Destined Mate, Book 1
Ebook ISBN: 07287-02349
[ Shifter Romance, MF ]
The need to possess Delilah controls Mick, but he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe.
“Hey there Delilah, what’s it like in New York City…” Jonathan sang.
“I swear if you actually said ‘hello’ like a normal person I’d think you were body snatched by aliens,” Delilah said, attempting to cut him off. The song was his usual greeting. His cliché musical rendition of her name had been sweet for about twenty seconds, and now she found it completely irritating.
He grinned. Jon was a nice, albeit obnoxious, senior biology major, and Peter’s lab assistant.
Delilah stood outside the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the UW Madison campus. The breeze brushed her skin. A stronger gust penetrated her cotton T-shirt, raising goose bumps on her arms. She shivered. Cold was Wisconsin’s favorite temperature, but this was early September and she was dressed for a warmer day.
Jon held the door for her as she hurried inside the facility. Heat flowed over her and the realization the furnace was already on was a relief and surprise. Delilah’s tense muscles loosened up. Peter wouldn’t be happy if he saw her.
“Your dad is going to be pissed off if you get sick, Delilah,” Jon warned, almost as if he’d been reading her mind.
She shrugged. “Peter Amun may be the closest thing to family I have left — he became my guardian after my parents died, and he’s still my doctor — but he’s not my father.”
Still, Peter would freak if she caught pneumonia again. When she was sick, he couldn’t get accurate results from blood tests because her white blood cell count went up. Without the results, he couldn’t give her the right dose of the #5-23 injection to stave off the seizures.
“Really?” Jon genuinely sounded surprised. He had only been Peter’s assistant a couple of weeks, long enough for her to know way too much about him, but not long enough for her to be comfortable spilling the sad tale of how she came to live with the doctor her parents had trusted.
“Yep. He’s a good man, but he’s not my dad.” That was as much as he was going to get from her. If he really wanted to know, there were others in the facility willing to gossip about poor, sickly Delilah and her rare brain tumor that made her see crazy shit.
“What’s going on in your head? You went like a million miles away,” Jon muttered with a hint of annoyance in his tone. He pushed his shaggy brown hair out of his face.
“Nothing that would interest you, I promise.”
“I don’t know, you seem like the kind of girl with deep thoughts and big plans,” Jon said in a flirty way that made her inner voice groan.
“I think I was wondering which Kardashian I want to be when I grow up,” she lied.
Jon grinned. “Aren’t you cute.” Jon put emphasis on the word cute.
As soon as someone discovered she had a terminal illness, interaction always got weird, so she didn’t flirt back. He was incredibly handsome, and that made it harder for her to ignore him. Poor Jon didn’t deserve to be the next person she needed to console over her imminent demise.
“Oh, that’s right, I was wondering if they ever found the body of Peter’s last assistant. He liked to bother me too… And then there was that experiment that went horrifically wrong…” She let her voice trail away absentmindedly and cringed for effect.
Jon’s big hazel eyes widened, just a little, and his nostrils flared. He always asked her questions, but something made her hold back from giving him straight answers. There was something different about the lab assistant that she just couldn’t put her finger on. Jon backed off, actually side stepping to give her more room. Relief flooded her and she grinned as she walked a little faster toward the stairs.
* * *
Mick moaned. Her image lingered in his mind. Long, dark hair and bright green eyes made her uniquely beautiful. He could smell her, the perfume of her pheromones mingling with the floral products on her skin and hair. He inhaled deeply. As much as breathing her in hurt, it also exhilarated him. He bucked and writhed on the thin mattress in his cage. A snarl ripped out of his throat and his vision sharpened. He screamed as his bones started to break. Transformation. Agony. Death and rebirth… Whatever he’d heard this horrific process called, no name ever described the torture correctly.
“Fuck!” He screamed, spitting the foaming saliva out as his body broke in a thousand ways at the same moment.
Yellow, sharp clarity coated his vision and every sound in the building intensified. The soundproofing was only there for the humans. He heard it all when the change stole his body. Her shoes. They had a funny, light click. Even in his torment, he held on to that little piece of her, breathing through the ripping and tearing of his skin and muscles. Her smell was a small comfort. Her. Mick’s snarling cry reverberated through the tiny room, his beastly wail caught between a roar and a bark.
I must control it. This is what that bastard wants. This is what…
Muddled and confused, he couldn’t remember what he hated. The smell. His cock went hard. Desire. Blood. Feast. Soft and delicate. Hot life filling his mouth and coursing down his throat to fill his stomach as he ripped open the weak packaging. Delicious. Delilah.
