Bitten Under Fire(10)By: Heather Long
“Hello there,” an unfamiliar voice greeted her. The woman who appeared in her line of sight wore a uniform, her blonde hair perfectly tucked and pinned. “I’m Corpsman McGinnis, and you’re aboard the USS Seahawke. Do you know your name?”
“Bianca,” she began, but the word came out strained and choked. Coughing, she closed her eyes and grimaced.
“Easy, take a sip of this,” Corpsman McGinnis said, then a straw touched Bianca’s lips. It took a moment to remember how to suck up the water. The cold liquid flooded her mouth like manna from heaven.
She wanted to sigh, but she took several small gulps before the corpsman removed the straw.
“Bianca Devlin.” She managed to state her full name; it still came out in broken syllables and a strained voice. Bianca wasn’t sure what hurt more, her ears or her throat. “I’m a US Aid Worker, identification number four-foxtrot-Charlie-four-five-five.”
“Well, that’s helpful, Ms. Devlin, thank you. You were rescued. You’ve been aboard for about ten hours…”
“Collin.” Bianca tried to sit up, and the aches in her back turned to real lances of agony. She gripped the metal railings of the bed to hold herself up even as the corpsman tried to ease her down. “There was a little boy…Collin.”
A deep, masculine tone wrapped around her, soothing her agitation and jerking her attention from the female corpsman to the hatchway of the ship’s infirmary. The man had to turn sideways to enter. Broad shoulders, thick arms, a huge chest, and a square jaw with a hint of a dimple in his cheek when his lips softened into a hint of a smile… He was gorgeous.
“We got both of you out.”
Sagging with relief, Bianca let the corpsman ease her back into the hospital rack. Exhaustion swarmed her muscles and she closed her eyes. “Thank God.”
“Well, actually, my name is Carlos—my friends call me Cage.” A hint of humor softened his deep baritone and she resisted the urge to laugh.
“Please don’t flirt with me, not when I have no idea what my hair looks like and it tastes like something died in my mouth.” It came out far more a groan than she cared to admit, but his soft chuckle offered a boost.
“Fair enough. I’ll save my flirting for later.” Easy acceptance of her rejection scored him some points.
“Great…can I have more water? And why am I on a ship? All my crap is back at the hotel, not that I have any intentions of returning to that five-star joke.” A cough racked her and she attempted to cover her mouth with her hand. Grimacing, she got a good look at her ragged nails, torn skin, and bruises. So much for the whole spa effect.
When the straw came to her this time, it was Cage who offered it. The corpsman had vanished. Where had she gone? Drinking slowly, Bianca let the liquid fill her mouth. Cage kept his hand steady and raised his eyebrows. When she relaxed her head against the pillow, he set the cup aside.
“Where’d the doc go?”
“She’s right over there,” Cage said, nodding to the far side. She’d have to take his word for it.
“I feel like crap,” she admitted, because sometimes giving voice to what bothered her diminished the power it had over her mood. Her aches and pains didn’t go away, nor did the sensation of her lips tingling and burning. A pinch in her arm when she moved it pulled her attention, and she glanced at the tape at her elbow joint and the tube… Nausea swam through her and she squeezed her eyes closed.
“Hey.” Cage’s warm voice cushioned her terror, and the comfort of his hand on hers grounded her. “What’s wrong? Are you in pain?”
“No,” she answered as honestly as she could muster but refused to open her eyes. “Just realized they stuck needles in me.”
“They stuck… Oh, the IV. Pretty sure it’s just a tube now, the needle is done.” Humor gentled his tone.
“You’re not making fun of me, are you?” Bit by bit, she rallied. Despite her exhaustion, she willed her eyes to open so she could study her visitor.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said, his earlier humor softening the corners of his beautiful mouth. A man’s mouth isn’t beautiful. The mental chastisement did little to chase away the thrill looking at him gave her. “You’re not in pain though, right?”
Something about his deep, alluring eyes captivated her as flecks of gold danced within the deep swirls of cocoa. It was as though they warned of secrets hidden within him, just waiting to be discovered.
And now I know I’m on painkillers. She was not given to fanciful thoughts, no matter how much she pretended at social functions. It was important to make others feel important, to let them appear to have a mystery hidden inside waiting to be discovered.