DISCLAIMER: Fully stated in Part 1 and I know you don't want to reread it here but I don't own the characters except for myself and I wish I could buy him!
RATINGS: NC-17 (Kind of!)
WARNING: Language, sexual suggestions (more this time around), and brief nudity (again, his and not mine and not gratuitous...at least I don't think so!)
NOTES/COMMENTS: This is the first story in the FanFic Rescue Challenge 7 Series issued by Michelle N. Six more complete stories will follow once I have finished with Chris....in that case, I don't guess y'all will get to read them!
Would appreciate some feedback, gang! LET THE SEVEN RIDE!!!
"Hey Doc? How’s it going down there?" Jo called urgently.
The doctor straightened up from where she’d been sitting with her chin resting in her hand while staring fixedly at the occupant of the gleaming metal tub in front of her. Her mind had been pleasantly occupied with other thoughts and it was a bit jolting to be brought back to reality by a reminder of the task at hand.
"Oh, so far...so good," she answered absently, sighing wistfully at having to give up her fanciful daydreams and return to the real world.
"Any idea how much longer it’s gonna be?" The Posse upstairs was getting a little nervous at being stuck in one place for so long, realizing that the longer this took, the greater their chances of being discovered.
She stood up from the bench that she’d been resting on and approached the silver tub holding the body of Chris Larabee. Her eyes ran over his figure, assessing and examining, noting the increased color and resiliency of his skin. The gentle warm-up appeared to be working and it looked as if his body temperature was slowly increasing if the change in his skin tone was anything to judge by.
But just to be certain, she took hold of his hand, noting the now pliant feel to his flesh and was pleased this time to be able to palpate a pulse beating slowly beneath the delicate skin on the inside of his wrist. Deciding it wasn’t really that bad that she didn’t have a thermometer to be able to accurately measure his body temperature, she leaned forward over the tub and used the same old fashion method of checking that her mother had taught her as a child.
She placed her soft cheek against his forehead, inhaled deeply of his scent and was relieved to find that his skin no longer felt stiff and cold beneath her flushed face. He was making definite progress and hopefully it was enough that she could now administer the reversal agent she had brought with her.
"Okay, gang...I think we’re there. I’m gonna try to reverse the stasis now," she informed them.
She retrieved her bag from beneath the stretcher and rummaged through the contents for several minutes, searching for the syringe of stimulant agent that would hopefully reverse the effects of the drugs that had been previously injected into his system. She’d actually brought seven syringes in all, seven in the hope that she’d be able to rescue all of the seven men who were being held captive. But apparently they hadn’t thought through that particular part of the plan well enough.
Oh well! she sighed. Once Chris was revived, surely he would be able to come up with a way that they could rescue the other six. After all, hadn’t she just bragged about how smart and resourceful he was? Weren’t all of them hoping that he could somehow save the day once again?
"Found it!" she cried as her hand closed around one of the small syringes containing a solution of clear golden liquid.
The Posse above ground waited with bated breath as she once more approached the tub holding the sleeping form of the gorgeous gunfighter. Her hand shook slightly at the thought of poking that sharp needle into the skin and muscle of his arm, marking the perfect flesh with the small stab wound. But some things just had to be done and she would not shirk her duty no matter how painful it might be.
"Okay, here goes!" she told them.
Taking a deep breath, she plunged the needle into the muscle of his upper arm and easily injected all of its contents. She couldn’t help but wince just a little in sympathy at having to be stabbed with the sharp object since she detested being stuck with the things herself. When the syringe was empty, she removed the needle and rubbed the small red spot that it left behind, her fingers gently massaging the smooth flesh that was now much warmer to her touch.
"All right, gang! Keep your fingers crossed that this stuff works," and after throwing the syringe away, sat down on a table next to the tub to wait.
Several long breathless minutes passed with no response from the dozing gunfighter, his body remaining relaxed and supple in the warm waters of the tub. But she did start to notice certain little things happening. Like the increased rate of his breathing, the visible pulse jumping at the base of his throat, the slight twitching movement of his eyes behind his closed eyelids, the fingers of his right hand spreading slightly. Something was happening. The drugs were working and she felt a sense of elation that all her efforts were about to be rewarded.
She watched him closely, watched and waited, praying that nothing went wrong because she didn’t for one minute underestimate the reality of the danger that he could face, the things that could get out of hand, the problems that might arise. But to be honest, she watched mostly because it was a really great opportunity to stare at a handsome man without having to worry about getting caught.
She almost jumped out of her skin though when a low moan issued from the gunslinger’s tight throat. Standing up quickly, she moved next to the tub, automatically starting to reach for his wrist to check a pulse, another hand going to raise one soft eyelid to check for pupillary responses. She was delighted when he took one great deep huge breath, grinned appreciatively as he expanded his lean ribcage with the force of his inhalation before releasing the air with another groan....and then was still.
Sudden small threads of panic tied in a knot inside her stomach as fear became a reality.
"Oh Lord! No!" she cried softly.
"What is it, Doc? What’s going on?" the command post called.
Fearing the worst, the lady doctor reached over and picked up Chris’s hand once more, fingers searching for that warm pulse point she had only so recently found. But it was gone. Ripping the stethoscope from around her neck, she placed the bell of the instrument against the naked skin of his chest, her ears listening intently for any sound, any clue, any proof that the worst hadn’t happened.
But it had!
Chris Larabee’s heart had stopped....and he wasn’t breathing either.
Cardiac arrest!...Two of the most feared words in all of medical literature!
Tears of pain and grief threatened to fill her eyes but she fought them back as denial rose swift and fast to give her strength to handle this next crisis. Righteous anger took control of her thoughts and emotions and she became a warrior fighting against death and injustice and threats of cancellation and the almighty corporate budget! To hell with hiatus!
