The Main Squeeze Excerpt
Gwen lounged on that tree limb, panting softly and enjoying the fresh air.
She detested hospitals. The way they smelled, the off-white or green painted walls, and that lingering vibe of death. Okay, so she hadn’t been in an actual hospital this time but close enough. If there were doctors and nurses, she was in a hospital.
It drove her mother crazy. Roxy had been a registered nurse for years before she opened her first salon, and two of Gwen’s aunts and several of her cousins had been doctor’s assistants or medical technicians. Roxy had tried to put Gwen on the same track, starting her off as a candy striper. But that afterschool job lasted about a day before Gwen took off running and spent the rest of the night throwing up in the bathroom from her full-on panic attack. She hadn’t willingly been back in a hospital since. “Willingly” being the keyword, because Gwen had found herself in hospitals more than once. She’d wake up and boom! There she was. But she was older now and crafty. They couldn’t keep her if she didn’t want to stay. No matter how much her leg hurt or how weak she felt from blood loss, she wasn’t going back to that death motel.
Of course, no worries on that. Not with her so high up. And even if they found her, they’d never get her down from here. Even Brendon, cat that he was, couldn’t climb a tree.
Gwen rested her head on her folded arms and began to drift off to sleep.
“Hhhmh,” she answered. She liked that voice. It was so low. She could imagine waking up to that voice everyday, with it whispering that breakfast was ready or asking her if she wanted to share the shower. She could imagine all sorts of dirty things to be done with soap if that voice was involved. And yet…why was that dirty, sexy voice so close?
Gwen opened her eyes and blinked several times. His arms were folded on her tree limb the same way hers were and his head rested on them as he watched her with those beautiful brown eyes.
“Christ, how tall are you?”
He scowled. “It’s not that I’m so tall, Mr. Mittens, it’s that you’re not that high up.”
“Bullshit.” She had to be like, forty feet up. Maybe even fifty! Right? She glanced down. Wrong.
Still, she wasn’t exactly lying on the ground either. “You’re like seven feet tall, aren’t you?”
“I am not seven feet tall,” he snapped at her as if she’d really insulted him. “I’m six-eleven.” When she smirked in disbelief, he added, “And three-quarters.”
“And that quarter inch makes such a difference, too.” “That’s it. I’m taking you back to the medical center.”
As the grizzly reached for her, Gwen unleashed her claws and quickly scrambled up higher. She knew for a fact that grizzlies couldn’t climb trees either. So there! She was totally safe. She’d simply stay here until she healed up and then she’d head on back to the safety of her Philly streets.
“You’re being ridiculous,” he called up to her.
“I’m not going back there to die. I can do that just as well out here, in the fresh air.” With all her organs intact in her decaying body.
“If you go back to the medical center you’re not going to die.”
“Like I’ll believe that lie for two seconds.”
“And what about when the fever hits? You’re going to fall out of that tree eventually.”
Gwen couldn’t help but get kind of smug. “The O’Neills don’t get the fever.”
“Don’t even try it.”
“We don’t. My brother got shot three times two months ago, and he didn’t get the fever.”
“I bet your family gets shot at a lot, huh?”
“Hey, hey!” Gwen said excitedly. “Look at this! Look at this!” She extended her arm and gave him the finger.
“I should leave your Philly ass up there!” he snarled.
“Like I’d ever need help from some Jersey rich boy!”
“Look, Mr. Mittens-” and Gwen didn’t think she could explain how much she hated when he called her that “-either you get your ass down here or I’m getting you out of that tree the hard way.”
“You have an enormous head,” Gwen taunted, enjoying the way his entire body tensed. “It’s like a giant cumquat.” Then she giggled hysterically, liking the word “cumquat” way more than she should.
“You want it that way,” he said low, “you’ve got it.” He stepped back and pulled off the hospital scrubs he’d been wearing. She only had a moment to wonder why he was getting naked-and enjoying that astounding view for all it was worth-before he shifted to bear. His height increased considerably once he did, going from his nearly not-quite seven feet to a full ten, but she was still too high for him to reach.
Leaning over, she taunted, “Nice try but no — ”
Gwen squealed, gripping the branch she was on. He didn’t try and climb up to her, he simply took firm hold of the old tree and began to shake it. Christ, how much did she guess he weighed as bear? Fifteen hundred pounds? Maybe more? And all of it pure muscle. With his claws gripping the trunk, he simply shoved the tree back and forth. It was an old tree-sturdy, strong, and disease free-but it still wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the grizzly, the roots beginning to tear from the ground as he relentlessly kept up his actions.
“Stop it!” Gwen yelped, but he ignored her.
The tree, loose from its anchor to the ground, swung forward, Gwen’s lower half flying free of the branch and dangling in midair. She yelped again, and the tree came swinging back. Her body already weak, her hands lost their grip on the tree and she went headfirst toward the ground.