Cabin 10, Rock Point, Book Two
Even at thirty seven, with a challenging but rewarding career as a paramedic, Bella Gomez is treated as the baby of the family. It’s made her allergic to anyone meddling, so she chooses to keep mostly to herself. Unfortunately that doesn’t stop her family from inserting themselves in her life. Nor does it deter the one man she knows she shouldn’t get close to from showing up on her doorstep.
Jasper Greene, an FBI agent with the La Plata County field office, doesn’t even know the meaning of family. His team is his family, which is why—when his boss asks him to keep an eye on his baby sister—Jasper readily complies. Even when the sister in question is a spectacularly developed princess with plenty of attitude.
With a shooter on the loose and corruption running rampant, Bella is a magnet for trouble, and Jasper finds himself with his hands full—in more ways than one.
“Can you believe this?”
I squint to see through the windshield of our rig. Thick wet snowflakes obscure our vision as they hit and slide down the glass in a sheet of slush.
Mother Nature in the Colorado Rockies sometimes surprises us with erratic weather. In this case; a snowstorm in early May.
No, I cannot believe this shit.
Even yesterday, I was out and about in shirtsleeves, but sometime overnight this cold front settled in, and I had to wear a jacket going into work this morning. It wasn’t snowing then, but it sure as shit is now.
“Days like this I wish I was back in New Mexico, where at least the weather is predictable,” I share with Ryan Patterson, my partner.
An EMT, he drives the ambulance, while I usually man the back of the rig. For years, I worked as an EMT in Farmington and finally went back to get my paramedic certification. When I moved to Durango, almost a year ago, I was lucky enough to get hired on as a paramedic through Mercy Hospital right off the bat, and have been teamed up with Ryan from day one.
He’s a good guy, a little older, maybe mid-forties, with a couple of kids and a sweet wife. I’m happy to be matched up with a married man. It sets clear boundaries from the get-go, something I needed after maneuvering the blurred lines of a workplace romance. No chance of that with a good-hearted, family-oriented man like Ryan. He treats me like a sister. Not quite like my brother, Damian, who is protective to the point of overbearing, and doesn’t trust me to look after myself, let alone others. Ryan actually respects me. He has no problem letting me take the lead on calls, and has faith in my abilities, as I do in his. Most men I know would feel called to take over, by mere gender distinction.
We make a good team.
Ryan pulls up behind a police cruiser at Joel’s Bar on West 8th where we were dispatched. A single police officer is trying to disperse a small group of onlookers, crowding a man lying on the sidewalk. I quickly grab my trauma bag from the back and rush over to the prone man.
“What happened?” I ask the fresh-faced cop I’ve only seen around once or twice. Belker, or something.
“Slip and fall. Unresponsive,” is the curt answer. I throw a quick glance at the young officer to see what his deal is, but he just looks nervous, keeping his eye on the crowd.
A low moan draws my attention back to the man on the ground. I’d guess he would be north of fifty, dressed in well-worn clothes not suited to our current weather, but I’m pretty sure he’s beyond caring. The alcohol fumes rising up from him make me gag. I don’t get any real response when I ask a few basic questions, so I quickly examine him on the spot as Ryan pulls up the stretcher.
“What’ve we got?” he asks, leaning in before he visibly recoils. “Other than inebriation,” he adds quickly.
“Judging by the deformity of his left forearm, I’d venture to guess: fractured. Other than that, doesn’t respond to simple questions so he may have hit his head. Let’s stabilize him and take him in.”
It takes us less than five minutes to get him secured on the stretcher and loaded up. In the meantime, another patrol car has shown up and I give a quick wave at the officers before climbing in the back of the ambulance.
I radio ahead, so the ER knows what to expect, and cringe when I hear the voice coming back at me. Dr. Scott Lipczyk, or LimpDick, as Ryan likes to call him.
“Get a saline IV going,” he orders in that annoying drawl of his. “It’ll save us time here. It’s busy.” Even just his voice makes my hair stand on end. The guy is a sleazeball.
