The next morning Quinn walked into the infirmary, hoping to relieve Collin for a couple hours sleep, but instead Thom was having convulsions, and they both missed breakfast. He briefly noted Tori in the same chair she’d been in last night by Charles’ bedside, but didn’t have time to speculate about whether she’d ever gone to bed.
When they were finally able to eat a few bites of breakfast, Quinn asked Collin about Jim and Charles.
“Jim is improving every day. In fact I hope to get him out on the front porch today. Charles,” Collin gave a slight shake of his head. “He’s a bit better physically, but he won’t wake up completely. Stimulants are risky at his age, but if things ever calm down around here, I think I better try it.” He lowered his voice. “But I don’t want Tori in here, just in case it has an adverse affect. The girl hasn’t slept much at all in the last few days, and I’d rather not have to deal with her as well as him. I’ve tried sending her to sleep, but she won’t go.”
Michael slipped into the chair beside Quinn. “We’re scheduled for a hay ride this afternoon over at Temmel’s Orchard. Are you sure you don’t need me.”
“Go ahead. Take Tori also.”
“I’ll try. Of course Shanika is with Kayden.”
Collin rubbed his hands over his face and then stood. “Sounds like Jim needs me.”
“Hey, wait!” Quinn ran after him. “I can take care of it.”
“You need to take a few house calls this morning,” he said abruptly and left the room.
Quinn stared after him. Collin felt he was ignoring his patients. He couldn’t do anything right anymore.
“Quinn?” Cee whispered into his ear. “Is something wrong?”
Quinn made his way to the office to find out who needed to be seen today. “Guess I’m just messing up a bit more than normal lately,” he mumbled.
“I do not think you messed up.”
Quinn rubbed his pocket as he sorted through the notes on the desk. Geoff met him, and they discussed the cases, leaving the three inpatients and the baby to Collin and Par.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Wilma had prepared a lunch, but Collin had yet to taste it. Jim was ready for company and no longer needed his IV or catheter, but he still was unable to get out of bed by himself. Collin had assisted him to the bathroom, and in bathing and washing his hair. And then Thom had several restless spells in addition to his convulsions.
Collin sunk into his chair, briefly closing his eyes. Par was in with his wife and daughter. Geoff had returned, and Collin had sent him for a small nap in case he needed him at peak later. “Tori, please go up to rest.”
“I’m fine, Sir.”
“You’re not fine. You haven’t slept in days. You probably haven’t eaten. And you have not learned to follow my orders.”
He didn’t open his eyes, but he heard the sharp intake of breath, indicating that he’d surprised her. He didn’t like having to become firm with her, but she was leaving him little choice.
“I work for Charles,” she said, her voice betraying a slight waver, reaffirming how much she needed to rest.
“You can’t work for anyone without rest.” He’d told her that at least five times already, but she wasn’t listening. He wondered if she was testing him, thinking she could do whatever she pleased here because she knew his secret. But he wouldn’t be controlled by what she may do. He could leave this place any time and start over. He sighed. He needed to get some sleep, also. Paranoia was setting in. Jim had apologized to Tori earlier for not watching Thom closer, and he confided to Collin during his bathing that he thought Tori was suffering from guilt over not protecting her master.
He heard boots on the floor. Quinn’s boots. Collin sat up and opened his eyes. “Done with your rounds?”
“Yes.” Quinn glanced around the room. “Anything I can do here?”
“Have you eaten?”
“Then take Tori out for a picnic lunch. She’s even missed the wingdeer rides the others took. Why don’t you show her around? Tori needs to relax.”
“Sir, I can not leave Charles.”
“You will learn to follow orders, or you will not stay when the rest of the group returns to Capitol.”
“But you said….”
“I know what I said.” Collin stood and faced her. “I told you I expect obedience, didn’t I? I told you I wished you to keep yourself from becoming too exhausted, but you do not listen at all. Any minute you will snap during an emergency because you have used up all your reserves. Now go!”
Tori stared at him, her eyes wide with shock. Collin tried to take a deep breath to contain his exasperation.
Quinn walked to Tori’s side and took her elbow. “Come on,” he said quietly. “Cee will alert us if we are needed here.”
Tori kept her gaze fixed on Collin. She hesitated. Then he saw a streak of anger in her features, and she walked from the room with Quinn.
Collin sunk back into his chair. “Tell Geoff I need him,” he whispered.
“Can’t tell my light steps from Par’s stomping, can you?” Geoff teased near him, and also letting Jim lying beside them know that he wasn’t talking to himself.
Collin grinned. “Guess you’re right. Your light steps fooled me again. Go see if Par is free to take Jim for some fresh air. Then I need your assistance with Dr. Jamel.”
“You’re trying something new?” Jim asked, turning his head to watch them. “Is that why you kicked her out?”
Collin stretched his tired muscles as Geoff went looking for Par. “The girl hasn’t slept. She’s a storm cloud of nerves, and she’s going to break soon. If this procedure doesn’t work as smoothly as it should, I can’t have her getting hysterical while I’m trying to restart his heart.”
Jim gave a slight shake of his head. “It’ll really kill Tori if she comes back to find him dead. Isn’t there some other way?”
