ONE SAVAGE KNIGHT
Fear pounds through me every time I approach the man in room #526.
But I put on my big girl panties, and deal because I’m a nurse and helping people is all that matters.
I moved across country to a hell mouth with my fiancé who then dumped me. But I found a new job, got a new apartment, and the new me isn’t going to be cowed down by some big, scary guy.
Even if he is becoming more monster than man.
Leonidas is chained up in our research hospital for everyone’s safety, since he’s been infected by a demon.
This man has no last name, no past, but plenty of secrets. He insists he’s a Knight of the Light, with powers to fight the forces of darkness, and we are holding him captive.
But I can’t let him go, he needs help. The sickness is changing him, turning him into something dark and dangerous.
Then when the demon who infected Leonidas escapes and starts razing a bloody path through the hospital, I have only this knight to rely on if we want to get out alive.
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He’s just a man. Nothing to fear. Just like the rest of my patients, I tried to reason with myself.
Sure. He’s a man like a shark is just a fish. Like a machete is just a butter knife. Like glitter paint is just “okay.”
False. Glitter paint is everything, and the man I was about to see wasn’t anything like the rest of my patients. The rest of my patients didn’t require chains.
My footsteps echoed down the long corridor, and I tried to slow my heart to match their rhythm.
“Hiya Nurse Morningstar.” The heavyset guard with kind eyes and Spanish accent greeted me.
“Hello Diego, how are Loretta and the kids?” I asked, grateful for the pause to chat. Maybe I’d get my pulse under control before seeing him.
You are strong. You are fierce. You are a nurse. You are Wonder Woman.
If she was about to wet her scrubs….
“Little Gabriella turns five on Sunday.” Diego smiled. “My wife has been searching for the perfect pinata.”
Despite our easy banter, my heart pounded in my chest with increasing persistence and a message that would not be ignored.
Turn back. Turn back. Turn back.
I’d only been working at this research hospital for a month, but Dr. Sterling moved me to this wing a week ago. I’d never heard of the Miskatonic Institute of Deeper Insight, but a doctor I’d bonded with at the last hospital referred me when she heard I needed to leave the previous job in a hurry. The new job was totally different from my past experience. I wasn’t privy to certain information about the treatments, which made it difficult to know if I was doing my job as well as I could.
And if this morning was any indication, things wouldn’t get any easier around here.
My stomach soured at the memory of losing a patient only hours ago. A thick patina of sadness and guilt at not being able to save him engulfed my feelings. I should have done more. The way he gripped my arms so tightly, begging me not to give him the sedative. I didn’t know what, but his death wrapped around my neck like a noose.
Not for the first time, I wondered what my life would have been like if I’d stayed in Montana instead of moving to Colorado. To the very place where a hell mouth opened, unleashing all manner of monsters and dark spirits of untold evil onto earth.
Whatever possessed me to do something so stupid?
Oh right. I’d done it for a man.
My hand tightened around my medical bag. The mere thought of my ex and the dull ache in my chest I usually ignored, expanded.
I wrestled the heartbreak back into the decoupaged box I kept in the depths of my heart. I’d covered it in pictures of the sad, orphan animals from those Sarah McLaughlin commercials, Billie Eilish Lyrics, and broken heart emojis.
Diego handed over the clipboard so I could sign my name and the time. My eyes flicked to the door where my patient waited, and I flip flopped right back over into anticipation.
I wiped at the sweat gathering at my brow and tried to come back to the present moment. “I’ll be sure to bring your daughter a gift.”
Diego chuckled, suddenly self-conscious. “You don’t need to do that.”
“Nonsense. What is she into?” A million ideas swept through my brain, pulling me away from my anxiety about what was behind door number one, or my lingering heartbreak.
I’d love any opportunity to make someone a cake, but Diego and Loretta likely had that under control. I could knit a blanket for his daughter. One with a unicorn on it.
Where a normal person’s brain would have shut off, mine continued to race, planning the coming activities.
Knitting a blanket wouldn’t be enough to fill the upcoming off-days from work, but I had been meaning to try making those epoxy tumbler mugs.
If I was really lucky, I’d get called in to work overtime.
God, Bets, it’s been a dour enough scene here, why would you be in such a hurry to come back?
The voice in my head suspiciously sounded like one of my sisters.
“Gabi’s into geology.” When Diego laughed this time, he removed his security cap to smooth a hand over his shaved scalp. “The number of rocks she’s picked up off the ground and brought home are impressive. It won’t be long before I’ll need to call into work because I’ve been victim to a rockslide in my own home.”
A genuine smile broke through my apprehension. “Wonderful, sounds like my kind of girl.”
I’d swing by a gem store and see if I couldn’t fashion a pretty crystal necklace for. And a bracelet to go with it. Oh, maybe a couple bracelets, and a hair barrette.
