Grayson Maston’s nerves were completely frayed when his cell phone rang in the pocket of his scrubs, making him jump in his seat. He’d been tapping his foot nervously for over half an hour, keeping a close eye on the comatose woman on the gurney in front of him.
Bianca Serrano. Young. Hispanic. Petite. She’d been with Project DEEP for less than a year before the entire team had been cryonically preserved ten years ago.
They were in the back of an ambulance. An ambulance that had been sitting idle behind a strip mall for much longer than he would have liked.
He tugged the cell from his pocket, glanced at the screen, and connected the call. “Ryan. Thank God. What the hell is going on?”
“Sorry. Detective Pierce Titus is going to pick you up.”
“Who the hell is Titus? And why?” Grayson needed answers, far more of them than he suspected he was going to get, judging by how fast Ryan was speaking.
“I’ll explain later, but you can trust him. He’s going to transport the two of you to a safe location.”
Grayson’s brows shot up. “A safe location,” he repeated sarcastically. “Right.” As far as Grayson was concerned, there were no safe locations on earth.
Ryan sighed. “As safe as we can manage right now. Titus will take you to a private clinic where Bianca can be hidden for the time being. We don’t want your current driver to know where you’re going.”
That made sense, but why was Grayson on this trek with a woman he didn’t know? He himself had only been awake for two months. He hardly had his bearings. “Why am I here?” Two hours ago the majority of the scientists and doctors working in the Colorado bunker for Project DEEP had been evacuated when an explosion compromised the front gate. In a mad scramble to get everyone to safety, Grayson had been randomly assigned to leave in an ambulance with Bianca.
“Temple did her best to pair people up in the most logical manner. You’re a medical doctor. You’ll be beneficial to Bianca along the way.”
Grayson sat up straighter, his spine stiffening. “Wait. Whoa… Are you thinking I’m going to stay with Bianca for a month waiting for her to wake up?”
“Yes. That’s the plan. Sorry. We need you.”
Grayson glanced at his patient and cringed. He ran a hand through his hair. He couldn’t think of anything more boring than guarding a woman he barely knew while she lay in a coma for another four weeks.
“Grayson, the reason I called is because you need to know something.”
Hearing the concern in Ryan’s tone, Grayson closed his eyes and rubbed his temples with his free hand. “There’s more?”
“Yes.” Ryan sighed. “Bianca’s been abused. I seriously doubt very many people know this. Even Temple didn’t know. It wasn’t until Damon pulled her from the reanimation chamber a few days ago that he saw the scars on her.”
Shit. “What kind of scars are we talking about?” Grayson understood the nuances of abuse all too well. He wondered what would have led everyone to assume Bianca had been abused just because she had scars.
“They look like whip marks up and down her back, her butt, and her thighs. They’re old enough to have been endured when she was a child. I’m inclined to believe she won’t like anyone knowing this since she never spoke of it. Temple is arranging for a nurse to care for Bianca while you’re at the clinic.”
Grayson’s spine stiffened. Fuck. His gaze went to Bianca. His hand flew to her much smaller one where it rested against the gurney. He wrapped his fingers around hers instinctively, pain piercing his heart. Who would do such a thing? His mood switched from frustrated to concerned in a heartbeat. A moment ago Bianca had been a scientist he barely knew. Now, she was someone with a story. A story he did not like.
“Grayson?” Ryan interrupted his thoughts, making Grayson realize he hadn’t responded.
“I’m here.” He sighed. “I’ll make sure the nurse is informed.”
“Perfect. I’ll get in touch with you again as soon as I can.” Ryan ended the call without another word.
Grayson put the phone back in his pocket, returned his gaze to Bianca, and slid his hand to her wrist to check her pulse for the millionth time. She was fine. All the machines hooked up to her were working fine. Everything was fine. Except it wasn’t, and he didn’t think everything would ever be fine again. Not for any of them, and certainly not for Bianca.
Bianca didn’t move. Of course. She wouldn’t be awake for another three and a half weeks. That was how long she needed to remain in a coma so that her organs could fully become functional. No one came out of a cryostat ready to run a marathon.
For the first time since Grayson had been paired up with Bianca, he looked at her differently. He hadn’t known her well before they were preserved. She’d been quiet and reserved. Kept her head down. Worked hard. She was a brilliant scientist with a specialty in research, specifically hematology. He knew that much about her, but he’d never known a single personal detail.
He swallowed back the pain he felt on her behalf now and kicked himself for not recognizing the signs. He should have known better. Reserved. Quiet. Detached. She didn’t open up to people. She didn’t let anyone get close to her.