"Doc, what’s going on?" Voices were demanding her attention.
"Dammit, he’s arrested!" she cried out angrily.
"What? What do you mean?" The panicked reply was carried quite clearly from the earpiece of her stethoscope.
"As in ‘cardiac arrest’ and call 911, dammit!" she nearly screamed back at them.
All heck broke loose in the command module above ground as the news of Chris Larabee’s "arrest" was passed to the rest of the Posse. To say they were stunned was an extreme understatement and more than one made the mistake of offering to cut the handcuffs from his wrists if he couldn’t slide them off this time. Several of the younger female members had to be helped delicately to the floor before their unprotected backsides could land there with a horrendous THUD!
The doctor, however, ignored the outburst of mass hysteria as if it were no more than a passing train in the night, choosing instead to concentrate on remedying the problem at hand. How to restore Chris Larabee to a functioning breathing living individually unique sexy human male and television show character.
"Okay, I can do this....pull yourself together, kiddo and get to work!" she ordered herself in a commanding tone of voice. So it was with great surprise that the list moms heard her very next words.
"One...two...three...four...five...six...seven...eight...nine...ten..." She was counting!
"Uh, Doc? Just what are you doing?" Jo asked her anxiously.
The counting continued quietly until she reached twenty-three and then stopped.
"Twenty-three times four equals ninety-two, excellent! First rule of medical school, Jo!...In a crisis situation, the first thing you should do is check your own pulse!"
"What?" came the horrified shrieks from up above. They were incredulous. The ‘good’ doctor was checking her own pulse first! "Hey, come on, Doc! Get a move on! You have to save him!"
"I’m getting there, ladies, never fear!"
Taking a deep fortifying breath, she focused her mind and let her years of medical training and experience take over. She was once again calm, cool, collected and in control of the situation. All panic and fear and excitement were pushed aside as she became the consummate professional at the height of her career, strong, in charge and undefeated, possessor of the sacred knowledge of how to cheat death and rescue life from the jaws of the grim reaper.
Stepping up to the tub where the recently expired Mr. Larabee still floated, she stated her grim purpose with a steely glint to her blue eyes.
"You’re not done here yet and I ain’t letting you go, Cowboy! The Posse wants several more seasons before we’ll willingly let you ride off into the sunset without a fight!"
This said, she grabbed hold of his chin while opening his mouth with one hand and took hold of his nose with the other. This wasn’t going to be easy with him sitting inside the therapy tub but it was the best she could do on such short notice and without the proper equipment. She pinched his nostrils closed between her thumb and index finger, sealing his nose against any expiratory effort.
Taking a huge breath, she covered his mouth with her own and blew life-saving air into his lungs. Once....and then again...twice...two deep huge breaths that made her dizzy with effort as her legs trembled and threatened to buckle from lack of air or something else that she didn’t care to name. It caused her vision to grow dim and there was a curious roaring noise in her ears.
Releasing Chris, she stepped back and mentally ran down the algorithm of the American Heart Association’s guidelines for victims of a witnessed cardiac arrest. Closing one normally delicate hand into an iron fist, she drew back her arm and proceeded to administer step two of the treatment instructions as she brought her fist down toward him in a swift arc imitating a deliberate show of force.
She administered a shocking precordial thump directly on the prescribed spot over his sternum and felt the impact vibrate all the way up her arm and into her shoulder as she met the hard wall of his chest with the side of her fist. Her hand and arm stung from the impact and she winced in pain, shaking them in a vain attempt to restore the strength and feeling. She danced back a step or two and swallowed the cuss words she’d been about to utter, her face highlighted by a grimace of discomfort.
The loud THWACK was clearly heard over the two-way radio and someone just had to ask, "What the heck was that? Did you punch somebody or something?"
But she didn’t have time to explain medical techniques to the uneducated. A man’s life was at stake and she shook off her own physical complaints to return to the job at hand, one man or in this case, one woman CPR.
Stepping up to the tub once again, she leaned over to grab hold of Chris Larabee and proceeded to administer two more breaths using a somewhat altered mouth to mouth technique given the circumstances and their isolated location. Her mind was already racing ahead to how on earth she was going to be able to do chest compressions with him in the tub that would manage to somehow meet the minimum compression depth of the Advanced Cardiac Life Support system in order to sustain life.
She got the shock of her life when all of a sudden a hand reached up and grabbed her! A very strong and determined hand that took hold of the front of her scrub top and pulled her off her feet and nearly into the water. Her hands automatically released the gunslinger and reached for the edges of the tub to keep from being tumbled in. She gave a muffled squeak of surprise when she realized that the ‘kiss of life’ that she’d been in the process of giving was being returned with a real life kiss!
As she balanced there precariously, the stethoscope she wore fell from around her neck and landed with a soft splash in the water below.
Chris Larabee was alive....and obviously awake! And that thought alone sent her scrambling backwards out of his grasp so quickly that she tumbled to the hard floor, thudding solidly on her backside as she stared up at the blond head of the man who had just grabbed her. She shook her head in amazement and was unable to suppress a startled laugh.
She’d had no idea a precordial thump could be so darned effective!
Chris Larabee had the "mother of all hangovers!" His head was pounding mercilessly and his tongue felt like it was twice its normal size. There was a rushing noise in his ears and he somehow managed to find the strength to wonder dimly just what the heck he must have had to drink to put him so close to feeling like he was six feet under.
The last thing he really remembered was walking down the sidewalk on his way to the saloon to meet Buck and Vin for a drink. After that, everything was a big blank! No memory, no dreams, no ghostly recollections, not even the concept of the passage of time! One minute he was there and the next, he was here.
Wherever the heck "here" might be, he decided with dark humor and a grimace of pain. It hurt too damned much to open his eyes at the moment so he didn’t really know where "here" was.
