Panther's Heart Becomes Wolf's Queen
A while back, I posted about the next book in my Texas Ranch Wolf Pack series. At that time, the book was titled Panther's Heart. That story has become part of Wolf's Queen.
This book is set in the two weeks after the battle and the end of Wolf's Reign when the first Were World Conference meeting is held.
After the battle at the end of Wolf's Reign, the pack is trying to settle back into something close to normal. Will, the panther shot in Wolf's Reign, is fighting for his life, while Nate goes forward with construction of the Were World Conference.
After Will is injured, Nate decides they need a hospital for their people.
What's a werepanther to do when her fated mate keeps backing away? Dottie corners Ben.
Janelle decides it's time for a holiday for the ladies. But when they get to Houston, things start going wrong. When two of their number disappears, Janelle must take the Queen's role and rescue her threatened pack
The book will publish as soon as edits are complete. Here is the rough draft of the first chapter:
Her panther hated the hospital. Everything smelled bad. Worse, her were hearing meant she heard every word, every murmur, and every breath the surgeons and nurses made while operating on her mate. I should have kept him here! Refused to let him go. A soft whimper escaped, and she bit her lips to prevent screams of pain and fear he might die. The Huntsmen did this! Arms clasped tight against her waist, Flora Garrett paced the hospital waiting room, stopping only when an arm slipped around her waist.
“Sit, Flora. Rest. You won’t be any good to help Will if you exhaust yourself.”
She leaned against her dad, allowing him to comfort her. It still felt weird for him to hug her. Sighing away regrets for the years they missed, she briefly hugged him, then pulled away, and sank into a hard, molded-plastic chair. “Sorry, I just . . ..”
Ben Garrett sat in the chair beside her. “He’s your beta. Don’t be sorry for worrying about him. You wouldn’t be much of a clowder queen if you weren’t concerned.”
A soft smile curved her lips. Even her dad didn’t know yet that Will was her mate. And she wouldn’t tell him until she could talk with Will. “Thanks, Dad.”
Raising her eyes, she stared at the ceiling. It stinks in here. Flora agreed with Leesha, her panther. “I hate hospitals.”
With a nod, Ben settled back in his chair, allowing his head to rest against the white-painted wall behind him. “Me, too, but we’re fortunate General Brighton knew of a surgeon that knows how to handle were physiology. Without surgery, Will didn’t have a chance.”
Flora rolled her neck. “Hmm. Remind me to thank them both for having Will brought here.”
In the distance, she heard the doctor curse, then the loud, long beep indicating a flat-line. No heartbeat! Sounds of frenetic activity and the loud thump of the defibrillator were more than Flora could bear. Sobbing, she surged to her feet and ran down the hall to the elevators. She jabbed the call button for the elevator multiple times, then jerked open the door to the stairs and thundered down the narrow stairwell. When she exited on the first floor, startled nurses and patient’s visitors jumped aside as she ran to the front door. She shoved it open, dashed outside and stopped beneath the covered walkway.
I’m a panther! I shouldn’t be so winded! But it wasn’t the stairs or the running that had her chest aching and her lungs fighting for breath. Her mate was dying, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing she could do to help him! Leesha screeched in her mind, then howled. Flora squeezed her eyes shut, trying to calm her panther. When her breath evened out, she sniffed and looked around. Concrete benches lined the walkway. Moving woodenly to the closest one, she sat and bent forward, her face in her hands. It never occurred to her she would have to live without him. If it had, she wouldn’t have put off their mating ceremony so long.
She sank into her misery, felt wrapped in cotton. Sounds that were too sharp now seemed so distant. How she wished she hadn’t heard that machine whistling. Tears filled her palms, but she couldn’t stop crying. She didn’t know how long she cried and didn’t hear her dad’s soft footsteps when he came out the door. Didn’t know he was there until he sat beside her and pulled her into his lap, just as he did when she was a small child.
“Hush, baby girl.” His strong, broad hand patted her back. “He’s okay.”
Flora gasped and pulled back to look at her father’s face. “What?”
“Dr. Travis came out a minute ago. He said it was touch and go for a bit, but Will pulled through. The doctor will meet us in the recovery room when we go back up.”
She wiped the tears with the back of her hand, then laughed when her father waved a hanky in her face.
