Authors: Abby Niles
Tags: #Fantasy, #Romance, #Contemporary
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Abby Niles. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Edited by Liz Pelletier
Cover design by Luna Oliveira
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition April 2013
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
, Jolly Green Giant, Jeep, Google, Tasmanian Devil, James Bond, Jacuzzi, iPod, “Into the Mystic,” “Crazy Love,” Magic Marker, Skype, Twister.
Dedicated to my most awesome critique partners, Allison, Christyne, Maggie, and Tina, without whom Aidan’s story would’ve never been written. Thank you for being confused as hell on my original plan and not being afraid to tell me. You made the series what it is today.
Aidan O’Connell juggled an armload of groceries as he tripped up one of the cabin steps.
When he reached the front door, he knocked on it with the only thing he had available at the moment: his foot.
He took a calming breath between clenched teeth.
A virtue he feared he was running short of. Hadn’t he already used every ounce he’d possessed? He’d offered his friend a place to stay while he mended a broken heart, and at first his new living situation had been fine. But over the last few weeks his temporary roommate seemed to forget this wasn’t his house, and that common courtesy—like opening the blasted door when needed, or hell, helping unload the groceries—was expected.
“Liam, come on, man. Open the door!”
He listened for the heavy footsteps of his friend on the other side of the wood. The only thing he heard was a pissed-off squirrel chattering in the distance. Most likely some other animal was creating a disturbance in its life. He could sympathize. Liam had completely disrupted his.
He grimaced at the thought. That wasn’t fair. Liam couldn’t help it. Though if he’d freaking listen, he’d at least get some therapy.
He kicked the door with more force than necessary, taking satisfaction in the way the wood groaned in response. No way Liam hadn’t heard that.
Still, no one answered.
Cursing under his breath, Aidan shifted the brown grocery bags in his arms, fished his keys from the front pocket of his khaki cargo shorts, then fumbled with the lock. He probably should’ve done this from the beginning and saved himself the irritation. He kept giving Liam chances to prove that his old friend was still there. The friend who would’ve heard Aidan pull into the driveway and been outside to help before he’d even parked the truck. He hip-bumped the door open.
“Liam! I could use some help here.”
Crickets. Aidan tightened his grip on the bags. He shouldn’t be surprised. Liam had been MIA for weeks. Oh, he’d been around in body, but he’d checked out mentally ages ago. If he didn’t get some psychological help soon, it wouldn’t be Liam who went stark raving mad, but Aidan. He backed into the living room. “Dude, we’ve got to have a serious talk.”
As he turned around, he stumbled to a stop.
His friend sat ramrod straight on the edge of the black leather armchair, his gaze focused on the wall in front of him, unblinking. If it weren’t for the muscle that jumped occasionally in his jaw, Aidan would’ve thought Liam was dead and rigor mortis had set in. Aidan slid the bags down his body and dropped them on the matching leather couch as he stepped toward his friend. “Hey, Liam?”
He didn’t move, didn’t even acknowledge that Aidan had spoken. He remained as still as the armchair he sat in. Laying his hand on Liam’s shoulder, Aidan was stunned by the rock-hard tension of his friend’s muscles. He gently shook. “Hey, buddy. You okay?”
Stupid question. Liam was certainly not okay. Aidan squatted beside the chair. “Li-am.” He sing-sang his friend’s name. No reaction.
Could the tales be true?
Panic tightened his throat.
was rare among shifters—so rare that most shifters only knew about it through someone who knew someone who knew someone else. And the stories had become like old wives’ tales.
been increasingly agitated over the last month. Aidan had walked on eggshells around his friend, worried that one wrong move would find him on the biting end of Liam’s sharp tongue, which had gotten even sharper lately. He’d rather take his nasty attitude than this. This scared him, and made the unbelievable all the more real. He called Liam’s name again with no response.
Aidan straightened and dug his wallet out of the back pocket of his shorts. He hadn’t wanted to do this. Had hoped Liam would come to this conclusion on his own, but the time for his friend to see reason was long gone. The man needed help—months ago.
He retrieved the business card Britton had given him a few days earlier. “Dr. Jaylin Avgar, Psychiatrist” was imprinted on the off-white stock paper in a gold italic font.
Not that a normal human therapist could ever help Liam, but the symbol in the right-hand corner of the card, a square with three lightning bolts inside that represented the beast within, was exactly the therapist he needed—and there were only a handful of them in the United States.
Liam was going to be pissed, but he’d just have to put up with whatever his friend threw at him. This—whatever this was—wasn’t normal. He slid his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed the number on the card. It rang three times before a young female voice answered with, “Dr. Avgar’s office. This is Pam. How may I help you?”
“May I speak with Dr. Avgar, please?”
“I’m sorry, but she’s in a meeting right now. May I take a message and have her call you back?”
In a meeting.
