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Click on author name to visit book list and sample pages.
Wolf Mates, Book 5
“I’m a what?”
“A werewolf who can’t remember he’s a werewolf because he has amnesia.”
“If you’re into labels then, yep.”
“Is this some kind of joke? Because, so not funny.”
“Funny is in the eye of the beholder.”
“This beholder’s eye isn’t laughing.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Beholder, but that’s how your unfortunate cookie has crumbled.”
He scowled. “Cookies are stupid.”
But oh so yummy. Especially his cookies.
“I’m a werewolf? Really?” he asked once more.
Ella Stills sighed with a sharp hiss meant for his ears and leaned back against the doorframe of the hospital bathroom. “You heard me.”
“Just say it one more time so I can let it really sink in.”
“You, Crosby Nash, are a werewolf. You know, big-and-hairy, howl-at-the-moon, eat-uncooked-cow werewolf.”
Crosby raised a dark eyebrow, a rather condescending one. “I eat uncooked cows?”
“Like you’re on death row and it’s your last meal before you hit the lethal injection chamber.”
“That’s ridiculous. This is ridiculous. I feel like I’m in some werewolf version of Twilight.”
Huh. Crosby the Amnesiac couldn’t remember he was a werewolf, but he could remember pop culture phenomena? She had to keep reminding herself Crosby’s amnesia was declarative, and while he couldn’t necessarily remember his name or anything relating to his life, his memories of almost everything else remained intact.
Ella let her eyebrow raise right back at him, mirroring his arrogant expression. “Lucky for you, this means you won’t have the grueling yet necessary task of choosing a team.”
“Damn. I was so going Edward, too,” Crosby joked with a crooked grin. “He needs more friends, in my humble opinion. He’s always standing in the shadow of that kid Jacob’s ridiculously perfect abs.”
Ella rolled her eyes. “Speaking of ridiculous…you don’t know ridiculous until you find yourself babysitting a thirty-eight-year-old man while he attends mandatory ‘find your werewolf’ therapy so he can search for his long-lost inner howl. All this because your pack expects you to do as they ordered. And let’s not forget the fashion statement you’re flogging to death here.” Ella waved her hand up and down, scanning the length of Crosby’s rock-hard body in a hospital gown. “That’s a whole new level of ridiculous. Not to mention, quite possibly epically apocalyptic, as fashion goes.”
And hot. So. Damn. Hot. No matter what he wore. But she wasn’t going to let his brand of hot woo her ever again.
As was the norm with Crosby, he ignored the important information and focused in on what really mattered—what had always mattered. Him, him and him. His eyes scanned his reflection in the bathroom mirror with a critical glance, brushing his lean fingers over the dark stubble on his chin. “So I’m thirty-eight?”
“And a half, if you want to split hairs in human years.” Ella peered around his broad back, ignoring the longing sting it brought to see her image next to Crosby’s again after so long.
“I look damn good for my human age, huh?” he asked, his lips tilting upward in a very familiar Crosby smirk. His green eyes twinkled while he waited for her response.
She shot him a bored look and yawned for affect. “We’re werewolves. We all look good for our age—it comes with the gift of the shift, Crosby.” Ella kept her face impassive and her words dry.
He cocked his dark, unwashed head. “So you know me?”
In the biblical sense, even. She bit the inside of her cheek, swallowing hard. “Well, yeah. I am your babysitter. Would you leave your thirty-eight-and-a-half-year-old werewolf with a babysitter he didn’t know? That would be crappy pack parenting, right? So, yes. I know you.”
Crosby squinted into the mirror at her reflection, dragging his fingers through his thick black hair. “Who are you again?”
“The babysitter. Was your hearing affected?”
“No. I mean, what’s your name?”
“Ella Stills. The werewolf.” She curtsied, holding the edges of her cropped denim jacket out while forcing her face to remain emotionless to the fact he didn’t remember her name…or her face…or her anything.
The doctors had warned her that showing any signs of shock about Crosby’s amnesia could be detrimental to his recovery. The pack didn’t like hearing that. They needed him on his feet, memory intact.
But it wasn’t just the pack that needed him to recover his memory. Ella needed it, too. So she could get the hell away from him. Soon.
Thus, she’d ixnayed on the ockshay.
Crosby’s strong jaw clenched, leaving behind a tic she remembered well. Translation—she’d irritated him.
“You’re really a werewolf, too?”
“Really. Who isn’t these days?”
“And I’m told I live in a place where others like me live. Plus, you keep using that word, pack…”
Ella twirled a long strand of hair around her index finger, examining it under the harsh glare of the bathroom lights. “A werewolf pack. Not to be confused with a clan. And yes, you live in a place exclusive to mostly werewolves and the occasional bear.”
His lean face distorted with disbelief and one raven eyebrow rose in that irritating way it did when he was aiming for patronizing. “A clan?”
“Yeah. If you were part of a clan, you’d be a vampire. I’m not sure what a group of demons call themselves. Gaggle o’ Spawned from Lucifer…or Minions of Mayhem, maybe? I dunno, but you’re not one of those either. Just a plain old werewolf from a plain old pack of werewolves in beautiful Cedar Glen, New Jersey.”
