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Authors: Jo Andrews

Tags: #Erotica

Driving Force (6 page)

BOOK: Driving Force
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“If he were in his right mind, I wouldn’t have to do it,” Doc explained. “Even as a cat, the human intelligence is there and would let me stitch him. But he’s out of his head right now and tranquilizers aren’t very dependable on Shifters. Their metabolism reacts unpredictably to sedatives. He could come to as a cat and take my throat out without ever meaning to.”

He injected Ian with a local, swabbed the gashes, then started to stitch them. Ian shifted into leopard, but Doc just kept stitching and after a few minutes he shifted back to human again. Sierra was starting to get used to it.

“Those gashes are claw marks. Did one of his own kind do this to him?”

“Shifter business,” said Doc evasively. “Some sort of upheaval in their community right now. Ask him once he’s healed.”

He set the last stitch in place, gave Ian a couple of different injections, then stepped back. Sierra looked at him in surprise.

“Right,” he said. “I’m going to need your help getting him into the pickup.”

“But…what about his ribs?” she asked in dismay.

“Can’t put a cast on ribs, even with humans. They have to move for a person to breathe. Can’t even wrap them to prevent him from breathing too deeply and perhaps puncturing a lung with the broken ends. His cat chest is different from his human one. Any bindings would get in the way when he shifts.”

“And the other internal injuries?”

“Don’t want to mess with Shifters, Sierra. They refuse to let me research them the way I want to, so I don’t know enough about them. Might do more harm than good. I’ve given him painkillers and antibiotics. They should help and I know they won’t harm. But his own Shifter healing has to do the rest. Just like with the others.”

“What others?”

Doc sighed and Sierra finally saw how weary he looked. “Told you there was trouble. There’s others of them hurt as well and I’m the only doctor in town who knows Shifters exist. Kinda run ragged here.”

To her own surprise, she found herself saying, “Then why don’t you leave him with me?”

She should be totally freaking out. Maybe she would have if Doc hadn’t been with her when Ian had gone leopard. Doc acting as if it were all in a day’s work and completely natural made her calm down and think instead of screaming hysterically and running for the hills.

Doc bit his lip, frowning. “Don’t know whether that’s such a good idea.”

“Does he need special care?”

Doc shook his head. “Nothing we can really do for him. He has to heal himself. All we can do is keep him comfortable and swab him down with cool water if the fever gets too high.”

“I can do that. Mom worked at the care facility for seniors, remember? She did show me the basics. And I nursed Peter a couple of times when he was sick.”

Doc looked her over thoughtfully. “Must admit I could use your help. I’ve got too much on my hands already. He’ll probably get more attention from you than I’ve got to spare for him. He’s going to shift a lot. Does the leopard scare you?”

“Yes, of course, but that won’t incapacitate me. I’ll still be able to function.”

Doc smiled. “You always were a sensible child. Don’t go near him when he’s in cat form. Too dangerous. And never take those manacles off until I tell you, no matter how much you dislike them.”

“I promise.”

He handed her a tube of ointment. “Put that on those cuts and bruises once he’s human, but don’t put any Band-Aids or such on him. Don’t want them pulling on his fur when he turns. I’ll be back tomorrow to see how he is and take those stitches out.”

Sierra looked at him in surprise. “They’ll be ready to come out that soon?”

“They should. Shifter metabolism is amazing and shifting between forms speeds the healing process. The gashes should knit by tomorrow. It’s the rest of his injuries that’ll take time.” Doc frowned down at Ian. “Problem is the constant shifting and the fever. They’re necessary, but they can take a toll, weaken him too much before he can fully heal. It’s always a race which one wins, the fever or the healing.”

“Is there anything else I can do?”

“Not much. He’ll be thirsty. Give him as much water as he wants. Swab him down every now and then to keep the fever from getting too high.” Doc shrugged helplessly. “The rest is up to him. Call me if it looks like it’s getting worse.”

