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The Heroic Surgeon

By:Olivia Gates

CHAPTER ONE


THE man looked good enough to eat.

Gulnar forced her lids to open wider and her focus to lock and steady. The man didn’t disappear. He was really here.

His every unhurried step was eloquent with calm authority, every line of his formidably proportioned body with controlled, fluid power. He was a graceful, gorgeous being, even if his clothes hung a bit from the expanse of his impressive shoulders and his uncompromising face was too raw-boned. In fact, the asceticism only added to his impact.

She huffed an incredulous exhalation. Had her mind finally disintegrated with starvation and heat exhaustion?

That man was a murderer. A terrorist!

And he was preceding six more terrorists across the municipal building’s main hall, towering a whole head over the tallest among them. But he was on a far higher level from his henchmen in every other respect. An Olympian among orang-utans.

She clamped her bone-dry lips, exerted all she had left on steadying her quivering muscles as his head turned this way and that, his hewn face exhibiting no reaction, his eyes sweeping the crowd, sparing no one a lingering look.

Look at me! she heard a voice yelling, and for a moment shriveled in horror that it was hers. It was. But only inside her head. Get a grip, Gulnar. She should be praying he wouldn’t notice her. God only knew what he’d do if he did!

In the next second she lost whatever control she had on her long-frayed nerves. He was heading towards her!

The heart that had long decelerated into the sluggish rhythm of resignation zoomed behind her ribs, the transition so sudden she felt her grip on consciousness softening…

But the man stopped a few feet away, by the group of people she’d just left, where Mikhael, her last remaining gravely injured casualty, was. His terrorists fanned out, protecting his back, his height keeping him visible above their tight grid.

Fury burst in her chest, cascaded throughout her body. How could she have thought him anything else but a bully, coming in here surrounded by his henchmen, terrorizing the already bludgeoned and broken people? He probably looked good enough to eat because she was hungry enough to eat a rat!

Which she’d probably resort to before long. She wouldn’t have to worry about finding one. Rats were becoming braver as the huddled masses grew still and squalor soared. She’d woken up from her shallow slumber at dawn when one had scampered across her chest. Good thing rats didn’t faze her. Not much could. Not any more. She was destined to live—and live. And lose. Being held hostage was just one more thing to survive.

And she’d been held hostage with over four hundred people since the militants had erupted into the building three days ago, in a storm of gunfire and thundering threats on the public address system. The place was rigged with explosives. They would shoot anyone who moved.

What had followed had been total pandemonium. When the gunfire had stopped there had been thirty-two people down.

The only hostage with medical experience, overwhelmed and unequipped, she’d raced among the casualties, trying to set up some form of triage, some measure of emergency intervention.

Some had been killed outright, some had had injuries beyond the help of her improvised measures. But the ones who’d ruptured her heart with loss and futility had been those whose injuries would have been controllable had she had access to even the most basic emergency supplies. But there were none, and she’d lost eleven of the injured she was tending. Mikhael was the only one she hadn’t lost. Yet. It was a matter of time, and the ones with lesser injuries would follow.

She’d tried to talk reason to the only woman militant, pleaded for the injured to be turned over to the security forces who now besieged the building. It was one thing to kill people in the heat of the moment, another to let them die such slow, agonizing deaths. They’d still have hundreds under their power to bargain with.

Nothing had worked. No concessions would be offered before the militants’ demands were met. Gulnar had almost laughed in the woman’s face, could have told her how this would end.

Hostage situations often ended with everyone losing and everything far worse than before, the ever-expanding shockwaves of retaliation and counter-retaliation only creating new generations raised on oppression, hatred and intolerance, perpetuating the vicious circle of violence, strife and death.

Her mind was wrenched back to the moment as one of the man’s henchmen handed him a suitcase. No, that looked like…a huge emergency bag? He kneeled on the floor, opened it and—it was!

What did that mean? Were there reporters around? And were the militants putting on a show of mercy for their benefit?

So what? The man had an emergency bag and that was all that mattered. All she needed.

