Everything was okay, Martin Cole no longer vengeful, now willing to let things rest. They had come to an understanding, blame no longer aimed directly at Ironhorse; the target removed from Ironhorse’s back. Active participation in the fight against the ‘terrorists’ had given Cole an outlet, an opportunity to express his grief, to release his anger on those who held the most responsibility for his wife’s death. An eye for an eye. The physical fight over, the ‘terrorists’ killed in a dramatic explosion.
Both men indecisive, unsure what to do next. They stood side by side, watching the flames, the heat warming chilled bodies. Seconds turned into minutes. Sirens in the distance broke the thick silence. Letting out a deep breath, Cole walked away, back to his van, shoulders slumped, his emotional turmoil not over, still mourning the loss of his wife.
Ironhorse turned his upper body, watching Cole walk away, not willing to stop him. An arrest for kidnapping and attempted murder the last thing Martin Cole needed, his world already destroyed. It wouldn’t help. Opening the door, Cole got into the van, closed the door, turned the engine over. Hands resting on the steering wheel, gaze lifting, he stared back at Ironhorse. Cole nodded toward the passenger seat; a passive offer both men knew Ironhorse wouldn’t accept. When Ironhorse shook his head, Cole drove away.
Ironhorse could feel the adrenaline leaving his body, a hurried retreat, exhaustion taking its place. His legs felt weak, the muscles trembling, standing taking too much effort. His head ached, a mild concussion a sure thing. Nausea murmured quietly in his gut. Eyelids heavy, he could fall where he stood, curl up and sleep through the worst of it.
A flash of red, a fire engine turning the corner. Not ready to explain, Ironhorse stepped away, forcing himself to move quickly. Uncertain of where he was going, he kept moving, creating distance. His strength an outgoing tide, his headache grew beyond what he considered tolerable.
He stopped, body swaying. He needed to sit down before he did fall; a body in the middle of the road would attract too much unwanted attention, an explanation required. The curb inviting, Ironhorse moved toward it, stopped once more. He turned his body, ready to sit, a difficult maneuver. With no support, his knees buckled, his body falling toward the ground. The contact painful, a bruising impact. Ironhorse lay still, grateful the back of his head hadn’t bounced off the pavement. He forced himself upright, sitting on the edge of the curb. Closed his eyes, took a deep breath, the vertigo invasive, taking too long to settle, the last twenty-four hours finally catching up to him.
Swallowing down the bile, Ironhorse opened his eyes, vision blurring. He bent his knees, placing his left elbow on his knee, noticed the phone still held in his hand. He should have given Blackwood his location. He should call him back . . . He just needed a minute, time to allow the side effects of his concussion to calm down.
Ironhorse dropped the phone, grimacing in pain when it clattered against the pavement, the sound too loud. He lowered his head, forehead against the palm of his left hand. Fingers of his right hand hovered over his right temple, his touch hesitant, not sure what he would find. He was aware of the blood, he could smell it, the odor strong, could feel it on his skin, long since dried.
His Injury sustained when Cole had forced Ironhorse's car off the road. Knowledge of what had happened after lacking, waking up blindfolded and gagged, his wrists and ankles restrained; a prisoner of Martin Cole. He pushed the memory away, the incident over, Cole no longer a threat. There was no need to dwell on what could have been.
Tips of his fingers explored the area . . . he hissed in a sharp breath, snatching his hand away. He would wait until he was in front of a mirror, a visual investigation less painful.
Body heavy with exhaustion, Ironhorse closed his eyes . . .
A strong grip on his shoulder. Ironhorse snapped his head up. Ignoring the overwhelming dizziness, his gaze searched for the threat. A man kneeling in front of him. Ironhorse reacted, throwing an explosive punch, his right fist slamming into his attacker’s throat. The man fell back, gagging and gasping for breath, a hand protecting his throat from further abuse.
Ironhorse could hear a voice, the words not making enough sense.
He sprang forward, intent on disposing of the threat . . .