He thought back on her situation. Unlike most of the team, Bianca hadn’t had an apartment in town ten years ago. She’d had a room inside the bunker. As far as he knew, she’d never left the bunker.
He had no idea how much time passed while he held Bianca’s small hand, noticing the contrast between her darker skin and his pale complexion. He’d been raised on a farm in Nebraska to blond parents who didn’t donate an ounce of melanin to either him or his sister.
Bianca’s skin was the gorgeous tone he’d always wished for while he’d slathered himself with sunscreen every day even though he still managed to burn his face and neck every summer.
He cringed again when he thought about Ryan’s words. In the time Grayson had worked with Bianca, he’d only spoken to her a handful of times, mostly because she’d never been outgoing or social with the rest of the team. A sign he should have wondered about.
Grayson was no stranger to witnessing trauma. He’d watched his sister go through years of abuse at the hands of her husband. She had married young and had two kids before she finally got away from the asshole. But in that time, she’d been beaten so many times, Grayson was sure she’d lost count. She’d taken the abuse and hidden it at first, doing so to protect her children. Her husband had threatened to kill them if she told anyone.
Grayson’s heart pounded even now remembering the broken woman who’d shown up at his parents’ doorstep one night, her small kids in the car, her lip swollen and bloody, her eye black, and her clothes ripped. She’d finally had enough and gotten the strength to leave him.
Grayson’s parents had known. Grayson himself had known. But no matter what any of them said to her, she would deny it, and the longer she was with her husband, the less she’d seen of her family. She was twenty-three when she finally got away. Grayson was eighteen and about to go off to West Point.
He tried to shake the memory of that night from his mind, but it was never far away. He remembered the welts he’d seen on her back when their mother lifted her shirt to examine them.
Jerking his attention back to the present, Grayson set his gaze on Bianca once again. She was so small. So pretty. Her dainty features and silky hair made her seem younger than she was.
Granted, she was far younger than him. Twenty-seven if he remembered correctly, eight years younger.
He suddenly felt horrible for not paying attention to her or making an attempt to befriend her. Everyone had a story. Apparently hers was horrific. She deserved better. He hoped whatever asshole had struck this gorgeous woman was currently rotting in hell.
Bile rose to his throat as he squeezed her hand. Every ounce of frustration he’d felt an hour ago for being saddled with a stranger in a coma fled the ambulance. There was no reason for him to be angry. He didn’t currently have anyplace else to be for heaven’s sake. He would do Bianca a solid and befriend her when she woke up.
Every member of their team was in jeopardy. All twenty-one of them. They needed to stick together. Help each other through this crazy time while God-only-knew who would prefer to see them dead. Someone had obviously been very careless with her life at one point. That would not happen again. Not on Grayson’s watch.
Suddenly the driver’s door opened and Grayson lifted his gaze to find a man he didn’t know climbing into the driver’s seat in place of the original driver. The man twisted around and smiled. “Detective Pierce Titus.” He held his badge and identification open for Grayson to see.
“I’ll have you settled in a much better location in no time. Hang tight.”
Grayson wondered what the hell a better location was going to look like. Not for the first time, he doubted there was such a place anymore. Someone was securing information about the employees of Project DEEP, and that someone was wreaking havoc on all of their lives, no matter where they fled.
DEEP. Disease & Epidemic Eradication & Prevention. The acronym was absurdly long and tedious, but it was perfectly descriptive of what the members of the team did for the government. They researched disease. Every one of them had been handpicked from the finest schools in the country to join the team.
And every one of them was now in danger. Both the original team being reanimated and the new team who’d come on two years ago with the technology to bring back the first team.
Grayson relaxed his shoulders. For the time being, there was nothing he could do but hope Titus indeed got him and Bianca to a safe location where she could recover and rejoin the living.
Her first shot at life apparently hadn’t gone so well. Grayson made a silent vow to ensure she fared far better at her second shot. In the course of his life, he’d done a lot to help the human race. Right now, one small woman needed him. He could at least keep her safe.
He knew his boss, General Temple Levenson, was offering relocation packages to anyone who wanted to start a new life with a new name. Perhaps that would be the best plan for Bianca. Anything would be better than waking up to find out that after the horrors of her childhood, she was now on the run from an unknown enemy who apparently intended to hunt her down.
For now, all Grayson could do was protect this petite woman with his life, and then when she woke up, help her gain enough strength to start over. He could do this. He had to do this.