Bitten Under Fire(8)

By: Heather Long

Fresh alarm streaked through Collin Valenzuela’s scent. The boy clung to her, and tears streaked through the dirt coating his face. “Bianca!”

“I’ve got her,” he assured the boy, but the child wasn’t mollified.

Almost snarling, Collin threw himself at Cage, all flailing fists and bared teeth, spitting anger. “I won’t let you hurt her.”

Wolf and man both united in their pride at the child’s need to defend the woman. She’d obviously been protecting him, and her fresh bruises and opened wounds served as a testament to her suffering.

“Butterscotch muffins, Collin.” It sounded ridiculous to his ears, but Collin’s mother insisted it was a code phrase she’d taught her son. Almost immediately, the child stopped beating his ineffectual fists on Cage’s chest.

Hiccuping, he withdrew but didn’t disengage from where he still held onto Bianca. The woman’s fragile weight lay against Cage’s free arm, and he ruffled Collin’s hair.

“You did good, and you’re right to protect her.” One by one, the other wolves reappeared. They’d shifted after verifying no survivors remained among the guerillas. It would take them all a minute to get their gear back on. Cage hadn’t had time to do more than fasten his pants and pull on his shirt. If they looked down, they’d see his bare feet.

“Hey, kid, I’m Silver,” the lanky wolf shifter said, all Southern smoothness and charm. “Will you let us help her?”

Though he hesitated, Collin let Silver draw him away. The man would verify the state of Collin’s injuries, even as he gave him fresh water from a bottle. Cage swung his glance over the destruction they’d wrought. When the number of soldiers they faced went over twenty-five, they’d gone wolf to deal with it. Faster, more efficient and fewer bullets to expend. It reduced the chances that their rescues might catch friendly fire.

“All clear,” Butler alerted him as he swung away from their small group to begin a grid search. He would check every body and remove it. Trust but verify—even when their noses and ears told them they’d achieved their first goal of eliminating the threat. Once the corpses were stacked in one of the huts, they’d set a fire. No evidence of their presence could be left behind. The animals would be turned loose. No one would care about the corpses—or the bones. People died on this range all the time.

Jeremiah dropped next to him and broke out the emergency med kit. With two fingers, he checked the woman’s—Bianca’s—pulse, then went over her, looking for injuries.

“Her arm’s broken…knee’s torn up…face is bruised…possible cheekbone fracture.” With swift efficiency, he tested the bones in her arm. Cage kept her braced against him, her back to his chest. The woman had put up a hell of a fight. Blood and pain mingled with fierce determination coated the inside of the cabin.

He’d followed their leader when Collin raced out. A split second to make a decision, and Jeremiah had already streaked after the boy to make sure no one touched him. Thankfully, the momentary hesitation hadn’t cost Bianca her life. She’d been fighting when Cage charged and ripped the guy off of her. The darkness hid his form from her—he hoped—but for now, it didn’t matter.

She was a civilian, she’d been in danger, and he saved her.

“Gonna set the arm.” Jeremiah’s warning didn’t prepare him for the teeth-grinding sound of her bone being realigned. Bianca released a pained moan, but she didn’t wake up.

Probably a good thing, considering her suffering.

Next, Jeremiah injected her in the thigh. “Keep watch on her. This is straight-up antibiotics. I don’t scent any infection, but she’s filthy, which means those open wounds are being exposed to it.”

It was only then that her state of dress registered—a one-piece bathing suit, no shoes. Damn. His wolf perked up, definitely interested, and Cage muzzled him. She’s bleeding, broken, and in pain, and you want to check her out? Admiration for her tenacity or not, it simply wasn’t cool.

Cage could have sworn his wolf snorted, but the animal retreated a fraction.

“Is she okay?” Collin asked in a trembling voice. Terror-induced fatigue had left the little man drained.

“She will be,” Cage assured him. “We’re just cleaning her up so we can carry her out of here. Can you walk?” They could order him around and would if the need arose to protect him. Yet, the amount of grit the child demonstrated coupled with his fierce protection of Bianca earned him a measure of respect from Cage.

“Take care of her, they hurt her a lot—made her dig a garden, too.”