How about something from CAPTIVATED?
Phantom Corps: CAPTIVATED by LAUREN DANE
Copyright 2012, Lauren Dane
All Rights Reserved, The Berkley Publishing Group
“Hey there, baby. Can I take a look at you? You took some hits in the hallway back there.”
She looked up and as he’d suspected, bore the beginnings of quite a spectacular black eye. He pushed his anger back and opened up the first-aid kit.
“That your first black eye?”
“No. Before . . . just once. And then they didn’t hit me in the face anymore.”
He dragged a breath into his lungs and let it out slowly. “That doesn’t count. You were abused. This time you got it brawling.”
Her bottom lip trembled.
“Is it that you killed a man?” He tried to remain calm as he took a wet cloth to her face to clean off the remains of the blood spatter. He needed to be sure it wasn’t her blood. And to focus on something other than wanting to go back to Silesia and take on the entirety of Fardelle’s army.
She shook her head, allowing him to tip her chin and get the cut above her eyebrow cleaned and bandaged.
“I don’t feel bad that I killed him.” She winced as he unbuttoned her shirt and he found an abrasion on her neck. “Don’t get mad that I took the vest off.”
He paused, brushing the pad of his thumb over the curve of that trembling lip. “Can’t be mad at you. It’s impossible. As for not feeling bad? Guilt is wasted on doing what you have to do.”
“Does it get easier?”
He helped her to her feet. “I need to take the shirt off.” He’d learned early on to part her with his shirt and other things he’d given her with a careful approach. And her permission.
She held still while he looked her over, running his hands over her ribs to check for anything broken. He couldn’t resist leaning down to kiss her shoulder, over the yellowy-purple bloom of a bruise.
“To answer your question . . . it should never be easy to kill anyone. In that way, no, it doesn’t. But over time I’ve become better at letting the parts that make sense matter to me more than the parts that don’t.”
She nodded, thinking over what he’d said.
Something he’d never said to anyone before.
“Sometimes we have to do things because they need doing and no one else is willing.” He held up the small patch of pain medication. “I’m going to put this on. You’re going to be very sore. Not just from the fight back at the plant, but the hike too. Just a standard pain blocker.”
She held her arm out and he applied it.
“Thank you.” She took his hand and kissed his knuckles, keeping hold. “My turn to check you over.”
She dealt quickly and efficiently with the abrasions on his knuckles before she moved to the cuts on his face.
He allowed her to take his shirt off. “That’s what you did on Ceres, isn’t it? The hard thing no one else would do. The right thing.” She cleaned the gash on the back of his right arm. “This needs some sealant.” She reached past him to rustle through the kit until she found what she needed.
Yes, he supposed, it was exactly what he did in Ceres. Sometimes he’d felt so alone, but now he had Vincenz and Hannah. Hannah, who watched him with those big, startled eyes and understood everything. Vincenz who walked the path with him, knew the same demons and loved him anyway.
She cleaned his wounds quickly and efficiently as they both forgave themselves a little bit.
“Do you promise to always treat my gashes and bruises without a shirt on? It hurts far less when your breasts are part of the package.”
She smiled a little, which had been his intent. “It might be simpler if you stopped getting injured.”
“Wrong line of work for that. Still, might come in handy, having my own personal doctor.”
“At some point I’m going to need a job again. I’ll take a wild guess and say there would probably always be a need for one around you and Vincenz.”
He bent to retrieve his shirt, drawing it around her body again to keep her warm. The deeper they went into the portal, the colder it would be, especially in such a small transport.
“Don’t want you getting a chill. Come lay in the bed with me?” he asked, gently sliding his palm over her hair.
Her gaze met his and he wanted to growl at the shadows of anguish there. He wanted to ask if she’d like to sleep. If she needed a sedative. Anything at all that would soften what she was feeling. But he knew she wouldn’t do it.
So he shook the blanket she’d been using out and pulled the bedding back so she could slide in. And he slid in after, pulling her close as he buried his face in her neck. She sighed, the sound catching slightly, as she snuggled back into his body.
Words he didn’t know how to say lodged in his throat as the warm, solid feel of her body stirred him, even as he found a deep comfort there.
Let himself take the comfort from her, even as he gave her everything he had to give.
Moved, Julian closed his eyes and took a breath of her. He kissed her neck and she turned to him, tears in her eyes, her bottom lip trembling.
“Are you all right? Do you need a booster on the analgesic?”
“I’m sorry.” She shook her head, wiping her eyes on his shirt, which made him smile even as he was annoyed by her apology.
“What in the Known Universes do you have to apologize for?”
“I fell apart.”
“No, you didn’t.” He shook his head, keeping his arms around her, dipping his mouth to taste her briefly.
“I don’t want to be like this.”
His heart ached. “You’re perfect the way you are.”
She shook her head. “No.”
“I wish you could see what I do.”
She blinked up at him.
“Today you handled yourself as well as any other operative. Operatives who’ve had years of training. Operatives who grew up in rough, hard places. You’re strong, Hannah Black. You’re strong and smart and you forced yourself past some scary stuff because you knew there was a job to do. And you did it.”
“You didn’t have any trouble.”
He laughed a little, but there wasn’t much humor there. “Of course I did. I totally missed the soldiers in the hall.” He raked his gaze over the bruises on her face, remembered the rage as he’d turned to see the man beating her with closed fists, but he was fighting his own battle, too far away to stop it.
“Ellis spoke to me. In my earpiece.”
“He did? What did he say?”
“He told me where the man’s weapon had fallen. Told me I could do it.”
“And he was right. I’m sorry it was necessary.”
Interesting that Ellis would break through and speak to her when he so very rarely ever commented while they were on an op. But Wilhelm had his own plans, and his own ways of making them happen, so Julian had ceased to question why he did what he did a long time ago.
She sighed, hiccupping a little, and burrowed into him. He tightened his embrace, noting the way the tension seemed to wisp away from her when he did. “Close your eyes and rest. I’ll be right here. Vin and I will take care of you.”
She shuddered and took a deep breath, her hand fisted in the front of his shirt.
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