© 2018 Jane Kindred

Climbing back up to the car took a monumental effort. Lucy leaned back in the driver’s seat and closed her eyes just for a moment. When she opened them, the stars visible through the windshield had shifted significantly. The clock on the dash read two in the morning. Her muscles ached, and her shoulder was killing her. She touched her fingers to the torn cloth over the bite; it was soaked with blood. There was no way she was going to make it home like this. And she knew the address of exactly one person in Jerome. He’d said he lived in the building his shop was in, which meant the upstairs must be his residence.

Lucy drove back to Main Street in Jerome and managed to find parking in front of Delectably Bookish once more. Her head swam, and the ground dipped and swayed as she got out of the car. Lucy gripped the post beside the entrance of the shop to steady herself and pounded on the door.

A light came on above, followed by the lights in the shop a moment later. Oliver Connery appeared, shirtless, salty hair askew and glaring furiously out of those cinnamon-brown eyes as he unlocked the door.

“What the hell is—?” He stopped, staring openmouthed as he took in her appearance. “Jesus. What happened? Come inside.” Oliver put an arm under hers and led her in to sit on one of the couches. “The werewolf?”

“I’m even more sure now that it’s not a werewolf.” Lucy rubbed her brow with the back of her wrist. “It’s incredibly fast and resilient—and strong—and it shifts with the wind, like it just decides when it wants to be human.”

Oliver had gone to the café counter to grab some towels, and he returned with them, shaking his head as he pressed one to the shredded shoulder. “I knew this was a bad idea.”

“I assure you, I’m perfectly capable of handling this thing now that I know what I’m up against.” She was sure of no such thing, but she wasn’t about to listen to more of his criticism of her age and experience. Or implicit criticism of her sex.

“So you didn’t kill it.”

Lucy grabbed the towel from his hand. “It wasn’t for lack of trying. You need to get over this idea that all lycanthropes are misunderstood people who need to be given a chance. This thing is a monster.”

“That isn’t what I meant.” Oliver frowned down at her. “You’re going to have to take that suit off. We need to disinfect the bite, and you’re probably going to need stitches.” He held out his hand. “Come with me.”

Lucy bit back another retort about being fine and not needing any help and instead took his hand to let him pull her up from the couch. Because as much as she hated to admit it, right now, she was not fine.

Upstairs in the bathroom of Oliver’s apartment, Lucy peeled off the torn suit and blood-soaked white shirt—both of them ruined by her transformation before the creature’s teeth had even sunk in—and sat begrudgingly on the covered toilet to let Oliver clean the wound and sew her up. “I can do that myself,” she complained between gritted teeth. “I know how to stitch up a wound.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, stop trying to impress me. I get it. You’re experienced. You’re tough as nails. You’re a total badass.”

“I’m not trying to—”

“That wasn’t sarcasm.” Oliver glanced up, his cinnamon eyes dark with concern. “I am impressed. I’m also very worried about this bite. If it’s a werewolf—”

“It’s not a werewolf. And…I happen to be immune.”

Oliver’s dark brows drew together. “Immune?”

“One of the perks of owning a biotech firm that specializes in parapharmacology.”

“I see. I don’t suppose that particular pharmaceutical is on the market for ordinary folk?”

“It’s part of a limited trial.”

Oliver’s jaw tightened, but he said nothing else.

As he tied off the stitches in her shoulder, Lucy became acutely aware of the fact that she was sitting here in his bathroom in her bra and underwear while he was wearing nothing but a pair of flannel pajama bottoms. One of the other aspects of her heightened senses at this point in her cycle was unusually intensified sexual desire.

After putting the first aid kit away, Oliver glanced up and seemed to realize her state of undress as well. “Let me get you a robe.” He slipped out of the bathroom and returned with one in blue-and-black flannel that matched his pants.

“Thanks.” Lucy rose and attempted to slip her left arm gingerly into the sleeve and nearly pitched forward into him.

Oliver steadied her, instinctively avoiding her arm and shoulder, instead catching her about the waist. His hands nearly circled her. Lucy looked up into his intense russet eyes. There were similar-colored highlights in the salt-and-pepper hair, and what she’d thought of as a tan was a matching cinnamon-bark undertone in his skin, evenly warm…everywhere.

Her spine twitched as she resisted a full-body shiver. This was no time to indulge her overactive wyvern hormones. It would be a disastrous mistake. She breathed in his scent—a damp, dusty smell like the desert after rain when the creosote bushes released their resin. She could swear she felt one of her ovaries dropping an egg.

“No, no. Hell, no.” Lucy pushed his hands away and pulled on the rest of the robe, tying it with a jerk. Her hands were sweating.

Oliver blinked and took a step back, his expression mortified. “That wasn’t a move. I was just trying to make sure you didn’t crack your head on the basin.”

“I know it wasn’t a damn move. I wasn’t talking to you.”

He blinked again. “Who…who were you talking to?”

Lucy’s head was starting to throb. She groaned and clutched it in both hands, unconsciously rubbing the spots at her hairline where a pair of ruby dragon horns had protruded just hours ago.

“Are you all right?”

Lucy shook her head and regretted it. “I need to go home.”

“You can’t drive in this condition.”

“Don’t tell me what I can do.”

Oliver sighed patiently. “Your injuries aside, when was the last time you slept?”

“I don’t sleep.”

“You don’t sleep.”

“I don’t have time. I catch a power nap when I can.” The truth was that she couldn’t sleep at this time of month. And she really had to stop smelling his desert-dusty-rain smell right goddamn now.

Lucy pushed past him and headed for the door. She wasn’t sure if it was chivalry or indifference that kept him from trying to stop her as she advanced into the hallway weaving like a drunk. She stumbled and landed on her ass on the carpet runner at the top of the stairs. Good move. Idiot.

Oliver stood watching her, arms folded, from the doorway of the bathroom. “Would you like the double bed or the queen?”

She let out a low growl of defeat. “Can I just sleep here? Maybe put a grave marker on it and call it done.”

He laughed, his right cheek dimpling in a way that made her want to growl more. “I’ll get you a blanket.” He crossed to the linen closet and took one out. “Of course, the queen room is right here if you prefer.”

Lucy followed his glance to the open doorway on the other side of the bathroom. A high, fluffy-looking bed with a down coverlet posed invitingly beneath a sloped ceiling. “Why do you have so many rooms?”

“It’s just three bedrooms, actually. But I’ve been planning to turn it into a B&B since I bought the place and took over the bookstore. I’m thinking of calling it Bed, Book and Candle.”

“Nice.” The bed really did look enticing. “Maybe I could catch a few winks.” She got to her feet, steadying herself against the wall, and accepted the blanket. With a questioning look, Oliver offered his arm. She wasn’t sure what would happen if she touched his bare skin right now, but she knew it wouldn’t be good. “Thanks. I think I’ve got this.” Somehow, she managed to pull off a semblance of normalcy, making it inside the bedroom and closing the door before she collapsed gratefully into the downy oasis.

She was almost asleep after all when something she’d been aware of in the back of her mind came to the fore. Oliver’s bare chest had been notable for more than its exquisite form. He had four puckered scars, impact craters with jagged starred edges that looked distinctly like the kind made by bullets. It meant nothing, probably. Maybe he’d been in Afghanistan or Iraq. But they had the pale pink color and sheen of a recently healed injury. And they were placed almost precisely where the shots she’d fired into the hell beast would have landed yesterday morning. And lycanthropes were known for rapid healing.