We are thrilled to bring you a new book installment this summer. Read more from 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 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16 / Chapter 17 / Chapter 18 / Chapter 19 / Chapter 20
CHAPTER TWENTY- ONE
Allana hadn’t told Doogie where the where the girls were meeting, but the music and giggles from behind the barracks made the path to the party clear. She’d stopped by the hospital to check on her men. Even though they’d suffered severe injuries, most would make it back to the unit. She wasn’t really looking to release some steam. She just didn’t want to be alone. The one person who could make the feelings go away . . . was gone and God seemed to have deserted her somewhere in the desert of Marjah.
“Doogie!” Allana came up and gave her a huge hug. “I’m so happy you came. Girls, this is Doogie. The medic for third battalion. Raven’s unit.” She laughed.
“Ohh,” hooted the chorus of nurses.
“What’s he like?” A nurse, whose name Doogie thought was Kelly, shoved a drink into her hand.
“No thanks.” She waved her off. “I don’t drink.” Then asked, “Who?”
“Give it a try.” She shoved the cup back at her.
“Who? You have to be kidding! Raven. He is so hot,” came another voice.
“He is so dark and dangerous,” swooned another. “Allana can tell you all about him.” They laughed.
Allana saluted the group with her cup.
A weird feeling clenched Doogie’s stomach. It never occurred to her the nurses were talking about the men in her unit, let alone Raven. She felt a sense of protection toward the men and an unusual feeling of jealously.
Giving in to peer pressure, she let herself fall back against a barrel and downed the cup in one gulp. Her face must have shown the distaste for whatever they’d given her because everyone started to laugh.
“Here. You get used to it.” Allana replaced Doogie’s cup with a new one. Doogie set it down beside her. Her lack of drinking experience had her head swimming after one cup. A warm feeling pushed at the tight hold grief had on her heart. “What is it?”
“We call it hooch. Homemade booze. The doctors made a still in the back. We borrowed some.” Allana winked at her.
“It’s horrible.” Doogie picked up her cup, looking inside at the dark liquid, but didn’t drink it.
“But potent. OORAH.” They lifted their cups in the air. “Chases the demons away!”
Doogie hesitated, but then brought the cup to her lips again . . . she needed something to chase her demons away tonight.
“Now, spill it on the hotties!” The girls continued their tirades, calling out each member of the team and discussing their attributes. The more they talked the lower Doogie fell into a sorrow over the loss of Tahk. If the hooch was chasing anything away, it was her common sense. Tahk would be disappointed to know she was tossing her beliefs aside and sat drinking with a group she didn’t even know instead of mourning him respectfully. But she was afraid to be alone. She was afraid to let the memories take over. When night came, the lights of the base snapped on, leaving a haunting glow around the barracks. Doogie’s hair had broken free from her ever present regulation braid and tickled her cheeks as she leaned against the wall. The music had softened, and her ‘friends’ had settled in to continue exchanging information on the hotness levels of the men in her unit. Doogie wished she could find some comfort in these woman but they offered none. She didn’t know how to face a day without Tahk.
Doogie finally said her goodbyes and headed toward the barracks.
She hadn’t gotten far when she heard someone calling, “Doc?”
She tried to focus on the face coming through the darkness but the small amount of alcohol she’d ingested had blurred her vision.
“Hey!” Simon jogged her way.
Doogie could smell the clean scent of soap. It took her thoughts back to home. Away from the smell of stale body odor that was the cologne of the locals.
“I came in with the rest of the team after you brought the injured men in. How is everyone? Are you okay? I heard about Tahk. Are you okay?” he rattled off question after question.
Doogie felt her mind reeling at the confusion of his rant. “What?” She tried to focus. Was he offering her condolences?
“Doogie? Are you okay?” He grabbed her upper arms, shaking her slightly in order to get her attention.
She blinked again, trying clear her line of vision. “I had a glass of something with the nurses. I don’t drink. I think it’s hitting me harder than I expected.”
“Here, let’s sit.” He took her arm and led her to the weapon discharge barrel by the hospital. There was a barrel full of sand on each side of the door. Everyone carried weapons, and they were required to test fire the weapon into the barrel before entering the building to make sure there wasn’t a bullet in the barrel of the gun. They didn’t want any accidental misfires near the oxygen tanks.
“I just want to go to bed.” Doogie tried to maneuver around him, but her legs got tangled in his and she landed on the ground with a thud.
“I think you’re drunk.” Simon chuckled and pulled her off the ground, positioning himself in front of her, a thigh tight against hers, holding her up. It felt nice to be close to someone. She closed her eyes and leaned her head into his shoulder, remembering Raven’s strong arms wrapped around her.
“No. I only had one . . . maybe two cups . . .”
Simon wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. Doogie accepted his warmth and wrapped her arms around his neck. Simon placed a kiss to her temple then ran his lips down to her ear. “I’m so sorry, Doogie.”
Her head was fuzzy but Simon’s arms gave her a small sense of comfort. Without thinking Doogie turned her face into his and let his lips find hers.
