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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(57)

By:Shelly Laurenston

In fact, Cella looked down at her leg to make sure she still had it and yup! It was there. It was bandaged and had a brace on it to keep it immobile while it healed. Cella could tell she was currently being pumped full of all sorts of painkillers because she knew her body was knitting itself back together and that often hurt. A lot. But she didn’t feel a thing. So here she was. Breathing. Surviving as Malones liked to do. And yet her uncles couldn’t even look at her. God ... did she have scars on her face? Did one of those hyenas hit her with his skate? Was she hideous?
Then Cella remembered that this was her family she was dealing with. They were emotional basket cases on their best days. So rather than panic, she looked around the room until she found her daughter. Meghan stood in the back of the room, Josie next to her. What Cella loved was the absolute look of annoyance on her kid’s pretty face. Okay. So if Meg was going to stay with the family, at least she had the potential to one day run this bunch. She had attitude to spare.
Even better, Meghan knew her mother. One look and she was pushing her way through the crowd of uncles, aunts, and cousins until she was by her mother’s side. She took Cella’s hand, holding it between both of hers. “Could you guys leave us alone, please? I need to ...” She took a long, dramatic pause Cella was mighty proud of. She’d taught the kid well. “... talk to my mom for a bit.” 
“Of course, of course,” Kathleen said, hustling all the aunts, uncles, and cousins out of the room. But it was Cella’s dad who took hold of his wife’s shoulders and, with a wink at Cella, led the still sobbing woman out of the room.
Once the door closed and Cella was alone with her daughter, she let out a sigh. “No feline should sob unless she’s been hit with a baseball bat.”
“It’s always gotta be so extreme with you.”
Cella laughed, grinning up at her daughter. “It’s in the DNA, kid. You might as well get used to it.”
Still holding her mother’s hand, Meghan sat on the bed. “Mom, I’m so sorry.”
“For what? You didn’t do anything.”
“It’s not about doing anything. It’s about ... empathizing.”
Meghan’s eyes crossed. “Yes, Mom. Empathy.”
“Sounds like weakness.”
“It is not ...” Meghan gritted her teeth. “Why do you make me crazy?”
“Isn’t that my job? It’s my mother’s job, and as you can see, she does it well.”
“All I’m saying is that I know how much hockey means to you. It meant everything—”
“No. You mean everything to me, baby. You. The rest is just gravy.”
“So what are you going to do now?”
“Learn to knit.”
“I’ll figure out something. There’s more to life than hockey.”
“For everyone else, but not for you.” Meghan thought a moment. “There’s the female team.”
“They don’t have the same rules that—”
“Exactly.” Cella gaped at her daughter. “Do you not like your mother’s pretty face? Do you hope to see me missing eyes ... teeth? Do you care so little that you’d suggest the all-female team?”
“You bare-knuckle box!”
“Men! Males, as you’ll one day learn, are easy to manage. If the same shit that went down last night had happened while I was on the all-female team ... I’d be missing legs. Both of them.”
“I heard they’re not that bad ... anymore.”
“They’re that bad. Trust me. Coed, all male, or nothing. Because all-female is just painful trouble and suffering.”
“Always with the drama.”
“I’m a Malone,” Cella explained again, making sure to let out a long sigh. “Once you grasp that, the drama explains itself.” She thought a moment. “Any chance you can get everyone else to go away? Far away?”
“I can try. They usually listen to me.”
“I know.”
“No, Ma.”
“I see your mind turning. I will not be running this family anytime soon.”
“Of course not. You’re only eighteen. But another fifteen years or so ...”
“Like you’re ever going to let me boss you around.” Meghan dropped Cella’s hand. “You’re so full of crap.”
“Crap? Really?”
“Not everyone has to express themselves with profanity.”
“No. But what fun is it not to express yourself with profanity?”
Meghan stood. “I’ll get rid of everybody.” She walked to the door. Stopped. “Your team’s—”
“No,” Cella said quickly. “I can’t see them tonight.”
