I was on my feet and walking once again across the room, stopping and looking out the sealed window before turning to walk slowly back to my Vin. He was beaming from ear to ear and even Dr. Schoonover had to admit that my progress was good enough for me to go home.
Finally, after six weeks and two days, I was going home.
And I owed it all to a Shaolin priest and my lover.
Caine came every day for the next five and my Vin soaked up his teachings like a sponge. I felt like a new man by the time they were done with me. Monday morning had come and gone without the torture of physical therapy from the man I'd come to fear. I'd tried not to but he seemed to enjoy pushing me past my limits of pain. Each day had been worse until I was ready to break down completely.
I held on by the skin of my teeth, denying him his pleasure. But I shook like a leaf when he finally left trying desperately to calm down before Vin came. Whether he hated the ATF or just southerners, I had no idea but I definitely brought out his sadistic streak. Nathan had assured us that he was the best physical therapist there was but you couldn't have proved it by me.
But I told him I had no further need of his services with Caine at my left and Vin at my right that Monday morning. He'd blustered with cutting denunciations of eastern claptrap and weak-willed patients who weren't capable of committing to real work. Vin had gone so still that I knew he was ready to go for the idiot's throat but Nathan had come in right behind him and heard it all.
Unprofessional was the least of what he called the bully who had made my life hell. Vin relaxed and I rather enjoyed the tongue-lashing that our team healer gave him before ordering him out. When I introduced Nathan to Caine, I was afraid that he might share the same opinion of eastern medicine but he'd been quite respectful and even interested in some of the massage techniques that the Shaolin was showing Vin. In fact, he'd stayed and done some learning himself.
And now, I was soon to be free to go outside, breathe fresh air, ride home and hold Vin close. Not to mention soaking for a day or so in a nice, hot bath.
The paperwork was never-ending and it seemed that Dr. Schoonover wouldn't be satisfied until he'd personally examined every square inch of my skin. And he still couldn't explain the latest x-ray that showed the bullet had moved over three inches away from my spine. Vin had waited until after the good doctor had left still muttering before telling me what Caine had told him.
My life had received so many miracles lately that I wasn't even surprised. But Vin was still my greatest gift from a benign deity. He told me that he'd taken to talking to Kwan Yin and asking for her help. Poor Lady had been listening to both of us for quite long enough. It was time we went home.
And finally, Nancy was wheeling me out to the curb while Vin carried my suitcase. But Pegasus was no where to be seen, instead he directed my nurse to a forest green Chevy pick-up near the emergency room entrance.
"Vin?" I looked from the truck to him, to find that he was grinning ear to ear.
"Well, since I didn't have to pay rent for the last two months, I went ahead and got my new truck. She's real comfortable and this way, we've got plenty of cargo space for when we're working on the warehouse." He opened the passenger door and stowed the suitcase behind the seat. "Plus, she'll be easier for you to get in and out of while you finish healing up."
I rose a little shakily from the wheelchair while Nancy steadied me. "She's beautiful, Vin. And you're quite right, it will be easier with that nice runner at just the right height." I turned to Nancy and accepted her hug. "Ma'am, you are a queen among women. Thank you for all your care."
"Ezra, you were the best patient I've ever tended." She kissed my cheek and winked at me. "And if you weren't taken, I'd have made such a play for you. Take care of each other."
Vin got his own hug and then she was wheeling the chair away while he helped me up into the cab. And if he got a few caresses in, well, that was just a small down payment on all the caresses that we'd not been able to exchange in that cold little room. I really was looking forward to going home.
"Okay?" Vin looked up at me and took my nod for a yes. "We'll be home before you know it. And there's a bath with your name on it, just a'waitin'."
"Oh, yes." I'd been dreaming of a long hot bath for weeks. But more importantly, I needed Vin. Beside me, behind me, holding me so close I could no longer tell which body was his and which was mine.
"Fifteen minute, green eyes." He was behind the wheel and the motor started with a purr.
"And what happened to Betsy?" I settled back against the comfortable seat and rested my head against the cloth headrest. Instead of a bench seat, there were two extremely comfortable bucket seats in a light tan that matched the rest of the interior.
