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tions, many of which Maddie was able to answer, taking some
of the stress off Jake. By the time she climbed into the back
of the ambulance to accompany him, the EMTs had already
put an oxygen mask on him, started an IV and checked his
blood pressure. Once the ambulance was on its way, they con-
nected him to a heart monitor and clipped a sensor on his index
finger to monitor his oxygen saturation. Finally he was given
an aerosol breathing treatment through his oxygen mask.
After a couple of minutes Jake closed his eyes and
sighed. Maddie sighed, too, knowing the crisis was over.
She wiped tears from her face and offered a silent but heart-
felt thanks to God.
At the hospital Jake was given an antihistamine and some
cortisone, then he had an EKG to make sure he hadn t suffered
a heart attack. Maddie went to call Gloria and give her a report.
After that she returned to the patient room where Jake sat in
a vinyl armchair looking a bit dazed but breathing normally.
 They want to observe me for at least four hours, he said.
Brenda Coulter 137
Maddie had expected that.  Yes, that s standard for this
kind of thing. But it s getting late, so I imagine they ll keep
you overnight. That s what I told Gloria just now. If you ll
give me your keys, I ll get them to Leland and then he and
Gloria will swing by on their way to church in the morning
and drop off your car. They ll bring your cane, too.
Jake avoided her eyes.  That would be good.
Without thinking, Maddie reached out to smooth his
rumpled hair.  I could go downstairs and get you some-
thing to read.
He shied away from her touch.  No, thanks.
 Well, then, do you want me to 
 Madeline, he interrupted,  I appreciate everything
you ve done.
That sounded like a dismissal. She d been hoping he d let
her keep him company for a while, but that had been a
foolish dream. Clearly he hadn t forgotten her rash disclo-
sure that she was falling in love with him.
 Then I guess I ll be on my way. She wanted to kiss his
cheek, but settled for laying her hand over his where it rested
on the arm of the chair.
Once again he carefully withdrew, pulling his hand out
from under hers. His rich brown eyes were full of apologies
as he said,  Thanks again, Madeline.
She held back a sigh and started for the door. Halfway
there, she turned.  I m on duty at eight in the morning. I ll
stop by before you leave.
 You don t have to bother, he said without expression.
 I ll be fine.
She stared at the floor and nodded slowly, understanding
that he was asking her to leave him alone.
138 At His Command
She kept her back straight and her head high until she was
out of his sight, but then her shoulders slumped, weighed
down by the heaviness in her chest. She trudged to the
hospital s front entrance and pushed through the glass doors.
After grabbing a few deep breaths to steady herself, she
used her cell phone to call a friend and ask for a ride to
Gloria s so she could pick up her SUV. Then she settled
down on a bench to wait.
Until the instant she d so unwisely blurted that she was
falling in love with Jake, she hadn t realized it. She wished
now that she hadn t told him. He didn t want her as a girl-
friend, but he needed her friendship, and she might have
been allowed to give him that if she hadn t burdened him
with the knowledge that she hoped for something more.
How could she have been so stupid?
The evening breeze had cooled; a storm was blowing in.
As Maddie pushed back some wisps of hair the earth-scented
breeze had blown across her eyes, she discovered that her
face was wet with tears.
As the cockpit filled with smoke, Jake grabbed his M4
carbine and crawled out of his seat. Noah was dazed and
moaning, so it took some doing to pull him out of the
wreckage. With an arm around Noah s waist, Jake half-sup-
ported and half-dragged him away just as fire flashed
through the cockpit.
Noah pushed away from Jake to stand on his own.  I m
okay, he said, sounding far from it as they watched the
fireball consume their Apache.
They d gone down between two hills, where for the
moment they were safe from the insurgents fire. They put a
Brenda Coulter 139
little more distance between themselves and the flaming hel-
icopter, then took stock of their situation.
 Our guys are south of here, Jake said, gesturing with
his rifle in that direction. Before the ambush, the two Apaches
had been escorting a convoy on the ground.  But 
 We re cut off. Noah finished for him. He attempted to
take another step but swayed on his feet.
Jake caught his arm and steadied him.  Easy there,
bubba. Noah s shoulder was bleeding, but there was little
point in stopping to examine the wound. For one thing, it was
too dark to see much. For another, Jake was no medic. Besides,
they needed to find some cover before the insurgents who had
just shot them down came over the hill looking for them.
Jake peered into the darkness, searching for the irriga-
tion ditch he d spotted from the air. That might offer some
tall reeds for cover. Holding Noah s arm, he moved cau-
tiously forward.
 There s the ditch, he said after they d gone a few
yards. He squeezed Noah s arm to get his attention.  You
doing okay?
 I ve been better. Noah turned toward Jake and fainted
in his arms.
Jake sat up in the hospital bed and rubbed his eyes to erase
the horrible images of the nightmare. Would these memories
haunt him forever?
To slow his racing heart, he mentally paged through a
catalogue of comforting thoughts: roaring waterfalls, starry
summer nights, the Longhorns winning the National
All right. But only because he was desperate. For a few
140 At His Command [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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