He stuck his hand down the back of her jeans. “Yup. And you loved every minute of it.” He pinched, making her squeal. “Now stop changing the subject.”

“Okay, fine. You could probably take on Gary and his idiot friends without too much trouble.”

“That’s putting it mildly. Tabby, if Gary so much as gives you a papercut, he’ll be eating his own ass.”

He snorted. “You just don’t get it, do you?”

“Right, Yoda. Sure I will.” She kicked his shin when he pinched her again. “You’d sooner chew off your own paw than hurt me.”

“True.” He pushed until her head was resting against his shoulder. “After lunch I want some ink.”

She cuddled close, loving the way he seemed to surround her. “Done.”

“Food’s getting cold.” Emma stepped out onto the front porch. “And for the record? I’m not afraid of you either.”

Alex stood slowly and pulled Tabby up alongside him. His hand nearly crushed hers. Her big Bear was nervous.

“Neither am I.” Max took up position next to his mate. “I heard all about what you did. You protected your own. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that.”

“Ditto.” Adrian nodded respectfully to Alex. “Now come inside. Julian should be here any minute and rumor has it he loves cantaloupe.”

“Nope. I trust my people, and they tell me you’re worth it.” Max waved them into his home. “Alex?”

Alex stopped. He looked startled at the sound of his name on Max’s lips. “Yeah?”

Tabby felt Alex tense beside her. “Thank you, Alpha.”

Tabby nearly collapsed in relief. They weren’t going to be turned away.

Tabby collapsed against the door, watching Alex visit his cousin. Chloe still hadn’t moved.

He sat by Chloe’s side and picked up her hand. He watched his cousin, his expression so full of sorrow Tabby’s eyes filled with tears. The shades in the room were drawn, hiding them from the night. They’d stayed longer than planned at the Cannon’s house, and visiting hours were almost over.

“No clue. Last I heard, he wasn’t in town yet. Gabe told me his plane got delayed.”

She watched him run his hand over his bald head. “The longer she’s in a coma, the worse off she’s going to be.”

Chloe’s mother stifled a sob. “She’s going to be all right.”

“I know she will, Aunt Laura.”

A hand landed on Tabby’s shoulder. She turned to find Julian standing behind her. His eyes showed the strain of being in the hospital, even though his lips smiled. “Hey, girlfriend. Long time no see.”

She poked him in the side, knowing how ticklish he was. She’d left him twenty minutes ago sitting on the Cannon’s couch, arguing with Emma about which reality TV show was better, America’s Next Top Model or American Idol . She wasn’t certain which one he’d been for, only that he and Emma seemed to be having a really good time. He’d refused to discuss Cyn, giving the Pumas that weird, secretive smile of his and changing the topic. Not even Max had been able to get him to talk about his would-be mate.

Julian jumped and shimmied away, batting at her hand. “I have an idea, but I need to talk it over with Chloe’s family before I try.”

Tabby stopped poking. Julian had his serious face on.

Julian tugged his braid. It was a nervous habit and told her just how much he really didn’t want to be doing whatever it was he was about to propose. “I might know a way to wake her up, but if it works, it will change her profoundly.”

“She’ll still be Chloe, but might also be something more. Are you willing to risk that?”

Steven’s mouth opened, but he stopped at a touch from his wife. “Changed how?”

Julian shook his head. “I don’t know. What I do know is she and I will be connected in some very strange ways.” He stepped into the room, lowering his voice. “What I’m discussing is not done lightly, and can only be done by the Kermode. Are you willing to risk having your daughter’s life tied to mine?”

“This won’t be a mate bond. This will be something a great deal more…spiritual.

I’m not sure I can adequately explain it.” Julian looked frustrated. “There’s so much that you can’t see or feel. It’s like trying to explain red to a blind man.”

“It’s hot.” Tabby shrugged her shoulders when everyone turned to her. “What?”

Julian rolled his eyes. “You watch way too much TV, Tabby. What movie was that from?”

“Does it matter? Is she going to wake up all Freddy Krueger?”

“Is she going to become a Stepford Wife, all cheerful and homicidally creepy?”

“Will she still be Chloe?”

Julian tilted his head. “She could become more in tune with the spirit world than other shifters. I’ve heard of ones who were awakened this way who could talk to the dead, or see into other people’s dreams.”

“No, she’s right. I’d rather have a psychic daughter than no daughter.” Steven held out his hand. “Please. Wake my girl.”

Julian smiled grimly. “I’ll do everything in my power.”

Tabby pulled out her phone. “Should I call Cyn and let her know what’s going on?”

The look Julian shot Tabby was lethal. “Do it and you’ll regret it.” His grin showed way too many teeth. “You’d look really cute with brown hair.”