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A month ago, Caitlin was abducted. Tortured and held captive, she barely managed to get out alive. From the moment she wakes up in hospital, she desires only one thing: vengeance. But her ordeal has taken its toll - it's a long road to recovery, and she can't turn vigilante on her own. Forced to team up with Nathan, the broken man who saved her life, Caitlin doesn't know who to trust. Especially when Nathan has secrets of his own that could kill them both.
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About the Author
This book is dedicated to all those whose names I've borrowed for characters along the way.
I'm not entirely sure how your namesake developed into a vengeful, sadistic, psychopathic dominatrix or a brutal, callous, murdering rapist as the story progressed...
You never know what's hiding under the safe-looking surface until it's too late.
Nathan thought Caitlin was a little angel, too.
Copyright © 2013 Demelza Carlton
Lost Plot Press
All rights reserved.
Nine books that will keep you spellbound - all yours for FREE.
All you have to do is tell me where to send them.
Click here to get started – www.demelzacarlton.com
Don't get into cars with strangers.
So stupid to think I was strong enough to resist.
But I never dreamed it would happen to me.
Dashing through traffic in daylight. A tingling instant preceded my sneeze. Desperately scrabbling for a tissue before the explosion. Sneezing, blowing, blech... I wanted to wash my hands, but there was nowhere on the Terrace to do that. I looked up, wondering where I could.
My search met her stare, through the open window of her Mercedes. I knew my sneeze couldn't inspire such fascination, so I looked behind me. Her laughter dragged my eyes from the ordinary street scene back to her. Apprehensive, I started to walk towards her, because my path lay past her.
She stepped out of her car, continuing to stare at me. I tried to look anywhere but at her. She had a nice car – a shiny red Mercedes with even shinier mag wheels, but not the newest model. I'd seen the newest ones in the doctors' car park at the hospital. Yet there was something in the lines of this one...
"Now that's a nice car," I couldn't stop myself from saying.
She smiled and motioned for me to come closer. Her hair was a short, dark bob that shone in the sun, her lips a glistening bright red that matched the car.
"My friend wants to ask you something," she said. Cracking open the car's back door, she jerked her head in the direction of the car's interior.
I leaned on the door frame and stuck my head inside with considerable curiosity. My eyes took a moment to adjust from the bright sunlight outside to the tinted gloom.
There were two guys in there – one in the passenger seat and another in the back. The one in the back was breathing heavily, like he'd just finished a long sprint... or he was making an obscene call. I could barely see his face, just his eyes. His eyes were on me, wide as saucers.
Pervert. I tried to back away, but the bitch behind me didn't let me. She hit my diaphragm with the heel of her hand, forcing my breath out in a huff. Unable to breathe, the street stood still in my mind as I stared around, desperately hoping for someone to see – someone who'd help me. Did eyes meet mine? Did I imagine understanding? If it was, it came too late. The burning flare that was my need to breathe exploded and she shoved me into the car. I fell on flesh encased in fabric as I gasped for breath, a flailing fish in the pervert's lap as I lay across the back seat. I dimly heard the doors and windows shut. The motor hummed as the car accelerated away – before I had enough air to scream.
"And now in breaking news, Caitlin Lockyer has been found. In the early hours of this morning, a man discovered her body dumped on a south-west beach. Sources say that she was left on the beach to die, but she was found in time and moved to hospital in Perth, where she remains in a critical condition.
"A police spokesperson would not confirm whether the girl known as the Absent Angel is alive or dead..."
Let me know when you work it out, won't you? I don't feel dead...
"Oh, turn that down. She's waking up... Get a dressing over that one and we can make a start on these ulcers..."
Unfamiliar hands touched me. Unfamiliar voices talked about my injuries as dispassionately as a GPS giving directions.
Was it safe to open my eyes? Were they helping me, or did I need to fight my way free? My head felt full of thick fog, so the thoughts were slow to surface.
Pain made the decision for me – twin pains. A sharp pull on my hair as someone tore the skin from my back. I cried out, so I didn't hear what the low voices murmured. Cold metal touched the side of my neck.
Going to cut me again. Going to hurt worse...
"No!" I shouted, or tried to. My voice rasped in my throat.
I couldn't feel my hands, but I still tried to use them to push myself upright. The moment I put weight on them, feeling returned. Pain shot up every one of my fingers, through my wrists and up my arms, like electrodes attached to every nerve. My scream sounded squeaky and weak, which is why I heard the snip of the scissors.
