Bitten Under Fire(92)

By: Heather Long

“I did my part, and you’re feeling better. Now, go be Bianca Devlin, badass savior of the world.”

“You say that like you know me,” Bianca murmured, as she stepped out of the SUV.

“I might have done a full background check after the rescue mission,” Kat said without an ounce of remorse. “Really liked what I learned.”

The air outside was warm, filled with a profusion of scents, and she had to pause to take a long breath of them all. They swirled around her—trees, flowers, birds, hay—too many to name. It held her captive, then she caught it, a hint—a taste—Cage.

He was there.

Excitement warring with dread threaded through her. She’d asked for time and he did this? A part of her was tempted to walk away, but the rest of her? Curiosity welled within her, curiosity and a bit of longing. She hurried for the building.

There was a note on the door, and she paused.

Bianca Devlin, the woman who dared.

Her heart skipped a beat, and she opened the door and stepped into a kind of antechamber. There were a couple of chairs and a laptop sitting in the middle of the table. A sticky note on the space bar said: Hit me.

Traces of Cage’s elusive scent clung to the table near the computer. Sliding into a seat, she hit button. A video began playing, and the blur resolved into the face of one earnest, little nine-year-old boy.

“My name is Collin Valenzuela, and I love Bianca Devlin ’cause she’s awesome and saved my life.” He glanced away from the camera a moment, then grinned again. “Bianca was my very own superhero, and when bad men kidnapped me, Bianca fought them.”

Tears welled in her eyes at his brave voice, right down to the hint of a quaver, but he didn’t give into his fear.

“We didn’t do so good in the fighting department, and we had to go with them. But Bianca stayed with me, she made me laugh, and she made me feel safe. She also taught me how to make a fire, how to boil water, and told the best stories. Thank you, Bianca. Will you come see me soon?”

Hand pressed against her mouth, she fought to keep the sob from escaping. He looked so good.

At the end of the video a flashcard popped up. Go through the next door, beautiful.

Rising, she swiped at the tears and headed for the door. A sticky note on it said: Don’t jump.

“Thanks for the warning,” she said to the air, then opened the door into a much wider room. This looked like some large meeting hall, and the moment she came inside a video began to play against the wall—old projector style.

News reels—snippets of stories—all featuring her.

“Born to Doctors June and Harry Devlin of Doctors Beyond Borders while the physicians were working Kuala Lumpur, Bianca Devlin is a woman of honor, bravery, and sacrifice,” Kat’s voice echoed through the room, and Bianca jumped despite the warning. “Growing up in arguably some of the most dangerous and abandoned areas of the world, Bianca thrived under the tutelage of her parents. Tested in some of the worst global disasters of the last two decades, Bianca dedicated herself to improving the lives of everyone.”

As Kat spoke, images of some of the humanitarian efforts Bianca participated in appeared. Some videos she hadn’t even realized existed. Shock and awe held her riveted.

“In this rare footage, our favorite humanitarian is shown wading into the flood waters to rescue a small dog. Little did those around her realize that a small child held on to the animal.”

Bianca had almost forgotten that. It never occurred to her not to go into the waters.

Peter was suddenly on the screen. “That was a difficult rescue effort; we were on our own. Our supplies had been stopped for customs inspections, our support had been scattered to two other disasters, and it was Bianca, me, and a couple of others with shovels and what we could do on our own. She never stopped working, and she always had a smile. There’s something magical about Bianca when she decides to help you—she doesn’t stop until she’s done it.”

The video ended and left an arrow pointing to the next door. Weeping openly, Bianca made her way to the door and pulled it open.

Cage stood alone inside the shadowy room, and his amber eyes seemed to glow in the low light. Spreading his hands wide, he said, “I want you to know, I know how valuable you are, and how important what you do is. I also want you to know how important you are to me. I lied to you. I manufactured a reason to be close to you. I did it all because I bit you.”

She bit her lip.

“That’s why I came.” He pressed a hand over his heart. “That’s not why I stayed. I told myself it was a mission, it was to protect the team, to protect the packs—but that wasn’t the whole of it all. From the first moment I saw you, you fascinated me. You were strong, determined, fierce, and funny. Getting to spend time with you was a gift. I fell for you, Bianca. The whole time I prayed the bite wouldn’t take, that I wouldn’t be the one who took your choice from you.”