A cranky lion gets a second chance at love.
Trick or rawr?
A young, drunken Jack plays a prank on the town’s witch only to get caught. One curse later and he’s stuck in the house he tricked, literally, unable to leave.
Woe is the lion.
Decades later, he’s still a prisoner and a cranky one. His attitude isn’t improved when a freak accident forces him to rely on a nurse while he heals.
Harper doesn’t believe in magic, so when she’s asked to help out a recluse, she’s determined to get to the root of his agoraphobia. Only it turns out he’s not lying. Jack really is under a spell and this curious cat can’t help but poke at it.
Is love the trick to break the curse?
Being called into the lion king’s office didn’t rattle Harper one bit. She was acquainted with Arik, a tough but fair pride leader. The golden child had grown into an impressive leader, one now married with heirs, and ridiculously successful. Some would argue he’d inherited his wealth, but the truth? He took an average business and turned it into an empire.
All that to say, she had mad respect for the king, who insisted people call him Arik unless in format settings. She wondered what he wanted with her.
As a travel nurse, she didn’t spend much time in the Pride condo complex. Her small bachelor pad was more a spot to keep her extra stuff than a home. The carpet was pristine, the fridge like new since it rarely held food. The closet was mostly bare since the few clothes she had she usually brought with her.READ MORE
Upon arriving at her apartment, she’d eyed her empty cupboards and decided she’d live on takeout while she stayed. Currently between jobs, she’d chosen to take a few weeks off since her cousin insisted on having a baby shower—despite the fact this would be her third kid.
Marriage and babies were not things Harper particularly cared for. At almost forty, she had no interest in settling down and popping out cubs. She liked the freedom to go where she wanted when she wanted. Not to mention, most men bored her. The truly alpha ones were already taken. Most of the others were intimidated and cowed into a beta state around her. And then there were the ones who wanted to make little versions of themselves.
Blech. She’d never had the maternal instinct. Her idea of perfect children were the ones she got to see do cute things for a few hours and then went home with their parents. It didn’t make her cold, just not interested. She felt the same way about pets.
Being alone didn’t bother Harper. She liked to sprawl across her bed, hated sharing food, and got along perfectly well with her vibrator. She vacationed when she wanted and didn’t have to worry about anyone else imposing on her or making her do things like snorkel or hike. She worked on her feet in her job and her idea of a vacation involved only doing things that took no effort.
Entering the king’s office, she offered a slight curtsy and a smile for the man standing in the middle of the room with three golden-haired children currently using him as a jungle gym. A blonde girl in a pink romper finished climbing his arm to sit on his shoulders, chirping, “I win!” A boy with tufted locks and a dinosaur patterned shirt climbed King Arik’s leg, huffing, “No fair,” while the littlest one remained cradled in Arik’s arm, grabbing for his blond beard.
“Hey, Harper.” Arik offered a casual greeting. “Thank you for coming. Have a seat.” He stiffly walked to his desk, the child clinging to his leg giggling in delight as he got carried along. Arik sat in his chair, baby tucked on one half of his lap, the child on his shoulder sliding down to occupy the other. As for the leg monkey? Under the desk making engine noises.
“You need something from me, your majesty?” Unlike the crew that called themselves biatches, she’d always had a healthy respect for authority.
“Bah. Don’t you start with that title crap. Er, stuff.” He corrected himself too late. The girl in his lap giggled as she chanted “Crap! Crap! Crap!” But Arik didn’t get flustered or chuckle like some fathers, he growled, “Bad word,” and the tyke quieted.
“Was there something I could help you with?” Harper queried, really hoping he wouldn’t ask her for childcare. She preferred to stick to adults, not because she hated kids, but parents could be a nightmare.
“I know you were planning to take a few weeks off, but I have a situation that’s arisen with a cousin of mine. He broke an arm and a leg trying to fix his roof in a storm.”
“Sounds like a recipe for disaster.”
“In his defense, said roof was leaking, and he’d hoped to throw a quick patch on it. A torrential downpour whooshed him off. He’d have been worse if he’d not landed in a bush. Needless to say, he’s in a rough spot. Not that he’ll admit it. Only reason I even found out about the accident is because Jack’s mother contacted me.”
“He lives with his mother?” And yes, she sounded judgmental.
