Authors: Worth Fighting For
Misty quickly raised her gaze to his, but the look in his eyes as they met hers told her he knew exactly what she’d been ogling.
Coughing into her hand, she tried to hide the smile refusing to go away. Without warning, he stood before her, pushing her hand aside and trying to shove the inhaler in her mouth.
“It’s okay, Misty. Stop fighting, this is going to help you.”
She grabbed the inhaler from him before he knocked out her teeth, putting her hand in front of her to hold him back, then stared at him in silence until he calmed down.
The breathing exercises had helped with her asthma attack, but her chest still felt sore from struggling to breathe. So Misty took a deep breath with the inhaler, letting the medicine coat her airways. After two puffs, she began to feel normal again, even though her face still stung and she’d likely have two huge bruises on her chest and back–one from the cat and one from the ground.
“You’re okay?” Cody asked, the panic starting to fade from his eyes.
“Yeah. I still hurt in places, but I’ll live.” She thought about mentioning his unnecessary panic, but was glad she hadn’t brought it up after seeing the relief flooding his eyes. No need to bring it up when it would only put him on the defensive. It had been a tough night.
“Wait here. I’ll get the first aid kit for your cut.”
Misty frowned as she watched him walk out of the kitchen. The stinging on the right side of her face became sharper as she focused on it. But was it bad enough to need a first aid kit?
All of a sudden, Misty didn’t feel quite so confident sitting on Cody’s kitchen counter stark naked. With a tentative hand, Misty reached up to assess the damage. Her breath hissed as she encountered raw flesh. Blood covered the tips of her fingers when she pulled them away.
That was one way to kill a girl’s self-confidence. She might be naked, but she’d also bled all over the man’s kitchen while ogling him. As if Cody didn’t have enough embarrassing stories about her, she had to add one more.
“Okay, tell it to me straight. How bad is it?” Misty asked after Cody reappeared carrying some bandages and Neosporin. The question seemed to startle him, and he stared at her cheek for a moment before replying.
The hesitation made Misty groan. “That bad?”
“No.” The waver in his voice belied the words. “No,” He stated with a firmer tone. “The guy got you pretty good, but it’s already starting to heal. Tomorrow you’ll be good as new, but I want to put something on it to be sure.”
“I actually think it was the ground.”
“The gash. I think it’s from sliding on the ground. He tackled my other side. See?” Misty pointed to the darkening spot on her side. “This is where he tackled me. The bruise on my shoulder and gash on my face is from the ground.”
* * * *
Cody fought the urge to growl as he examined the wounds on Misty’s pale skin. Everything inside him wanted to find the bastard in the town jail and beat the living crap out of him. The cat might outweigh his fox, but the rage he felt assured him of victory.
Even though her shift earlier had likely healed some of the damage, the wounds Cody saw would take a couple days to heal completely. Which proved how bad the damage had been.
Without thought, Cody moved to Misty’s side, his hand bushing the mark on her shoulder where she claimed she’d hit the ground. Blood pooled under the skin, giving the area a bluish tint. By tonight, the area would turn black, and by tomorrow, it would already be yellow. He leaned down and placed a gentle peck above the offended flesh.
Emotions rioted inside him. He’d almost lost her tonight. If they hadn’t gotten the beast off when they did, or if her asthma attack had been worse… He shuddered. He now understood what it had cost Jason to release the man who’d captured his sister. He’d thought he knew before, but these emotions were much worse than he’d imagined.
It wasn’t until he leaned away from her shoulder that he realized his hand had been absently stroking her thigh. Her inner thigh. Snatching it back, he cleared his throat and reached for the Neosporin.
Since the first time they’d met, Cody had always felt a special connection to Misty. Being an only child, he used to fantasize about Misty being his sister. But the feelings crashing through his chest right now didn’t feel very brotherly.
“I should have insisted you stay at the bar,” he muttered under his breath as he cleaned the gash on her cheek.
“You aren’t my father, Cody. Besides, who would have guessed a second man lay in wait, or that he’d attack from behind?”
“We didn’t know what to expect. If you’re going to keep putting yourself in these dangerous situations, I have to insist you learn how to defend yourself.”
“And how am I supposed to do that? Besides the yoga classes I teach in town, there’s a youth ballet class, and a step aerobics class. What kind of self-defense am I going to learn, how to sashay the bad guys to death?”
Cody frowned at her words. She was right. There was nowhere nearby to learn self-defense classes. Most shifters developed a natural instinct to fight, but somehow Misty had missed that day in Shifter Instinct 101. Although, now that he thought about it, developing a class in self-defense for the town wouldn’t be a bad idea. It would be a great way to protect his skulk when he wasn’t around.
Cody glanced back at Misty. She needed to learn now. It would take time to develop a full class and find an instructor. They couldn’t wait that long. He wouldn’t wait.
“I’ll teach you.” Cody twitched. Had he just said those words? He’d been thinking of asking one of the senior members of the skulk to teach her, but the thought of another man putting his hands on Misty, even to teach her self-defense, made him want to throw a blanket over her and shield her nakedness.
What was wrong with him? This was Misty. His friend-who-was-like-a-sister Misty.
He looked down at the thigh he’d been absently rubbing earlier. Maybe not quite like a sister. No, he couldn’t teach her. Right now, the emotions rolling through him were too confusing. But he couldn’t let any of the other male foxes teach her, either. They’d have to figure something else out.
His gaze moved up, stopping at the growing bruise on her side, the skin there already darkening. Once again, instinct warned him not to wait. And he always trusted his instinct.
Glancing up, he gazed into Misty’s eyes. She looked downright giddy at the idea of learning how to fight. Knowing he was caught, Cody sighed. It appeared he would be teaching her. He’d just have to stifle these new, strange feelings for the time being. At least until he figured out what had caused them and put an end to it.
