We continue to bring A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael book installment throughout the summer. Read the next chapter below!
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 21 / Chapter 22 / Chapter 23 / Chapter 24 / Chapter 25 / Chapter 26
CHAPTER TWENTY- SEVEN
Doogie couldn’t remember the last time she’d actually slept. Other than the night she’d passed out after drinking the hooch, although she was pretty sure passed out didn’t qualify as sleep.
She spent the night watching the ceiling turn different shades of brown while the moonlight shifted and the sun began to rise. When she felt it was late enough, or early enough depending on her view, she got up. Her thoughts had been spinning since they set down in Marjah. Her heart broke when she lost Tahk, but each time Raven came close, it swelled, confusing her feelings. She divided her hair into three sections, braided it, and then tied the thin pink ribbon on the end. The early morning chill cut through her T-shirt. She slid her arms into the sleeves of her jacket and patted the chest pocket where Tahk’s heart and Raven’s flower still hid. She pulled aside the sheer sheet she’d hung across the doorway in an attempt for privacy and headed into the hallway, coming face to face with Raven. He held a bucket of water, but more importantly, he wasn’t wearing a shirt.
“Uh.” Doogie wasn’t sure how to compose a sentence with his chest staring at her.
“Good morning.” He shifted the water to his other hand. The lean muscles of his shoulders flexed and released when he adjusted the weight of the bucket.
Good Lord he was beautiful. Was she drooling? Casually, Doogie wiped her fingers across her lips.
“I got water so I could wash up. Did you need some?”
“No, thank you. I’m good.” She formed the words slowly so as not to show her distraction.
“I’ll be out in a few.” He brushed past her.
“Okay.” Doogie headed into the clinic. “This is not going to work,” she muttered to herself.
News of the clinic spread fast and a group of locals waited at the door. Ready or not, she was open for business.
“Private Murphy, ma’am. I’ve been assigned here as your interpreter.” A slight woman with a tight bun saluted her. Her hair was neat and sleek under a patterned scarf. Doogie had kept her hair in a tight bun for basic and the time she’d been in the states, but felt it was ridiculous to spend so much time trying to keep it sleek and tight in the hot desert climate. Raven and Tahk didn’t seem overly concerned with regulations on uniforms, and they’d never complained about the braid, so she didn’t see the need to conform.
“Sawyer.” Doogie returned her salute.
Murphy gave her a quick nod. “You can call me Mary.” Mary began to separate the patients into smaller groups.
Mary’s professional attire reminded Doogie she’d forgotten her headscarf. She retreated back to her room and grabbed her scarf. She began wrapping it around her neck and ran smack into Raven before she could get out the door. She hit his chest and bounced backward. He grabbed her upper arms to steady her.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going.” She tried to compose herself. But being this close to Raven made here motions spin.
Raven’s hands loosened on her arms, but didn’t release her. In her usual nervous fashion, she began to babble. “I forgot my scarf, and you know how the locals . . .”
Raven pulled Doogie into his chest. His lips lightly touched hers, stopping the crazy ramble. His mouth remained still, waiting for her body to relax.
“Let me kiss you, Sawyer,” he whispered against her mouth.
Her muscles turned to mush, his lips pressed against hers.
Raven trailed his hands up her back until finally lightly cupping her jaw. Her knees weakened. Raven guided her further into the room, making sure they were away from the eyes of the patients. He pulled the scarf from her head and dropped it on the floor then trailed soft kisses across her scars. “I told myself I would leave you alone, but I can’t.”
“Oh,” she sighed.
“I can’t stop thinking about you. I can’t forget our kiss, and now I won’t be able to forget this. You unnerve me, Sawyer, and I don’t get unnerved easily. Tell me if this is okay. Tell me if you want this, too.”
“I don’t know how to do this.” She placed her forehead against the patch of the Navajo flag sewn to his vest. She felt his chest rise with each breath, his heart racing.
“You said I was suffering from some sort of trauma. I’d get over it. I’m not going to get over you,” he said.
