Dr. Liv Olney didn’t want to open her eyes, though she’d not heard that sound before. She feared what she’d see in the dark stone room. She’d experienced too much terror, too much hate in the eyes of the men who held her captive.
Men who took too much enjoyment in her pain.
The scent of blood and fear filled the cavernous room. The cold permeated her bones while it numbed the cuts and burns on her skin, so she found no escape from the pain.
No escape but death.
She welcomed that over facing her captors again.
But the odd thunk she heard, the slithering sound, that was new. She opened her eyes a slit. No one had come through the door, but near the wall, in the light from the high window of the basement, a serpentine shape appeared. The light dimmed for a moment as a shadow passed over it.
A man’s shadow.
Her body tightened at the new threat, but she couldn’t muster the reserves to fight anymore. Maybe this man would kill her, and her ordeal would end. She was a doctor, she had catalogued every injury. She wouldn’t survive long.
The shadow disappeared as the shape lowered into the room. The unnatural silence with which he moved made her wonder if her fevered mind imagined him.
Then he turned, revealing a face streaked with grease paint. Hope surged when his whisper carried across the room, not in the French-tinged rhythm of her captors, but an American accent. The figure dropped soundlessly to the floor and moved to crouch in front of her.
A soldier, dressed in camouflage, strapped in black Kevlar. His eyes glinted in the light at his shoulder, and said her name again. She pushed herself to a sitting position, belatedly aware of her nakedness. Muttering something unintelligible, he sat on his heels and stripped off his shirt. As if anticipating her pain, he drew a breath through his teeth before he dropped the shirt over her bloody shoulders. The shirt rasped every cut on her back and neck, and the small weight was too much for her dislocated shoulder. She whimpered.
“I’m Captain Gerard Delaney. Can you walk?”
She shook her head. Even that hurt. “They burned my feet and broke my ankles.” Her voice rasped between cracked lips. She was amazed she felt such a little pain amid all the rest.
He leaned close enough and she smelled his sweat, but the kind gleam in his eyes pushed back the fear that threatened to lock her up.
“I’m going to carry you. Where else are you hurt?”
She opened her mouth to give him the highlights when the door behind him swung in. Liv cowered against the wall as her rescuer grew large and hard before her eyes. He unholstered his gun and swiveled to fire, two quick pops, then two more. Bodies dropped to the floor, guns clattering. Moving quickly, the captain crossed the room and gathered the weapons, then peered into the hallway. He dragged the bodies inside the room and closed the door.
“Gotta go,” he said, not as quiet as he strode back. “This will hurt. I’m sorry.”
He crouched again, draped her arms over his shoulders and dipped his shoulder into her middle. The pain as he lifted her into a fireman’s carry stole her breath. She fisted her hands in the sleeve of his T-shirt as if that would help her through it.
“Okay?” he asked.
What could she say? She grunted in the affirmative. He headed toward the window and the rope. Every step was excruciating as her injured midriff bounced on his shoulder.
“Watch the door.”
“Give me a gun.”
He lifted his eyebrows and glanced at her bloody hands. “Can you shoot?”
“My father insisted.” But she’d refused to carry a gun in the hospital, because she didn’t want to frighten the already-skittish patients. Her mistake.
“Can you hold a gun?”
She flexed aching palms. “I think so.”
He said nothing, just set her gently on her bottom against the wall and pressed a gun in her hand. She folded stiff fingers around the grip, keeping her attention on the door, with the three bodies shoved against it. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the captain untangle a harness, his movements smooth and steady. In the hallway, footsteps pounded. She tensed, waiting for her captors to come into the room.
“This won’t be comfortable, but it’s only for a minute. My men will pull you up.”
Getting into the harness took an eternity as men pounded on the blocked door, but Liv couldn’t move faster-every action was filled with pain. The captain slid the ropes up her naked legs. He scowled at the blood that streaked them, before he snugged the knots around her butt. He pulled the shirt closer around her and buttoned two buttons, leaving her arms free so she could keep her balance and hold the gun.
Her only chance for survival. She gave a short nod. He called up and the rope tightened around her. Her vision blurred as she ascended. She swayed forward and caught herself with her bad arm. Nausea swelled, but before the bile rose all the way up her throat, strong hands reached under her arms and pulled her through the window, at ground level.
She caught her breath as the other soldiers unfastened the harness. Once she was free, she rolled onto her stomach to look into the room. The pounding had increased. Her rescuer crouched, back against the wall, gun aimed at the door. He didn’t flinch when the rope dropped beside him, just reached over and wrapped his arm around it as the door flew inward.
Liv leveled the gun against the window ledge and fired at the men that burst into the room. She emptied her clip and continued pulling the trigger, ignoring the clicks that signaled the gun was spent. One soldier took the pistol from her with a smirk. She dropped her head to her arms, breathing hard, unable to erase the image of the man, one of her rapists, jerking as her bullets struck him.
“I want to go home,” she murmured as the captain climbed through the window and landed on the ground beside her. “I want to go home.”
* * *
Captain Gerard Delaney hopped to attention from the chair beside the hospital bed when General Todd Olney entered his daughter’s room. The general looked from the bed to the soldier.
“Here again?” The older man walked to the other side of the bed and folded his daughter’s hand in his.
It was odd, Del knew, that he spent his downtime visiting the young woman he’d rescued from that hellhole in Africa. Most of the time she was unconscious anyway. Best, he supposed, given the extent of her injuries. To survive what she did—well, she was tough.
She’d been the only one of the hostages who’d survived.
“Shipping out today, sir. Wanted to say goodbye.”
“Going back to Amadan?”
“No, sir, Sandaria.” The country bordered Amadan, but was no less volatile. No doctors to rescue from warlords, though.
“She’ll miss you.”
Del looked down at her swollen, bruised face. “She doesn’t know I’m here half the time.” He shifted his weight. “She’s a fighter.” He’d never forget seeing her laying on the window ledge, firing the shit out of that gun. “She’ll be all right, sir.”
The older man pressed his lips together. “I’ve got to believe that.”
“Make sure she stays out of trouble.” With a last look at the battered girl in the bed, he turned and left.
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