“Right.”

She walked Doc out and locked the door firmly after him in the unlikely event that some unexpected visitor might come barging in. The last thing she wanted was for someone to find a leopard in her guest room. Try explaining that!

Ian was back to being the leopard again when she reached the bedroom. She leaned on the doorjamb and stared at him. It was hard to believe she wasn’t dreaming. She pinched herself and it hurt. That had been a silly thing to do, but the whole situation was so crazy.

Six feet of pale-gold cat with black rosettes lying on its side on the bed. The yellow of its fur had shades of brown and red mixed in as well. Well, that explained his hair. And there was a tail now, almost four feet long.

She inched over to the foot of the bed and very carefully, at the full stretch of her arm, reached out to touch the white tip of that tail. It was solid and palpable under her hand, soft fur over firm bone. Nope, no way she was dreaming this.

The tail twitched away from her grip, then lashed, hitting her hand with a hard thump. Real, and the reaction the same as that of any cat whose tail is grabbed. Sierra backed away hastily.

The leopard rippled and turned back into Ian. He was panting through his open mouth, his profile against the pillow gaunt and strained, the one eye she could see clenched tightly shut. Despite the painkillers Doc had given him, he was hurting. She moved warily around to stand beside the bed where she could see his face better, wishing she could do something for him.

His eyelid shuddered and opened, then he turned his head a little on the pillow to stare up at her, frowning.

“Mouse?” He was still not seeing clearly, she guessed.

“Yes, I’m here.”

He reached out abruptly and shoved her hard with his shackled hands. She staggered backward, then recovered her balance.

“Get away!”

“Ian…”

“Not safe…” Then he saw the manacles on his wrists and made a little sound of relief. “Good.”

He went under again, his body sagging. He had been worried about hurting her. Sierra drew a little shaky breath. He didn’t want to hurt her, wouldn’t hurt her. She moved back to the bed with more confidence and bent to lay the back of a hand against his forehead. He was burning up. Doc had forgotten to tell her what temperature would be too high, but surely he wasn’t supposed to be this hot.

She fetched a basin of cool water and a sponge, swabbed his face tentatively. The deep crease between his brows eased. She was doing the right thing. She pulled a chair up beside the bed and began to swab him down, the sponge running in slow, soothing strokes over his skin. He sighed and turned to it as it moved over him.

After a while she saw a ripple go through him. She jumped hastily to her feet and backed toward the door. Sure enough, he changed to cat. She was starting to recognize the small signs that the transformation was beginning. She now had that moment of early warning. She stayed in the doorway until he finally shifted back to human once more, then returned to the bedside and picked up the sponge again.

She had never touched him before. For all their years of running battles, flinging insults and snarky comments back and forth—cat fights, she thought in amusement—they had never once laid a finger on each other. Now as she ran the sponge gently over him, she was intensely aware of that beautiful body under her hands. The smooth satin of his skin, the resilient swell of muscle, that totally lickable six-pack. Superb definition all over. Running around as cat must really keep one in shape.

His head turned on the pillow. He sucked in a shuddering breath.

“Thirsty,” he whispered.

She hurried to fetch water. He drank greedily, then his eyelids flickered open and he squinted at her.

“Mouse.”

“That’s right.”

“Doc…”

“He had to go. But he’ll be back.”

“Shouldn’t have…left you with…me,” he said between gasps for breath.

“You won’t hurt me,” she said with confidence.

“Cat…might.”

“I back off when the cat comes.”

“Too much…of a risk.”

She laid a hand gently against his cheek. “I don’t think so.”

He made a sound of pleasure and turned his face into her hand, his cheekbone pressing against her palm. “Cool. ’S nice.”

He drifted off again. A sudden surge of tenderness welled up in her. Automatic protectiveness, she told herself. Just because he was helpless now and she was caring for him. Nothing more than that.