She welcomed the distraction the kiss brought. “Raven,” the word purred out of her mouth.
Simon pulled away. “Simon,” he whispered before his hand moved to her face, cupping her jaw. He leaned in, pressing his mouth against hers again.
Doogie shook her head out of his hands. Reality came crashing back. Tahk was gone, and she was out of control. “I can’t do this. Tahk just died. I can’t do this.”
“Another time, another place,” he whispered in her ear.
Doogie’s entire body stirred at the touch of his lips on her ear as he spoke, her mind struggled to handle the flood of emotions. Fear, remorse, pain inducing sorrow . . . ? She wasn’t sure what she felt. What she did know was he wasn’t the one she wanted consoling her. Simon’s hands trailed down Doogie’s back, pulsing as they massaged her waist. She lowered her head to his chest and pulled in a deep, shaky breath. She was too tired to fight anymore.
“What are you doing?”
If Doogie had been the least bit coherent, she might have had the forethought to be embarrassed at the situation Raven found her in, but she was past caring. It should have been her tripping the wire. Tahk should be here not her. Why had she been given protection when no one else had? Why was she worth someone’s life? She deserved whatever wrath Raven wanted to take out on her.
“I repeat. What. Are. You. Doing?” Raven spat.
“Nothing, Sergeant. I found Doogie here and . . . well
she . . . we . . . we were just . . . nothing, sir,” Simon babbled.
“Get away from her,” he growled.
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir.” Simon deserted Doogie. Raven was one scary dude even when he wasn’t trying.
“What the heck?” Doogie held up her hands at Simon’s lack of courage.
“What are you doing?” Raven came at her.
She wanted to answer him. She just didn’t know what she was doing or how to explain how her mind was consumed with the vision of Tahk’s body turning into mist or how her insides were all mushy thinking of his arms wrapped tightly around her.
He stood in front of Doogie, his demeanor softening. “Are you all right?”
She shook her head, which made her stomach lurch. “I’m good.” She couldn’t take the emotions mixed with whatever acidic poison the nurses had fed her.
Raven’s eyes narrowed. “Have you been drinking?”
Usually she would have a quick comeback for his high and mighty accusation. But it was true. Doogie had been drinking. She’d been searching for a way to erase the
memory . . . her feelings . . . but it hadn’t worked. The alcohol only made her feel worse and it was currently fighting to get out of her system. Doogie lowered her head, ashamed at his accusation . . . or observation . . . she’d disrespected Tahk . . . the man she’d come to rely on . . . by not holding on to the beliefs she lived by. They’d talked about faith during their time in the desert and she knew in her heart he was in a better place. She was selfish to wish him back in this hell hole just because she missed him.
The comments of the nurses came back to her. Dark and dangerous. Mysterious and strong. She stood staring at the man left behind just like her. He was dangerous. And his intensity scared her. But somewhere deep inside was the man who held her in a freezing shower and let her cry.
“He’s only been gone a few hours. And this?” He flung his hand around. “This is how you respect him?” Raven shook his head with disgust.
Doogie stumbled back. She felt like he’d put a stake through her heart. It was one thing for her to think it but another for him to call her out on it. “I’m not disrespecting him.” She hoped the words sounded stronger than they did to her own ears, but she doubted it. “I just needed . . . I needed something and didn’t want to be alone.”
Raven’s expression softened. “You could have found me,” he said softly.
“You told me it was enough. To stop. The nurses . . . Simon . . .” She waved a hand around.
“If you needed someone I wish you would have come to me. You seemed to have gotten yourself into some trouble on your own.” Raven stepped into her but didn’t touch her. His breathing got louder the longer he remained so close to her.
Doogie could feel the electricity sparking between them. She stepped forward, closing the small space that remained between them, her front brushing against his. Raven placed his hands on her shoulders, using his thumbs to caress the small area of skin exposed above her coat. Doogie felt her breath catch.
Raven lightly pushed her away. “This is not what Tahk wanted.”
“I’m sorry. I thought . . . you said.” Doogie stumbled.
“Alcohol and kissing random men isn’t going to take the pain away.” He took her arm, pulling her toward the tents. “Let’s go.”
Doogie dug in her heels. “I wasn’t. Wait. No.” He was right but the last thing she needed was to spend more time with his high and mighty attitude as he walked her back to her bed. She’d lost men before, but never someone she loved like a brother. He obviously had more practice at dealing with his feelings and wasn’t going to cut her a break.
“I’m not leaving you out here wandering around alone. We’ve seen how that ends.” He grabbed her arm again.
She struggled against his grip. “Let go. It isn’t your business what I do.”
“It most definitely is my business. Tahk’s gone. I am not leaving you out here alone.” He dragged Doogie toward her tent.
“Stop being such a child.”
“Child! You’re a pompous jackass. A cold hearted pompous idiot.” She stumbled over a rock, landing on her knees.
Raven tilted his head back, letting out a frustrated yell.