I opened my eyes to see bright light, briefly blocked by what was unmistakably my hair.
The scissors cut my hair, I realised. Taking everything away from me, even my hair. Bastards.
"You promised!" I sobbed out. "You promised you wouldn't let them hurt me again. Please, come back!"
He was shot. You saw the blood. If he wasn't here, was he even alive? Did they kill him?
I shook my head, trying not to see the picture in my memory: his shock at the spreading patch of red on his shirt, over his chest.
I focussed on the grinning pictures on the ceiling above me. Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse...
Eeyore I liked. He looked sympathetic. I wanted to scream at the rest of them or scratch their eyes out. Stop grinning at me like my pain is funny!
A concerned face came into view. "She's awake. Honey, can you hear me?"
"Yes," I told her impatiently. "Where is he?"
"Who, honey? They can't hurt you any more," she said soothingly. Dropping her voice lower, she murmured, "We need to give her more pain relief. This isn't enough."
They could hurt me and he'd promised to protect me. But he couldn't if he was dead and I couldn't sleep until I knew where he was. I didn't even know his name.
I ignored the soothing woman, who didn't know what she was on about. "Where are you? Please, come back. You promised."
Carefully, I pushed with my elbows and not my hands this time. I struggled to sit up and see where I was. Where he was.
Gloved hands weighed on my shoulders, pushing me down. I took a swipe at the hands, growling, "Don't touch me!" as I collapsed on the bed again.
I turned my head as a shoe squeaked on the vinyl floor. The soothing woman now had a syringe.
She was going to give me something that would make me sleep. They'd kill me in my sleep and I'd never wake up!
I struggled to rise and this time they didn't stop me. Every head was turned away from me to the door of what I recognised as a hospital room in an Emergency Department.
Hey, the news got something right. I was in hospital. But which one?
I heard his voice. I finally saw his face clearly as he pushed past an orderly to enter the room. The face of the man who killed another in an effort to protect me, before the police shot him... Fuck. Focus. Memories could wait.
"Don't let them hurt me again!" I shouted at him as I lunged for the syringe with my uncooperative fingers, before my arms gave out and I was lying flat on the bed again. I couldn't feel if I'd managed to snatch the syringe or just knock it out of her hands. I didn't have the energy to lift my arm to check, either.
My eyes didn't leave him. His face looked pale and a bit scared, though he tried to keep his voice calm. He had no shirt on and a white dressing, spotted with a little fresh blood, looked like a misplaced breast pocket on his bare chest. He said something about being in hospital, but I didn't catch the words.
"I'm so tired, but I'm scared to sleep," I told him, my voice starting to give out as my eyes filled with tears. "What if, when I wake up, you're gone and I'm still there with them? Please..." I didn't know what to ask him for. Please don't be dead?
He promised he'd be here, again.
I could feel my mind going under. Like drowning in a warm bath, only I could still breathe. He promised. Even if he was dead, he was shot trying to help me.
"Thank you." I tried to say the words, but I wasn't sure if they came out right. Even the ghost of someone killed trying to help me deserved my thanks.
Is he a ghost or is he real? I thought but was too tired to give voice to it any more. As a ghost he couldn't protect me. Directly above me, all I could see was a blurry yellow bear.
If this kills me, Winnie the Pooh, I'm taking you and your smug smiling face with me to hell. This last thought followed me down into a spiral of darkness.
The sibilance of sound as his voice spoke in endless waves. Sentences ebbed and flowed in the dark – always the same ones with slight variations.
"Caitlin, I'm sorry I didn't help you sooner."
"Stole a shirt from a corpse. Stuck it on you. Sorry..."
"Sorry I didn't..."
"It's okay, angel, you're safe."
"Safe in hospital, where you belong."
"You're safe now. They can't hurt you."
"I'll keep you safe, Caitlin. I swear..."
"Shh, it's okay, you're safe now."
"She's the same age as you. I couldn't let them..."
"She said she knew who'd killed her."
"She's all I have left. Please..."
"After a few drinks, she wanted to leave, so we made it to the back seat of my car before she..."
"She was my twin..."
"She must've spiked my drink..."
"My twin sister..."
"The only sister I have left..."
"Said, 'Are you sure you didn't get the sister instead? We'll call him Chris, just in case... '"
"Please, wake up and help me save my sister."
"Said it'd remind me of the sister I didn't want them to take. You or her, he said..."
