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Authors: Emmy Curtis

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary Women, #Erotica, #Contemporary, #Fiction

Pushing the Limit (16 page)

BOOK: Pushing the Limit
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Chapter Twenty

When Harry woke, several things hit at the same time. First was a total blank on where she was, and the second was a searing pain in her arm. She struggled to get up from the bed, but the heat that scalded her wound was so bad when she tried to flex the muscle that her brain took a second to register the feeling as extreme pain. When it did, the unfamiliar room started spinning.

While it steadied, she took in her surroundings. She was on a low wooden bed. The white linens were crisp under her touch. Not in an expensive way but in a way that suggested they’d been boiled many times to clean them.

So, there had been a gunfight. Mueen had shoved her in Matt’s car virtually at gunpoint.
Oh my God, Matt.
What had Mueen done to him? The last thing she remembered was lying in the backseat and a gunshot echoing around the car. Her heart clenched in unbearable fear. Her fingers dug into the sheets as she bowed her head, almost unable to muster the strength to raise it again. Dry sobs racked through her body. Her soul spiraled down through the dusty floor of the room. He was dead because of her. Because she’d refused to leave, a determination that had partially been caused by her certainty that Danny’s friend wouldn’t leave her alone in Iraq. She was selfish. She’d risked his life like it had been hers to risk. She’d never cared if
died, but now…

She unwound the fingers of one hand from the sheets and placed them gently on her wound, pink through the bandage. She pressed, and a wave of nausea pulsed through her body. She pushed again, harder, and all she felt was pain. A white-hot, all-encompassing pain. No thought. No worry. No grief, just pain. Beautiful, unthinking pain.

The door of the room slammed open. “Harry! What are you—stop it! You’re hurting yourself!” Hands grabbed her and wrenched her fingers away from her bandage.

“Molly?” she whispered. “I’m dreaming…” She fell backward onto the pillow. “A nightmare…”

* * *

When she opened her eyes again, Molly was sitting right next to the bed, intently staring at her. “Are you okay now?” she asked pressing a cool, wet cloth against Harry’s forehead.

“I had a dream…” She looked down at her arm again and squeezed her eyes shut as the grief overtook her again.

“It wasn’t a dream, sugar. You really got shot. Well, a ricochet we think. But you’re safe now. Mueen says—”

“No!” she tried to yell, but a whisper came out instead. “He held us at gunpoint. Matt…” Tears trickled down her face, and she turned away from Molly.

“I know, honey, I know. Don’t worry, though…”

The words barely registered with Harry. Everything was wrong. She was shot in Iraq. Where Danny died. Where Matt died. Molly was on a plane back home. She couldn’t be here. Although… she couldn’t be sure where here was. It was too much. Too much. She wished she could disappear. Like she never existed. She took a deep breath…

She was in the car again; this time she could see what was happening. Matt was shooting out the window. She tried to say something, but the noise was so loud, and Mueen pressed a gun muzzle against her stomach. Then he pressed it against Matt’s neck and pulled the trigger. She smelled the gunpowder, the noise disorientated her, and Matt disappeared into a fine pink mist in front of her eyes.

She screamed. “Matt. Matt. Where are you? Where did you go? Matt!”

Harry snapped upright in the bed, suddenly awake, heart pumping. Molly was still there, eyes wide in surprise. “It’s okay,” she said quietly. But behind the bedroom door a voice replied, “Harry? Harry!”

“Matt?” she whispered.

Molly frowned. “He can’t come in here. Only women can—”

* * *

He’d been waiting for the damned sheik for hours. He wasn’t allowed to see Harry, and had only been told that she was doing okay. Molly, whose flight had been canceled, had been picked up, too, and was tending to her. He didn’t know what to make of the situation, but his training told him to keep calm and keep everyone important to him within sight, or at least within calling distance.

No one seemed as if they were itching to harm them, to be fair, but he’d seen too many smiling, friendly-seeming people watch as Humvees were blown up by IEDs they’d placed.

To make this epic fuckup even more fucked-up, there’d been no bullet holes on the Suburban. Not one scuff. It made no sense. That man on the right who’d been shooting at them, there was no way he could have missed the car. With the number of rounds he’d dropped, the entire side of the car should have been riddled with bullet craters. Nada. Not a thing.

