Mixed Breeds, Book 2
by Julia Talbot
Ebook ISBN: 05694-01824
[ Paranormal Romance ]
Werekitty Neale is happy to come to the rescue, and even happier to bring this sexy lady home to his werebear mate, Zane. The two boys think Jeanette is just what they need to complete their happy family, but is Jeanette willing to take a chance and lose her newfound independence?
“Don’t you tell me what I can and can’t do, Ralphy.” Jeanette waved a finger under the big wolf’s nose, not at all fazed by his ugly snarl. “You are not the alpha of me.”
“I am one of the pack enforcers, woman! There are too many hunters in town. You can’t just go off and run on your own. You need to stay with the pack, do your damned work.”
“I am going jogging in the park, not running under the full moon. Asshole.” She’d had it with the hyper-vigilant, testosterone-riddled attitude the pack had since Marin, the old alpha, had died, and no one had been chosen to replace him yet. In fact, she was pretty sure she was going to go lone wolf here soon. She could do her work from anywhere, since she designed websites. Thank goddess for the internet.
Maybe she would go rogue right now if Ralph didn’t get out of her face. “When I’m alpha I’m going to lock your ass in the closet until you learn your place!” he shouted, and damned if he didn’t put a hand to the center of her chest and shove.
She didn’t think; she slapped him so hard her hand throbbed, and they stared as if they hadn’t known one another since they were pups, like they were seeing each other for the first time. “You ever touch me like that again, and I will kill you.” She would, even if she had to do it in his sleep.
Jeanette turned on her heel and walked away, grabbing her gym bag with her running shoes and shorts and all in it. She always thought things out better when she was jogging. It was time to figure out what she was going to do while the new alpha was chosen. Or maybe permanently. Hunters all over town or no, she had no desire to hang out with such hidebound, controlling assholes.
A girl had to think of her future, after all.
Time to run.
* * *
Her feet pounded on the trail, the bass from the iPod thrumming in the base of her skull. She was heading into mile three and feeling good. Damned good.
Jeanette loved this part of the state — Boulder close enough to visit, Denver close enough to work in, and the fucking pack far enough away to leave her alone. It was going to be fall soon and then her running would have to move inside to the gym track. Right now, she could smell the outdoors, all the trees and animals, the feel of actual earth under her feet.
She pushed deeper, harder, keeping up with the rhythm of the music, telling herself that it was totally good, to run alone. Be alone. All the time. Even if she was lonely. All the time. Damned macho pack assholes, making her take her dignity and leave them.
She turned a hairpin curve in the path and shrieked when the earth slid out from under her feet, gravel sliding, sending her slipping down the slope. One of her feet smacked into a rock and turned, rolling hard with a snap that she actually heard a split second before the jolt of pain shot up her leg. “Fuck!”
When she came to a stop, her head pointed downhill, her broken whatever pointed up, and she lay like a turtle on her back, the world slowing from a sickening spin. She sucked in a sobbing breath, telling herself she was not going to cry. Not. She had her phone, she had a bottle of water. The trail wasn’t busy, but it wasn’t deserted, either. Help wasn’t beyond reach.
“Holy shit, are you okay?”
Oh. Unless she was hallucinating the pretty blond guy appearing over the ridge, help was right here.
“No. God, no. I need help.” She nodded, reaching out instinctively.
“I saw you disappear right off the trail.” The man came pelting over, his trail runners slamming on the dirt. “Crap. I think you broke your ankle.” He helped her right herself, her leg screaming the whole time.
“Uh-huh.” She was covered in a cold sweat, shaking, nausea in her throat.
“Your phone getting any signal? Mine is dead. I can get you back to my Bronco, but we might want to call 911.”
“I don’t… I’m not interested in hospitals, man.” Doctors didn’t love people like her. Well, half-people, half wolf people like her.
He tilted his head, nose working hard. “Oh, man. I was running hard and so freaked I didn’t notice ’til now… How fast do you heal?”
“Fast enough to only have to take the rest of the week off work.” She tilted her head, sniffing. Oh, not one of her kind, but pretty, and not wholly human himself.
“Well, that’s cool, I guess. I have to lick things a lot more…” His cheeks went red-hot, and he grinned at her. “Didn’t mean that quite like it sounded. Here, grab my neck.”
