“Mom, I’m coming home.”
“What’s wrong, Gina?” The worried voice on the other end of the cell phone call came through loud and clear.
They both knew it was a big deal for Gina to leave her apartment in the city and head, quite literally, for the hills. Her parents lived upstate in the mountains. It had been a struggle to leave home when she was younger. Her father was overprotective in the extreme and it had taken a lot to overcome his objections. Her place in the city was more than just an apartment. It was a way for her to make a stand and declare her independence.
She loved her parents. She really did. But she wanted to be on her own for a bit. She wanted to be out from the shadow of her folks and make her own way in life—just like her best friend, Ellie. They’d left together to seek their fortunes in the big city and hadn’t gone back, except for the occasional visit. And now their freedom had been compromised and the only thing Gina could do was head home, tail between her legs, and ask for her parents’ help.
“Ellie knows about us, Mom. She knows about shapeshifters. A panther-shifter soldier followed her home and then his partner was injured.”
Ellie was a registered nurse and Gina a medical doctor. It went, almost without saying, that they’d offered their help to the injured man. Gina knew her mother would connect the dots. Her mom had also been a nurse. She understood.
“How badly was he hurt?”
Yeah, her mother definitely got it.
“Really bad, Mom. In fact, I’ve got him in the car with me. He was doing a little better when we left the city, but he’s having some kind of relapse.”
“What happened to him?” Her mother was all business now.
Gina looked at the giant of a man passed out in the passenger seat. Between her and her mother, they ought to be able to do something for the ailing shifter.
“He was poisoned. I gave him blood and all the royal nectar I had on hand to revive him. It seemed to help for a while, but now he’s unconscious again and his temperature is spiking.”
“You can’t give him any more of the nectar. It’s too dangerous,” her mother cautioned. The purple substance known as royal nectar was something used only in emergencies, and then only sparingly. It was one of the secrets of the tiger Clan, produced by a very special branch of a pharmaceutical company they owned. And it was still experimental. “For all we know, the nectar could have reacted with the poison and made it worse.”
“Sweet Mother of All,” Gina almost sobbed. “I could’ve killed him.”
“What are his vitals?” her mother snapped, her professional tone calm. Unfortunately, Gina couldn’t do the same. For some unknown reason, her objectivity was shot where this particular patient was concerned. From the moment she had first laid eyes on him, something about him had sparked a reaction inside her unlike anything she had ever felt before. She still wasn’t sure what it all meant, but she didn’t have time to stop and think about it. Time was running short.
“I can’t stop to get any readings right now. We’re on the run.”
“From what? Gina, do you want me to get your father on the line?”
She thought about it and arrived at the conclusion that, unfortunately, this was serious enough to involve her dad.
“Yeah.” She sighed heavily, not looking forward to explaining herself. “You’d better get him. He needs to hear this too.”
Gina waited, listening while her mother found her dad and they both came on the line together.
“Kitten, what’s wrong?”
Just hearing her father’s deep voice reassured her. He was so strong, so steadfast. Nothing could harm her with her father around. At least, that’s the way he’d always made her feel.
“Hi, Daddy.” Her voice almost broke, but she held it together. She had to tell her dad everything that had been happening. He needed to know.
“Your mother said you’re bringing an injured man here.” His tone said he was both surprised by her breach of their tight security and curious.
“Not just a man. A tigre d’or Royal Guard.” Shocked silence met her statement. “His name is Mitch. His partner, Cade, is still with Ellie.”
Ellie had been Gina’s best friend since they were kids attending the same rural grammar school. Ellie was completely human and hadn’t known about shifters until meeting a panther shifter named Cade. When he had asked for her help with his unconscious partner, Ellie hadn’t refused. She’d put the injured man in the small guest room in her apartment and called Gina.
Mitch had gone into convulsions in Ellie’s guest room and started to shapeshift. His hands and feet had become paws and there had been no way to hide the truth from Ellie any longer. Gina only hoped that after this was all over, Ellie would forgive her for keeping so many secrets for so very long.