And yet the guy on the left had managed to pepper the trailer with enough lead that it would be permanently air conditioned.

His response to the uncertainty of his situation was to pace. He’d paced for over an hour, with Mueen watching his every move. Damned if he was going to say anything to him. He could just watch and be bored to death. Hopefully.

After a while, he sat. His skin was crawling with the idea that Harry needed him and he wasn’t allowed to see her. He put his face in his hands and tried to make sense of the past few days.

And then he heard her screams for him. His subconscious threw him into auto pilot. He was going to her. He didn’t care who he had to kill or maim to achieve that goal. There was nothing that would keep him from her. Gender rules be damned. He jumped up from the sack of coffee beans he’d been relaxing on and stepped toward Mueen.

“Don’t make me hurt you—I’m going to her, and you can try to stop me if you like, but it won’t be pretty. And neither will you.” His fists clenched, ready to beat the bastard to a pulp if necessary, but instead, Mueen’s lips quirked up, and he stood aside with an amused look in his eyes.

Matt ran to the corridor that he knew led to the women’s quarters. At the end were two guards, sitting at a table playing cards for matchsticks. They stood as soon as they saw him, and one pulled out a knife. Knife? It was more like a small scythe. That’s why Mueen had let him pass. Well, more fool him.

He knew they took the virtue of the resident women very seriously, but a man with a baby-machete was not going to stop him from getting to Harry. The guard without the knife took a swing at him, which he ducked easily, delivering a fast uppercut to his solar plexus. The man gasped for breath and fell backward over his chair. Not so well trained, obviously.

The knife man grinned, showing a mouth of a full three teeth. Matt mentally gave him three seconds to make his move otherwise he was going straight through him. He got to two before the man stepped in, turning his side to Matt, and stabbed at him with the knife. Sweet hell. He even held one arm behind his back like he was a musketeer.

Oh, how he wanted to just pull out a gun and shoot him, but they’d stripped him of all his weapons when they arrived. He’d been worried that if he protested it would delay Harry’s treatment.

Instead he ran toward the man, knocking his knife hand out of the way. As the knife clattered to the floor, Matt punched him one time in the jaw. A “knockout punch” they’d called it in unarmed combat training. It worked every time. There was a tap on his shoulder, and he turned, just in time for Mueen to punch him in the head. The bastard’s ring dug into his head, but he kept his wits about him and spun, whipping his legs out from under him. Mueen fell, whacking his own head against the wall. He went limp.

Matt ran toward her room and smashed it open.

Chapter Twenty-One

Harry’s eyes remained on the door. An abrupt, loud clattering sound came from the other side. Grunts. Things falling over. The door exploded open, banging against the wall behind it. It was Matt. He stood in the doorway, blood dripping from the side of his head.

Tears flooded her eyes, so much so that she couldn’t see him properly. “You’re alive?” Harry jumped up, oblivious to the pain in her arm, and flung herself into his arms. He enveloped her in his huge frame, and she was home.

“Of course I am.” He pulled away from her and looked into her eyes. “Why did you think I wasn’t?”

“Mueen. He had a gun, pointed at your neck. And I couldn’t remember any more…” except the dream where he blew up. “I had a dream, I think, and I saw you explode when he shot you.” She couldn’t help her bottom lip from shaking, but it had been a dream. Somehow, because everyone in EOD talked about the “pretty pink mist” when someone is blown up by a bomb, she had always seen that image after Danny died. And now she was dreaming about Matt exploding in the same way that Danny had.

“Aw, sweetheart. It’s okay…” He pulled her back into his arms, and she laid her head against his chest.

Molly eased out of the room slowly, shutting the door behind her.

“Are you okay?” he asked, pushing her away a little and examining her face and body. He took in the basic white bandage that covered her wound. “I think it was a ricochet from a bullet that hit the side of the trailer.” He let a finger gently stroke her over the bandage.

“Mueen?” she asked, sniffing and sitting back on the bed. “He held me at gunpoint.” Her body felt as if it didn’t belong to her. She was numb. Not even her arm hurt. She could have died there. And the thought of that wasn’t acceptable. For the first time in many years, she felt herself reacting to a near-death experience with fear. And the implications of that fear were too much for her to even examine in her head.

