Born to Be Wild
Josie Barrett brings out the animal in men. Literally. As the local veterinarian in a town that’s approximately seventy percent Others—mostly shapeshifters—Josie deals with beastly situations all the time. It’s practically part of her job description. But when the werewolves of Stone Creek, Oregon, start turning downright feral, Josie smells a rat—among other, more dangerous critters.
Teaming up with the ferociously sexy Eli Pace, a full-time sheriff and part-time were-lion, Josie tries to contain the shapeshifting problem before it spreads like a virus. But when more shifters get infected—and stuck in their animal forms—the fur really begins to fly. Josie and Eli have to find the cause, fast, before the whole town goes to the dogs. But first, they have to wrestle with a few animal urges of their own.
+ “Biological warfare is at the heart of the newest chapter of Warren's Others series. The romantic dance between these protagonists is fun to observe, even while they face a deadly menace. As this hero and heroine struggle to uncover the truth behind a series of frightening events, Warren packs in lots of action and sexy sizzle.”
— Jill M. Smith, RT BOOKReviews awarding Born to Be Wild 4 Stars! Read the whole review.
+ “An incredible find.” — Jean Wan, All About Romance. Read the whole review.
+ “Warren takes readers for a wild ride and when she is done the reader begs for more.”
—Night Owl Romance. Read the whole review.
The one I’ve been looking for.
Something inside Josie sprang to life at the sound of those words, but that something wasn’t entirely comfortable. Exciting, but not comfortable. The sheriff made it sound more like a sacred prophesy or a statement of personal intent than the matter of business she assured herself it had to be.
It had to be.
Josie ignored the surge of fluttery butterfly wings in her stomach and took a casual sip of her coffee. “You were looking for me? I hope I’m not wanted for questioning in anything.”
“Not at all. I just wanted to ask you about your latest patient. How is she doing this morning?”
“About the same as she was when you left, unfortunately. I had hoped she’d be a bit more alert this morning.”
Mark passed a fat, white pastry box tied with white butcher’s twine into the sheriff’s hand, along with a tray containing three enormous take away cups of coffee. While he made change, Eli kept his attention on Josie. She fought momentarily against the urge to fidget, then gave up and stood to drop the remains of her cinnamon roll into the trash.
“She hasn’t changed then?”
Josie shook her head. “Not as of about ninety minutes ago, but I should be getting back to check on her again.” She turned toward the counter, even while her body began inching toward the door. “Mark, delicious as always. I left a ridiculous yet appropriate fee on my table. Tell Sarah hello for me and I’ll see her tomorrow morning.”
“Hold on and I’ll walk with you,” Eli said, pocketing his change and picking the coffee tray up again. He gestured toward the door.
Josie wasn’t sure if the surge of adrenaline in her veins signified excitement or panic. Either way, she figured it meant danger.
She forced a smile. “Don’t be silly. I’m going in the opposite direction from you. I don’t want to take you out of your way.”
His expression hinted that he found her dithering amusing, but he was polite enough not to mention it. He just followed her out the door with a last nod for Mark and fell into step beside her as she made her way back down Main. Bruce abandoned his final inspection of his crumb-free tray to follow at their heels.
“It’s not like there’s much way to go out of in Stone Creek,” he observed evenly. “It won’t be much more than five extra minutes. Besides, I’d like to look in on your patient for myself.”
Josie clung to her coffee cup like a life rope and tried for a casual tone. Since the sheriff hadn’t given any indication that he suffered from the same heightened awareness around her that she felt around him, letting him see her discomposure would inevitably lead to humiliation, she was sure.
“I take it that you haven’t heard anything about her identity yet,” she said, watching the steam curl up from the hole in the rim of her cup. It kept her from staring at his shoulders. “Since you haven’t mentioned anything.”
Eli shook his head. “I left Rick a message last night, but he hasn’t called me yet. It’s still early, though. Trust me, as soon as I know, you will.”
