Ryder:SEALs of Honor, Book 14(9)

By: Dale Mayer

Chapter 3

Caitlyn opened her eyes, grimacing at the taste in her mouth. For a moment she didn’t understand where she was. She shifted to look around the tent, gasping at the pain in her neck. She closed her eyes for a long moment, and, when she could, she opened them. Ryder sat at the end of her bed, his eyes closed, his cell phone in his hand, looking as if he was thinking. She winced. Apparently she’d been a little more injured than she’d thought.

With uncanny vision he turned his head, opened his eyes and glanced at her. “How are you feeling?”

She gave him a small smile and just barely stopped herself from shrugging. “Better. As long as I don’t move, I might survive this,” she said only half-joking.

He nodded, but his gaze was intent on her face. “Whatever you do, when you’re ready to move, make sure it’s slow,” he warned. “That blast hit you hard.”

“A piece of debris caught me too. Plus, I just might have reacted to the stress of the situation and the heat. I hadn’t had any lunch or breakfast,” she said.

He glanced at her in surprise. “Your stomach was empty? You threw up several times.”

“Mostly acid.” She gave him a small nod. “I did have a muffin somewhere along the line, but I’d been up most of the night too.”

He nodded in understanding. “It’s tough when that happens.”

Lying here, she smiled up at him, thankful they were talking as friends, not as combatants or as lovers on the rocks. “So true.” Then she remembered. “You have any update on Mac?”

Instantly he withdrew. She felt the distance he put between them. Damn. She should have kept her mouth shut.

He shook his head. “No, not yet.”

She frowned. “I guess that’s not too surprising. It’s been really busy here.”

“I’m sure he’ll get in touch with you as soon as he can,” Ryder said quietly.

“I’m sure he will.” Her tone was as formal as his. Wanting to say something to move them forward but not sure how, she said, “He’s a good friend.” And then she winced inwardly because the only other person she would have said was a really good friend was Ryder. And they’d been friends since they were kids—until they weren’t anymore.

“Good for you.” He stood up. “If you’re feeling better …”

She rushed to reassure him. “I’m fine. Thanks for staying and looking after me. You make a great nursemaid.” Her words were said warmly, but inside she cringed. This was a perfect opportunity to broach the subject, yet she didn’t know how to start. How she hated this wishy-washy avoidance. He stood up, and she blurted out, “Mac is just a friend.”

“Sorry?” He turned back to frown at her.

She groaned. “I wanted to let you know that Mac is just a friend.”

He studied her for a long moment. “Like I was just a friend?”

Her mind filled with images of the two of them. From the first moment they had kissed, they’d been consumed in a passionate fire she’d never experienced before or since. It had taken her by surprise, terrified her actually. She shuddered as heat swamped her.

When she regained her voice, she said, “No, not like we were good friends.” She took a deep breath. Maybe it was because she was sick. Maybe it was knowing he’d stayed and looked after her all night. But she wanted to get this out. “I’ve missed you.”

His gaze gentled. “I’ve missed you too,” he admitted. “You were such a major part of my life for so long.”

“Then why are we like this now?” she asked. “Even if there is nothing else, I’d like to know we’re friends enough that you don’t have to leave a party when I arrive.”

His face closed down, and he resumed his walk toward the entrance. She could see his fists clenching and releasing.

“I never meant to upset you,” she called out. “I’d hoped to see you, to talk to you, at the party.”

He froze for a long moment, then continued to walk out the doorway. He paused, turned and said, “There is a limit to where friendship can go.” And he disappeared.

What did that mean? She went over his answer, tearing it apart, looking for any innuendo that would give her a little bit of hope. Had she said enough? No, probably not. What did he mean? There was a limit to how friendly he could be? He wasn’t prepared to go back to the way they were? Or had she jumped into a space where she wasn’t welcome? Those at the party were all his friends. Was that the problem? Maybe he felt like she’d intruded. Trying to explain after so long a break between them was awkward.

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