"Do you know what it's like to lose a sister?"
"I should've tried to help you sooner..."
"Should've known she seemed strange..."
"Should've grabbed you before she did and run..."
"Sorry. Caitlin, I'm so sorry."
Surfacing to sound, before submerging in darkness once more. Sorry. Slipping... sinking... from safety to screaming nightmares.
Mercedes – Red – Chris – Her – Mike – Sorry – Pervert
Saucer Eyes looked like he was going to cry. I was going to make him cry if he so much as touched me. "How c-"
"Shut up!" said the one in the passenger seat.
Saucer Eyes wasn't much older than me. His breathing slowed, but it felt forced, the muscles in his legs tense beneath my back. Thighs as taut as a fully laden clothes line. One hand clutched the door handle, but the door didn't open, no matter how hard he pulled on that handle. His other hand mashed down the window button, which wasn't opening, either. Held prisoner by the car's child lock. No one trusts a pervert, not even his peers.
He wouldn't look at me as he mumbled something, half under his breath, that sounded like, "Sorry," before he turned away to stare out the window.
I dragged air in through my nose, inflating my burning lungs like brand-new balloons. I wanted to kill the bitch and her two blokes, too. But first...
"Let me go, you bastard!" I blared, feeling satisfaction as Saucer Eyes' hands shot up in scared surrender.
You can wait, pervert. The big bastard gets his balls ripped off first. Besides, the only way out is through his door, if the back doors are child-locked shut.
The big, chunky bastard in the passenger seat just laughed.
I tensed, testing each muscle for readiness as I prayed I could do enough damage to make him let me go.
I launched my body at him, clawed fingers first, reaching for his face. I wanted to scratch his eyes out, but his fist to my jaw jerked my head up so hard I saw stars as I landed in Saucer Eyes' lap, stunned. I sucked in a sobbing breath, not game to give in to the blokes who could kill me. Fight them 'til I fucking killed them, for I'd never let them win as long as I drew breath. One more breath and I'd be up, ready to rip out an eye.
Chunky twisted in his seat, telling Saucer Eyes, "Chris, hold her still," but he wouldn't touch me. Still surrendering, Chris was saucer-eyed and shaking, set against a background of the dark car ceiling. Chunky caressed the forming bruise on my face with a satisfied smile, saying, "Beautiful," before he clamped a cloth over my face, crushing me down onto Saucer Eyes. Chris.
I remember gasping for breath, fighting what I knew was sweet, cloying chloroform, but I couldn't. All I could see was Saucer Eyes' face, his anguished look as his lips formed the words I couldn't hear, "Oh God, I'm so sorry," before it all vanished in a dark haze.
It's all dark after that.
The first unfamiliar voice I heard was male. I struggled to focus, but it was like my body was too heavy to move, from my eyelids to my toes. Even the voice sounded like it was far away or a TV with the volume on low.
"Guards... no one... we need her to stay safe..." I heard the unfamiliar voice say.
The reply came with words I couldn't hear, but my heart relaxed at the sound. I didn't know his name, but I knew his voice meant safety.
The unfamiliar man heard him, though, and he responded, "...get them before the local police do... be her fucking best mate..."
It's his job to guard me. He's not police, but he's here. He's going to stay and keep me safe. And he has orders to get them before the police do. Shit, not before I get there first. I want to kill them all for what they did to me. Maybe he'll help me... my best mate, all right.
They kept talking while my thoughts drifted in the dark.
Some of the words penetrated the fog in my head. "Let me know what you find out. And don't let anyone fucking kill her." The unfamiliar voice faded, as if he was walking away from me.
That's right. Don't let anyone fuck or kill me. Not even in self-defence.
I heard voices as I floated in the dark, mostly his but sometimes others. Sometimes I could discern a few words, but they seemed too far away to focus on. The only concept I seemed to be able to hold onto was whenever I heard his voice, there was no pain and I thought, It's okay. I'm safe. In between those times, I fought them in the dark, over and over again.
I couldn't open my eyes to see if any of them – him or them – were real. I was too tired, my eyes too heavy. Or my eyes were open and it was so dark that I couldn't see, just like before. This felt different, somehow. It was warmer here.
I heard his voice as a wordless hum and relaxed in the sensation of safety it brought. Through the contentment in my head, I heard him clearly say, "Alana."
That's my name! My middle name, anyway. I struggled to focus on what he said next. Something about his sister.
