Read A Hero's Bargain Online

Authors: Forrest, Rayne

A Hero's Bargain (5 page)

Chapter 6

 

His angel scrambled away from him
so fast, she stumbled over the fireside stool. Ryder snaked out an arm to catch
her. The sudden lurching movement gave the insidious pain opportunity to
strike. Searing flames licked his legs. He clenched his teeth against the
agony, determined not to cry out, not in front of his angel.

The effort was wasted. She saw his
pain and came back to his side and laid her cool hand in the middle of his
chest. He closed his eyes and willed his body to relax. Another spasm of pain
seized him then the tension eased. The fire receded with excruciating slowness,
never leaving him completely, but at least he could deal with the low,
persistent heat that remained.

At least he could deal with it for
a while. A wave of despair washed over him, borne on the fear he’d live the
rest of his life with pain.

Not that he needed to worry about
that too much. He was surely destined to have a short life. The planet of Adena
would make no concessions to a cripple. If he couldn’t farm or hunt, he’d have
to depend on the charity of others. He’d rather have the atmospheric toxins get
him. Only, they didn’t seem to exist.

He opened his eyes to find her
watching him, concerned. “I’ll live, angel. I just won’t enjoy it much.”

He wouldn’t enjoy it any if he
couldn’t eventually get her into his bed, and take her like a whole man. He
formed the image of them coupling in his mind. His penis didn’t even notice.

Just his luck to find
Her
now.

“Do not say that. It’s too soon to
believe that you will not heal. Try to sleep.”

“What? I don’t get that kiss?”

Her features rearranged themselves
into what must be the healer’s most stern expression. He pressed his lips together
to keep from smiling at her.

To his amazement, she leaned over
and kissed his forehead the way a mother would kiss an ill child.

“Will that suffice?”

Hardly.
“I suppose it will
have to, won’t it?” He tried to press the small of his back to the bed,
grimacing at the pull of sore muscles in his back.

“Be still. Will you agree to take
something for the pain?”

To be free of the pain, even for
just a few moments, would be such a relief—if he could trust her not to slip
him something more.

“I’m alright. I’ll be fine. Just
let me go to sleep.” He patted the bed beside him. “You could take a nap with
me.”

Her eyes widened. She swallowed,
hard. Was that longing that flashed through her eyes so quickly?

Or fear?

The look passed so quickly he
wondered if his imagination had played a trick on him. No, she looked at him
too strangely. Her chin lifted. When she spoke, her voice was calm and strong.

“Do you have weapons in your pack as
well as medicines?”

Surprised, his gaze locked with
hers. “Since you are astute enough to ask that, you must know the answer.”

She nodded, her eyes never leaving
his.

I’ve never seen eyes so dark. I
could get lost in them.
He pushed the thought away. The intuition that had
served him so well—usually—said she was working up to something big.

“Will you show me how to use them?”

She had a lot of self-control, he’d
give her that. The only thing that showed of her nervousness was the throbbing
pulse point at the base of her neck. Her heart was pounding and yet he’d never
know it from her cool voice and the still hand that lay gently on his arm.

He’d remember that if they ever
wagered against each other.

“It’s better that you not know
them, angel. They don’t belong here on this world.”

“They are here on this world, as
are you. We have need of them.”

Ryder’s heart stopped, then twisted
painfully before it began beating again. He was in the middle of something—what
he hadn’t figured out. Whatever it was, he was helpless in it.

“Oh? Why would you need my weapons?
They’re for self-defense, not war.”

She was quick to answer. “We are
not at war, not really. And defense is what we need. We are threatened.”

He looked at her, watching her
closely. She licked her lips. It was the sign he’d been looking for, the slight
break in her nerves.

“Why don’t you fix me whatever it’s
you can fix to help me sleep? And while you’re doing that, why don’t you tell
me how you’re threatened?”