“10-4,” I quickly respond, effectively ending the call before I turn back to my patient.
He barely moves as I remove the strap pinning his arms to the board, so I can place the IV. Leaning over the gurney, I pull everything I need from the small storage shelves, when I feel a burn on my upper thigh. I rear back to find my patient grinning wildly, a switchblade in his good hand.
What the hell?
“Don’t touch me,” is about the only distinguishable thing coming from the man’s mouth, as he struggles to free his legs from the stretcher. I immediately start pounding on the little window separating Ryan in the front of the ambulance, from us. I see him check his rearview mirror and nod. Right away I feel him put on the brakes. This isn’t the first time he’s had to give me a hand with an unruly patient.
I turn back to the man, who still struggles to get loose, with one arm strapped to his chest in a sling, and the other hand apparently unwilling to let go of the knife. He seems more terrified than angry. “Calm down,” I coo, my voice steady and my hands up as I try to stay out of reach, with my back pressed against the side door. Not an easy feat in the confines of the ambulance. It takes just a minute for Ryan to round the rig and the door opens behind me.
By the time the two of us manage to get the knife away from him, and strap him back to the bed, the man is weeping.
“Jesus, Bella, he got you good.”
I look down to see blood on my uniform pants, and suddenly I don’t feel so good.
“Sit the fuck down.” Ryan pushes me on the bench and starts rummaging through the shelves, coming back with a handful of dressing pads. “Keep pressure. We’re a couple of blocks from Mercy. We’ll get this guy and you looked after. Hold tight.”
Before I have a chance to respond, I’m left alone with our patient, who is safely secured once again and looking at me with tortured eyes.
“It’s okay. It’ll be all right,” I reassure him as calmly as I can, with my hands pressing down on the stack of pads covering the cut in my leg.
I’m still cooing at the distraught man when we pull into the ambulance bay at Mercy just minutes later.
“Let’s go, Gomez,” Ryan says, as he opens the door. “Can you stand?” He waves over a nurse with a wheelchair, and I realize he must’ve given the hospital a heads up.
Obediently, I sit down in the chair, but grab hold of Ryan’s hand when he starts moving toward the back of the rig.
“Wait. Don’t make a big fuss about this, please,” I whisper, hoping the nurse can’t hear me.
“What big fuss?”
“I mean do we need to notify the cops? Can’t we just…”
Ryan bends down, his hands on the wheelchair’s arm rests and his big bulk hovering over me. “You know better,” he says in a soft voice, but one that packs power. “I get why you’d ask, but I’m not willing to break rules and you shouldn’t be either. Besides, they’re already on their way.” With that he straightens, turns, and walks to the back of the ambulance.
Damn. If the cops know, it means it won’t be long before my brother—who is Special Agent in Charge at the La Plata County FBI field office here in town—gets wind of it. And he won’t hesitate to barge in and try to force me to take a nice cushy inside job, instead of the one I’m doing. The one he thinks is too dangerous for me. Not for women in general, he’s not that much of a misogynist, unless it comes to one of his sisters. Especially the baby sister, which would be yours truly.
Damian—dammit—his wedding is in ten days, and I’m supposed to be a bridesmaid for Kerry, his awesome wife-to-be. I frantically try to remember whether the thigh-high slit in the bridesmaid’s dress is on the left or the right side. It’s not gonna look pretty if the exposed leg is carved up. Shit.
Adding insult to injury, the attending ER doc, waiting for me in the cubicle I get wheeled into, is none other than Dr. LimpDick.
Fuck my life.
“If it isn’t the beautiful Bella,” he simpers, making me cringe. “Looks like I’ll finally get you out of your pants.”
My mouth falls open at the highly inappropriate comment, and even the nurse, who luckily stayed, takes in a sharp breath.
“Just kidding,” he quickly adds, realizing his mistake.
For months I’ve been evading his ever increasing come-ons. It’s gotten to the point where I go out of my way to avoid him, since he clearly doesn’t grasp the meaning of the word no. This man believes he is so irresistible, I’ll eventually have to give in. What he doesn’t know is that there isn’t a fat chance in hell that will ever happen. Even if he weren’t a blatant slick operator, I still wouldn’t ever consider going out with him.
