Numbers – Laurann Dohner

“I can’t believe you get to live here,” Dana whispered, afraid of being overheard in Medical. Her brother, Paul, grinned. “New Species are really cool. I’m glad you decided to take me up on the tour and visit us for a few days. I think my wife is a little homesick.” “Maybe you should come back for Christmas this year. That way Becky will get to hang out with all of us and it will be a reminder of why you guys moved to California.” Paul chuckled. “Is Mom still driving you nuts?” Her humor fled. “She set me up with her chiropractor, her pharmacist and—wait for it—her gynecologist. Talk about awkward.” She rolled her eyes. “As if I ever want to be married to a guy who stares at girl parts all day. I’d be afraid to ask him how his day went. I really don’t want to hear any gross stories over dinner.

Can you imagine?” She deepened her voice. “It was the worst case of crabs ever. There were so many I had to use a net to catch those suckers.” Paul doubled over in a fit of laughter. “You’re horrible.” She forced a smile. “Don’t even get me started about the wrongness of knowing he’s seen our mother’s knees spread apart while she’s naked. Can you say ewwww?” He sobered. “That’s not funny. You had to go there?” “That’s almost exactly what I said to our mother when she told me who she’d set me up with.

” He carefully studied her. She knew that look. “I’m fine. Don’t do that. You’re a nurse, not a mind reader.” “Are you dating anyone Mom wouldn’t approve of on the sly?” “Nope.” She turned away, ducking inside one of the open rooms. “This is much cozier than a hospital. I like the soft wall colors and the nice bedding. It’s pretty fancy for a small clinic.

It has a homey feel.” “Dana?” She swung around, and returned to his side. They strolled down the hallway to reception. “It’s been two years. I should move on with my life. It’s like riding a bike. Just get back on the dating cycle and take a spin.” She paused. “Did I miss any advice you were about to give? Maybe you could stoop low enough to say how Tommy would want me to be happy by finding someone else? I hate that one the most. It pissed him off when some guy would check me out.

” “I wasn’t going to say any of that. I just worry about you. It’s my job.” “You’re the best big brother ever but I’m really fine. It has been two years. Time heals everything.” She wished that were true, but it always seemed to set other people at ease. She really didn’t want Paul to worry. “I have a vibrator, a body pillow and a heating blanket. I’m good.

” He blanched. “You went there.” “I’ll make a deal with you. I won’t overshare things like that if you stop digging into my personal life.” He held out his hand. “Only if you promise to call me more often.” She grasped it and gave it a firm shake. “Done.” “Do you want to see the surgical rooms? We have two.” “Pass.

Totally not my thing. I quit nursing school for a reason. Some of the equipment should be featured in horror movies.” She let him go. His eyes narrowed and she regretted her words. They both knew why she’d really changed careers. All the time she’d spent in hospitals had made her hate them. It reminded her of Tommy’s suffering. She decided to say something fast. “Why do you need surgical rooms in a clinic?” He schooled his features.

“In case of emergencies. We’re fifteen minutes from a trauma unit.” It was her turn to study him. “I see. This is one of those topics you’re not allowed to talk about, right? To protect the New Species?” “It’s a beautiful day today, isn’t it?” He grinned. “Message received. I have one question you do have to answer though.” “What?” “Do you like them? Are they as nice and friendly as they seem to be on TV?” “They are different, but in great ways. They have my respect and yes, I really like them. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

” “Good enough. I’ll stop being nosy. We’d better get back to your wife before she thinks we’ve gotten lost. I’m really looking forward to—” A blaring car horn cut off her words. She turned, watching a Jeep come to a stop part way on the street and sidewalk. Two big New Species jumped out of the front and lifted a third one out of the back. Her brother grabbed the counter separating him from the front doors and vaulted over the top of it. The man they carried inside bled from one leg, his arm and his forehead. He seemed to be unconscious since his eyes were closed and he sagged between the two New Species as they rushed inside the clinic. Paul met them there.

“Down the hall, first room!” her brother yelled. He hit a button near the front doors and an alarm sounded. Paul ran after the injured patient and two doors along the back of the large room burst open. Dana watched a human guy rush after them and seconds later the doors in the back burst open again. A tall New Species woman sped past her without giving her a glance. It left Dana alone. She was unsure what to do. She debated for a few seconds before following them. The injured man looked bad off and there were only three people to tend him, besides the two men who’d brought him in. She strode down the hallway and entered the exam room.

Paul cut the guy’s bloodied pants leg open. The dark-haired Species woman put in an IV line and the human guy she guessed was a doctor flashed his tiny penlight in the patient’s eyes after opening each lid. “What happened?” the doctor asked. The two New Species who’d brought him stayed against a wall, keeping out of the way. “He picked another fight and ended up stumbling onto the balcony. He fell from the second floor but landed on the grass. It was the tree he hit on the way down that did most of the damage. He hasn’t woken since,” one of them muttered. “Fuck,” the New Species woman growled. “The leg doesn’t appear broken,” Paul muttered.