Fingers gripped the back of his jacket, a failing effort to pull him back. An attack from behind. His first opponent temporarily out-of-order, Ironhorse spun to face his second attacker. He stumbled, dizziness a weapon he hadn’t anticipated. Fought against it. Lost. He fell back, knees falling beneath the weight of the vertigo and pain pounding through his skull. He struggled to get back up. He couldn’t afford to lose, too much at stake . . .
Recognition and awareness slapping him in the face, Ironhorse stopped struggling, his body relaxing. Feeling unbalanced, his world began to spin, a slow nauseating movement. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes. Nausea curled in his gut, preparing to strike. Short breaths . . .
A soft touch on the side of his face. Ironhorse opened his eyes. Suzanne hovered above him, an expression of shock and concern on her features. Ironhorse grimaced. Embarrassed and in pain, he turned his head away from her, rolling onto his right side to further hide his injury . . . lost his vision for a long moment, darkness pushing inward, awareness wanting to take a leave of absence.
Not for the first time. He’d lost concentration, allowed his attention to falter, his mind to wander, to relax, sleep overtaking him; no longer aware of his immediate situation, his surroundings. Anyone could have snuck up on him, friend or foe, human or alien; someone had. He cursed his negligence to his own safety, to the project.
A sound of choking, someone fighting for breath. If Suzanne was here, then . . . Ironhorse lifted his head, his gaze searching. Closed his eyes against the vertigo, his head falling back down, a soft thump against the road beneath him; a sharp intake of breath when pain exploded through the right side of his skull. Don’t do that again. Damn, he hadn’t felt this bad when he was in the clutches of Martin Cole. It was possible ‘mild’ hadn’t been the correct term, the concussion more serious than he had first thought. He needed to sleep . . .
Fingers tapped against the side of his face. Ironhorse blinked, eyes falling closed. The tapping continued. Irritation ran along the back of his spine, digging deep into the base of his skull. Left hand snapping upward, he gripped the hand that wouldn’t leave him alone, pulling it away, pushing with more force than necessary. His defences refused to kick in, something telling him the person with him wasn’t a threat. A vague memory tore through him. Tried to make sense of it. Too difficult. He sighed, body relaxing . . . he wanted to sleep.
“No. You have to stay awake.”
Voice familiar, Ironhorse opened his eyes. Vision still blurry, he tried to make out the distorted image in front of him, the face too close. It took too long, his interest lost. Closed his eyes.
“Damn it, soldier! Do as you’re told.”
His eyes snapped open. His upper body launched upward. Suzanne and Blackwood jumped back, their balance wavering. Cautious they moved closer, hands reaching toward Ironhorse.
Dizziness felled Ironhorse, his body slumping forward, head hanging low. Deep breaths. He was going to be sick. An arm wrapped around his shoulders, keeping him upright, supporting his position. His head ached, the pain heavy, thick; it consumed him. His eyes watering, he raised his left hand, pressed the heel of his palm against his forehead. Body lethargic, exhausted, he needed to sleep, hours of slumber would bypass the worst of the concussion.
Suzanne looked up, gaze finding Blackwood. “We have to get him to a hospital.”
“You don’t have to convince me,” said Blackwood, his voice hoarse, fingers massaging his throat. “You need to convince him.”
Suzanne narrowed her eyes. Shifted her position so she was kneeling in front of Ironhorse.
“Be careful,” said Blackwood, shifting his own position, separating himself from Ironhorse.
Using her right hand, she cupped Ironhorse’s jaw, lifting his head. Ironhorse pulled away from the touch, his world tilting. The support around his shoulders gone, he began to fall back. Suzanne reacted, fingers gathering a handful of Ironhorse’s shirt, pulling him back.
Ironhorse grimaced, a groan escaping; the pain, nausea and vertigo unsettling him more than it should. Bile crawling up his throat, he fought to find his balance.
Suzanne made a second attempt to gain Ironhorse’s attention, lifting his head once more, gaze searching his eyes. She found it difficult to separate his pupils, the color of his eyes so dark. Ironhorse’s gaze wavered, unable to remain still.
“Ironhorse,” said Suzanne, taking a tighter grip on his jaw, forcing him to look at her.
His attention gained, Ironhorse’s gaze settled on Suzanne. She looked worried, the fear written in her eyes. He closed his eyes, hiding from her emotions. Damn his head hurt.