Crosby flipped on the tap in the sink and splashed water over his face before he spoke again. He used the front of his hospital gown to dry his jaw, the sound of material scraping over his unshaven cheeks harsh to her ears.
“So let me be sure I’ve got this right. I’m a werewolf who had an unfortunate accident on my way to a destination no one knows but me—”
“Sort of. Though let’s not confuse the issue. You did have an accident. But it was an unfortunate shoe incident, to be precise.” Ella studied her nails with another yawn.
He nodded his head, the lean muscles of his neck flexing. “Right. Someone hit me over the head with a shoe. That’s what I was muttering before I lapsed into a coma. This, according to Nurse Jenkins—uh, the witch. Not a bad witch, as seen on The Wizard of SomeplaceIcan’tremember, mind you, but a good one—or so she claims.”
Ella nodded her head in return, catching a glimpse in the mirror of the dark part in her otherwise sun-kissed, dirty-blonde hair. Leave it to Crosby to screw up a long overdue trip to the salon for some highlight-lowlight love.
“That’s right. Everyone who works here in the hospital is paranormal, and we do tend to others who aren’t werewolves because we specialize in paranormal trauma. And yes again, someone clobbered you with a work boot when you were in your were-form. Left a hella bruise, too.” She pointed to the misshapen egg on his head. “But we heal quickly. So your chiseled good looks will be back to their Calvin Klein-esque status in no time flat.”
His brow furrowed. “The accident. Any thoughts on why someone would hit me with a work boot?”
“The pack suspects you freaked out some unsuspecting human. When you’re in were-form, you’re just this much shy of Cujo.” Ella compressed her fingers together to emphasize just how scary Crosby could be when he shifted. “The human nailed you with the boot, clearly unaware, as most humans are, that we’re peace-loving. Anyway, somehow, big, brawny ninja-were that you are, you clawed your way back to Harry Levine’s house, shifted and muttered a few clues as to what happened to you before collapsing.”
Crosby frowned again, deep ridges gracing his forehead.
Ella decided a small nudge to his memory probably wouldn’t scar him for life. “Remember Harry?”
His green eyes, fringed with smoky lashes, went blank. “No clue who Harry is.”
“What about Max and Derrick Adams? Max is our alpha pack leader and Derrick is his brother. Well, technically Max is still alpha. But so is his father, Brock, who came back from the sorta dead… Never mind. It’s a long story. One we can save for later when you’re feeling better. Either way, do you recognize those names?”
Crosby paused a moment then shook his head.
“Bummer, that. You might want to try to dig deeper into your muddled were-brain for Harry’s stats, though. He’s your golf buddy. You love golf. He’ll be devastated that even with amnesia, you don’t remember the power of his magic nine iron. Anyway, you told him what happened to you then lapsed into a coma and woke up with amnesia. Voilà. Now you’re here, in the hospital, all patched up.”
And so was she. Here. With Crosby. After a no-contact, three-month-long separation.
“At the werewolf hospital.” His lips flat-lined into the position grim.
Ella clucked her tongue in admonishment. “Don’t be so narrow-minded. This is an all-inclusive hospital, silly, designed specifically for the paranormal in you. Like I said, every species of the paranormal is welcome here at Cedar Glen General. Including, to my dismay, trolls. Watch for the trolls. They’re tricky bastards. And speaking of all-inclusive, get some clothes on. We have group therapy to hit.”
“If you want the doctor to sign your release papers so you can blow this Popsicle stand, you have to go to therapy. Hopefully, hanging around others like you in similar situations will unlock your memory. So, yes. Seriously.”
Crosby grinned as he took the pair of jeans Ella handed him, and she turned her back so as not to get even a small glimpse of his amazing butt.
“No. I meant the trolls. There are really trolls here? That might be just a little cooler than werewolves and vampires.”
Ella fought a grin while she studied her black, low-heeled suede boots. “Get dressed or we’ll be late.”
“One more question before I do.”
Ella let her hands slap against her thighs when she turned back around—now almost hoping she hadn’t missed the glimpse of his amazing butt. If only to prove to herself she didn’t want his butt anymore. It was, after all, just a butt. “Fine. But note, you’re almost at your legal limit for allowable questions in a perilous predicament.”
He grinned again—charmingly one-hundred watt. “Noted. Now, if I agree to go to this therapy thing three times a week starting today, they’ll release me and let me go home with you?”
Ella fought a groan. Bringing Crosby home with her was a bad idea. Way bad. What if he, being the stubborn asshat he was, took as long to get his memory back as he’d taken to admit he was wrong when they’d argued? Sweet mother of all that was holy—he’d be at her house until the end of time.
But in an effort to do the doctor’s bidding, she kept her misgivings on the inside and replied to him as though he were merely one of her patients, which was the only way she was going to get through this—by staying objective.
