Bitten Under Fire(9)

By: Heather Long

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.”

A garden? Behind Collin, Silver mouthed one word. Grave. Good thing the bastards were already dead, because Cage wished he could kill them all over again.

Then, the boy swiped a hand across his tear-streaked face. “She’s my friend.”

“We’ll take care of her,” Silver promised for all of them. The other wolf was damn good with kids and Collin nodded, his trust in them alleviating some of the fear staining his scent. He might have nightmares for a while, but if Cage read the boy right, he’d come through just fine.

“Lot of blood here,” Jeremiah said, subvocal. The low words wouldn’t be audible to their young charge. “Looks like she has some deeper lacerations, but the skin glue should hold it together until we get her to a real medic.”

Keeping Bianca braced, Cage pulled on his boots. Butler grabbed the rest of his gear. Buttoning his shirt took a little more effort, but he managed. As soon as Jeremiah finished, Cage passed over his M4, then lifted Bianca into his arms. “Butler, take point…Jeremiah, you’re on my six. Silver, keep Collin with you.”

The central hut burned cheerfully as they moved away. Butler had added a trench around the building. It wasn’t too deep, but it was more than enough to keep the flames from spreading, especially with the gathering clouds. Daily storms were a fact of life.

They took their time making their way back out of the park. The local animals gave them a wide berth, and they encountered no more members of whatever little pocket of resistance decided to target a child and his nanny. Bianca barely stirred during the hike, her uninjured cheek pressed against his shoulder. Her slight weight created almost no burden for him, but he kept his grip gentle lest he cause her any other pain.

A mile from their insertion point, her breathing altered to more shallow respiration, threadier, and her gorgeous hazel eyes jerked open. Cage paused, body braced for her panic. He wouldn’t let her hurt herself, but he didn’t want to frighten her, either.

“Bianca,” he said in as kind and firm a voice as he could muster. Her eyes widened, pupil dilation drowning out the color. “I’m Sergeant Castillo—you can call me Cage. We’re here to take you home. You’re safe.” He measured the force he applied to the last word. He needed her to trust him, at least long enough to verify her condition.

“Collin?” The husky rasp of her low voice stroked over his senses.

“He’s safe.” Shifting his stance, he turned so she could see Collin leaning against Silver. The others had all halted when he had. The boy’s demeanor brightened at seeing her eyes open. “You’re both safe, and we’re getting you out of here.”

“Water.” The husky rasp threatened to go hoarser. Silver approached, a canteen open, and he tipped it to her lips so she could drink. They kept it slow, watching intently. Her gratitude rolled over him like a palpable force. “Thank you.”

“No problem, ma’am.” Just doing his job, though even his wolf preened at the way she focused on him.

“I can walk,” she offered, but her voice hadn’t grown stronger, and her pulse remained unsteady.

“No need, I got you.” The words seemed simple, yet he felt the binding force of them as he said them aloud. He didn’t want to let her go.

“Thank you,” she whispered, the fight abandoning her even as her eyes closed. Then she pressed her cheek against his shoulder once more. Her trust buoyed him. They would not let her down.

The first fingers of dawn streaked the sky as they emerged from the park. An ambulance awaited them, as did Collin’s ambassador mother. Their reunion     brought a smile to Cage’s lips even as he set Bianca down on the paramedic’s cot. As reluctant as he was to leave her, he had to force himself to withdraw. The men went to work, checking and treating her injuries. Jeremiah gave them a fast rundown on what they’d done for her in the field.

It was time for them to disappear again, yet he lingered a moment—half hoping she would open her eyes. He wanted to see them again before he left.