Authors: Lisa Marie Rice
“I’m an artist.”
“Artist, huh? I…see.” Ben’s hands stilled and he shot Drake a look. He knew what was in the study. He concentrated again on her, cleaning up the side of her face. He peered closely at her temple, gently lifting her hair away. “What happened here? Someone grind something into you?”
“You could say that.” Her voice turned dry. “A gun muzzle. It wasn’t fun.”
“No, I bet it wasn’t. The sights tore your skin. I don’t want to put stitches in, though. I’m no plastic surgeon and you’re too beautiful for me to mess your face up. But you might want to have that looked at later. I’ll put in butterfly stitches. How we holding up, boss?” Ben raised his voice without looking over at him. “I’m wrapping this up.”
Grace peered around Ben to look at him and he saw her eyes widen. “Listen, I’m fine now. Go to him, please.”
Ben carefully placed the last butterfly stitch and looked at Drake, who was holding himself up by sheer willpower.
Ben scrubbed his hands carefully but fast, snapped on new latex gloves and came to him, holding a big syringe.
“Okay, my man, it’s your turn, and it’s about time.” He cut away Drake’s shirt, looked carefully at the wound without touching it. “Ricochet,” he said finally, “you lucky bastard. If the force hadn’t been almost spent by the time it made its way into your tough hide, you might have been a goner. As it is, it’s shallow and it’s going to be easy to get out. You got a free one there, Drake, my man.”
Ben was carefully filling the big syringe with anesthetic.
“Not very much anesthesia,” Drake said. “I don’t want to lose the use of my shoulder and arm.”
Ben looked at him, shocked. Drake nearly smiled. It took a hell of a lot to shock a trauma surgeon.
“You’re crazy. I can’t stitch up a bullet wound if it’s not completely numb. You can’t hold still for me. We’re not out on the Afghani plains, Drake, we’re in midtown Manhattan. Cleaning bullet wounds requires probing and debriding. It’s going to fucking hurt if I don’t pump you full of anaesthesia.”
“No.” Drake kept his voice firm, but only through a huge effort. “Just the bare minimum.”
He couldn’t lose the use of his shoulder and arm, not even for an hour. He had no idea how far his security had been breached. Every instinct he had told him that he was safe here, but there had to be a mole and he could be close by. The thought of Grace in danger while he had lost the use of his arm and shoulder was too frightening even to contemplate.
“So how the hell am I supposed to work on you if I’m fucking hurting you?” Ben asked in exasperation.
Drake closed his eyes and went away.
It was just amazing to watch. Before the doctor could inject the anesthetic, this man, this Drake, as everyone called him, simply closed his eyes and…disappeared. It was as if he put himself into a deep sleep—actually it looked like more of a coma, though he remained sitting upright—in a second.
“What—what happened?” she asked. Her voice sounded shaky.
Ben looked up at her and frowned. “Don’t go into shock on me,” he warned. “At least not yet. I need to take care of Drake now.”
“Of course,” she said, ashamed. The man’s wound was much worse than anything she’d suffered and he’d insisted she be treated first. The least she could do was not distract the doctor.
“Amazes me every time,” the doctor said conversationally as he made three injections of anesthesia around the wound. He started cleaning the area, bloody gauzes dropping steadily into a steel receptacle. He took something that looked like cooking tongs and, after a few moments’ fierce concentration, dropped a flattened piece of metal into the receptacle. “Hmm. Boat-tail Sierra MatchKing. Don’t see too many of those in city shootings. Came from a military rifle.”
He brought out a scalpel, needlepoint scissors and a curved needle with thread in it. Grace’s stomach lurched.
“Are you—are you hurting him?” Grace asked.
“God knows. He’s got this incredible control over himself and when he has to, he just disappears. Poof! He’s gone.” He shook his head. “Strongest son of a bitch I’ve ever met.” There was raw admiration in his voice.
Grace had to look away, think of something else besides what Ben was doing to Drake’s torn flesh. She looked around and took in the big room for the first time. “What is this? A private hospital?”
“You could say that.” Amusement colored Ben’s voice. “Yeah, you could say that. I like the idea. Drake Hospital. That’s what I’m going to call it from now on. Drive him crazy.”
Grace watched Drake’s face. It was completely impassive. Even his eyes behind the closed eyelids were still.
“Can he hear you?” she whispered.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? I admire him tremendously, but he’s an enigma. Who knows what goes on in his head? I sure don’t.”