“I don’t plan to kill him. For a man who was almost chopped in two by a laser, you have very little confidence in my abilities.”
Jim smiled. “And you exaggerate. It was only a third of the way through. I can tell that much.” He became serious again as Geoff and Par entered the infirmary. “But every doctor loses patients once in a while.”
“Yes, we do, Jim, but I fight it all the way. That is when the patient trusts me enough to let me.” He gave Geoff a grin and a light cuff.
Geoff scowled and then grinned also. “Watch him, Jim. He thinks he knows everything, and the annoying thing is that he does. Makes an old man like me feel like a ten year old boy.”
Jim groaned as Par helped him sit up. When he caught his breath he shot Geoff a look. “To feel ten again. I’d love to explore this world with the vitality of a ten year old. So much to see and do, and I have to go and get myself shot. Suppose there’s a chair out there.”
“A nice rocker,” Par agreed. “Just right for passing the time with a good book.”
Jim groaned. “Where’s Rose? I need my notebook. Time to write and no notebook.”
“I’m sure we have some extra paper you can use,” Par assured him as they shuffled from the room.
As they left, Collin busied himself with preparing the injection. It was one of the few medicines he prepared at the lab and kept on hand for emergencies. He could only rarely get it from Alexandria.
When he returned to Charles’ side, he first withdrew a box with a transceiver from his pocket. “Jake has agreed to help, although for his and Tori’s benefit, his name will be Jamel.” He brushed aside Charles’ white hair, still surprisingly full for a man his age, and implanted it behind his right ear.
“Okay, Geoff. We don’t want to use any more than we have to. Keep an eye on his blood pressure. Jamel will get the pulse. And Jamel. You are not to speak to Charles unless you allow me to listen in also.”
“But I will never hurt you!” Jake said with horror.
“I know that,” he assured Jake. “But I am the doctor, and this patient will be too ill for detailed conversations for a while yet. And Tori has admitted that they never used transceivers, preferring to use pins that they can remove at will. Like Michael, he may not desire constant voices in his ear. Please relay the message to Cee if she is out of range.”
Collin filled the syringe with the maximum he’d use, and then pressed it into the port of the catheter in the vein on Charles’ right arm. He slowly released a small amount of medicine. He waited for its effect and then released a little more. It was essential to go slowly. Too much medicine or giving it to him too quickly could set off a heart attack.
“Pulse is increasing,” Jake informed him.
“Blood pressure rising,” Geoff said.
Collin examined Charles’ eyes. Charles flinched away. Collin withdrew the syringe and set it on the table. “You’re awake, my friend,” he said softly, taking Charles’ hand in his. “Can you hear me? Please grip my hand.”
Charles’ hand moved in a weak grip. “Tori,” he whispered.
“I sent her out. She’s been by your side constantly for days. She needs to rest.”
Charles opened his eyes a crack. “Where?”
“I’m Dr. Alex Collin, and this is Dr. Geoff Napier. You’ve had a stroke, but I’m hoping that you’ve only experienced a small loss of coordination on your left side, which can be corrected with exercise.”
“You may call me Collin,” he agreed. “But we’ll save our discussions on your work until you’re fully recovered and out of the infirmary. In the meantime, Jamel is with you, although it’d be best not to speak in front of some of the people here. Only a few are aware that he exists.”
“Hello, Dr. Jamel. I am anxious for you to recover so that I can know you again.”
A small smile spread on Charles’ face as he re-closed his eyes.
“Looks like you’ve made him happy,” Geoff said.
“Are you pleased with me, Dr. Jamel?” Jake asked.
“Pleased,” he whispered. Then he opened his eyes and almost sat, but he was too weak to complete the movement and fell back. “Butler!”
“Butler is dead,” Collin said. “Tori killed him. Jamel, you may briefly relate the events on the road.”
“Piecing together testimonies and facts, and witnessing the end of the event….” Jamel began, and then gave an outline of the events up until Butler was killed behind the clinic.
“I believe Dr. Jamel is resting in a natural sleep now,” Collin said softly. “You’ll have time to speak to him later.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Quinn stared at the water of the slow-moving river. Tori had come with him, but she sat stiffly with her arms folded in front of her, not touching the food he’d brought. If Collin hadn’t requested he’d come out here with her, he’d leave. He didn’t need these conflicting emotions bombarding him. As they’d rode over on Rae, he’d felt his initial desire all over again, but now her silence proved she respected him as little as his ex-wife had.
He glanced over at her again, and his thoughts froze. She had tears running down her cheeks. Quinn crawled the few feet to her through the newly fallen leaves on the bank. “Tori?”
She shook her head and rubbed the back of her hand along her eyes. “I’m okay. I am… okay.”
Quinn rubbed her back. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Whatever I did, I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “You didn’t….” she sniffed.
Quinn handed her his handkerchief, and she wiped her face.
“It’s not you,” she said, but didn’t look at him.
“Are you upset that Collin yelled at you? You really do need your rest. It’s because he cares about you.”
She shook her head. “No, he doesn’t. I’m just in the way.” Fresh tears flowed down her cheek.
