Quinn helped Tori into the infirmary. Geoff sat in the chair beside Charles’ bed, and Charles sat propped up by pillows. Tori broke away from Quinn intent on going to Charles, but she almost fell on her face. Quinn caught her and ignored the ache in his side. “Steady, Sweetheart.”
He lowered her onto the edge of the bed since Geoff was using her chair. Charles’ right hand lifted weakly. Tori tried to grab it, but she missed it, again proving she was half asleep.
“See,” he said softly. “Charles is getting better. Now you need to get some sleep.”
“Must I carry you?”
She looked up at him, her mouth a small O as if he’d surprised her. Then she giggled.
Geoff leaned forward. “Told you, Charles. That girl hasn’t gotten a wink of sleep in the past three days. Maybe now that you’re awake, she’ll consent to go as far as my room over there.” He pointed to his open doorway.
Quinn gave Geoff a grateful smile as he swung Tori up into his arms. His strained muscles and tendons surrounding the cracked rib protested with pain. But he ignored it, carrying Tori into Geoff’s room and laying her gently on the bed. He removed her shoes, covered her with a light blanket, and then kissed her forehead. “You rest now, Sweetheart. Everything is going to be all right. I promise.” Quinn hesitated and then left her, leaving the door open a slight crack.
“Quinn. Come with me,” Collin said in a low voice.
Quinn followed him into the office.
Collin shut the door, whirling around to face him. “Sweetheart? The girl is too weak to know up from down. I’ve never known you to take advantage of the innocent, so don’t let your hormones tempt you into it now.”
For a moment Quinn was too shocked to speak.
“Wait until she’s not confused with guilt and lack of sleep.”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Make sure you don’t.” He reached for the doorknob.
“Do you want her? Is that your problem?” Quinn tried to ignore both his heart and his side, but could only do so by lashing out. “Fine. I don’t need another idiot wife anyway. I won’t touch her. Not even to comfort her during a raging breakdown.”
At Collin’s shocked expression, Quinn realized what he’d done. He’d attacked the man he most wanted to please. Quinn fled the office, running through the waiting room. Outside he ran to the barn. Just inside it he was grabbed from behind, whirled around, and pinned to the barn wall beside the door. Quinn struggled not to show the pain lashing through his side. His father had taught him that. Never whimper or cry or he would give him something to whine about. But it was Collin’s face he stared into and not his dead father’s.
“Slow down, Son,” Collin said softly. “Slow down.” He drew Quinn through the barn and back to the storeroom, closing them both inside it. “I’m sorry, Quinn,” Collin said softly. “Cee’s right. I’ve been snapping at you, and you don’t deserve it.”
Quinn hesitated. The storeroom was dark with only a small window. He could barely see Collin’s features after being out in the bright daylight.
“I need to take my own prescription, Quinn. I need to sleep also. But Geoff is not strong enough to assist Jim and Charles with physical needs.”
“I’ll watch the infirmary.”
Collin reached for Quinn and hugged him. “You know I’m always proud of you, don’t you? I didn’t mean to imply you’d rape the girl. I guess I’m feeling responsible to keep her healthy and safe for her father Charles. Did something happen? You just seemed so intimate.”
“She became hysterical, and I needed to hold her to relax her. I didn’t undress her.” He turned away in frustration. “Not that I don’t want to,” he admitted. “But if you want her….”
“No, Quinn. I haven’t even had time to think that far. If you’re attracted to her, then let’s do everything we can to make sure the relationship starts out right. You know it can’t when the girl is feeling so needy.”
Quinn groaned. Collin wanted him to resist temptation for who knew how long. “Don’t you ever feel that pain? I need….” He shook his head. He shouldn’t admit that to anyone.
Collin gripped his shoulder. “Yeah, I’ve felt it. It gets easier when you get older, but sometimes it still hits hard. Hopefully you won’t have to wait too long.” Collin took a deep breath. “I do need to sleep. Would you mind if I took a few hours up with Jake? I’ll sleep better up there.”
“No. Go ahead. I’ll watch out for things.”
“Have Cee or Jake get me if I’m needed.”
Quinn nodded and followed Collin to the loft ladder. He waited until Collin was up into the loft, and the door sealed shut before he went back to the infirmary.