"I donated her to the Sisters of Mercy." He looked both ways at the light and pulled out into traffic. "Turns out that Sister Ernestine was a mechanic in the Army before she became a nun. She's started a automotive class and the kids are going to learn how a car works piece by piece."
"Goodness," I blinked. "Rather like donating your body to science. I like it."
"Me, too." He grinned at me. "I didn't like to think of her just going to the scrap heap. How does Isabella, Bella for short, feel to you?"
"Bella feels just fine, Vin, smooth and more comfortable than that damn hospital bed." I was watching the scenery go by with a smile. There were little hints of green here and there, showing that Spring couldn't be far away. "Tomorrow, may we go see the warehouse?"
"Sure. We've got a lot done, Ez'. I think you'll like what you see." He seemed to be trying to hide his grin and I wondered what kind of surprise he had in store for me.
"I love you, Vin." I hadn't told him that today.
He shot a glance at me that was so sultry I felt myself begin to harden just a little. "I love you, too. And as soon as I get you home, I'll show you."
"Yes, please." I held out my hand and he took it, bringing it to his lips and kissing it gently. "Are we seeing the others later?"
"Tomorrow, Ez'. Today is just for the two of us. Tomorrow we're meeting at Miss Daisy's where she's busy cooking up all your favorites." He chuckled. "We may have to haul you home in the back of the truck if you eat everything she's got planned."
I smiled at the thought of the brisk little woman who'd come to the hospital, taken one look at my lunch and thrown it out. She'd then begun taking out dish after dish from her canvas carryall. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven at the first taste of her coleslaw and the finely minced ham was true ambrosia. Vin came in and got his share but I made sure that Nancy got her taste before she went off duty.
If there's one thing I've learned over the course of the years, it is to be very, very nice to the people who have your life in their hands. After that taste of Miss Daisy's cooking, Nancy was a co-conspirator who gladly helped Vin smuggle in her tasty lunches. I firmly believe that good food, great massages and all the tender loving care that Vin lavished on me were the reasons that I'd cut a good two weeks off my hospital stay.
My apartment building had never looked so good to me before. Vin parked out front and told me sternly to stay put until he came around to get me. He's so cute when he's being a mother hen. But the trip, even though the ride had been quite comfortable, had tired me to the point that I was grateful for his helping hands. The running board came in very handy when it looked like a six-foot drop to the ground.
I still jarred myself a little and I knew that Vin had caught my gasp when his eyes narrowed. "Slow and easy, Ez'. I'll come back for the suitcase in a bit."
Nodding, I accepted his strong arm and concentrated on walking slowly to the entrance and into the elevator. The ride up was short and Vin had the door unlocked before I could truly savor the anticipation of being home. The place looked just the same except for the addition of a rocking chair.
"Surprise, Ezra!" Vin shut the door behind us and guided me to the chair. "Sit down and test rock her."
"Is it that battered old thing you rescued?" I sat down and tried an experimental rock or two. It felt just fine, the broad arms at just the right height for resting my hands and the seat seemingly curved to just fit me.
"Sure could. Buck and J.D. finished stripping, sanding and staining her for us as a kind of thank you for getting them together." He grinned up at me from where he knelt at my feet; his hands busy untying my shoes. "I liked the kind of yellow pine look. It feels happy to me."
"It's very, very comfortable. We may have to take turns rocking in her." I leaned my head back and took a deep breath just because I could.
"Good," he removed my shoes and gave me a short foot massage that had me purring for him. "Just rest here, Ez' while I go bring in your suitcase. You need anything before I go?"
Opening my eyes, I looked at him. "Just you, Vin. All I ever need is you."
He stood and leaned into me, kissing me again but a little harder this time. I feasted on his lips while my hands reached up to bring him closer. But he broke away with a groan. "Ez', behave now. I need to finish the outdoor chores so's I can come in and ravish you in the bathtub."
"And the bedroom." I reminded him.
"And most definitely the bedroom." He grinned and kissed both my hands before leaving.
