked on her. The heat in his eyes scorched her. 

“Shakes. Not me.”

“Pity.” His wink removed any disappointment from the word. “Which do you prefer?”

“I asked first.”

He took another bite, all the while staring at her. A part of her wanted to flee the rawness in his eyes, but the rest of her held completely still. What the hell is it about this guy that makes me feel like prey? Hating the sense of helplessness swamping her, she raised her chin. She’d stared down the judge who’d given her the sentence, the assistant district attorney who listed off her actions as criminal, and then her mother, when she’d disowned her. She could handle one damn patient.

Silence punctuated by the sound of the foil crinkling followed as she fought to hold his gaze. The stare-off occupied the next couple of minutes until he’d finished the first burger. Finally, he sighed. “Tell me which one you prefer, please?”

“I like them both.” Since he’d caved first—because he had, dammit—she relented.

“Really?” He touched the side of the bed. “Come, have your burger with me.”

“Hmm, no go, dude.” Since he had as yet to decide which he wanted, she set the vanilla on the tray table and slid it into place for him. “I have a shift to work. Rooms to clean and paperwork to process.”

“Oh.” Disappointment seemed to wreath him, and it tugged at her. “But I can come back to check on you in a bit, maybe give you a hand if you need it…”

“Sponge bath?” The tease sent heat rushing to her cheeks, and she scowled. He laughed, whether at his words or her reaction, she couldn’t be sure. “Teasing, sweet cheeks. Teasing.”

“Yes, well they call it sexual harassment these days.” Strawberry shake in hand, she reached for the bag and he caught her wrist.

“Truly,” he murmured. “My apologies. I wasn’t trying to upset you. Especially not on your last day.”

How the hell did he know it was her last day? His hand was huge and encompassed her wrist easily. The warmth of his skin on hers sent her pulse skyrocketing. “Well, be nice to the nurses and maybe someone else will bring you burgers.”

“Tell you what…” He kept his voice low, but his thumb caressed her pulse point. “Come see me before you leave today. I want to make you offer.”

“I am so not giving you a sponge bath again.” He’d convinced her to do it the first day she’d met him. Since he’d been in such a sour mood, and she’d wanted to make his day better, so she’d complied. His very physical reaction to her ministrations, however, had been awkward to say the least.

“Pity, but I can live with disappointment. No, I think you’ll like this deal. Just promise me you’ll come see me before you leave.”

“What do I get if I keep my promise?” Never give anything without negotiation. A hard lesson to learn, but one she had tattooed to her soul.

Lips pursed, he studied her. When her glance landed on where he held her captive still, he released her. “I’ll behave and not throw anything at the nurses today.”

Well, that was definitely a start. How far could she push him? “And?” While waiting for his answer, she took a sip of the strawberry shake and claimed her burger from the bag. He could have the fries. As much as she loved potato products of all kinds, she couldn’t afford to indulge. Her hips were round enough.

“Not enough?” His eyebrows rose. A healing cut bisected one of his brows, but it only made his square-jawed face appear more rakish. They’d had to shave part of his hair due to his head injury, but even with the brutal cut, he still looked sexier than a man who’d been in a coma for two weeks and the hospital for three and a half should.

“You’ve terrorized the floor since they moved you here.” Tucking her wrapped burger into her purse, she fixed her strap and then took a drink of her strawberry shake. “Not to mention, you’ve not cooperated with any of the questions they ask you. When they try to administer medication, you snarl and you’ve thrown four food trays by my count—all of which I had to clean up, I might add.”

“I haven’t thrown one since you pointed it out.” Chagrin actually erased his smile. 

“You’ve been kind to me, Colby, and I appreciate it. So if you want me to earn your return visit before you leave, I will promise to be on my best behavior all day. Satisfied?”
“No,” she said, not missing an ounce of the innuendo lacing the last word. When his smirk faded, she nodded. “But it will do for now. I’ve got another seven hours to work. I’ll stop by on my way out.” At the door once more, she paused. “Good luck on your recovery. Broken legs suck.”

“You’re telling me, sweet cheeks.” His voice followed her from the room. “Seven hours and I expect to see you back here. Don’t make me chase you.”

