The teen girl tentatively opened the motel room door the next afternoon. She came straight from school. “Mike?”
“Shhh. He’s sleeping. You’re Hope, right?” An ugly guy in the corner greeted her with a wave.
“Um, yeah?” She squeaked, staying in the sunlight. “W-who are you?”
“Pete. Mike and I play poker together? Anyway, he talks about you. He got kinda beat up last night, so I stuck around…you know, kept an eye out.”
Concern overcame her fear. “Is he alright? He’s always awake by now.” She closed the door and gasped at what she saw. Mike looked horrible even in the shadows of the curtained-off room. She crept forward for a closer look.
“What are you doing here, love?” he rasped.
“I wanted to see you. What did this? You’ve never looked this bad!”
He grasped her hand and squeezed it. “Sure I did. You just didn’t see me.”
She slapped his chest. “Don’t joke about that! I don’t want to lose you, okay?”
“Aw, love, don’t cry. I can’t stand it when you cry.” He brushed tears off her cheeks and tried smiling at her. “Ow.”
She held the hand he touched her face with, staring at it. His knuckles were still smooth. “Why didn’t you fight back?”
“What? Of course I did.” He yanked his hand back.
“No, you didn’t. I’m not stupid, you know. The skin on your knuckles is always red or broken after a fight, especially on your left hand. Dammit! It was
, wasn’t it? She did…this,”
she pushed, gesturing at his swollen face. She started pacing back and
forth, muttering words he didn’t know she knew, then whirled around,
furious. “Why do you defend her? Everybody knows she’s a cold-hearted
bitch. They all pretend everything’s normal, but we all know! I wish she’d died
giving birth to me.” Bethany
“Oh, love, you don’t mean that, not really.” He coaxed her on the bed where he could hold her. She curled up next to him, her head on his shoulder. He stroked her hair. “I had no idea you felt like this. I guess I’ve been a bloody rotten father, eh?”
“Distracted by boinking my mother almost every night?”
“You think I don’t notice she comes home at three A.M. or later? It’s not like I sleep that great.”
“Sometimes…sometimes I’m just thinking. Are you coming to her birthday party?”
“Don’t think she’ll want me there, love.”
“Like she wants any of us around! If you don’t go, can I ditch and hang with you?”
“I don’t think your mother would approve.”
“Screw what she wants, Mike! She’s kept my best friend away and that’s just wrong! Look where she’s gotten you. Your face looks like hamburger and you have the self-esteem of a whipped puppy.”
“I know I’m young, but I also know that love is not supposed to get you treated like this. My mother is not a saint or a goddess or even much of a hero. She’s a dysfunctional girl and doesn’t deserve the way you look at her. Don’t you get it, Mike? Any woman in her right mind would be thanking the heavens to have a guy look at her like that. No, don’t turn away from me…I’m trying to be a grown-up here.” Tears wet her eyes again. “Please. Don’t let her hurt you anymore. One of us should be able to escape it.”
What did he do now? He was overwhelmed by Hope’s honesty. What should he do when both his girls were hurting, but not on the same side? She was clearly too angry to be convinced of her mother’s goodness right now. And really, the girl was old enough to form her own opinions.
He loved them both, yet he was being asked to choose loyalties. On the one hand,
had just beaten
him to a pulp and left him for dead. On the other, he was the only person
she shared with and he didn’t know how it would affect her to lose that. Bethany
“No small request, love. I do love your mother, and I’ve never been the type to walk away.”
He smiled. “And I also know everything seems dramatic and dire at your age. All I’m saying is…try talking to her. Not yelling or accusing but be honest and mature about it, and she might try harder to do better by you.”
“But, what if she can’t? What if she’s not capable? Has anyone considered she might not be able to be normal anymore?”
There was the crux of the matter—the point he hadn’t wanted to consider. Yes, he’d encouraged
to test the Order confines in a life with him, but he never wanted to see her
become a shadow of the girl that first intrigued him. If he was honest,
he had to admit she was getting worse. She was just better at hiding it
from her friends. Her guide would probably notice, but he wasn’t around
“Look, Hope…I’ll think about what you said, alright? Right now, I’m knackered and you need to get home.”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll take the hint. Um, if I have to go to the party, will you help me get a gift?”
He smiled. “Yeah, love. We’ll find something nice.”
She hugged him. “Thank you, Mike!” She picked up her backpack and started for the door. “I love you, you know. I don’t care what she says—you’re my family.”
Pete saw her out.
Corinne dropped by every evening that week. “This is still pretty puffy,” she said on Saturday. She prodded the area with her fingertips.
“I haven’t been hungry,” he mumbled. He didn’t know what to do with her kindness. It made him uncomfortable, though he craved it.
“I can help with that. You probably didn’t want to go out looking like this, so I brought some food.”
“Thanks, Doc. I appreciate it. How’s work been?” He watched her putter around the room. She put something in the microwave.
“Okay. Being a first-year resident is tough, but at least I’m not a student.”
As usual, she was dressed in scrubs, long auburn hair wrapped in a bun. He wondered what she’d look like all cleaned up. They’d done the traditional exchange of information: age (almost twenty-five), where she grew up (
), and how long she’d been in town
(about a year). San Diego
“What made you decide to become a doctor?”