She nodded and moved to her
worktable, taking a small strip of cloth and wrapping a few dried herbs in it
before dropping the bundle into a crockery cup. She found a piece of leather
toweling and folded it into a small square to wrap around the handle of her
kettle as she lifted it from the hearth. He caught a whiff of something spicy,
and not too unpleasant, as she poured the steaming water over the herbs. She
pulled a chair next to his bed and sat down holding the mug.

“This will be ready in just a few
minutes.”

He nodded. “So tell me what defense
you need. What threatens you?”

She looked away, staring into the
fire as if lost in a memory. Was she going to tell him that she’d changed her
mind about confiding in him? Saba looked back at him and began to speak.

“It began over seven seasons of Wae
ago. That is when the
errol
came.” Her voice cracked on the word. Ryder
had never heard the word ‘
errol
’ and had no reference for it.

“The
errol
? What’s the
errol
?”

“We do not know what the
errol
is. None of us has seen it clearly. It’s a creature that roams at night.”

That wasn’t helpful promising. He
wasn’t fond of creatures in the dark. Not even the little fuzzy ones that grew
under his bunk when he was feeling too lazy to start the cleaning bots on his
ship.
Poor Faithe. Well done, trusty servant.

“All right. Seven seasons of Wae,
what is that?” He needed to obtain as much information as he could, but it
looked like he was going to have to pull it out of her bit by bit, and he
didn’t know if he could stay awake long enough to get the whole story. The pain
made him sleepy. It was his escape.

She looked uncomfortable. “You do
not know of Wae?”

“Perhaps it would be better if you
enlightened me. This Wae is a god?”

“Yes. He is the god of the earth,
and the sky, and the water. He is the god of renewal.” She moved to put another
log on the fire, speaking while she worked.

“The season of Wae comes as the
earth warms after winter. The sun returns, the forest blooms, and the deer bear
their young. We praise Wae for these things.”

Ryder shivered, recognizing the
sensation as a prelude to more pain. He reached for the mug. “Should I drink
this now?”

She nodded quickly. “Yes, you may
begin. Sip that slowly. It will take a little while before you feel the
effects.”

He sniffed and tasted the
greenish-brown liquid. It wasn’t quite as bad as he’d feared. “Go on with your
story, angel.”

“It was near the beginning of Wae.
The earth was still wet. There was a fireball from the heavens. We saw it but
were not overly concerned. There had been rain so we did not fear the forest
burning. Nevertheless, we went as quickly as we could to where the fireball had
landed.”

“What did you find?”

“A vessel.”

His heart pounded. “A vessel? A
spaceship?”

“Spaceship?” She bit her bottom
lip. “I do not know what a spaceship is. Is that what you came in?”

“Yes. It’s a vessel that travels
between the stars.”

That clearly frightened her and she
moved away from him.

“Why does that scare you, angel?
What do you know of star flight?”

She inhaled sharply, but met his
gaze. “There are many tales of such things and of worlds beyond our own, but
surely they are only fantasies.”

“I hate to point this out to you,
but I’m here and I came on a spaceship.”

Her voice was a whisper. “Why are
you here?”

“I was stupid. I made a mistake. I
didn’t mean to come here.” He gusted out a long breath. “I think I remember my
ship…vessel…being destroyed. Is that a true memory?”

She nodded. “I’m sorry but your
ship was destroyed. It burned. The fire was too hot for us to salvage
anything.”

He wondered if that was true, but
he wasn’t in any position to antagonize her by calling her a liar. He needed another
good night’s sleep, if possible, and some food. A bit more rest, a bit more
time passing, and maybe the pain would be gone.

Maybe he’d be able to feel all his
body parts.

“So, seven years ago, give or take,
a ship crashed here and this
errol
has been attacking you ever since? Is
that correct?”

She made a drinking motion with her
hand. He rolled his eyes at her and downed the remainder of the contents of the
crock. Her eyes widened as they flicked to the empty cup and back up to meet
his gaze.

“That is essentially correct. We do
not know why the
errol
attacks us. We only know many of us have died.”

“It kills?”

“Sometimes, but not always.” She
looked back into the fire. “It keeps us from hunting and harvesting. Winters
have been hard. Many become ill. Food needs to be rationed.”