Jeanette couldn’t help her chuckle, but she did reach up, arms wrapping around his neck. “There’s something to be said for licking.” He lifted her with an ease that belied his relatively short, lean frame, and he was gentle about it, which she appreciated. Her ankle throbbed in time with every step he took. “I can’t believe I was so stupid. I’m so lucky you saw me.”
“Hey, I’m the lucky one. A pretty lady I get to play hero with, and one I don’t have to lie to about what I am, to boot? How awesome is that?” His Bronco appeared in her line of sight, and he held her up with one arm while he opened the back.
“Thank you.” She eased her shoe off, sucking in a soft, pained breath. Oh, man. That hurt. Like really.
“No problem. That’s pretty swollen. Let me see if there’s any ice in my cooler.”
“Thanks. I’m sorry. This whole thing sucks.”
“Hey, shit happens.” He rummaged around in the back seat before coming back with ice, his pretty gold eyes full of concern. “I know someone who could look at this for you. He’s medic certified. Does search and rescue.”
“You sure? Does he know… our kind?”
“Oh, yeah. No worries.” He reached for her, then blinked. “I’m Neale, by the way.”
“Jeanette.” She touched his hand, the connection between them sudden, sharp. Electric.
His eyes widened, going dark bronze. “Wow. That was cool.”
He cleared his throat. “Well. Medic. Here we go.” He picked her up again and hauled her to the front seat.
She managed to not whack herself, which was a miracle, because the ache was becoming a throb. She might gnaw it off, like a coyote in a trap. When she was settled and breathing through her nose, he handed her a bottle of water. “Do I need to worry about your car or anything?”
“I took the city transit out here.” The bus was easier than worrying about driving home after a long run.
“Cool. Well, tell me if it gets too bumpy.” He headed farther out of town, not in, and she had a fleeting moment of worry, her pack’s dire warnings about hunters and impending shifter wars echoing in her ears. This is what they wanted, those men, they wanted people to be too scared to live, to take chances.
This golden hottie was totally worth taking a chance on, even when he turned off on a plot of land marked “no trespassing.”
“Where are we going?”
“My place. Zane will know what to do.”
“Oh. Okay. I have an apartment. Third floor. Eighty buildings.” It was a little like hell.
“God. Zane would eat someone for breakfast. Totally. I mean, for me it would be like a kitty tower, but he would hate it.”
“Is he a kitty, too?” She’d never really met another feline shifter, not so close.
“Nope. I bet you can figure out what he is, though. Just by looking at him.”
“Huh.” Well, that either meant he was another wolf or something incredibly cool. Did they have wereGodzilla? That would so rock. Weredinosaurs. Wereplatupi. Okay, now she was just being silly.
The pain had to be addling her brain. The road did get bumpy, but Neale slowed down so she wasn’t bouncing all over. They pulled up in front of one of those picture perfect log homes she thought only existed in magazines, the little bit of grass out front set with patio furniture. “How pretty is that?” The domestic picture made her smile.
“Yeah. Zane is a little particular. Here we go.” He parked by the kitchen door and came to carry her inside. Such a gentleman.
“Thank you. You’re being cool as all hell. For real.”
“Hey, I know what it’s like to be kinda, uh, alone and injured. Trust me. That was how I met Zane. I’m a snowboarder, and I got caught in a little avalanche.”
“Yeah? Do they make little avalanches? It’s scary to be hurt, and I’m pretty new here.”
“Well, hey! It was fate, then. Zane! Zane, I need you!”
A bass rumble sounded from the back of the house, and this huge mountain of a man came out to the kitchen, tall and broad and muscled and hairy.
“Oh, wow. Grizzly Adams.” How fucking entertaining was that? Zane looked like something from an old TV show she’d seen re-runs from as a kid. Bear-like.
“Bingo! Told you that you’d be able to tell.”
“Did you bring me lunch, baby?” The big guy gave her an evil little smile, no doubt in retaliation for the ancient pop culture reference.
“You wish, lover. She’s hurt, pretty bad.”
“Well, shit, why didn’t you say so? I’m Zane.” Deep, dark eyes sized her up. “Guest room, baby,” Zane told Neale.
“You got it.”
“I’m Jeanette, by the way. Mr. Kitty found me when I fell.”