The changes were starting to slow down. He didn’t change into cat again for over half an hour. She had time to wash him down and put the salve on his cuts and bruises. The moment she saw the ripple go through him, she backed away, but not as far as the door, just to an armchair some distance from the bed. It took him almost twenty minutes to shift back. She didn’t know whether the increased time between shifts was good or bad. His skin was still burning hot when she got back to him, so she sponged him down again.

She was learning to recognize the movement of his lips that meant he was thirsty, and had a hand under his head and the glass ready before he roused himself enough to turn his head toward it. He drank without opening his eyes, then snuggled his cheek on her hand, sinking back into sleep.

As she turned away to set the glass on the night table, she must have missed the ripple that usually warned her of the impending change. The next minute it wasn’t a human head resting on her hand. It was the leopard’s.

She gasped. The leopard’s eyelids flickered partly open at the sound. Sierra froze. To jerk her hand away and run might provoke it into violent action. She didn’t know what to do.

The leopard’s muzzle was against the inside of her forearm. Its fangs could rip out the vein in her elbow in an instant. She was shaking, absolutely terrified.

It drew a deep breath, scenting her. Then its eyes closed and its face turned in her hand, cheekbone pressing into her palm.

It was the same movement Ian had made as a human. Sierra finally understood that the leopard was Ian. So far she had been separating the two. It was either just Ian or it was that terrifying leopard. She saw now that they were one and the same, understood it on an emotional level.

Ian would never hurt her. Neither would the leopard. She was sure of that.

She ran a hand tentatively over the massive head lying along her forearm. Never in her life had she had the opportunity to touch a big cat. The fur under her palm was soft. She ran her hand down its…his shoulder. The muscles beneath the fur were like steel cables, the bone dense, its structure so different. What a wondrous thing it must be to change from one to the other! She could envy Ian being a Shifter. It seemed to have a lot of advantages.

He moved restlessly under her hand. She stroked his fur unthinkingly to calm him, the way she would have stroked her pet cat years ago. He relaxed, just as it had, and she smiled down at him.

This was so weird and yet so nice, like some sort of fairy tale. She kept stroking him since it seemed to soothe him. It established a pattern—she’d give him water to drink and swab him down when he was human, stroke him and talk quietly to him when he was cat. It wasn’t long before she was completely comfortable with him in either shape.

Leaving the cat part out, it was still strange to feel at ease with Ian Raeder. It must be because right now he was wounded and helpless, his hurtful mockery silenced. They were complete opposites—he an extrovert, she an introvert. Back in high school, she had been the ultimate nerd—quiet, shy, studious, the one who wore dime-store instead of designer clothing. With teenage intolerance, her schoolmates had been scornful of her and she had been equally scornful of them. But unlike them, she had kept her opinions to herself and tried instead to remain unnoticed by everyone.

But
he
would notice her trying to fade into the background and he would say something to focus unwanted attention on her. “Mouse”, he would call her as she tried to hide, jeering at her shyness. What he’d enjoyed most was provoking her into betraying her real opinion. Annie had said that he had just been trying to bring her out. Sierra couldn’t buy that. He’d been sending her up. Then, when at last she was driven into some sarcastic retort which would get her into trouble with the others, he’d laugh in triumph and change that to “Mouse with fangs!” She had found both the name and the laughter infuriating.

She roused somewhere in the middle of the night to find that she had fallen asleep for a little while, her head on the mattress beside him. His massive paws with their three-inch-long claws were right beside her cheek. Despite the manacles, he could have taken her face right off.

But he was just watching her with those green-gold inscrutable eyes, his lids half closed. In cat shape, she could only guess at his expression, but she thought he looked puzzled. She wondered whether he was really seeing her. She drew back, careful not to jar the bed, and his eyes closed. His jaws were open and she could see the deadly fangs. He seemed to be breathing better, deeper and more slowly, not with those rapid, shallow pants that betrayed his pain. She hoped he was healing.

BOOK: Driving Force
2.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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