“No, his mother lives here, actually, but visits him often. As a matter of fact, she’s the only one allowed to visit. Jack prefers to be alone.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“His lack of contact with people has rendered him somewhat ornery,” Arik warned softly.
“I’m not daunted by rude remarks.” To be hurt, she’d have to care about what another person thought.
“That’s not the strangest part of Jack’s situation, though. My cousin suffers from a peculiar condition.”
She arched a brow. “Oh?”
The king actually fidgeted. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”
“Try,” was her dry reply.
The king glanced away before muttering, “He’s cursed.”
“I said, Jack is cursed. I’m not sure of the exact details because he won’t talk to anyone. According to his mother, a Halloween prank he pulled as a college kid went wrong and now he can’t leave his property.”
“Agoraphobia isn’t a curse and can be managed with treatment.”
“If only it were that simple. In Jack’s case, if he leaves his property, he shifts into his lion.”
Her mouth rounded. That was unusual. “Are we sure it’s not psychosomatic?”
Arik shrugged. “Doesn’t seem to be. My understanding is Jack’s mother had him try all kinds of treatments, however, the moment Jack steps foot past the boundary of his home, instant furry transformation. With one exception.”
“Halloween. For some reason, soon as midnight hits, he can leave in his human form but at the stroke of midnight, the curse returns.”
She paused to eye her king. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“And how long has he had this condition?”
“He’s in his forties now and it happened when he was in college, so a good twenty years, give or take.”
A long time to be suffering from what surely had to be a mental issue and not a curse. As if Harper would believe in such a thing. Magic and witches, ha!
She asked the more pertinent questions next. “Did someone competent set his arm and leg?”
“Yes. Our mobile doc paid him a visit. Offered him the choice of recovering at a zoo she had connections with and him spending those weeks being pampered as a lion, or at home in casts with care. He chose the latter and now it’s posing a challenge since we’re having difficulty finding someone to assist him.”
“Surprising given how many nurses we have in the system.” Most people preferred to work local. Not Harper.
“It’s not been for a lack of trying. In the past few days we’ve gone through several aides, and word has gotten around that Jack is an ornery patient.”
Harper didn’t point out that, as king, Arik could just order a nurse to attend to the grumpy Jack. At the same time, she understood it would take the right kind of personality to handle it. A man like that required a firm hand and a staunch attitude that could handle bristling comments. She’d dealt with his type before. As a travelling nurse—one paid well by the various prides and other shifter groups—she provided discreet care that took into account that an animal in pain would lash out—and sometimes bite. She had the scars to prove it. But she’d also made herself a reputation when it came to excellent results with her patients.
“For how long?” she asked.
“Until at least one of the casts comes off?” A hopeful query.
A healthy shifter would only need two, three weeks tops. She nodded. “Sure. I’ll help out with your cousin.”
The relief on his face couldn’t have been clearer. “I’ll ensure you’re adequately compensated. I realize this was supposed to be vacation time for you.”
She waved a hand. “Bah. I would have spent most of it avoiding my cousin Darcy. She’s well into her pregnancy but that hasn’t stopped her from threatening to drag me in for a makeover.” Because apparently letting her hair go naturally silver bothered them, as did her no-nonsense shoes, straight cut bob, and blunt nails.
Considering the company she was in, Harper didn’t add that she would also prefer to avoid getting roped into babysitting Darcy’s sticky little lion monsters.
“When can you start?”
“Today is fine.”
“You are a life saver, Harper.”
“Who is caring for him right now?”
His nose wrinkled. “No one. He chased off Becca yesterday.”
“Then I’d best get right to work.”
The address Arik gave her took Harper to a spot outside out the city, past fields with corn drying into yellowed stalks and the occasional cluster of cows. The small town had that cutesy feel with a single main street currently decorated for the upcoming Halloween.
Her chauffeur, the overly large omega for the pride, Leo, didn’t say much. Probably because he’d gotten used to his wife doing most of the talking. Rumor was he preferred it that way. He’d been known to sit back with a beer in hand, wife in his lap, looking like the cat that ate the turkey.