She hoped he would understand what she was trying to say. “I don’t want to be hurt.” She pushed against him. “After everything . . . after Tahk . . . I won’t . . .” She shook her head. “I don’t know how to let in the good without drowning in the bad.”
“Sawyer.” He held her palms to his chest. “I don’t know how to do this either. But I won’t lose you because we met in a war instead of a college campus. We’ll figure it out. I wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt you. You’re the one making up psychological terms to explain why we shouldn’t try. I kind of think it’s me that’s going to end up hurt.” He laughed dryly.
“I wouldn’t . . .”
Raven raised an eyebrow.
She gave him a small smile. “I’m a little overwhelmed by you.”
Raven pulled her into a quick hug, planting a kiss on the top of her head. “I’m a little overwhelmed by you as well.”
“So are we okay? Am I crossing a line here or are you willing to give us a chance?”
“I don’t know how to do this,” she repeated.
A smile with the power to melt away all Doogie’s fears spread across Raven’s face. “We’ll figure it out. Now, let’s go be nice to the people who are trying to kill us.”
Doogie straightened, rubbing the back of her neck. She’d been working with locals since early this morning, treating everything from burns to a toothache. She left Mary in charge and wandered outside to the well nestled behind the clinic for some fresh air. She squinted from the bright light of the sun. The clinic was dark and gloomy, being outside was refreshing. She pumped a steady stream of bacteria infested water and prayed her gazillion shots would keep her from being on that show The Monster Inside Me. She cupped her hands and poured the cool water over her face. She let it drip down her chin. Memories of Tahk’s reprimand echoed in her head. “This isn’t a freaking wet T-shirt contest.” A smile crept onto her lips.
“Refreshing?” Raven’s words startled her, and she tripped over the ledge of the well.
“Geesh, stop sneaking up on me.”
“I can’t help it. I was special ops. That’s what we do.” He laughed.
A shiver ran through her. She remembered the same words coming from Travis. She sunk down on the wooden stand, pulling her knees up, and then unwrapped the scarf from her head and used it to wipe the dripping water from her face. “I was just thinking about Tahk.”
“Hmm.” He lowered himself next to her.
“When we were at the first stop on the mission? There was a well, and all the men were washing off the sand and dust. So, I waited, and then went over and started cooling off.”
“I remember,” Raven interrupted.
The blood rush to her cheeks.
“It was quite a show,” he teased.
“Tahk chewed my butt for the show.”
“As he should have.”
“It wasn’t that bad.” Doogie punched him in the arm.
“Still wasn’t good.” Raven exaggerated the intensity of her punch and grabbed his shoulder.
“How do you think I feel when the men walk around shirtless? No one seems to think of my feelings.” She tried to counter his argument, but he started to laugh.
“Sawyer, you’re a girl. You may look, but your mind isn’t easily distracted.”
“Now you’re being gross.”
“Just saying. It’s the war, baby. Takes all civility out of the picture.”
Doogie stood up to soak her scarf in the water, and then sat next to him again. “I don’t like being the topic of the men’s dreams.”
“Oh, I can guarantee you’re the topic of more than their dreams.” Raven laughed.
“Stop.” She covered her ears and shook her head. “I don’t want to know.”
“Just be aware, that’s all I’m saying. Tahk was scary. I’m not sure I hold much fear for the guys. Our unit isn’t the only one here. Got to be careful. I’ve heard stories of women over here.”
“Yeah, but I think you hold your own in the fear department.” She smiled. “At least you do for me.”
“I scare you?” Raven seemed genuinely surprised by her admission.
“Yes. You do. In more ways than one.”
“You know, I would watch you when you first joined us and I thought, man she has got nerves of steel. You’d walk around like nothing scared you. Never pausing before jumping in the fray. Tough as nails, all the men said. I was impressed. I knew you were young, fresh, but man! You were fearless. Tahk couldn’t keep up with you. Always wandering off. He complained constantly about how he’d turn around and you’d be off in the middle of a mine field trying to help someone. But now. Now I think I’ve been wrong all this time. You’re not brave. Strong, but not brave. You’re naïve. You don’t have a clue what’s going on. The only time you’re truly together is when you’re working on the men.” Raven finished his monologue and turned to look at her. “When you don’t know what to do, you push everything away and drown yourself in work. You did it with Tahk’s death, and you’re doing it with me. You don’t want to feel anything. Even the good stuff.”