“It’s clean. Go ahead. Blow your nose. The doctor wants you to come to his office for a chat.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
Ben Garrett shook his head. “You need to be strong, Sweetheart. Will is healthy, so his recovery won’t be as traumatic as it could be, but the bullet they removed wasn’t a normal bullet. It’s caused some lesions in his brain tissue.”
“Brain damage?” The words came out as a whisper. “How bad is it?”
“We won’t know for sure until he wakes, but, Flora, he’s alive.” Ben took her face in his hands. “He’s going to need you.”
He bowed his head. “I’m so sorry. If I hadn’t shoved him . . ..”
“The bullet would have gone through his heart.” She tried to smile at him, but her lips trembled too much. “He’d be dead if not for you, Dad.”
“I should have gone first. I was a cop, better trained and more prepared to deal with shooters.”
“And you think I would feel better about losing you than him?” Flora hugged him. “After Aunt Lenora kept us apart for most of my life, it would be as hard to lose you again as it would be to lose Will. I just got you back.” She blew her nose again, then looked at the soiled hanky, not sure what to do with it.
Ben took it from her and shoved it in his pocket. “It’ll wash, Flora. Let’s go see Will.”
He stood and set her on her feet, then caught her hand. Flora couldn’t remember the last time she walked hand-in-hand with her father, but his strong grip steadied her. This time, she was patient enough to wait for the elevator. Eachann’s alive. He’s breathing! Leesha frolicked in her mind, anxious to return to their mate. As much as she wanted Will to wake, Flora hoped Eachann, Will’s panther, woke soon, too. Otherwise, Leesha’s frantic energy would have her twitching.
In the elevator, Ben put his hand on Flora’s back. In her mind, Marcel, her dad’s panther, curled around Leesha, calming her. She gave Ben a weak smile. “Thanks, Dad. I thought I was going to climb the walls.”
Ben gave her an absent nod. “Our panthers are pretty sensitive to our emotions.”
Flora felt her shoulders and neck relaxing as Leesha settled. The door opened. She took a deep breath and stepped into the hall. When she stopped at the nurse’s station, a nurse glanced up. Standing, she motioned for Flora and Ben to follow her. “Your fiancé is in recovery, Miss Garrett. Dr. Travis is waiting for you.”
Flora hurried after her, Ben’s steps right behind her. When she stepped through the door into recovery, Flora’s breath caught in her chest, increasing the ache she felt behind her ribs. He was alive, yes, but his head was swathed in sterile bandages. IV tubes fed lactated Ringer's solution and medicine into his arm, while a plastic cannula provided oxygen. Unbidden, tears filled her eyes. Of all she had endured, she never thought to see a werepanther from her clowder as a hospital patient. Their natural healing saved them from all but the most lethal of blows.
Flora blinked and turned her gaze to the man in green scrubs standing before her, a stethoscope draped around his neck. “Yes?”
“Miss Garrett, I’m Dr. Travis, your fiancé’s surgeon. To ensure our conversation is private, I’d like you to come to my office. My nurse will stay with Mr. Feyen until we return.” A woman in white scrubs smiled and sat on a stool beside Will’s bed.
Dr. Travis led them into a room with a desk and chair, as well as two visitor’s chairs. The soft squeak of her father’s leather-soled shoes followed her. After she and Ben entered the office, Dr. Travis shut the door behind them. “Please sit down.”
Surprised when her words came out in a whisper, she nodded. “Will he be okay?”
She and Ben sat in the offered chairs and watched him. Dr. Travis hesitated. “Will was hit with a frangible round packed with silver powder. The jacket was hard enough to penetrate Will’s skull, then fractured, driving the silver into his brain. The silver caused scarring in the frontal lobe.” He walked to the desk chair and sat facing them. “Because he’s were, eventually, his body may overcome the damage entirely. Will’s healing abilities are impressive, even for were. We were forced to reopen the wound twice to finish cleaning it.”
Flora squirmed in her chair, wishing he would get on with it. Ben’s hand captured hers and gave it a squeeze. She sent her dad a soft smile, then looked back at the doctor.
“Even with our best efforts, there are still traces of silver we couldn’t remove. It’s possible his body will ultimately reject the silver, but even if it does, it will take time. Right now, he’s in roughly the same condition as a human suffering a hemorrhagic stroke.”
Swallowing hard, Flora leaned forward. “I don’t know what that means, Doctor.”
Travis sighed. “Basically, it means Will may have to relearn to walk. Maybe even to talk. Then again, maybe not.” A shrug emphasized his uncertainty. “Because he is a werepanther, his prognosis is good. Really good. But a full recovery will take time.”
