Wild Rain

By: Christine Feehan

“It’s a bad habit of mine.” He said it casually. Easily. As if it didn’t matter. As if she really were crazy. And actually she thought he might be right.

Rachael watched him take a breath, let it out and take the first stitch. She tried to jerk her leg away from him, her breath hissing out between her teeth. “Are you insane? What do you think you’re doing?”

“Hold still. You think this is easy for me? You’ve lost too much blood. If I don’t repair the damage, you’re not just going to lose the leg, you’re going to die.”

“I thought that was the idea.”

“What was I supposed to think? You were here, waiting in my house for me.”

“I was in bed asleep, not lurking behind the door ready to bash your brains out.” She glared at him.

Rio turned his head again to look at her. Rachael had the grace to blush. Blood trickled down his temple to the dark shadow of stubble growing on his face.

“I thought you were trying to kill me. You were, weren’t you?”

“If I wanted you dead, believe me, you’d be dead and I’d be burying your body in the forest. Hold still and cut the chatter. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m soaked and have a few wounds of my own to take care of.”

“And all this time I thought you were he-man and didn’t care about the little things like wounds.”

He muttered something under his breath she was certain was uncomplimentary before once more bending over her leg.

Rachael gave up the idea of being a true heroine straight out of the movies. She’d been trying bravado just to concentrate on anything beside the excruciating pain in her leg, but he wasn’t helping with his tiny little needlework. It felt like he was sawing at her leg with a dull blade. She couldn’t just grab the pillow and suffocate herself because her hand wasn’t working properly. She could hear someone crying. An obnoxious, annoying sound that wouldn’t stop. A high keening kept breaking her concentration, making it impossible to lie still.

Grim-faced, Rio held her down as he worked. He was grateful when she finally succumbed to the pain, lying motionless, her breathing rapid, her pulse pounding. Her soft moaning set his teeth on edge. Ate at his heart. “Damn you, Fritz. Did you have to take her leg off?” It took him close to an hour in the dim light, tiny stitches, working on the inside. Straightening, he sighed, wiping the sweat from his face with the back of his hands, smearing her blood over the stubble on his face. Now he could add torturing women to his long list of sins.

He brushed back her hair, frowning down at her white face. “Don’t you die on me,” he ordered, feeling for her pulse. She’d lost a lot of blood and her skin was clammy. She was going into shock. “Who are you?” He dragged blankets over her and built the fire back up to heat a large pot of water and added a smaller kettle to make coffee. It was going to be a long night and he needed a boost.

The cats lay near the fire, already asleep, but woke when Rio examined them for injuries. He murmured to them, nonsense really, showing his affection for them roughly as he removed parasites and ruffled their fur. He never admitted to himself he felt affection for them, but it always pleased him when they chose to remain with him. Fritz yawned, showing his long sharp teeth. Franz nudged him sleepily. Normally playful, the two leopards were worn out. As he washed his hands, Rio became aware of how uncomfortable his soaked clothing was. Every muscle in his body ached now that he was allowing himself time to think about it. He had to clean and stitch his own wounds, and the prospect wasn’t a pleasant one. His pack was still outside lying against a tree trunk and he needed the contents of the larger medical kit he always carried.

While he waited for the water to boil he searched his home for some evidence of who she was and why she was there. “Little Red Riding Hood, were you just walking in the woods?” He went through the backpack containing her clothes. “You come from money. A lot of money.” He recognized the designer labels from rescuing more than one rich victim. “Why would you be wandering alone in my territory?” His gaze shifted to her face, a silken thong crushed in his hand. He didn’t want to give life to the question in his mind by murmuring it aloud. Why did he ache every time he looked at her pale face? Why did it feel like a blow to his gut each time he saw his fingerprints around her throat? How the hell did she manage to make him feel guilty when she was the one invading his home, lying in wait for him? He shied away from the questions, tossing the silly little thong back in the pack. He would take care of washing clothes tomorrow. He was about out of steam at the moment, and he still had a long haul ahead of him.

Coffee warmed his insides and helped clear the fog in his brain. He stood over her, sipping the hot liquid and studying her face. She thought he wanted information enough to torture her for it. “What information? What do you know that someone might want bad enough to hurt you for?” The idea of it set a demon rising in him.

She stirred at the sound of his voice, moving restlessly, pain flickering across her face. He brushed back her hair with a gentle touch, wanting to soothe her, not wanting her to surface when he couldn’t ease her suffering.