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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(60)

By:Shelly Laurenston

Christ, was she really starting to like this guy?
Wait. No. She wasn’t starting to like this guy. She already liked this guy. A lot. Again, surprising, because he was nothing like the males she was usually drawn to. Nope. Crush was excessively polite, quiet, well-mannered, and absolutely trustworthy. Although, when she thought about it, all those qualities were important for any male to have if they were going to be around Cella’s daughter. Something she’d never really thought about because there had never been a male Cella had allowed around her daughter that wasn’t the kid’s father, a blood relative, or a schoolteacher.
Of course, it was too early to tell if all this thinking and analyzing about one bear was actually necessary, but it helped her fall back to sleep despite the continued bickering in the room.
Unfortunately, Cella didn’t have the chance to really enjoy much of that sleep because someone decided to touch her leg. It was a light touch, but enough to have her reaching up and grasping the throat of whoever was touching her.
Cella opened her eyes and looked up into the face of a nurse. A tiny, itsy-bitsy bobcat staring at her with wide eyes and a rather daunting-looking needle.
After having what he could only say was an astounding meal in the shifter-only lunch room—shifter-only locations did like to provide the best food and supportive furniture for all the different breeds since it cut down on violent explosions of rage—Crush headed back to Cella’s room.The elevator opened on her floor and Crush stepped out, stopping at the giant bouquet of flowers standing in the middle of the hallway. Leaning to see around them, he caught sight of what could only be called a mane of white and brown hair.
The flowers moved a bit and scowling blue eyes glared at him. “Crushek.”
“Hi. Are you looking for Cella’s room?”
“I don’t know what to do with these.”
Crush went around the flowers so that he could look directly at the Marauder. “Do with them?”
“Blayne said I had to bring flowers. I told her to come with me, but she said she’d be here later because there was yet another emergency with the wild dogs.”
Wild dogs. What Crush deemed the chattiest of the shifter breeds. Mostly nice, though, unless their pups were involved.
“I told her I could go practice and we could go when she was done, but she said I had to go now so that Malone doesn’t think all her friends are deserting her. I’m not deserting her. How can I be deserting her when we’re not really friends? We’re coworkers.”
“Then why did you come?”
“Well ... as far as coworkers go, she’s tolerable.”
Which probably meant Cella was as close to a friend as the Marauder was ever going to get from an actual teammate.
“Then I told her she should bring flowers from both of us and she said I should do it because it would be a nice gesture.” His scowl grew worse. “I don’t do nice gestures. I’m not a nice gesture kind of guy. Besides”—he looked the flowers over—“I think I may have gone a bit overboard.”
And Crush thought he was awkward in daily, non-cop-related situations.
“I’m sure if you explain all that to Cella, she’d totally understand.” And, even better, it would make her laugh her ass off.
“I guess. She gets me, ya know? She was probably one of the best enforcers I ever had. On most teams, I was not only the top scorer, I was the enforcer, too. But I didn’t have to worry about that with Malone around.”
“You should tell her that, too.”
“Yeah. Okay.”
Then the Marauder just stood there. The guy with the fastest reaction time on record just stood there, beginning to look mildly panicked.
Not one to leave a fellow bear just hanging—even one who was only half bear—Crush pointed down the hallway. “I’ll show you where her room is.”
They started walking, Novikov carrying that enormous bouquet of flowers.
“Speaking of enforcers,” Crush said into their moment of non-talking, “who’s going to replace Cella?” 
“No one. Instead, I’m going to be stuck with a bunch of wannabes and MacRyrie, Van Holtz, and Bert.”
“Probably. Or you could ask Cella to help you out.”
“Help me out?”
“Let her pick out who should take her place. She’s got a good eye and she’ll worry if you don’t have someone she approves of backing you up.”
“Will that bother her? Asking her to do something after what happened?”
To Crush’s surprise, he didn’t think so. None of this would be easy for her, but for Cella, hockey went beyond just getting on the ice and playing. “I think Cella will handle whatever comes her way with great dignity.”
