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By Lisa Kessler, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Lisa Kessler
All rights reserved.
"Night, Dr. Ayers."
I glanced up from my computer.
My office manager, Therese, gave me a wink. "You've been the last one out for a couple weeks now. Everything all right?"
Damn, "all right" seemed like a pipe dream. "Yeah, I'm fine. Have a great night."
"Anything I can help with?"
I leaned back in my leather executive chair. "I wish you could, but I've got it under control."
"Okay." She nodded, but her eyebrow rose like a natural lie detector. "I don't mind staying."
"Nah, I'm almost done anyway." I forced a smile. "See you in the morning."
She nodded and stepped back as the door closed, swaddling me in the silence. I flexed my bruised right hand and then fisted it, working out the stiffness in my joints. Tiger, my opponent last night, had an iron jaw, and I'd slammed too many jabs into it.
The welcomed pain kept me anchored in the present. Reminded me I was alive. Lately, I needed all the reminders I could get.
My cell phone alarm beeped. I had to take another bag of fluids and liquid nutrition over to my parents' place for my dad. A knock sounded at the door.
I got up and opened it. At first I stared right over the top of her head, before I shifted my focus lower. A nurse dressed in jungle-themed scrubs narrowed her dark eyes, tipping her chin up in my direction. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and one hip jutted out to the side. Her black hair sat on top of her head in a loose bun, and her flawless tan skin glowed with life.
Although she stood barely over five feet tall, her stance made it clear she expected my respect.
She also looked vaguely familiar. "Can I help you?"
"I hope so. Two weeks ago I assisted you in reviving a man who'd been injected with potassium chloride. I was just informed the patient was never checked into the medical center. I'd like to know why."
Damn it. This was the nurse who'd helped me save my father's life. Or at least get his heart beating again. Whether or not he actually had a "life" anymore was up for debate.
"I'd give you an answer if I could, but my hands are tied. Patient privacy regulations." I could almost smell the bullshit coming out of my mouth. "I can tell you he's feeling much better thanks to your help."
"Enough with the elitist doctor double-talk." She swiped her hand in the air and placed a fist on her shapely hip. "I've got to record the medications we used on your patient. If he's not admitted, I can't do that. I could get fired over the missing medicine, and I need this job. So save your privacy line for someone who gives a crap. Now what the hell happened to that man?"
Elitist doctor double-talk? I almost laughed.
"I'm sorry if you're in hot water over the insulin and glucose." What was her name? My brain replayed that evening. She had told me, but I'd been so wrapped up in trying to save my dad I couldn't recall it now. "I'll come by tomorrow and talk to the head nurse for you. I'm sure I can get it straightened out."
"And you'll tell them you're there on behalf of ..." She waited. I didn't attempt to guess her name. She rolled her eyes. "You don't even remember my name, do you?" I opened my mouth to apologize, but she went on before I could get a word in. "Typical. I'm Kilani."
Kilani. Beautiful name. Polynesian, maybe?
"Are you listening to me?"
Shit. "Yeah, I'm listening."
She shook her head, her gaze holding mine. "You know what, never mind. I'll handle this on my own. The last thing I need is a guy who can't even remember my name to be poking around the hospital to 'help' me."
Spinning on her heel, she walked away. I went out the door after her. "Kilani, wait."
She stopped but didn't turn in my direction.
"I'm not usually such an ass."
Her shoulders relaxed a little and she faced me again. "Most doctors don't apologize."
The doctor jibes were starting to get to me. "That patient is my father."
"I remember." She nodded. "That's why I was so surprised you didn't admit him. I don't know what your relationship with your dad is like, but you of all people should understand he needs twenty-four-hour care. He could have brain damage or ..."
"God damn it. You don't think I know that?" I yelled, and I didn't give a shit. If anyone on earth understood how dire my dad's situation was, it was me. And if I could, I'd have him in the hospital, but my dad was also a werewolf, and one blood sample in the wrong hands could expose our race to humans.
I might be the Pack doctor, but I couldn't offer them the best treatment because it always came back to exposure. What good was my medical degree when my hands were tied? The medical center's equipment could help my father — but it could also prove to the human world that werewolves existed.
We couldn't risk it, even if it meant I might lose my dad.
"I'm giving him better care than he would get in a hospital, so spare me your judgment." I forced in a slow breath and lowered my voice a couple of notches. "I'm sorry if you're in trouble over the missing medication. I meant what I said about talking to the head nurse for you to smooth it over."
"No thanks." She put her hands up. "Nothing you could give me would be of help. I hope, for your father's sake, he has a full recovery."
She walked back toward the atrium that connected the medical office building with the hospital next door. Her hips swayed in a natural motion. Her job was at risk now. My fault.