God, but his head felt like it was about to fall off! Whatever it was he had gotten hold of or however much of it he’d drunk, he’d have to be sure and steer clear of it in the future. He sure hoped that Buck and Vin were in pretty much the same condition as he was, otherwise he might just have to kill them both the next time he saw them. And the center of his chest burned like he’d been kicked by a mule.
Raising his hands to hold his throbbing head, he grunted out loud as pain washed down his arms with even that simple movement. It wasn’t until he ran his hands over his face, felt the shadow of a beard that lingered there and then rubbed his fingers over his eyes, that he realized they were wet with what was apparently warm water.
Astonished by this simple finding, he forced his dazed mind to start functioning once more and check in with the rest of his sluggish senses. Slowly and with some difficulty, he realized that he was sitting in what was apparently a tub full of warm water. He could feel the soothing warmth lapping at his skin, easing some of the aches and pains that he had evidently collected from a night of heavy carousing.
Bright light burned in front of his closed eyelids but any attempt to open them brought a lightning hot stab of pain straight through his eyeballs and so he left them closed for the time being. He hadn’t needed them to tell him he was sitting in a tub of water so he figured he could do without them a little while longer.
The roaring noise in his ears was dying down now after rifling through his brain for several long agonizing minutes. His own breathing still sounded loud and harsh, echoing in the otherwise silent air around him.
No, not quite silent, he realized grimly. He could hear laughter....soft laughter....muffled and gentle....higher pitched and soft....feminine....and he remembered something warm and wonderful. A soft gentle touch, sweet taste....and his lips burned with the memory!
Not a bad way to wake up from a dead drunk, he decided with a small quirk of his mouth. He’d been woken up other ways before but there couldn’t possibly be anything better than waking up to a beautiful woman. At least, he hoped she was a beautiful woman....if he’d been this damned drunk there was no telling!
Ever so slowly, he swung his pounding head around towards the sound he had heard. Praying that as he did so, it wouldn’t fall off and splinter into a thousand pieces. His hands remained poised at his temples in case it should decide to roll from off the top of his shoulders, waiting to catch it before his head could hit the ground. Kind of a gruesome image, he realized, but that was precisely how he felt.
He had to almost pry his eyelids apart just to force them open as shards of white light greeted him and sent a thousand stabbing needles directly to the back of his head. He closed them again just as quickly and stifled a groan of pure pain, swallowed hard against the agony of it, willing himself to find some small measure of self-control. Damn, whatever it was that he’d gotten hold of had really done a number on him!
Damn that Buck Wilmington! he cursed silently, his face contorting with misery and this time he couldn’t quite control the moan that rose from his lips.
It was then that he realized the laughter had stopped. The soft happy sound gone, vanished completely, as if it had never even existed at all. And he wondered if perhaps he’d only imagined it in his fevered brain, that it was just a figment of his tortured imagination. It was either that....or he was hallucinating again!
Now where had that thought come from, he wondered idly, not wanting to dwell on its meaning too long since that would mean concentrating on things he didn’t fully understand and wasn’t sure he even wanted to. Some questions were better left unanswered and unexplained, a great mystery of the universe as Josiah would say.
And women are the greatest mystery of all! Buck’s voice intruded upon his fragmented thoughts.
And suddenly, Chris Larabee wanted to know if the soft laughter had been real or imagined. Wanted to know if the honeyed lips he thought he'd tasted were real or imagined too. Wanted to find out what sort of woman would take care of a man when he was obviously falling down dead drunk....cuz there was no other explanation for his current condition....and somebody had put him in a bathtub for good measure too.
Slowly and painfully, Chris opened his bleary eyes, wincing at the bright torturous light and dazedly looked around the room, his befuddled mind slow to take in the details, not really absorbing what he was seeing until his gaze came to rest on the figure of a young woman sitting on the floor several feet from him.
He blinked once..and then twice....his blue-green eyes staring back at her, taking note of the dark gold shoulder length hair, the wide startled light blue eyes, the flushed face and strange green clothes she wore. Her soft lips were smiling at him in a funny sort of way, almost like she knew a great big secret and couldn’t wait to tell him.
Chris was certain he’d never seen her before, didn’t know who she was and that thought alone didn’t improve his already short temper any!
"Kate" sat on the floor where she had landed, arms extended out behind her, staring up at the now animated form of the legendary gunslinger, a pure thrill shooting through her at the undeniable fact that he was alive! He’d grabbed her so quickly, caught her unawares and then she moved back so fast that there hadn’t been time to do more than register that inescapable fact. She really wished she hadn't moved back!
She watched him struggle for several long minutes, eyes closed, as his brain tried to reach forward to full consciousness and get past the effects of the stasis-inducing drugs, the fight to bring himself back to the land of the living so to speak. She laughed softly at a sudden mental image of Dr. Frankenstein standing over his creature as the mad scientist celebrated his creation of new life from the recently dead.
She chuckled to herself and proclaimed "It’s alive!" before falling silent again as she watched his pale face closely, noted the tight compression of his lips, could see the effort he expended in willing himself to hold back the pain that she knew he must be feeling. Post-Stasis Syndrome must really be the pits!
She was still sitting there smiling with joy, biting her lower lip in relief and congratulating herself on a job well done when Chris turned his blond head towards her and then opened those amazing eyes of his.
"Whoof!" she breathed silently, feeling as if she’d just been sucker punched. Even half frozen, half-dead and half-asleep, those green eyes projected an intense magnetic force that rivaled a Class Four Tornado and had the potential to be just as violent and dark. A nervous shiver ran up her spine as the joyous smile slowly faded from her expression.
She had a sudden inexplicable urge to run!
But his eyes, even bleary and slightly blood shot from the drug-induced slumber, held her pinned to the floor. She couldn’t have moved if her life depended on it.
Oh my Lord! It...is....alive!
