Here in Dubai, nature held no sway against the lofty dreams of man.
“You gotta try the shower, Pierce.” Kowalski came out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist. “They got jets that hit you in all the right places—and a few wrong ones.”
It seemed the dreams of some men weren’t as lofty as others’.
Gray turned his back on the cityscape. With his shoulders still blistered and sore, a shower held no appeal at the moment.
Maybe a long bath.
The group shared a two-bedroom suite. Kowalski and Gray had one room; Seichan, the other. Tucker and Kane staked out the couch in the common room, equipped with a pool table, a wet bar, and a flat-screen television. Gray heard a BBC broadcast playing out there.
“I’m going to see if Tucker wants to lose a few bucks playing pool,” Kowalski said and headed toward the door, hauling on a robe and letting his wet towel fall to the floor.
Gray stepped toward the bathroom.
There wasn’t much else they could do except to continue waiting for an intelligence report from Sigma command.
Painter was gathering data on flights into and out of Somalia, comparing all routes that could bring Amanda and her kidnappers to Dubai. He was also checking passenger manifests, searching custom records, specifically looking for faces that matched Amanda’s, in case someone tried to sneak her through with a fake passport. He also had a team scouring security footage from Dubai International Airport.
Gray didn’t hold out much hope. His team had already spent an hour at the airport, tracking all the exits and baggage areas, checking to see if Kane could pick up her scent.
Maybe she never came here—or came and left.
But Gray didn’t think so and couldn’t exactly say why. It was more than a gut feeling—like something that beckoned at the edge of his awareness, something he was missing.
In the bathroom, he turned on the tub’s tap, tested the water, and, once satisfied, he slowly peeled off his shirt. Pieces stuck to his shoulders, pasted in place by his blistered skin. With a groan, he tugged the shirt off, stripped out of the rest of his clothes, and climbed into the tub.
It was wonderful agony to sink into the steaming heat.
He left the tap running, letting the waterline climb up his belly. He leaned forward, hugging his knees, carefully stretching the stiffened skin across his shoulders.
“Dear God, Gray … your back looks horrible.”
He twisted half-around to face the open door. Seichan stood there, her gaze not shying from his nakedness. He was too tired to be self-conscious. They’d both seen each other at their best and worst. What was a little bare skin?
He turned off the flowing tap. “I’m fine. What is it?”
“You’re not fine. Why didn’t you tell someone your burn was this bad? I’m getting the med pack. Here.” She stepped forward and passed him the satellite phone. “Call from Sigma.”
He took the phone. “Director?”
“Gray, I just wanted to give you an update, while I have a spare moment.”
He sat higher in the tub. “Any leads?”
“No, I’m afraid not. We’ve searched every record and videotape from Dubai International. I can find no evidence that Amanda ever passed through there. I’ll keep monitoring the airport and inbound manifests, but I’ve also expanded the search for flights out of the city. We have to take into account that she may have already been moved.”
“If that’s the case, we’re not likely to ever find her.”
At least not alive.
“I’ll keep looking,” Painter said. “But for now, we’ll keep your team on-site. Even if she has shipped out, it might not have been far, and I want you and the others close by.”
Gray signed off as Seichan returned. She took the phone, set it aside, then tapped the edge of the tub. “Up here. Back to me.”
She opened the combat med kit and pulled out a tube of burn cream and Water-Jel tactical dressing.
“I don’t need you to—”
“I could get Kowalski to do it. But I don’t think either of you would like that.”
He sighed heavily, pulled out of the bathwater, and balanced on the lip of the tub. She patted his skin dry with great care. From the corner of his eye, he caught her reflection in the mirror. She rubbed the cream between her palms and placed them against his heated skin.
The balm’s cooling agent sank deep into his flesh, outlining each of her fingers. A small moan escaped him.
“Am I hurting you?”
“No,” he said, more huskily than he intended.
Her hands spread outward, washing away the worst of his pain. He stretched his back, loosening his shoulders even further. His breathing grew heavier, deeper as she worked. His eyelids drifted closed.
She remained silent. He heard only her breath, sighing in and out. Fingers rode up to his neckline and down his spine. He found himself leaning back into her touch—and not just because of the cooling effect of the balm. In fact, warmth was returning to his skin, but not from the burn. It rose from a fire deeper inside. His body responded, but he didn’t bother to hide it, not that he could.
He heard the need in her voice that matched his own.
He reached back and caught one of her hands. He held it, poised between pulling her closer or pushing her away, trapped between heaven and hell. Her fingers, soft and silky, trembled in his palm, like a bird fluttering to escape.
Not this time.
His hand tightened on hers, making a decision at last.
He chose heaven.
As he drew her arm around him, twisting to face her, their lips brushing against one another—then he suddenly knew the truth. He froze with shock.
“Gray? What is it?”
He tilted back, his eyes widening as his certainty grew.
“I know where Amanda is.”
“You should keep walking,” Dr. Blake said, supporting her by the elbow. “It can help the baby get into a better position.”
Amanda shambled down a featureless white hallway. She had no idea where she was, nor the time of day. She’d woken in a windowless hospital room four hours ago. The medical team had performed another ultrasound on her, along with a pelvic exam, removing a sponge-like object from inside her.
Dr. Blake had explained, We inserted a synthetic osmotic dilator while you were sedated, to gently help open your cervix. It’s an old-school technique but still effective in preparation for labor.