Misty released the chipmunk she’d captured. She wasn’t hungry. Just restless. Cody was coming over tonight to begin her fighting lessons, and nervous energy filled her. If she hadn’t done something to burn off the excess energy, she would have started cleaning. And once she got started, she’d never be able to stop.
So she’d decided to shift and go for a run, especially since she still had an hour and a half before Cody was supposed to arrive. But now that she was here, surrounded by the forests she loved, boredom set in. Well, maybe bored was the wrong word, but she was still filled with the restless energy she’d hoped to dismiss.
After Cody had announced he would teach her, she’d been elated. After all, how could more time with the man she loved be a bad thing? Not to mention, there’d been something in his eyes and touch the night she’d been attacked. Some emotion she’d never seen before.
But a couple days away from him had allowed the doubts to set in. Yes, she hoped Samantha’s marriage to Jason would pave a path for her and Cody, and yes, she needed to spend time with the man in order to convince him she was perfect for him. But she knew what a miserable fighter she was. Her father had tried to teach her once, before declaring her hopeless and giving up. Having Cody watch her flail around like a landlocked fish probably wasn’t going to make her appear irresistible.
Too late now. Cody had already rearranged his schedule in order to meet with her tonight, even moving his weekly meeting with the elder members of the skulk. It would not only be rude to cancel, but outright inconsiderate. She’d just have to suck it up and look like an idiot. But she supposed if she’d managed to overcome Cody seeing her pathetic attempts to climb the rope in gym class, she’d get over him witnessing her embarrassing fighting skills as well.
A faint cry made her ear twitch as she meandered through the forest. Her ears swiveled, searching for the sound. It came again somewhere to the left. She froze, sniffing the air trying to determine if she was in any danger. The small mewling continued. The pain in the cry broke Misty’s heart. It sounded like a young fox.
Sometimes kids from the local middle school passed this area while playing. What if one of them had fallen and gotten hurt? Her imagination ran wild, picturing the young shifter’s friend running back to town for help, leaving the fallen child frightened and alone.
Her fox couldn’t sense any danger–not that her fox instincts were all that strong. For whatever reason, most of her senses and instincts had never developed as well as most other shifters’ had. The weeping continued, a constant cry of pain and fear. Misty could no more ignore that sound than she could ignore a lost child, which it might very well be.
Following the sound, Misty dodged through the trees until she came upon the source. The scene before her made her freeze. Horror and sympathy rose up inside her, tightening her throat. She swallowed past the lump, assessing the situation. It wasn’t some kids from her skulk, and no one would be coming to help.
Misty tramped down the urge to cry as she watched the baby fox, not a shifter but a full fox, curl up with its fallen mother. She didn’t know what had killed the mother, maybe another animal, or starvation. Perhaps the mother had never recovered from birthing the youth, who looked to be no more than three weeks old. Whatever had happened, one thing was clear, the mother had done whatever possible to protect her child.
The baby fox nudged the mother’s head with its nose, causing Misty’s heart to thud heavily in her chest. No way could she leave the kit here. If he didn’t starve to death, he would be a sitting duck for every predator in the forest. The mother could no longer protect her child, but Misty could. Reason enough to take action.
With stilted steps, she approached the pair. The kit looked up at her, a pleading cry escaping as if asking her for help. Misty tramped down the tears that threatened to fall. She needed to be strong and get this baby to safety. She eased closer, giving the kit time to adjust to her smell so she didn’t frighten it. A boy, she realized, his scent becoming clearer the closer she got.
It wouldn’t be easy to tear him away from his mother’s body. Using her nose, Misty pushed the baby away. Even recognizing the futility, Misty took a moment to nudge the adult fox with her nose. Cold and stiff, as she’d suspected.
Poor baby. She’d lost her mother at a young age, too, but at least she hadn’t been in the car with her at the time. Hadn’t seen the destruction, or been left alone with a cooling body. And she’d had her father to love her.
With a deep breath, Misty turned away from the body, forcing the kit to walk in front of her. Without looking back, she started home. Every now and then, the young fox would cry, breaking Misty’s heart again.
When they got back to her house, she would make sure he had plenty of food and toys. If Cody arrived while she was at the pet store, he’d have to wait.
It was actually kind of perfect. She’d been lonely lately, and thinking of getting a pet. Although she’d never wish this pain on anything, what could be better than another fox to keep her company?
* * * *
The first thing Cody heard when he approached Misty’s front door was laughter. The kind of laughter that came straight from the gut, borne of pure joy. A sound he’d come to associate with Misty. He smiled as he opened the door and strode into her living room.
The text he’d received earlier had said to come right in, but his confident steps faltered as he saw the cause of her giggles. Misty in human form, sat on the floor with a beaver puppet, playing with a fox. The kit’s eyes were open, but he still possessed his black baby fluff. It couldn’t be older than a couple weeks.
“What is that?”
Apparently unaware of his presence until he spoke, she jumped at the sound of his voice.
“Oh, hi Cody.” She looked at her wrist as if expecting a watch to be there. Why she did that when he could count the times she’d worn a watch in the past two years on one hand, he’d never understand. “Is it time for training already? I’m not dressed, yet.”
Cody looked down at her clothes. Skin tight jeans that looked way too appealing and a black t-shirt with the words
spelled in big pink letters across her breasts. Perky breasts that would fill his hands perfectly.
Way too tempting. Those clothes had to go. Wait. He mentally back-pedaled, rephrasing his last thought. She had to change into different clothes, more clothes. Some nice baggy sweats would be perfect. Something to hide her figure. And tennis shoes, he thought as he watched her bare toes curl into the carpet, the bubble gum pink polish peeking out from under her jeans.