She turned his head to the side, taking a closer look at his injury. Not a lot of blood but the bruising was impressive; reds and purples dark against skin pale with shock. She let her hand fall away, fingers of her right hand still gripping his shirt. “What happened?”
Ironhorse opened his eyes, looked away, unsure if he should give her an explanation.
“Do you remember what happened?”
Blackwood leaned forward, placing his hand on Ironhorse’s shoulder. “You said Sarah Cole’s husband was here. Did he do this?”
Ironhorse didn’t want to answer their questions. He wanted to sleep.
“We need to get you to a hospital--”
“No,” said Ironhorse, familiar with the treatment for a concussion.
“Colonel,” said Blackwood, “you’re hurt. You need medical treatment.”
“No, I just need to sleep.”
“Paul,” said Suzanne. “Please don’t fight us on this.”
Ironhorse shook his head. Ah hell. Everything shifted, balance on the edge of a high cliff. If he fell now . . . he closed his eyes. Took a deep breath . . .
“I’m calling an ambulance,” said Blackwood.
Opening his eyes, Ironhorse snatched out with his left hand. Finding Blackwood’s forearm, he held on, his grip tight, painful. “No. I’ve had enough concussions to know what’s good for me. I just need to sleep. I just need to sleep it off.”
“Like a hangover,” said Blackwood.
“I haven’t been drunk since Vietnam, Blackwood.”
Blackwood smiled at Suzanne, no humor in his expression. “Well?”
“We keep a close eye on him--”
“You’re going to watch me sleep,” said Ironhorse, his eyes wide with surprise.
“It’s that or a hospital,” said Suzanne.
About to nod his agreement, Ironhorse stopped, verbally acknowledging his acceptance instead. He curled his legs beneath his body, preparing to push up . . .
“Let me help,” said Blackwood, taking Ironhorse’s left arm.
Ironhorse looked at Blackwood. “You’re not a crutch, Mister.”
“Nice to see your sense of humor wasn’t damaged.”
Suzanne laughed, the tension broken.
He wasn’t making an attempt at humor. What was wrong with these people? A deep breath. He could do this. Suzanne stood up, positioned herself to his right, taking his arm in a firm grip. Blackwood on his left. He didn’t have the strength to argue with them.
“Ready?” said Blackwood.
Now or the hospital. “Yes.”
They worked like a well-rehearsed unit, Ironhorse pushing upward, Blackwood and Suzanne pulling him up onto his feet . . . Darkness closed around him. His knees buckled. Ironhorse closed his eyes, dug deep; he was better than this. His knees locked, the darkness cleared. His head throbbed, the pain close to excruciating. His condition deteriorating, he needed to sleep. He couldn’t sleep, not yet. Needing to see where he was going, Ironhorse opened his eyes.
“This way,” said Suzanne, nodding toward the car a few steps away.
Ironhorse frowned. Cursed a second time. How had they gotten so close without him noticing? Either they were getting good or he was so out of it he couldn’t see the hand in front of his face. He could fix that. He searched the immediate area, becoming aware of the small crowd that had gathered. Were they here because of him? Had he become a spectacle, an amusement for others? Or had the burning armoured car drawn them here? His dark eyes searched the crowd, looking for any threats. Grateful when he found none, in no condition to defend and protect himself or others.
A police officer stood at the edge of the crowd, watching, waiting . . . on the verge of a confrontation with the members of the Blackwood Project. Ironhorse lowered his gaze, a submissive gesture, hoping the officer would lose interest. He didn’t.
“Changing your mind, Colonel?” said Blackwood.
How a few steps could be so hard, Ironhorse didn’t know. With help, Ironhorse managed to cross the short distance. He could feel the sweat breaking out on his forehead. His limbs trembled with weakness, the pain in his skull unrelenting. Before he knew it, he was lying on the back seat of the car. He’d lost precious seconds, his mind shutting down for a short time. Glad to be off his feet, he rolled onto his left side, body facing the back of the seat. Sighed.
“If I wake up in a hospital, I guarantee you, heads will roll,” said Ironhorse, before closing his eyes.