She touched his arm lightly. Her
hand seemed cold, but he wasn’t sure. His body wasn’t sending the right signals
to his brain. The blanket that had seemed soft before now irritated his skin.
Whatever the neurological toxin in his system was, it didn’t act like anything
he’d ever heard of.

“During the season of Wae, I should
be gathering medicinal plants. I cannot get to them, the
errol
prevents
it. Many have died because of it.”

She blamed herself for that, he
could tell. It was all over her. Her drooping shoulders, the tilt of her head,
the waver in her voice. He wished he could reach out to her, but the herbs were
already working on him. He was looking at her through a long tunnel. Sleep—and
oblivion—promised a blessed respite from the pain.

“And now you want my weapons to
kill the
errol
?”

She sat up straight. Her chin
lifted. The beautiful dark eyes bore into his.

“I have an offer, Vaughan Ryder
Vaughan. Have you interest?”

Well, well. He had an offer for
her, too, if he could stay awake.

Chapter 7

 

Saba
looked at Ryder. He might be lying on the pallet, and be ill, but somehow, he
had the upper hand. It was not reassuring. Too late she realized he was
probably much more intelligent than she had originally thought.

“I drank
that nasty tea, angel. I drank it just for you. So now are you going to make me
your offer?”

“Perhaps
we should let another day pass. Sleep is what you need most. Rest now and I
will wake you when I have a meal prepared for you.”

He
laughed. “So you’re going to feed me first? Do you think that will soften me up
for this offer you’re going to make me?”

“That is
not my intention, no.” That wasn’t the total truth. He was a man, so she was
sure he’d be more agreeable with a contented belly. “I want you to regain your
strength. Sleep and food will accomplish that more quickly than anything else I
can give you.”

“You’re
afraid of me.”

Of
course, she was. She didn’t have to confirm that by saying anything, though.
The man might be injured, and weak, but she didn’t doubt he would find a way
for mischief if he truly desired it. Did he?

“Go to
sleep, Ryder. I have things I must do. You are not the only sick person in the
village.”

“You need
to run and tell Tyree everything I’ve said to you, don’t you?”

No, she
would not underestimate his intelligence again. “What would you do if you were
in my place?”

He sighed
tiredly and closed his eyes. “I’d run and tell Tyree everything.”

She sat
watching him for several minutes. The tension eased out of him. His breathing
slowed and leveled, and Saba knew he slept.

Well, she
had not been lying when she said she needed to prepare a meal for him. The stew
would be too rich. She needed to start him out on a thickened broth. He would
likely complain and she would consider that a good sign he would recover. She
grabbed an
otatop
and began peeling it.

She would
boil the root vegetable until it was very soft then mash it, mixing it with a
few ladles of the stew gravy. Then she would take the water it had boiled in,
add a few herbs, and thin the mixture to where Ryder could easily sip it. If he
kept it down, she might allow him to have a few bites of meat this evening.
Once the
otatop
was in a pan of water sitting on the coals in the
hearth, she slipped out the door to check on her other patient.

Saba
found Hallaf sitting in the sun, his leg propped up, carving out the center of
a large wooden bowl. He had a talent for such things. Saba checked his wound
and found it healing, and to thank her, Hallaf gave her a loaf of bread for her
supper. She smiled as he explained he’d received several loaves from the young,
unbetrothed girls of the village.

The day
was warm but she shivered as she approached her hut, all her questions milling
about in her mind. What did they know about this stranger in their midst,
really? Who was he? Why had he come?

He spoke
their language, albeit with an unusual accent. That in itself was alarming. He
was as male as any of the Ramalho. The only difference she’d noted as she’d
washed his manhood was the lack of the protective cowl of a Ramalho male.

Her
checks warmed at the memory. She seen many of the adult men in varying amounts
of nudity as she’d tended wounds and that small bit of foreskin was all Ryder
lacked. If he took her up on her offer, she might have opportunity to question
him on it. If he healed.