“I’d appreciate that. I did the same with Dr. Shad. I’ll feel a lot more comfortable when I can turn her over to his care. It doesn’t seem right somehow, having her in a cage in a veterinary office, no matter what she looks like at the moment.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Josie saw his mouth quirk up in a smile. “Speaking as someone who can imagine what that would be like, I feel compelled to thank you for being so conscientious. But no matter who she turns out to be, I’m sure our Lupine will be too grateful to you for saving her life to hold a grudge over her accommodations.”
Josie shrugged uncomfortably. “Still.”
Just as the sheriff had implied, the distance between Main Street, where his office and the bakery were both located, and her clinic on Pine Street took all of two more minutes to cover. Stepping through the back door into the open space of the triage area, Josie took a deep breath of the disinfected air and felt her nerves settle just a bit. Being back in her element made her feel more like a competent, professional woman and less like a junior high school girl with her first crush.
“Oh, good, you’re back,” Ben greeted, leaning down to scratch Bruce’s ears as the huge mutt ambled past on the way to his fluffy, padded bed behind the reception desk. “Sheriff Pace. Did you come to check on the Lupine? Dr. J said you were the one who brought her in last night.”
Eli nodded, setting his parcels down on the nearest section of free counter space. “I did, even though I’m told there isn’t much change.”
“Not so far.” Ben looked back at Josie. “While you were gone, though, I did start running those tests you asked for.”
That effectively managed to pull the last straggling bits of her attention off of the sheriff and back onto her work where it belonged. “How do things looks?”
“And that means?”
“You’re the doctor. You get to tell me, as soon as you take a look at them.”
“Right.” Her fingers itched to get a hold of those test results, and she actually took a couple of steps toward the CBC machine before she remembered the sheriff standing near the door behind her. Cursing to herself, she threw him a smile and gestured toward the kennel room. “Why don’t I take you to see the Lupine first, sheriff? I’m sure you must be anxious to get back to work yourself.”
His mouth curved again in that smile Josie was convinced meant he wanted to laugh at her, but he was too polite to actually do it. As if that made some sort of difference.
“No, I can see that you’ve got another busy day ahead of you, Dr. Barrett. And your assistant says there hasn’t been any real change since last night. I can wait until she’s more alert. I always find it easier to take statements from witnesses when they’re actually awake.”
“In this case, you might also want to wait until she rearranges her hyoid bone.”
Josie blushed at the sharp tone of her comment. Clearly she needed to avoid the sheriff in future if he was going to send her emotional reactions into such turmoil. There could be health risks.
She formed a smile to soften her explanation. “The bone people have in their throats between the jaw and the spine. Its form and placement are a requirement of human speech. Wolves have theirs up high under their tongues and use it more for breathing and swallowing than vocalization.”
“Good to know.”
He picked up his coffee and baked goods, and this time he sent Josie a full-fledged smile, which should have been a relief after all those secretly amused half-smiles of his, but it really wasn’t. Instead, it sent her blood pressure through the roof and had the butterflies in her stomach forming a very enthusiastic conga line.
“I’d appreciate a call as soon as the Lupine wakes up, and I’ll definitely shoot one to you when I hear back from Rick.” Eli nodded at Ben, smiled once more at Josie, and shouldered open the door. “You two have a good day, now.”
With that, he was gone, and Josie had to lock her knees to keep from dissolving into a heap on the linoleum tile.
“Um, wow. Wasn’t expecting that,” Ben ventured after a moment of buzzing silence.
He looked at her with patent incredulity. “Was I not supposed to notice that the sparks you two were shooting off each other nearly trigged the fire sprinklers? Because I like my job, and I can pretend if I have to, but I’d like it noted in my next performance evaluation that I’m not actually that stupid.”
Josie glared. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. The sheriff and I barely know each other.”
“Okay, then. One oblivious idiot coming up.” He pulled out a chart and flipped it open. “Do you want to take a look at the Lupine’s CBC then?”
Her lips pursed. “Yes. Why don’t we do that?”
He shuffled a printout to the top of the file and held it out for her, his mouth silent and his expression carefully blank. Josie rolled her eyes and then focused them on the test results.