Fingertips traced the lines across his forehead, the touch lacking any threat. A gentle attempt to draw him from sleep. A soft grip around his ankle, a gentle tug. A tentative breath, his headache a little less overwhelming. Nausea continued to roll through his stomach. More sleep needed. Ironhorse pulled his leg from the hand that held it, tried to curl further into himself, trying to find a more comfortable position.
“No, you don’t,” said Blackwood, his hand finding Ironhorse’s ankle for the second time, a firmer hold, an aggressive pull.
An incorrect assumption, Ironhorse reacted to what he now perceived as a threat. He kicked out, heel of his boot slamming into Blackwood’s shoulder. Blackwood fell back, a grunt of surprise and pain. Ironhorse grabbed the back of the seat, pulling himself up, his mind in defensive mode even if his body couldn’t fathom the reality of his situation. His body stumbled, falling back, back of his head hitting something hard and unyielding. Ironhorse blacked out for a short moment, consciousness quickly returning. Face screwed up with pain, his jaw clenched tight, Ironhorse breathed through his nose, harsh breaths as he tried to ride out the pain; it felt like something had exploded inside his skull. God damn, his head hurt like a bastard.
“Are you all right, Harrison?” said Suzanne, leaning forward into the back of the car, easier to see Blackwood who was now sitting on the ground, hand rubbing at his left shoulder.
“Remind me not to make a sneak attack,” said Blackwood.
She eased back out, keeping a respectful distance from Ironhorse’s defences. Returned her hand to his forehead, brushing away the lose hair. She frowned down at him, “Paul?”
Pain finally easing to an indescribable level, Ironhorse opened his eyes. His vision still blurred, tears of pain making it difficult to see. He blinked them dry. Not a lot of difference. He couldn’t see Suzanne. Closed his eyes. A deep breath. Began to drift off . . .
“Stubborn, isn’t he?” said Blackwood.
Suzanne smiled. “Let’s try again. Just don’t sneak up on him.”
“Blackwood couldn’t sneak up on a dead horse,” said Ironhorse, their voices bringing him back, keeping him on the edge of sleep.
“A few more minutes and then you can sleep as long as you need,” said Suzanne.
Ironhorse opened his eyes. “Promise?”
Suzanne moved back in, her gaze directly above his. She smiled down at him. “Promise.”
“Let’s go, Colonel,” said Blackwood, tapping Ironhorse’s ankle.
Ironhorse shifted his gaze. Saw the pain in Blackwood’s eyes. “Sorry, Harrison.”
“I should have known better.”
“Yes, you should have.”
Moving his hands, ready to push up into a seated position, Ironhorse hesitated. A hand on his shoulder kept him down. He looked back up at Suzanne who nodded toward Blackwood. Message received and understood . . . let them do most of the work. He laid back, relaxed his body, his neck. Became tense when he felt Blackwood’s tight hold on his ankles. Sure, this wasn’t going to end well Ironhorse closed his eyes and gritted his teeth.
He wasn’t wrong. Blackwood pulled, Ironhorse’s body moving along the seat . . . he felt like he was falling, balance lost. He gripped the edges of the car seat, halting his movement, closed his eyes and swallowed down the nausea threatening an offensive attack. The pain in his skull increased . . .
“Just leave me here,” said Ironhorse, legs hanging over the edge of the seat, ankles still held within Blackwood’s hands.
Blackwood looked up at Suzanne. “I’m starting to regret letting the Colonel have his way.”
A hospital visit he didn’t want, Ironhorse opened his eyes and glared at Blackwood. He was going to sit up, even if it killed him; an exaggeration, he didn’t think so. Fingers still holding onto the seat, Ironhorse lifted his upper body, hands against his back helping. Momentum kept him going, body falling forward, Blackwood catching him, holding him.
Forehead against Blackwood’s shoulder, Ironhorse closed his eyes. Slow, deep breaths. Not at all pretty, damn ugly . . . everything had gone downhill so quickly. A nasty headache turning into something more, the pain beyond anything he’d felt before. And the nausea . . . damn he hated feeling sick, stomach coiling into a knot and playing dead, rotting away . . . threats made but not carried out. He needed to sleep . . .