Not going that route again. I may make occasional mistakes, but never the same one twice. Not fucking likely.
I am tempted to ask for another doctor, but I noticed how busy it was when I was wheeled in. Every single cubicle looked to be occupied, and the brief glimpse I got of the waiting room wasn’t much better. Besides, that kind of outright rejection would probably make occasionally working together even more difficult. I throw the nurse a look, silently imploring her to stick close, and from the slight nod of the older woman, I know she got my message.
Which is why I don’t object when Scott helps me from the chair onto the bed and proceeds to cut off my already useless uniform pants.
The cut is bigger than I thought, close to five inches by the looks of it, but luckily not that deep. It is still bleeding, though. Thankfully quiet, he rinses the wound thoroughly before he starts placing careful stitches, only occasionally stroking his fingertips over my skin. The nurse, Brenda, sticks close by, until Scott is almost done and asks her to check on a patient for him while he finishes up.
I brace when she disappears through the curtains, an apologetic smile in my direction. I don’t have to wait long for his hand to land just above my knee, as he leans into me.
“So when are we going to stop torturing ourselves, and you go out with me?”
“Look, Scott,” I say, a little too loud, as I scoot further up the bed to escape his touch. “I hoped I’d made it clear to you I’m not interested. I don’t date people I work with. Not ever.” When he opens his mouth to protest, as he’d done before, I feel the need to go a step further. Something I’d avoided doing before, for the sake of our working relationship. “And even if I did; I’m sorry, but the answer would still be no.”
The look on his face changes on a dime. From his smarmy smile, I’m now looking at flared nostrils and an angry scowl. The fingers of his hand dig into my skin so hard, I let out a yelp.
Suddenly the curtain is pulled open, and my initial relief at the interruption instantly evaporates when I see who’s on the other side.
“Go, go, go, go!”
I swing the battering ram into the run-down bungalow’s front door when I hear the order through my headset. We have surrounded what is supposed to be the hideout for one of the key players in a drug trafficking pipeline from Mexico to the East Coast. Close to two years of intensive investigation by a large number of agents across eight states, and with the involvement of Mexican authorities, coming down to carefully timed raids in a drive to eradicate one of the larger smuggling rings by the root. It’s a given these guys won’t go down easy.
The door cracks but holds, so I swing again; this time the doorpost splinters and the lock springs free. A well-aimed kick finishes the job and I drop the enforcer, about to make entry when a volley of rounds is fired from inside the house. With the shouting and chaos of a small army of law enforcement officers forcing their way inside, I can’t quite get a bead on the direction of the fire. I step over the mangled door, a couple of guys behind me, with orders to clear the front two rooms of the house, but I don’t get further than a couple of steps inside before a second volley knocks me off my feet.
“Officer down!” I hear yelling as I try to suck in air. Sliding down the wall in the hallway while the rest of the team surges forward, I realize they’re talking about me.
There’s a fucking elephant sitting on my chest and my lungs are burning.
Another volley of fire, this time from two different directions.
“Kitchen! Suspect down!”
The sudden quiet is disorienting after the high-octane pandemonium of seconds before, but I can hear the sound of footsteps coming this way.
“Let’s get this fucking thing off,” Dylan says, kneeling down in front of me as he pulls at the Velcro on my vest. He may be the youngest on our team, but Dylan Barnes is cool and collected under pressure. Someone I’m glad to have at my back. “He nailed you full in the chest.”
Breathing becomes a little easier, although no less painful as I suck air into my lungs. Fuck, that’s gonna leave a mark.
“Well, shit. Looks like he clipped your shoulder.”
It’s not the first time I’ve been shot, so I’m not surprised that it takes a minute for the pain to register as the adrenaline wears off.
“Load him up, take him to Mercy.” I glance up to find Damian looking down at us.
“It’s just a graze,” I protest, trying to get to my feet, when I’m grabbed under my arms and hauled up.
