"I'm not sure I know what that means."

"I think you do, but if you insist on playing dumb, there isn't much I can do about it."

"Who says I'm playing? I don't even have a high school diploma."

"Is that another attempt to make me feel sorry for you?" So he didn't have to know it worked, she injected as much sternness into her voice as she could.

"Nope. Just sayin'."

Apparently she wasn't going to get any satisfactory answers. The jerk was enjoying baiting her way too much. So she decided to keep her end of the conversation strictly professional for the time being. If he wanted to have a meaningful talk at lunch, then he was going to have to work at it.

Suppressing a frustrated sigh, she led him past Noah at the reception desk. At seeing Kalen with her, the nurse gave her a look of concern, but she nodded to let him know all was well-and then hoped that was the case.

Ushering him into an exam room, she closed the door. "Up on the table, please."

Turning his backside to it, he hoisted himself up and parked his butt on the crinkly paper. Hands on his jeans-clad thighs, he arched a dark brow and grinned. "Have your way with me, Doc."

It was on the tip of her tongue to say, "Been there, got the reminder" but she refrained. Just barely. Instead she grabbed a blood pressure cuff and wrapped it around his biceps. Giving the bulb a series of pumps, she got the reading.

"Blood pressure is a bit high," she said. "Are you having any headaches, dizziness, anything of concern?"

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"No, nothing."

Replacing the cuff on its wall hook, she removed a wooden stick from the jar on the counter. "Say ah."

"Ahhh."

Using her penlight, she peered into his throat. "No redness." She tossed the stick into the trash.

Next she checked how well he tracked her finger with his eyes, then used a small rubber mallet to test his reflexes. "All normal on both counts, but I'd like to have Noah come draw some blood for a few tests-"

"No!" he barked, the word popping like a gunshot in the room. The sharp edge of panic flashed across his face before he made a visible effort to get it under control. "That's completely unnecessary. I'm healthy as a horse."

Startled by his outburst, she said evenly, "Then it shouldn't matter if we take a bit of blood to make sure."

"Not gonna happen. Did I ever mention I don't like needles?" Sliding off the table, he headed for the door. "You examined me, I'm great, and we're done. Ready for lunch?"

She was tempted to back out, for many reasons. But she was curious about what was going on with him. If she was honest, she was more than a little concerned, too. Could he be starting to feel sick from not mating with her? If so, he wasn't showing symptoms. As much as it worried her and went against her code as a doctor, it was probably best to let the other tests wait for now. Though she'd get that blood from him eventually. One way or another.

"All right. Let me get my purse."

"No argument from you about not poking on me anymore?"

"Would it do any good?"

"Probably not."

"Well, there you are."

She didn't miss the relief that briefly crossed his face as they left the exam room, and she wondered what he had to hide. Whatever it was, it must be the reason for his blown pupils. Was he doing drugs? Anything was possible, though she hated to think the worst. One thing she knew for sure-dilated pupils were a physical response indicating a possibly serious problem. No way around that.

After fetching her purse, she slung the strap over her shoulder and met him in the hallway. Together they walked back through the lobby.

"Noah, would you tell Melina I'll be gone for a couple of hours? Kalen's taking me out to lunch."

The blond made a face. "Must be nice."

"That's why I'm the boss of you."

Noah laughed. "Good point. At least it's quiet today-" He slapped a hand over his mouth. Every nurse and doctor knew better than to jinx a good shift with the Q word. "Sorry!"

"As long as karma bitch-slaps you and not me, it's fine." Giving him a little wave, she left, Kalen at her side. "Where to?"

"Not the Grizzly," he said thoughtfully.

"God, no! Our last time there didn't turn out so well."

"How about Italian? There's a great hole-in-the-wall place in Cody that has awesome spaghetti. I found it when I first hit town and had a few bucks in my pocket."

"Sounds good. I haven't had Italian in ages." Her stomach rumbled, reminding her she'd tossed breakfast after a nasty bout of morning sickness. She just prayed her body cooperated now that the nausea seemed to have settled for the day.

"Do you mind driving?"

"What, Nick still won't let you borrow another SUV?" she teased.

"After I let the last one I took get ripped up by a Sluagh? Fat chance. He won't even let me finish asking before he shouts no."

"Well, that's not fair. The damage wasn't really your fault." He made a disgruntled noise and she thought a second. "You can buy your own wheels now that you have a paying job with the team."

"I will eventually. Soon as I save more for a down payment. Maybe I'll get something cool like a Mustang Boss 302, fully loaded."

He sounded so excited, she couldn't help but smile. "Don't shoot big or anything."

"Of course not."

By the time they got into her car, Mac driving, some of the strange tension between them had lessened quite a bit. Glancing over at him, she noticed that vibe of malice, or whatever it was, that she had detected in the rec room seemed to have vanished. He looked like Kalen again, green eyes clear, face more relaxed.

But as he met her gaze and returned her smile, she saw his pupils were still much too large. Opting not to mention it again until later, she put her car in drive and started down the long road leading away from the compound.

