It's a Tuesday night and I’m coming to the end of my twelve-hour shift when I’m paged to the nurse's desk in the emergency room. The waiting room is empty. I’ve only seen twelve patients so far in the past four hours, none of them severe, but with this storm, I imagine the Emergency Room is about to get slammed. “Dr. Walker there is a female, early twenties, en route in an ambulance. The estimated time of arrival is two minutes. She has lost a lot of blood and has coded once already in the ambulance.” And so it begins.
“I’ll wait in the bay for her. Get room three prepped.”
“Yes, doctor.” One of the nurses says and rushes to the room.
I run to the bay, full of energy, ready to help the patient coming into the ER. These are the cases I live for, the ones that prove why I went to medical school in the first place. I’ve been a doctor for over twenty years, although you wouldn’t know it since my shifter blood keeps me from aging like humans. At fifty-nine, I look and feel like I’m in my early thirties.
Overall, life is good. My younger brother and a few of our cousins, and I moved across the country last year. We left our large pack and our family with hopes that a change would lead us to our mates. Out of the five of us, every one of us remain mateless. No one in the small mountain town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia knows we are shifters. We haven’t seen any other shifters in the year and a half we’ve lived here.
Shifters came out to humans over seventy years ago in hopes that we’d be able to live freely among humans, but we still remain hidden in plain sight. The older generations still don’t trust humans since so many of them sought to wipe out our peaceful existence. Most humans fear the unknown, and unfortunately, a person who can turn into an animal was too much for them to comprehend. To them, we were dangerous and didn’t value human life. It’s crazy to me since we’ve been living among humans since the beginning of time. We aren’t monsters, we’re just different, but to them, we were less than and should be treated as such. I was a kid when The War of the Species broke. For several years my family, like many others, lived in fear while militia groups came after large packs and killed them off. It became so bad that some shifters came very close to extinction.
Then, thirty years ago, the top human leaders from around the world and a group of shifters who led the movement for all species to live in peace, came together for what is now called The Accords. All parties present represented groups of people from around the world. They agreed that harassing, harming, and killing a shifter is considered a hate crime, punishable by death or life in prison. The War of the Species came to an end and shifters fell back into the shadows to lead a normal life.
There are things I’ve dealt with in my life that many won’t understand. I’ve been through a war, one I fought in to protect my pack. I saw too many shifters and humans alike die for a cause that was born out of misunderstanding. I chose to become a doctor to help anyone who needed help. I don’t hate humans like so many older shifters do, but I am wary of who I put my trust in. So moving away from my pack was a big step, but one that had to be taken.
When I was young, my parents told me about fated mates, but after all this time I still haven’t found her. That’s why my brother, cousins, and I decided to leave our pack, in hopes of finding our mates. When we were little, they explained that every shifter in the world is gifted with a fated mate to spend their long lives with and they won’t necessarily be humans but can be. Humans use the word soulmates, but the bond my parents share is stronger than any human’s definition. I’ve watched my parents for years, learning from them what it means to be mated. While their relationship is far from perfect, it is full of love and understanding. Already past one hundred, my parents are in the prime of their lives. Together for over seventy years, they are happier than I’ve ever seen them.
As soon as the ambulance arrives I rush out to help the EMTs. The doors open and the woman is pulled out of the ambulance covered in blood. Her scent hits me and I know with complete and utter certainty who she is. I stop in my tracks as my canines elongate and fur covers the back of my neck. Something primal and uncontrollable flows through my veins, something I’ve never felt before. Fucking hell this cannot be her, it can’t be. My mate. My fucking mate is covered in her own blood, unconscious, and fading fast.
“Female presents with severe blood loss, a deep head laceration, and has an open fracture of the left radius.” The EMTs give me a rundown of her injuries and her stats but I’m only half listening. I’m in shock. How can this be happening? The soul I’ve waited my whole life for is about to fucking die. I’m on the verge of either losing my mind or shifting and tearing this hospital apart. Those choices won’t save her though. Fuck. I’m the one who’s here to save her, me. I let go of my fear and do what I’ve done for decades. I’m going to fucking save her.
As I help to wheel her into room three, I stop at the door and take a long deep breath, knowing if I don’t someone will notice that my eyes are golden brown instead of blue and I’m suddenly a lot hairier. Most importantly, if I shift, I won’t be able to save her. My mate is lying there covered in blood. If I don’t get my shit together, she won’t make it through the night. There’s no way in hell I’m going to let that happen.
“What kind of accident, head-on or rear-ended?” I ask walking in a moment later.
“Head-on collision. From what the witnesses told us, she hydroplaned before crashing into a tree and going through the windshield.”
“Fuck me,” I growl, my bear coming too close to the surface for me to sound human.
“Someone must have been looking out for her tonight.” One of the EMTs says, looking at her with pity.
More like it’s hard to kill a shifter’s mate. Mates don’t have magic per se, but they have a little something extra in them that makes them more durable than the average human. Although shifters came out to the public before I was born, little is known about shifters and their mates. I push the hair out of her face and my soul hurts staring at her, knowing she’s in pain. Her face is covered in blood and her eyes are closed. She looks like a disaster and yet, I’m in awe of the beautiful woman I’ve been tasked with saving. The same woman who was made for me. “Thanks. Before you leave, do you know what her name is?”