He just sat there, staring at her so silently, not hardly moving at all. Silent....dark....deadly.....naked.....
It was this last thought that roused her from the state of surprised shock that had wrapped itself around her, jolting her back to reality and the urgency of their situation. Gathering her scattered wits, she somehow managed to withdraw her gaze from his and maneuvered gracefully to her feet until she was standing in front of him. Without thinking, she reached behind her to dust off her backside with her hands, completely unaware of her actions until he quirked one golden eyebrow skyward at her.
All of a sudden, she realized what she was doing and how unladylike she must appear. Kate immediately stopped, halfway glancing behind her at her now still hands. Her eyes darted back and forth between her outstretched palms and Chris Larabee’s handsome face. A flush of embarrassment crept up her cheeks at the amused look she saw in his eyes.
The corners of his mouth twitched slightly and a slow grin started to spread across his face, the impact of it taking Kate’s breath away as she forgot to breathe. Couldn’t have drawn a breath if she wanted to against the constricted tightness in her chest. Couldn’t have inhaled if her very life depended on it.
Chris stared through bleary eyes at the young girl seated on the floor wearing the strange green clothes, ignoring the pounding drums inside his brain.
No, not young girl, he corrected himself, a young woman, definitely a young woman.
The strange outfit she had on was large and unshapely, helping to hide most of her figure except for the long length of leg and an expanse of strong slender arms that her short sleeves revealed. She was watching him with curious bright blue eyes, a large welcoming smile on her face that was tinged slightly pink with color.
Chris decided that she wasn’t really what a man would call beautiful but could at least be called pretty in a wholesome kind of way. Sort of like the girl next door with the quiet gentle nature and generous heart that most men tended to overlook in favor of the more physically appealing types. She was definitely the serious silent type.... silent and deadly, he thought grimly. You always had to watch out for the quiet ones.
He'd learn to regret those thoughts later!
He watched the sweet smile slowly disappear from her face as a small shudder passed through her. Noted the small white teeth worrying her full lower lip absently as she looked back at him, still without speaking...which was a good thing considering the way his head was pounding. A small frown settled between the delicate line of her eyebrows.
He watched silently as she slowly climbed to her feet, her movements graceful and easy, until she stood straight and tall. From his disadvantaged position inside the bathtub, he couldn't really tell a whole lot about her height but she appeared to him to be taller than most of the woman he knew. The rest of her was hidden underneath that ugly green outfit she wore and as lousy as he felt, he just couldn't seem to work up any further interest at finding out either.
He watched with no small degree of amusement however as she reached behind her and started to brush at the dirt on the backside of the pants she wore. Her movements were almost childlike in their innocence and he found himself smiling at the charming picture she made. Something about her actions tickled his memory and he puzzled over it a moment before realizing that her motions for some reason reminded him of Casey, the little tomboy of Four Corners.
Thoughts of Casey invariably brought him around to thoughts of her sweetheart, JD Dunne, and he frowned suddenly, the dazzling smile disappearing from his face like a solar eclipse.
Thoughts of JD led him to wonder about Buck...and Vin...and Ezra....Nathan....Josiah...where were they?
For that matter, where the hell was he? And just who was this strangely dressed woman standing before him? And how did he end up in a funny looking tub of water...with no clothes on? And why couldn't he remember anything?
His head started stabbing at him again as the questions circled around his brain and crowded in on his consciousness with the accuracy of one of Nathan's knives. His demands for answers all bounced back inside his skull echoing loudly between his sensitized ears and he grimaced at the noise.
Kate stood where she was, watching and waiting for Chris to say or do something but she wasn't sure just what. She shifted nervously from one foot to the other, arms clasped tightly around her waist as she regarded the gunslinger. He looked like he was in a great deal of pain and she fervently wished she had something to give him. Something to ease the pain and stiffness that coming out from underneath the effects of stasis had induced. The smile left his face as he grimaced with discomfort and the look he fixed her with was enough to send grown men running for cover!
She tried to lighten the suddenly oppressive atmosphere with a little levity and broke the silence between them to speak to him first.
"Well, welcome back, Cowboy!" she offered with a small impudent grin, her eyes bright and dancing with mischief.
Chris heard her words and managed to glare at her out of one baleful eye as he lowered his head back into his hands. Damn, but he hated to be called that! He wasn't no 'cowboy' and never had been! He started to tell her so but the effort to speak out of his parched dry throat was too great. And just who the H**L was she to speak to him that way? He didn't know her....at least not as far as he could remember.
He swallowed hard, trying to pretend that he hadn't heard her but instinctively knowing that somehow this one woman held all the answers to the questions that were pestering him. It was galling to have to ask for help from a woman but he didn't see any way around it. And the damnedest thing was he knew that she knew it too! But he'd be hog-tied and butchered before he'd make it easy for her to gloat over him. So he settled for growling at her instead.
"Who the hell are you?" he croaked from between suddenly dry lips.
Kate started somewhat in surprise at the belligerence in his tone, unprepared to be the object of his attack. After all, she was there to help him, not be used for target practice. A sudden shiver of unease passed through her at realizing that she was going to be the bearer of some very bad tidings. Darn! She wished she'd thought of that before...before she practically tricked the others into picking Chris as the one to rescue.
It'd be her own fault now if she ended up being eaten for lunch!
She stood there, worrying her lower lip as she pondered the possible Pandora’s box that she may have just opened. She hadn’t figured on being the one to have to break the bad news to the gunfighter with the legendary temper and found herself wishing that for once, a hole in the ground would open up and swallow her whole. The silence between them lengthened as Chris’s temper shortened.
"Reckon you didn’t hear me," he snarled at her as his head whipped around towards her, his glacial gaze stabbing her with its icy fingers and nearly causing her to jump in fright.