“Bleeding nicely for just a graze, Jas. You’re getting checked out.”
Damian’s expression clearly indicates he won’t take no for an answer, and since he’s my boss—and my shoulder is starting to really fucking hurt—I don’t argue this time.
“Barnes, get him seen to and get back here.”
“Yes, sir,” Dylan says to Damian’s retreating back.
“Didn’t get shot in the leg.” I brush off the younger man when he tries to offer support.
“Ballbusters—the lot of you,” he mutters, and he’s not wrong. As the last to be recruited, he’s still finding his place in the team, and it’s our job not to make it too easy on him.
I don’t argue when he opens the passenger door to one of our Explorers for me. I don’t even make too big a fuss about him clipping my seat belt on. Truth is, my shoulder is killing me and I swear I cracked a few ribs, despite the bulletproof vest.
The ER is packed, but bullet wounds tend to draw immediate attention so I’m taken straight back. It doesn’t take long for a doctor to come in and assess my wound.
“Bullet went straight through. I’m just gonna clean out any debris, put in a couple of stitches, and you’re good to go.”
The entire procedure takes no more than half an hour, before I’m left to wait for a few painkillers and a clean shirt to go home in. The one I was wearing is lying in pieces on the floor.
I lie back on the bed, closing my eyes briefly against the glare of the overhead lights, and listen to the constant hum of the emergency room. In the cubicle beside mine, I hear a man’s voice, then the rustle of a curtain being drawn aside, and the sharp click of a woman’s footsteps passing by. My ears try to focus on the low rumble of the same voice talking to someone else on the other side of the partition.
Then a woman’s voice sounds; a lot clearer and I can hear every word. Recognition has me sit up straight in my bed, and I raise an eyebrow listening to her speak. There’s an edge to her voice that raises the hackles on my neck, and when she lets out a sharp cry, I’m up and off the bed in a flash.
Ripping back the separating curtain, the sight of a hulking guy in scrubs pinning the painfully familiar woman to the hospital bed, has me seeing red. In two steps I have him by the scruff of his neck and pull him away from her; my boss’s little sister, and the reason for a few too many sleepless nights.
Bella Gomez: curvy, lush-haired fireball, and general pain in my ass. A woman I met last year and have worked hard to avoid ever since. Other than the fact she is Damian’s sister, she is the epitome of the kind of woman I’d prefer not to get myself burned on—a high-maintenance princess with sharp claws. She hadn’t liked me any better than I did her. In fact, she made it clear I was no more than dirt under her designer heels the first time I introduced myself. Any attraction I may have felt to the luscious brunette, I quickly suppressed.
“What do you think you’re—”
The guy had pulled himself up to his full height, which was still short of mine by a few inches, and puffed up his chest. One firm shove against his sternum has him suck up his pompous attitude.
“Get lost,” I growl, glaring at him from under my frown.
“I’ll call security,” he sputters.
“Good. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to hear how you tried to force yourself on a patient.”
“Jasper…” Bella’s voice sounds from behind me, but I block her out. I’m too busy staring the asshole down.
The slimeball takes one last look at the bed, and me, before he almost runs out of here.
“Well, shit.” This from the bed.
I swing around and take my first good look at her. Her legs are bare. A large bandage is covering her left thigh, which my eyes zoom in on.
“What the hell, Bella?”
“It’s nothing,” she says, trying to cover up with the sheet tucked under her, while shooting daggers at me. “Besides, you’re a good one to talk. You look like you were run over by a tank and shot for good measure.” She takes a thorough inventory of my bare torso, where even just the impact of the bullets on my Kevlar vest are showing up in vivid color.
“We’re not talking about me.”
“You may not be, but I am. Jesus, Jasper—were you in a gunfight or something?”
Or something is right. I dig through my pocket to fish out my phone.
“What are you doing?” she swats at me as I’m scrolling through to find Damian’s number. “Don’t you be calling my brother, Jasper Greene!”
I grab her hand as it flies by again and hold on tight as I lean in.
“Then you’d better start talking,” I threaten her without any compunction.