We are thrilled to bring you a new book installment this summer. Read more from A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael.
A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael
Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12
Doogie threw her small ALICE pack, which contained a change of clothes, over her shoulder and began the search for a place to change out of her wet fatigues. The building Cooper occupied would be a good choice, if only it wasn’t filled with his team. The sun finally showed up and lit the town with a dusty glow. Doogie turned in a circle. She couldn’t decide which building looked good. The villagers sat in a circle around a tree in the center of the plaza, so most of the structures were clear. She rolled the dice and chose a doorway across the plaza from where they were currently searching.
The room was dirt. Dirt floor, dirt walls, dirt ceiling. A small table sat in the corner. Other furniture had been turned over, some broken. She picked up a chair and pulled it to the table. Sitting down, she started to scrape the mud off her boots. The shoestrings were hidden beneath the muck. Doogie used a broken piece of the table to pry the laces free. After a tug of war with the knots, her boot finally gave up and released her foot. Her socks were disgusting. The sand turned them a dingy grey. There was no way to wash anything, so she did the only thing she could and banged them against the edge of the table. Tiny dust particles floated in the sunrays coming through the window. She unstrapped her holster and laid the pistol on the table. Then she unbuckled her belt, pushed her pants down, and stepped out of the stiff material. Caked mud crumbled off, adding to the dirt floor.
Her knees were rubbed raw from where she’d crawled through the rough rocks along the irrigation canal. Scrapes ran along her hips from where she’d slid down the slope while anchoring Flynn’s body. Smears of blood trailed down her thighs and over purplish green bruises. She winced when she ran a hand over the abrasions, feeling the warmth coming off them. She’d need to rub some antibiotic cream over them later. Doogie lifted her fresh uniform and sent a thin layer of sand into the air. Even protected in her bag, they were covered in sand.
A gasp of surprise escaped when she was pulled to the floor by a hand twisted in her hair.
“No scream,” a heavily accented voice hissed into her ear.
“Like hell.” Doogie lifted her arms to hit the assailant.
“No talk.” He’d blocked her attack and hit her hard in the face. Doogie’s neck snapped back at the impact. He flipped her onto her stomach and pushed his knee into her back. A hand pressed her face into the floor, scraping her cheek against the rough ground. The iron taste of blood filled her mouth from the initial blow. Doogie forced her body to relax, hoping to give the illusion she’d given up. The man loosened his grip on her hair. Her mind spun through possible scenarios. He couldn’t kill her. Not with a village full of U.S. Marines. Did he really think he would get away raping a U. S. soldier? His country looked upon premarital sex as punishable by serious jail time. Doogie assumed a marriage proposal wasn’t in the cards. Maybe American women didn’t fall under the rule. She was lying there without her pants on. What was his plan? The flash of a knife caught her eye. She willed herself to stay calm . . . assess her situation. He wore a long black robe. Slowly, recognition began to sink in. This was the man she’d been asked to search. The one who called her an American whore. Crap, this wasn’t good.
“I’m a doctor.” In the days before 9/11, it would’ve given her a reprieve. But this war didn’t follow the honor code of protecting the medics.
“You disgrace me in front of my village.” He flipped her around so he could sit on her chest. One hand drew the knife down her cheek while the other encircled her throat. She couldn’t breathe with his weight on her chest. His grip tightened when voices neared the structure.
The pressure got more intense and pushed out the world around her. A roar of blood filled her ears. Doogie struggled to draw air into her lungs. The pressure made it impossible for her lungs to expand. Her windpipe was being crushed against the back of her throat. Doogie pushed her bare feet against the floor trying to get purchase. But without shoes, the sand slid beneath her heels. In a last ditch effort, she pulled her arms free. Fisting her hands together, she jammed them up into his chin.
He fell backward.
