Wounded Read online
I hold my breath. My knife is clenched in a white-knuckled fist, cutting edge up. The shivering in my belly tells me this won’t end well.
The steps move closer to the bathroom, and I prepare myself. Hold my breath, hands spread, ready to pounce. Injuries are forgotten. Adrenaline masks the pain of being upright.
My first sight of him is a pair of scuffed military boots, then Iraqi military camo pants. He peers in, sees the empty shower, the toilet. My heart hammers and I want to vomit, but can’t.
How can he not see me? Maybe I’ll get out of this without having to kill him.
Nope. He sees me. I lunge, jab my hand in a stiff-fingered jab to his throat, silencing him. My knife flashes out and up into his stomach. Soft flesh parts easily, then bone stops the blade. He staggers back, gasping. I swipe the blade sideways across his throat, loosing a flood of blood down his front. Fuck. I’m making a mess of this. I stab out again, and this time I hit his heart, right between the ribs. Fucking lucky. That’s harder to do than most people might think.
He staggers, stumbles, flops backward to the ground. I can’t leave him bleeding out on the floor. Absurd panic hits me, and I wrench his body into the shower stall so he bleeds out down the drain. There’s not too much blood on the floor; most of it is on him.
But what the f**k do I do with the body?
The adrenaline is wearing off, and agony is lancing through me, stealing my breath. Merely staying upright takes every ounce of stubbornness, toughness, and strength I have left. It won’t last long.
“Hunter?” Rania’s voice, worried, confused.
I stumble out of the bathroom, bloody knife held in a red-painted hand. Rania gasps.
“We have a problem,” I say in Arabic. “A man came. Soldier. I kill him. ”
Rania curses softly and glances into the shower at the body. “Ahmed. ”
“What do we do with—” I can’t think of the word for body, “…the dead man?”
Collapsing against the wall, Rania runs her fingers through her loose blonde hair, hissing through her teeth. “I do not know. ” She fixes me with a confused glare. “What was he doing here?”
I’m guessing at a lot of her meaning. I understand some words, and can infer the rest from context.
I shrug. “Looking for you. For Sabah. Went to other door first, then here. He sees me…I am dead. He sees me, bad for you. Bad for me. So…he dies. ”
I hate how I sound. I’m not a verbally eloquent man, but I hate knowing my words are bumbled and garbled. She has to think to understand a lot of what I say.
And that’s all I have. I collapse forward, powerless to stop my fall. I have time to think as I topple, This is gonna hurt. It does, like a bitch. I hit the ground on my shoulder and my face. I know better than to try to catch myself on my hands or wrists, with the way my shoulders are. My shrapnel-wounded side takes the brunt of the fall, along with my already-broken ribs. I think they get re-fractured. Lances of agony shoot through me, and I can’t breathe for the pain. Can’t even gasp. I drag a long, stuttering breath in, face in the dirt, nostrils clogged with dirt, eyes stinging with dirt. The knife is still clutched in my fist, and I bear down with all my force, until the handle creaks. I cough, spewing dirt.
Rania is beside me, rolling me to my back, clearing my eyes first, my nose, my lips. Her fingers are tender and gentle, cleaning each individual speck with the pad of her index finger. Her eyes are huge, softly concerned as she cleans the dirt from my face. The sharp contours of her lovely face are brought into high relief by the afternoon sun blazing through the window, setting behind the roof of the building opposite.
I hate that my eyes stray to her br**sts, swaying as she leans over me. I slide my eyes closed, try to focus on the pain rather than how gorgeous she is, how badly my fingers want to slip under her shirt to touch the silk of her skin. How badly I want to pull her down for another kiss.
Such awful timing. There’s a dead man in the bathroom, and I’m trying not to kiss Rania.
What the f**k is wrong with you, Hunter?
When I open my eyes, she’s sitting cross-legged next to me, watching me, her expression full of emotions I recognize within myself. Her hand rests on my stomach, at the exact midline between the intimacy of my chest and the erogenous zone lower down. Moments pass and our locked eyes search each other, wavering, flitting from side to side. We’re each daring the other to make the first move, look away, move away, or do it. Move closer. Lean in.
A warm trickle alerts me that my thigh is bleeding. I don’t care.
She smells like woman: sweat, arousal, deodorant. Her hand shakes on my stomach. She’s breathing deeply, steadily, as if to prevent hyperventilation. Her nostrils flare with each breath, her full lips pursing and relaxing, trembling with emotions contained. Her br**sts swell and shrink, drawing my gaze. Her skirt— she always wears a skirt, a little too short, marking her profession in this land of extreme modesty—has slipped up her thighs, her other hand casually covering herself. Her legs are endless, miles of shadows and skin pulling my hand toward them.
I’m trying hard as hell to resist her hypnotic sway over me. I’m Odysseus tied to the mast, drawn by the deadly song of the sirens. Except the bonds restraining me are weak and coming loose, intangible ropes that are only my own crumbling self-control. Logic is dead against the power of her beauty. Knowledge of right and wrong is meaningless in the memory of her lips scouring mine.
I kiss her. I move slowly, as if approaching a skittish wild animal, one hand stretching up to pull her down. Fear widens her already-round brown eyes. Her trembling spreads to her whole body, but she doesn’t pull away.
My cracked, chapped lips meet her soft, warm, wet mouth, and heaven explodes through me. My eyes shut on their own, weighed down by the glory of her kiss. She is so hesitant, so careful and restrained. I don’t dare touch her. Don’t dare.
A kiss, a kiss, just a kiss. But god, so incredible. I’m electrified, wired, hardened by the taste of her, the feel of her. Intoxicated by her. I’m shaking all over from the effort to keep my hands to myself, to keep the kiss chaste. It’s an impossible losing battle.
Then her hand leaves her lap and touches my face, palm against cheek, fingers curling in the hair around my ear. Something inside me swells to impossible proportions at the tenderness in that gesture, burgeoning until I could burst, break open, weep, or shout for joy. A simple, innocent touch, but so meaningful. This woman who sells touch, who must find men to be such nasty creatures, this woman who has seen the worst in the monsters that are men, she’s kissing and touching me.
She shouldn’t. I’m no better. I’ve killed. With gun, with knife. I’ve broken men with my bare hands. I’ve sundered families with my rifle. I’ve done such awful things. And I desire her, want her. I need her, carnally.
She needs Prince Charming to carry her away from this hell of dust and sin and war, and I’m not him.
But still her lips move on mine, her tongue sweeps my teeth and moves to tangle with mine, her hands clutch my face to draw me closer, to deepen the kiss. My control over my hands is shredded by the fervor of her kiss, and I find myself wrapping my hands around her waist, just her waist, above her hips and beneath her ribs. She’s so small, so delicate, that my hands nearly span her waist. And now her hand descends from my face to my shoulder, inches from the wound.
I wince at the sting of pain, and she pulls away, breaking the magic. Her eyes search me, and I don’t try to hide what I’m feeling. It’s the only way I can communicate what I’m feeling, through my eyes. I can’t help but wonder what she sees. I know what I’m feeling, but I don’t know how that translates, how she interprets it.
Her palm still cups my cheek, no longer trembling. Her mouth opens as if to speak but then shuts again, and she’s gone, suddenly gone, darting out the door, and I’m left gasping for breat