Her name put a screeching halt to the litany of tumbling consciousness and monstrous thoughts. No. I am not that. I am…
Kill. Eat. Destroy. Take. Rip. Tear. Devour.
* * *
Peter worked frantically at his lab computer, leaning forward, peering at the screen. The dim room made the glow cast by the device illuminate him in a hue that conjured images of a mad scientist. His dark brown hair contrasted well with his deep tan. Peter’s deep-set brown eyes were transfixed on the screen. Delilah smiled. Affection for her work-a-holic caretaker left her shaking her head as she watched the maestro at work conjuring magical remedies to control the forces of life and death. Or at least that’s how she viewed her savior’s efforts.
Clearing her throat, she knocked on the door. Peter glanced up with the barest trace of acknowledgement as he returned to his work for a few moments more. When his fingers stilled, he peered at her over the thin edge of the large screen.
“Hi Del, come in and sit down with your sleeve up,” he ordered. “I’m going to take a few samples, but I’ll be giving you your regular injection later than usual. I’ll need you to come back after work,” Peter said without looking at her as he readied his needle, syringe and Vacutainer tubes.
She sat down in the regular place, patiently, watching him. “Why can’t you just get it over with now?”
Peter glanced up at her and gave her a surprised, tight smile. “If I could spare you these tests I would. You mean… a great deal to me, my girl. Can you think of anything more important to do tonight than find a cure and save your life?”
Peter was ridiculously overprotective. Yes, she was dying, but he acted as if any small moment of fun would hasten her death so much he’d never have a chance to run another test.
“No, but I’d rather just go home and crash. I’m thinking about signing up for some classes,” Delilah admitted.
Peter’s eyebrow rose. His displeasure darkened his expression with a sour frown. Delilah glared at him even as she flinched from the quick poke of the needle. After years of being his personal pincushion, it still astounded her that she hated that first prick of the angry little point when he pushed his needle into her flesh.
He took three vials. She counted from the movement out of the corner of her eye. Peter pulled the needle out and she bent her arm to hold the cotton ball to the injury. He’d long since stopped using Band-Aids because she complained about them more than the needles.
“All done,” he said in that same humoring voice he’d used on her as a young teen. He’d been taking her blood since she was fourteen and it saddened her to think what a large percentage of her life she’d spent as his patient.
“It’s been seven years. I don’t think you’ll ever find a cure. Sometimes I just wish you’d stop trying,” Delilah complained as Peter shook the tubes, studied them in the light, and wrote on them.
He glanced at her sharply. “Finding a cure is about much more than you. When other doctors didn’t even know how to diagnose you, I was able to give you something to battle against and hate. Would you deny the next little girl who wakes up ill a treatment, maybe even a cure?”
Chastised, she sighed. “No, I guess not. I’m just feeling frustrated.”
“It’s normal for you to have highs and lows dealing with an aggressive tumor. We can have you talk to Dr. Frank again. She can help you through the dark thoughts and feelings,” Peter offered.
He patted her shoulder reassuringly. “Go to work. I’ll see you later. While I don’t think fulltime classes are the best idea, a few courses might give you something positive to focus on. I was against you working, but now I see the benefit to your mental health.”
Del shrugged, surprised Peter wasn’t arguing with her about attending school. He’d talked her out of it in the past due to the risk to her health. Even the common cold disrupted his tests and treatments.
She stood up and tossed the cotton ball in the trash because she’d already stopped bleeding. She pulled on her coat without looking at him. “Sometimes I wish dying were faster. I get impatient,” she said with snarky morbidity as she left his lab without a backward glance or a goodbye.
* * *
“Thanks for giving me a ride, Mari,” Delilah said to the tall, stunning blonde.
Mari grinned. “I need some Java. I’m still hung over after the par-tay. You won’t believe what I did. Drunk text,” she reached into the console and pulled out a slim device.
Delilah looked at the phone and her eyes widened. A tiny gasp escaped her.
“I know, right?” Mari asked.
“I want to adopt a kitten with you? Your chest hair smells good? When I look into your eyes, I see my future babies?” Delilah read the messages in a tone that was equal parts horror to humor. “Most of this is misspelled and you totally didn’t use punctuation. Oh, dear Lord.”
“Like I said — drunk texting. I haven’t had the guts to call Marc today.”
“Wow, this is brutal. You could tell him you were hacked. Tell him one of your roommates took your phone to prank you and you’re embarrassed,” Delilah suggested.