A chill raced along her spine. “Nobody chases me,” she warned him. “Not anymore.”
“Then don’t be late.” Damn man wants the last word. She let the door close behind her. She was already behind and, last day or no last day, she needed to get her work done. Besides, the last time she’d been the subject of pursuit, she ended up in jail and sentenced to community service. No more chasing and definitely no more catching.

The last hours of her internment flew past as she cleaned and prepped the empty rooms for future patients. One by one, she filled out the checklist for Miranda. Twice, Miranda swept through the rooms behind her and signed off on their prep. She’d finished her melted strawberry shake and ate her cold burger during a fast thirty minute lunch, abbreviated by an emergency that pulled all hands on deck. Running, Colby fetched fresh bandages and supplies for the patient who ripped their stitches. On another occasion, she sat with the husband of an elderly woman when they called a code. The octogenarian worried her with his trembling hands and racing heart rate. Holding his hand, she spoke to him as calmly as she could manage and explained every step the team took to help his wife.

Thank God they saved the woman and her heart rate returned to normal. A surgeon came out and, when he began to report that the old woman needed surgery, the husband latched onto Colby and wouldn’t let her leave. Miranda nodded to her when they wheeled his wife to surgery, so Colby stayed with him. For last four hours of her shift, she chatted with him and kept him calm. When she worried about his pallor and fussed at him, he let her fetch him some food and hot coffee.

Eventually the surgeon returned with good news. His wife came through the surgery and they were feeling confident about the balloon they’d inserted to open her artery. As it was, she was two hours past the end of her shift, but she didn’t care. She stayed with the old man— his name was Art —until they came to take him to his wife in recovery.

Exhaustion dogged her steps as she trudged to the nurse’s station. Miranda glanced up from her computer. “You’re still here,” Colby murmured to the older woman. Since Miranda had been there before she arrived, she’d assumed she would already be gone.
“I am,” Miranda said with a smile as she held out her hand. “You did an amazing job today. Mr. Dossey was very grateful for your assistance.”

“He was a nice guy.” Colby hated compliments. “And he was scared. I don’t know why their kids aren’t here for them, but I couldn’t leave him.” Even if she’d wanted to leave, he wouldn’t have let her. Passing over her card, she watched as Miranda signed and initialed it for the last time.

“We’re going to miss you around here, but I know wherever life takes you, you’re going to be all right.” She slid the time card onto the scanner and fired it up to take a photocopy of the card. “Where is life going to take you?”

“I don’t know,” she answered as truthfully as possible. Frankly, Miranda’s level of personal interest defied all previous behavior. “I am leaving Alba, though, to try my luck south…maybe New York. Maybe Florida. Florida could be awesome. No more snow in winter.” If she never saw another snowstorm after the last couple of years it would be too soon.

“I hear that.” Copy finished, Miranda handed her the time card. “You’ve got a lot of potential, Colby. I meant what I said about writing you a recommendation. You only need a few more clinical hours and a couple of classes to finish your RN.”

Uncertain of what to say, Colby shrugged. “I’m going to start over, whatever I do.”

“You deserve a fresh start.” Miranda rose from her chair then circled out from behind the nurse’s station. If her kindness and interest hadn’t already startled Colby, her sudden hug robbed her of speech. “I’m exceptionally proud of you, Colby Jensen. You were full of resentment when you marched through those doors thirteen months ago. The last place in the world you wanted to be was a hospital, but you never let it stop you from doing your absolute best and you’ve grown, young lady. Grown wonderfully.”

Tears filled her eyes, and Colby returned the embrace with more hesitance than she thought possible. People didn’t hug her. Hell, her mother was the least touchy feely person she knew. Public demonstrations of emotion were strictly forbidden and more likely to earn rancor than empathy. “Thank you, Miranda. I might actually miss you.”
The older woman laughed then gave her a squeeze before nudging her away. “I doubt that. I’m the dragon lady, and I rather like my reputation. Now, get out of here.”

“I will. I promised five-ten I’d drop in before I left. Did he behave today?” Honestly, she’d been so busy, she’d all but forgotten about their deal.