Suddenly, the whole ridiculous situation just kind of got to her. Fear and panic were normally foreign to her nature and she was getting damned tired of being scared at every little noise or shadow. She was known to have a fierce temper of her own and could feel her short fuse burning up rapidly. How dare he take that attitude with her? She was here to help him, after all, and didn’t appreciate being treated so rudely.
Kate placed her hands on her hips, her stance rigid and began tapping her foot against the floor in irritation. She was practically glaring right back at him, giving him stare for stare, blue eyes flashing as she "got her Irish up!"
"Oh, I heard you all right, Mr. Larabee! I just didn’t like how you asked the question," she responded tartly.
Chris found himself looking straight into the blue-eyed gaze of one very ticked off lady! He wasn’t entirely sure just what he’d done to merit such a reaction but frankly, he didn’t give a damn either. He wanted his questions answered and he wanted them answered now!
"Lady, I don’t give a damn..." he started before she angrily interrupted him.
"You know, you really ought to learn to be nicer to people who are trying to help you!" she threw at him. "And you can start by learning to control that temper of yours instead of going around trying to bite people’s heads off. Geez, no wonder you have a reputation for being an ornery B*****D!"
Chris stared at her in sudden consternation, not quite believing that she’d dared to talk back to him like that. He was used to people just getting out of his way when he was in a bad mood or feeling hung over. This little fire-breathing vixen was throwing daggers at him with her icy blue-gray eyes and getting in his face about it. If he hadn’t already had a headache then she damn sure would’ve given him one.
The gunfighter narrowed his eyes at her, a clear warning to anyone watching that he was furious and to back off. Any sane person would’ve steered clear of him but evidently there was reason to question this woman’s sanity.
His words were soft and deadly, biting and clipped in the still air.
"Who...are...you?" he hissed.
Well, thought Kate, two can play at this game. She wasn’t about to let that icy stare turn her into a human popsicle and refused to be intimidated by an arrogant ill-mannered brute even if he was the best looking piece of eye candy she’d ever had the good fortune to lay her eyes on.
Taking two steps to her left, keeping her eyes locked in a battle of wills with his, she folded her arms over her chest and LEANED her hip against a table, one long leg crossing easily over the other in an apparently relaxed stance. Something about her posture struck a familiar note in his muddled brain but he just couldn’t concentrate hard enough to figure out why.
Kate decided she could be just as stubborn and arrogant as he could. He was being rude and obnoxious not to mention treating her with a certain degree of cold contempt and she’d be boiled in oil before she put up with that kind of conduct from an ungrateful wretch whose life she had just saved. Oh, she’d answer his question all right....with as little information as absolutely possible. That ought to frustrate the heck out of him and she figured he deserved it too.
She gave him a sweet saccharine smile and said simply, "A friend."
Butter wouldn’t have melted in her mouth at that particular moment.
A friend? Now what the hell kind of answer was that, Chris decided angrily. She was deliberately provoking his temper and outright refusing to answer his question. He didn’t think he’d ever met a more infuriating woman in his entire life.
"Look, lady, I got some questions here. I want some straight answers and I want them now!" His voice rose to almost a shout by the end of that statement and the sound of his demand echoed loudly in the therapy room.
"Shhhh! Would you kindly keep your voice down? They’ll hear you!" she hissed back at him.
"Who will?" he demanded, "And where are we? What is this place?" as his glazed eyes roamed around the strange and unfamiliar surroundings in which he found himself, taking note of the bizarre bathtubs and tables that filled the room. More and more questions crowded in on him, damming up in his throat because he couldn’t get them out fast enough. Lord, but his head was really killing him! What the heck had he had to drink the night before?
Kate could see his annoyance growing, the frustration of unanswered questions clearly written on his face, the barely constrained fury lurking just below the surface. He looked like a volcano about to erupt. But when his face contorted with another wave of pain....well, she suddenly felt ashamed of herself for provoking him...even if he did start it first! Which she all of a sudden realized was a pretty childish attitude.
Because while Kate may have had a legendary temper herself, she was never able to maintain her anger for very long as the fire behind it usually burned itself out fairly quickly. And she supposed she really couldn't blame Chris for being so grumpy. After all, he had good reason to be.
She was still peeved at him but heaving an exasperated sigh, she let the anger drain out of her and rubbed the bridge of her nose with one slender finger. Chris couldn’t help being Chris anymore than she could stop the world from turning or the sun from rising. It was silly and foolish to stand here arguing with him when there was work to be done, a show to be saved, six other men to be rescued.
"Um, look, Mr. Larabee...Chris...I’ll be happy to answer all of your questions but right now I just don’t have the time, okay?" she sighed deeply. "The important thing now is that you’re awake and we need to find a way out of here."
Chris looked at her like she’d lost her mind which was not the first time that that particular thought had occurred to him. Awake? Well, of course he was awake! He just didn’t know where he was...or why he was sitting in a tub full of water....naked...or just who had taken his clothes off because he certainly didn’t remember doing it!
He frowned heavily at her and asked, "What the hell am I doing in here and where are my clothes?"
She at least had the grace to look slightly chagrined when he asked her that particular question which left no doubt in Chris’s mind as to who precisely had removed his clothing. But the problem was that he didn’t remember it! He sure as hell hoped he’d enjoyed it though! What was that stuff that he’d had to drink?
"Can we please save the game of twenty questions until later?" she said with no small degree of impatience. "I need to find a way for us to get out of here so if you’ll please just hand me my stethoscope, I’ll contact Tirya and Jo and find out."
The gunslinger could clearly detect the little note of nervous urgency in the woman’s voice and reluctantly agreed to wait to have his questions answered. But he couldn’t figure out what the heck it was that she’d just asked him to hand her. And just how was she going to contact this guy Joe or whatever his name was anyway. There didn’t appear to be a telegraph office anywhere nearby as far as he could tell.