“Yes, Crosby. You can come home with me. Physically, you’re fine, so there’s no reason to keep you here. You just can’t be alone in case you have flashbacks of events you need explained to you. Sometimes they can be debilitating. Or on the off chance you shift and don’t know what’s happening. I can help you with that, too. I’m a nurse. A psychiatric nurse, by trade.”
Crosby’s eyes grew wide with clear wonder. “Shift? Shut. Up. I shift? You mean like in-the-movies shift, where I morph and snarl all drooly? I can really do that?”
“I just told you that.”
“Sorry. Guess I must’ve missed it. Amnesia brain and all.”
Ella’s response was purposely dry even though his childlike joy was hard to resist. “Right. Anyway, yes, you can really do that.”
He grinned, apparently pleased by this turn of events. “Then this is way more like Twilight than you’re letting on.”
“Did you actually see Twilight, Crosby?” Ella couldn’t stop herself from asking or keep the astonishment from her tone. If he had seen the movie, he hadn’t gone willingly. Getting Crosby to watch anything that didn’t involve a ball, big or small, was like asking the Pope to move out of the Vatican and into a one-bedroom walkup.
He scratched his head, wincing when he hit the lump with his fingers. “I think I did…is that something I’d do?”
Hah! “Let’s not worry about what you would or wouldn’t do. Let’s focus on the moment at hand.”
“Right. And the focus is on going home with you.” Crosby, as an amnesiac, was handing out smiles like they were Halloween candy. He grinned yet again. That was more than two times in less than fifteen minutes and, on the whole, probably more than he’d grinned in the last six months.
But she maintained the effort to divert him and winked. “You’re in luck, too. I have a spare bedroom. It’s a little lavender for such a manly man, but the mint-green ruffles on the bedspread are very tasteful. Promise.”
His groan rang in her ears when she tossed his T-shirt to him and shut the bathroom door behind her.
Ella took a shaky breath before turning to grab her purse from the lone chair in his hospital room. She hadn’t seen Crosby in nearly three months. Seeing him now, like this, was a sharp pain in her heart she could have done without.
As an amnesiac, he was more like the Crosby she’d fallen in love with years ago. Quick to smile, easygoing and funny.
The Crosby she’d left three months ago had made the words “uncommunicative and sulky” seem light and frolicky.
And she didn’t want to learn to like Crosby the Amnesiac, because Crosby the Asshat was sure to reappear when his memory returned.
Then he’d surely remember she’d called him a stupidhead. But that had only been after she’d thrown all his things out the door of their house and into their small koi pond, and just before she’d set his favorite set of golf clubs on fire—bag and all.
Like a big, four-alarm kind of fire. Impressive and blazingly colorful, with lots of blues and greens.
Pressing her cheek to the cool hospital room wall, Ella fought for another breath and sent up a silent prayer she’d navigate this pack demand unscathed.
But then she smiled.
If not, she’d just set his shit on fire again.
It really had been an awesome fire.
* * * *
She’d been pondering her new circumstances while Crosby changed and freshened up when a familiar voice roused her. Without turning around, she responded, “Morton.” She didn’t need to ask why her pack elder and friend was skulking in the shadows of Crosby’s room. The pack wanted answers. They’d sent him to find out if she’d gotten any.
Morton placed a hand on her shoulder, his grip firm. “How’s Crosby?”
She shrugged him off, pivoting on her booted heel to gaze up into his sweet moon-shaped face. “Oh, I dunno, Mort. He has amnesia. He doesn’t know who he is, much less who I am. He’s got a lump the size of a basketball on his fat head and he’s just been told he’s a werewolf. How do you suppose he is?”
Morton leaned into her, his eyes warm, his words hushed to keep Crosby from hearing them. “Save your pissed off for the people you should be pissed off with. I told the pack they shouldn’t drag you into this. We could have found someone else to look after him while he recuperates. I was unequivocally shot down. But you could have said no.”
Her shoulders slumped in regret. Morton was right. It wasn’t his fault. “Sorry. This whole thing has me on edge. Do you have any idea how utterly screwed up it is to have Crosby look at me with anything other than bulging-eyed rage? I’m a little disturbed by it.”
Morton’s gray gaze softened. “It’s a little like starting over again. Isn’t it romantic?”
Ella flipped him the bird before she could stop herself, catching a glimpse of her now ring-less finger. “The. Hell. There’ll be no starting anything, over or otherwise, Morton. So if that’s the pack’s hope by asking me to do this, they can blow me. The second Crosby remembers who I am, shit will surely fly. I can promise you that, and it’ll be loud, loud shit. I’m doing my duty to the pack because for the most part, they’ve let me be lately, and they said if I did this they’d return the favor by letting me move on.”
His chuckle was deep and amused, making his barrel chest bounce beneath his suit. “Your duty… So it has nothing to do with the fact that when you heard Crosby was in a coma, you were here in five seconds flat, the hair from your haphazard shift still poking out of your cotton nightgown and pink bunny slippers?”