Quinn drew her close to lean against him. “Collin cares about everyone,” he defended, and waited for her to attack Collin as Tara would.
But she didn’t. She simply leaned against him, letting his arms stay around her.
Quinn rested his forehead against the side of her head and tried to contain the emotions surging through him. He wanted this woman. He wanted to run his hands all over her body; he wanted his lips to follow. He kissed her hair, unable to contain his desire.
Instead of pulling away, she turned her face to his, her lips resting lightly beside his. Did she want his kisses? Tentatively he brushed his lips over hers. She pressed against him, her body and her lips. Desire shot through him, and he gave in to her invitation.
As they kissed and stretched out on the bank of the river, he vaguely realized there was more to her passion than desire. There was a desperation. Just as Tara had approached him when she had nothing but her job as Collin’s housekeeper, Tori might soon have nothing if Charles died. He wanted to stop and be outraged. He wanted to refuse to love a woman who just saw him as a means to an end, a means to survive, but he wanted her too much.
“Quinn! Tori!” said Cee into his ear and apparently hers. “Tori’s chances of becoming pregnant today are 79 percent.”
Quinn jumped up, ran a few paces from her and leaned against a tree to regain his composure. “What are you talking about? You can sense that?”
“Butler always did for Thom before he married. Even after he did get married, but that is a secret.”
“Did you do that for Michael?”
“Only once. With Tori. They never dated again. I guess they weren’t ready for children.”
“So she does this all the time,” Quinn said, not daring to look back toward the girl. It was too much to hope that she was as unexperienced with courtship as he was.
“No. I am sure she did not date much. Thom and Butler did not like her because she would not date Thom. She didn’t date most of the men who asked. I think that is why Thom and Butler lied about what she did with Michael.”
Quinn allowed himself to watch the woman he desired again. “Why didn’t she date them?” he whispered. She seemed so hurt, sitting there, holding her legs, with her face against her knees.
“I do not know. Butler said it was because she is frigid, but I do not think he is right about that. She does not appear frigid to me.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Tori knew they were discussing her. How had she let herself go like that? Maybe Collin was right. She was too tired, and she couldn’t stop the tremors running through her. She never should have let Quinn touch her. He probably had a string of lovers as Rock Trapper, and she meant nothing to him.
And Cee had done the same thing again! The robot hated her. Just like Butler did. All the robots hated her. If only she’d killed him the first time. She should have asked Charles how to disable the android and then worried about the core. Perhaps Falice wouldn’t have lost her child. Perhaps Charles wouldn’t be almost dead. But Butler had fooled her senses somehow and caught her.
Quinn watched her. She couldn’t let him see her fall apart. Why didn’t she listen to Collin? But if someone hurt Charles while she was away…. Charles! She needed to get back to him.
Tori jumped up and began running. Which way was he? She had to get back.
He was chasing her. No! Butler would get her again. He always came back, the minute she closed her eyes. She couldn’t let him win. She heard him almost on her, and she twirled around, her leg raised, kicking him in the chest to knock him away from her. She paused to determine the next attack.
Quinn lay on the ground, his eyes closed tight, his hands together on his right side.
“She cracked your rib!” Cee shouted into her ear. “We need Jake. We need….”
“Don’t tell anyone!” Quinn commanded. “I’m all right.”
“Your rib is cracked.”
“I’ve had plenty of cracked ribs,” he said, slowly raising himself to a sitting position as he focused on Tori.
And then she knew, as he stared at her. She’d attacked him, and he’d done nothing to deserve it. She rushed to him. “Oh, Quinn….”
He rolled away, avoiding her. He thought she would attack again! Tori crumbled to the ground. How had she fallen so low to attack someone who’d once saved her life? No one was to fear her. “I’m so sorry. So sorry. I thought… he was chasing me.”
“You tried to kill Quinn,” Cee said, her voice hard.
“No. Oh, no. I’d never hurt Quinn. Never. Butler was chasing me.” Or… she must still be dreaming.
“Butler is dead. You hurt Quinn.”
“Enough, Cee,” Quinn said gently. “She didn’t mean it.” His arms slipped around her, and suddenly she was safe.
“I’m sorry,” she cried, clutching to him.
“Now you know why Collin wanted you to sleep,” he said, his voice soft and so gentle that she could not take offense at the reprimand.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated. She could feel herself trembling. The flowing water of the river sounded like a torrent in her mind, roaring through her.
Quinn kissed her temple and rubbed her shoulder as he held her. “It’s okay, Sweetheart.”
“No,” she admitted, nestling deeper into his embrace. She wanted to let the roaring take her away, but she had to tell him. “It’s my fault. Daddy always said rebellion would hurt someone. I disobeyed him. Now Charles is hurt and you and… and….”
“Sssh. I’m okay. Rest, Sweetheart.”
She wanted to stay in his arms and sleep, but…. “I must get back.”
“Then we’ll go back.” He helped her to her feet, but she found she could no longer stand unaided. He called his wingdeer, and somehow he lifted her up on the beast.
In the air, she leaned back against him. “Will I always be an idiot every time I see you?” she mumbled.
He kissed the back of her head as his arm tightened around her.
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.