Bitten Under Fire(12)

By: Heather Long

The achoo she released climbed a couple of octaves and came out with a wild squeak. Wincing, she glanced at Cage, another apology on the tip of her tongue. His expression, though, held a measure of entertainment and instead of saying she was sorry, she blushed. Heat scorched her face at the simple joy in his eyes.

“That’s a sneeze,” he said softly, without a hint of mockery.

“It’s a thing with me,” she admitted. “I’ve never been a quiet sneezer.”

“Good to know,” he said, settling back onto—oh, he was sitting on a stool. Even sitting, he seemed huge. His presence dominated the room, but he didn’t overwhelm her. “I meant it when I said I’d go get you something else if you’d like it.”

“Why?” The question popped out before she could think better of it. They were total strangers, and she was aboard a military vessel—she’d had the honor before and would have recognized the med bay even if the corpsman hadn’t been in uniform.

Cage wore fatigues, but they were open in the front and showed his tan undershirt. She was pretty sure that wasn’t regulation, but his high-and-tight haircut was. It was sharp, but even with the close-cropped hair there was a hint of curl in the front, as though it didn’t want to stay in line. She kind of liked it. She kind of liked him.

“Why did I mean it?”

“No.” She managed another half smile; this one didn’t hurt as bad as the first. “I meant why are you offering in the first place? You’re not a doctor.”

“Don’t I look like a doc?” Amusement glittered in his eyes once more.

McGinnis laughed. “I’m going back to my office. Give me a shout if you need me.” The corpsman left them alone, but it didn’t bother Bianca to stay with Cage. If anything, the sense of calm she’d experienced when she first laid eyes on him seemed to redouble.

“No, you really don’t,” Bianca said, answering his earlier query. “You look more like a soldier. Or, wait, you’re a Marine. Those are Marine fatigues.”

“You know your MARPATs from your camo, good to know.” The fact he seemed impressed shouldn’t have tickled her, but it did.

“This isn’t my first trip on a military vessel.” Glancing around, she spotted the plastic cup with the straw. It took a little concentration, but she managed to reach out for it and lift it before Cage covered her hand with his and assisted. The contact sent a shiver along her spine.

“You’re stepping all over my hero moves here.” The light teasing softened the rebuke in his tone. “I’m here to help.”

She took a long sip. The water was welcome, cool, and fresh. It didn’t taste like sweat or metallic from having been boiled. “So you’re not a doctor, but you’re here to help. I feel like I should be impressed or privileged.”

“You don’t have to be anything,” he assured her.

They set the cup down. Though she released it, he continued to cradle her hand. A tingle of sensation cascaded along her arm from where their skin touched. His hand was darkly bronzed and left her feeling even paler. She really didn’t tan well. Which kind of sucked considering how much time she spent in the sun.

“Just get better. As soon as Doc clears you, we’ll arrange transport for you back to the mainland.”

“Great.” The information gave her another sense of relief. “I was really over the whole vacation idea anyway.”

“You were on vacation?” A tiny furrow formed as his brows drew together.

What was it about this guy? The weight of his stare should be unsettling, as should his presence—he was a stranger. Yet, the longer he sat there, the more at ease she felt.

Maybe she’d hit her damn head. Belatedly, she acknowledged she did have a head injury. She wasn’t blind, though, and he wasn’t hard on the eyes. It wasn’t his looks but the solicitous manner and the kindness in his gaze invited her trust.

He seemed to genuinely care.

Encouraged, she continued, “Oh, yeah, first vacation in seven years. Really didn’t want to be there in the first place, but Peter—my boss—ordered me to take a few months.” Six months, Peter said, and not a minute less. She needed to get the edge off. Shaking her head, she flexed her hand. The scabs on her knuckles pulled and her fingers ached. “Are you sure Collin is okay? They didn’t hurt him?” The mandatory few months’ break still bugged her, but she’d already had a project lined up to keep busy after the requisite tropical vacation. Tropical vacations sucked.