Doogie sat back on her heels and watched him show more emotion than she’d ever seen. “And the great Ravenscar has emotions. Who would have thought,” Doogie said sarcastically.
“Get up.” He shoved his hand in her face.
“For the love of God, get up, or I will carry you.”
Guilt flowed through her at the mention of God. She had made a horrible mistake looking for alcohol, but it was too late. She was semi-drunk and sitting in the dirt in front of the man she had unrequited feelings for.
“God isn’t here anymore,” she whimpered.
“What are you talking about?”
“I don’t feel Him anymore.”
Raven kneeled in front of her. “Maybe you left Him.”
Sawyer blinked back the tears threatening. “That’s what Tahk said.”
“He’d know. Maybe you relied too much on yourself and stopped looking for guidance.”
Sawyer nodded. She had. After the mess with Charlie Company she’d been running around thinking she was the only one who could save the men. “It’s my fault Tahk died.”
“No it’s not. We don’t have control over the world. When it’s your time to go, it’s your time. When you start thinking you’re bigger than your britches and no one but you can save the day . . . well it’s a dangerous place to be.”
“I had to protect the unit. I couldn’t lose anyone else.” She looked up at Raven.
“It isn’t your responsibility alone. Let others take some of the load. Give back the control. Stop trying to push His hand, and I bet you’ll hear Him again. Stop being so bossy. He doesn’t like it.” Raven smiled a little. “C’mon get up.”
Raven was right. She was the one who thought she could do it all on her own. No wonder she didn’t hear Him . . . she wasn’t listening and she’d made it worse by her actions tonight. “You can leave. I’ll be all right.” Her voice was so quiet she was surprised he even heard her.
“I told you I won’t leave you alone out here.” Raven stepped toward, her ready to lift her up.
“You wouldn’t dare,” she challenged him.
“You are going to be the death of me, Sawyer.” He hoisted her over his shoulder.
“Stop it,” Doogie shouted. “I can walk on my own.”
“You had your chance.”
Doogie bounced along on his shoulder for a few feet before nausea overcame her. “Raven put me down.”
“Not until you’re in your rack.”
“I’m going to throw up,” she groaned
Raven swore before tossing her to the ground.
She struggled to right herself then threw up at Raven’s feet.
“Unbelievable.” Raven squatted beside her, grabbing her hair and pulling it away from her face.
Doogie wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “You didn’t have to throw me.”
Raven sat back in the dirt. “I panicked.”
She crawled away from the pool of vomit, flopped onto her back, and laughed. She couldn’t stop. The more she tried, the more she laughed. Soon, Raven joined her.
“Today was a really crappy day. Actually, the entire week’s been crappy, and I think the nurses tried to poison me,” Doogie said.
“Yeah, pretty crappy year if you ask me,” he agreed.
Doogie looked up at him. “I miss him.”
Raven got up and dangled a hand in front of her face. “Me too. C’mon let’s get you in bed.”
He wrapped his arm around her waist and guided her until they got to the door of the barracks. The surrounding rooms were quiet. The girls hadn’t finished partying. She leaned into Raven’s side, enjoying his closeness. She’d left high school before she was allowed to date, started college without the time to date, and ended up working in a job surrounded my men. The feelings Raven stirred in her were confusing, and she couldn’t figure out if Raven shared them or not.
“I’m sorry I . . . well I . . . wanted . . .”
Raven nudged her toward her bed. “It’s okay.”
“It’s just—I needed something, and I’ve never, you
know . . . been really drunk before or kissed for that matter. My feelings were all out of control. I’m sorry I implied . . . I wanted you . . .” She looked up at him. “I guess I just wanted to say thank you, and I’m sorry. Nothing was happening with Simon. In case you wanted to know.”
Raven’s voice was tight when he responded. “He was taking advantage of you. Of the situation.”
Her voice was dreamy when she started talking again, sleep beginning to take over. “The nurses talk about you. How dangerous and broody you are.” She sighed. “I don’t get you.” She closed her eyes. “I just . . . I didn’t want his kisses. I felt so alone,” she babbled on, ignoring him. “I shouldn’t have done it.” Doogie’s voice was fading. “But it was nice. Being held. I liked it. I just wished it was you.”
Raven leaned against the plywood doorframe. “I’m your commanding officer.”
“Not exactly,” Doogie mumbled.
“It is against regulation for an officer to fraternize with the soldiers in his command.” He sounded like he was reading from a manual.
“Sailor, sir. I’m a sailor. I understand.” Her head lolled back against the wall, the exhaustion of the day taking over.
“That’s just it. I don’t think you do understand.”
“I do. You don’t like me like that. It’s okay. I’m not like the nurses. They’re better for you. They know what they’re doing.”
Doogie tried to keep her eyes open as Raven helped her into bed, but she was losing the battle against unconsciousness. She moved her face into Raven’s palm as he ran a warm hand over her cheek. “You’re perfect, Sawyer. The nurses don’t hold a candle to you.” She thought she heard Raven’s soft words, but the blackness engulfed her before she knew for sure.
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