Leo had always been mellow, even more so now, despite the pair of baby seats in the back. He’d brought his twins, blond tufted boys both chubby cheeked and snoring. He’d simply said, “Meena’s gotta take twins number one to their swim lessons, twins two are with their aunt Teena and uncle Dmitri, and twins three needed a nap.”
Even just thinking of that many sets of twins tired Harper.
“What can you tell me about my patient?” she queried.
Leo took his time answering. “Not much. Never actually met the guy. He doesn’t like folk coming round.”
“Arik says this Jack fellow thinks he is cursed.”
Leo nodded. “Yup.”
“And you believe it?”
He shrugged. “Anything’s possible.”
Not if it opposed science. Some might think it odd someone like Harper, who could shift shapes so easily, would take science over magic. But she believed in tangibles. The shift happened on a genetic, molecular level. A man who thought he couldn’t leave the house? That was all in his head, and she’d prove it. Wouldn’t Arik be pleased when she freed his cousin from his mental block.
Arrogant to think she could cure him after so long? Not really. Harper had every faith in her abilities as a healer.
“We’re here,” Leo announced.
The house they pulled up in front of took her aback. For some reason, she’d expected a rundown shack given the owner was a shut-in. However, the siding appeared freshly painted, the roof, despite the repair it supposedly needed, didn’t seem that old. The lawn could have used a trim, but the shrubs and the rest of the greenery had nicely kept shapes. All in all, a lovely, well-maintained property.
Leo pulled her bags from the trunk, but when he would have carried them to the door, she shook her head. “I’ve got this. You should head back before the babies wake, screaming for milk.”
He glanced at the SUV. “Good point. And good luck.”
As if she needed any. Taking care of grouchy shifters was her specialty.
She gave a brisk knock at the door, which went unanswered. A jiggle of the handle showed it locked. She banged harder and shouted, “Nurse Harper here. Are you going to let me in or not?” According to Arik, Jack had a wheelchair he could use to get around with his one good hand. So not completely invalid.
He could have been sleeping. Or perhaps he’d fallen and couldn’t get up. Maybe he was in the shower, or just couldn’t hear her.
The sensation of being watched let her know he just plain ignored her.
Very well then. Time for this Jack to find out why Harper had gotten the nickname of Nurse Ratched.
Because she never let up.
Jack sulked in his wheelchair as he ignored the woman knocking. Stupid meddling Pride. He’d told the king he didn’t want any help. Thought he’d made that clear when he sent the girl packing the day before. He’d wager his mother had a hand in this. She’d been hovering again this morning.
Sure, he could have let her cook him breakfast—he did so love his daily eggs, bacon, and toast—but it wouldn’t kill him to eat cold cereal for the annoying weeks it took to heal his damned arm and leg.
Of all the stupid things to happen to him. The stupid derecho that went through the previous week must have done damage to the roof that he’d not noticed. The dripping had been steady enough he’d decided not to wait until the storm ended to cover the leak. After all, he’d been up on that roof numerous times. So what if it was raining?
He would have been fine if he’d not lost his footing. He slid off the roof and, unlike the cat that startled him, didn’t land on his feet.
The worst hadn’t been having to drag himself back inside his house with his one good arm inside while gritting his teeth against the pain in his leg. The true horror of the situation was having to call his mother. The shame of having to ask for help. And then the coddling. Ugh. Would the nightmare never end?
The knocking at the door ceased. A discreet peek out the window showed the front porch empty. Good.
Last thing he needed was another annoying person trying to smother him. If he wanted coddling, he’d—
“There you are. I guess you didn’t hear me knocking.”
The sudden statement almost tore a scream from him. It definitely drew a glare as he whirled his wheelchair around to see the woman from his porch standing in his living room.
“How did you get inside?” he snapped.
“You really shouldn’t leave your windows unlocked.”
He frowned. The only window he’d left ajar was in his bedroom on the second floor. “You’re trespassing.”
“We both know that’s a lie. I’m here by order of our king.”
“I told Arik I didn’t need a nurse.”
“He disagrees. So if you have a problem with it, by all means, take it up with his majesty. I’m sure he’d love to hear you question his orders.” She offered him an almost feral smile and yet it suited her.
He took stock of her appearance. Older than the last few nurses sent by the Pride, she was around his age he’d guess, forties. Maybe a bit younger, or even older. Hard to tell with the silver threaded hair but rather smooth features. Her figure was trim but shapely in her slacks and blouse over which she wore a cardigan.