The Marauder stopped, looked over at Crush. “We’re talking about Cella Malone, right?”
“Dignity? Really?”
“Well, yeah. I know on the ice she can be ...” Crush’s words faded away when he saw little Josie suddenly run out into the middle of the hallway. She turned in a circle, her hands flapping wildly. She was panicking.
Crush walked toward her. “Josie? What’s wrong?”
Josie saw him and small hands reached for him, latching on to his forearm. “You’ve gotta get in there!”
She yanked him around the corner with an amazing amount of strength as Meghan ran to meet them.
“Thank God. I was just coming to look for you.”
“What’s going on?” Crush immediately thought of Baissier, worried she’d sent more trouble.
“Ma got a gun.”
Crush stopped, Novikov right beside him and still holding those stupid flowers. “Excuse me?”
“Yeah,” Dee-Ann Smith drawled, her back against the wall, an ice pack to her face. “My fault.”
“You brought a gun to the hospital?”
“Hoss, I bring a gun everywhere.”
Wait. Did she just call him “horse” or ... forget it. He didn’t have time for this.
“She’d already slapped around a couple of little nurses,” the She-wolf went on, “so they sent for the bigger ones. I was trying to get her back into bed, when she snatched my .45 from my holster.” She pulled the ice pack from her face, revealing a swollen eye, cheek, and jaw on the right side. “That’s when the bitch clocked me with my own damn gun.” She pressed the ice pack back to her wounded face. “That point, figured I’d better walk away instead of cuttin’ her throat with my knife. ’Cause I was sorely tempted.”
“Right.” Crush looked at Meghan. “She didn’t threaten you, did she?”
“No, no.” She shook her head. “Of course not.”
“But she is holding a black bear hostage.”
Crush rubbed his face with both hands. “I was gone fifteen minutes and there’s now a hostage situation?”
Meghan patted his shoulder. “Welcome to my world, Detective Crushek.”
The door opened and Cella snarled, “Where the hell have you been?”
“I went to get something to eat.” Crush and a large moving crop of flowers behind him walked in. He rested his hands on his hips. “You’re standing,” the bear accused. “Why are you standing?”
“Calm down, I’m not putting any weight on my knee.” Instead, she leaned against the wall and kept her brace-covered leg stuck out in front of her. It wouldn’t be such a problem, either, if it wasn’t for the black bear she currently had in a headlock who kept sobbing. Geez. Punch a big black bear in the nose, and he becomes all sorts of weak.“Put the black bear down, Cella.”
“He’s in this position because he put his hands on me. I don’t like to be bear-handled. Unless, of course, it’s by certain bears.” She grinned and winked at him.
Crush’s face turned red and he glanced over at Cella’s mother and aunts. They hadn’t left the room, but they hadn’t actually been much help, either. Then again, they knew how Cella was when she felt cornered, and why get into the middle of all this when they didn’t have to?
“What do you mean he put his hands on you?”
“He tried to pin me to the bed. And not for what I’d call a fun reason, either.”
“These people are trying to help you.”
“Helping me is leaving me alone. Not ripping the bandages off.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There’s a bit of a problem,” Cella’s mother explained to Crush. “While her knee still has some work to do before she can walk on it, her skin healed so fast that the bandages are sort of ... attached now.”
“They were trying to rip the skin off my legs,” Cella clarified. “Without a painkiller.”
“They were actually going to give her one.” Barb smirked at her daughter. “But little Miss Overreaction decked the nurse before she had the chance to give her the shot. That poor bobcat.”
“Where’s Jai?” Crush asked Barb, which was starting to annoy Cella. Why was he talking to her mother?
“On her way.”
“Hello?” Cella snapped. “I am right here. Mind not ignoring me?”
Crush glanced at her. “How much longer can you stand on one leg like that?”
“No idea.”
“If you put weight on that leg too soon, Cella, you’re going to risk permanently damaging it.”