She rolled her tongue in her cheek, her eyes shifting to the shiny floor to avoid Morton’s gaze. “The pack—especially Hector, God love his sweet soul—made it sound like he was going to die, for Christ’s sake. Crosby has been in the past, and still can be, a complete and utter douche, but I don’t want him to die because of it. Well, not today anyway. Besides, at the very least, I wanted to punch him in his egomaniacal head one last time before he hit the great beyond. Just so he’d always have something to remember me by. You didn’t think I’d pass up a shot at that, did you?”
He chucked her under the chin with thick fingers. “You go right ahead and soothe yourself with whatever lie works. Doesn’t change the fact that I’m worried about the close quarters you’ll be in together while Crosby remembers who the hell he is.”
“Look. The fact is, Crosby needs a babysitter. I’m the logical choice because I know him best, and I am a nurse—or was, until I took a leave of absence. I know how to deal with the potential for flashbacks and nightmares and all the stuff associated with an amnesiac paranormal. If I can help him return to his former arrogant, assaholic ways so the women of the world won’t be out one crusty, overconfident alpha male, I’m down.”
Mort cocked his silver-dusted head to the left. “You know, Crosby wasn’t the only one involved in that little misunderstanding.”
Ella’s spine stiffened at the memory. “I wasn’t the one who classified it as a ‘misunderstanding’. He was. I personally classified it as bullshit. So moving on. Forget about the close-quarters thing. Forget about the fact that Crosby Nash is a jerk like no other. Let’s just focus on getting his memory back so he can remember whatever it is the pack so desperately needs to know.” She whipped a hand up, palm forward. “And no. I don’t want to know what pack business he’s got locked up tighter than Fort Knox in his head. It’s probably the longitude and latitude of Jimmy Hoffa’s resting place.”
Morton chuckled with that deep, indulgent warmth she was so familiar with. “Just remember I warned you this wasn’t a good idea. You’ll only be dredging up your own painful memories right along with his. You know; the ones you clearly like better left buried?”
Ella’s lips thinned and her head pounded out a beat she could dance to. “If doing this means the pack will grant me this one last wish, then I’m all in.”
“This magical thing you call a pack grants wishes?” Crosby asked, poking his head out of the bathroom door before strutting to stand beside her, tall, muscled and lean. “Badass… So how do I get in on that gig, and what do you want the pack to grant you?”
A guarantee there’d be no jail time for Crosby-slaughter?
“The chance to spend every spare moment I have with you,” she said sweetly then shot Morton a glare to quiet his blustering cough. “C’mon, Forgetful One. Group therapy awaits.” Ella pointed to the door and Crosby obediently loped out.
Mort grabbed her by the arm just as she was about to follow suit. His face had concern written into the wrinkles of his forehead and etched in his warm, sympathetic gaze. “I don’t like this, Ella. I’m worried you’ll kill Crosby before he has the chance to get his memory back. Or that you’ll end up hurt again. Why did you agree to this?”
Ella shook her head. “Because Max and Brock asked me to, Mort—because the pack needs me and they’ve always been there for me. You know how strongly they feel about the whole life mate deal and working things out, and yet, they didn’t pressure me to do this. They just asked.”
“They shouldn’t have asked,” he responded with a narrowed gaze.
She loved Max and his entire family. She loved that Cedar Glen was full of misfits who’d have nowhere to go if not for the Adams family. Their history was rich and full of peril, but they’d all survived by sticking together.
The least she could do was help when it was needed—even if she didn’t understand what she was helping with. It was all so mysterious, filled with whispers and frowns. But both Max and his father Brock had been through far worse than dealing with an amnesiac werewolf. She could handle this. She would handle this.
“Everything’s going to be okay, Morton. I promise.”
“Doesn’t mean I’ll worry less, Ella.”
She shrugged, grabbing his hand and squeezing it. “I’m going to be fine—I’m doing this for a reason, Mort, and one reason only. The pack and I have an agreement. Besides, I’ve already begun to move on. Nothing Crosby does will change that.”
“By moving on, do you mean your little Twitter romance?”
It wasn’t little. It was just in the early stages. Though it had cooled a bit this week because her Twitter hottie had informed her he’d be away on a business trip with spotty Internet. “How do you know about my Twitter page?”
“You asked me to follow you, silly.”
Her grin was sheepish. “I only had three followers. I needed an even number or my OCD kicks in.”
Morton chuckled, pulling her into a tight hug. “I see all that flirting you’re doing with Hairofthedog.”
Ella grinned, her cheeks going hot. Yeah, thank God for the Twitter app for paranormals—it came in very handy when a paranormal wanted to filter out humans.
Morton looked down at her phone. “You don’t know a lot about him. How could you, in one hundred forty characters or less? Yet I can almost hear your girlish giggles when he tweets you.”
Ella blushed then frowned, tugging on the ends of her jacket. “Well, I knew plenty about Crosby, and look how that turned out? Our relationship was like Chernobyl and the Titanic mated and had evil twins. I figure it’s time to be less cautious and have some fun. My Twitter romance, as you call it, is fun.” And noncommittal. And, if she wished, easy to turn off with the click of her mouse. “And it’s not a romance,” she reminded. “It’s just a flirtation as it stands right now. You know, dipping my toes into the shallow end of the single pool to see if the water’s fine.”