Grace eyed what looked like a CAT scanner. “So. Where are we? Are we—are we in a private home?”
“Yep.” He was bent over Drake’s shoulder. She heard snipping sounds and swallowed heavily. “Drake’s.”
“So, um, there’s this clinic in a home? How does that work? And are you the boss?”
She saw his mouth curve up even while he was intently focusing on what he was doing. “The boss? Me? With Drake anywhere within a hundred-mile radius? No ma’am. Absolutely not. I’m the hired help. Highly educated and highly skilled, it’s true, but just the help.”
“I—uh,” she floundered, feeling suddenly weary. She hurt all over and was keeping herself from keeling over only by gripping the edges of the cot, intensely aware of the fact that she was alone in a building with God only knew how many men. Armed men. And alone in this room with two men she didn’t know.
Something of what she was feeling must have shown on her face. He flicked a quick glance her way. When he spoke again, his voice held no teasing note at all. If anything, he sounded…kind.
“You must be frightened. Drake hasn’t told me what happened, but it looks like the two of you were attacked. But you had Drake with you and he’s the smartest, toughest, bravest man I know, so you were okay. As for this room, yes, it’s sort of like a private clinic. Drake employs a lot of men and sometimes they’re…injured. In the line of work they do. He’s very private, so he decided to set up a sort of field hospital of his own.”
“What line of work?”
Silence. When it became obvious he wasn’t going to answer, Grace changed tack. “Have you…have you known him long?”
His mouth curved in a slight smile. Clearly, he felt this was something he could answer. “About four years. I was a surgical resident in my last year, with over a hundred thousand in student loan debts, when I came across a man who’d been shot. I patched him up as best I could and got him to the nearest hospital. He was one of Drake’s men and the surgeon told Drake I’d saved his man’s life. The next day, my debts were wiped out and Drake asked me to set up this clinic, with no limits to what I could spend. A young doctor’s dream.”
“And you work here all the time?”
“No, good God, no. I’d never keep my hand in. No, I work full-time in a hospital, but I’m on call for Drake. When he needs me, I come.” He picked up the curved needle and thread. “You know what? I’ll bet you anything that wherever he’s gone to, he’d feel better if you held his hand.”
“His hand?” Grace asked, startled. “I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me. How could my holding his hand bring him any comfort?”
Ben stopped and looked at her directly. “I’m just guessing here, but…he saved your life, didn’t he?”
She nodded, numbly. “Well, maybe it wouldn’t be too much to hold his hand, then.”
Put like that…
Grace jumped down from the cot and nearly fell to the floor as her knees buckled.
It was unthinkable that Ben be distracted from patching up Drake’s wound. She stiffened her knees and straightened her spine. “Yes. I’m just a little…Yes. I’m okay.”
She walked slowly over to the two men. Drake was utterly still. Though Ben was bent over Drake, she was aware that he was following her progress.
Grace took a hard metal chair, brought it close to the bedside and sat down. Acutely aware of Ben’s attention on her, she reached out for Drake’s hand. She stopped just before touching him, her hand hovering an inch above his.
His hand was huge, maybe the largest human hand she’d ever seen. Sinewy and rough, with odd-looking, tough yellow calluses along the sides of his hands. They were definitely not the hands of an office worker.
Most professions left signs on the body. Even clerical workers had bodies that became soft and round and stooped. She had no idea what business Drake could be in to have hands like this.
Ben’s hands were those of a doctor, a surgeon. Though the skin looked soft, his long, elegant fingers were strong and supple.
Drake’s hands looked like tools, immensely strong, sturdy, indestructible.
Slowly, she moved until her hand touched his, her palm covering the back of his hand. His skin was warm, almost preternaturally so. Her skin was chilled—like most operating rooms, this clinic was kept very cold and she’d been soaked by the rain. It felt like she was touching a small furnace. The heat crept up her arm.
Suddenly, Drake’s hand turned until his palm was clasping hers, the grip warm and tight but not painful.
Startled, Grace looked at Drake’s face. It was utterly expressionless, in the stillness of deep sleep. There was no sign of consciousness at all. And yet he was now holding her hand.
Ben was smiling slightly as he took stitches in Drake’s shoulder.
Grace chanced a look. The wound was looking much better as Ben closed it into a neat, stitched line.