“Actually, I think he did. None of the nurses or orderlies complained. What did you do? Drug his food?”

Colby laughed. “Tempting, but no. I just explained to him he needed to be nicer to people and they might be nice to him. I also pointed out, since I’m leaving, he’s out his free burgers if he doesn’t suck up to someone else.”

“Well played. You really do have a gift with patients.” The phone rang and Miranda reached for it. “Go be a stranger, Colby.”

Be a stranger. She liked that idea. Outside of Alba, no one would know about Colby Jensen and her bad reputation or her penchant for raising hell with the worst kind of boys. She wouldn’t be the kid cited for vandalism or the skipping school. The nursing school dropout who let her boyfriend use her for access to a prescription locker or worse…a punching bag. Her jaw ached at the memory. Course, he only used her for a punching bag once.

She put him in the hospital the second time and the assault left her on probation and community service. Community service she’d served. Better to leave it all behind her, go where no one knew her name, and take advantage of a clean slate.

Walking on leaden legs, she headed for room five-ten. Her stomach growled a complaint about the long hours since lunch. She’d turned in her notice on her apartment the month before, so all she had to do when she left was grab dinner, go home, eat, pack up the last of her things and shower. A good night’s sleep and she’d be on the road in the morning, her apartment keys turned in and Alba in her rearview mirror.

God, it sounded so good.

At the door to his room, she didn’t even bother raising her hand to knock. She simply waited.

“Come in,” the patient called, and she grinned as she pushed the door inward. Not even his scowl could lessen her good mood. “You’re late.”

“I was busy,” she told him, closing the door and leaning against it. “I promised I would come back after my shift, and my shift just ended.”

Weird how he was the one in the bed with the casts and the injuries, yet he seemed even more alert than he had that morning. His I.V. was also missing from his arm. The stand was there, but the tubing lay discarded to the side. The saline drip bag was three-quarters full. If they’d planned on removing his I.V. they would have cleaned up after him. Had five-ten removed it himself?

“You look tired,” his gruff tone softened. “Is the old guy going to be okay?”

“His wife pulled through,” she said by way of answer. No point in asking him how he knew where she’d been or pointing out that if he had known, then he’d also known she’d be late. “So, here I am. What did you want to ask me?”

The corner of his mouth quirked and his eyes narrowed, though the green color was all but lost in the half-light of the lamp nearest him. Hell, his eyes seemed to be reflecting the light in the dark room and were almost yellow. Creepy. Cool, too. But creepy.

“I love how you cut to the chase.” Patting the bed next to him once, he curved the fingers on his casted arm. “Come sit and talk to me for a minute. I won’t keep you long.”

“I’m good right here.” Truth was, since she’d leaned against the door she wasn’t sure she could straighten and walk to the side of his bed much less out of the room. Better to rest for a few minutes longer, because she still needed to get to her car.

He frowned and she half-expected him to argue. Disliking her choice might be his prerogative, but since she didn’t plan on seeing him again… “I have a proposal for you.” Each word seemed carefully chosen and the weight of his regard rested on her like a wave of hot and humid air. “I need to get out of here.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Both of his legs were in casts—one from mid-thigh to his ankle and the other from the knee all the way to the end of his foot—not to mention his left arm was casted from elbow to wrist.

“Ignore the plaster. I can check myself out against medical advice. It doesn’t matter—what I need is a ride.” Fixed on her, his gaze remained unwavering. “You’re leaving after today and heading where, exactly?”

Okay. There were patients who needed the extra bit of handholding and then there were guys who crossed the line. She felt bad for five-ten, but not that bad. “None of your damn business.”

Another faint smile graced his lips. “You are a tough one, Colby.” The way he said her name sent goosebumps rippling over her arms. “But you’re right. It isn’t any of my business, but I’m asking because I need your help and I’m willing to pay for it.”

“First of all, you’re in a hospital because you were in a coma, and you’re still recovering from whatever the hell happened to you.” No one was quite certain, though all signs pointed to him having been involved in a hit and run. “Rumor has it you were found naked and unconscious next to the road. You’ve got a lot of broken bones and you were in a coma.” She repeated it for effect. “The last thing you need to do is check yourself out and travel anywhere…besides, you probably can’t get around without a wheelchair.”