On the walk over, he asked Cee, “What exactly did you tell Collin? Were we in Jake’s range at the river?”
“No. We were not in range. I told Collin that you did nothing wrong, but he was always yelling at you and hurting you. I do not like people hurting you. I want to yell at Tori, but she is asleep.”
“No! Do not harass Tori. She was sick. And now she needs rest. You are never to bring it up again. It’s forgotten.”
“Butler hurt her, Cee. Didn’t you hear her? She has nightmares of Butler chasing her. Please don’t hate her.” He slipped inside the house, glad no one was in the waiting room.
“I do not hate her,” Cee said. “But she should not have hurt you. If she does it again….”
“It won’t happen again.” Quinn shut them into the office. He had to make sure Cee understood before he continued.
“Why do you like her? You don’t have to get married again.”
“I want to,” Quinn said firmly. “You promised to protect the ones I love.”
Quinn rubbed his pocket. “Cee, you are marrying Jake, remember?”
“Computers don’t marry.” She hesitated. “She hurt you, and I don’t like to see anyone hurt you. You protect me, and I can do nothing to protect you.”
“You’ll do plenty when you’re a dragon,” he said softly. “You’ll protect me from reptile dragons. But do not hurt people.”
“I wouldn’t hurt her. But I would have scared her. You are still in pain.”
“I’m fine, Cee. Remember that. No one needs to know. I am not hurt.”
“Yes, Quinn,” she said meekly.
“Okay. Let’s get to work.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Collin settled against his dragon’s side, but before he could rest, Jake opened a channel, allowing him to hear the most extraordinary conversation. Something had happened between Quinn and Tori that Quinn had been reluctant to share with him. If he asked Cee, she’d be forced to either lie to him or disobey Quinn.
“If Quinn is hurt, maybe I should….”
“You should sleep, Collin,” Jake said, nuzzling his head with his snout. “You are too tired to help anyone now.”
Collin had to concede that Jake was right. “He must not be hurt too badly. Probably just a bruise. Maybe she hit out like Kayden does when she panics.”
“Probably,” Jake said softly.
“Cee will be all right, won’t she?”
“She loves Quinn as much as I love you and Kayden. But she will not hurt others. I will make sure she understands before she acquires her body. You rest, Collin.”
Right before he drifted to sleep he thought of a solution. “When you’re with Quinn next, will you look for any bruises or injuries? Tell me about the slightest scrape.”
“Yes, Collin,” Jake said, rubbing his soft wing along Collin’s arm. “I will make sure he is all right.”
And then he slept.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Quinn settled into the recliner, wincing as the pain shot through him. Rose had finally left her husband for the night. Kayden and Michael had gone to bed. Geoff had gone up to sleep in Tori’s room, since Tori was using his. Charles and Jim slept also. Even Thom was quiet. Quinn closed his eyes, but then opened them when a noise alerted him to someone coming through the house toward him. Shuffling and then a sharp intake of breath. “Oh… oh, Niles. I….”
Quinn jumped up, ignoring his side. Marta wasn’t due for two more weeks, but he supposed all the excitement made it inevitable. Quinn met them in the dining room and escorted them into the delivery room. She already wore a night gown, so he didn’t insist she change. He searched his mind for who might have had the most sleep to assist him. Michael and Kayden were the only ones he thought hadn’t shared the twenty-four hour shifts. But was if fair to ask either of them to assist in a birth? But if Michael was going to be a doctor…. “Would you mind if Michael assisted me?”
“Collin,” Marta breathed as she lay on the table.
“No,” Jake said in his ear. “This is his first real rest since we came home from Alexandria. Michael is a better choice.”
“I’m afraid Collin is too drained by all our emergencies. I do not need help if you will be uncomfortable with Michael. I’ve delivered many babies.”
“I trust you,” Marta whispered.
“The baby is in position and about to come,” Cee said. “Should I send Michael to sit with the patients?”
“Yes, please.” He felt her stomach as he spoke. “You appear to be ready. Niles, you may either wait in the other room while I examine her, or you may sit on that stool near her head and hold her hand.”
