Every nightmare has an end.
There’s no way Nora can ignore the beating. Same heavy boots. Same curses, same pained groans. But that was two years ago, and this a different man, a different part of war-ravaged Sarajevo. This is her second chance. She has to try.
And then she’s stuck with him, nursing him, putting up with him. Declan’s an ass. He’s rude and tactless. He’s arrogant. Dismissive.
Charming. Intense. Caring when she needs it most – and least expects it. He tears away the numbing fog that’s been her constant companion and offers her a way out and a way home.
And it damn near destroys her.
Nora’s survived two years in a war zone. Can Declan show her how to live?
He must be tired of lying on his back. I pause in the doorway. The covers are rumpled and strewn about, his left arm strapped to his chest in a makeshift sling, his right wrist encased in a bandage. Blues and dusky purples and reds mar his chest, bloom along one side of his jaw, mask his eyes.
I wonder what he looks like without the bruises.
“You just gonna stand there?”
“No.” Yes. Staring at him, imagining what he looks like when he’s whole is appealing, and disturbing that it’s appealing. The groan escaping his throat when I lay the ice across his face carries a note of pleasure that zips right through me.
I join him on the other side of the bed, and we sit in silence for a while. His wrapped right hand gropes over the bed until it finds my hand. He laces his fingers with mine. Comfort. Comfort after the storm, waiting for the heat of it to pass.
The gesture sluices away the dregs of the nightmare still taunting me, the anger, the fatigue. I’ve no idea how long we sit in silence, our hands entwined, ice melting over his eyes. My water is long gone by the time I shift to remove the towel. I set it on the table so I can check the swelling.
He doesn’t hiss in pain as I press the ridges of his eyes sockets, the bridge of his nose. “You’ll probably be able to open your eyes fully soon.”
“Yeah, well, not sure how much of an improvement that’ll be.” He has a point. With the broken leg and a bum shoulder, he won’t have much mobility for a few days, and even after that, without crutches he won’t be able to get around until the cast comes off.
A few days. I can handle a few more days. Then I’ll see about moving him to Murat and Ismael’s apartment. They’re stronger than me. If he falls, they can lift him. I can’t.
My fingers drift over the line of his cheekbones, down to his jaw. “You want to take a shower?”
“No sponge bath?” His eyes slit open.
“They cover that in advanced nursing. I took the remedial class,” I quip. “Doctor Gudelj should be coming around later to check on you. Something about exercises for your shoulder.” Climbing off the bed, I retrieve the soaked towel and take it to the kitchen, hanging it over the lip of the sink. “You want a shower or not?”
“Yes,” he calls back.
I hunt down a plastic bag big enough to cover the cast, uncovering a few more books, a sweater I’d forgotten about, and enough dust to fill a small sandbox. Motes catch the dim light filtering through the blinds, drifting like sneeze-inducing snowflakes.
“Here,” I say. He’s pushed back the blankets and sat up, legs hanging over the side of the bed. He waits while I unhook the sling, rotating his shoulder and grimacing while I unwrap the bandage around his wrist. “Watch your fingers.” Bending down, I fit the bag around the cast.
“You really are small. I thought I was imagining things.”
His eyes are open, scrutinizing every inch. Or every inch he can see. Hunched over as I am, trying to secure the bag so his cast doesn’t get wet, I’m even smaller. Throw in a skinny build and dark hair I keep as short as a boy’s, and I don’t look like much. “Elfin” is a word that gets tossed around a lot. Ryan used to tease me with it, knowing it irked me. “And?”
Confusion clouds his face. “And what? It’s an observation. I could snap you in two.” With a wince, he pushes up on his good foot, hand on the bedside table for balance. “Fuck,” he mutters and begins hopping slowly across the small distance between the bed and the bathroom.
Trusting he’ll be able to get out of his boxers and into the shower on his own, I turn away and straighten the blankets.
“Shit! Bloody hell.” A thump, followed by more curses. “Aye, fuck me.”
Quiet. It lengthens, and I’m about to leave the bedroom, take stock of what else might be needed for a few days, when he breaks it. “Nora?”
I’m not going to like this. I just know it. “Yeah?”
“I need—” More muttering. Another thump. “Fuck!” He yanks the door open. “I need some help.”
One brow goes up. “Help doing what? I’m not giving you a sponge bath.”
“Ha ha.” His face is grim. “I think I can get in the shower okay. It’s these —” He waves a hand at his shorts. “—that I can’t seem to get rid of. I think if I try to bend over far enough to take them off I won’t be able to stand back up.”
Oh dear god. It’s bad enough I have to deal with him being charming and then growly, mostly naked and morose because he’s so dependent, but now I have to take off his boxers for him?
Suck it up, Nora.
“Turn around,” I say briskly.
After a moment’s hesitation, he obliges, bracing a hand on the sink. Without giving myself the chance to build up to it, I grasp the waistband and yank. Sure enough, they catch at the top of his cast. I crouch down, keeping my eyes trained on the cast. Not on his ass. Or between his legs. Just the cast. Seconds slip by as I tug the boxers carefully over the plaster.
As soon as they’re off, I rise and turn around, cheeks burning as I step out of the bathroom, shutting the door behind me.
If she’s not writing, she’s reading, drinking hot chocolate, and trying not to destroy her house with her newest DIY project. She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and no, it really doesn’t rain that much.
- $50 gift card to book retailer of your choice!