A Ramalho
male would have had some response to her bathing of him. Ryder had been
completely devoid of even the automatic response she had come to expect from
males.

So many
‘ifs’. If he’d even agree to help them. If he wouldn’t aid them in killing the
errol
,
they would all eventually perish, Ryder among them.

She
didn’t want to perish without knowing him. She’d never been so interested in
the physical before. Better she figure out a way to set that aside until he was
stronger.

Better
she set it aside until she knew he had some interest of his own.

She
slipped into the quiet of her hut. The day grew warm, and she wouldn’t need to
put any additional logs on the fire until evening. If Ryder felt chilled, she’d
give him another blanket.

The
otatop
was cooked so she busied herself preparing it for Ryder’s meal. She sliced off
the end of the bread. Perhaps a small amount wouldn’t hurt him. He was a large
man. He needed the nourishment to heal.

She
looked down at his full mouth as he slept. The split in his lower lip already
showed signs of healing without a scar. His nose was straight, so he was not a
brawler. Had he been, his nose would certainly have been broken and sported, at
the very least, a small bump. His eyes were deep set under slightly arched
brows. His cheekbones were strong. The cuts and scrapes he’d received in the
crash were shallow and would heal without marking him.

His was a
handsome face.

“Do I
pass inspection?”

Saba
jumped back, knocking over her stool again. Ryder chuckled softly.

“You
should open your eyes when you’re awake. If I were the suspicious sort, I’d
think you were trying to spy on me.”

Her
patient grinned. Those blue eyes popped open. Yes, she’d been correct in
thinking the man was possessed of a fun-loving nature. Either that or he used
his sense of humor to disarm his opponents. He sniffed the air.

“The only
thing I want to spy is food. You promised, angel, so feed me and then let me
hear your offer. Don’t let me die hungry.”

She
dipped a small cloth into the basin of scented water and wrung it out. She held
out the cloth to him, reluctant to touch him herself.

Touching
him, even to just treat the abrasions on his face, was suddenly too intimate.
“Wipe your face. Be careful, though. This will sting.”

“Ah, I
remember.” He made no move to take the cloth from her. She cocked an eyebrow at
him, a silent question.

“Don’t
make me move just yet. As long as I’m still, there’s no pain.”

She bit
the inside of her lip and pushed away her disquiet. He was her patient—now. The
future had not yet been decided. She touched his hand.

“Make a
fist.”

The long,
strong fingers curled tightly.

“Do you
have any pain?”

He shook
his head, the slightest movement. She pointed at his other hand. He fisted it.
She laid her hand in the bend of his elbow. “Raise your arm from here.”

He slowly
complied, lifting first one arm, then the other. She steeled herself against
the knowledge of his pain and tapped his shoulder.

“Now from
here.”

His eyes
closed. He inhaled, drawing in a long, careful breath, then slowly raised his
arm from the shoulder. Just as carefully, he let his arm come back down to
rest. He repeated the motion on his other side.

“Have you
pain?” she asked softly. He shook his head again.

“No. But
I didn’t jiggle my back around.”

Jiggle?
He must
mean that he hadn’t moved the root nerve along his spine. That made perfect
sense, given her observations of him. She folded the blanket and draped it
across the foot of her bed.

“Let’s
get this beneath you. Then you may have food.” She slipped an arm beneath his
shoulders, helping him ease up. His face rolled against her breasts. He drew in
a deep breath. She almost jerked away. Once he was propped up, she dared to
look at him.

His face
was inscrutable. Too much so. She handed him the mug of thickened broth.

She
should have poured it over his head for making her breasts feel so strangely.
Her nipples tingled and itched. It was all she could do to keep her hands from
rubbing them. The only thing that stopped her was the conviction he’d get some
sort of perverse pleasure from the action.

“You
wouldn’t deprive a dying man succor, would you, angel?”

Succor,
was it? She glared down at him.

“You are
not dying. I’m on to your games now and you won’t be able to do that again.”