She didn't slow and she didn't answer. In another minute, she was gone.
I'd been an asshole to the one person who'd helped me keep my dad's heart beating. And the hits just kept coming.
The sour scent of sweat and blood stung my nostrils as I taped my knuckles. In the center of the makeshift boxing ring, the two titans clobbered each other in a bid to face me next. As reigning champ of the underground fight club, they all wanted a shot at my title.
Boxing had started as a fitness regimen. I enjoyed training and sparring, but after Adam's father, our Alpha, died because I couldn't get him into an operating room to stop his internal bleeding, an unfamiliar fire smoldered in my gut and sparring didn't relieve the pressure.
In a sick way, I wanted to be pummeled — punished for the blood on my hands. I also wanted to beat the shit out of something. A stupid risk for a doctor to batter his hands in a gladiator's sport, but ever since one of the guys in the locker room of the club whispered a veiled invitation to me, I couldn't seem to quit.
"Hey Wolf, need help with your gloves?"
We didn't have names down here. Not the names on our birth certificates anyway. In the underground fight club world, I was just Wolf. And I liked it.
I glanced up at Marv and nodded. "Sure. Thanks, buddy."
Marv was a big guy, about my age, but his mild autism always made him seem younger. His older brother, Todd, ran the fight club, and Marv tagged along, helping as much as he could.
I held my hand out while he tugged the gloves on. I had taped it tight, but in spite of the added support, my joints still ached as he pulled the glove over them. I probably should've taken some X-rays, but I was too far gone for that. Just forcing myself to sit out a night or two to heal was getting tough.
Even if I found broken bones, I wouldn't stop fighting. I couldn't.
This ring was my sanity now. Without it, I'd go crazy with the guilt and frustration that festered inside of me. Here, reality narrowed into a bloodstained twelve-foot-by-twelve-foot boxing ring. Facing opponents, landing punches, and taking them were all actions I controlled. In the ring, I was the master of my own fate. I couldn't save Malcolm, our Alpha, and now my father's life hung in the balance. I'd had my fill of feeling useless.
Here, my destiny rested in my own hands, mine to direct. This ring and these fighters gave me that.
"Those tight enough, Wolf?"
I punched my hands together, testing the support around my wrists. "Feels great, Marv." I rubbed his head with a gloved hand. "Thanks, buddy."
He grinned, sheepish about the praise. "Good luck tonight. I know you'll win."
"That's the plan." I started warming up, jogging in place and windmilling my arms to loosen up my sore shoulders. After Malcolm's death, I'd been fighting once a month, but since Nero attacked my father, I'd been accepting as many matches as I had challengers. The beatings were catching up with me, but sore muscles and joints weren't going to keep me from my sanctuary in the ring.
The big guy who went by the moniker "Pirate" tumbled to the ground. Roddy, our ref, started the count while Shark backed away, his cold stare on my face. Hunger burned in his eyes. Every fighter here had demons. God only knew what powered this hulk of a man. In spite of fighting an earlier match and now besting Pirate, this big Hispanic guy still had some fire left.
That was good. He'd need a goddamned inferno to best me.
Since the altercation with Kilani, my frustration levels had skyrocketed. I'd been a dick to her, and her only crime had been to help save my father. I hadn't even remembered her name.
If that wasn't enough, my father's vitals revealed his temperature was slightly elevated. I'd need to bring him some intravenous antibiotics and hope for the best. A bad bladder infection or bed sores were both common ways to cause organs to shut down in bedridden comatose patients.
Foreboding, and an all too familiar lack of control, roiled in my gut. My opponent might be hungry for a win, but I was famished. Something in my life would be a victory.
Sorry Shark, I wasn't going down tonight. No chance.
Roddy grabbed his glove, raising it over his head. "Winner! Shark in the fifth round."
Cheers and the hum of activity filled the space. The tiny crowd of spectators consisted of other fighters and a few regulars who were once fighters and now turned to small-time wagering. Cash changed hands, notes were scribbled on pages, and Shark paraded around the ring, high on adrenaline.
I watched him as I shadow-boxed, warming my muscles. We were both about six foot two inches, so our reach would be well matched. He looked like he outweighed me by maybe twenty pounds, so on paper he'd have more power behind his punches.
No one in the club knew werewolves existed, let alone that I was one.
But my wolf wasn't the power behind these punches. Rage, pure and undiluted, fueled my inner fire. And nothing released the pressure like a good fight.
Shark narrowed his eyes, his jaw jutting forward as he paced the ring. I'd only seen the last couple of rounds of his fight with Pirate, but it had been enough. Shark was a southpaw. I'd have to keep protecting my eye while I went in with my right. A good southpaw could clock you with a left hand if you gave him that opening.