The typical rebuttal for someone screening calls. How many times had he blown off someone with the same excuse? “This is an emergency.”
“I understand, sir, but she’s in a meeting.”
Aidan clenched his jaw. “
is at stake here. I don’t have time to wait.”
Silence stretched on the phone. The woman was either a half shifter and knew what the word meant or thought he was talking in some cryptic code that only Dr. Avgar would understand. It didn’t matter to him which one it was, as long as she got the doctor on the phone.
“One moment, please.” She didn’t even wait for his response as classical music assaulted his ears.
He studied Liam. His friend still hadn’t moved. Nor had the vacant expression left his face. Had there been any warning signs? Yeah, he’d stopped mid-sentence a couple of times, had gotten this confused, disoriented look, but he’d always blinked it away and picked right back up where he’d left off. Aidan had chalked it up to stress. Idiot! Why hadn’t he insisted Liam see a specialist? He’d tiptoed around the subject. But every time he brought the topic up, Liam went ballistic.
“Dr. Avgar. How can I help you?”
“This is Aidan O’Connell. I have a friend—”
“Mr. O’Connell. While I appreciate your thinking of me, I no longer practice in that area of psychiatry. I can refer him—”
“I need someone
. He’s sitting here like he’s in a trance or something.”
The silence on the other end of the phone allowed the squeaking of her chair to come through the phone. “How long?”
“I don’t know for sure. He was like this when I walked in the door ten minutes ago.”
“Listen to me carefully. Place one hand on his shoulder and snap your fingers in front of his face. Do not release the pressure from his shoulder. He’s lost in her and needs stimulus from his surroundings. Continue snapping and calling his name until he comes around.”
Aidan put the phone on speaker, placed it on the arm of the chair, then gripped his friend’s shoulder. “Liam.” He snapped his fingers three times in quick repetition. He didn’t even blink. “Liam,” he said his name more forceful, snapping his fingers again. Nothing. Damn it. “Liam!”
“It’s not working,” he directed to the phone. “What the hell’s the matter with him?”
A whispered “shit” came through the speaker before she said, “He’s in
. Has he had no therapy at all?”
“None. He’s refused.”
“Stubborn damn shifters. I swear to God… Where are you?”
He gave her directions.
“It’s going to take me at least thirty minutes to get there, and that’s making all the lights. I’ll get there as quickly as I can. Don’t stop trying to reach him. The longer he’s in
, the harder it’s going to be to get him out.”
The phone went dead.
Aidan continued doing what Dr. Avgar had instructed. Desperation twisted his guts as his friend’s gaze failed to focus on him. He grabbed both Liam’s shoulders and shook—or tried to shake. It was as though Liam were made of stone. His head didn’t wobble, didn’t even sway with the motion. His entire upper body moved in unison. He had no doubt if he pushed Liam over into the floor, he’d stay in the exact same position.
This was all Ava’s damn fault. She better hope Dr. Avgar could bring Liam around, or there’d be hell to pay.
Jaylin tapped her palm against the steering wheel as she willed the light to change. Carnal Ridge, North Carolina, was one of the top ten shifter-populated towns, evident by the sharp, musky scent of wildness lacing the air.
A smell that should’ve reminded her of home. Instead, it made her question her sanity.
Why had she agreed to this?
She should’ve referred Mr. O’Connell to…to whom? The next closest therapist specializing in
was three states over. Thankfully, the condition was rare. In her eight years as a therapist, she’d only had five cases.
five cases. She shook her head. One case had been one too many. She could’ve gone her entire life never seeing the true effect of
. The dismal life a bonded shifter lived after being abandoned by his unbonded mate was heartbreaking to watch, much less counsel. Add in the many
cases she’d dealt with and it was enough to make her quit shifter therapy and concentrate solely on human grief, which was still difficult to bear at times, but at least she wasn’t dealing with the
. A bonding of souls that was supposed to bring endless happiness, but all she’d witnessed was endless pain.
She glared at the red light. “Come on!”
Finally the light changed. She hit the gas and made a left off Main Street. The glare of the sun struck her straight in the eyes, causing her to squint. She lifted her foot off the accelerator. She’d be no help to the shifter if she got in an accident. A few miles down, she pulled onto the dirt road Mr. O’Connell had instructed her to take. Towering trees blocked out the glare, giving an eerie orange cast to the densely packed trees. The narrow, curvy road wound deeper and deeper into the woods, yet again making her drive slower than she wished.
Why couldn’t he have lived in one of those cute little housing developments she’d passed a few miles back? Instead he lived in the middle of BFE where the banjo tune from
was probably played nightly.
As she crested a steep incline, the trees thinned to nestle around a modest-sized log cabin in a perfect, circular-shaped clearing. Vibrant green grass surrounded the area, and a walkway made of stone led from the gravel driveway to the cabin. Freshly mulched flower beds filled with lush bushes and other greenery hugged each side of the steps of the porch.