Authors: Dana Marie Bell
Tags: #older man younger woman, #survivor, #speech impediment, #wolf, #shifter, #May December romance
When two hearts speak as one, no words are needed.
Halle Shifters, Book 4
Chloe Williams has waited four long years for her mate to acknowledge her. Time and again he has turned her away for being too young, even when she was hospitalized, recovering from a beating that left lingering aftereffects. Now that he’s been turned into a Wolf, his mating instincts are kicking in big time. Chloe has to decide if it’s worth risking her heart yet again.
Ten years older than Chloe and dealing with issues she knows nothing about, veterinarian James Woods is about ready to howl in frustration. He’s been drawn to Chloe since she was a radiant nineteen-year-old college student, but the age difference held him back from making a move on her. Now his Wolf wants what’s his, and Jim is finally in a place where he can claim her.
Between meddling mothers, Hunter brothers, and a mystery that threatens to end Chloe’s life, they might find an opportunity to tell each other just how they feel. Or find themselves separated by more than just misunderstood words.
Warning: This book contains explicit sex, graphic language, and two people who finally get their damn act together.
Figure of Speech
Dana Marie Bell
To Mom, I did tell you that someday I’d have twins and name them Apollo and Artemis. Well, here you go!
To Dad, who is probably damn grateful none of his kids had twins, but loves all his grandkids equally, even if none of them have cool names like Thor or Fenris.
To Dusty, who gave our kids normal names with unique meanings because, and I quote, “No child of mine shall experience the school-time butt-hurt that comes with a name like Aloysius.”
And to my readers who have followed me since
. What did you expect Bunny and Tabby to name their child?
“Want some Red Butt?” Chloe held up the energy drink, wincing at the words coming out of her traitor mouth. When it came to speech impediments Chloe had gotten one hell of a winner.
Her cousin Alex blinked rapidly before smiling. “Um. No thanks, sweetie.”
She was getting used to the odd looks she got every time she spoke, but that didn’t mean she liked it. “Man, I hate this.” She couldn’t quite keep the sorrow from her voice no matter how much she wished she could hide it from her friends and family.
Alex shrugged. “Yeah, but I knew what you meant.” He ruffled her hair. “Don’t sweat it, kiddo.”
Chloe sighed, but she tried to listen to her cousin. Her condition sucked rocks, but she was already doing everything she could to help herself get better. Without the support of her family and friends she wasn’t certain if she’d be as well as she was now. She’d probably be curled up in a ball somewhere, babbling nonsense and terrified that her assailants would come after her again.
Chloe had been attacked a year ago, beaten savagely and left for dead. She’d been in a coma for weeks before Julian healed her. But that healing had come at a cost. Super Bear, as his mate Cyn called him, had brought her back from the brink of death but had been unable to heal all of her wounds. The head trauma alone had been horrific; the brain damage that had been inflicted as a result was permanent.
Conduction aphasia with phonological paraphasia.
Such pretty words for such a sucky disorder.
Basically, she could read and understand words just fine. It was
them that was the problem. She would replace a word with one that sounded similar, and the more upset she got, the worse her paraphasia became. Sometimes it would become so bad her speech was completely garbled or, worst of all, she couldn’t speak at all, her mind a jumble as it sought to spit out something that just wasn’t coming to her. Her speech had gotten better with therapy, but already her therapist was beginning to make noises that she was as good as she was going to get.
For a while she hadn’t even been able to tell that she’d said something wrong. It wasn’t until therapy that her brain began to make the connection between the odd looks on other people’s faces and her speech. Now she could tell before the odd looks that she’d said the wrong word, but in her mind it felt, and sounded, correct right up until it came out.
But that wasn’t the only thing the beating had left her with. Oh, no. It got
Her left hand no longer worked correctly. She couldn’t make a fist at all, and her hand had no grip strength, causing her to drop things often. Her left-handed fine motor skills no longer existed. Peeling a potato had become an exercise in frustration.
Performing surgery on small animals was no longer possible.
All of her visions of the future had been dashed. Chloe would never become a veterinarian. That had to be the hardest thing of all to deal with. She’d worked so hard, moved all the way across the country to a shifter-friendly college, only to have her future ripped away from her in one night of unimaginable horror. Her lifelong dream had been to work with animals, to heal them and help them any way she could. Thanks to the beating, that dream was now forever out of reach.
Ryan hugged her from behind, the big-brother kind of hug that made her ribs creak. “It’s going to be okay, little vixen. No matter what else happens, you’ll always have us.”
“I know.” She patted her brother’s arm, more grateful than she could say. She had the best friends and family in the world. When she’d been hurt they’d come running, leaving behind work and home to give Chloe whatever it was she needed. Now they were all moving to Halle, Pennsylvania, uprooting the business and their lives to keep the family together.
