Authors: Elizabeth Reyes
A buzzing sound pulled him out of his thoughts, and he turned around to search for the source of the noise. The screen on a cell phone at the bottom of the staircase lit up. He walked over to pick it up and read the sc
Remembering her sweet conversation in the elevator with someone named Antonio, who she apparently worked with in this same building, another alarm went off. He’d chalked up the irritation he’d felt that day when he listened to
her on the phone to his irritation with her in general. The fact that Antonio had done something for her that warranted a very grateful thank you from her was only further proof of the kind of princess she was. It reminded him of how irritated he’d been just the other day when he’d seen her talking and laughing with one of her co-workers. She’d only been working at this place for a little over a week, and already she’d had these guys seemingly smitten.
Ignoring what seeing Antonio’s name on her phone screen
did to him, he tossed the phone into her purse and gathered the rest of her stuff. It took him a few minutes to find her second shoe, because it was way up on the upper steps, not at the bottom like everything else. He walked up and shoved it in her purse, glad it was big enough to hold both shoes, and started back down.
She was holding her leg out in front of her with a grimace, trying to move the ankle as he approached her.
“Don’t do that.”
Even her startled expression was enough to make him want to smil
e—something that up until lately he didn’t do often. Being a drill instructor for so many years, he’d just fallen into the habit of hiding any kind of amusing emotions. Good and bad, Ms. Brady was bringing them all out of him. He remembered how impossible it’d been to hide the annoyance he’d felt that he hadn’t been able to keep his eyes off her Friday night at the restaurant. Her continued staring at him the way she had with such interest and more, had him questioning if maybe getting to know her better might not be such a bad idea. That
happen. He’d been so desperate to end what he was feeling—what
might be feeling—he did something he so rarely did and engaged in a public display of affection by kissing the girl he’d met only an hour earlier.
“It might be broken,” she said almost through her teeth. “It’s really hurting bad now.”
Brandon put her purse down next to her. “I think I got it all.” He knelt down in front of her then lifted her injured ankle gently. She immediately gasped at his touch. “Sorry.”
“No, you didn’t hurt me.” She laughed softly. “I was just bracing myself.”
Like earlier, he lost the battle and smiled. Looking up at her pained but laughing mood despite her injury, he just couldn’t help himself. As soon as he smiled, he saw the same thing in her eyes he’d seen earlier—an almost bewildered gaze—and there was something so sweet about it he had to look away.
He focused on her ankle instead. Trying to ignore her dainty, painted-pink toes, his eyes traveled to the upper right hand s
ide of the top of her foot and the small heart tattoo. A picture of an open book with the words Uni & Boot was inside of the heart. Draped around the heart so it looked almost like a vine hanging off the heart were the words: Together forever.
no idea what Uni and Boot stood for, but obviously it had to be meaningful to her or she wouldn’t have something so permanent on her body. Regardless of the meaning, it was none of his business, and while the curiosity to know was already beginning to fester, he refused to get personal with her about
Touching the swollen area around her ankle very carefully, he saw that no bones seemed to be protruding like some of the uglier ankle injuries he’d
witnessed out in the field. “It might just be sprained. Did you hear anything crack when you twisted it?” He looked up at her. That bewilderment was still in her eyes, and he swallowed hard trying his damnedest not to react inappropriately to it.
her head. “I don’t think so, but it happened so fast.”
He brought his eyes back to her foot. He had to. Looking into those big innocent eyes was breaking his will to fight the urge to speak more freely to her. Lowering her foot gently, he stood up.
“There’s no way you’ll be driving tonight. And you really need to get this X-rayed to know for sure. Stay here.” He started towards the door, but he saw the look of apprehension on her face, so he turned back to her and for some reason was compelled to smile. “I’ll be right back.”
He knew that bewildered expression would make an appearance, and as pissed at he was at himself for weakening so fast and giving in just to see it, it had been totally worth it.
Shaking off the alarming thoughts, he hurried toward the golf cart still parked on the side of the building. Technically, he had to check it out if he ever needed to use one, but he hadn’t checked it back in today after using it all day. Since he’d gotten back so late today, he planned on doing so in the morning.
In less than a couple of minutes, he had it parked at the building’s front door. He jumped out and hurried through it, already looking forward to having her in his arms again.
This was not good.
He found her squeezing her eyes shut, her face scrunched in
“It’s hurts that bad?”
She nodded but said nothing as he knelt down to look at her ankle again. The swelling was getting worse. He grabbed her bag with one hand.
“Okay, let me help you stand on your good foot,” he said, holding her elbow. She rose f
rom her seat slowly, wobbling as she leaned into him. “I got you,” he assured her as he brought his arm around her small waist, holding her firmly.
Once she was all the way up, he bent down to bring his arm under her knees again as he had earlier. “Put you
r arms around my neck.”
She did, and just like earlier, he inhaled her blissful scent. He knew with her foot dangling it had to make the pain worse, and she buried her face in his neck, gasping. He held her tighter in hopes of keeping her foot from moving
too much. Walking backwards, he pushed the glass door open with his back, careful not to hit her foot against it as he swung her around and walked through it.
He’d never actually been in combat, but in his day, he’d been through plenty of drills where he h
ad to carry a fellow soldier in full combat gear for long grueling sessions. Ms. Brady felt so tiny and delicate he could hold her like this forever, as small as she was in comparison. The scent of her hair alone and the feel of her soft but firm body pressed against his was incentive enough to hold her as long as he could. It was actually a disappointment to have to set her down in the golf cart, but he did so gently and slowly.