“Okay. That scary She-wolf and Detective MacDermot?”“First off, the She-wolf is Dee-Ann and she already said you could call her that.”
Her daughter’s lip curled a little. “Yeah.”
“Forget it. Tell them to come by tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Her daughter glanced at the floor, then asked, “What about Mr. Crushek?”
“Crush is here?”
“Of course, he’s here.” Meghan nodded. “And he looks really upset.”
“He does?”
“Yeah. Let him come in.”
“Are you going to go home with the family?”
“No,” her daughter replied in her all-business tone. “And Mr. Crushek has until I get back before he has to leave, too. No canoodling.”
“You know what I mean.”
“But do you know what you mean?”
“Of course, I do. I read.”
Cella ordered herself not to laugh because her daughter was as serious as a heart attack.
“I’ll ask Aunt Jai to stop in, too.” Hand now on the door, Meghan warned, “And, Ma, do not move that leg.”
Staring at her daughter, Cella sat up a bit and jerked.
Gold eyes narrowed on her. “Ma.”
The kid was so easy!
“I’m not moving my leg. Besides, right now I’m so high on whatever painkiller they’re giving me that I feel like I’m floating anyway.”
“I’ll be back,” Meghan threatened.
Once her daughter walked out, Cella relaxed back in her bed and stared across the empty room. After a minute, she announced to no one, “I am so high.”
“So,” Dez reasoned, “basically, her leg will be stronger than it was.”
“And she’ll be, without even any physical therapy, back on her feet in like three to four days.”
“Pretty much.”
“And yet they’re all acting like they’re mourning her death.”
“Just the death of her career.”
“One of them. I mean she’s in KZS. I’m relatively certain the half-a-mil they pay her per year—”
“Wait. How much?”
“Oh, yeah. KZS pays really well. They tried to hire Mace when he left the Navy but he had plans with Smitty.”
“So even though we’re paid better than any full-human on the force, no matter the rank, we’re still paid less than everyone else?”
“Civil servants, baby.” Dez stared at Crush for a moment and he tried not to hide from her straightforward gaze. Finally, after a moment, she told him, “It’s not your fault.” 
“It is my fault. I should have known Baissier was going to do something like this.”
“That she’d hire hyenas to break your girlfriend’s knee at a hockey game? I don’t think anyone would see that coming.” She pointed her finger at him. “And you’re not that guy.”
Confused, Crush asked, “What the fuck does that mean?”
“I mean, you’re not that guy who takes revenge on his foster mother by cutting her throat while she sleeps.” She pointed at the door. “Dee-Ann’s that guy. She’ll do that shit in a heartbeat. Cella, too. Not you. You do that shit, you’ll never live with yourself. And then you’ll drive me, your partner, crazy with your Mr. Depression act. So let’s not pretend that you’re the guy who can hunt someone down and exact revenge.”
“So just let it go?”
“Look, I get it. What happened to Cella sucks. And this ... uncaring bitch deserves some pain. But I’m not sure what she did would be considered a mitigating factor for her eventual murder in a court of law. And, yeah, you have claws and fangs, you’re a predator, yada yada—”
“Yada yada?”
“—but at the end of the day, my friend ... you’re still a cop. Old school. You’d never let anyone get away with exacting revenge, either, no matter who or what the hell they were or their perfectly good reasons.”
“But I feel like I owe it to her. I feel I owe Cella.”
“All you owe Cella is flowers, maybe some festive balloons, a ride home from the hospital, and nuzzling. You know, bear love.”
“Bear love? Something else you saw on National Geographic?”
“Or Animal Planet. Both are very helpful in dealing with my husband and my new crop of friends that aren’t canines.”
“I just ...” Crush stopped talking, lifted his nose, and sniffed. Reaching over, he grabbed the door handle and pulled it open. Cella’s daughter stood on the other side, Dr. Davis’s daughter right next to her. It looked like the two girls were in a heated discussion about something, but when the door opened, both froze. He felt like he’d caught them doing something, but he didn’t know what.