"...Never stopped fighting, never let them win. So they broke her and they killed her. How could anyone do that to her?"
How could anyone do that to me?
"I wanted to hunt them down and hurt them for what they did to her. But the police didn't arrest anyone and they could still do it again, to someone else!"
Hunt them down and kill them. Then they'll never do it again.
"I'm sorry, Caitlin. I never wanted to see you hurt. Not like this. I should have helped you sooner..."
It's not too late. Help me hunt them down and kill them. Then maybe I'll forgive you for what you did...
I felt the fury bubble up inside me, but all it did was exhaust me, pushing me deeper into the dark where I couldn't make out what he was saying.
Dark – Chris – Mike – Awake – Card
Angry voices in the dark. No... one angry voice, one petulant one.
The angry one shouted commands. "You're not to talk to her, except to give orders or ask questions." Even at a distance, the bastard's voice hurt my pounding head.
The petulant one sounded almost whiny. "Mike, she'll be scared and not feeling well, with the aftereffects of the drugs. I want her lying down..."
You can want me all you like. Get close to me and I'll kick your balls backwards through your teeth.
"Of course you do. It's easier to fuck her lying down than standing up."
My blood ran cold and I missed whatever the angry prick said next.
"But she's not a threat," the petulant voice whined.
Sure, mate, you believe that until I get close enough to bite something off.
"You don't need to have her tied up like this," he continued.
Fucking right you don't.
I twisted my wrists within the rope – it was a little loose. Not loose enough to pull out of, but I could still move my hands a bit. The rope didn't restrict my circulation. I shifted, rolling on the concrete like an overturned turtle. I still had my clothes, but no shoes. More rope on my ankles.
I had to get rid of the rope. I needed to find a sharp edge to cut it, so I could get free. I squirmed, wondering what in hell was in my jeans pocket. It felt like a really thick credit card.
"Please. I don't think I can..." the petulant voice begged.
Mike said, "Sure you can. Nothing to it. She's tied up so she can't escape. You don't need to say a word to her. If you're lucky, she might still be unconscious. You can stick it in and be done before she wakes up to think about fighting you. Easiest lay of your life."
I heard the smack of flesh on flesh. Did Mike slap Chris on the back? Or did Chris slap Mike for saying what he did? Shit, who cared?
I managed to get two fingers into my pocket, almost dislocating my shoulder in the process. Wincing, I pinched the strange card between my fingers. Slowly, I edged it out, wishing my hands weren't tied behind my back. I wasn't sure how to bring it to my face so I could see it. I explored the edges with my fingers, trying to work out what it was.
I heard something scrape across concrete.
"What the hell is that for?" Mike sneered.
It was the Swiss Card I'd bought Jason for his birthday. This was in my bag – one of them must have stuck it in my pocket. Someone was trying to help me.
"In case I get hungry or thirsty. You said she's mine all night." Chris sounded uncertain.
Mike laughed. "Yeah, you would need a snack to keep your stamina up for more than a minute. Have fun with her. Tell me about it tomorrow."
I heard heavy footsteps leaving.
I desperately tried to pull a blade out of the card, but I couldn't seem to find one. Oh shit, oh shit...
Strange hands touched me again. This didn't hurt yet, but I called for him in panic.
I heard his voice clearly this time. "It's okay, Caitlin. You've been hurt and we're trying to help you get better."
A woman's voice, closer than his. It must've been her hands on me. "You're in hospital as a patient now and all of us on the clinical team here are doing our best to help you get better." She knew me. She knew I wasn't usually a patient in hospital. "Your roommate's sleazy and, if I were you, I'd wake up fast so you can ask for a room transfer."
Inwardly, I laughed. No matter how sleazy, there was no way I'd give in to anyone's amorous advances for a very long time. Mr Sleazy Roommate would give up long before that.
I could smell disinfectant now. Faint, but it was there. They were both quiet, so I heard the crackle of ripping paper and plastic, interspersed with the feeling of tugging on my skin, then something soft being smoothed back over it. Changing my dressings? I was aware of the edge of pain now, as feeling returned to my body.
The woman's voice was low and kind. "I'll get you some more medicine for the pain. That'll help." Another crackle nearby, but I couldn't feel anything touch me. "There, all done. Sleep well."
I felt my body fade away until I was just a consciousness in the dark again. Then even that slipped away as I fell asleep once more.
I heard the words and struggled to focus. I could feel my body faintly, so I tried to move my fingers, but it was too much for me yet.