Hands around his biceps, they didn’t give him time, pulling him up onto his feet. His knees collapsed, a sudden drop toward the ground. He held his breath, not enough time to prepare himself for what he knew would be a painful landing . . . an abrupt stop. Blackwood and Suzanne keeping him from falling. His arms lifted, laid across their shoulders, they gave him the support he couldn’t give himself.
Blackwood and Suzanne moved forward, taking Ironhorse with them, a short walk to the front door of the cottage made quickly. Ironhorse wasn’t sure he would make it, stomach making a last ditch effort, a violent threat. He wanted to tell them to stop, to give him a minute . . . couldn’t find his voice, mouth full of saliva.
The front door opened, Debbi standing in doorway, mouth open, eyes wide with surprise and fear.
He’d forgotten about Debbi, brain distracted by pain. Hadn’t thought what it would do to her. The blood a frightening sight, his inability to walk on his own telling her something was wrong; he wasn’t sick, he was injured. He felt vulnerable, unable to stay strong in front of her. He felt guilty . . . he shouldn’t have put her through this . . . he should have gone to the hospital . . . kept this from the twelve-year-old. Debbi stepped out of the way, a look of resolve on her features.
Ironhorse knew he wouldn’t make it up the stairs, almost grateful when they made a sudden turn, heading past his office and directly into the living room. Debbi ran past them, rushing to one of the couches, pulling cushions from the couch, making room.
Blackwood and Suzanne dropped Ironhorse onto the couch. Ironhorse fell sideways . . . sleep so close. Pulled back up, he was about to protest. Blackwood held onto him, a tight hold, pulling him forward. Body doubled over, Suzanne pulled the winter coat from Ironhorse’s body, tossing it aside.
Finally, Ironhorse lowered onto the couch, his body relaxing, eyes closing. Turned onto his back, he couldn’t find the strength to fight back when Suzanne removed the belt from his jeans. Knuckles of her hands pressed into his stomach when she undid the button of his jeans. Top buttons of his shirt next . . .
“Debbi,” said Suzanne. “Could you get some blankets, please?”
Left leg lifted, Blackwood pulled the boot from Ironhorse’s foot. The movement caused the pain in his skull to spike. Ironhorse grimaced, a deep groan escaping. Blackwood made quick work with the second boot . . . like pulling teeth and just as painful. Ironhorse opened his eyes, found Suzanne leaning over him.
“You can sleep now.”
About damn time. Ironhorse closed his eyes.
Pain flared across his right temple, digging deep. A sharp sting crawled across his skin. His sleep shattered, Ironhorse opened his eyes and pulled his head away. The movement too sudden, vertigo pulsing through him, the pain increasing further. Dropping his head back, his eyes closed. Impatient, he waited for the dizziness to ease, for the pain to drop to a tolerable level. For sleep to claim him.
“Sorry,” said Suzanne. “I’m almost finished.”
Pain struck again. Ironhorse swore. Opened his eyes and turned his head. Suzanne sat close, a first aid kit resting on her lap, a damp bloodied cloth in her hand. That explained the pain. She couldn’t have waited until he felt better. About to express his feelings on the subject, he snapped his jaw shut when she spoke a single word . . .
All the explanation he needed. He nodded in acceptance, an infection something he didn’t need or want. Gritted his teeth and suffered through her administrations.
“You’re easy to wake up,” said Suzanne. She wiped the damp cloth across his temple, cleaning the dried blood from his skin and hair, a small cut revealed, stitches not required. “That’s a good sign.”
Sleep would be a better sign.
“How did this happen, Paul?”
He sighed, long and deep. Closed his eyes.
Something cold and damp against his skin, pressing down on his forehead, his injury. Features creasing in pain, he turned his head away. It pursued him, the pressure moving with him. Understanding dawned; he would have gotten more sleep in a hospital room. Next time he would relent, go to the hospital . . . hopefully there won’t be a next time; he didn’t want to go through this again.
The cold seeped through skin and muscle, easing the pain. Whatever it was, it was helping. He turned his head back, seeking the source easing his discomfort. His face relaxed, sleep pulling him back.