There would be time enough to figure out what was going on with him.

And she wouldn't stop until she learned his secrets.

FourFive

"Wine?"

Mac shook her head. "I'd love a glass, but I'd better not while I still have half a day of work ahead of me."

"You're such a good girl, aren't you? Never do anything wild or spontaneous?"

She could think of one time. However, she opted not to go there in spite of his obvious baiting. "Not too often. I guess that's a hazard of being a general's daughter."

"I imagine he was tough."

"Is tough. You have no idea." She winced inwardly, thinking of how in the hell she was going to break the news of her pregnancy to her dad. Though she'd love to call him on the phone, blurt the news, and hang up, that wasn't going to cut it. Not for Jarrod Grant. He'd expect his daughter to face him like a woman, not hide like a kid.

That meant a flight out to visit him. Soon.

"Hey, where'd you go?" Kalen asked, breaking into her gloomy thoughts.

"Just thinking about Dad." That was no lie. "Being raised by him was no picnic, but he's a good father and a great man. I learned everything I know from him."

"You love him," he said, his tone wistful.

"More than anything."

Except this child. Your child.

"You're lucky to have even one parent who dotes on you. I have two, if they're still alive, and they're just about as worthless as two people can be. If they aren't already dead, I'd love to kill them both for the sheer pleasure of doing it."

She stared at him, taken aback. He'd never spoken against them outright before, and with such anger. "That's not a healthy emotion to live with," she said softly. "Have you seen a counselor?"

He returned her stare, started to deny it. "When the hell would I- Hold up. Yeah. On second thought, I guess you could say I am, in a manner of speaking. Someone who's helping me quite a bit, making sure I never feel like a victim again."

She paused. "Who are you seeing? Maybe I know the doctor."

"Didn't say it was a doctor, did I?"

There it was again. A terrible shadow on his face and in his eyes, a certain unkind vibe that sent a nasty shiver down her spine. Who could it be? Was he seeing another woman? Fucking away his pain at night when he couldn't sleep?

The awful nausea returned.

"You said you were raised by your dad. What happened to your mom?" he asked, changing the subject. Thankfully he seemed oblivious to her upsetting thoughts.

"She died of leukemia when I was ten."

"I'm sorry." His eyes softened.

"Thanks. It was hard on us, especially him. My memories of her are distant now, but not so for him. She was the love of his life. My dad was never the same, and he never remarried. He threw himself into moving up in the ranks in the Navy, but he loved me and made sure I knew it."

The waitress came and took their orders, lingering longer and smiling more at Kalen than was strictly necessary. Mac tried not to bristle. After she moved off, Kalen went on, probing curiously into Mac's past.

"How the heck did your dad raise you alone and still have the time to become a general?"

"I stayed with my aunt-his older sister, Gena-whenever he was deployed. She was able to do all the mothering he couldn't, get me through the painful teen years when a girl needs a strong female in her life. He was gone less and less as the years went by, and now he's pretty much a fixture in Washington."

"Do you keep in touch with your aunt?"

"She passed away two years ago. Heart attack at age fifty-six." Studying her water glass, she swallowed against the sudden burn in her throat. "In many ways, she was my mother. She's the one I remember being there through all the skinned knees, awkward growing pains, boyfriend drama, and fights with best friends. She's the one who took me shopping for my prom dress, styled my hair, took pictures when my date showed up. . . . Losing her was the saddest day of my life."

One of Kalen's hands reached across the table and covered hers. "You've had your share of loss. I'd give anything to change that for you, but I'm a Sorcerer, not a god."

"I appreciate the sentiment, more than you know."

He paused. "So, did you always want to be a doctor?"

"Since I was a kid. I used to make dad and Aunt Gena sit for hours while I 'fixed' them with my plastic doctor kit. It would be years before I realized that you can't fix everyone, no matter how hard you try." Crap, she hadn't meant to say that last part. And sure enough, his curiosity was further piqued.

"Yesterday you asked me if I ever wondered why you left a perfectly good practice, came way out here in the middle of Bumfuck, and devoted yourself to studying paranormal creatures. And the answer is yes, I do wonder."

His hand was warm and comforting on hers, his expression open and encouraging. Unlike the tense, smirking stranger from earlier, this man cared. This was the man who held her heart.

She took a deep breath. "I suppose it doesn't make a difference telling you, since you could just Google my name and easily get the story."

"I'll do that if it's better for you not to talk about it."

"No, that's okay," she said, giving him a tremulous smile. "I was a psychologist, and a pretty good one, I thought. My practice was successful and I was content, if not totally happy and fulfilled."

"No boyfriend?" he probed.

"No one serious. I was open to finding someone special, but it was just so hard with me being married to my career. My practice was going so well, I got caught up in complacency. Forgot exactly who I was dealing with-people with problems. Serious ones. A couple of my patients were extremely disturbed, but I wasn't too worried. I was good, you know?" He didn't miss the self-deprecation in her tone.