“Just a deep laceration.” “He might have struck his head on a branch or two on the way down,” the other New Species added. “We found him under the tree.” Paul turned his head and spotted Dana. “Get your ass over here and apply pressure to this.” She hesitated. “Where are the gloves?” “Second drawer to your right,” he snapped. “But they don’t carry any blood diseases, and they easily fight infection.” After putting on gloves, she clamped her hand down over the cut. Paul tore open the patient’s sleeve to examine his arm.

Dana glanced up and found the doctor frowning at her. “That’s my sister,” Paul informed him. “Dana, meet Doc Harris and Midnight. The two along the wall are Snow and Book.” “She can’t be in here,” Doc Harris protested. “She’s cool, and she did a year of nursing school. She’s also done a shitload of home health care. She won’t faint over seeing some blood. The arm doesn’t seem broken but he’s going to need stitches.” Midnight turned toward the door.

“I’ll get the portable X-ray machine for his head.” The doctor examined the patient’s skull, probing, probably checking for fractures or lacerations. “It’s okay, Midnight. This son of a bitch is too hardheaded. He probably just has another concussion, but we’ll run a CT scan just to be safe. Let’s deal with the issues we see right now first.” Midnight yanked a bag of saline from a cupboard. She growled low, a scary sound. “Who did he fight this time?” “Darkness. Suicidal bastard,” Snow muttered.

“I won’t ask if Darkness is okay then.” Doc Harris sighed. “I’m surprised he’s not the one who brought him in.” “He will be along.” “Great.” Midnight spun away after hanging the IV bag and killed the blaring alarm. “That’s just what we don’t need. He’ll be angry. Please tell him not to bother. You two can go.

” Snow and Book shot curious glances at Dana. She forced a smile but they didn’t speak directly to her before they quit the room. Doc Harris changed positions with Paul. “Let me see his arm.” “I’ll grab a suture kit.” Paul opened a drawer. Midnight caught Dana’s gaze. “You’re Paul’s sister?” “Yes.” She tried not to stare. The New Species woman was the first one she’d seen up close since she’d arrived.

She was pretty, with long dark hair. “I’m visiting him and Becky this weekend. He wouldn’t come home so I came to him.” “Welcome to Homeland.” She stepped closer. “Let me take over. This is Mourn.” She glanced at the patient, and then back at Dana. “He’s a troublemaker. He comes in here every few weeks.

Don’t be alarmed.” Dana released the cut on his calf and backed up, doing what she was told. She tossed away the used gloves and made sure blood hadn’t gotten on her skin above them. She turned and kept out of the way while they worked on the patient. Mourn needed six stitches on his forearm but his leg just needed to be cleaned and bandaged. “Should I put restraints on him before he wakes? You know he’s going to just get up and walk out the same way he did last time.” Paul stared at the doctor. “Yeah. I hate to do it but Snow had a point. He is suicidal.

” “Why?” Dana regretted asking as soon as three pairs of eyes swung her way. “Sorry,” she added. “It’s none of my business.” “His mate died.” Midnight helped Paul use thick, padded restraints to secure the patient’s arms and legs to the hospital bed. They even wrapped a few across his chest and thighs to hold him in place. “You helped work on him. I’d be curious as well. He picks fights with other males, hoping one of them will kill him. We won’t end our own lives the way humans do.

It’s a matter of pride.” Dana stared at the patient, really taking a good look at his face. He was feline. The shape of his eyes was a dead giveaway. His black hair was cut short. He had the over-the-top manly features that all the New Species possessed. Their bone structure was denser than a normal human. He was handsome, despite the bandage on his forehead. Midnight cleaned off the blood and backed away from him. It pulled at Dana’s heartstrings, hearing that he’d lost the woman he loved.

She knew what the term mate implied, thanks to some of the things Paul had felt free to tell her. Some of the New Species were married, but they called their wives mates. They didn’t require a ceremony, but instead could just share a promise of commitment, sign legal documents and make it official. “We’ve got this handled, Paul.” Doc Harris glanced her way. “You should take your sister back to your house.” Her brother hesitated. “Are you sure? I could hang here for a few hours. I know the two of you wanted to go out to have lunch instead of eating in the office. I could have someone escort my sister home.

” “We’ll both stay,” Dana quickly added. Paul frowned, glanced at Mourn and then her. His eyes narrowed. “You want to talk to him when he comes around, don’t you?” There was no use denying the accusation so she just shrugged. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Doc Harris snapped. “He’s not fit for strangers. Your sister could chat with other Species if she is curious about them.” “He’ll be rude,” Midnight predicted. Paul dried his hands. “You told her that Mourn lost his mate, Midnight.

” He hesitated, holding Dana’s gaze. She realized he’d stopped talking because he wasn’t sure if she wanted anything about her life revealed. She turned to Midnight. “My husband died of cancer two years ago. We were childhood sweethearts and it was devastating.” She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. “You said Mourn is suicidal. I can relate to that.” “Dana…” “I used to feel that way,” she corrected, daring to look at her brother. She hated seeing his pained expression.