Pressing a kiss to her forehead, Morton chucked her under the chin once more. “I’m just asking you to be careful—on both the Crosby and the flirty-Twitter fronts.”
Patting him on the back, Ella smiled, forcing her pending fears about Crosby coming home with her to STFU.
She was taking one for the team because, if she did as they asked, the pack was going to give her what she needed to end this once and for all.
Then she could Twitterpate to her heart’s desire.
Because she’d be free and easy down whatever road she chose.
And divorced—not a simple feat within all those pack rules.
Her stomach clenched as she left to find Crosby while she forced herself to summon up the memories of the Crosby of old. Cranky, stressed-out and uncommunicative.
That Crosby was going to be the end game after he recovered.
She’d do well to keep that in mind.
“Blood,” the pale, dark-haired man in the center of the Safe-Share Circle began on a shiver, his robust body shuddering with the ripple of his belly’s flesh, “makes me feel faint. I can’t even look at it. How am I supposed to live for an eternity if I can’t drink what keeps me alive?”
“Technically you’re not alive, Bernie,” Dr. Ellicott, a rare mixed species of vampire and werewolf, pointed out, calm and serene.
The scrape of chair legs resounded in Ella’s ears, alerting her to trouble.
“Yeah. And you blow chunks as a vampire, Bernie! I swear to God, one more session with the whine about sparkling in the sunlight and I’m takin’ you on your own personal Jesus trip,” a group member who was struggling with ogre anger management warned with a stubby finger, his enormous body full of palpable tension.
Dr. Ellicott whipped a warning paddle upward—the word “Caution” in bold black letters on a red background—making a whizzing noise of air. “Giuseppe,” he admonished, his sharp yet kind gaze darting in the ogre’s direction. “Everyone should feel safe when we’re in the circle. That includes Bernie. If you need to step outside the circle and go to the Contemplation Corner to direct your rage toward the punching bag, that’s certainly acceptable. However, I will warn you, pillaging the nurses’ station ever again while bellowing, ‘Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of Nurse No-Fun’ is absolutely unacceptable, and will bring with it solitary repercussions.”
Giuseppe grunted his displeasure, shrinking his at-least-seven-foot body down in his chair. “I’m just saying, not everything’s always about stupid Bernie. We all have problems, and if I don’t get a grip on my anger, I can’t go back home to my farm, and I really want to go—home!” he shouted, stomping his foot, making the floor quake beneath their feet. “I can’t get better if we don’t stop letting Bernie and his fear of blood be the center of attention at every dumb session we have,” he huffed, crossing his massive arms over his chest and planting a pout on his wrinkled ogre face.
Crosby leaned into her during the disruption, the scent of the shower he’d taken with institutional soap wafting beneath her sensitive nostrils. His bare arm, sprinkled with dark hair, brushed hers. “There are ogres here,” he whispered, his tone laced with obvious awe. “This—this—is all kinds of awesome.”
All kinds. Ella forced herself to remain still and ignore his boyish glee. “You’re up next. So prepare to share how frustrating it is to not remember who you are.”
“I’d rather share how frustrating it is to sit so close to you and smell your perfume. I can smell everything. Everything. It’s niiiice.” He sniffed her to make his point and grinned, sprouting deep grooves on either side of his mouth.
Ella lifted her chin, meeting his gaze with stern nurse eyes. “Would you like to also share with the group how frustrating it is when a woman kicks your butt because you can’t behave and show some courtesy to your fellow group members?”
“How did I luck out and get the thug babysitter?”
“Thugs R Us had an overstock sale. I was part of a twofer deal. The other thug was sent on a much more exciting thug mission, I hear. I knew I should have chosen scissors instead of paper. I could be in an opium den right now with a big, big gun. Instead, I’m in werewolf therapy with an amnesiac.”
Crosby’s grin widened rather than waned when she chastised him. “You have a great sense of humor. I like. It’s pretty hot.”
“You have amnesia, which I’m sure you don’t like. In fact, I’d bet it’s not so hot, either.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Yeah. Shitty, that. Hey. Who’s Hairofthedog?” He pointed to her cell phone and the tweets she’d been scrolling to see if anything new had come in from her budding Twitter wooer.
How awkward to be looking at old tweets from your potential Twitter-fair while your soon-to-be ex-mate looked over your shoulder but had no clue he was looking at his possible successor. “My OBGYN.”
“Your gynecologist’s Twitter user ID is Hairofthedog? Worse, you actually tweet your gynecologist?”
“You actually know what tweeting is?”
His mouth fell open in a perfect O of adorable confusion she had to look away from for the adorableness of it. “I guess I do.”
Dr. Ellicott’s voice thwarted further conversation when he called Crosby’s name. “Crosby Nash?”
Ella watched him closely for any response to his name, but he was slow to realize the doctor meant him. She nudged him with an elbow, waving a finger in the direction of the doctor. “That’s you, werewolf.”