Julian leaned forward, staring into her eyes. His deep brown ones turned gray, and a silver streak appeared in his long black hair. “You’re hurting.”
She grimaced. She should have known better than to try and hide her pain in a room full of Bears. “My hand is cramping.” And her right hand had begun tingling recently, a new development that scared her spitless.
“Your head hurts too.” Julian swiped his fingers across her brow, easing the headache that had been torturing her all day.
Ryan grabbed her left hand and began massaging it, the pain easing as he used his healing ability to relax her muscles.
Chloe whimpered happily as the pain dissipated. “Have you guys considered becoming massage therapists?”
Julian chuckled. “I don’t think Cyn would take well to me rubbing other people.”
Alex winced. “Yeah, until Tabby drops the cub she’s going to be pretty cranky. Let’s not give her something to beat me over.”
“How’s Glory doing?” She was worried about her future sister-in-law’s panic attacks, but Ryan’s solution had been ingenious. He’d packed up his laptop and started working from her business. Doing so enabled him to be there whenever one of Glory’s attacks happened.
Ryan let go of Chloe’s hand. “Working from Cynful has been great. Glory’s panic attacks aren’t nearly as bad.”
Chloe smiled, genuinely happy for her brother. “Good, I’m glad. She’s all right that you came to visit me?” The guys had shown up on her doorstep with burgers and grins, but they couldn’t hide their concern. Somehow they’d known she was depressed and in pain, and had ridden to her rescue.
“She’s fine.” The look that came over Ryan’s face was priceless. The sheer joy when Glory’s name was mentioned, the way he just lit up when he thought about his mate, made Chloe so happy for him. He deserved the happiness he’d found, and so did Glory. “She had some appointments this afternoon, so she’s busy, plus she knows if she calls I’ll come running.”
And Chloe didn’t begrudge Glory that one little bit. She’d seen one of Glory’s panic attacks and knew how rough they could be. Glory sometimes needed Ryan just to breathe. Literally. The panic attacks made her hyperventilate. She’d passed out twice that Chloe knew of, all due to her inability to breathe without her mate.
“Speaking of running, heard anything from Jim?” Alex’s smile was sweet, but it didn’t fool Chloe for one little minute. Out of all of them, Alex was the one most likely to begin ripping arms off if he felt Chloe was being mistreated. “Rumor has it he’s been hiding from everyone, even Max and Emma.”
Oh, that couldn’t be good. Chloe tried to beat back the sudden panic that assaulted her. “He’s not taking well to becoming a shifter?” Jim had been attacked by a rogue Wolf, bitten and changed against his will. He hadn’t even been aware that shifters existed before then, and not everyone who was changed could handle it, especially when it happened in such a traumatic fashion. If Jim turned out to be one of those few who couldn’t deal with it he’d be…dealt with.
Chloe shuddered. She couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to Jim.
“I don’t know. He’s gone again.” Alex winced when Chloe accidentally let loose a distressed yip. “I don’t know what’s going on, all right? I was hoping he’d contacted you.”
Ryan patted her hand. “Now that he’s one of us he should be feeling the mating pull. The mate dreams should be hitting him hard.”
“Yeah, he should succumb to your charms soon.” Julian winked. “We just have to lock the two of you in a closet together and let nature take its course.”
Oh yeah. That would go over real well. “In the dictionary under ‘stubborn’ is Jim’s stricture.”
Again, that rapid blinking as the guys processed what she’d said.
Chloe propped her head in her hands. “This sucks monkey balls.”
Ryan ruffled her hair. “Anyone who knows you accepts that this is a part of you, kiddo.”
“Yeah, don’t let it get you down.” Julian hugged her. “Trust me, it could have been a lot worse.”
“You mean I could be dead?” Chloe groaned. Man, she sounded like a Sad Sue, and she really wasn’t. At least, not most of the time. “Sorry, it’s just…”
“We understand. You’re missing your mate.” Ryan’s tone was sympathetic. While Glory had denied their mating for months, at least Ryan had been able to see her every day. Chloe didn’t have that luxury. Jim was gone with the wind, but she’d think about that tomorrow. For now, she had to bring her spirits back up, and talking about her absent mate was no way to do that.
She’d get her Wolf if she had to tranquilize his ass and carry him off to some remote location where he wouldn’t be found for weeks. She’d tie him to a bed and have her wicked way with him…
And get arrested for felony kidnapping. Let’s face it, Chloe, you don’t have the best luck with men.
Ugh. Chloe pounded her head on the table.
