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She studied him. ’’Ever regret not becoming a doctor?’’

’’No. I like being a nurse. Way less stress.’’

She nodded. ’’I understand that.’’

’’Is anyone here?’’ The male voice came from somewhere down the hallway.

Paul pushed away from the cabinet. ’’Stay put and yell out if Mourn wakes.’’

’’Will do,’’ she agreed.

Paul rushed out of the room and she turned her attention to the still patient on the bed. Time passed as she watched his chest rise and fall. Her gaze traveled over him, taking note that his arms had changed position and the restraints were pulled tight. She sat up a little straighter.

’’I\m Dana, Paul\s sister. We\ e alone so you can stop pretending you\ e still out for the count.’’

His eyes snapped open and he turned his head on the pillow. She was amazed by their color blue surrounded the black pupils, but the outer irises were a reddish-yellow, reminding her of autumn leaves on a bright, clear day. They were striking and surreal, but she was certain they weren\ contact lenses.

She stood, but kept a few feet back. ’’Hi.’’

’’Release me.’’ He had a deep, gruff voice.

’’You know I can\ do that. Your doctor put you in restraints for a reason. I hear you started a fight with someone.’’

He looked away and pulled roughly against the straps. They held, but she heard little ripping sounds from the Velcro. The arm with the torn shirtsleeve revealed bunched, thick muscles. He was really fit, reminding her of some of the bodybuilders who frequented her local gym. She decided to distract him since he looked strong enough to break free if he kept at it.

’’You\ e Mourn, right? That\s your name?’’

He growled. It was a disturbing sound. He tried to move his legs next, shifting them on the bed. One of the bedrails groaned.

She stepped forward and grabbed hold of the metal to pull in the opposite direction in case it snapped. ’’Stop it.’’

He glared at her and his full lips parted to reveal some sharp fangs. ’’I don\ take orders from you, human.’’

If looks could kill... She pushed that thought back though. ’’No. You just pick fights with other New Species. My name is Dana. You can use it. I\m Paul\s sister, if you didn\ hear me the first time.’’

’’Let me go and I won\ hurt you.’’

She wasn\ afraid. ’’You look terrifying, strapped down on a bed, covered in bruises and fresh bandages.’’ She forced a smile. ’’You\d be disappointed if you think I could inflict more damage. You\d hit me, I\d fall down and stay there. What would be the point?’’

Surprise widened his eyes and he grew still.

’’Does it help when you get beaten on by some badass? That\s the impression I got.’’

He said nothing, just watched her.

’’It\s a valid question, but I\ve never tried that. I\m not into pain. I have enough of it on the inside, so I don\ need to nurse physical injuries.’’

’’Are you a head shrink?’’ He curled his lip in disgust.

’’No. We have something in common though. We both have experienced the loss of someone we deeply loved.’’

He turned his head away, staring at the door. ’’I don\ want to talk to you. Get out.’’

She moved into his line of sight to peer into those amazing eyes of his. ’’How long has it been since you lost your mate?’’ She remembered the term New Species used.

He didn\ answer.

’’I lost mine two years ago. Do you know what I hate the most? It\s when I sleep. I dream that he\s still with me, but then I always wake up and have to face the reality of his empty side of the bed.’’

His lips compressed into a firm grimace. She waited to see if he\d say anything, but a good minute ticked by as they regarded each other.

’’I\ll be visiting with Paul and Becky for a few days if you change your mind about speaking to me. I won\ push any harder, but it does help to talk to someone who understands the loss. I didn\ believe it at first when people told me that, but I was wrong. You\ve probably tried everything else so what do you have to lose?’’

She turned away and took a few steps toward the door.

’’You should avoid sleeping.’’

The raw pain in his voice tugged at her heartstrings. She faced him. ’’I tried that but eventually exhaustion sets in.’’

’’I know.’’

She hesitated. ’’Do you ever allow anyone near you besides when you\ e starting a fistfight?’’


She approached his bed. He was a big guy, a stranger, but the haunted, pained look in his eyes was one she knew well. They were kindred spirits. ’’I\m going to hold your hand.’’

Surprise widened his eyes. ’’Why?’’

’’Try it.’’

Dana leaned against the bedrail and reached out to him. He felt really warm, as if he had a fever. She laced her fingers with his. He didn\ jerk away or try to avoid the contact. He also didn\ clasp hold of her, but instead just seemed to endure her touch.

’’Physical contact is a part of healing. It reminds us we\ e alive. We are, you know. Alive. Our lives didn\ end with theirs, even if we wish it at times. You need to allow yourself to feel more than just the pain, Mourn.’’ She squeezed his hand. ’’Let people help you. You only have things to gain by doing that.’’

He closed his eyes. ’’Leave.’’

Chapter Two

Dana stepped out onto the back porch and dug into her robe pocket. She pulled out the case and eased into one of the patio chairs. Her brother would have a fit if he caught her, but she\d waited until he and his wife had retired for the evening. Sleep never came easily for her.

She flipped open the case and withdrew the electronic device, inhaled slowly on the tube and blew out the vapor. The minty taste of a menthol cigarette wasn\ exactly the same as the real thing, but was close enough. She really wished for a bottle of vodka, but a quick search of the kitchen cupboards had revealed no alcohol in the house. A nice stiff drink would have been welcome after spending hours watching the loving couple interact. It only made her ache for all she\d lost.

A memory surfaced of Tommy standing in their kitchen, making spaghetti. It was the only thing he\d really known how to cook unless a grill was involved. He\d smiled at her and poured two glasses of wine, offering her one. ’’To us, my love.’’

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