“Mom said it would help.”
The source removed, Ironhorse opened his eyes. Watched as Debbi placed the cloth back into a bowl, leaving it for a few seconds before removing it. She squeezed out the excess water and placed the cloth back onto his forehead, her small hand resting on top, keeping the cloth in place. He closed his eyes in relief.
“Is it helping?”
“Yes,” said Ironhorse, a soft whisper, his mind already drifting . . .
A small explosion, the sound jerking Ironhorse awake. A soft curse, not his own. Ironhorse recognized the voice, the tone . . . Norton Drake. He knew he shouldn’t complain. He knew he should be grateful for their concern, their attendance by his side. Six months ago, it would have been a different story, left to take care of his own needs but the constant interruptions to his sleep were beginning to irritate.
Ironhorse took note of his condition; his headache felt bearable, the nausea back to a quiet murmur. Aware that any sudden movements would upset his head and stomach, Ironhorse moved slowly. Turned his head with great care and opened his eyes. Drake was in front of the fire, leaning over his wheelchair, picking up a thick piece of wood; he had dropped it, the sound waking Ironhorse.
Ironhorse closed his eyes, ready and willing to go back to sleep. Realized he was thirsty, his throat dry. When was the last time he’d taken nourishment? He couldn’t remember. He licked dry lips, swallowed, the effort painful. He grimaced . . .
He opened his eyes. Drake now in front of him.
“How are you feeling?”
A snatch of memory, an unwelcomed emotion, irritation creating a need to respond. “I’m all rest and relaxation, Norton.”
“That bad, huh?”
Ironhorse narrowed his gaze, licked his lips a second time. “Sleep would help.”
Drake ignored him. Spinning his wheelchair away from Ironhorse, he rolled away, out of Ironhorse’s line of vision. Ironhorse closed his eyes, the need to sleep still with him.
Opened his eyes. Drake back in front of him, a glass of water held out toward Ironhorse. As much as he wanted it, needed it, Ironhorse didn’t think he could manage it. Everything tolerable, he didn’t want the pain to increase or his stomach to make threats it wasn’t willing to execute. He waved his left hand in denial, turned his head away . . .
A hand beneath his head, lifting, pulling him upward; Drake carried a lot of strength in his upper body. The water so close, Ironhorse pressed his lips to glass, drank enough to satisfy his thirst but not enough to unsettle his stomach. Finished, Drake lowered him back down.
“Thank you.” A contented sigh, Ironhorse closed his eyes. Carefully, he rolled over onto his left side, his back to the room . . .
A slow, deep breath, sleep pulling away from him, awareness making a sluggish return. His head hurt, unsure why. Ironhorse lifted his right hand, tugging it from the blanket over his body. Embraced his forehead in a gentle hold, fingers massaging, pressing deep. It didn’t help. A frown marring his features, he tried to concentrate, to remember what had happened.
Martin Cole. Damn. More memories returned. It was over. Everything was okay but Ironhorse still felt like shit, head injury not shy in its effort to make him suffer. It was doing a damn good job. He opened his eyes . . . something so close to his face . . . he jerked back, balance quickly loss, nothing beneath him . . .
Hands on his shoulders, pushing him back. On stable ground, Ironhorse wrapped his hands around his head, closed his eyes and held his breath. At least his stomach accepted the sudden movement, threats no longer viable, the nausea now a soft whisper. His head another matter; a sharp pain breaking through the heavy ache. A hand on his shoulder, a grip of support. He couldn’t look, not yet.
Minutes passed before the pain began to ease. Ironhorse swallowed before taking a breath. A quick release, the breath carrying a soft moan. A few more minutes, now ready to open his eyes. Ironhorse lowered his hands, searched his immediate surroundings. Blackwood sat on a chair beside him. Behind Blackwood, the main living room of the cottage. He felt relieved, grateful they had listened to him, taking him home instead of the hospital.
“You okay?” said Blackwood.
A tentative nod, the pain shifting, no longer sharp, the ache still heavy, still thick; the headache was going to linger for days, Ironhorse was sure. He closed his eyes; sleep the best medicine.