“You just totally earned a ride home tonight, but I still want a free mega latte with extra chocolate syrup.”
“Done. You’re hot. He’ll let it slide. Well, maybe not the babies thing because that’s just super creeptastic, but…”
They were both laughing hard as Mari parked her rusty old Dodge. Both girls rushed out into cold wind. Dry leaves rattled together as they twirled across the sidewalk. Delilah was the first one in the door and debris followed her inside sailing on the strong draft. The smell of the place filled her with a sense of homecoming. She loved working here.
“Hey Del, grab your apron. We’re busy tonight,” Hannah Chavez called out as Delilah pushed open the door to Ground Zero. Hannah’s voice was barely audible over the hum of voices floating through the café. The late afternoon sun shone into the windows and illuminated the map-covered walls of the historic building. Delilah loved this place. She breathed deeply and relished the scent of strong, fresh coffee.
A couple of regulars grinned at her as they glanced up from their laptops.
“Hey,” she said.
The guys nodded without looking away from their studies this time. Every couch and chair was full except for where Mari sat down and pulled a tattered paperback out of her bag. Delilah hurried behind the counter and washed up. A line was forming and Hannah looked exhausted.
“Where’s Qui?” The amicable Asian man was never late.
“He called out sick. No one was willing to come in and replace him,” Hannah replied.
“We’ll be good. I’m here now,” Delilah said half-heartedly. She’d been getting a little dizzy lately after the blood draws. Sometimes she wondered if Peter’s obsession with her illness wasn’t causing him to ignore her safety. But she couldn’t abandon Hannah, so she kept her queasy dizziness a secret.
Being busy took over her thoughts and she didn’t have any more time to ponder anything besides coffee and coffee paraphernalia. She and Hannah made a good team. They served up coffee, pastries, and tea fast, orders passing from their hands to the customers so quickly time lost all meaning.
“I’ll take a no fat soy latte with a half packet of Splenda and a half packet of the pink one. Try to make it extra frothy,” requested a gum-smacking girl who looked too young to even be a college freshman.
“Sure,” Delilah said. She’d had plenty of requests for persnickety drinks, so she wasn’t too surprised. She followed the girl’s instructions and handed over the cup. Hannah had already cashiered the order.
The girl blew a bubble and sucked the gum into her mouth with a loud pop, rolling her eyes at Delilah before she took a drink. Her blue eyes widened the instant before she spit latte all over both baristas. “That’s too hot!”
Delilah held herself stiffly, feeling gross. She resisted the urge to yell back at the rude girl. “It’s a hot drink. There’s a warning on the cup, too,” Hannah said.
“Are you telling me I’m stupid? I’m not the one working in a coffee shop.” The spitting girl emphasized coffee shop as if it were a dirty word.
I would tear her head off!
Delilah flinched as the strange voice she sometimes heard in her head roared the words. Now was not the time for her to have a seizure. She hadn’t told Peter about the male voice because this had to be another symptom of the brain tumor. Before she saw things she often heard him talk in her head and sometimes even talked back before she had an attack.
“No one is name calling. I’m sorry you were burned,” Delilah hurried to pacify the outraged young woman as she handed her a stack of square napkins with the store’s logo.
“I’m never coming here again. I know you made this too hot on purpose and my dad will sue you for hurting me and insulting me. We’ll own this stupid place!”
Rage filled Delilah. Her life was ending, pain was her only constant, and this little girl was threating her like an entitled princess. Her response to anger had been so much stronger lately — irrational.
I’m with you. The voice in her head was comforting, even if it was just a hallucination.
“We have security cameras and warning labels on our lids. Good luck with your law suit,” Hannah said in a flat, disinterested tone.
Narrowing her eyes, the girl glowered at Delilah as if she’d been the one speaking. Gum Smacker made a noise that was a cross between insulted and insulting before jerking her head toward the door. She stared hard at the conglomeration of teens she’d arrived with, rallying her followers while asserting her dominance as the alpha. Her groupies left, unserved, and just as indignant.
“Good riddance,” Hannah grumbled.
“I’ll call Zack. He’s going to be super pissed if these kids go troll us on Yelp,” Delilah grumbled. “I guess I’d better put on my big girl panties and explain that he needs to retain this afternoon’s security footage. Who knows if her daddy really does give a fuck his princess doesn’t have common sense when it comes to her latte drinkability.”
“Better you than me,” Hannah said without looking up from where she wiped brat spit off the counter top.
Delilah dialed the phone and Hannah took care of the next person in the growing line. Tonight was going to be a long one.