Crosby instantly straightened in his chair, raising his eyes. “Um, yes. That’d be me—I think. I mean, that’s what they tell me. Everyone else seems to agree—so I’m going with the popular vote. Yes. I’m Crosby Nash.”
Ella fought a giggle, sliding down in her chair to check her Twitter account once more for any sign of Hairofthedog. She needed a diversion from this uncomplicated, happy-go-lucky Crosby. He was too much like the man she’d once fallen in love with, and instead of all the renewed boyish charm he was oozing grating her last nerve, it was giving her that butterfly effect in the pit of her belly.
Much like the ones she’d experienced when Hairofthedog had first tweeted her just a couple of weeks ago. Giggly, stupid, giddy, girlie butterflies.
Note to self. Buy sledgehammer and beat those Crosby butterfly bitches down.
* * * *
Precisely one week later, Ella gasped for breath, clinging to the edge of her kitchen sink as she bit the inside of her cheek.
She’d been quietly finishing the dishes from dinner, when out of nowhere, Crosby had looped an around her waist and hauled her close, molding her body to his every sharply defined muscle, and laid one on her.
A kiss so deep, so glorious, her head spun. His silken tongue had probed the inside of her mouth, slick and sure, encouraging her lips to meld with his.
But now? Now he was looking at her as though she’d sprouted an extra arm. “What the hell was that?”
Like she had all the answers?
Well, stupid. You are the nurse in charge here.
Ella frowned up at him, forcing her voice to remain calm even if she was a writhing mess inside. “I think the same might be asked of you. I know what I was doing, big guy. I was doing the dishes—messy dishes, too. It was, after all, spaghetti night.”
His eyes took on a faraway look. “Yeahhhh,” he mumbled. “And you know what?”
Her eyes narrowed. Maybe this was it? Maybe he was going to remember everything about her in one upchuck of memories? Oh. This flushed, kissed-so-sound-her-eyes-were-still-crossed incident was probably not the most medically or psychologically sound way for him to remember who she was. Who he was. Who they’d been.
Jesus. She was a shitty, shitty caregiver.
Her response was tentative and just shy of a cringe. “What?”
Crosby pointed to the sink. “Seeing you do the dishes was really familiar. Doing what…you know, what I just did, was very familiar. It was like I’d done it a hundred times before.”
It was probably more in the area of a hundred and fifty or so. If you counted the period when they’d dated, that is. Crosby had always loved a good sneak attack from behind. In the early stages of their relationship, hardly a night had gone by that they made it past the dishes before they were naked and he was deep inside her.
And who was she kidding? She’d loved it, too. She’d loved every single mind-blowing thing Crosby did to her when they made love. They had been among the most difficult images to wash her mind of when they’d separated.
The visual of him with his head thrown back in the height of passion, his dark hair against her fairer skin, never failed to make her knees so much butter. But she’d managed to forget about that—erase the pleasure and replace it with the shitty thing he’d done.
And now this. This. This. This.
None of this cockamamie scheme of hers was going as planned. They’d been here for a solid week. A solid week with not a single memory regained. Nothing. Instead, they’d begun to create a whole new cache of moments she’d spend yet more nights crying over than the pre-amnesiac Crosby deserved.
All week long she’d fought to avoid his flirtatious advances. All while they’d shared meals together and long walks in the woods behind her house and in-depth chats about life. They’d folded laundry together. They’d planted tulips for next spring together. They’d watched movies together and Crosby hadn’t even made a single request to watch a baseball game.
She’d gritted her teeth each time he’d brushed against her in the tight space of her small hallway until her jaw was going to need a hinge. She’d considered bleaching her eyeballs to erase the tantalizing memory of him in nothing but a towel loosely draped around his waist. She’d dreamt about the chiseled, cut edges of his hips, the ripped line of his abs leading downward, until she thought she’d scream with frustration.
She had fought a long, hard battle all week long to keep her emotions in check and not fall for this fun, stress-free Crosby all over again. She knew the disappointment of his eventual return would only hurt more than it had the first time.
But just look. Oh, Ella Stills. You dirty, dirty whore.
Allowing, nay, succumbing to his kiss was rather defeating the purpose of bringing him back here in the first place, wasn’t it? She’d agreed to this so the pack would set her free from the binds that tied them, only to find herself binding them tighter. Or maybe it was bonding? Whatever. Either way, this wasn’t supposed to happen. No matter how incredible or hot or missed he’d been.
“Ella?” Crosby gave her a gentle shake, his fingers gripping her shoulders. “Did you hear me?”
She cleared her throat, talking around the lump. “Yeah. I heard. Familiar, you said.” At all costs, she would remain calm.
He nodded his dark head, his ruddy skin glowing under the recessed lighting above the sink. “Like I’d always done it. Did I live with someone before this happened? Maybe that was why it seemed so natural for me to…well, you know…”
Oh, she knew. “No. But I’m sure you’ve had lots of girlfriends.” Lots. She knew for a fact he’d had plenty of girlfriends.
“You’re angry. Shit. Tell me you don’t have a boyfriend,” he said, concern flooding his green-green eyes.