Okay, maybe it’s time to seek crafters anonymous. I might have a problem.
“Last year, her birthday was cancelled. So, we are really aiming to make this one a hum dinger.” The resignation in his voice spoke to the calamity we’d all been exposed to.
The whole world had changed since hell on earth arrived on a big red carpet.
Sure, we all adapted. Learned not to go out after sunset, carried weapons in our purses, and traveled in groups.
Social media circulated a number of ways to defend oneself against flesh-eating pixies, hellhounds, and the occasional giant, demon overlord. But we were all still in an experimental phase, and the human numbers slowly but steadily dropping.
Which is why the research at this hospital was so important.
After leaving the last hospital in such a hurry to get away from him, I was grateful to end up in a place that was dedicated to helping those affected by the supernatural.
Diego’s expression clouded, as he looked over my shoulder. “Where is your escort?”
I looked back too, though I knew no one was coming. “It’s just me today.” Pulling my badge off my lapel. With a swipe, the card reader beeped and turned green. The heavy metal door’s first lock opened with a sound ker-chunk.
Diego’s expression sobered. “Is that wise, Betsy?”
My spine straightened. “He is a patient who requires care. I can certainly handle one patient.” A bold confidence filled me that I almost believed would last.
“Well, I have to guard the door, and can’t go in with you. It’s not my place to say, but–“
“I’m sorry, Diego, but I’m overdue as it is, could you please open the door?” I hated the chastising tone I took with the guard, but sometimes it was necessary to be taken seriously.
Diego shrugged and opened the steel door for me, and I gave him a thankful nod as I walked through.
As he closed it behind me, the tiny hairs rose up like needles on the back of my neck.
A presence filled the room, pressing on me as if he were right next to me, breathing down my neck.
I was a baby goat in a lion’s cage. But there was no turning back now.
The ceiling lights were dimmed, while the bright light of the full moon filtered in through a barred two by three-foot window at the top of the far wall.
The figure at the center of the cell was cast in shadow. Long, shaggy hair hung from his downcast head and arms strung up by chains on either side, shackles locked around his ankles. He looked less like a patient and more like a prisoner. It seemed barbaric but I reminded myself, it was for his own safety as well as mine.
Circular spiderweb cracks marred the concrete walls. I wondered, not for the first time, if they were from the impact of his fists or from the bodies of the many nurses and doctors before me.
Patient #526 was…difficult.
When the infection was at its height, he’d explode into violent episodes that nearly cost some their lives. One of the doctors had both of his arms nearly torn off before they subdued the patient. And here I was, without any backup, ready to administer the drugs he abhorred.
Do you want to get pounded or are you just stupid? Get out of here!
Based on the heat of rising arousal in my body, stupid was definitely the answer.
Pulling the case out of my lab jacket, I swallowed hard over a throat dry as a week-old crumb cake.
“You’re late,” came the drawl of a low, near growl.
A concrete ledge jutted out of the wall by the door. I set my case down there and went about pulling out the necessary vials along with two syringes. “Yes well, it’s been a busy day.” Then I paused. “We lost a patient.”
Sweet shitake mushrooms. Was I out of my mind? I shouldn’t have told him that. It was a complete breach of professionalism. But he pushed me off balance, and things just slipped out around him like a marble on a slip slide covered in jelly.
“An infected patient?” he asked. His tone skated along a dangerous edge.
My movements slowed to control the slight tremor in my hands.
When I turned around, the shaggy head cocked to the side. “Like me?”
“No,” I rushed to say. “The doctor believes you’ll be better in no time.”
Ever so slowly he lifted his head, coming to his full height. “Liar.”
The moonlight hit his face. Fierce, masculine features were arranged in his usual scowl. His eyes flashed silver, evidence of his infection.
It was almost a shock to be near such a viral specimen. Long wild hair, and a powerful build at six foot six, the man was more muscle than man. The thick beard only intensified his untamed power.
He wore loose gray pants, and no shirt. It took near herculean level of effort not to stare at his massive pectorals. Though it was freezing in here, the patient’s temperature ran hotter than a normal human’s.
“I am not a liar, and I take it as a personal offense to be accused as one.”
A beat passed before he responded, as if he were assessing me. “You certainly aren’t like the other bastards who run the place.”
I bristled. “I’ll also not tolerate any cursing.”
A slow grin pulled at his lips.
“You do that because you know I don’t like it,” I said, flatly.
“Has anyone told you, your cheeks turn pink when you’re outraged?” Amusement sparked in his eyes.
Before I could stop myself, my hands flew up to touch my hot face. Then I snapped them down to my sides. “I don’t get outraged.”
“Offended? Riled?” His voice dropped to an octave so low I felt the vibration between my legs. “Excited?”
My mouth opened, then closed.
“You didn’t bring an escort this time,” he said, looking around the room as if expecting to see guards emerge from the shadows. “Do you think that’s wise?” His tone assured me it wasn’t.