I knew that he'd hurry and I was determined to help in my own seduction so I got up and walked slowly to the bathroom. He'd laid out some bright yellow towels that I'd forgotten I had and I relaxed a little more. It would be a long time before I could see white towels, white sheets and white blankets without shivering. This was just another instance of how well he knew me. I turned on the water and poured in some of my scented oil. The sweet smell of magnolias made me relax all over and I unhurriedly began to undress.
"Somehow, I just knew that you wouldn't wait for me." Vin's arms came around me and I rested against his strong body.
"Nope, I've been looking forward too much to this." I let him unbutton my shirt. Then he turned me so I could undress him. "And I have definitely been fantasizing about doing this." I slipped his shirt off and immediately started unzipping my favorite jeans.
"Me too," he had me unzipped and we were both in a hurry when we pushed off pants and boxers. The sight of that long, lean body never fails to move me. He's so very beautiful everywhere. "Oh, Ezra, I've missed seeing all of you."
"Yes, indeed, your massages were wonderful but I missed touching you all over." I let him help me into the tub, feeling awkward and clumsy with my still sore muscles. But the hot water felt heavenly and I relaxed against the back of the tub with a blissful sigh.
"I swear you're more and more like that old cat Clancy that you told be about." He chuckled and joined me in the tub.
Opening my eyes, I agreed with him. "Indeed, I feel boneless and very lazy. I guess that you'll just have to bathe me."
"You bet I will, Ezra." His gaze was hotter than the water and his soft caresses left fire in their wake. "Why look, it appears that you've got a swelling problem. Would you like me to take care of it?"
I batted my eyelashes at him. "If you would be so kind, Vin? I can't imagine why I'd be swelling like this."
"Really?" His eyes shot a wicked glance at me before he moved between my legs and brought my hips up slowly so my cock bobbed underneath his chin. "Well, this looks mighty dangerous, Ez'. I'd better see if a little massage will make it go away."
I had to close my eyes when he started licking me from root to crown. Nothing had ever felt so good. I knew that this time would be fast because it had been so long since I'd been touched with such love. I felt painfully swollen and he must have sensed that because without warning, he sucked me in and began tickling my crease with those long elegant fingers of his.
Tightening all over, I panted through his teasing before releasing into his care. And that's when I really relaxed all over. His hands were the only reason that I didn't slide right under the water. He was crooning something but the roaring in my ears blocked out everything but the sound. I was safe with Vin and I always would be. I was vaguely aware that he had moved us so he could cradle me against his chest. Breathing was all I was capable of doing right then.
When I came back after my little nap, he was lazily washing my chest and swirling patterns around my nipples. "Vin. Thank you. What about you?"
He chuckled. "Shoot, Ezra, watching you come made me come too. You're the sexiest man in the world when you release like that."
I took the soap from him and began to wash that satin skin I love to touch. His muscles rippled under my fingers and I swear his cock lifted towards me again as if I was true north and he was a lodestone. But I grew tired so quickly that all too soon we had to leave our warm bath for bed.
He dried me all over, gently blotting the water from the ugly scar above my heart. Then he led me to the bedroom and pulled back the silk duvet to show me the new deep green sheets. I slid into bed with a sigh and he tucked me in with a kiss and a soft admonition to take a little nap while he got lunch ready. I was asleep before he left the room.
A half-hour later, I woke to the smell of Miss Daisy's black bean soup. I stretched all over and opened my eyes to see Vin carrying in a tray full of food. And for the first time in quite a while, I felt hungry. Pulling myself up, I accepted the tray from him so he could stuff both pillows behind me. Leaning back, I waited until he joined me.
"Did you freeze this earlier or does Miss Daisy deliver now?" I teased him and he grinned at me cross-legged by my side.
"Froze it yesterday and followed her directions exactly for warming it up. She was pretty stern about that." He accepted the first spoonful before taking it from me and feeding me one. I felt surrounded by his love and caring.
"Well, you did a great job and so I shall tell her tomorrow. Oh, that is good." I savored the rich flavor then leaned over and kissed him. "And it tastes even better from your lips, Vin."