"Hand you your what?" His voice was clearly puzzled.
To Chris that sounded like one of those new-fangled doctor things that Nathan liked to play with but he wasn’t entirely sure. When he continued to stare at the woman with a blank look on his face, she hastened to clarify for him.
"The little black rubber thing that fell in the tub with you." His expression remained unchanged. "The thing that looks like a snake."
That did it!
A snake? Horrifying images of the solitary confinement cell at the work prison in Jericho flooded his mind and Chris came lunging up out of the tub, water flying everywhere in his haste to get away from the "snake." He scrambled wildly over the side, slipping on the wet floor and backing away from the shiny object as quickly as his weakened legs could carry him, eyes wide and startled....unmindful of the fact that he was getting water all over the floor as he stood there....very wet....and very...naked.
His right hand reflexively reached to his hip, searching automatically for his gun....which of course wasn’t there.
And he wasn’t the only one to get quite a shock either!
Kate couldn’t quite believe her eyes when he came flying up out of the water. He wasn’t supposed to be able to move that quickly this fast. The muscle weakness and fatigue associated with Post-Stasis Syndrome should have left him hardly able to walk without help. And yet, somehow he....then she remembered the magic word...snake....and immediately felt contrite for her poor choice in vocabulary. Oops!
But she supposed it really was worth it in a way to be able to see him standing there, fully revived in all his "glory!" The other Posse members would be so jealous!
But Chris Larabee didn’t look pleased at all. No, in fact, he looked downright pissed....and cold as well.
"Would you like a towel?" she managed to choke out between short gasps of air since it was somewhat difficult to breathe at that moment. She was blushing furiously and unable to do a darned thing about it. A small fascinated grin brought out the dimples in her cheeks at his obvious agitation.
Chris didn't answer her, his face pale with the shock of being told there was a "snake" in that tub with him and he was a little surprised to feel his legs shaking with weakness. If possible, his eyes became even colder at her apparent amusement over his predicament and a black rage made his vision swim before his eyes.
Unaware of the impending danger, Kate walked over to a closet and retrieved several towels for the man dripping water all over the floor. She got just close enough to extend an arm to hand them to him but refused to meet his stare for fear that she'd go up in flames if she really let herself look at him. Either that or embarrass herself to no end by throwing herself in his well-muscled arms!
Chris watched her approach and when she held the towels out to him, grabbed hold of her wrist with lightning-quick speed, his fingers wrapping around the delicate bone with a firm iron grip. She started in surprise, dropping the towels she'd been holding and automatically pulled back against his grasp. Damn, but the man was fast! Those cat-like reflexes of his were as sharp as ever despite his recent emergence from stasis.
Her reflexes had her bringing up her other hand to claw at his fingers where they pressed into her flesh, knowing that his hard grip was going to leave bruises on her tender skin.
"Ow, ow, ow, ow! Let go! That hurts!" she gasped at him, her eyes huge and dilated with alarm.
"Who are you?" he snarled at her, his eyes and his hold unwavering.
"I'm a friend, okay? Now let go!" she panted, fighting back a rising tide of panic she wasn't quite able to control.
That answer didn't satisfy the gunfighter at all. Oblivious to the fact that he was naked and wet, Chris jerked on the woman's arm, pulling her in very close so that he could glare right into her flushed face.
Kate gasped as she bounced hard against the wall of his chest and looked up in shock, right into eyes that could have belonged to a demon from her worst nightmares.
"I'm only gonna ask you this one more time so don't make me repeat myself cuz you wouldn't like it. Who the hell are you?" he practically whispered in a low taught voice that was all the more intimidating for its very lack of volume.
At that moment, Kate could not have remembered her name if her very life depended on it as she stared up into his angry face. Not that she knew what it was when she started this little escapade since she was using a pseudonym anyways. But she was smart enough to recognize that she needed to give him an answer that would soothe the savage beast and buy her a little time as well.
"I'm a doctor, okay?" she breathed quickly. "I was sent here to rescue you. I'm just trying to help so don't kill the messenger, all right?" She tugged ineffectually against his hold.
A doctor? What the hell was going on here? Chris wondered darkly. And just who was this woman? Instead of giving him some answers, she was only providing him with more questions. His already black mood darkened and he gave her a fierce frown.
"Now why the hell would I need a doctor?"
Kate could feel her temper rising again.
"Now look, Cowboy! Don't cop an attitude with me, okay? You have no idea what..."
"Don't call me Cowboy!" he commanded harshly as he impatiently interrupted her reply.
If anything, his grip got even tighter on her wrist at the perceived insult, wringing tears of pain from her wide blue eyes. Now she was really getting mad!
"Fine!" she exclaimed heatedly. "Then don't manhandle the merchandise, Buster!" and with one savage twist of her arm, managed to break his hold on her using a self-defense maneuver that her good friend, Trent, had shown her how to perform. She backed quickly away from him before she was tempted to use another move that would result in her smacking him in the nose. She rubbed her tender wrist while her eyes shot daggers into his broad chest at the rough treatment he had given her.
Chris stared at her like she was demented. Her words and actions confused him. She was definitely unlike any other woman he’d ever met before and he’d be damned if he could figure out what to make of her. She had guts though! He had to give her that. She hadn’t cowered down or run when he’d used his best intimidating techniques on her. Nope, she’d stood toe to toe with him and literally spit right back in his eye.
And the hell of it was that he still didn’t know much more than he did when he first woke up. He speared a rough hand through his short blond hair in frustration, the movement tightening the skin covering his arm and chest, highlighting the line of bone and firm muscle that glistened brightly with the drops of water remaining on his flesh.
Kate’s mouth went dry and she nervously licked her parched lips. She raised her hands in front of her almost as a protective shield against his animal magnetism.
"Um, look....we really need to get out of here so why don’t you dry off and...get dressed?"