I rolled my head, then my shoulders, while I danced on the balls of my feet. My gaze never strayed from Shark's face. Even when he turned away, the first thing he saw when he faced me again was my stare. No fear. Only hunger.
Without breaking eye contact, I climbed in the ring. My wolf clawed to the surface, sensing a battle for dominance. The full moon was still a few weeks away. No threat of shifting into a wolf with an audience, but I welcomed his predatory instincts.
We met in the center of the ring, face-to-face, while Roddy barked out his usual reminders. No low blows, no head butts, and once a fighter was down, you waited for the count over in your corner. We knocked gloves and went to our corners. There weren't any stools, no trainers to sponge you down, only a fresh towel to wipe away blood and a fresh rubber mouth guard. I popped mine in, grinding my teeth while I awaited the bell.
The ding set us moving toward the center of the ring. Shark came in like a freight train. He jabbed my ribs with his right, nudging me toward the ropes. I countered with an uppercut to his jaw, knocking him back a couple of steps. He shook his head, snarling around his yellow mouthpiece, and came back at me, landing a combination to my midsection that knocked the air from my lungs.
Strong opponent. Good.
I blinked, stoking the fire inside of me. This was no longer a man in the gym. This wasn't a man at all. This was a fight with fate and destiny. I landed a right and a left to his body for my father's fever. He stumbled back toward the ropes and I pursued, landing a jab to his chin for my mother's heartbreak over caring for her husband who might never speak to her again.
Left, right, to the body, to the head. He put his hands up to block my attack to his face, so I concentrated on his body; each punch became a retribution for my inability to save Malcolm, my inability to wake my father. Every bad choice I had made in the last year, I pummeled into Shark's body.
His big hands shoved at my shoulders and I lost my balance, jogging back a few steps to steady myself. Shark heaved for breath while I waved him forward, inviting his attack. I wasn't ready for the fight to end. Not yet. His punches, the pain they brought, were a penance for my failures, a reminder to keep fighting.
The bell rang. I wiped my face and waited for round two, watching Shark struggle to catch his breath. Marv came by with a water bottle and a bucket. I took the water and winked at him. "Thanks."
He grinned. "You're doing good, Wolf."
I swished the water around and spit into the bucket as the bell rang again. Shark came on the attack before I got out of my corner. His right hand was relentless, pummeling my abs until my entire body ached. I lowered my elbows to block his attack, and his left hand clocked me in the eye.
Stars lit around the edge of my vision. I bit down on my mouthpiece, forcing myself to stay upright. I landed a couple of unfocused blows, trying to break out of the corner where he had me pinned. Shark's knee slammed into my balls. Hard. It was all I could do to stay on my feet and not curl into the fetal position on the floor.
Shark backed away with a glint in his eyes.
"No low blows, Shark!" Roddy yelled. "Next time you're out."
Oh, there wasn't going to be a goddamned next time.
I rushed him, slamming him back into the ropes. He couldn't escape my attack, trapped by a flurry of punches. My attack to his ribs had him breathless, and when he started to stumble sideways, I caught him, pinning him upright in the corner so I could hit his face. Again and again. Right, left, right.
"Okay, Wolf. Enough." Roddy forced his way between my prey and me. "Damn it, Wolf, I'm callin' the fight. Back off."
I stumbled backward and Shark timbered onto the floor.
Oh shit. I'd lost myself to this dark pit eating away at my sanity. What the hell was I doing? Regardless of the beating this guy gave me or the kick to the balls, I had to help him.
His pulse thumped in a steady rhythm I had no trouble hearing with my heightened senses, but blood ran from a cut over his eye, and his nose and lip bled onto the mat. There was also a better than average chance he had a nasty concussion. I rushed over, tearing at the ties on my gloves with my teeth as Roddy counted down.
Ripping the glove off my right hand, I called to Marv. "Get me some ice and a clean towel."
Roddy declared my victory while I pressed ice to the back of Shark's neck. He groaned. Conscious.
Marv took over holding the ice pack on Shark's skull, and I got up and out of the ring. Alone in my locker room, I rested my head in my hands. Every fight, it took more blood and more pain to quench the fire. I could've killed that man. Where was the line in the sand? Aggression and anger were changing me into someone I didn't recognize. I'd taken an oath to preserve life. This ... this club, these nameless fighters ... I was far from my calling.
Tremors racked my usually steady hands.
I was spiraling out of control, and I didn't have a fucking clue how to stop it.
Excerpted from Harvest Moon by Lisa Kessler, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2015 Lisa Kessler. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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