Doogie crawled to her knees, flung herself onto the table, and grabbed for her holster. She swung it around nailing him in the head, holster and all. Barely flinching, the hagi grabbed the collar of her jacket and slammed her against the table. His hand held her down while the knife pushed tight to her throat.
“Disgrace is punishable by death.” He sawed the knife into her neck, and then up and over her jaw, trailing it deep into her cheek.
She closed her eyes as blood flowed down her face, mixing with the tears already there. She was going to die, and Tahk was going to find her lying here with no pants.
“In my country, I would not be punished for throwing acid in your face for your sins.”
“Get your hands off her.” Tahk skidded into the doorway followed by a group from the unit. “Let her go.” Tahk’s voice was cold. His gun leveled at the man’s head.
In a quick move, the attacker pulled her up and around, using her as a human shield, the knife firm under her chin.
“Back.” The man’s free arm wrapped around Doogie’s waist and pulled her snug against his body.
“Let her go, or I will blow your head off.” Tahk’s gun never wavered.
His hot breath overpowered her. He wasn’t going to let her go. Surrendering wasn’t part of their code.
Tahk’s gaze never wavered as he pulled the trigger; a small breeze ruffled the hair at her temple as the bullet entered the insurgent’s forehead, taking him down.
Doogie’s ears rang from the blast of the gun. Blood sprayed over her face. The knife tumbled to the floor. A clean shot through the forehead had him pulling her back, sprawling them across the table she’d been pinned against only moments before.
“Doogs, you okay?” Tahk took a step forward.
She slid out from under the man’s hold. Dropping to her knees to gulp in the air she’d been denied.
“I’m okay.” She struggled to find her voice. Only squeaks came out. Her chest screamed with each breath. She rubbed at the front of her throat, trying to massage the bruises she knew were forming. Her fingers came away covered with blood from the knife he’d drawn across her throat.
Raven burst through the crowd forming at the entrance of the room. “What the hell?” He looked from Doogie to the dead man, and then back to Doogie.
Humiliation bubbled up in her. Her commanding officer, and a good portion of the unit, watched her kneeling in the dirt in only a jacket. She was not going to cry. She ran into battle to save them . . . She couldn’t be weak.
“Dammit! Tahk!” Doogie turned her humiliation into anger toward Tahk. “You could have shot me!”
Tahk walked over to where she sat and kneeled beside her. “I’m a sniper. I couldn’t have shot you.”
Forcing her lungs to take in air, she began to hiccup. Tahk gave her shoulder a knowing squeeze. “Okay, men. Everyone not necessary, get out of here. We got buildings to clear out. We need to be on our toes. Come on, shows over.”
The men retreated into the courtyard.
“What happened? That all her blood?” Raven grabbed Tahk’s arm.
“Some. Not all. Chief, we heard a commotion in here and came in to see what was up. This here gentleman had Doogie pinned to the table,” Tahk recounted.
“You shot him?”
“Sir, he had her around the throat with a knife, threatening to kill her. I believed it fell into the parameters of a necessary kill. I followed the ROE’s and will do any paperwork the kill requires,” Tahk said without emotion.
“Where were you?” Raven asked.
“Sir. Outside. She needed a moment of privacy.” Tahk continued with a formal tone until all the men exited the room. Once they were alone, Tahk confided in him. “She did everything she was supposed to. She knocked him good before I got my shot off. Don’t be too hard on her.”
“Where are her pants?” Raven asked. “Did he . . . ?”
“No. No. She was wet from before. She was changing.”
“Get out there and make sure this stays on the down low. I don’t want the men talking about it, especially with that reporter hovering around.”
“Roger that, Chief.”
Doogie sat back on her feet. She tried to hold it together but couldn’t stop the embarrassing hiccupping. She wiped at her face. Her sleeve came away soaked in blood. She wondered if his knife did comparable damage to the acid he’d threatened to douse her with.
Raven took his sunglasses off, slid them into a pocket, and then balanced his arms on the rifle attached to the front of his vest. “Are you okay?” His voice was surprisingly kind.
