Prequel to Reckless Endangerment: Part 4
“Where am I?” he asked when he opened his eyes to the feel of a cool rag being pressed against his skin.
“In a hole.” Hope leaned over him, a twisted smile on her lips, crimson hair skimming her shoulders.He'd thought he had dreamed her. He reached up to grab a fistful of her hair and watched relief lighten her green eyes.
“You saved my life.”
“We’re not done yet.”
“What'd I miss?” His arms felt like lead when he adjusted himself on the cot. "How long was I out? Never mind that, what are you doing?"
She knelt between his legs with a washcloth in hand. She'd stripped from her clothes and wore a simple T-shirt that skimmed her thighs.
"We're stuck here until the extradition team arrives and I couldn't stand all that blood." She looked away from his gaze.
“This reminds me of a fantasy I had once or twice,” he said, warding off dizziness.
“You need better fantasies. You may be clean but that gash on your head has me worried.” She reached for her bag and came out with a first aid kit. She handed him a fistful of ibuprofin and another bottle of Evian.
“Now what are you doing?” he asked before gulping down the pills. "What else do you have in there?"
“What don’t I have in this bag?” She smiled and held up a tooth brush. “I am prepared for every circumstance.” With a wink, she handed him a protein bar. “People like to make fun of me and my bag.”
“Not me.” Hunger roared in his stomach at the sight of the protein bar. “I adore you and your bag.”
“That nasty bruise on your side makes me think you have more injuries than I'm prepared to diagnose, especially since I'm more WebMd than MD.” Sighing, she reached for her pants and pulled them on over toned thighs.
"How long was I out? I can't believe I lost consciousness. Is Sally here? Any idea if any of my men survived? It's all foggy. We were in the humvee, you woke me up rambling about something, then there was an explosion...I don't know. It's hazy."
"Hazy. Great." She squatted back on her heels and stared at him. "You told me you contacted your unit for support, that there's an extradition team coming. That's true, right?"
He stared back, pressing the washcloth over his neck. "Yes, I'm sure it is. Where are we exactly?"
"Marishka's." Her gaze flicked toward his forehead. "I'm going to sew you up. I thought about doing it when you were out, but, considering the fact that you're a Marine capable of killing me with your bare hands, I thought it best I wait until you were on the same page with me."
"A good idea." He grinned and suppressed the questions he had about Peter. He knew they needed to stay focused right now and that bringing up his death would be a bad strategy.
“I've been thinking about where we should set up roots, start a family, all that. Your parents are in Colorado Springs and my sister lives in Denver. How about Denver? Your son likes sports, right? I mean, I know he's only six, but Denver's a sports town.” When she smiled, he remembered exactly why he had fallen for her an instant after meeting her.
“Denver sounds ideal.” He knew she was avoiding talk about their current situation, attempting to distract herself with future plans. “I'm still having a difficult time believing you’re here.”
“Yet here I am.” She shrugged a clean long-sleeved T-shirt on over her other one. “Wish I wasn’t, though.”
“Yeah, I can see us in Denver, setting up roots, as you call them. But won't that be too tame for you? Won't you get bored?” He watched the distant expression on her face when she paused long enough to take a bite of the protein bar.
“I've had enough excitement to last me a lifetime.” She sat next to him, once again fumbling with her bag until she pulled out some thread and a needle. “This is probably going to leave a hideous scar...”
“You're the one who has to look at me for the rest of your life.”
“True.” She straddled him, her eyes full of apology as she held up the torture devices. "I wish I had a flask with me, but you're a tough Marine. You can handle it, right?"
"Do I have a choice?" He dropped his hands to her hips and watched her eyes while she threaded the needle.
She proceeded to stitch him up, wincing with empathy. He dropped his hands to her thighs and kept his gaze locked on her face.
"Ta-da," she said with a grimace.
"You're good at improvising."
"Wait until you see a mirror before saying that." Still straddling him, she moved her hands over his tattoo that covered the right side of his chest. Death before Dishonor was emblazoned on eagles' wings wrapped around a globe.
Sadness enveloped her in a heartbeat and chased away her grin.
"Hey," he pushed her hair away from her face, "Peter, Sally and you worked as one. They wouldn't have been here if they weren't as passionate about the story as you. Don't forget that."
A tear rolled down her cheek, which she quickly rubbed away with the back of her hand. "Tell me more about Dalton. Let's talk about the future while we wait."
