Beyond the Ocean's Depths (Not an Average Shifter Romance)

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Chapter 48: Turtle Triage

TORIN

October had tried to brush off the compliment that Delilah had uttered to me while the matronly dolphin and I communicated briefly before the good veterinarian walked in. I was only seconding the truthful statement, and I meant it. She was special.

Within only a matter of minutes, October had somehow managed to pull me from the depths of my anger, turned self-pity, and put a new face on the Jimson situation. She was right. I was fortunate that Sandy’s murderers were still being hunted by law enforcement much bigger than little-time Navarro Beach. Even though they weren’t hunting them down specifically for Sandy and Jayde’s deaths - for they didn’t know about that - Lopez was responsible for other murders and both Carter and Jimson weren’t far behind. So, the FBI and Miami PD would have enough on the books, at least on the human side of things, to get all three of them put away for life - once they got Jimson to talk, of course.

October was also right in that if somehow my jurisdiction were involved with the capture of Jimson and eventual sentencing of Lopez, then that would be the best retribution for Sandy’s death. It was Lopez’ dirty money and business that had funded Carter and the aquarium after all. Justice would be served, at least as far as the legal system goes. And in a big way, I would be a part of bringing that justice about. Nothing could completely right the wrongs that had been committed, but I’d be satisfied with having something to do with getting these thugs and murderers behind bars for the rest of their mortal lives. After all, that had been what Sandy and Jayde were trying to do all along.

When I had originally pulled into the rehab’s parking lot about a half hour ago, I wasn’t sure what I was doing there. I’d taken off from the office to get some air and clear my mind, not really concentrating on where I was headed. All I knew was that I needed to get out; the pressure of my anguish was getting to me, and no one that I worked with would be able to understand why Jimson, Lopez, and Carter hit my raw emotions so deeply. This was the problem working in a town with few fellow shifters, none of which were on the police force.

I thought about going up to Mom’s office when I realized I was at the rehab, but I wasn’t ready to talk it out with her just yet. And Rainie was definitely not the person I wanted to see me in this mood.

God, how many times had I sat in this parking lot so many years ago now, waiting for Sandy to come out? When we moved to Navarro Beach not long after I’d graduated college and we’d gotten married, she started coming to the aquarium to check on the dolphins. She’d become fast friends with Delilah, and though I didn’t come here nearly as often as she, when I did, we always had to visit Delilah. Those visits only increased once Sandy began her investigation into the aquarium.

I simply entered the front door and my feet found their way to Delilah’s underwater viewing area. I hadn’t seen her in five years - not since Sandy and Jayde’s deaths, and I felt guilty for not having checked in on her after all this time. She’d aged a lot, and if it weren’t for the fact that she’d been able to sense my dolphin, I don’t think she would have noticed me at all. But when she approached the glass, trying to determine who I was, I easily recalled how to communicate with her mentally, and pressed my forehead and hand against the glass so that my energies would be able to emanate into the waters, amplifying my thoughts to her.

While in human form, I wasn’t nearly as good at communicating with pure dolphins as Sandy had been, but I did well enough. And Delilah, once she recognized me - for I had aged as well - was beyond herself, quickly filling me in on things with her. She mostly chattered about how much things had improved since Rob took over the aquarium and Chuy and Vickie had started caring for her and Dan several months ago. I was happy for her.

Then she told me about the special dolphin doctor who’d been treating her for her chronic respiratory infections and the ailments of old age. She definitely had a soft spot for October. That’s when October herself walked in and Delilah laughed, telling me that it’d been good to see me and that I should go meet her friend. I didn’t get a chance to tell her that I’d already met October and that she was also my friend now, too.

Apparently, October was very good at this friend thing, for I was already feeling better after talking with her for only a few minutes! So, when she offered to have me come with her to the infirmary, I jumped on the opportunity. There really wasn’t much more I could be doing towards the Jimson case right now - my guys were on it, and my other low-key paperwork could wait.

“A turtle?” I echoed as she told me that the patient she was off to check on was a yellow-bellied slider who’d gotten his leg scraped pretty badly on something in the wading tank and was having a difficult time healing.

“Yep! He’s not much bigger than this.” She held up her hands in a circle approximately six inches in diameter, then continued as we walked down the hall, “He’s fast, even with a hurt appendage. The kids were helping me yesterday and when I set him down on the long table he tried to make a daring escape. He almost made it, too, before Kyle noticed!”