Flora pulled her hand from Ben’s and took a tissue from the box on the corner of Travis’ desk, her fingers twitching as she shredded the paper into small pieces. “How much time?”
“That depends entirely upon him. Weeks, months, maybe even years.” When Flora opened her mouth, Dr. Travis held up his hand. “Truth is, Miss Garrett, I just don’t know. Were medicine is in its infancy. Were seldom need doctors or hospitals. Their wounds either heal or they die. This is the first case like this I’ve dealt with.”
He dropped his hand to the desktop. “Because the bullet wound is shallow, if it was a normal bullet, he might have already healed without help. However, the traces of silver in the wound irritate healing tissues and cause scarring.” He shrugged. “If he was a wolf, he’d have died, but since silver isn’t poisonous to panthers, he’ll live.”
Ben leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “So, what you’re saying is he may or may not be permanently disabled.”
Dr. Travis hesitated. “My best guess is that he will recover 80% to 90% of his previous abilities, but I’m not sure he will ever get back to 100%. Still, it will take time. If he was human, I’d release him to a rehab facility for a few weeks. Since he’s were, I can’t recommend that. He may not be in control of his shifting for a while. Or his temper. Patients with brain damage often experience emotional swings or anger issues. His physical strength and uncontrolled shifts would be a hazard to human nurses and therapists.”
Flora bit her lip. “If he can’t go to rehab, what can we do?”
The doctor bowed his head. Flora could sense the struggle in him. The needs of his patient versus the needs and safety of his staff. Finally, the doctor blew out a harsh breath and looked up. His tight expression and the sadness in his eyes told Flora he wasn’t happy with his decision.
“He’ll have to be released to his home. You could hire someone with physical therapy training to visit periodically or to set up a training regimen for him, but I can’t in good conscience send him to a facility when it might cost the staff their lives, or expose were to the general population. If you wish, I’ll visit him weekly to help in any way I can. More often, if needed.”
Flora opened her mouth to argue, but her father’s left hand caught and squeezed hers, again. Glancing at the troubled expression Ben sent to her, she subsided, letting him speak for her.
“I would like to know how much you know about were, Doctor.” Ben’s head tilted to the left while he studied the doctor’s expression. “You’re not were. How do you know about us?”
“My father is human, Mr. Garrett. My mother is were.” He nodded at Ben’s questioning look. “Wolf. I didn’t inherit her shifting abilities. I decided to study were physiology when my mother was injured in a car accident. Her healing seemed miraculous, at the time. Since then, I’ve learned almost all were heal much the same. General Brighton learned I was interested and offered me a position as physician to his were soldiers.”
A rueful smile creased his lips. “Mr. Feyen is the first were patient I’ve had beyond physicals and exams for the unit. Even so, my team was the only one qualified to operate on him, since we are the only team that knows about were.”
“Thank you, Dr. Travis. We’re fortunate you were available.”
“Dad . . ..”
“He’s right, Flora. It’s too dangerous for any but were to care for him.” Standing, Ben shook the doctor’s hand. “We’ll have transportation here as soon as he is released.” He scooped the shredded tissue from Flora’s lap, dropped it in the small waste can at the corner of the desk, then pulled Flora to her feet. “We can take care of him, Flora. I’m sure Nate will hire a therapist for him.”
When she looked up at him, his smile steadied her. “You’re right. If necessary, I’ll learn how to do it myself.” She turned back to Dr. Travis. “When will he be released?”
“Right now, I’m keeping him sedated to prevent him shifting.” He met her angry frown without flinching. “Except for my team, the hospital staff is unaware of were. With his metabolism, he’s burning through the anesthetics. Someone is bound to notice the abnormally high doses soon.”
Dr. Travis ran his hand through his hair. For the first time, Flora noticed the exhaustion in the doctor’s eyes. “I’ll release him as soon as we can arrange ambulance transportation. I’ll arrive soon after he’s home and help you set up the proper care for him." He handed a list of medical equipment and supplies Will would need to Flora. "Once he’s home, without the anesthetics, it won’t be long before he wakens. He should shift as soon as he can since shifting sometimes completes healing. Until he shifts to panther and back to human, we won’t know the extent of his recovery potential.”
Catch up on the series
Wolf's Destiny is the box set containing all six of the previous books in the series. The box set is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. Or save $$ by purchasing the box set over the ebooks.