She didn’t know what to say. She wanted to argue in her defense, but when everything he said made such perfect sense, it didn’t leave much room for arguing. So, she shrugged.
“So, how about if you just tell me . . . could you at least tell me you like me? A little?”
“I don’t like it when you get soft.” She leaned and bumped shoulders.
“You can’t give me one word of encouragement here. Just one word to let me know I’m not the only one in this?”
“Yes, I like you.” Doogie stood. “Look, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way or anything, you know, after the psych analysis you just gave me, but I stink, and I want to wash up. There isn’t a showering facility, and this water pump seems like it’s pretty secluded . . . so I was thinking you could stand way over there and keep watch while I scrub up?” Doogie felt her cheeks warm.
Raven smiled at her. “I offered you water this morning.”
She waved a hand at him. “Never mind.”
Raven grabbed her ankle. “I would be happy to keep watch on you. I mean for you.”
“You can’t watch.”
“Tahk didn’t watch?” he questioned.
“He never crossed the line.”
“I find that hard to believe.” He laughed.
“Well, he got really close to the line, but never crossed it.” Doogie scuffed her boot across the sand.
“That would be the Tahk I knew. Okay. I’ll hang out here. Grab what you need, and I’ll be good.” His serious tone returned.
“I’ll be right back.” She ran into the clinic. Mary finished up the last patient and was straightening the shelves.
“Mary, you can go back to your barracks or get dinner. Just lock up the front, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thanks, Ma’am. See you tomorrow.”
Being called ma’am by another soldier always threw her. She was a higher rank, so she guessed it was expected. She didn’t feel like she was twenty-two anymore. She’d left her teenage years a long time ago. Afghanistan had turned her into an old woman.
After saying good night to Mary, Doogie headed into her temporary quarters to retrieve the ALICE bag containing her toiletries. She returned to find Raven hadn’t moved, except to rest his head against the wall and close his eyes.
“I have my stuff, so you can move over by the gate. I’ll stay at the well. There’s another entrance on the far side. I’ll let you know if I see anyone,” Doogie instructed him.
“Sounds like a plan.” He smiled. “My own personal show.”
“Stop it!” she yelled. “You cannot watch.”
When she finally trusted Raven was true to his word, and he was settled a good distance away, she unzipped her jacket and laid it neatly on a short wall near the well. She pulled at the Velcro straps to release her Flak jacket.
“Ahh, the sound dreams are made of,” Raven teased.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said lazily.
Doogie’s T-shirt was soaked with sweat, and she could hardly stand the smell of herself. She checked to make sure Raven kept his promise not to peek before pulling her T-shirt over her head. She opened her bag of bathroom supplies and lined them up along the edge of the well. The water coming out of the well wasn’t cold, but it certainly wasn’t hot, so it took a bit to get some suds flowing from her soap. She scrubbed under her arms and around her neck where the most dirt had accumulated. Already, the strong stench of sweat and blood was being replaced by the clean smell of her tiny slice of soap. She looked up to check Raven’s position. He hadn’t moved much from his initial seat along the wall. Doogie continued to be amazed at the patience the men had. Raven hadn’t moved at all. Tahk said it came from their special ops training. There were times when they wouldn’t flinch for hours while they staked out a mission.
Doogie checked over her shoulder at the door on the other end of the courtyard. Satisfied it was clear, she pushed her pants down around her ankles and began to wash her legs. Feet she could do after she dressed. She finished scrubbing, cupped water in her hands, and rinsed the best she could before rubbing herself dry with a small shammy. She replaced her pants, pulled the ribbon and band from her hair, and stuffed them into a pocket. She ran her finger through her braid, loosening the knots and letting it flow around her shoulders. After a few pumps, she dipped her head under the flow and dowsed her hair. She rubbed in the shampoo, and finally, the light blond of her hair began to shine through. Her fingers scrubbed through the dirt and grime to reach her scalp. She rolled onto her knees and tried to get her head under the faucet and pump at the same time, but her arm wasn’t long enough. Only a tiny dribble came out. She moved forward and reached her arm around the back of the pump, ramming her head into the metal trough of the well.
