Read Victoria's Challenge Online

Authors: M. K. Eidem

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction

Victoria's Challenge (9 page)

BOOK: Victoria's Challenge
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“You know everything.”

“No I don’t. Tell me about your men. Are they really the best in the fleet?”

“Damn right they are.
” The pride is easily heard in his voice.

“How’d they get that way?
” As he tells her about his men, she continues her work. She originally been worried she’d let him do too much, that the tendons had tightened too far but they were relaxing, allowing her to finally manipulate them easily. Lifting his hand, she carefully dries it, seeing no new breaks in the skin. Wrapping each finger, she proceeds on to his hand and arm.

He’s been leaning against her the entire time,
turning she finds his jaw clenched and the muscle under his eye twitching.

“Damn it
! Have you learned nothing! There’s no reason for you to be in this much pain.” Reaching behind him, she grabs the second syringe giving him the shot.

“I wanted to see how much I could take
. See if I’d scream like Hot Dog.”

“What?”

“He was screaming… on the comm.”

“Oh God…
” She has to close her eyes.

“I needed to know.”

“You needed to know…” Her eyes are blazing when she opens them. “Fucking men! Everyone’s different. Every burn is different. It depends where it is, how deep it is, how long before treatment is started, and fuck it, the person’s will.” When she goes to step away, he puts out an arm, stopping her, knowing she won’t want to hurt him.

“Victoria
. Look at me. Please.” Angry eyes meet his. He’ll take it over cool, impersonal politeness any day. “I needed to know if I would say the things Hot Dog said, about
you
, if that anger was in me. I don’t know what I’ve been saying in my sleep but I know it’s hurt you. I never meant to do that.”

“Of course you didn’
t, Major. Believe it or not I
do
know the kind of man you are.” Victoria’s eyes flash before going flat again. “But everything you’ve said is also the truth, your truth. You have the right to say it. Now let me get the sink ready and we’ll finish the treatment.”

“Why do you insist on doing that?
” Frustration tears through his voice.

“Preparing the sink
? It stops infection.” She looks away.

“Not that
, damn it. Calling me Major! You know my fucking name!”

“I’ve always
felt the use someone’s first name should be reserved for family and friends.” Her eyes are shuttered when they meet his. “You’ve made it clear we are neither. I’m your doctor.”

Lucas is stunned, she can’t really believe that can she
?

Carefully unwrapping
his left hand, she puts it into the solution.

“You can’t really believe…
” He hisses as she hits a tender spot.

“Tender there?”

“Yeah.” After a few minutes of her fingers working the spot, the tension eases. He relaxes again.

“Victoria…
” He watches her frown.

“What?” s
he replies distracted.

“Why would you say that?”

“Say what?” The eyes that look over her shoulder at him are intense.

“That we aren’t family, not friends.”

“Because we’re not.” She looks back to his hand. “I need to concentrate here if you want back in a Blade.”

“You think that matters
to me more than you?” Is that what she took from their ‘conversation’? Is that why she never came to talk to him? She thinks she doesn’t matter to him. He touches her thigh and feels her fingers momentarily pause.

“Victoria
,” he whispers.

“How’s the pain?
” She refuses to let him distract her.

“Not a bad as the other.
” He realizes and frowns. “Why is that?”

“One, the shot,
and two you didn’t use it as much. We’ll have to change that, but not today.” Lifting his hand, she inspects it. Satisfied, she gently dries and wraps it. When she goes to move away, he traps her.

“Answer the question
,” he demands.

Victoria looks into the eyes she loves
, seeing the demand and concern there. Is it concern? She doesn’t trust her instincts concerning him anymore.

Lucas sees nothing but flat green eyes.

“We are not family or friends, Major. Of course, you care. That’s the type of man you are. However, you also want to fly again, that’s why you’re tolerating the treatments and me. You’ve always been willing to do what’s necessary to reach your goal.”

“That’s…
” Lucas finds he can’t breathe.

“The truth
. And honest.” She meets his eyes straight on. “I’ll get you back in a Blade Major. I owe it to you and the High Admiral.”

“Owe…”

“For everything you’ve done and put up with for the last nine cycles.”

“You think we’ve been keeping
fucking track!” Lucas isn’t sure if he’s more shocked or angry. “So one day you could pay us back! That’s not how families work!”

“But we’re not family
! We’re strangers, right? I grew up.” This time when she moves, he doesn’t stop her.

What has he done
? In his anger, in his half-truths, in protecting
himself,
he’s led her to believe he doesn’t care about her. That he never had. This is what his father had been trying to tell him. She called him High Admiral not Uncle. How that must have hurt his father, he knows he loves her like a daughter. For her to pull that, to feel that she had to… just how badly had he hurt her? Rising, he goes to find her but instead finds an empty room.

Chapter
Five

Entering Emans
, Victoria walks up to the bar. She doesn’t know why she’s here. She just knows she can’t go back to quarters.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asks.


Carinian Ale.”

“Make it two.
” Turning, she finds Dodge sliding onto the stool next to her.

“Lieutenant.”