The calm voice sighed, sounding sad. "If she was awake, I could ask her. But she's a seventeen-year-old girl who's been through hell and a lot of pain, given how long she was missing and the state she's in now."
I found I could hold my breath. A seventeen-year-old girl who'd been through hell. That was me, all right. But pregnant? NO!
"I've left a note in her file and I'm leaving it at that. There's no need to ask her, or even mention it. She's definitely not pregnant."
I let out my held breath in a sigh of relief, but it was only loud in my ears. Too intent on their own conversation, they didn't hear me.
The second voice belonged to a young woman, who sounded very serious. "I'd ask, Dr Lannon, just to be thorough. What if..."
I stopped trying to move and stayed as still as I could. Even knowing the man was Dr Lannon didn't reassure me.
I'm not awake. Don't ask me. I don't want to tell you.
His normally calm and patient voice sounded irritated, louder than before. "Did you see her when she came in? Have you been here when she has nightmares?"
"No, I've just read her file because she was on my patient list today."
"This girl was beaten and raped repeatedly for weeks then left on a beach to die. It's been all over the news. Do you want to be the one to remind her and make her relive all the gory details?"
I could hear footsteps leaving – her reply sounded further away. "No."
Their conversation drifted away as they left, my thoughts stirring sluggishly.
Beaten. Raped. Left on a beach to die. I remembered pain. I remembered sand. Left to die?
No. My death was meant to be sudden and witnessed. Never alone.
My body slipped away again – did that mean they'd given me more pain medication? I struggled to hold onto my thoughts of sand... beach... as I sank into oblivion and what I can only describe as the arms of a nightmare.
Dark – Chris – Awake – Card – Headache – Stab – Free
The door cracked open, without a clichéd creak. Dim light spilled into the room. Feverishly, I kept digging my nails into the card, trying to find something to cut my bonds. I closed my eyes, trying to visualise the card I held.
"Hey." His voice was barely above a whisper. "Are you awake yet?"
No. I'm busy sleeping, so fuck off, I thought but didn't say.
I found the scissors. Trying not to move too much, I dug the blades into the rope.
"Awake?" he said again. He shone a torch into my face.
I opened my eyes slowly. My head ached horribly and I couldn't see clearly. He loomed like a blurry shadow above me, between me and my escape.
Chris held up his hands, surrendering – just like he had in the car.
I wondered if he knew what I held in my hands.
He shook his head convulsively. "I'm not going to hurt you." He sounded like he was begging, but that made no sense. Begging me to believe him, maybe. "How are you feeling?"
I tried to talk but nothing came out. I sawed furiously at the rope.
He crouched on the floor near me, but not near enough to touch me. "Would you like some Panadol for the headache?" He sounded kind. Perhaps he could see my panic and mistook it for fear.
I remember he waited a moment, like he wanted to say something else, but he seemed to change his mind. He moved from a crouch to his full height, leaving the room as quickly as he'd come.
I felt something snap and kept slicing at that rope, desperately trying to free myself before he returned.
The rope gave, loosening around my wrists. Carefully, I tried to pull my hand out.
Feverishly, I untied my legs. I tried to find a knife in the card – something, anything I could threaten Chris with to make him let me go. I pulled it out a tiny bit, so I'd be able to find it again when I needed it, and stuck the card back in my pocket.
My feet tingled as I wiggled my toes, trying to relieve the numbness. Whoever had tied my feet had done a better job than they had with the restraints around my wrists.
Cautiously, I stood up, my toes curling and refusing to cooperate as circulation returned. I tried to take a shuffling step, but the whirling dizziness in my head almost made me fall.
I had to get to the door so I could get out. Hide somewhere so I could get between him and the door when he came in. Shut him in here and run.
I couldn't see, but I continued to drag my feet across the floor until my outstretched fingers touched the wall. I almost cried as I slumped against it.
No. Couldn't cry. No matter how scared, I had to keep it inside if I wanted to escape and live. Couldn't hesitate.
"You can do this. You can do this," I heard Chris's voice murmur from the other side of the door.
You can do what? Rape me? FUCK YOU. I pulled the card out of my pocket and extracted the knife.
The door started to open. Chris had his back to it, shouldering his way into the room, carrying something.
He was going to see me as soon as he got the door open far enough. I needed to get the knife to his throat while his hands were full.
I straightened up, trying to ignore the blinding pain in my head, as I threw myself forward, blade out.