“Yup. Me too. I hit him pretty hard, though.” His tone suggested pride in his actions.

A smile touched her lips for a second. “Good. What happened, I mean, why? Where are we?”

“We’re at the sheik’s home.” He looked around the room and shrugged. “I think, anyway.”

“That’s good, I think. At least he saved me from the police last night.” A huge yawn came over her. “God, I’m so sleepy.”

“Lie down,” Matt said softly. “We’ll talk about it when you wake up.”

“Stay with me?” she asked, eyes already closed.

He nodded, and she slipped back under the covers. Matt was here. Everything was fine. Matt and Molly were okay. She was alive…

* * *

Right here. She wanted to stay right here. Warm, protected, safe… Right here forever. Except… no. She jerked awake. It hadn’t been a dream.

Or, some of it had been a dream. Matt’s head was on the pillow next to hers, except he was fully dressed and on top of the covers. Somehow she had snuggled next to him and slept beneath his arm. She took a deep breath, taking in his soapy scent.

Fully alert, she shifted up on to her good elbow. Her other arm had dulled to an ache. Crap. Matt still had blood on his face. She’d forgotten that he’d burst into the room injured. What a selfish, self-absorbed bitch she was. A cursory glance told her that there was nothing in the room she could use to clean up his cut.

She peered down at him wondering what to do with him. This,
, had started as fun, a diversion. But she couldn’t go through this again. She couldn’t allow herself this closeness. The agony that had invaded her when she thought he had died was the same agony she felt when Danny had died. A painful void inside her. A vacuum of terror. She wasn’t going to do that again. She’d promised herself. She was too scared of what she might do if she was hurt that way again. Too scared of the emptiness. It had taken her four years to get over the pain and grief of losing Danny. She wasn’t sure she was strong enough to go through that again. And yet what she had felt when she thought Matt was dead was just as powerful as before. However well she’d hidden her heart, Matt had gotten close enough to be able to hurt it. She was as scared about that as she was at being shot at.

She thought back to the last time they had shared a bed… just the night before, even though so much seemed to have happened since then. She’d known that was dangerous. His easy intimacy, drawing her into an intimacy she couldn’t afford. After Danny, how could she allow herself to get involved with someone in the military again, especially someone in harm’s way? Just no. She couldn’t lose anyone else that she cared about. She couldn’t live through that again.

She extricated herself from his arm, got up, and backed away slowly.

“What’s wrong?” he said, a deep frown creasing his forehead and opening up the cut. Blood dripped down his face. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I… what? Nothing. You’re bleeding,” she said, and reached for a corner of bedsheet. When it wouldn’t reach his face, and Matt wouldn’t move, she shrugged and dropped it.

“I know. Your friend Mueen hit me.”

Harry sat on the bed. “What’s going on? How did Molly get here? Is she with Mueen?” A coldness wafted over her, and she dragged a blanket from the bed around her. All the people she trusted were firmly in a questionable category. Except for Matt. And he was in a whole new category now. Except when they got through this, she knew exactly what she was going to do with him. She was going to walk away from him.
to walk away from him.

“Don’t start getting paranoid. Molly’s flight was canceled, so Mueen picked her up again and brought her here to us. She doesn’t know what’s going on, either. None of us do, really.”

“Well it’s about time we found out. I can’t deal with this. I want to know what’s going on, and I want to know now.”

“I can tell you they really didn’t want me in the women’s quarters,” Matt said, wiping the blood from his face.

“No kidding,” she said, her mouth twitching into a smile of its own accord. “Are we here under duress, then? I mean, are we kidnapped?” She didn’t feel kidnapped, but that didn’t mean anything.

Mueen knocked and opened the door, not going in, but hovering in the doorway.

“I guess we should ask the source,” Matt said. “Can we leave, or are we being kept as prisoners here?”

“No. You are free to go. I just would not recommend it.” Mueen shifted his weight from foot to foot. “The men in black are patrolling the site. It will be difficult to get past them back to the hotel.”

“Forgive me if I don’t necessarily accept your recommendations,” Matt snarled.

“His Highness will be back soon, and he will tell you what he knows. Perhaps.” He half sneered at Matt.