“Love for science, curiosity, a desire to help people. I originally became an EMT to help with college and it kind of grew on me. Seemed natural to follow to the next step.”
“I’m sure you could’ve found a better place than here.”
She shrugged. “I like small towns. Didn’t expect to find one so…unique, but it hasn’t been bad.”
“Do me a favor, Doc, and don’t put down roots. Nothing good happens here.”
“Really? Then why do you stay?”
“Ah, a woman. You, uh, don’t seem to like to talk about her.”
He sighed. “We have history. The most recent of which has been the worst and the best…it’s complicated. I don’t even know what I’m going to do about it, so explaining to someone else…”
She waved it off, grey eyes filled with compassion. “I get it. You don’t have to tell me anything you aren’t comfortable with, Mike. We haven’t even known each other a week. I’m just curious.”
“I know, and if I get snappy, it’s not aimed at you. You’ve been a very pleasant diversion, Doc. Pete dropped off more videos…”
“Really? What’ve we got?”
So began the movie portion of the night. Pete was clearly on a mission to cheer him up, since every flick he’d dropped off was a comedy. They’d usually watch one and a half before Corinne started yawning and left for home. Mike began to really look forward to the company.
Hope dropped by Monday afternoon. “Mike?”
“In here.” He stepped out of the bathroom.
“Hey! You look better.”
“Thanks. Not one-hundred percent back to my gorgeous self, yet, but almost. What can I do for you, love?”
“I’ve been informed I have to stay at the party tomorrow at least until the food’s been eaten, so I need to get a gift. She probably wouldn’t notice if I didn’t, but the rest of them will give me hell for it.”
“Bitter little pill, lately, aren’t you?” he teased with a smirk.
She snorted, and flounced over to take a seat on the bed. “So, since I have to be home before dark, can I borrow some money to go to the mall? Please?”
“Tell you what: you scoot home and get your homework done, and I’ll pick up something for you this evening. Need to stretch my legs, anyway. Been cooped up in this room for a week.”
“You haven’t been out on patrol?”
Embarrassed, he ducked his head and mumbled, “My doc won’t let me.”
“The doc that looked at my face, okay?” He rolled his eyes at the whole situation. “Apparently, the orbital bone of my left eye was fractured, hence the swelling. Something about inflammation or some such.”
“I can’t believe you saw a doctor.” She giggled.
“I didn’t go to one. She kind of found me.”
“Ooo, it’s a she…is she cute?”
“Ooo, she is, isn’t she? I’ve got dirt on Mike…I’ve got dirt on Mike…” The singing became shrieking once he started tickling her. “Okay! Okay! I give! I won’t tease you anymore.”
“Damn straight, you little hellion. Respect your elders, or next time you’ll be over my knee.” The threat was tempered by his grin, his eyes twinkling with triumph. They both knew he would never lay a hand on her.
“So, seriously…how’d you meet a doctor?”
“Corinne found me in the alley and insisted on helping. Girl’s as stubborn as all get with the Florence Nightingale routine.”
you up and left you outside? It didn’t happen here?” Bethany
“I’m going to kill her,” she growled, popping off the bed and heading for the door. He caught her around the waist before she could reach it. “Mike, let me go. I’m just going to have a little talk with my mother.”
“No, you’re not. I appreciate the righteous indignation, sweetheart, but this is between me and her.”
“But she left you! You! She knows you, she’s slept with you, and yet she beats you unconscious when you aren’t even fighting back? You’re a person…” The fight left her as she stopped struggling, breathing harshly in his arms.
Mike kissed her temple. “I know this is hard for you, Hope. That’s why I didn’t want you to know. I’m so sorry for bollocksing everything up, love. You and your mother should be banding together as a family, not fighting over a pathetic excuse for a demon hunter.”
“You’re not pathetic. You have lousy taste in women, but you’re not pathetic.” She turned around. “If we’re still here when I turn eighteen, will you take me away?”
For probably the thousandth time, Mike wondered how he gained this precious girl’s trust and love. Looking down at her pleading face, big blue eyes still displaying all to the world, he couldn’t begin to refuse. She was his little girl.
“I promise. If you still want me around then, we’ll go anywhere you want.”
Hope wrapped her arms tight around his waist. “Thanks, Dad. You don’t know how much that means to me.” She released him and stepped back. “Well, I should get going.”
“Right. And no causing a ruckus?”
She rolled her eyes. “I promise I won’t say anything about what she did to you. Oh, and don’t spend much on the gift. It can even be really lame, okay? I’m not feeling very giving right now.”
He laughed. “Just go. Leave your window unlocked so I can drop it off later.”
She grinned and left. Still chuckling, he shook his head. The girl was definitely his offspring.
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Dr. Corinne Larkin rescues bruised and beaten Mike Atherton in an alley one night. Carrying out her oath to heal and do no harm becomes complicated when she’s drawn into his unusual life of demon hunters, vampires, witches, and a teenage daughter. Healing this hero requires patience and sacrifice. Can Corinne let him go when the time comes?
Part of "The Sanctuary War" series. Paranormal romance novel with adult content.