“Don’t do that,” she croaked, her voice slowly returning.
“Don’t be nice. You’re never nice. I’m a pain. Don’t be nice because of this.”
Raven rummaged in her bag for an extra T-shirt to press against the cuts. “This isn’t a high school function where I have the luxury of making friends and using kind words. This is a war zone. People get killed. If I don’t act fast, things go bad. I’m sorry if it comes across as not being nice.” Although his words seemed to be an excuse for his behavior, it came out more as a “so screw you” if you don’t like it.
He reached into one of his many pockets to produce a juice box. With gloved hands, he worked the plastic off the straw, and then stabbed it into the box.
“Here.” He held the box in front of her.
“Go away.” She hiccupped.
“Take it.” He waggled it in front of her. “It will make your throat feel better.”
Doogie grabbed the box, dropping the shirt so she could use both hands to steady her grip. She took a sip. It burned all the way down . . . and she lost control. Sobs racked her body. The fear of what could have happened flowed through her.
Raven squatted beside her, awkwardly placing his hand on her back. His gentleness surprised her. He retrieved the shirt, placing it softly against her lacerated face and neck.
“I do care. I care a lot. And I shouldn’t.” With a finger, he lifted her chin to assess the finger marks bruised onto her neck. His eyes were dark, full of an emotion he wasn’t willing to share.
“Well, I guess you weren’t lying—” Simon’s voice echoed off the walls. “Oh.” He stopped halfway in. “Am I interrupting something?”
Raven didn’t drop his hand, but a curtain of indifference fell back over his eyes. “Sawyer, get dressed. Find Tahk. You are not to be away from him. I don’t care if you have to relieve yourself in front of him. Stay. With. Him. “He gave Simon a quick nod before leaving.
Simon’s gaze followed Raven out the door, and then turned back on Doogie. “I didn’t mean to interrupt a moment.”
She shook her head, trying to pull herself together. “He was checking me out.”
“Yeah, I saw,” Simon muttered.
Doogie glared at him. “Some hagi ambushed me.”
The shadow of the room hid her wounds from Simon. He walked closer, realizing what happened. “Holy crap! Is all that your blood?” His gaze dropped to her legs. “Why aren’t you wearing pants?”
“My clothes were muddy and wet. Cooper cleared the building. I wanted to change. He was lurking in the shadows.” Stiffly, she stood, grabbed her clean pants, and pulled them on.
“Did he . . . ? Did he touch you?” Simon tried to avert his gaze from staring at her legs.
“Grabbed my hair, threw me on the floor.” Doogie shrugged.
“Did he? Did he try to . . . you know . . .” he asked carefully.
“Are you going to write about this? Because I really don’t want this getting out.” She glared at him. “My mom doesn’t want to read about this.”
Simon came over and leaned against the table. She looked up from where she was retying her shoes.
“No. I won’t write about this. This isn’t about a movie. Are you okay?” He pushed a clump of hair out of her face. “Are you okay?” he repeated.
“My pride’s a bit shot. My throat hurts like you wouldn’t believe.” She shrugged. “Scars look cool, huh?” Her voice caught as she swiped a tear away.
“I would’ve been sad if something happened to you.” He let his hand trail down her hair. “You’re still beautiful.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
“Seriously, Doogie. You’re a mess. What can I do?” Simon picked up the bloody shirt Raven had placed on her cheek.
Doogie pulled in a shaky breath. “Simon, I appreciate your concern, and I think you’re a nice guy, but we’re in a war zone, and I need to focus on my job. As you can see, when I let my guard down . . . stuff happens.” She wiped at the blood dripping from her chin. “You got your interview. Now leave me alone.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.” Simon headed to the door but turned around before leaving. “I like you, Doogie. Maybe we’ll meet up another time.”
Doogie blew out a shaky breath. “Another time, another place?”
Simon smiled and winked. “Exactly.”
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