He chuckled and we finished our meal of soup and kisses very slowly. I felt truly relaxed and almost euphoric. It just felt so good to be home. Vin took the tray back to the kitchen and almost at once, I heard the strains of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade from the living room speakers. I'd had a radio in the hospital but the classic station had come and gone fitfully. I disliked the portable players that used batteries because they're so bad for the environment but I'd used one the week of physical therapy to try and get my composure back.
But here I didn't have to listen to tinny earphones, just the glorious swell of music. With a sigh, I fell back to sleep to the strains of Scheherazade's violins. When I awoke again, Vin was reading by my side and I lay there for a long moment watching him. He was such an amazing man. Even with his dyslexia diagnosed, he still had a hard time reading but he persevered and was slowly reading his way through my collection of poetry.
I thought I recognized my Shakespeare book of sonnets but I was willing to wait for him to notice I was awake. It felt good to just watch him propped against the doubled pillow, his lips sometimes silently sounding out the words that puzzled him. His beautiful light brown hair gleamed in the sunshine that filtered through the west windows. It must be later than I thought if the sun was so far advanced.
Time really didn't matter just now. We had all the time in the world. It felt so strange to know that I wouldn't have to go undercover again. The doctors had told me that it would be six months before I could leave the office and not even the prospect of all that paperwork could make me tense. But Mr. Larabee had listened to my halting request to no longer perform undercover and agreed quietly.
At first, I'd been afraid that I'd no longer have a place on the team but Larabee had reassured me that the entire team would be taking on a slightly new assignment. Our record had been so good that we were about to become the official mentors to some of the younger teams. Josiah's profiling had often been loaned out to other teams and Vin routinely coached other team shooters. J.D. was the acknowledged computer expert of the entire ATF building.
Notice had been taken of our success and work ethic, especially the seamless whole that we became in an investigation. The head office in Washington, D. C. had decided that it could be learned by some of the other teams. I wasn't sure about that since I thought of my team as more family than work team. But I was too relieved to still have a place among my fellow agents.
Now, I watched Vin turn a page and just luxuriated in the ability to look at him.
"You just goin' to watch me read?" His gaze caught mine.
"Yep." I smiled, turning onto my side and letting my hand beneath the duvet wander over to his stomach to stroke those firm muscles.
"You wouldn't be getting all frisky on me, now, would you." He laid the book aside and pushed the covers back, baring himself to my admiring gaze.
"I believe that a little afternoon snack would be appreciated, Vin. And I see something that I'd like to ... nibble on." Inching down, I let my fingers graze his cock and it lifted to me like a bird to its nest. He was hard and smooth, his velvet crown a delicate shade of rose that drew my lips to taste him after such a long time without him.
He groaned and let his fingers card through my hair. "I hope you don't want to cut your hair, Ez'. I like having these curls tickling me."
I let him go for a moment, letting my fingers delicately roll his balls. "Only until I return to work, Vin. I look more like a shaggy dog instead of a wild hawk like you."
Chuckling, he kept on caressing my hair while I went back to feasting on his cock. I'd missed his taste intensely and he was leaking steadily for me. Relaxing my throat muscles, I took him all the way in and swallowed around him while he whimpered. I loved that sound and tried to provoke it whenever I could.
"Ezra, I'm close." His strangled whisper made me smile around him and I hummed along with Rimsky-Korsakov. That sent him right over the edge and he pulsed out his seed into my waiting mouth. He tasted better than black bean soup although I would never tell Miss Daisy that.
He sighed and massaged the back of my neck while I made sure that I didn't miss anything. "I missed you so much, Ez'. Thank God you're all right."
I slid up and into his arms, resting my head over his heart to listen to the beat that was my lullaby. "I'll be fine, Vin. All I need to heal is you."
Kissing the top of my head, he held me close. "And all I need is you. Rest now and I'll return the favor a little later."
With a sleepy murmur, I let his heartbeat lull me to sleep. I dreamed of the rooftop garden, the sun shining on my face while a cool breeze flowed around me where I sat in the rocker under the pergola. And Vin was by my side, reading a poem that he'd written for me. It was the closest thing to heaven I'd ever felt. I was truly the luckiest man in the world.
And tomorrow, the team would welcome me back. I could hardly wait.
End of part twenty-one