“All true.” Though he agreed with her, his sigh conveyed more frustration than all his growling over the last week.

Pushing away from the door, she crossed the room. “Mr. Danes…”

“Luc.”

Charming. “Mr. Danes.” Enunciating his name earned her another faint smile. “I get that you don’t like being here. No one likes being in a hospital. But your injuries are extensive and you have a concussion. The nasty cut on your forehead there may be linked to a cracked skull.”

“Trust me, sweet cheeks, my skull is fine. The rest of me will be fine, too, once I get home—”

Interest perking, she raised her brows. “Home? I thought they asked you about contact information for family and you didn’t give them any.”

“Yeah, because I’d rather go to them than have them all come here. To do that, I need a ride.” Sitting forward caused him pain, or at least the grimace on his face suggested it did. 

“I can’t drive a car right now, but you can. You’re leaving anyway, and I can make it lucrative for you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Drive me to New York, to a little town in Westchester County, about four—maybe five—hours from here.”

“Mr. Danes…”

“I’ll pay you a thousand dollars now and another thousand when you get me there.”

“What?”

“You heard me, sweet cheeks. Do this for me, and I’ll definitely make it worth your while.” Sweat beaded along his forehead and his jaw tightened. No matter how stubborn or foolishly he was behaving; she couldn’t stand to see his pain. Reaching out, she placed a hand against his shoulder and gave him a light push. Despite his hospital stay and injuries, touching him was like touching hot steel. He didn’t budge at first.

“You should lie back. You’re hurting yourself.” Her admonishment did what her nudge hadn’t. He settled against the pillows, but kept hold of her gaze.

“Help me, Colby. Please.”

“If you say I’m you’re only hope, I’ll punch you.” Dammit, she was going to do it. What the hell was wrong with her?

“You’re not my only hope.” His crooked grin eased the tension in his jaw. “But you are my best option. And I mean it…I need your help. Say yes.”

Bad boys had always been her weakness. Not true…people in need are my weakness. A bad boy in need? Double whammy. “I’ll think about it.” Yes, she could think about it, walk out of the hospital and never come back.

“You’re going to do it.” Relief filled his voice. “I’ll make sure I have my discharge papers by tomorrow morning. What time should I expect you?”

“I haven’t said yes.”

“You have,” he closed his eyes, his expression relaxing. “You just haven’t admitted it to yourself.”

Arrogant… “You should get some rest, I’ll let the charge nurse know you’re in pain.”
“Don’t bother,” he murmured. “No more drugs for me. I took out the I.V.”

“They need to put it back in.” She reached to out to press the call button, then Luc caught her wrist in a steel clamp. His grip was unyielding, but thankfully not painful.

“No.” His voice dropped an octave, and she had no choice but to stare at him. “It needs to stay out. I need the drugs out of my system by morning.”

She believed him. Desperation had a very familiar flavor. “How much trouble are you in?”

“Enough to need to be gone by tomorrow.”

Her stomach sank, but she refused to acquiesce…yet. “If I help you, will it get me into trouble, too?” The last guy who needed her so desperately cost her a year of her life.
“I won’t let anything happen to you.” Not really an answer.“I give you my word Colby Jensen, I will protect you and this is my choice to leave the hospital. Nothing that happens will be your responsibility. I need a driver…and a friend for a few hours. You will be well compensated, and I will owe you a favor. Whenever—wherever you need it.”

God, is he in the mafia? She should leave him. He needed to be in a hospital, but if he really was in trouble… “I am so going to regret this.”

The corners of his mouth tilted, then he tugged her wrist lightly and brought her hand to his mouth. The kiss he pressed to her knuckles was at once both formal and oddly intimate. “On my life, Colby, I promise you—I will do everything I can to make sure you do not.”

The hell of it was…she believed him.




1 comment:

  1. This would entice anybody into wanting the rest of the book....Great intro and I gotta have more...

    ReplyDelete