One of the guys looks down at my mate and smiles sadly. “This is Lillian Burbank. One of the nicest people I went to school with. Take care of her Doc, she hasn’t had an easy go of it. This is the last person this should have happened to.”
As soon as her body is transferred from the gurney to the hospital bed the EMTs leave to let the nurses and I take over. At first, it is hard to treat Lily like she is my patient, but I know her life depends on it. After my initial observation I conclude she most likely has a concussion, which paired with the blood loss is most likely why she is still unconscious, and her stats are verging on problematic.
Triaging the situation, I take care of what’s most life-threatening first. Once I’ve got the bleeding stopped from the wound at the side of her head, I start to examine the rest of her body. The last thing I want is for her to bleed out because I didn’t catch something in time. Not finding anything but the broken arm, I bandage it up with the intent to come back to it later. When she is stable, the nurses assist me with removing the glass from the front of her body and giving her stitches where needed. We had to shave a portion of her hair away from her head to be able to stitch the wound on the side of her head.
I’ve just finished my last stitch when one of the nurses, Winnie, clears her throat.
“Should we take her to Radiology now?” Winnie asks.
“No! Why?” I snap, unwilling to let her out of my sight for even a moment.
Winnie and Sarah, the other nurse, stare at each other in shock. “Her broken arm?” Sarah asks.
She’s not just your mate man, she’s your patient too. Of course, she needs an x-ray.
“I’ll take her.” I bark. I know this is crossing the line, but I don’t fucking care. I have never been inappropriate with a patient before. Unfortunately, the nurses and people on staff here are all human and wouldn’t understand. How could they know I knew she was mine the second her scent hit me?
* * *
It has been hours since Lillian had her arm operated on. After her x-ray, she went into emergency orthopedic surgery to clean her wound, then set her bone in place. Once the operation was over they cast her arm. I should have gone home once she went in for surgery, but I couldn’t leave her here alone. Even if she did have family here, which she doesn’t, I would have stayed. It’s four o’clock the next afternoon and while I’m exhausted, I’ve never felt more alive. I just had a meeting with the head of the ER and told him I needed to take some time off. I don’t have to work, I do it to keep busy and I like what I do, but if I had to quit I would. I don’t want to leave them short-staffed, but my mate comes before everyone else, no matter what. He’s going to have a coronary when he finds out I’m taking her home with me.
When I walk in to check on my mate a man that looks to be around the same age that I look and feel is standing over her bed crying. “Who the hell are you?” I growl, not wanting any male being close to my mate, especially one I don’t know.
“I’m Titus Burbank. She’s my sister.” He says staring down at Lillian. “This is all my fault, man. I’m the reason she’s lying in that bed. That should be me, not her.”
“Stop,” I demand, holding up my palm to him. If he continues I’m liable to lose my fucking mind. With my bear already close to the surface, things will get ugly fast. I have no interest in confessing to my mate that I killed her brother.
He shakes his head. “No, you need to know, everyone needs to know. If it weren’t for me getting drunk and needing a ride home, she would have never been out driving in the middle of a storm.”
His head snaps up and his bloodshot eyes find mine. “Excuse me?” Suddenly he doesn’t sound devastated about the situation he’s put his sister in but pissed that I had the nerve to tell him to leave.
“When Lillian wakes up, she will decide if or when she wants to see you. Until then, get the fuck out of her room.” I say low, doing my best to not kill this fucker for doing this to my mate. No, he didn’t cause her crash, but he is the one responsible for her being in the situation to start with.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m her fucking doctor. This is the last time I’m telling you to leave. Next, I’ll remove you myself.”
We stand there in a silent standoff, measuring each other up, neither of us willing to budge.
Eventually, Titus leans down and kisses his sister on the cheek before whispering that he loves her and he’s sorry. He sneers and bumps my shoulder as he walks past me and then out of her room.
I clutch my fists at my sides, worried I’ll hit something if I make a single move. After standing in the same spot, watching over her for close to an hour, I feel calm enough to sit with her. Pulling a chair beside the bed, I sit as close as I can and hold her small, delicate hand in my much larger one.
My beautiful mate sleeps peacefully, likely from the anesthesia and pain medication she’s been given. I want her to sleep for as long as she can because when she wakes up she’ll be in a great deal of pain. The nurses stop in every hour to check on her and I’m sure they’re all gossiping at the nurse’s station about me being in her room holding her hand. I could care less.
While I wait for her to wake up I keep racking my brain, trying to figure out how I lived here for over a year and not known that my mate was just under my nose? Berkeley Springs is a small town, but not too small. Apparently, there’s at least one person I haven’t heard of. I just keep thinking that if we were mated when she was in this accident, she wouldn’t be lying here in a hospital bed. She would have bounced back already, and while not at a hundred percent, I’d still be able to bring her home with no more than scrapes and bruises since she’d have my DNA flowing throw her, protecting her from shit like this.