I felt it sink in, with a strange ease. Not like cutting up meat. Baked potato, maybe.
When I was aware of my surroundings again, I found I couldn't hear anything. It was too quiet. I opened my eyes in shock, blinking to make sure I'd really, finally opened them.
I looked up at a white ceiling with an institutional fluorescent light. The light was dim, leaving shadows on the ceiling, but it felt too bright to me after so much darkness.
Focussing on trying to keep my eyes open, I experimented with moving my toes, then my fingers. My toes moved fine, but my fingers felt like they were tangled in the sheet. I could certainly feel them, but they barely moved through the resistance of whatever wrapped them.
I tried to lift my arms so that I could see my hands. I managed to bring them into my field of vision, before I tried to move my fingers again. It took me a few moments to realise that the white swathing my hands wasn't a pair of weird, white gloves. They'd bandaged my hands and all of my fingers. No wonder I couldn't move them.
It occurred to me that I was pretty useless with my hands disabled.
I shouldn't be alone. He promised he'd be here. Did that mean they killed him?
I called for him, irritated that I didn't know his name.
I tried to sit up, but I was afraid to put any weight on my evidently injured hands. Crunches were never my strong point, but this was the first time I'd regretted avoiding them. Everyone should do daily crunches, just in case their hands are disabled and they need those tummy muscles to sit up.
I heard his voice nearby and I struggled to focus on his words before I saw his face above me, looking exhausted. He wore a shirt now and he looked fine, as if he'd never been shot.
He touched his fingers to mine and I felt the heat of his hand through the bandage before he ripped his hand away as if he'd been burned.
I didn't feel burned. I couldn't feel any pain in my hands or anywhere else. Stunned, I tried to process this and came up with two options – either we were both dead and he'd waited for me in the afterlife, or I'd been given so much pain medication I just felt like I was made of cloud.
I hesitated, feeling it would be rude to ask if he was dead. He didn't look it. "I'm not dead, am I?" I asked instead, wishing to be right. My voice felt weak from lack of use and my throat was dry, so the words were much quieter than I expected.
He smiled broadly, his eyes laughing.
Was it funny because the answer was no or yes? Worried, my eyes fixed on his face. Please, don't let me be dead!
I sighed in relief as he told me I was in hospital and on strong pain medication.
Medication I didn't remember being given. "What happened?" I demanded in my weak voice.
He looked bewildered. "You were hurt." I don't think he wanted to explain how badly I'd been hurt – thought the strong drugs were a pretty good indication. As for how I'd been hurt... shit, even I didn't want to think about that.
I tried to explain to him what I remembered of the last things I'd seen, before waking up here. Nurses and scissors, syringes and simpering cartoon characters. How do I describe there's a huge gaping hole in my memory and I'm asking him to fill it? How do you describe a huge gaping hole, except that it's dark? I shook my head, trying not to think of the dark again. I swallowed. "What happened?" I asked him again, my voice louder this time.
His words came out in a rush. "You fought the nurses. You were so scared. I think they gave you something to make you sleep – you've been asleep for a while."
I'd fought the nurses? Why? All I'd wanted to do was find out if he was okay. Haltingly, I told him what I remembered – trying to get up and not being able to – but he interrupted me.
He sounded horrified. "You did too much as it was – if you'd done any more, we might have lost you. You came so close, Caitlin... hell, I was scared." His eyes held mine for a second before he looked away.
I almost died? When I find out who's responsible, I'm going to hunt them down and kill them slowly. Why didn't I remember? I came that close to death and I didn't even know? My eyes filled with tears that I couldn't wipe away with my useless hands. I tried furiously to blink them away, but what he said next turned the waterworks tap on full.
The shock, the relief, all of it just gushed out of me as I bawled. His hands hesitantly patted my back as he helped me cry into his shirt.
It felt like the tears would never end, but they did. Realisation came that if he was telling the truth and I'd nearly died, I owed him.
I chose my words carefully. "Thank you. I think... you saved my life." I tried to find a nice way to phrase what I wanted to ask next, but I just couldn't. "Who are you? I barely know you."
"My name is Nathan Miller. I found you lying on the beach. I just brought you in to the hospital," he rattled off, as if by rote.
So that was his story. And he was Nathan Miller. His sister was Alanna Miller. He'd be a prime candidate for Mr Sleazy Roommate.I found I was looking at my hands, now sedately placed in my lap. For the first time, I noticed the IV line into my right hand and the pain relief mystery was solved.
