She was interrupted by the big steel door opening. The man walking through was one of the very few men on this earth Drake would allow direct access.
“Drake!” Benjamin Kane came in fast, still wearing his white coat. White coats usually conferred an aura of authority on doctors, but Kane’s wild, unkempt white-blond hair, gangly, undernourished-looking frame and patchy blond goatee made him look more like a South American kidnap victim than the brilliant trauma surgeon he actually was. “I came as soon as I got the call. Christ, man,” he continued, giving Drake a quick, professional up-and-down glance, “you need to stay out of trouble. You’re too old for this shit. Let’s get to the clinic right now. Good thing I stocked up on several bags of O. Come on, come on.”
After a brief, surprised glance at Grace, Ben ignored her. Drake knew he was trying to be discreet but would be pumping him for info later. Ben walked ahead of them down the long corridor to the clinic, white coat flapping around his skinny knees.
Drake and his men were in a dangerous business. One of the first things he’d created after moving to America was a headquarters with its own infirmary. Hospitals, by law, had to report gunshot wounds, so he’d seen to it that he could deal with most of them himself.
He’d created an actual clinic—a big room, kept sterile, with everything a medical team could possibly want, though only Ben used it. He’d stocked it with all the equipment necessary to deal with injuries, including imaging machines, and Ben could manage most nonfatal injuries with what was in the room.
Drake let him go on ahead. Ben was fast—he’d be set up for surgery by the time Drake made it to the clinic.
Drake walked slowly down the corridor, gritting his teeth against the horrible feeling of weakness. He hated it. He’d always hated it. For all his life, any weakness—physical or emotional—could get him killed. Not showing any weakness at all was second nature.
The corridor looked a mile long, and the glare of the lighting hurt his eyes. It felt like he were walking uphill. Up a steep hill.
He would have expected Grace to follow Ben, but she stayed by his side. He didn’t want her there. He wanted her in the clinic with Ben.
“Go on ahead,” he said. His voice came out almost a whisper. He cleared his throat. “I’ll catch up.”
It was disconcerting to be on the receiving end of her gaze, intense, direct, like a blue-green spotlight. “No, I’ll stay here with you.” Her voice, though soft, was firm. Though he didn’t remember her doing it, he was now aware that she’d put her arm around his waist to brace him. She walked slowly, matching him, pace by pace, watching him carefully.
Damn it, she needed medical attention. “Go!” he said harshly.
She merely shook her head, tightening her arm around his waist.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He needed her there as fast as possible, so Ben could start taking care of her. He gritted his teeth and tried to speed up, but tripped over his own damned feet.
“Here.” Her voice was low, soft. She positioned her shoulder under his arm. “Put your arm around me.”
Drake was close enough to smell her. He was intensely sensitive to smells. Once he’d thwarted an assassination attempt because he smelled smoke on the man’s clothes in his hotel room. He’d turned down a number of women because of what he could smell underneath the perfume and lotions. He was absolutely convinced that emotions smelled.
He knew the smell of fear, of danger, of hatred. Grace’s smell was utterly different. She had the smell of woman. A woman in springtime. Clean, through and through.
He stumbled. Grace held him, but barely. She was shaking with the strain and breathing heavily, the sound loud in the corridor.
Drake forced himself upright again and concentrated like a laser beam on the clinic’s door ten feet away. He could do this. He’d done harder things and he could do this. A minute later, he was sitting on a hospital bed breathing hard, and Ben, scrubbed and gloved, was bent over him. Surgical instruments lay gleaming on a tray and Ben held a big pair of sharp scissors to cut Drake’s shirt off.
“Okay, buddy. Let’s take a look at what we’ve got here. I’ve got the X-ray machine up and running if we need it.” The scissors came closer and Drake batted them away.
“Check the woman first.”
Ben froze and looked at Grace, whose face was a mask of astonishment.
“You heard me. And it’s not like you to need information twice. You’re wasting time and that’s not good for a trauma surgeon. You’re not touching me until she is stitched up.”
Ben took in a deep breath. “Okay, this is how it goes. This is what I got all those med school debts you paid off for me for. In school they teach you something called triage. That’s French for selection, the idea being that you select out cases on the basis of the severity of the wounds and treat the most severe cases first. And that, my dear Drake, is you.”
Drake sat back, tipped his head back and closed his eyes. “No. Her first.”
Ben made a strangled sound of frustration. But he knew better than to argue. “Okay. Have it your way.” Drake opened his eyes to watch Ben settle Grace into a chair. “Damn man,” he grumbled to her. “Okay, okay, let’s see what we have here.”
Grace tilted her head up to look Ben in the eyes. “He’s been bleeding badly,” she said, whispering. She was trying to talk to Ben without him catching on. “He has a gunshot wound. I’ve just got cuts and scrapes. Please attend to him first.”
“No.” Drake put the last of his energy into his voice.
Ben’s sigh was loud. “Head like a rock,” he told Grace, raising his voice to make sure Drake could hear him. “What can I say? He’s the one pays the bills. So, tell me where it hurts.” He was swiftly gathering together the instruments he’d need for her on a tray, the clatter of steel on steel bright in the room.
She smiled at that. “More or less everywhere. Mainly here—” she pointed to her head, “here and here.” She indicated her neck and elbow. “I hate this. I hate being treated while he’s over there bleeding.” Grace’s eyes slid to his. Drake simply stared at her and she looked away.
“Well, my dear…What’s your name, by the way? If I’m going to clean you up, I should know your name. I’m Ben, by the way.” Ben was gently cleaning the scrapes on her hands. Grace hissed in a breath at the sting of the antiseptic.