Home > Kiss of Crimson (Midnight Breed, #2)(5)

Kiss of Crimson (Midnight Breed, #2)(5)
Author: Lara Adrian

“Yep. Defanged too.”

“Jesus. If they thought they needed to own a beautiful animal like this, why’d they mutilate it so badly?”

“Can’t have your advertising mascot shredding your customers or their little brats, now, can you?”

Tess glanced at him. “Advertising mascot? You don’t mean the gun shop out on—” She broke off, shaking her head. “Never mind. I really don’t want to know. Let’s get this big kitty inside so I can have a look.”

Ben pulled down a custom-fitted ramp from the back of the van. “Hop in and take the back of the cage. I’ll hold the front, since it will be heaviest on the way down.”

Tess did as instructed, helping him unload the wheeled container from the van down onto the pavement. When they reached the clinic door, Nora was there waiting. She gasped and cooed at the big cat, then gazed adoringly at Ben.

“Omigod. That’s Shiva, isn’t it? For years, I’ve been hoping he’d break out and run away from that place. You totally stole Shiva!”

Ben grinned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, liebchen. This cat is just a stray who showed up on my doorstep tonight. I thought Wonder Doc could patch him up a bit before I find him a good home.”

“Oh, you are bad, Ben Sullivan! And so totally my hero right now.”

Tess gestured to her enamored assistant. “Nora, could you take this end with me, please? We need to lift it up over the stoop.”

Nora came around to Tess’s side, and the three of them hefted the cage up and into the clinic’s back room. They wheeled the tiger into the prepped exam room, which had recently been outfitted with an oversize hydraulic lift table, courtesy of Ben. It was a luxury Tess couldn’t have afforded on her own. Although she had a small, devoted clientele, she wasn’t exactly operating in the wealthy end of town. She’d priced her services well below their value, even for the area, feeling it was more important to make a difference than make a profit.

Unfortunately, her landlord and suppliers didn’t agree. Her desk was weighted down with a pile of past-due notices that she wasn’t going to be able to put off for much longer. She’d have to hit her meager personal savings to cover them, and after that was gone…?

“Tranquilizer’s on the counter,” Nora said, breaking into her thoughts.

“Thanks.” Tess slipped the capped syringe into her lab-coat pocket, guessing that she probably wasn’t going to need it after all, based on the docility and general lethargy of her patient. Besides, she wasn’t going to do anything but a visual exam tonight, take a few notes on the animal’s overall condition, and get a feel for what needed to be done in order to facilitate safe transportation to its new home.

“Think we can get Shiva—or whatever this stray’s name is—to hop up on the table on his own, or should we use the lift?” Tess asked, watching as Ben worked the locks on the cage.

“Worth a shot. Come on, big guy.”

The tiger hesitated for a moment, head low as it glanced around the brightly lit exam room. Then, with Ben’s encouragement, it stepped out of the cage and leaped fluidly onto the metal table. While Tess spoke softly to it and stroked its large head, the animal sat down, sphinxlike, more patient than the most well-behaved house cat.

“So,” Nora said, “do you need anything else right now, or can I take off?”

Tess shook her head. “Sure, you can go. Thank you for staying so late tonight. I really appreciate it.”

“No prob. The party I’m going to won’t even get started until after midnight, anyway.” She flipped her long blond braids over her shoulders. “Okay, so, I’m off, then. I’ll lock up on my way out. ’Night, you guys.”

“Good night,” they answered in unison.

“She’s a great kid,” Ben said after Nora had left.

“Nora’s the best,” Tess agreed, petting Shiva and feeling for skin lesions, lumps, or other problems beneath its thick fur. “And she’s not a kid, Ben. She’s twenty-one, about to start her degree in veterinary medicine after she finishes up her last semester at the university. She’s going to make a great doctor.”

“No one’s as good as you. Got a magic touch, Doc.”

Tess shrugged off the compliment, but there was a bit of truth in it. Just how much, she doubted Ben really knew. Tess hardly understood it herself, and what she did understand, she wished she could blot out completely. Self-consciously, she crossed her arms, concealing her hands from view.

“You don’t have to stay either, Ben. I’d like to keep Shi—” She cleared her throat, arching a brow at him. “My patient, that is, for observation tonight. I won’t start any procedures until tomorrow, and I’ll call you with my findings before I do any work.”

“Dismissing me already? Here I thought I might be able to talk you into dinner.”

“I ate dinner hours ago.”

“Breakfast, then. My place or yours, you can call it.”

“Ben,” she said, hedging as he came over and stroked her cheek. His touch was warm and tender, comfortably familiar. “We’ve been through this already, more than once. I just don’t think it’s a good idea….”

He groaned, and it was an entirely too sexual sound, low and throaty. There was a time when that sound turned her self-control into butter, but not tonight. Not ever again, if she had any hope of maintaining her personal integrity. It just seemed wrong to go to bed with Ben, knowing he wanted something from her that she couldn’t give him.

“I could stay until you wrap up,” he suggested, backing off now. “I don’t like the idea of you being here all by yourself. This area of town isn’t exactly the safest.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m just going to finish my examination here, then do a bit of paperwork and close up shop. No big deal.”

Ben scowled, on the verge of arguing until Tess blew out a sigh and gave him the look. She knew he read it clearly, since he’d seen it more than once during their two years of couplehood. “All right,” he agreed finally. “But don’t stay too much longer. And you call me first thing in the morning, promise?”

“I promise.”

“You sure you’re comfortable handling Shiva by yourself?”

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