That had to have been the hardest thing she’d ever had to say and Kate was surprised that she managed to say it in a relatively calm steady voice.
"I will be happy to answer your questions once we’re out of here!" and it couldn’t come a moment too soon as far as she was concerned because there wasn’t nearly enough air in the room for her to breathe comfortably.
She flinched when Chris moved, taking one step forward and bending over to retrieve the towels that she had dropped, giving her a glimpse down the long ridged line of his backbone and...lower. She gulped unsteadily. The man was definitely more dangerous than a whole den of rattlesnakes and had her so edgy she felt like a ring-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
When he straightened up and began to slowly dry himself off with the white cloth material, she knew she was lost. She had to close her eyes and turn away before she melted into a puddle all over the floor and embarrassed herself even further. Her eyes fell on the water-filled metal tub and she suddenly remembered her stethoscope, somewhat chagrined that she had forgotten all about her Posse pards up on the surface.
Moving over next to the gleaming silver fixture, she peered into the water, looking for the object that would allow her to communicate with her list moms and thereby negotiate a safe way of getting out of the hot water they were in.
Chris regarded her steadily, his dark eyes smoldering with irritation and a grudging sense of respect, even admiration. This whole situation was totally bizarre to him but if she was really a doctor....and was really here to help....for whatever reason he needed help...then he supposed he could afford to be patient and wait for her to answer his questions.
He watched silently as she leaned over the bathtub giving him a rounded profile of her backside in those funny green pants she wore, extended her arm down in the water and brought it back up again with something in it that she had retrieved. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the "black snake" in her hand, half way recognized it as being similar to something that Nathan had in that medical kit of his. Maybe she was a doctor after all.
She shook the water off it and then put part of it up to her ear. He watched as she played and fiddled with it, at one point, talking into the large round object on the end. Bizarre behavior to be sure!
"Damn!" she exclaimed with severe exasperation.
He looked at her questioningly as she turned around. She didn’t look too happy at all.
"The darned thing’s shorted out from the water!" Her words meant nothing to him. "I can’t reach Jo or Tirya or Rachel!" There were those strange names again that he didn’t understand and he shook his head at her.
"It means we’re on our own...there’s no one to help us....I can’t call them!" She grimaced as if in pain, trying desperately to come up with a plan for getting them out of trouble. Would it really be as simple as just walking down the hall and getting on the elevator for the ride to the surface or had they been here too long already? Did the powers that be know that one of the Magnificent Seven was missing?
She said a quick prayer that her "theft" hadn’t been discovered and that the "item" she had stolen would cooperate with her plans. Chris Larabee had never been known to take orders from anyone other than Judge Travis who wasn’t here to help her with the difficult man.
"Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do!" Pointing over at his clothes, she told him once again to get dressed. Chris made no comment but moved to comply with her command, piqued that she was still trying to order him around. But he had wanted to get dressed anyway since the room was a bit cold. He just wished he could figure out why his legs felt so weak and sore. He must have been asleep for a heck of a long time!
Kate paced a few steps, back and forth, rubbing a hand across her bottom lip as she pondered on how to get Chris out of the building unnoticed which was going to be just a little bit difficult considering the attention he garnered anywhere he went, at least from anyone carrying an X chromosome! Her thoughts got distracted when out of the corner of her eye, she saw him pick up the tight black pants that she had only too recently peeled off of him.
She couldn’t help herself.
Kate turned to watch, fascinated, as he eased his long lean frame into the leather material. It suddenly occurred to her that Chris Larabee was just like any other man in that he put his pants on one leg at a time...but that thought flew completely out the window when she saw the wiggling maneuvers he performed while struggling to get into them sans baby powder, grease or paint applicator.
He caught her watching and quirked one eyebrow skyward with a questioning look, giving a lopsided cocky grin when he noticed the bright red color that covered her face as well as the rest of her!
Arrogant b*****d! she fumed silently. He’s entirely too good looking for a sane woman’s piece of mind.
Fluttering one nervous hand in front of her face, she attempted to answer his unspoken question.
"I’ve always wondered....well, really we’ve always wondered...how...." Her face burned even brighter with embarrassment. "Just out of medical curiosity you understand...how you..." and gestured towards his attire.
"Never mind!" she bit out sharply, unable to voice the ten million dollar question but secretly delighted that she alone now knew the answer to that particular problem.
As Chris reached for the rest of his clothes, he silently congratulated himself on inadvertently finding a way to shut the woman up. He quickly finished dressing while Kate struggled to recover her composure. It wasn’t until he finished the last button that he realized what was missing.
"Where’s my gun?" he demanded sourly.
"Um, you weren’t wearing it," she replied while chewing on one thumbnail. "I guess they didn’t want to take a chance on you shooting somebody."
"What about my hat?"
"Didn’t see that either!"
Chris took a deep breath and sighed, running one tanned hand over his stubble-roughened face. This little tale was getting more and more bizarre by the minute and he honestly didn’t know how much more he could take before his temper just exploded and he went completely crazy. He needed a drink!
But wait! Wasn’t that what got him into this mess in the first place? The need for a drink? And he’d been on his way to meet Vin and Buck for that very same drink. So then where were Vin and Buck?
He fixed Kate with another glare.
"Where’s Vin and Buck?" he demanded to know, ice dripping off of every syllable.
Kate swallowed hard, recognizing that Chris was about at the end of his short rope and that if she didn’t answer his questions then she’d be in for a long drop!
"They’re not here," she answered quickly, almost too quickly. "Look, we really need to go. Can we please just leave now?"
She was lying! Chris knew it. He could see it in her eyes. She was a horrible liar and would be smart to stay away from Ezra’s poker table. The woman had absolutely no 'poker face' abilities at all. Her expression was too open....too honest.
But did that mean he could trust her?
