A Bear's Protection(10)By: Roxie Noir
“Fine,” Cora said out loud, rolling herself off the bed. “We’ll get pizza.”
Before she left, she washed her face and looked at her reflection in the long mirror on the back of the bathroom door.
She wasn’t thrilled by what she saw, but it wasn’t bad, either. Now that she was in Cascadia, safe and away from Neil, she could hopefully stop stress-eating and maybe drop a few pounds.
As long as they didn’t come off her tits or ass. Those, she wanted to keep.
Hunter scrubbed down in the back room of his clinic, tossing his hair net, face mask, and gloves into the garbage.
Slowly, he washed his hands and then his face, his chin-length hair still pulled back into a small ponytail. Then, for a long time, he stared at the water running into the big industrial sink until the pink tinge was gone and it ran clear.
Stop wasting water, he thought, and turned the tap off.
He hadn’t been able to save the coyote. He’d known that the coyote was beyond saving the moment that he saw it, of course — its body twisted and horrible, its back broken, internal bleeding. But he’d still tried, and it had been a long, precarious two hours until, at last, its pulse had faded completely, right there on his operating table.
Hunter hated that part of his job. Even though it wasn’t his fault — after all, he hadn’t hit the coyote with his car, that was for sure — he still felt guilty about the fragile little life that had snuffed out only a few minutes ago.
The Granite Valley Animal Clinic would treat any kind of animal, but its specialty was wildlife. He had a long-standing contract with the Forest Service, so when they found injured animals — bear cubs on the verge of dehydration, hawks with broken wings, mangy bobcats — they brought them in to him.
He also treated a lot of shifters. Not in their human form, of course; Granite Valley had a perfectly good hospital for that. But sometimes, things happened: shifters in bear form got shot, shifters in hawk form ate poisoned rodents. Shifters in coyote form got hit by cars.
Luckily, Hunter was pretty sure that the coyote hadn’t been a shifter.
It was impossible to tell biologically, of course, but there were almost always clues. Shifters tended to have much better teeth than regular animals, for example, and their claws and paws had less wear-and-tear. Stuff like spaghetti or potato chips in the stomach was always a dead giveaway, if he got called on to do an autopsy.
He shook his head, trying to clear it, and headed to his locker. His practice was pretty small, of course, so the lockers were more of a courtesy than anything. His receptionist and assistants weren’t going to steal his stuff.
As he put on his jeans and shirt, he felt his phone buzz in his pocket, and pulled it out.
It was Ash, his mate.
“Hey,” he said. “I was just finishing up.”
“Same,” said Ash, and Hunter could hear the chatter of the police radio in the background. He could just imagine the other man, driving with one hand, phone in the other, uniform still on.
“I was just about to call you. I’ve had a hell of a day. You want to get pizza and beers in town instead of leftovers again?”
“Hell yes,” said Ash. “Just let me get back to the station and change. I’ll meet you at Tony’s in thirty.”
“You don’t have to change,” said Hunter. His low, gravelly voice echoed through the tiny-but-empty locker room. “I like your uniform.”
His bear stirred inside him, just at the thought of Ash in that Sheriff’s uniform, the sharp beige fabric barely able to hide the hard, rippling muscle underneath.
“It’s against regulation,” Ash said. “You know that.”
Hunter laughed, leaning against the wall.