“I’m glad he was there!” That big, booming voice made her smile, made her think of all those bear documentaries she’d watched as a teenager.
“Me too.” Neale put her on the bed, so gentle. So easy. She was a little reluctant to let go of his neck. He felt so warm. He purred, his cheek sliding against hers. Oh, he smelled good, and his cheek was surprisingly soft. Not bristly.
“Anytime, now,” Zane grumbled, and Neale laughed.
“Yeah, yeah. Have at her.”
She wrapped her arms around herself, hugging tight. This was going to suck.
Zane smiled at her, his expression just like a big old teddy bear. “Hey. So, it’s your ankle, huh? It’s pretty swollen. Are you going to, uh, find it odd if I sniff it?”
That helped ease the tension, actually, and Jeanette managed a laugh. “Nope. I am manfully fighting the urge to lean down and bite it.”
“Well, there you go.” He bent down, sniffing at her foot, her ankle, making little bear noises while he did. Oh, God, these two were the cutest things ever. Her toes would have curled, if it hadn’t hurt so goddamn bad.
“Just close your eyes and breathe.” Zane cradled her foot in his hand and lifted, and she wanted to scream. She breathed in and out through her nose instead.
“Oh, damn.” Neale came up, his hands sliding up her shoulders.
“Hurts.” She tried not to let those tears squeeze out, but it was tough.
“I know,” Zane rumbled. “I’m sorry.” Then he wrenched her foot back into the right position, all sorts of things making horrible noises.
She howled, scrambling back, her wolf surging to the fore.
“Shh, Shh.” Neale grabbed her, keeping her from actually shifting. “You can’t change now, honey. You have to let him splint it now that it’s set.”
“Sorry. Sorry. Fuck, that hurt.”
“It’s pretty clean, though.” The big bear gave her a sympathetic smile. “You did good.”
“Thank you?” Jeanette was going to burst into tears or throw up or shift.
“All I have to do now is immobilize it. This will help it heal up a lot faster.”
“Should I shift first?”
He tilted his head. “Do you heal faster in that form?”
She’d never been hurt bad before; how the hell would she know?
“Neale does, right? But me, I heal faster as a human.” Zane shrugged. “If you’re more comfortable…”
“I don’t know. I just –” She bit back sudden, furious tears. “This is stupid!”
“Neale?” The big guy went into panicky-eye mode, but kitty was right there, holding her, sliding on the bed behind her.
“Hey. Now, it’s okay. Look, I can get you a Sprite, and some chocolate. That will help. Then we’ll see about Zane getting you something mild for the pain.”
“Oh. Chocolate is like magic.” She let herself lean on his back, rest against this perfect stranger.
“That’s it, honey. Hey, baby, can you get the food and drink?”
“Sure.” Zane lumbered out, looking so sad for her. It was adorable. He came back in a few minutes, carrying a glass of fizzy drink and a tray with all sorts of treats. Someone had a sweet tooth, and she’d bet it wasn’t the kitty.
Neale’s hands were moving over her, making her eyes cross as her body insisted she didn’t hurt that bad, right? She could let Zane wrap her if those touches kept on. Hell, she might be able to sleep, or maybe do something even more strenuous if he would just pet her like that all night…
“Chocolate?” Zane pressed a bonbon to her lips, and she had the urge to giggle. Maybe she’d hit her head and was dreaming the dreams of the concussed. That would explain why she trusted these two so much so soon, right?
She snapped up the candy, though, feeling very much like she had when she was a puppy and Mother had given her medicine wrapped in cheese.
“Better,” Neale murmured, stroking her cheek.
She hummed and nodded, melting back against Neale as the room got soft around the edges. Better. So much better. She didn’t even whimper when Zane splinted and then wrapped her ankle.
Neale purred happily, nuzzling her, making her all melty.
As soon as he finished her foot, Zane crawled up next to them, curling in, warm and wonderful against her side.
“Hey, pretty lady.” The big guy rumbled softly, nuzzling her, sniffing her.
It was less odd than she’d have thought. She patted his back, humming. No, it was more like being where she belonged. Jeanette had left the pack for all the right reasons, but it was lonely.
“That’s right, honey.” Neale’s purrs were so right. “Rest.”
Oh, God. Yes. She could close her eyes and let the pain go away. It was definitely time to rest.
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