“No, no boyfriend, and ‘angry’ isn’t the word I’d use, by the way.”
“What is the word you’d use? Personally, I’d go for hot. Now that I know you don’t have a boyfriend. But I’m a guy, and even though I’m a guy with amnesia, I don’t think that would change the fact that my vocabulary is a little stunted when it comes to expressing my emotions about this kind of stuff. I mean, I think it is. I don’t know for sure. I could be a real Romeo with the words and the ladies. But this silly amnesia prevents me from remembering,” he said on another infuriating grin, tapping his head.
“I’d use a phrase. A phrase like ‘let’s forget this ever happened’ and go to bed. Separately.” Ugh.
His smile was easy and full of his special brand of charm. “Well, again, I gotta go with the guy thing, and I’m not exactly sure I can forget something like that. It was a little unforgettable. I mean, how can I watch you do the dishes every night and not reminisce?”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “You could do the dishes. That should do it.”
Crosby chuckled, that warm, inviting chuckle that made her want to nestle against his chest and wrap her arms around his lean waist. “You said I wasn’t as good at rinsing them as you are.”
Nuh-uh. She’d never said that once since Crosby had been back here. However, she used to say it to him all the time when she’d unloaded the dishes and they still had food caked on them.
But if she reminded him of that, he’d likely make their connection, and though she’d gone into this arrangement with what she’d thought was a level head, she clearly hadn’t thoroughly thought out all the variations on a theme. Like—if Crosby was ever going to get his memory back, surely there were many things that would be associated with her while he connected the dots.
So she backed off and didn’t point it out. “Well, it’s true. You did—do suck at rinsing. Now get away from the window. The werewolf community is small and they love a good piece of gossip. Especially Mavis Brecklestein and her gangster crew of merry quilters.” She pointed to the window above her kitchen sink.
He glanced over her shoulder at the darkened glass, smoothly putting his arms around her waist. “You don’t have neighbors.”
Ella nodded, moving out of his grip and keeping her eyes above his waist. “I don’t mean people who actually live in houses, no. They’re pretty spread out here in Cedar Glen. I mean some of the pack often roam my property at night, and there’s always the potential they’d see us. Like this…”
“The pack wanders around at night? You lost me.”
Perfect. Change of subject. She busied herself folding the hand towel they’d launched across the floor when they’d behaved like teenagers with a backseat and some free time on their hands.
“Yes, they roam at night. The pack loves a good night run. So pack lesson number one. The pack as a whole essentially lives near each other. I live a bit farther out of town than most, but I love being secluded by the woods. It’s not mandatory we live together, but most of us choose to stick close to one another, run businesses together, etcetera. We can blend with humans, but we prefer not to live near them to avoid ending up with a silver bullet in our head.”
“So the silver bullet thing is really true? Like on TV?” Crosby asked.
“Yep. All true. Just like on TV.”
“But unlike TV, we don’t hate humans and eat them like a ham and cheese Lunchable?”
“That’s right. Absolutely no mauling humans—ever. They’re as safe from us as another pack member would be. In fact, if you ever harm a human, you’re subject to pack rule. Which is death, by the way. So know your rights and all that jazz. But all of Cedar Glen is paranormal. And the pack is co-run by Max Adams and his father, Brock. Like I said, that’s a long story. Suffice it to say, they’re our alphas. Anyway, unless you do business outside of here, you’re pretty safe.”
“Yep. Like a president-of-the-country sort of thing—just smaller and with a whole lot less red tape. Well, less than congress anyway. They manage Cedar Glen, and quite well since they teamed up, I might add.”
Crosby brushed the filmy, partially opened curtains back from the window and peered out into the black, chilly night. His glance was uneasy. “Are there a lot of these pack members skulking out there?”
“The surrounding area is filled with pack members. Probably about twenty square miles worth. Most packs choose heavily wooded areas in outlying bigger cities. That way, we can still commute to jobs but have a place to shift freely when the need arises. An especially critical asset when a full moon is upon us. There’s nothing tougher on a were than living in the city. That’s where I got my nursing degree. You have no idea how hard it is to shift between a bodega and Mr. Hwang’s Chinese Buffet. Anyway, our pack bought up a good deal of the land here in lovely Jersey, dubbed it a quote-unquote wolf sanctuary, all so we’d have the freedom to do what comes instinctually. But there are humans surrounding us—which is always cause for care. But that’s for another day, another werewolf lesson.”
Crosby held up a lean finger. “About that.”
“Yeah. That. I haven’t had any of the instincts you described at all. Well, except for the one at the kitchen sink.” He grinned and wiggled his raven eyebrows. “So how do I know you’re telling me the truth? How do I know I really am a werewolf? I’ve been here a week, and nothing. Not a single flash of fur.”
“I guess—aside from your acute sense of smell, the fact that the baseball on your head healed itself virtually overnight, and you can eat a twenty-eight-ounce, raw porterhouse with a side of rib eye without yarking it back up—you don’t. You’re just going to have to trust me.”
“Maybe you could show me?”
