Doolittle took off.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" I looked for something heavy to hit him with, but the room was mostly empty. There were surgical instruments but no heavy, blunt objects capable of causing the kind of pain I wanted.
"He was silver!" I snarled in his face. "I had it under control. What was going through your head? Here's a toxic silver golem; I think I'll jump on his back! That's a damn good idea!"
He scooped me up and suddenly I was pressed against his chest. "Were you worried about me?"
"No, I'm ranting for fun, because I'm a disagreeable bitch!"
"You're a moron!" I told him.
He just looked at me. Happy golden lights danced in his eyes. I'd learned exactly what those sparks meant. Fury fled, replaced by alarm.
"Kiss me and I'll kill you," I warned.
"It might be worth it," he said softly.
If he held me a moment longer, I'd lose it and kiss him first. I was so damn happy he was alive.
When drowning, grasp at anything in reach. Even a straw will do. "My side is bleeding, Your Majesty."
He released me and called for Doolittle.
DOOLITTLE CHANTED THE WOUNDS CLOSED, fussed, pricked my legs with hot needles, and declared my responses normal. "A glancing wound. Does it hurt?"
"No," I lied.
He sighed, wearing the patient expression of a martyr. "Why do I bother?"
"I don't know. Would it help if I cried like a baby?"
He shook his head. "On second thought, keep your composure."
The spots on Curran's chest were growing. I pointed to him.
Doolittle handed me the scalpel. "I need to see to Dali. She's in shock."
Funny. She didn't seem to be in shock when I saw her.
Doolittle left in a very determined fashion. I stared at the scalpel. Curran sat on the floor and presented me with his huge muscled back. Oh boy.
"Just do it," he said. "Or are you going to faint?"
"Settle down, Princess. It's not my first time."
I put my fingers on the first spot. The muscle under my fingertips was hot and swollen. I pressed down, defining the target area the way I was taught, and sliced. He strained. Black blood poured from the wound and a chunk of silver surfaced. I grabbed it with forceps and plucked it free. Three quarters of an inch wide and two inches long. Shit. Enough silver to make an average shapeshifter violently sick. How many spikes did he have in him?
I dropped it into a metal tray, wiped the blood from his back, and went to the next one as fast as I could.
Slice, pull, wipe. Over and over.
He growled once, quietly.
"Almost done," I murmured.
"Who taught you to do this?" he asked.
"Do I know him?"
"Her. She died a long time ago. She liked my father."
His wounds were closing, the muscle and skin knitting together. I rose, wet a towel, and cleaned his back. He leaned back a little, prolonging contact with my fingers.
I wanted to run my hand up his back. Instead I forced myself up, rinsed the towel, and tossed it into the bin Doolittle had set out.
"Good to go," I told him and walked away before I did something seriously stupid.
IT WAS LATE. I SAT IN THE HOT TUB, SUNKEN DEEP in a windowless room. Moisture beaded on the ceiling and weak electric lamps provided hazy illumination. The jets didn't work with or without magic.
My whole body ached. My side, my arms, my back. The golem had dished out a lot of punishment.
I contemplated emerging from the hot tub. My feet were wrinkled and I was really warm. But that would mean going back into the bedroom. We had made it to the championship fight and the Red Guards kept a very tight watch on us now. The only way out of our rooms was through a first-class interrogation and with a huge escort. Even now, as I sat here, a couple of Red Guards lingered outside the door.
A pale, sweaty Corona bottle invaded my field of vision. It was clamped in a hand attached to a muscular arm with pale blond hair.
"Peace offering," Curran said.
Did I hear him come in? No.
I took the beer. He paused on the other side of the tub. He was wearing a white gym towel.
"I'm about to take the towel off and hop in," he said. "Fair warning."
There are times in life when shrugging takes nearly all of your will. "I've seen you naked."
"Didn't want you to run away screaming or anything."
"You flatter yourself."
He took the towel off.
I hadn't exactly forgotten what he looked like without clothes. I just didn't remember it being quite so tempting. He was built with survival in mind: strong but flexible, defined but hardly slender. You could bounce a quarter from his abs.
Curran stepped into the tub. He was obviously in no hurry.
It was like walking on a high bridge: don't look down. Definitely not below his waist . . . Oh my.
He sank into the hot water near me. I remembered to breathe. "How's your back?"
"It's fine," he said. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it." It had to be sore.
"Does your side hurt?"
His smile told me he knew we were both full of it.
I drank a bit of my beer, barely tasting it. Having him at the other end of the hot tub was like standing face-to-face with a hungry tiger with no fence between us. Or rather a hungry lion with very large teeth.
"Are you going to sack Jim?" I tried to sound casual.
"No," the lion said.
Exhaling in relief was completely out of the question - he'd hear it.
Curran stretched, spreading the breadth of his massive shoulders against the tub wall. "I concede that if I was paying attention, I would have nipped this in the bud. It never should have gotten to this point."
"Jim took over security eight months before the Red Stalker appeared. The upir was his first big test. He blew it. We all did. Then there was Bran. Bran stole the surveys three times, waltzed in and out of the Keep, attacked you while you were in our custody, and took out a survey crew, Jim included. Jim considers it a personal failure."
"The guy teleported. How the hell are you supposed to guard against someone who pops in and out of existence?"
Curran shifted along the tub wall, sinking a little deeper into the water. "Had I known how hard Jim took it, I would've pointed it out to him. You remember when he tried to use you as bait?"
"I remember wanting to punch him in the mouth."