“Stay with me,” Marta begged, grabbing his hand tightly as another pain hit.
Not many husbands stayed with their wives, and Quinn felt a bit self-conscious as he examined Marta. But she was indeed ready to deliver, and soon he was too busy to care.
Marta delivered a six pound boy.
After assuring the child nursed, Quinn went back to check on his other patients. Michael and Kayden were both in the infirmary. “Any excitement out here?”
Kayden grinned. “No, it’s all in there. How much longer, do you think?”
“She’s done. You may visit your new brother.”
“Wow. So much faster than Gwen.” Kayden grabbed Michael’s hand and pulled, trying to get him from his chair. “Come on,” she whispered. “We’ve got to show them we’re happy for them.”
“Of course we’re happy,” Michael grumbled.
Kayden rolled her eyes. “She still thinks I resent that she’s only five years older than me. Come on.”
Quinn glanced back toward the door to the delivery room. He hadn’t really thought about it, but Marta was younger than he was. She must be close to fifteen or twenty years younger than her husband. “How old is Tori?” he whispered, now curious.
Michael had heard him, although the question was meant for Cee. He turned around, giving Quinn a long look. Kayden pulled his hand. He winked at Quinn. “Older than me. Probably your age. What are you? About thirty?”
Cee spoke in his ear. “Tori has recently turned thirty one.”
Kayden rolled her eyes again. “You men. Do you always stand around and talk about women behind their back?”
“Rarely,” Michael said, planting a kiss on her pouting lips. “Let’s go see your little brother.” He looked over his shoulder at Quinn one more time. “You’re going to disappoint a lot of the ladies in town.”
Kayden yanked on his hand, pulling him from Quinn’s view.
Quinn wasn’t sure whether he should be annoyed or amused that Michael now knew he desired Tori. But Michael’s response had been unexpected – a gentle teasing of equals without the crudeness his brother and father had displayed when they’d discovered his interest in Tara years before. Quinn glanced at his patients.
Jim was awake. “I’m confused,” he said. “Did Dr. Collin just have a son?”
“You are confused,” Quinn admitted, and then realized he sounded rude. “Actually, it is confusing. Kayden has amnesia, and Collin adopted her. It was quite a few years before we found her biological family. She doesn’t remember Niles as her real father yet, but she has accepted it. Actually Collin calls me his son, too, and I have family in town, although my father died about eight years ago. Truth is, he sometimes refers to Michael as his son now.”
Jim nodded, closing his eyes. He took a deep breath. “Don’t suppose you can help me to the rest room before you look in on the others.”
Quinn assisted Jim, but the effort left him aching. He wished he could just curl up on his bed and hide for a couple days until the bruises and torn ligaments mended a bit. Instead he ignored the pain. He couldn’t disappoint Collin.
When Jim was in bed, he checked Charles and then Thom, refilling his nourishment bag and emptying his urine bag. Finally he stepped into Geoff’s room and watched Tori in the scant light coming through the doorway. This time his body remained neutral, probably because of his tiredness and pain. Instead he felt a deep tenderness. She looked so vulnerable and precious, like Shanika.
He finally forced himself from her when he heard a noise from Thom’s room. He was twitching again, and now half awake, pulling at his feeding tube and IV. He got him settled, attended Charles and Jim, and then was back in Thom’s room for another round of tremors.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Michael leaned against the fence behind the barn and watched Kayden giving Rose a riding lesson. Kelsi sat with Shanika on the bench in the shadow of the barn and rubbed Flash’s head, the little pegasus enjoying the attention. Roger settled beside him. Michael didn’t acknowledge him. The man was getting on his nerves. Every time he spoke to him, he hinted that he knew Michael was hiding illegal tech. Michael began counting seconds to see if he started up on his tirade any quicker today.
“So, where did Doc Collin learn how to disengage a computer core from a man’s gut.”
“I don’t know, Roger. Think they taught him that in Alexandria? Where do most doctors learn it? Do they have a class for that at Centauri U? Maybe he just cut it out like the cancer it was.” He shook his head. “You know it’s people like you that make me hate lying AI units even more. You think because a computer says it, it has to be true.” He faced him, leaning his elbow on the fence. “This isn’t the first time Butler lied. Just check out the gossip at the University. I about dismantled him a few years ago for exaggerating my sex life to whoever cared to listen, but Thom wouldn’t let me.”