“You mean show you the shift?” Ella ran her tongue along the inside of her cheek. “That’s the impulsive ten-year-old in you talking, Crosby Nash. The one who thinks this werewolf thing is crazy-cool—like Star Trek and Buck Rogers cool. But you’ve had a severe head trauma. Adding to that trauma by actually showing you the shift could make things worse. It’s not as cool as you’ve made it out to be in your movie-reel mind. It’s very intimidating, and not something you just show someone. Even someone who’s been prepared.”
“You know what the impulsive thirty-eight-and-a-half-year-old says?” he asked, twirling a strand of her hair around his finger playfully.
She batted his hand away from her mussed hair and frowned her Nurse Stills frown. “I’m all anticipatory.”
“He says forget about shifting and packs, and let’s make out some more.”
Planting a hand on his chest, Ella stopped him short, shaking her head and fighting a suddenly ridiculous rush of tears. They could never do that again. No matter how great the kissing, Crosby was still no good for her.
Her heart tightened, so she bit the inside of her cheek hard. “No, no and triple no. I made a huge error in judgment, Crosby. I’m your nurse, not your partner in porn.”
Crosby tipped her chin upward, his eyes riddled with concern. “Can you get into trouble for what happened?”
Gut-shredding, red-eyed, drippy-nose trouble? Yes. Pack trouble? No. They’d probably all stand up and do the wave if they thought she’d consider staying with their golden boy. “No. It just shouldn’t have happened, and that’s that.”
His face changed suddenly, going from light and playful to dark and stormy. “Hold up. Do I have a girlfriend or—Jesus, worse—a wife? Kids? Christ. I’m a cheater. Like on that show we watched last night.”
Funny question, that. “No, Crosby. You didn’t cheat on anyone.” Not today, anyway. “It was just wrong for me to do something like that. It was unprofessional and wrong. So wrong. You need to heal and remember in the gentlest way possible. Not make out.”
His carefree grin was back in place, his green eyes full of mischief. “Well, technically, you’re not a nurse right now. You said you were on sabbatical.”
“I am. But the pack didn’t ask me to undertake your recovery because of my incredible Tempurpedic skills. They asked me to do it because I know how to handle your medical issues. Not your love sacs.”
Crosby leaned down and planted a light kiss on the tip of her nose. “In your favor, Nurse Ella, I don’t have any medical issues to deal with. And sometimes as a nurse, handling love sacs is part of the job, right?” He chuckled at how clever he was as he sauntered out of the kitchen.
Ella breathed a sigh of relief, reaching for one of her kitchen chairs. She sank down into it and let her head drop to her folded arms, clenching her eyes tight to thwart the threat of tears.
No crying over spilled milk when you’d been partially responsible for knocking the glass over like you were a bull in a damn china shop. Ella gripped the edges of the table.
* * * *
Crosby climbed into Ella’s guest bed with the lavender and mint-green comforter and put his hands under his head, relishing the cool darkness enveloping him.
He replayed in his mind what had happened with Ella at the kitchen sink, letting the hot visual of her in his arms take over, making him grin.
He had no explanation for what he’d done. The action had been purely instinctual and strictly based on this overwhelming lust he had for a woman who was quite possibly the crankiest person on planet Earth. That she was, for all intents and purposes, his nurse, clearly hadn’t made the kind of impact on him in quite the way she’d hoped.
He smiled again. Ella’s cranky was damn hot, and a challenge, and he had to wonder if challenges weren’t something he often rose to as Crosby the Werewolf. Her often sour mood stemmed from a place he couldn’t help but think involved him. Though he wasn’t quite sure how they’d known each other before his amnesia.
He found it wasn’t the fact he was a werewolf that kept him awake with a million questions in this lavender bedroom night after night—it was Ella. Tall and curvy, with an ass it was all he could do not to reach out and grab a fistful of.
It was the distantly familiar way she twirled her hair when she watched TV, and the comically haphazard position the clip in her hair ended up in when she tried to capture her thick, dirty-blonde mane.
But she was angry. He’d sensed that from the moment she’d introduced herself in the hospital. He sensed a lot of things about Ella. Blurry things. Out-of-focus things.
When he couldn’t pinpoint what those things were, he let them go.
Instead, he went with the flow and didn’t fight for the return of his memory. Whether he was supposed to or not, he found himself almost enjoying the fact that he had no memories to recall. The black void in his head was like taking a long, cleansing nap and awakening to find everything was right with the world. It was like winning the lottery and finding out you’d never have to stress over another bill again because you couldn’t remember you had bills.
It was on par with never having to work another day in your life because you had to. There were no obligations, no one needed anything from you, and you didn’t know if you needed anything from anyone else, either.
This state of suspension—for him, anyway—wasn’t maddening at all. He’d leave the maddening state of mind to Ella.
She excelled at it.
Crosby smiled in the dark as another visual of Ella, her eyes closed, her sweet body molding against his in hungry need, flitted through his mind’s eye.
He licked his lips, recalling the taste of her mouth, the glide of her smooth tongue when it dueled with his.
And then he smiled again, just for good measure.
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