“Ouch,” she muttered.
“What’s wrong?” Doogie heard Raven’s concerned voice through the bubbles in her ears.
She sat back on her heels, frustrated, and wiped the suds from her eyes. “I can’t get the soap out of my hair.”
“I could help, but I would have to come over there to do it,” Raven said cautiously.
“Could you come and pump the handle while I put my head under it?”
“I’m not actually trained in handle pumping. I’ll see if I can figure it out,” he said.
“Ha Ha. Ow. I have soap in my eyes.” She rubbed at her eyes. “Help me.”
Doogie shuttered when his hand touched her shoulder.
Raven cleared his throat.
The click of his harness let her know he had unhitched his gun.
Doogie’s eyes were closed tight, burning with soap. The pump started to squeak as Raven got the water flowing, a cool cloth touched her temple; carefully, he stroked one eye, and then the other. With gentle hands, Raven cleared the suds from around her eyes.
She sat up and took the cloth from him. Meeting his gaze, her stomach clenched. His dark eyes sparkled, and a slight grin tugged at his mouth. Doogie used all her will power to keep her eyes from dropping to his lips.
“All right then,” she breathed out before turning around to lean forward and put her head under the spigot.
“I don’t think you want to do it that way. You’re going to get more soap in your eyes.”
“What would you suggest?”
“Turn over the other way . . . facing up.”
She gave him a questioning look. Then she twisted around to sit in front of the well and tilted her head back.
“Looks better. I mean works. Works better.” Raven’s voice sounded strained. Her instincts told her to cross her arms over her chest, but she needed them to support her or she would tumble backward into the well.
The pump squeaked and water flowed over her head. Doogie ran a hand through her hair, pulling out the soap. She jumped when another hand bumped against hers. “It’s okay. Let me help.” Raven’s deep voice resonated through the sound of the water, causing her stomach to flip.
Doogie knew she needed to be careful of the feeling his touch brought. His strong fingers rubbed across her scalp.
“I’m looking for the doc.” The voice cut through her paradise.
“Holy crap.” Doogie shot up, ramming her forehead into the trough of the well. “Ow!” She rubbed the front of her head. “That would be me.” She stood and grabbed her T-shirt, mumbling, “I know, I know,” while looking up toward the heavens. She was walking a thin line with Raven and needed a hit in the head to get her back on track.
“Ma’am.” The soldier’s gaze darted back and forth between Raven and Doogie. She hoped it was from the surprise at her being the doctor, but she was sure it was the uncomfortable situation he just walked into. “I didn’t mean to interrupt, but we have an injured man.”
“I was just cleaning up. What seems to be your situation?”
Raven bent to retrieve his rifle and reattached it to the front of his jacket.
“Ma’am, one of our guys got wrapped up in some barbed wire and got the crap ripped out of him. He needs stitching up.” The man was dressed similar to how Travis had been. His eyes were covered with sleek glasses, and he wasn’t wearing anything to signify his military affiliation. He reeked of Special Forces.
“How’d you get in? The doors were supposed to be locked.” She knew she told Mary to lock up.
He shrugged. “Are you coming? Trav’s really beat up.”
Her heart sank. “Travis. As in Travis from SF out of Dietz?”
The soldier eyeballed her. “Yes’m.”
Doogie left her stuff beside the well and took off for the clinic. She pulled her T-shirt on as she burst through the doors to find Travis sprawled in a chair, bleeding . . . everywhere.
“Hey.” His face lit up when he saw her. “I told you I might run into you again.”
“Oh my. Geesh, what’d you get into?” Doogie walked over to him. “Come on, let’s get you fixed up.”
Raven pushed through the doors a few seconds after her. “Raven, can you grab a tray with alcohol swabs and some sutures?” She led Travis to the back of the clinic.
