Title: Deadly Strain
Author: Julie Rowe
Genre: Romantic Suspense
A sniper tries to protect an infectious disease specialist while they combat a deadly new bacterial strain, but he might not be able to stop from her making the ultimate sacrifice in order to save him.
A sound broke through the mental haze and she realized something, someone, was closing in to the entrance to the cave. Her hands moved before she could decide what to do, the Beretta poised and ready.
A voice floated through the night with a stealth she could only dream of someday accomplishing. “Doc?”
“Sharp.” She let out the breath she hadn’t known she was holding and her arms fell to her sides. She had no strength left, no armor for her feelings and no skills left to cope with the meltdown she could feel beginning inside the core of her soul.
He slipped inside the cave, but stayed at the entrance, anchoring branches he must have taken from other brush and bushes, creating a screen to hide them.
“Where did you get all that?” she asked quietly.
“Here and there.” He moved back from his handiwork and took a look at it. “That should do for camouflage.”
He seemed concerned. “Are we going to need it?”
“Yeah.” His response was a sigh she felt more than heard. “I went back to take a look at the crash site.”
When he didn’t continue, she asked, “And?”
“It was being watched.”
“Several whos. From several locations.”
It took her a moment to digest his answer, but when she did, nausea threatened again. “We can’t go back, can we?”
“Not if we want to stay alive.”
“Will they look for us?”
“How will our guys even know we survived if we’re not at the helicopter? Couldn’t we find a closer place to wait? So we’ll hear them coming?”
“In my opinion, closer isn’t safe. There are extremists all over these hills and they’re now waiting for a rescue helicopter, too, so they can try to shoot it down. If we jump up and wave our arms in the air, they’re going to shoot us first.”
“Point to you. How will our people know we survived?”
Sharp’s reply took a moment or two. “There aren’t enough bodies.”
“What do you mean? At the crash site? There are plenty of bodies. More than there should be.” She was responsible for some of those bodies.
“Not American soldiers. They’ll look and they’ll count. The bastards who shot us down are most likely looking for whoever killed their men. They know we’re out here, hunkered down somewhere, waiting for help. They’ll be watching for a chance to kill us before we can be safely extracted.”
“What are we going to do, then?”
“Our guys can’t leave the wreckage to be picked over. There are a lot of useable supplies and gear on board. Plus, they’re going to want to recover the bodies. We’ll have to wait until a full retrieval team gets here. Then we can make a run for it.”
“How long until that happens?”
He shrugged. “Maybe six to twelve hours. If we stay hidden and quiet, we have a good chance of making it.” He scuttled farther into the cave. “In the meantime, why don’t we figure out where you’re wounded?”
“What are you talking about? I wasn’t hurt.”
“Doc, you’re bleeding from somewhere. I found a blood trail one of us left, and since you bandaged me up already, it sure isn’t me.”
Sure, she had a few sore spots, her left arm ached, as did her left calf, but she was sure they were just bumps and bruises. “I’m fine.”
“I know that, but it isn’t relevant to this conversation.”
Wait, what did he say? “Are you trying to flirt with me?”
“I don’t know. Is it working?” He gave her a once-over that was so not appropriate.
“It’s pissing me off.” She wanted to smack him, yell at him, beat her fists against his chest.
He shrugged. “I’ll take pissed off over nothing at all.”
“Stop talking. You’re not making any sense.” She glared at him, daring him to say something more.
He smiled grimly at her. “Doc, get your butt over here.”
She stared at him. He wasn’t kidding.
Pffft. She wasn’t bleeding and she’d prove it. Grace pushed to her feet, crouching a little so she didn’t hit her head on the ceiling of the cave, and looked down.
There was a wet spot on the dirt where she’d been sitting. She palpated it with two fingers and brought the bit of sand closer to her face so she could smell it. The bitterness of iron coated the back of her throat.
Sharp wasn’t going to let her live this down.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.” She moved farther in. “Let’s check my left side. It hurts more than anywhere else.”
“Bicep and calf.”
He reached for her leg, then wrapped his hand around the muscle. She was surprised by the sting of pain that went with it. “Ow.”
“Looks like something here. Where else?”
She sat down and he did the same exam to her arm.
“Blood here too.”
She was an idiot. “I can’t believe I got hurt and didn’t know it.”
“Adrenaline is a marvelous thing,” Sharp said as he urged her to take off her body armor. “I’ve seen guys keep running, fighting or firing after getting hit with a fatal strike. Your brain can keep going for a surprisingly long time before it realizes you’re dead.”
Her mouth twisted into a grimace. “If you’re trying to cheer me up, it’s not working.”
“Just keeping it real, Doc.” Sharp turned away to open his pack and pull out one of the first-aid kits. “Let’s start with your leg.” He gave her left leg a moment’s consideration, then lifted a hand toward her fly.
She stepped back before she could stop herself and he froze.
He dropped his hand, wiggled his eyebrows at her and said, “Take off your pants.”
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