Michael refocused on Kayden and Rose. Tori had stumbled from Geoff’s bedroom before Michael ushered the group from the infirmary, but she insisted on sitting by his grandfather’s bed. Michael still hadn’t had a moment alone with the man since he awoke yesterday afternoon though, and he wasn’t about to try to speak to him in front of an audience, especially Roger.
“Where’s your laser? Where’s Jim’s laser, and the one Thom had? Where’s Tori’s?”
Michael sighed. “I told you. They’re locked in a safe. Since Jim is security, they aren’t going to be released to anyone until he’s well enough to take them off planet. I’m definitely not giving them to you, if that’s what you’re hoping.”
Roger chuckled. “You’re going to be fired, Michael. Then what are you going to do?”
Michael smiled. “I hope I do get fired. Then I can tell Hollis to get his own dragons, and I can focus on my medical studies.” He dunked between the wooden rails of the fence and grabbed another mare. “Are you ready to learn to ride, Roger? Maybe by noon we can all take a picnic at the Reese River.”
Roger joined him. “They’ll ship you off planet if you’re fired.”
Michael led the mare to the barn to saddle her. “’Fraid not. I’m married to a native. But I doubt they’d extradite me anyway. Too much trouble.”
“They’ll take away your tech.”
“You seem to be under some illusion that I came down here with suitcases full of nano chips.”
“I bet you have a computer or two.”
Michael focused on saddling the horse. He still hadn’t figured out Roger’s motive in harassing him. He was sure he didn’t have any real power over him. He was too ignorant of the facts surrounding Michael’s commission to the planet. Perhaps he just hoped to ferret out some stray piece of information that he could use to further his career somehow. Although how information on illegal tech could further the career of a nurse, he wasn’t quite sure.
“So where are you from, Roger? Where is home?”
“Home is Balor. Great planet.”
“I was there on vacation once,” Michael said. “The Manitou dome.”
“I lived in Windsor.”
“Lived? Where are you now?”
Roger scowled and pointed to the sky. Then he focused on the waiting horse. “So how do I mount this thing?”
Michael showed him, feeling a bit of generosity as he was sure he’d just discovered the man’s motive. He was assigned to work on the guard station in orbit, and he hated it.
Collin emerged from the barn as Roger mounted. He gave Michael a brief smile. At a startled cry from Roger, Michael glanced back to see Jake winging into the sky.
“I thought he only came out at night!” Roger exclaimed.
Michael shrugged. “He does what he wants. He is a dragon after all.”
“He’s just stretching,” Collin said. “And then he’ll rest for a few hours. Maybe later he’ll give you a ride.”
“And how did you ever get a dragon to do what you want?”
Collin gave a small smile. “Do you remember your fairy tales, Roger? If a maiden rescues a unicorn, it is devoted to her.”
“You are not a maiden, and that blue thing is not a unicorn.”
“Perhaps.” He nodded and then walked to the house.
Michael smiled at Roger’s exasperated expression. “Does he always talk like that?”
Roger settled onto the horse’s back. “I don’t trust him.”
Michael decided that was Roger’s problem, and he’d gain nothing by pleading Collin’s honesty. Roger apparently didn’t trust Michael either. Michael wondered if he trusted anyone.
He glanced toward the girls. Kelsi was now on a horse, and Shanika sat in front of Kayden on Lightning, Shanika’s favorite horse. Lightning was a bit too spirited for the girl to ride alone though. Rose smiled as they approached, Roger’s sedate mare following Michael’s gelding.
Michael liked Rose. Whatever Michael deemed they do for the day, she was the first to rally to his side, showing an enthusiasm he at first mistook as disregard for her critically ill husband. But Michael had inadvertently witnessed their closeness when he walked into the infirmary one evening after dinner. Several times he had caught her staring pensively back toward the clinic from wherever they were in the village. When she noticed his gaze, she twisted her lips into a small smile and then reentered the activities. Michael was glad Jim was recovering and, so far, with no complications, thanks, Michael was sure, to Collin’s expert surgery.
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.