“Yes, ma’am,” Raven said in his formal manner. Doogie looked over her shoulder, giving him a ‘what the heck’ look.
What was she going to do with him?
“What happened?” she asked.
Travis sat up on the exam table. “Just got into some bad stuff.”
“So, you aren’t going to tell me.” Doogie put on gloves, grabbed a handful of gauze and alcohol, and looked over her shoulder. Raven stood with the small group of SF who’d brought Travis in. “Why don’t you tell them to go get something to eat? We’re going to be awhile.”
Travis looked at her, smiled, and then ordered his men. “Clear out. Sawyer here is going to stitch me up. Go get some grub.”
She waited for the men to disperse. “You’ll need to take off your scarf and shirt.”
“All you have to do is ask.” He groaned when he tried to lift his arms. “Yeah not happening.” He dropped his head in defeat.
“I can cut it off.” She reached up, unwound the scarf, and used her scissors to cut up the front of his shirt and down the arms. She pealed it off where it had become imbedded in his wounds, and then dropped it onto the floor. “Won’t be using that again.”
Blood and gunk covered Travis’s body. He wouldn’t tell her where he’d been, so she stopped asking. Carefully, she began to wipe away the mess so she could see what she was dealing with.
“Girl! You smell good.” His breath caressed her neck.
“Just got out of a make-shift bath.” Doogie leaned back a little so his mouth wasn’t so close to her.
“The smell of a woman is so . . . nice.” His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be dozing off.
“I gave you a shot of morphine. It’s just nice because you’re stoned. And I think it’s the smell of soap that you’re enjoying.” She threaded a needle to begin sewing him up. “I’ll let the guys know these can come out in about a week or so. I know they won’t let you hang out until then.” Doogie moved in between his legs and held his forehead up with one hand. She traded the needle for super glue and squeezed a line across his eyebrow to close the gash above his eye. “You were tortured, weren’t you?” She blew on the cut to dull the sting of the glue.
Travis took a deep breath.
“I haven’t seen you in almost a week. So, I’m guessing they had you two, maybe three days.” She leaned back, assessed the weeping slashes across his chest, and then walked around to assess similar marks on his back. “Whip of some sort.” She walked back to face him, picked up his wrists, and carefully turned them over. Rope burns were around each one. “Tied up—any shoulder injuries?” she asked.
“Just clean me up and send me out,” he said.
“You can’t raise your arms above your head without pain.” She continued her exam, ignoring his request.
“No. But they’re okay.”
She pushed between his legs again.
Travis grabbed her hips and pulled her into him. He lowered his forehead until it rested against her stomach. He slid his arms around Doogie’s waist.
She stood with her hands suspended in air, one holding the glue, the other holding a wad of gauze. Travis’s breathing became uneven. Special Forces may not cry, however, he was having an emotional moment. She dropped her supplies, and ran her fingers through his long hair, pulling him into her arms. Thoughts of telling him it would be okay floated through her head, even though she knew it might not be.
Doogie didn’t know how long they held each other. Travis finally, gently, pushed her away. “Thank you. I guess I needed a hug.”
“It’s okay. We all do sometimes.”
“You’re definitely what I needed today. A moment of home.” He grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze. “This country smells like crap. I smell like crap. You smell so good.”
“You caught me on a good day.” She smiled. “If you would have gotten here any earlier, I would have stunk.”
“Still would have smelled better than me.” Travis grimaced as she inserted another needle with morphine into the cut on his head.
“What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me? Psalm 56:3” Doogie continued to talk while she ran the needle through his skin, pulling the sutures tight.
“They can beat the crap out of me.” Travis gave her a grin.
Travis looked up at her. “So you’re a walking inspirational poster?”
She pulled the stitches tights and began tying the ends off. “You should be grateful. I usually get verses when my men are dying.” She winked. “SF must have special consideration in the eyes of God.”
“You bet your socks we do.” He laughed quietly. “Thanks for cleaning me up.” Travis’s voice sounded like he was half asleep. The morphine was doing its job.
“As soon as I finish this you can lie down until your guys come back for you. You’re going to be okay.”
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