“Not yet, Colonel.”
Ironhorse opened his eyes, retort at the ready, saw Debbi appear behind Blackwood, her smile awkward, unsure. He smiled back, his expression telling her not to worry; he was okay. Her smile grew more confident as she moved forward, around Blackwood. Her fingers taking hold of the blanket, she pulled it back up and around Ironhorse’s shoulders. She leant forward, kissed his cheek and ran off; unaware of what she had just done to Lieutenant Colonel Ironhorse. Emotions pulled him in different directions, realization that these people cared filled his chest with an ache he hadn’t felt in a long time.
“She’s been worried about you,” said Blackwood. “We all have. We still are.”
Ironhorse swallowed the lump in his throat, the emotion more painful than he would care to admit.
“Now,” said Blackwood, “answer my question.”
Ironhorse thought he had. “I’m good. Just a headache.”
Elbows on his knees, Blackwood moved in close. “Sarah Cole?”
Words repeated. “I’m good.” Saw the doubt. “I’m good, Harrison.”
“What did her husband want?”
“He wanted to understand,” said Ironhorse, not willing to give a full explanation.
“You’re not going to tell me what happened?”
“It’s over, Harrison. An explanation isn’t going to change anything. He won’t be back so let’s just leave it at that.”
Blackwood stayed silent, gaze watching Ironhorse, finally giving in, a nod of acceptance.
Ironhorse turned his head, closed his eyes.
“Not here, Colonel.”
Ironhorse sighed, a show of frustration.
“I think you’ll be more comfortable in your room. Less interruptions if you’re resting behind a closed door.”
He didn’t want to get up but the thought of uninterrupted sleep got him moving. Ironhorse sat up . . . his world tilted, a dangerous angle. He reached out, searching for support, an anchor that would keep him grounded. He found Blackwood, held onto the man’s forearm.
“Dizzy?” said Blackwood.
He closed his eyes. The moment passed.
Ironhorse opened his eyes, looked at Blackwood. Maybe he should stay here. The couch was comfortable. He’d slept in a lot worse accommodations, a hard floor not as bad as some would think . . .
“Absolutely not, Colonel,” said Blackwood. “Twelve hours is long enough.”
Eyebrow raised in surprise. “Twelve hours?”
“Best to get it over with.”
Blackwood pulled him from the couch and up onto his feet. Not as bad as Ironhorse had expected but it was still bad, a waking nightmare. His knees locked, a hard fought battle against the vertigo; another few minutes before the vertigo wilted. They began to move, Blackwood taking most of Ironhorse’s weight.
Head down, concentrating on each step he took, Ironhorse lost all sense of time and direction. Somewhere along the way, Suzanne had joined them, giving Ironhorse a supporting hand, her right hand splayed across his lower back.
The stairs the most difficult to navigate. Jaw clenched, sweat broke out across his skin, a chill running through his body. Almost there. He expected them to leave him in the open doorway to his bedroom, surprised when they helped him through the doorway and across the room toward his bed. The blankets already pulled back, he was ready to collapse, ready to sleep.
On the bedside table: a jug of water, a glass, a bowl of soup and a plateful of plain crackers. Courtesy of Mrs. Pennyworth no doubt.
Blackwood lowered Ironhorse onto the bed, held him upright, refusing to allow Ironhorse to fall back onto the mattress. His gaze roamed over Ironhorse’s clothes.
“I can manage,” said Ironhorse.
He looked at Blackwood, who nodded and stood back. Gaze shifting, Ironhorse looked at Suzanne and before she could take his expression the wrong way, he said, “Thank you both.”
Suzanne smiled. “Try and eat something.”
He nodded, watched as she poured him a glass of water. He took it from her hands. Fingers trembling, he raised it to his mouth, drank the water. Handed the glass back to her. She placed it back on the table, smiled once more and left the room.
“I’ll leave you to it,” said Blackwood, walking away.
“Harrison . . .”
Blackwood stopped in the doorway, turned back.
“Leave the door open,” said Ironhorse, accepting the fact, liking the knowledge that these people cared. “I don’t mind the interruptions.”