“Mueen, I don’t understand,” Harry said softly into the room that had suddenly become tense with testosterone.

He hesitated and looked at them one by one. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to alarm you. I was told to get you here as soon as possible. For your safety. I was worried that you wouldn’t come unless… encouraged. His Highness is buying information for you. For us.” He held his hand out to one side, and Ain stepped into his arm.

“Ain. What are you doing here? Are you all right?” Harry said, standing up.

“We’re all very well.” She turned to her husband. “He’s back. Let’s go to the living quarters and hear what His Highness has to say.”

* * *

The sheik was nothing at all like Matt had expected. Nothing, really nothing. It rendered him virtually speechless.

An older man, maybe fifty, sat in a corner armchair in a much more formal room than Matt had seen so far in the house. He wore an old but still sharp-looking three-piece suit with red socks and Oxfords. The man smiled and jumped out of his chair as they came in. Matt gauged he was maybe five and a half feet tall. But the power he wielded was undeniable.

“Ms. Markowitz. It is a real pleasure to meet you.”

Harry beamed. “It’s an honor to meet you at last, Your Highness. Thank you so much for facilitating our work”—her face fell—“well…”

“I know, I know. Well, we shall see what we can do to fix your problems, shall we?”

“This is Matt Stanning…” Harry said.

Matt held out his hand to the sheik, who gripped it firmly.

“You are the air force man,” the sheik stated.

Matt took a second as his mind whirred. It was way too late to be covert, he guessed. “Yes, sir.”

The sheik glanced at Mueen, who shifted uncomfortably and looked away. Matt wondered if Mueen had told him about his animosity toward Matt.

“Hmmm. Interesting.” The sheik said, and then Harry was introducing him to Molly.

When they had all settled in chairs, the sheik smiled and looked at Matt. “I see you are confused by my appearance, yes? You were expecting some kind of Omar Sharif character from
Lawrence of Arabia
, weren’t you?”

“I suppose I was,” he replied. “Actually, I didn’t know what to expect.”

“I was educated in England until I was eighteen. Eton, actually. When I returned to help my father with his community duties, I brought some Western sensibilities with me, as my father hoped I would. I find when I meet with the chief of police, dressing like this causes him some discomfort, which I like to use to my advantage.”

“What exactly does a sheik do?” Molly asked, and Matt looked in amusement as Harry winced. But the sheik’s eyes wrinkled up as he looked at Molly and smiled.

“I look after the people who live in my region, get work for them”—he nodded gently in Harry’s direction—“make sure families have enough food, settle disputes between neighbors, which thankfully are few. I liken my position to being the headmaster at Eton, or any school. I try to keep the peace, I look out for the people, and I protect them from harm if I can.”

“He is a great leader,” Ain said, bowing her head slightly.

The sheik said nothing but beamed at her. Matt got the feeling he was a man they could trust, even though it didn’t really matter—they didn’t really have a choice.

“What did the police say?” Matt asked.

The sheik became solemn. “I’m afraid to say that your colleague Professor Rapson was indeed murdered. He was shot in the stomach. The police believe that he interrupted a thief. His staff say that his briefcase is missing.

“Um…” Harry bit her lip. “I have his satchel. Could that be what they mean?”

“How did you happen by that?” the sheik asked evenly.

“We were having dinner when he went back up to his room to get some papers to show me. He left his bag with me. And, oh God. I left it in my bedroom. If anyone searches my room and finds it, won’t they think I had something to do with his death?” She stuck her thumbnail between her teeth and looked at Matt worriedly.

The sheik inclined his head slightly to Mueen, who left the room. Matt wondered what they were doing. Maybe they didn’t believe Harry’s story. Although Matt suddenly remembered that Mueen was also at the hotel that night.

He was about to speak up, when Mueen came back in.

“I’ve sent someone to get the bag, if it’s still there.” He nodded at the sheik.

“Very well, Mueen, my son. Maybe, because you and I know what this is all about, you should, perhaps, tell your story to our visitors.”

Mueen nearly choked on his own tongue, and Matt sat forward, interested in anything that would cause him this amount of discomfort.

“Very well,” the sheik said, settling back in his chair. “Maybe your wife would start with her story?”

BOOK: Pushing the Limit
2.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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