"I wanna know where they are," he stated flatly, looking for all the world like an immovable mountain at that point.
Kate clenched her fists in frustration and silently cursed. How on earth was she supposed to get him out of there when he'd suddenly developed a serious case of lead feet? And just what would he say when she told him the complete truth? How would he react? Was there a bomb shelter she could go hide in?
She was just the messenger here and didn't relish the idea of getting blown to bits over it!
"Look.... Chris...." she stammered to explain, "They're all in another room some distance from here and you can't help them. Not right now. The best thing we can do is to get you out of here and come back for them later."
"I ain't leaving no one behind." His voice was all business, no room for argument there. Through narrowed pale green eyes he told her in a soft lethal voice, "You take me to 'em now...and I might just let you live."
"Did you just threaten me? Did I hear you right? You threatened me, didn't you?" she stammered aghast.
"That's not a threat, lady! It's a promise!" Chris hissed at her.
"I can't believe this!" she fairly exploded. "I just don't frigging believe this! I go to all this trouble to sneak into this damned place, run the risk of losing my medical license, nearly get caught by Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, have to haul a half-frozen corpse around all by myself and then play Dr. Frankenstein to an ungrateful monster and now you're threatening me?"
Chris had absolutely no idea what she was ranting and raving about but he knew one thing for sure. The woman was a lunatic. Pure and simple, crazier than a bedbug in a straw tick mattress!
Kate was pacing around the room as she yelled, unmindful of the fact that the noise she was making could cause the guards to come running at any moment. She was livid! How dare he threaten her? She stopped and looked him dead in the eye, her blue eyes snapping with fire.
"Don’t you mess with me, Mister, or I'll put you so deeply back to sleep that you won't wake up until the next millenium!"
Her shouted threat echoed in the room around them and she was suddenly very self-conscious about her little out of control display of temper. That was so very unusual for her...to be so out of control like that. Usually she was calm, cool and collected even when she was mad. But something about Chris Larabee really pushed her buttons!
Taking a deep breath, she attempted to calm down and at least regain some semblance of composure.
"Look, I know that you want to rescue the other fellas but there are several problems with that, the first and foremost one being that it's just you and me down here. I've lost contact with the Posse and just the two of us aren't going to be able to get everyone out safely."
Chris, at least, was making a pretense of listening to her for which she supposed she should be grateful.
"Secondly, all of them are still in suspended animation just like you were. In order to get them out, we'd have to bring them in here, warm them up and then administer the reversal drugs just like I used on you. That takes time. Time that we don't have at this point because I don't know what's going on above ground. So even though I want to revive Vin and Buck and the rest of the guys, I can't at this point...Not here and not now."
"Are you sayin' you ain't gonna help me?" he bit out harshly.
"No, no, no! Of course not, Chris!" she cried. "I'm a doctor after all. That's what I do...I help people! I'm just saying that now is not the time or place to go after Buck and the others!"
"I'm not leavin' without them," he declared stubbornly.
"Oh, for the love of Mike!" Kate cried out. There was just no reasoning with this man. His mind was made up and she'd have a better chance of talking a Missouri mule out of his shoes than she would of convincing Chris Larabee not to go on a suicide mission.
"I think that you're forgetting one other problem. Actually two other problems...two other very big problems!" she informed him in a last ditch effort to change his mind.
"Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum out there!" she told him with a smug smile.
She sighed with exaggerated impatience and then told him, "There are two very large, very ugly guards out there who protect the room that the other guys are in. How are you gonna get past them to get everyone out cuz that's the only way into or out of that room?"
Chris thought on that question and then smiled wickedly at her as a sudden idea popped into his head.
"Well, I just guess we'll have to provide them with a little diversion, won't we?" and he toggled his eyebrows at her suggestively.
"Oh no! Oh no, you don't, Chris Larabee! If you think for one minute that I’m going to be used as some sort of decoy for those two gargantuan monstrosities, then you've got another think coming!" Kate was fuming now. She wanted to help, she told herself. Of course she did. But to deliberately place herself in harm's way?
Chris took two steps toward her, rapidly closing the distance between them until he was literally towering over her. He was trying to use his bigger size and strength to bully her but in her case, he couldn't be sure it would work.
But Kate wasn't easily intimidated. If anything, she was...aroused by his closeness. She could literally feel the heat radiating off of him. Lord, he was almost burning her up with it!
"You can either help me or get out of my way!" he said menacingly, his warm breath touching her cheek and sending a shiver up her spine.
"Look...Chris.... please...." she began pleadingly only to have him interrupt her.
It was damned irritating to hear her keep calling him by his name when he still didn't know hers.
"And just who the hell are you anyways?" he said softly, with just a touch of deadly malice in his tone.
"Um," she swallowed hard, "I already told you. I'm a doctor and...a friend."
That wasn't the answer he wanted. He grabbed her chin with his right hand and forced her to look up at him, his eyes boring into hers and holding her against her will. She felt like a fly trapped in a spider web that couldn't get free no matter how much it struggled. She hadn't answered him earlier despite his threats but he knew there were other ways of persuading her to cooperate.
"That's not what I meant and you know it," he whispered darkly as he let his thumb trace an unsettling line along the length of her jaw. "I want to know your name!"
"My name?" she questioned weakly as her thoughts scattered to the four winds, a delicate shiver running up her spine.
"Your name," he repeated softly.
"Oh...well...my name is..." she swallowed hard, "My name is..." Oh Lord! What's my name? she thought frantically.
Chris waited with barely concealed impatience, his head coming closer and closer, his breath fanning across her cheek, his lips a mere hairs breadth from hers.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, the twisting of the handle, a jangle of keys followed by loud unfriendly voices.
"I think she may have gone in here."
Oh Lord, she thought. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum were back and somehow...they'd managed to find her and Chris!
Continued in Part 3.
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