He
laughed, a wicked, low sound that shivered across her nerves and teased her
woman’s flesh to a tingling awareness of him. He took a cautious sip from the
mug. Then another.

He drank
it in rapid little sips as she watched. He had no difficulty swallowing and it
appeared his stomach was not at all unsettled.

“Would
you like a slice of bread?”

His gaze
flicked up to hers. “You’ve been holding out on me? Shame on you, angel.”

“Is that
a yes or a no?” she snapped at him.

He
grinned. “Yes. I’d like a slice of bread.” He held the cup out to her. “Is
there more of this?”

She
snatched the mug from his hand and refilled it. “This is all there is for now.
Would you like
rettub
on your bread?”

“Sure.
Whatever that is.” He accepted the mug and began sipping again, slower this
time. She handed him the bread and he dipped it into the liquid and took a
bite. He repeated the action until the bread was gone.

“This is
manna. Thank you. And thanks for rescuing me. I don’t know if I’ve told you
that or not.”

“You did,
but you do not have to thank us. Are you experiencing any discomfort?”

He shook
his head and lifted the mug to his lips, draining its contents. “I can’t say as
there’s any pain at all right now. I’d like to stay still and keep it that
way.”

“I’m sure
you would. But I should bathe you again.” She could get another look at his
maleness. She was the healer, after all, and needed to have knowledge of many
things.

“Oh, I
think not. Call one of your minions for that. Get Tyree in here.”

“Tyree
has more important things to do and I need to see how your wounds are healing.
Some may need another application of salve.”

He gave
her a calculating look. She refused to flinch.

“Angel,
Tyree has nothing more important than a stranger in his village. Trust me on
this one.”

“Tyree
will ask for your weapons.”

“Tyree
doesn’t know I have weapons unless you told him. Did you?”

She
couldn’t lie. Her face would give her away. “No. I did not tell him. Not yet.”

“Why not?
You should have.”

He was
right and she knew it.

“Tyree
may be the headman of the village but he doesn’t know how to work your weapons.
I would not have him examining them and injuring himself or others. You will
show him your weapons in due time.”

He looked
pleased she’d thought it through that far, his eyes lighting with amused
respect. “You seem awfully sure of that. My weapons don’t belong here. I can’t
let Tyree have them.”

She
plucked the empty mug from his fingers and busied herself washing it. She had
her opening. She couldn’t lose her nerve now. It was their only hope. She dried
the mug and set it up on the shelf then turned back to Ryder.

“We need
your weapons, and your help. If you agree to use your weapons to destroy the
errol
,
we’ll pay you.”

His
eyebrows shot up. His eyes darkened.

“Pay me,
will you? With what? A ship so I can get back to my life? Tell me you have one.
Lie to me, Saba.”

He had
every right to be bitter over his circumstances. She understood, but his
acerbic tone shocked her. She hadn’t considered anger. Anger could make him
dangerous in ways nothing else would. Nonetheless, her mind was made up. It was
her decision, be it folly or not.

“No. The
coin I would pay you with is my body.”

His mouth
dropped open. “Excuse me?”

“I will
come to your bed when you are well enough.”

He sat
up, swinging his legs off the pallet and onto the floor. She jumped away from
him, startled. Just as quickly her concern for her patient moved her back to
his side.

“Do not!
You should be still.”

Quick as
lightning he grabbed her and pulled her to him. His chest was like a rock.

“Let me
go!”

“I don’t
think so, angel.” His arms tightened around her. His lips thinned into an angry
line.

“So you’d
come to my bed, would you? For what? What do you think I could do with you in
my current condition, hmm? Pat you on the ass and tell you to sleep well?” His
lips curled, snarling.

“Offer
something better, Saba. Offer me my manhood back. Then come to my bed!” He
released her so abruptly, she almost fell. She plopped down on the stool. He
grimaced, his face tightening with pain.

“You will
heal but it will take time,” she said, far more calmly than she felt.

He
hissed, pressing his hands to his stomach. Alarmed, she jumped up. Quick as a
snake, he had her again, one hand fisting in her hair, trapping her.

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