Now that his shoulder wasn’t such a bloody mess that she had to avert her eyes, she looked at the rest of Drake’s torso. She’d have had to be dead not to.
She’d never seen a body such as his. Dressed, you only noticed that he had unusually broad shoulders. But now that he was naked from the waist up, she could see what she’d only sensed before when he’d been lying on top of her on the sidewalk outside the gallery.
The man was raw, naked male power. He didn’t have the bulked-up muscles of gym rats or wrestlers. His muscles were lean, so stripped of fat she could actually see the striations of muscle tissue under the skin. She knew her anatomy and could see the muscles, one by one, how they fit over one another, worked together. He must put himself through incredible workouts to have muscles like this, deep and toned.
He was almost frighteningly powerful. She’d seen how fast he could move, how deadly he was in a fight, how proficient with a gun. This man would make a formidable enemy.
enemy, though. Certainly not now. Now he was a wounded man, holding her hand for whatever comfort she could provide.
Ben snipped the last thread and started applying gauze to cover the wound.
She squeezed Drake’s hand lightly. “It’s going to be okay,” she murmured. “The wound looks so much better now that Ben’s stitched it up. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
She felt like a fool, talking to a man who couldn’t hear her. And yet…his grip tightened slightly on her hand, a warm pressure, so slight she might have imagined it, but she didn’t. She sat quietly, her hand in his, hoping she was providing some comfort.
By the time Ben straightened, Grace’s head was nodding. God, she was tired. She felt like resting her head on the cot and going to sleep, simply letting herself black out, but she couldn’t afford to rest yet. There was still the trip home to negotiate. How could she get home? Her purse was gone. She had no money for either a bus or a taxi. Maybe she could convince someone here to drive her.
Home. She wanted to go home. To seek comfort in her familiar surroundings. Fix herself a cup of tea, step into a hot tub of water. Try to wipe out the sight of Harold’s head exploding.
Mourn him, in private. Nurse her wounds.
Her eyes hurt, her face hurt, her head hurt.
Her heart hurt.
It felt like some huge hole had been ripped in the universe and monsters had come rushing through it. Monsters who could attack a woman, use her to get to a man and, above all, blow a man’s head off.
Every time she closed her eyes she could see Harold’s death, as graphically as when it happened. And every time, her heart gave a huge kick in her chest. She’d been conditioned from childhood to understand that there was no justice in the world. The fact that Harold was kindhearted and had a wonderful eye for art was no shield in this world, none at all. But his violent passing was hard to grasp. It was so difficult to contemplate a world without Harold in it.
Grace had so few things in her life, really. They could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Her art, Harold, her few other friends, her apartment. Her life revolved around these few elements, and now one of them—hugely important to her in every way—was gone, wiped out in a bloodbath.
Her eyes stung but she refused to let any tears fall. They would be saved for later, for when she got home. All through her childhood, she’d learned to control her tears, learned the hard way that they were for private moments only.
She yearned for the safety of her home. It wasn’t luxurious, certainly nothing like the few glimpses she’d had of this penthouse apartment, with its eighteen-foot ceilings and plush carpets and antiques and artwork. Her home was modest, the most extravagant thing about it the skylight in her studio, which let in as much light as Manhattan ever offered. It was simply, even sparely, decorated, filled with works in progress.
She yearned for it the way a thirsty man yearns for water.
She felt exposed, naked here. Though she tried to control it, her hands were shaking, even the one in Drake’s warm clasp. She was shaking all over.
Ben administered a syringe of what she assumed was an antibiotic. It was done. She was patched up, Drake was stitched up, she could go.
She stood. “Uh, Ben?”
He had pulled off the gloves with a snap and was putting his surgical instruments in an autoclave. “Yeah?”
“I wonder if—if it wouldn’t be too much trouble…”
He turned, bright blue eyes direct. “Do you need something?”
Grace hated asking for favors,
it. There hadn’t been anyone to ask things of growing up and now, as an adult, she found she’d much rather do without than ask. That way she was never disappointed. But now she was forced into asking for help.
She could feel her face becoming warm. “I, um, I need to ask a favor. Could you perhaps lend me the money for a cab to get home? Or have someone here drive me? My purse was—”
she almost said, but didn’t. “Lost. I need to get home somehow.”
“Okay,” Ben said. “I’m sure Drake will—”
Drake’s eyes popped open. “Absolutely not,” he said in a low, deep voice.