“It helps to talk with others who have shared the same loss. I might be able to help him.” “No.” Doc Harris came around the bed. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” “I agree,” Paul stated. Midnight seemed to stare right into Dana’s soul for long seconds. “Have you taken a new male into your life?” “No.” “You can stay.” “What?” Doc Harris grabbed Midnight’s arm.

“I think it’s a bad idea. You know how Mourn gets. She’s an outsider. What happens if she tells someone about him? She has already heard too much. Can you imagine what the press would do with this story?” “I won’t repeat anything,” Dana promised. “I attended group grief counseling after Tommy’s death. It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. What is said in that room stays in that room. I’ve never told anyone where Paul really works either. Most of our family, and all of our friends, believe he’s overseas with some nonprofit charity group that provides free medical assistance to the poor.

It would put our family in danger if anyone who hates the NSO targets us to get back at Paul for working here. You can trust me.” Doc Harris didn’t appear happy. “Mourn is unpleasant on his best days. He’s dangerous.” “I’m willing to risk it.” Dana didn’t even have to think about it. “Damn. I hate when you get that determined look, sis. You’re not going to let this drop, are you?” Dana shook her head.

“You said he’s done this before. What could it hurt to at least talk to him?” Paul looked grimly at Doc Harris. “She is stubborn as shit. We’d have to drag her out of here now. Mourn won’t attack my sister.” Paul didn’t sound so sure though. “He’s restrained, and I’ll be here.” “Let the female talk to Mourn.” Midnight took the doctor’s hand. “We haven’t been able to do him much good.

She’s female and wants to spend time with him. They both share the loss of their mates. What harm could it do? I agree with Paul. He wouldn’t pick a fight with her.” “I think we should run this by the NSO first.” Doc Harris attempted to reach the phone on the bedside table but Midnight yanked him back. “I’m Species, and I say it’s fine. We don’t need to hold a meeting about this. Let’s go have lunch the way we planned.” Midnight grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the door.

“I know what you’re doing, Midnight. It’s a bad idea.” Doc Harris dragged his feet but the woman just yanked him harder, forcing him to follow her. As they left the room, Midnight laughed and said, “She’s cute.” “Damn,” Paul muttered after the couple was out of hearing range. “What?” Dana looked at him for clarification. “She’s hoping you and Mourn will hit it off. Let me just call for one of the Species to take you back to my house. I’ll stay until they return to Medical so someone is here with Mourn when he wakes.” Dana took a seat in the only chair.

“Go do whatever you do. I’m fine right here.” “Did you hear me? Midnight thinks you’re cute enough for Mourn to be interested in you as a woman.” “I heard. He lost his wife. Believe me when I say that isn’t going to happen. He obviously loved her very much. The last thing he’ll want is to date someone. Take it from someone who knows.” Paul glanced at the unconscious patient, and then back at her.

“New Species don’t date. I wouldn’t mind you hooking up with one since you’d get to live here, but not that one, sis. He’s all kinds of screwed up.” “That’s not why I want to talk to him. I’m not looking for someone either. It might help him in some way. That’s all.” Paul leaned against a cabinet. “Is that why you’re still single? Don’t you ever get lonely?” “I go on dates that Mom sets up.” “We both know those don’t count.

You only do it to get her off your ass so she won’t badger you.” “True. I get to tell her that I tried but there were no sparks. She can’t fault me for that.” “But don’t you get lonely?” He pressed the issue. She decided to be honest. “All the time, but then I think about Tommy and what we had. We grew up together. Who is going to love me the way he did? I hear all the dating horror stories from my single friends. No thanks.

Men play games, cheat. Those I’ve met just wouldn’t mesh with me.” “There are good guys out there. I’m proof of that.” He grinned. “I didn’t need to date Becky since the seventh grade to make a good husband. We met much later and I’m almost ten years her senior. I worship the ground she walks on.” “I know. One day I’ll be ready, but not yet.

” “Have you told our mother that?” “She thinks I’m wasting my life by being single, and you know she wants grandchildren. She’s given up on you and Becky presenting her with one.” He laughed. “Sounds like Mom. She was so disappointed when I joined the military instead of working for Dad. She used to throw everyone’s daughter at me right after I graduated high school. It was part of the reason I wanted out. She always wanted a third kid and I think she figured a grandchild would be just as good.” Dana shrugged. “She’s pushy.

No one can deny that. It’s gotten worse since Dad died, and she lives alone. She asked me to move in with her or to allow her to move in with me.” She winced. “I’d strangle her. Part of it is my fault. I was really messed up after Tommy died so I didn’t fight her as much as I should have when she took over parts of my life. I just didn’t have the strength or the will. She’s way worse than she was when we were kids.” “I know.

I couldn’t wait to get out on my own. She loves us. There’s no denying that, but she micromanages us. It drove me nuts.”


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