"Nathan Miller," I repeated carefully, as I tried to find the words to express what I was thinking.
Nervously, I licked my dry, cracked lips and made an effort to smile, though my cheeks felt too heavy to do it. "Thank you. You chose to keep your promise... Nathan."
I watched him carefully for his reaction. First he opened his mouth, as if he had a burning question to ask, but his mouth stayed open as he stared at me. He looked wistful.
I dropped my gaze to my lap, counting the seconds slowly before lifting my eyes to meet his again. Contact made. Nathan began to apologise.
I started to say that he hadn't hurt me, when I remembered that he'd been hurt. The blood on his shirt and the dressing on his chest. The memory on the dark road was slow to surface. "You were shot," I said slowly, reaching up to place my hand over where I remembered the blood, the dressing. I could feel a dressing there still, or at least the roughness of fabric sliding over gauze instead of skin under his shirt. He jumped at my touch, as if even the light contact from my hand hurt him. I drew my hand back.
His answer shocked me. "Yes. So were you."
I was shot? That's how I nearly died? My thoughts whirled in my head, water down a plughole, taking me with them.
I could hear his voice continue, but I couldn't make out the words any more. I tried to open my mouth to ask one of the million swirling questions and choked, coughing so hard I couldn't get a word out.
Worn out with coughing, I fought to keep my eyes open. Would he stay, to make sure I woke up again?
Somehow he understood. "I'll be here," he promised, a reassuring smile on his face.
I floated away again.
When I awoke next, it was daylight. Last night's dark window showed sunlight and blue sky. I stretched and saw the IV was no longer connected to my arm, though the needle was still taped to my hand.
Time for a walk, I thought. Let's see which hospital this is and what ward. Is there a guard outside my room or is Nathan all the protection I have? If he is and they come looking for me... I'm going to die.
Carefully, I sat up and dangled my legs off the side of the bed nearest the door, too high up for my feet to reach the floor. I looked for the buttons to control the bed so that I could move it lower, then realised that I couldn't press them.
I poised myself on the edge, hesitating a second because of the half-metre drop. I almost put my hands on the mattress beside me to take my weight as I slid off the bed, but then I remembered that my hands were damaged. So, with my hands up as if to demonstrate how defenceless I was, I gave a little jump and my feet hit the floor. The impact set my legs on fire, the muscles turned from ordinary tissue to white-hot, molten metal.
Blinded by pain, I swore through gritted teeth as I felt myself falling forward with fuck-all I could do about it. I instinctively stuck my hands out to break my fall. The bones in my hands caught the same agonising fire before the rest of my body hit the floor heavily. Tears sprang to my eyes, but they burned away on my hot cheeks.
Fucking perverted bastards. Bloody legs that wouldn't fucking work.
I reached up to the bed, to try and pull myself up again, before I realised that my useless hands couldn't grab anything.
Damn bed too bloody high up. Fucking linen. Bloody broken fingers...
I didn't realise I was swearing out loud until Nathan appeared in front of me, asking what was wrong.
What wasn't wrong, I thought bitterly, as I added to the list of things to swear about. "I can't fucking walk and I can't fucking get up." I felt like biting his toes off to quell my frustration.
"Here, let me help you." His words were gentle.
"It's either that or stay here on the fucking floor all day," I muttered.
His arms closed around me, cradling me to his chest, so I could both hear and feel his laughter at my reply.
Instinctively, I wanted to shrink away from his touch, from anyone and everyone else, yet at the same time I relaxed, telling myself, You're safe. This is Nathan. He won't hurt you.
Nathan let out a small grunt of pain as he lifted me up. I wondered whether his wound had healed enough for him to be lifting anything, but he didn't make another sound as he carefully put me back into bed, pulling the sheets up to cover me again. He rubbed his shoulder, almost unconsciously, as he sat in the chair beside my bed.
Belatedly, I thanked him.
"What happened?" he asked, echoing my words from the day before.
What to tell him? I was useless, I couldn't walk and my hands and legs didn't work. I was a sitting target for anyone. And I didn't know if I could trust him to protect me.
I tried to be vague. "I got out of bed, tried to take a step and it hurt. Then I fell." Tell him. He'd find out anyway. At least now I'd see his reaction – I'd know if I couldn't trust him. "I can't walk if it hurts that much," I admitted grudgingly.
He told me to stay in bed and rest, smiling kindly.