“Don’t let it get you down.” Alex’s big hand stopped her from giving her forehead a huge-ass bruise. “We’ll figure out a way to get you mated off.”
She lifted her head and stared at him. “You’re going to offer Jim some goats and a sheaf of wheat?”
“I was thinking you’re worth at least a cow or two, but it’s negotiable.”
Chloe giggled. “Asshole.”
The boys dog-piled on her, careful not to hurt her, and tickled her until she cried uncle.
Once the big lugs got off of her she sat up and pushed her hair off her forehead. Breathless and happy, she gasped, “I hate you all.”
Alex winked. “Anyone know where I can get some cows?”
James Woods sighed as he hung up the phone. God, this sucked big time, but what else was he going to do? There was no one else who could deal with the issues he faced, no one who cared enough to bother with the fucking paperwork, the long hours, the flights back and forth, or the horrendous expense, both financially and physically. He was exhausted, run ragged, and the little sleep he got at night was littered with dreams of a damaged redhead far too young and vulnerable for him. She did
need his shit piled on top of her own. When things had been taken care of, when they finally knew what they were dealing with,
he’d give in to the mating pull.
making her deal with his bullshit.
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his hand over his forehead as the creature inside him howled with longing. The headache that had become his constant companion wouldn’t go away. The Wolf whimpered, wanting out in the worst possible way.
The Wolf wanted its mate, wanted her touch, her comfort, and it couldn’t have it.
“Not now,” Jim muttered, hoping to soothe it.
It grumbled, but quieted down. It knew the truth of what Jim was going through, and the support and love it gave him had made everything more bearable. When he felt at his most alone and he just couldn’t bear it any longer, the Wolf was there, reminding him that he would never be alone again.
His life was completely fucked up, but the Wolf was one of the bright spots.
A nurse in blue scrubs stuck her head out the door. “Dr. Woods, Mr. Strickland?”
Jim stood, putting down the magazine he’d been halfheartedly leafing through. “Yes?”
The nurse smiled. “Dr. Abbot will see you now.”
Jim nodded and turned to Spencer. “Ready?”
Spencer blew out a breath. “As I’ll ever be.” The cheeky grin and blond hair reminded Jim of his father, but the golden brown eyes came straight from Spencer’s mother. Jim pretended he didn’t see how that grin shook, or the way Spencer clutched at the wheels of his chair. “I mean, it’s not like it’s life or death, right?”
“Right.” Jim rolled his eyes, smiling as his little brother laughed.
Jim had nothing to laugh about. They would finally find out, after numerous tests and multiple diagnoses that turned out to be wrong, exactly what was going on with his half brother.
The nurse held the door open as Spencer wheeled himself past with a jaunty wave. His brother couldn’t walk any longer, but he made the most out of his situation. Spencer rarely let himself get down, facing his difficulties with a smile.
Jim wasn’t quite so optimistic.
The last diagnosis Spencer had gotten was ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was a debilitating and, in most cases, ultimately fatal neurological disorder that affected voluntary muscle movements like speaking, walking and swallowing. ALS eventually affected the ability to breathe, causing respiratory failure and death.
There was no known cure.
If it was confirmed by Dr. Abbot that Spencer had ALS, his prognosis was not good. Most patients died within five years of onset, and Spencer had been ill for three of them. Dr. Abbot had finally agreed to see them after numerous phone calls from Jim and Spencer both.
Spencer felt he did
have ALS. After all, he could still speak and function normally other than the tingling and weakness in his body. It was beginning to spread to his hands now, and he’d already lost use of his legs. If it spread to his upper extremities as well he would be utterly dependent on others for even the simplest things.
Jim was determined to be that someone. He wasn’t there when his brother was growing up, but he was here now, dammit. And unlike his father, Jim planned to do the right thing.
“Time to get weighed, Mr. Strickland.”
“Oh, joy.” Spencer blinked up at him. “Help me?”
“Of course.” One of the things Jim liked best about his new shifter status was his increase in strength. He couldn’t bench press a Buick or anything, but he could easily lift his brother into his arms.
Spencer had lost five pounds since the last time they’d gotten weighed together. “You need to eat more.”
“Can I has McDonald’s and a lollipop when we’re done here, Daddy?” Spencer gave him the biggest puppy-dog eyes Jim had ever seen outside of anime. “I promise to be good.”
The man was a pain in the ass. Jim put the brat back in his chair. “Get your butt in the exam room, smarty-pants.”
Spencer wheeled after the nurse, Jim right behind him. In the exam room, Spencer amused himself by popping wheelies and giving Jim a minor heart attack every five seconds.
The door popped open, and a middle-aged man with a stethoscope stepped into the room. “Mr. Strickland?”