“I’m fine,” he grumbled.
“You have an arm and a leg in casts.”
“I can get around just fine. I don’t know why everyone insists on babying me.”
“Maybe because you’re whining like a child.” Another tart reply.
The rebuke widened his eyes. “Am not.”
“Says the man who juvenilely ignored my knocking.”
“Wasn’t in the mood for visitors.” His low rebuttal.
“Is that why you sent Becca running home to the Pride in tears? Not nice.”
“She wouldn’t stop talking.”
“Annoying, I’ll agree, however, you could have tried telling her to zip her lips. Or worn headphones.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell someone to shut up. This is my house, and I didn’t want her here. I’m glad she left.”
“Are you sure she was the problem? You’re quite the chatterbox.” Her lips pinched. “Maybe I’ll be the one wearing a headset.”
“I don’t yatter nonstop.” He didn’t hide his indignation. The very idea.
“I find that hard to believe. You look like the type to mutter under his breath.”
He bit his lip before he actually did mutter about annoying know-it-alls. “Get out. I don’t need your smart-ass remarks or your help.”
“Yes, I can see that.” She glanced at his clothes.
The shirt, ripped up one side, was slightly rank seeing as how he’d not been able to maneuver too well with just the one arm, so he’d just chosen to not change. His sweaty nightmares made that evident. Yes, he stank, but he’d not expected company.
And why was he feeling defensive? He growled, “Go away.”
“I will when you can make me.” She planted her hands on her hips. “Give it a try.”
“I am not laying hands on you so you can accuse me of abuse.”
“As if you could hurt me. I’ve wrestled bigger and meaner,” she boasted.
He doubted that. She was petite in comparison to him. “Woman, stop being so frustrating.”
She played a tiny violin.
He gaped. “What the fuck kind of bedside manner is that?”
“The kind reserved for crotchety men who won’t listen. Do as I say, and we’ll get along fine.”
Jack scowled, but she ignored his mighty displeasure and headed for the front door, opening it long enough to drag in two bags he hadn’t noticed.
She eyed him. “Where’s your bedroom?”
He pointed to his left.
She glanced past him to the massive sectional with a blanket half strewn across. “That’s not a proper bed.”
“For obvious reasons, I’m avoiding stairs.” He tapped the top of his thigh with the cast that started below his knee.
“How lazy are you?” She shook her head. “Tonight, you sleep on a mattress. But first,” she wrinkled her nose, “a bath.”
“Are you sure you’re qualified, because even my dumb ass knows you can’t get a cast wet,” he pointed out. Everyone knew that.
She rolled her eyes. “Have you never heard of a sponge bath?”
“You are not wiping me down like an old person.” Especially since his dick gave a little wiggle that said, why not?
“I wouldn’t have to if you’d handled your own basic hygiene.”
“Broken arm, remember?” He shifted the sling.
“You have a good hand still, all you need to give yourself a wipe,” she chided.
She had a point. In his defense, he wanted a shower. To him, slopping around a wet cloth seemed of little use. “Maybe I don’t mind the smell.” Truth be told, he’d been avoiding it by spraying himself with air freshener, not that he told her.
She tilted her head left and right. “Where’s the nearest washroom?”
“There’s a half bath under the stairs.”
“Sounds small. That won’t do. Let’s go find the kitchen.” She didn’t give him any choice. She grabbed the handles on his wheelchair and drove him, taking the corner in the hall a tad fast and narrowly missing the newel post. She didn’t even pause for the swinging door to the kitchen. A good thing he projected his good foot and kicked it open.
She abruptly parked him in the middle of the black and white tile, not original but a close match when he’d chosen to restore it. He’d had plenty of time to renovate given his curse.
“Now, where’s a cloth?” Rather than ask, she rummaged in the nearest drawer.
“To the left of the sink.” And then because it occurred to him, he’d let a stranger boss him around, he growled, “Exactly who are you?”
She glanced at him over her shoulder. “My name is Harper, but I also apparently answer to bitch, cunt, fucking cow, and my personal favorite, cock sucking whore.” She laid out the expletives and then turned away to wet the cloth she’d found while he blinked in shock.
