“No one realized we were missing until they did a head count at the base later that night. By then the gates were locked up and they couldn’t come back looking for us. Then a three day sandstorm hit that kept us cut off from any rescue attempt. Which was good and bad—the Iraqis weren’t able to find us any more than the patrols were.
“Jenks and I stayed put. It wasn’t like I could walk anywhere with a big hunk of metal sticking out of my leg, even though it was mostly numb. Once we realized the storm had ended I told Jenks to leave me because he only had surface injuries, but he wouldn’t. Then a goddamn rainstorm hit, which is how he managed to get water for us when we didn’t have food. The week of unscheduled leave was a gritty haze of pain.”
“How’d they find you?”
“My buddy, Brock, wouldn’t give up on finding me—either dead or alive. Once the storms passed, he was out looking discreetly, randomly checking through the buildings in the area, so as not tip off anyone there were a couple of American army soldiers MIA. He stumbled across us after we’d been gone for six days. Shrapnel wounds coupled with being a pint or so low on blood, a low body temp and I was in a coma when the medics got a hold of me. When I woke up four days later, I found out they’d removed my lower left leg below the knee, as well as my pulverized left pinky.” He shuddered. “I still have goddamn nightmares about that.”
“I’ll bet.” Her gaze moved to his stump. “But you don’t have a knee.”
“They got me stabilized, called my family, and put me on a plane to the amputee specialist docs at Walter Reed as soon as possible. I was only there a couple of days before another infection set in. The docs decided it’d be better in the long run to remove my knee joint entirely.”
“Did you have a say in it?”
“I was so doped up and in so much pain that I didn’t give a shit.” And he was seriously pissed off about the wrong turn his life had taken. At first he’d refused to talk to anyone. Then he went a step further and denied all access to him. No visitors. Period. Cam knew it’d hurt his family, but at the time he didn’t give a rat’s ass. He wanted to be left the hell alone.
But his sister wouldn’t accept his decree. She’d charmed her way into Ward 57 at Walter Reed Hospital and chewed him out, refusing to leave until he made some decisions about his life.
Talk about being yanked up by his bootstraps. At the time, he’d almost hated her.
Now Cam admitted he wouldn’t be where he was if not for Keely. If she’d shown up bawling her eyes out and wringing her hands, he’d’ve kicked her to the curb without apology. Her grim determination made him face the harsh realities. His life as a soldier was over. Period. He was handicapped. Period. So in Keely’s mind, that meant the sooner he learned to live with his disability, the sooner he’d be able to live a better life.
Keely rented an apartment for them in Cheyenne after he’d been discharged from Walter Reed and his medical records transferred to the VA hospital. She ran interference with their family. She dealt with his doctor appointments, his army discharge paperwork, his VA benefits. And she personally oversaw his physical therapy, including convincing a prosthetic specialist from Denver to offer Cam a second opinion. She pushed him until they both broke down. She was there when he took his first steps on his new prosthesis. She argued with the doctors about the fit issues when he probably would’ve walked away and suffered in silence. She gave up six months of her life for him and never once complained. Never once did she throw her sacrifice in his face. It humbled him.
“Cam? You okay?”
“Yeah.” He ran his hand down her body, pleased when her skin broke out in goose bumps. “It’s late. We should probably try to get some sleep.”
“True. I’ll get the lights.”
The bed dipped and Domini snuggled into his right side, forcing him to wrap his arms around her. Not that he minded. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d held a woman in his arms all night.
Domini was quiet, but it was a purposeful quiet.
“What are you thinking?”
“It’s almost more intimate to share a bed with someone than it is to have sex, isn’t it? Because when you’re asleep you’re vulnerable. It’s back to that trust thing.”
Cam kissed her forehead. “Sleep. You’re safe with me.”
“Maybe I wasn’t talking about me, Cam.”
How the hell was he supposed to sleep now?
The scream woke him. Disoriented, Cam realized it’d come from him.
Not now. Please. Not now.
Too late. His body was covered in sweat, yet he trembled so violently with cold that the mattress shook.
“Cam? What’s wrong?”
Rather than look even more weak, he turned on his side, away from her and shivered like a wet dog. Squeezing his eyes tight didn’t stop the images from flashing in his mind. Fuck. He hated this nightmare shit. He kept waiting for it to go away and it never did.
“Ssh. It’s okay. I’m here.” She stroked his back in silence. Supporting him. Calming him. Soothing him.
Pink and orange rays lightened the bedroom windows as the sun rose. Finally he quit shaking, but he hid his tearstained face from her.
“If you don’t want to tell me I’ll understand. But if you do want to talk about it, remember I’m not going anywhere, Cam. Nothing you can say will make me leave you like this. I’ll be right here if you need me. For as long as you need me.”
It wasn’t like her to push and it wasn’t like him to blurt out every horrid f**king detail, yet he found himself doing just that. “I was back there, helpless, knowing what was coming but unable to stop it from happening.”
Say the words. Say them out loud.
“The amputation. I woke up in the hospital and the docs said my leg was gone. But I felt it. I knew it was there but no one would listen to me. They called it phantom limb pain but they were all a bunch of f**king liars. I fought so hard to get out of that goddamned hospital bed. I couldn’t breathe and when I finally sucked air in, all I could smell was dirty flesh and blood and antiseptic. Then the nurse put me in restraints. That much is true. That really happened when I woke up. But then the dream…changes.
“I’m lost, walking on a road in Iraq, the same road where the RPG hit us. I’m wearing my new leg and a…Jeep pulls up behind me. Full of American soldiers. I’m relieved to see them until I notice they’re all holding chainsaws.