"I needed..." I wondered if there was a nice way to tell him I didn't believe he could protect me. If he was as useless as my legs at present, they'd find me and hurt me again... I looked away from him as I tried not to cry. My eyes lighted on the door beside the one leading out of the room. "I was trying to get to the bathroom." Well, with all the IV fluid they'd pumped into me as I slept, I did want to make use of the facilities in the ensuite. Second to my desire to live was the pressing need to go to the loo.
Nathan didn't hesitate – he offered to carry me.
I wanted to ask if it would hurt him, but I fought the urge. He knew his own limitations – I wasn't even sure of mine yet. I felt like an overfilled water balloon, so my only reply was to thank him as he carried me to the toilet.
The feeling of his skin against mine made me self-conscious about the hospital gown I wore and how little it covered, though Nathan didn't seem to be fazed about it. He lifted me up deftly, carried me to the bathroom quickly and put me down gently, as if this were something he did every day as part of his job.
A bathrobe would be nice, I thought. I decided to buy one when I could go shopping, just in case I was ever stuck in hospital wearing one of these again.
Nathan's back blocked the doorway and he didn't say anything for a few minutes, until he burst out, "If you want, I could ask my sister to drop by your house the next time she comes in to see me. She could pick up some of your own clothes for you to wear."
Mortified, I realised he was just as aware of my near-nakedness as I was. I choked back the horrified reply I wanted to make so I could politely refuse his offer as coherently as possible.
I reached for the toilet paper and it started to dawn on me how useless my hands were. First one hand, then the other – no, I couldn't even grasp it. But with two hands together... I could hold something between them if I concentrated.
Right. Play it out, carefully. With one bandaged hand, I pushed the roll of toilet paper, making it unroll slowly. Okay, faster now.
"Let me know when you're done and need my help again."
His voice made me jump and knock the toilet roll back the other way.
"I... I'm not done, but I may need your help in a minute." My throat was dry and my voice failed somewhere in the middle. Don't turn around. Don't look yet, I begged him silently, as I tried to unroll the toilet paper again. The only thing worse than having to plan every step to wipe your own bum is knowing someone else watched you do it. Please, don't look.
Too late. Nathan leaned over me, deft hands grabbing the toilet paper I wanted, before he gave it to me. Helping me. Then he called me a kitten, wearing a worried smile. My eyes locked on his as I used the toilet paper as quickly as I could.
Kitten? Meow. I struggled to understand the comparison. Something to do with pawing the toilet paper? I lifted my useless hands up and they did resemble white paws, a little. Why try to hide it from him? He knew how disabled I was. I looked up to meet his concerned gaze. For the first time, I saw the dark circles beneath his eyes. He lost sleep over me? He genuinely seemed to want to help me.
I made an effort to try to smile, though my cheeks still felt too stiff and heavy to do it properly. "Meow. I feel about as weak as a kitten, so the comparison is probably right." I let out a breath I hadn't been aware I was holding. "Now, I would appreciate your help one more time, because I think you're right. I need to rest in bed a bit longer."
"At your service." His arms closed around me again, carrying me back to bed, where he covered me with the sheet, as clinical as any nurse.
As if he'd read my mind, Nathan reminded me that while I was in hospital I could ask the nurses for help.
Didn't he realise that I couldn't press the nurse call button? I kept my eyes down, hoping he wouldn't read that thought, too. Then inspiration hit, as I thought of something true that wouldn't sound like an excuse. I told him I didn't like strangers touching me. Too many strangers had touched me, hurt me... I felt myself shudder at the memories that threatened to pull me back down into despair. I tried to focus on what he was saying, his words a lifeline out of the dark.
"And the last time you asked a random stranger for help, you ended up in hospital with him and now you can't get rid of him – he even followed you into the bathroom."
That was a joke, I told myself. He was trying to be funny. But I'd never asked him for help, yet he kept helping me.I looked down at my lap, where his warm hand covered both of mine. The contact didn't make me shudder – in fact, it felt comforting. I looked up again to meet his worried eyes and wistful smile. I want to trust you, I thought.
"After you saved my life, got shot and even helped me wipe my..." I tried to put it into words, but failed. I started again. "I don't think you qualify as a random stranger any more. I would like to think you're a very good friend, even if I don't know you very well." Will you be my friend, Nathan, or are you going to join the list of bastards I want to kill?
He made a weak joke in reply, but the real answer was in his expression. For the first time, his smile reached his eyes, which didn't look worried. Just relieved.
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