He didn’t know if he was more disturbed she’d spoken those words aloud, or that people had actually used them on her.
“Have you been a nurse for long?”
She snorted. “Is this a way of asking my age?”
She laughed. “I’m forty-threeI went into college for nursing right after high school. I did a few years at the hospital before deciding I’d rather travel and do private gigs. I get to see new places and it pays better.”
“Must be nice,” he muttered.
She heard. “It is.”
He’d been stuck here since the curse. Yes, he did occasionally stretch his legs, but given he turned into a lion the moment he set foot off the property, it didn’t make for interesting excursions. He missed going to restaurants, the movies, even bowling, which he sucked at and hated because of the smelly shoes.
During their talk, she’d filled a bowl with water and wrung the cloth she’d found.
“You can’t seriously be about to wash me here,” he complained.
“Why not? There’s no one around.”
“Because I don’t want you to.” His plea fell on deaf ears.
She headed for him with the bowl smelling of dish detergent and the dreaded cloth. He reached for it, but she held it out of reach.
“I’ll do it.”
“If you were going to do it you wouldn’t reek of three-day-old smelly cheese. Your scruffy beard has crumbs!” she stated with indignation as if personally affronted.
He rubbed at the tufts of hair. He went through stints where he shaved to the skin. Then depression would hit, and he’d think, why bother? It wasn’t as if he had anyone to impress.
The cloth slapped him wetly in the face and while he did his best to twist and duck, Nurse Harpy remained firmly determined to scrub at him. She pulled it away for a rinse while he protested.
“Enough. I get your point.”
“Yes. Now leave me alone.”
“Nope. You smell and since I refuse to subject my nose to that kind of abuse, I will deal with it.” She eyed his shirt, which he’d torn so he could maneuver it over the broken arm that hung in a sling. She grabbed hold and ripped it free.
“Hey! I happened to like that shirt.” Not really, hence why he’d adjusted it in the first place.
“Were you this whiny as a child?” she asked as she more gently removed his sling before whacking the cloth to his chest for a moist glide.
He held on to his irritation to help him ignore the fact she touched him. It had been a while since that had happened. He got few guests. Harold and Peter used to come in the beginning until the guilt got to be too great. They realized it could have easily been them trapped.
Hard to meet girls stuck at home. At least the internet helped. He made online connections. Learned that jerking off with someone on the other side of a camera could help him not want to drown himself in the bathtub.
To his surprise, some women wanted to meet him in person, despite the fact he pretended to be one of those people afraid to leave the house. They didn’t last. Eventually, they annoyed him, or they got tired of the fact he truly wouldn’t leave the house. Given the result never changed, he’d not bothered to meet anyone in the last few years and truly kept to himself.
The cloth wound lower and lower, and he kept his legs pinched tight, trapping a dick that proved all too happy to have Nurse Harpy stroking him in a very clinical manner. She kept her lips pursed, her gaze on her task. Definitely not getting off seeing him half naked. He doubted he’d have the same kind of control if the roles were reversed.
The washing remained above the waistband for the moment as she handled his pits, his unbroken arm, his back, and his neck. She ran fingers through the hair on his head and tsked. “This is too greasy for dry shampoo.” Without asking, she tilted his chair and wheeled him to the counter. “You’ll have to stand for a few minutes and stick your head in the sink.”
“And if I say no?”
“Do you really want to see who wins that battle?” was her sweet riposte.
Not really, because he had a feeling it might be emasculating. He got up and put all his weight on his good leg while leaning the heel of the one in its cast at an angle for balance but no pressure—not for a few more days at least, according to the doctor. With his good hand braced on the counter, he tilted his head as directed. He had to admit, it did feel good to have the warm water sluicing his scalp. Her fingers might be brisk in their lathering massage, but he still relaxed. She rinsed him before slapping a dry towel on his head.
“Hold that for a moment,” she ordered.
He didn’t think, but grabbed the towel with his good hand, leaving him defenseless for the attack on his pants.
“What are you doing, woman?” he yelped as she gave his track pants a yank.
Her tart reply? “You forgot to wash your nether regions.”
Before he could slap her away or hop out of reach, she’d dropped his drawers and his dick sprang out, prouder than a Fourth of July flagpole.COLLAPSE