She had wanted to run a Complete Blood Count for a couple of different reasons. One was simple curiosity. She had never treated an Other before, but she had grown up around them, so she had heard all about their remarkable healing powers. The scientist in her couldn’t resist seeing if evidence of that ability would show up in their blood work. But for the same reason, the very fact that the Lupine in her clinic wasn’t showing much evidence of accelerated healing had her a bit worried, and she wondered if there might be some sort of infection or unknown medical condition underlying her traumatic injuries. If so, that could help explain things. If the Other’s body was preoccupied with trying to heal an acute or chronic condition that had preceded the shooting, maybe it didn’t have the energy to spare to speed up the mending of her wounds. A look at her CBC results, and specifically her white blood cell count, might shed some light on that mystery.
Josie scanned the numbers on the lab report and blinked. Then she scanned them again. Then she frowned at Ben. “Did you look at these?”
The vet tech nodded. “Three times. Then I recalibrated the machine and reran the test. Then I looked at them another three times. The results are valid. Whacky as all get out, but valid.”
“And you rechecked her vitals?”
“No sign of fever or anything else?”
“This is totally weird.”
“Tell me about it.”
Josie read the numbers again and shook her head. “I need to find a reference where I can check these against Lupine normals. Maybe we’re just using the wrong comparatives.”
“I’ve already pulled something up.” Ben waved toward the laptop computer that sat open and running on the desk built into the counters lining the inside wall of the triage room/lab space. “That was the first thing I did after running the second test. The numbers I circled are the ones that still look funky.”
Mumbling to herself, Josie hooked an ankle around the wheeled physician’s stool and pulled it out from the desk, perching on it as she peered at the computer screen. Her finger followed the numbers on the printout as she compared them over and over against the values on the screen.
“This is just crazy.”
“I know. If I weren’t so darn good at what I do, I’d have wondered if I managed to screw up the tests twice in a row. But the second time, I double checked myself every step of the way. The results are real.”
She looked up at her technician—the best one she’d ever worked with, even while interning at one of the best veterinary school clinics in the nation—and shook her head. “Any living being with a white cell count this high should already be dead of the infection that caused it. How can her temperature not even be elevated?”
Ben snorted. “I was hoping that as the brilliant veterinarian you are, you’d be able to explain that to me.”
“I don’t have a frickin’ clue.” She glanced at the clock. “Has Dr. Shad called, by any chance?”
“Damn it. He’s at least treated Others before. Maybe he’s seen something like this.”
“From the quick look I did while you were out, I don’t think anyone has ever seen anything like this.”
“Thanks, that’s comforting.”
He shrugged. “Sorry. I think the question, though, is what are we going to do about it in the meantime? With numbers like those, we can’t just wait for Dr. Shad to decide he’s had enough trout for the weekend. If that really is an infection, like you said, she should already be dead. And I’m assuming we’re trying to prevent that.”
Josie sighed. “All right, first I want to make up some smears to look at under the scope, so if you used everything from the last draw, you’ll need to take some more blood. Then as soon as we have samples—lots of samples—let’s switch her antibiotic to a penem and see if a broader spectrum med will make a difference.”
“You got it.”
“Oh, Ben,” she called when he moved immediately away to follow her instructions. “Did you get time to look at her pain killer concentration levels?”
“Yeah, that was the one test that came back normal. According to the literature I found, her dosage is right where it ought to be. Whatever is keeping her under, it’s not the meds.”
“Thanks.” She watched him head for the kennels and groaned. “Just what I always wanted. A medical mystery in someone else’s field dumped in my lap with no consult in sight. Why did I want to be a vet again?”
From the other side of the door near her stool came the comforting sound of Bruce’s familiar snoring.
Josie closed her eyes and leaned over the desk burying her face in her arms. “That’s really not a good enough reason.”
Indulging in a brief moment of self-pity, Josie clenched her fists, released a small number of pithy but potent curses aimed at precisely no one, then lifted her head, blew out a deep breath, and got back to work. She might not have asked for this case, but it was hers now, and she’d be darned if she didn’t find a way to cure it.