“Sounds like there’s never a dull moment here,” I laughed in return, thinking about all the dramatic stories Rainie came home with every day.

When we reached the infirmary, October led us to a wall with several 40-gallon aquarium tanks, most of them empty save for some with small fish swimming and one with the injured turtle. Being semi-aquatic, I didn’t know as much about yellow-bellied sliders as I did about sea turtles, but as she peered into the top of the tank, October had no problem filling me in, her public educator side kicking in.

“So, this is our slider. I’m not sure how long he’s been here since they didn’t leave any records on the little animals, like this guy. But he’s probably about three or four years old.”

She pointed to his right back leg. “That’s the one he hurt. The wound’s on the underside, so we didn’t notice it right away. But, as you can see, he doesn’t like to keep his bandage on, then goes and rubs his leg on his shell until the gash opens again.”

I nodded, taking note of the small elastic-looking bandage laying in the corner of the tank. “How does he get it off?” I queried, thinking there was no way he was reaching back there with his mouth, nor his other legs, and she laughed. God, her laughter was wonderful and my stomach did a flip as her notes echoed in the cement-floored and cinder block-walled room.

“You know, I don’t really know! He never removes it while someone’s watching.” Then as she reached down into the tank, she spoke to the turtle. “You’re a sneaky guy, aren’t you?!”

I couldn’t help but smile as she admonished the turtle teasingly. She picked him up as though he were a sandwich with her hands grasping the top and bottom of his shell and held him up to face her. “You’re never going to get to go back to the wading pool if you don’t let your wound heal. And I know you don’t like this old tank and the infirmary that much!”

She gently flipped him over, bringing him closer so that I could see the injury. I peered down at the topsy turvy turtle, waving his legs slowly and looking as apprehensive as a turtle could about having his vulnerable belly visible. It was apparent that his injury was causing him discomfort, as he tried not to move that leg nearly as much as the others.

Carefully, grasping the foot of the problem leg, October extended the leg enough for the semi-infected wound to be clearly visible. “See, it’s just in the worst spot possible and he’s opened it up again.”

She frowned, then looked at me. “Do you feel comfortable holding him? Then I can clean the wound.”

“Oh, yeah,” I affirmed, reaching out to carefully take the upended turtle.

“Careful not to let him get his head too close to your fingers; he likes to nip people every now and then.”

I thought I’d be more comfortable with the animal than I was, having an animal within me, but I soon realized how out of my element I really was. Yet, October was sure and confident as she gave the turtle her utmost attention.

“It’s okay, you can relax,” October softly stated with a hint of humor in her voice, and I wondered if the turtle understood her as I stood there waiting with baited breath as he continued to kick out his strong little legs with semi-sharp claws. He was definitely eyeing my fingers now, a bit on the hungry side.

I nearly jumped as October put her hand on my arm, and I quickly glanced up at her and away from her patient who was fighting against me.

“I’m talking to you,” she smirked. “Relax. He can sense your feelings, and if you’re uptight, he’ll keep fighting.”

I embarrassedly laughed and let out the breath I’d been holding. “When did he eat last? He looks hungry.”

October laughed fully this time. “No worries, I fed him earlier. If he bites you, it’s so he can make a run for it, not because he wants to see how you taste.”

She cleared her throat suddenly, and I could see a brief flash of color cover her cheeks before she turned to grab her supplies. It took me a second, but I soon realized that she had put some quick afterthought into her own words.

“Oh, is it the doctor who wants to see how I taste?!” My own skin flushed with heat and I think I subconsciously wet my lips as I tried to follow her instructions and relax for the sake of the turtle. Not that she was helping in that department.

She motioned for me to take a seat on the stool behind me, and approached with a long cotton swab drenched in some sort of medicated cleaning solution. Leaning over the turtle, her head was only inches from mine, but she was back in doctor-mode, all her attention focused on her patient.

“Okay, little guy, you know how this works,” she soothed and used the back of her index finger to gently stroke the underside of the long neck he’d stretched out to her. He seemed more comfortable and stopped clawing and simply pressed against me as I held him. I remained still as a statue, not wanting to move him so October could do her thing properly.

Finally, she brushed the swab along his injury, and he tensed again, trying to pull his leg out of her grasp and hide his injury from the offending swab.