“Chamberlain.” When the drinks arrive, he pays before she can.

“Thanks.”

“No problem. Or is there?” Dodge turns, not letting her break his gaze as he sips his drink.

“Why would there be a problem
, Lieutenant?” Her eyes remain emotionless.

“Because you used to call me Dodge.”

“That was my mistake. That’s what your friends and colleagues call you.”

“And you’re not one of those?”

“I’m not a member of the crew, as for a friend...” She gives a small grimace. “That’s doubtful after what I did to Tanner.”

“You mean get
ting him back the use of his hands?”

“I mean all the pain I caused him.
” She sips her drink. Dodge looks at her then decides to take a chance.

“I remember the first time I saw you.
” Her stiffening tells him he has her attention. “You were standing in that meadow, surrounded by flames, scared out of your mind. I knew there was no way I could set that Raptor down. I knew I was going to watch you die, horribly. Then your Aunt was hanging upside down, outside the Raptor, reaching for you. The Admiral struggled to hold onto her.” He sees the memory in her eyes.

“The next thing I know
, she swings you up and you’re in Lucas’ arms. From then on, you were never far from his side. He was never far from yours.”

“I was a child
,” she says dismissively.

“You’re not now.
” He hears the tightness in her voice.

“No, I’m not.”

“I’ll be honest…”

“Oh please, it seems to be on the menu lately.
” The sharpness in her voice tells him he’s hit a nerve.

“Okay, I’m surprised
you and Lucas haven’t gotten together yet. The man’s been in love with you from the start.” The flash of pain he sees in her eyes, before they go flat, shocks and surprises him.

“You obviously don’t know him as well as you think.
” Finishing her drink, she goes to rise.

“Wait!
” Dodge grips her arm, refusing to let go until she looks at him. “I’ve known the man since we were first cycle cadets.

“Over twenty cycles.
” She slowly sits back down.

“Yeah, I was there when he came back to the Retribution after the Challenge
. I’ve watched him wait for you grow up.” He holds up his hand ordering two more drinks.

“Look
, I know you’re trying to help your friend.”

Dodge interrupts her
. “I consider you my friend.”

“You don’t know me.”

After a moment, Dodge holds out his hand. “Hi, I’m Lieutenant Nick Alders. My friends call me Dodge.” He watches her struggle then come to a decision.

“Victoria Lynn Chamberlain, my friends call me Tori.
” She slips her hand into his and smiles, the first natural smile she’s had in what seems a long, long time.

“Victoria?
” Distracted, she turns to find Jager standing behind her.

“Jager?

“Yeah, I came early to get a table
. You can come over with me, now.” His eyes Dodge angrily.

“What
? Oh, maybe later, thanks.” Not realizing she’s dismissing him, she turns back to Dodge.

“But…”

“She said maybe later.” Victoria frowns as the two men glare at each other before Jager backs down and storms away. “He calls you Victoria.”

“What?
” She gives him a confused look before realizing where he’s going. “He’s the uncle of my students.”

“And your point?”

“He thinks he knows me.”

“You’ve had that happen to you a lot haven’t you?
” Dodge watches as she just looks at him. “Because of
who
you are. What you did, standing before the Assembly, everyone saw that and because of it, they think they know you.”

“Sometimes.”

“Must make it hard to have real friends,” Dodge persists.

“Sometimes.”

“Do you ever complain?”

“Sometimes.
” She smiles at him.

A
cross the room neither notice Jager’s glare.

Victoria looks at her watch.

“I need to go brace the Major’s hands for the night.”

“I’ll go with you.
” Dodge stands with her. “He’s doing really well.”

“He is
,” she agrees.

“What’s the difference?
” Dodge can’t stop himself from asking.

“Between the Major
and Tanner?”

“Yeah.”

“Timing.”

“What?
” Dodge can’t contain his shock.

“It was over twelve hours before anyone even
found
Tanner, Dodge, then another twelve before they got him to Comates. Because of the delay, he developed an infection, which delayed the start of his treatments. He was there almost ten days before he had his first treatment. I have still never seen tendons that fucking contracted come back. Sorry.” She gives him a sheepish look.

“No.
” He waves it off. “Go on.”


You’re sure?” At his nod she continues. “With the Major, he was in medical in twenty
minutes,
being given fluids and boosters. He had no infection, just a mild concussion. He started treatments within
forty-eight hours
of the burns. Therefore, while his tendons weren’t as tight as Tanner’s, he had raw burns. It’s a tossup as to which is worse, having someone touch raw burns or tight tendons.”

“It makes
that
big of a difference? The time from the burn to treatment.”

“It’s huge
for the length of the recovery process.”

“It would have helped Tanner?”

“Tremendously. It also would have helped if he’d been able to talk during the treatments. If you can get the patient to talk, it gets his mind off the pain.”

“Tanner could
n’t do that.”

“He was pretty young at the time
, Dodge. You and the Major are members of the Coalition. You’ve been trained to handle pain and stress.”

“Tanner
’s a cycle older than you Tori.”