“Are you okay?” he asked as he watched her slowly and apparently very painfull
y lower her foot to the floor of the cart.
Again she nodded without saying a word as if words alone might make it hurt more. “We’ll get you some pain killers in a little bit. The base hospital isn’t too far.”
Setting her purse down in the back of the cart, he rushed around to the driver’s side and jumped in. Brandon was almost glad she didn’t seem to be in a mood to talk. He already felt too close to giving into what he’d previously said was out of the question, getting to know her a little more by asking generic questions that could be construed as perfectly innocent inquiries in a situation like this. Asking her if she had anyone that could come pick her up for example would be entirely acceptable. Knowing there were other reasons he wanted to know and that there shouldn’t be, he refrained from asking.
“I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time, Sergeant Billings,” she said softly. “Once you get me to the hospital, I can call someone so you can leave.”
Someone? Like Antonio? “I had no further plans for the rest of this evening, Ms. Brady,” he said, looking straight ahead. “I can take you home. You won’t be able to drive tonight. That’s for sure, maybe not even for a few days.”
She groaned, shaking her head and squeezing her eyes closed again.
“Is the pain getting worse?” he asked, looking down at her swollen ankle.
“No.” She sighed. “It’s not that. I mean, yeah, it still hurts, but not any worse. It just hadn’t even dawned on me that I might not be able to drive for days. I had a major breakthrough today a
t work and planned on being very busy the next few days.”
Brandon glanced over just in time to catch her frowning face. It was so sweet he had to look away. He might’ve smiled again if what that adorable expression did to him didn’t scare the hell out. “We
ll, maybe they’ll tell you otherwise,” he offered as solace, staring straight ahead. “If it’s not broken and you ice it enough tonight, you might be able to put a little pressure on it by tomorrow.”
She sighed heavily, and he dared not look her way for fea
r she might be making another expression that might have him sighing too. This was getting ridiculous. Already, he was having unacceptable thoughts and visions of things that were completely inappropriate.
They reached the emergency room, and he drove righ
t up to the entrance. “Stay here,” he said as he rushed in.
He was able to quickly acquire a wheelchair and brought it out then helped her out of the cart. Trying not to put too much thought on how tightly she wrapped her arms around his neck, he abstained
from holding her just as tightly. He did, however, allow himself to indulge in her scent again. As he lowered her onto the seat, he glanced up just as she loosened her hold on him and froze when he realized he was close enough to taste those lips. She stared at him for a moment as he stood there bent over, unbelievably tempted at that most inopportune moment to kiss her.
“You okay?” he asked, still not moving away.
She nodded, continuing to hold his gaze.
He swallowed hard because this was so unlike him and because he knew once this night was over he’d be regretting this. Finally he moved away. Handing her the purse from the back seat of the golf cart, he came around the back of the chair and began pushing
her inside the emergency room. As much as he knew he should take her up on her offer to call someone else, he wasn’t ready to leave her side just yet. Damn, he was going to regret this tomorrow.
Already, he regretted having met with his original drill inst
ructor last weekend. Brandon hated to admit it, but unlike
, Sergeant Taft held a special place in his heart. Taft had been the one who straightened Brandon’s ass out in the first place. As far as Brandon was concerned, Taft was the reason why he hadn’t dropped out those first few punishing weeks of boot camp when he’d considered doing so on more than one occasion. He was also Brandon’s inspiration and why he’d become a drill instructor in the first place. For those reasons, he kept the man at bay. It’d be too easy to start to feel an emotional attachment to this friend. Brandon didn’t make emotional attachments. He made no exceptions. But when Taft heard Brandon would be in California, he invited him to his home for dinner with his wife.
Feeling too d
uty-bound to a man he held in such high esteem, he’d accepted, but the thought of getting too close scared the hell out of him. The now semi-retired Sergeant and his wife had been so pleasant and welcoming. They even insisted now that Brandon was based in California he visit more often and said they’d be visiting him too. Brandon had regretted the visit the moment he’d walked out of their home. Just like then, he knew he’d be regretting this entire night by tomorrow morning, possibly even sooner. So why the hell wasn’t he walking away yet?
The emergency room was busy, but they still got in fast.
“Just wheel her over behind that second curtain on your right.” The nurse pointed as Brandon started wheeling her in that direction. “There’ll be someone in there to take all her information in a few minutes. You can help your wife onto the bed. The doctor will be with her shortly after they’ve taken her vitals.”
She walked away before either of them could explain the misunderstanding. Brandon and Ms. Brady exchanged
glances as her cheeks shaded with slight color.
Without a word, Brandon continued to wheel her over to the bed the nurse had pointed to. When they reached it, Ms. Brady attempted to stand on her own, holding the end of the bed and the arm of the chair. “Le
t me help you,” he quickly offered, pulling her arm around his neck.
Grabbing on to him, she hopped toward the bed that was a bit high for her, so he lifted her by the waist. Again their faces came just inches from each other. Thankfully, just as they’d be
en caught in another staring contest, someone cleared his throat loudly just behind Brandon, snapping them out of it.
A young man held a clipboard and smiled broadly then pulled a pen out of his front pocket. “Good evening.” He spoke quickly, holding the c
lipboard in front of him. “I’m Rob, and you are Mrs. Brady, right?”
.” She corrected him politely. “I’m not married, and you can call me Regina.”
Rob looked up at her then at Brandon, his eyebrows furrowing. “Oh, I’m sorry, Regina.” He looked back
down on his clipboard and wrote something. “The nurse out front said you were here with your husband.”