“It’s okay. You’re alright,” she again soothed, and I couldn’t help but allow my eyes to drift up to her as she bent over the turtle, intent on her administrations.

She traded swabs for one with an antibiotic medication and then proceeded to dress the wound again with a new bandage. My eyes never left her until she needed me to help her dress the wound, after which she took her patient from me, setting him back in his tank.

“All done, fella! Now keep that bandage on, you hear?!”

I smirked, trying to keep my bubbling thoughts inside, having been under her spell and sucked into her enveloping aura the entire time. But she glanced up at me before I could contain the look of humorous infatuation I must have had on my face.

“What?” She asked, semi-suspicious that I was making fun of her. Pure humans sometimes seemed to be very self conscious about talking to animals as if they were humans outside of the general baby-talk they gave to pets. Silly humans didn’t realize that animals generally understood more than they gave them credit for.

I rose from the stool, not realizing how close she’d been standing, and I was again pulled completely under her spell. Her soul mate call was overwhelming, as her breath hitched only inches from me. I wondered if she knew what she did to me... If she knew that I thought she was the most beautiful creature alive, inside and out.

No, I didn’t think anything about her was silly. The way she treated the poor, obstinate turtle with the same regard that she would a dolphin or another human, turned me on. She truly cared about all the animals under her care, and her warmth washed over me. I longed for the same attention that she so easily delved out to them. But I wanted more, I wanted the attention that I knew she would only provide to a soul mate.

My voice, raspy and a bit uncertain, just came out, and I knew not what I was saying as she seemed to be suddenly equally drawn to me. “He’s got the right idea.”

She looked at me curiously, and I continued. “If I were your patient, I’d try to stay in your care as long as possible, too.”

Her eyes quickly darkened, and I knew she understood my meaning. Without another thought, I closed the distance between us, breathing in her soft floral scent as my lips met hers. Sweet and warm, that’s how she tasted and I was hungry for more as she tilted her face up to meet my kiss. She inhaled deeply, then, like last night, relaxed into the moment, her lips equally engulfing my lips as much as I was savoring hers.

Just when I thought I sensed her opening up further, I felt a moment of uncertainty in her and she drew back, taking her warm lips away and leaving me feeling confused. Had I done something wrong?

But her eyes were soft as I gazed down into them, despite the slightly embarrassed expression on her face. I knew she hadn’t necessarily regretted kissing me, but seemed to be second guessing something. What was it that was holding her back? I didn’t think it was our past history together, as I was pretty sure she was past my indiscretions from before. Was it because she was pure human and didn’t understand the sexual and spiritual energy that exuded between us as soul mates? Perhaps it frightened her. If I didn’t already understand it as a Shifter, I suppose I would be hesitant about it as well - at least the way it made me feel.

I wanted to put her at ease, trying to lighten the atmosphere that was full of energetic sparks along with her doubts. I didn’t want my soul mate to feel scared or pressured. “Uh, this morning I was planning on checking my schedule so that I could figure out what days I’m available this week for that date I promised you.”

She looked slightly worried, and I was sure she thought I was going to cancel out on her. I don’t know why, not after I just kissed her!

“But I ran into a few issues.” Her face clearly looked as though her heart had sunk, which only fueled me with energy. She wasn’t second guessing going out with me when she pulled back from my kiss. No, she still wanted to go out with me!

“Well,” I continued, “I never had a chance to check the calendar before I left the station.”

She visibly relaxed, opening her mouth to speak, but I quickly added before she could, “But, then I realized you never gave me your number, so I couldn’t call or text you even if I wanted to.”

That broke all her reserves and she laughed, that beautiful, genuine, and heartfelt laugh. Sure, I’d gotten her number from Mom earlier, but it would be better to get it from her directly, and to use the opportunity to see how she felt about me now. My interrogation style had always been more low-key - I found relaxing people tended to get them to open up more truthfully, even if it were only through a display of emotions.

Finished laughing, October had once again relaxed, pulling her phone from her back pocket, still smiling. “No, I guess we never did exchange numbers, huh?! Maybe we should go ahead and do that.”

Whew, there was the happy-go-lucky October I was getting to know, and I rattled off my number so she could send me a text. As her message pinged, I pulled my phone out, pretending to add her to my contacts, as I smiled at her text.

Lacking words, it was simply a dolphin emoji with an extra happy and slightly blushing smiley face.

🐬😊

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