“Dodge…

“What?
” He can tell she’s debating. “Tori...”

“Look, I haven’t been a
child
since I was two, and I stopped being
young
when I was nine. Your brother and I aren’t even close in age.”

Dodge looks at her, sees she’s serious, and realizes she’s right
. He remembers watching her stand before the Assembly, a child of nine, but already so much more.

“I guess I’ve never thought of it that way.”

“No reason you should.” Finding they’re at Lucas’ hatch she enters his code.

 

Entering the room she freezes. It hurt, oh god, she never knew she could hurt like this. Lucas, her life mate, has another woman in his arms, is holding her against him. She has her hands under his shirt, caressing his chest as she's only dreamed of doing.

“Sorry!
” Turning to flee, she runs into Dodge, his arms instinctively go around her. After several seconds, she stiffens her back and forces herself to step away from Dodge. Lucas was a man, he liked women, just not her.

“Sorry, I should have knocked.
” She turns to face her pain.

“Lorre, I didn’t know you were here.
” Dodge addresses the woman.


The Major asked if I could bring some reports for him to read, he had an itch.” Lorre’s voice is tight as she steps away from Lucas.


I’m sure he did.” Dodges voice is cool, his eyes dead.

“That’s good, as long as he’s not trying to sign anything.
” Victoria walks towards the couple. She can handle this. She’s a fucking doctor. “This shouldn’t take too long. I want to board your hands for the night.”

“What
? Why?” Lucas looks at her, looks at Dodge, trying to figure out what’s going on.

“Your hands were twitching
earlier when you were sleeping. I want them boarded,
loosely,
so you don’t do something in your sleep. Fifteen minutes tops.”

“I’ll get out of your way.
” Lorre moves towards the door.

“You don’t need to leave
. Once I’m done, you can finish with your reports.” Victoria is proud that her tone never chances. She’s handling this.

“Do you need me here
Tori?” Dodges voice is tight.

“What?
” Looking at him, she can see he’s struggling. She can’t deal with that now. “No. Thanks Dodge.” Gathering her supplies, she moves to sit across from the couch waiting.

Slowly
Lucas walks over and sits. Victoria had been Dodge’s arms. She came to
his
quarters with Dodge. She calls him
Dodge
. Not
Lieutenant
.

“What did you do tonight?
” He holds out an arm, trusting her.

“I went to Eman
s for a drink.”

“Really
… you and Dodge?”

Readjusting the
brace, she misses his implication.

“No
. He showed up later.” With both adjusted, she stands, never meeting his eyes. “You’re good to go Major. If there's a problem, call me.” The last portion is directed to Lorre. “Otherwise, I’ll see you tomorrow.” She’s out of the hatch before another word is said.

 

She knew. Victoria would kick her own ass if she could. She
knew
Lucas didn't want her, not as a woman, he'd made that perfectly clear. So why did it still hurt so bad? She should never have just walked in! Who the hell did she think she was?

She'd never do it with any other patient, would never even consider it
. She is their doctor, not their friend. She knows she has to separate herself from them if she's going to do her job properly. To do what's best for
them
. She forgot that with Lucas and let him in. She needs to contact Selfridge. She’s in trouble.

“Victoria.
” Distracted, she turns, not registering the slurred voice.

“Jager?
” It’s as far as she gets before he swings. Instinctively she ducks, raising her fists. Swinging for his jaw, she checks herself at the last second. She can’t hurt her hands. She won’t be able to do treatments. The hesitation costs her as Jager backhands her.

Pain
radiates through her cheek, but training quickly kicks in. Ducking again, she buries her fist in his belly. As he doubles over, she brings her knee up, connecting with his jaw, sending him down on his back. Bracing herself against the bulkhead, Victoria tries to catch her breath. What had just happened?

“Are you okay?
” Victoria drops into a fighting stance at the unknown voice. “Whoa…” the Private raises his hands.

“Sorry.”

“No problem.” The Private hesitates. “You’re bleeding?”

“What?
” Putting a hand to her cheek, she comes away with blood.

“We’ve called the guards
,” he tells her. “We saw what happened, he just attacked you.”

“I…
” She sways on her feet.

“Hey, sit down.”

“No…” She takes a deep breath, ‘suck it up Victoria’ she thinks. “I’m good. Thank you.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“You didn’t look away.” Taking a deep breath, she watches Coalition guards quickly approach.

 

Three hours later, she leans against the closed hatch, finally she’s back in her quarters. What a fucked up night. Moving to her bathroom, she looks at her eye. It hurt, it throbbed, and it was already blooming beautifully. Crap! She’d been interviewed, questioned, and finally, thanks to others, able to prove she hadn’t provoked the attack, just defended herself.

They’d wanted to call someone to come get her, but there was no one
. No one she could call. Instead, guards escorted her back to quarters. Tears finally flow as she climbs into bed, falling into an exhausted sleep.

 

No one seeing Dodge’s angry stride is willing to get in his way. At Lucas’ hatch, he pounds on the door until it opens and he shoves his way in.

BOOK: Victoria's Challenge
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