“Dalton. He’s six, very smart, loves anything involving digging holes or dinosaurs and…” he hesitated and stared into her face, big eyes full of curiousity and compassion. “I miss him.”
“I’m sure he misses you, too. Big hero dad.” Again she smiled and his heart flipped inside his chest. “Do you think he'll like me?”
Smile gone, she stood and began stuffing things into her bag. Restlessness surged off of her like a lightening storm.
Dizziness spun his mind and blurred his vision when he attempted to stand.
Whoa. This is worse than I thought.
He covered his face with his hands and took a deep breath.
Whoa. This is worse than I thought.
He covered his face with his hands and took a deep breath.
Now was not the time for weakness. She may have gotten them to safety, but he needed to get them out. Period.
“You look pale again.” She skimmed her hands over his chest, eyes alert in the dim light. “This bruise worries me, too dark, too ugly, maybe you’re bleeding inside, maybe—“
“Hope.” He grabbed her hands and held them tight. “I was in a humvee that blew up, shot at and my buddies died. I probably have a concussion and—“
“You passed out. I should have—“
“You saved my life. You sewed me up.” And he would never forget that. “Now let's concentrate on the problems we can see. Trust me. I'm trained for this. I will get us home.”
The earth shuddered. An explosion rocked the air. Blackness encompassed the room. Silence. More explosions. He pulled her against his side. The darkness was all consuming and even though he knew he held her, he could not see her.
“Ours or theirs?” she asked, her breath warm against his skin.
“I'm afraid it's not as simple as that. That's why we were here, to help out the Afghans we've been training. We'd heard the Taliban would be assaulting them and rumors of ISIS encroaching in the area. You've been caught in a tri-fecta of sorts.”
"That must be why Nehru had all those guns with the chickens. He had Sally so let's hope they're both okay." She shimmied closer and wrapped her arms around his chest.
Another explosion rocked the building. He leaned back against the wall and pulled her with him.
"Let's talk about Greece. That's always a good distraction, right?” He smiled against her forehead. “Do you remember our wedding night?”
“Vividly.” She shifted her weight in the blackness and her hands felt their way up his torso to his neck. And then she kissed him.
Dizziness, weakness, all were eclipsed by the sensation of her lips moving against his. She tasted like home, like freedom and peace all rolled into a combination of warmth and…hope. His fingers tightened in her hair and he pulled her as close as she could get. Tongues collided. Flicked. Mouths devoured one another.
He felt his body shake from something other than desire. Pain. Sharp. Fingers in her hair, he held her face away from him and tried to see her shape in the utter blackness that consumed the room.
“Hope,” he said before agony akin to a knife cutting into his skull stopped his speech. He heard himself moaning and winced. This was not a good situation.
“Michael.” Her hands framed his face. Her breath skimmed his cheek. “Stay with me. Please.”
He couldn't answer. He dropped his head back against the wall and felt her move with him. She straddled his lap and hugged his head to her chest.
“You're not going to die on me. Do you hear me? I won't let you leave me. It's you and me against the world, we've got plans, roots to plant, a future waiting for us. You're all I've got, I'm not going to lose you.”
He breathed her in, wrapped his arms around her and fought against the agony piercing his skull. “I’ll be fine.”
“Right. Fine.” Her hold on him intensified. “We’ll both be fine. You’ll be home to see Dalton soon. We'll go to Denver, hang out at Rock Bottom Brewery enjoying happy hour and gossip with friends,”
"We'll take in an Avalanche game. You know how I love hockey." Oh, God, the agony.
Her hands stroked his hair. “Yep, that’s what we’ll do. Hockey games, brewed beer, Dalton, friends...it's gonna be perfect.”
“You talk too much,” he muttered against her shoulder.
Another explosion rocked the wall of their hiding place. Her face was in his hair, her arms cradled his head to her chest and her body pressed against his.
Strength seeped from his body even as he tried to hold on to her.
He closed his eyes and sighed. “Kiss me again.”
Her mouth covered his with a gentleness that pulled at his heart. Warm. Wet. He linked his hands together at her waist. He wanted so much more but had only so much strength remaining in his limbs. But if this is all he could have—the taste of her, the feel of her—then he would be happy with it.
Smoke. At first it did not register, but smoke definitely moved through the air.
“Fire,” he whispered against her lips.
“A real fire.” He laughed with as much energy as he had.
Machine guns. Explosions. Voices raised close by. And smoke, more intense than before, pummeled through the air.
Keep reading to the conclusion