Brutal hope tore aside her remaining tatters of self-preservation, propelled her to her feet. A burning torrent of pins and needles almost sent her to the floor again. They hadn’t been letting them up to even go to the bathroom.

Ignoring the debilitating electricity, she limped over to the man, her hands raised in the universal gesture of surrender. “Please, let me use the emergency supplies!”

One of the militants’ gazes swept over her, rabid, defiling. “Sit down now!”

She wasn’t going to sit down! She was getting her hands on those supplies. He could do what he liked.

And what he liked, and so much, was to show her who was boss. He rammed the butt of his semi-automatic rifle into her shoulder, hard. Too hard. She heard a sickening crack. In the flash before pain exploded from her shoulder to flood her body she wondered—had he dislocated it? Broken it? Could she manage with one arm?

Then the impact was transmitted to the rest of her. Just before she launched backwards in the air, feeling weightless, powerless, the man with the emergency bag turned around and his gaze lodged on her across the distance and everything stopped. For a second. An hour. Then she slammed to the ground. Head first. Her body followed, the impact driving her bones into her flesh. All air left her lungs and blackness swelled, overflowed from all sides.

Great, just great. The bitter thought burst on and off in her flickering mind. She’d pass out, leaving that man to muck about playing doctor, probably finishing Mikhael off!

So it was simple. She wouldn’t pass out. It didn’t matter that she was starving and dying of thirst, that she’d banged her head on the marble floor. Passing out wasn’t an option.

She growled at the pain and resignation telling her to let go. For an eternity, the harder she struggled the faster she sank. Then a sound permeated the inky molasses filling her head. A comforting sound. “Shh, shh.”

Her mind finally registered what her eyes were staring at. The man. It was him who was soothing her.

She jackknifed to a sitting position and his hands, firm but gentle on her arms, slackened. She gaped at him.

Close up, he really was flawless. And those eyes slammed into her with more force for being so near. Beautiful. Hypnotic. Intense white on endless black. Cool with secret power, remote as if he existed in this plane only in image. Yet intense with—what? Anger? Annoyance? No—it felt like worry. Mercy…

She must have had a concussion if she was picking up such potent, pure signals where they didn’t exist.

But, no. Concussion or not, she read people. Fathomed them. Had yet to be wrong. These eyes, this face, this aura—these were the products of a lifetime well spent, the reflection of an untarnished soul. This was no extremist who fought his fanatic battles by murdering innocent civilians.

Or she could be letting his staggering looks or her own blinding pain get to her. Whatever the truth was, she had to obtain a promise of his mercy. For her casualties. For Mikhael.

She struggled to her knees, knocking his hands away, her own clawing at his arms. These tensed to cabled steel beneath her grip. “Sir, please! You have to let me use the medical supplies! I am a nurse and I could save those people.”

A frown answered her outburst then his lips clamped on an exasperated sigh. He shook his head and reached for hers.

It took all her will not to shout what the hell he thought he was doing. Don’t antagonize him. She stifled her objections, sat motionless as long, careful fingers probed her skull, sculptor-like. Palpating for bumps? It seemed he’d found them for his frown grew even blacker.

He rose, his hands on her shoulder keeping her firmly down. He silently pointed his forefinger at her, shook it once, his message clear. Stay there.

“I can’t stay here! I have to help. Please!”

His headshake was accompanied by eye-rolling this time. He rubbed his eyes, leveled them on her, his expression tinged with…bewilderment? He couldn’t believe one of his victims wasn’t afraid of him. And to think she’d felt compassion coming off him in waves!

He dismissed her again and turned to open the bag. She lunged for a saline bag, but he snatched it away and held it out of her reach. In the next second he dropped it in utmost surprise when she struck his hand with all her strength. His men advanced but he waved them away. He shook his head, looked her square in the eyes, his expression unmistakable this time. Total disgusted resignation.

He sighed. “I get your rage lady, just not why you’re aiming it at me. You’re making those guys so twitchy they may open fire just to shut you up. How can I explain that to you, and that this saline bag isn’t drinking water, when you don’t speak a word of English and I don’t speak your language?

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