“As I said, it’s been a very busy day. I told them I could handle this myself.”
A dark smirk pulled the corners of his lips. That and the deep scar running through his eyebrow gave him a feral appearance. Sometimes he reminded me more of a beast. I could easily see him swinging on vines through the jungle or fighting lions bare handed.
Switching to my professional, nurse voice, I asked, “How are your symptoms today?” I pulled out my work tablet to record his answer.
“What?” I looked up.
“How are your symptoms today, Leonidas?” He said as if explaining to a child. “I figure we know each well enough now that you could start using my name.”
The man didn’t have a last name for me to use, so I usually forewent addressing him. When they brought him in, Leonidas claimed he didn’t have a last name. And there were no fingerprint or dental records of this man to help us out. The man was a mystery. One I secretly wanted to know more about.
Stop it, Betsy, you are a professional.
He interrupted my guilty thoughts. “I want to hear you say it. Say my name.” Again, his words penetrated my core, leaving a trembling excitement in its wake.
My fingers tightened around the tablet. I licked my lips before I spoke, forcing ice into my words. “Are you going to make things hard? I thought we had an agreement.”
For whatever reason, I was the only one he tolerated. The rest of the doctors and nurses, he growled and snapped at.
Despite the new restraints, he still managed to knock back several of them onto their ass or scare them half to death. He even broke someone’s nose with a well-timed head butt.
He fought them at every turn when it came to injections… until I came along.
The first time I had been sent in, he snarled and lunged at me like everyone else. I simply set the syringes down and patiently waited for him to be done. Though he scared me with his unhinged beastliness, I never let it show for a minute. After twenty minutes, his rage had ebbed enough to ask my name. I told him he could call me, “Nurse-not-putting-up-with-your-malarky.”
The burst of laughter that had come out of him seemed to surprise even him.
When he’d seemed settled enough, I approached him with the syringes. My hands had been slick with sweat. Sure enough, as soon as I got close enough, he’d jerked against the chains as if he meant to hit me.
But I’d heard about him and his outbursts, and I prepared. I’d pulled out a small spray bottle from my pocket and spritzed him right in the face.
He’d spasmed and reared back. “What the hell was that?” More stunned than angry.
I innocently blinked at the bottle. “Just water.”
When his scarred brows drew dark over his eyes again, I threw up my hands and said, “Well, if you’re going to act like an animal, I’ll treat you like one. Now take your medicine like a respectable patient, or next time I’ll roll up a newspaper.” I had wondered in that moment if I didn’t have a death wish. But instead of going ballistic, he’d just raised an eyebrow and let me inject him without another word.
After that, I was the only one allowed to treat him. He swore he’d rip off more arms if they sent anyone else. And now, I was solely responsible for his treatment.
Even though he mostly cooperated with me, I could never forget he could turn on me at any moment. And the pure testosterone of his powerful being reminded me of that every second. I was acutely aware in this space that Leonidas was a predator, and I was the prey.
Thinking back on that day, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why me, anyway? The rest of the staff want to help you as much as I do.”
His half-smile was as humorless as it was piteous. “I assure you, they do not.” Then he narrowed his eyes at me, with careful evaluation. “Maybe it’s because of your eyes.”
Before I could ask what was different about them, Leonidas inhaled deeply and shut his eyes. He tugged at the chains, testing them. The rattle of metal ringing into my bones. “Or maybe it’s your intoxicating scent. What are you wearing today, legs? Roses and… chocolate?”
I did my best to ignore the nickname he’d given me, though it affected me more than I could say.
“I don’t wear perfume,” I said, while typing a few notes. “It can aggravate some of the patients. But I always keep fresh cut roses in the kitchen, and I may have done a bit of baking last night.” I paused. “Brownies.”
He inhaled deeply a second time, on a low guttural growl. “Not brownies. Cake. Triple chocolate fudge cake.”
A shiver raced down my spine. I clutched the tablet to my chest.
“Looks like your senses are still enhanced.” I jotted down a few more quick notes. “Any more episodes today?”
Silence stretched between us and I suddenly felt on dangerous ground. As if the question was too personal. Or maybe it was because he knew I already knew the answer. He was under constant supervision, cameras perched up in the corners of the room for observation. I just needed to keep tabs on his mental acuity. Make sure he wasn’t losing time, hallucinating, and such.
The longer it took for him to the answer, the longer it took for me to get home to that bubble bath I promised myself.
No, no bubble bath tonight. I’d volunteered to help get the blood drive set up early the next morning. And my neighbor, Martin, fed my cat all week while I took this new shift. I planned on staying up late to make him an apple pie, his favorite.
Provoking Leonidas was a bad idea. The worst idea in fact, so I simply waited him out. It had been a long day and my heart was heavy from the death I’d witnessed. But when it came to caring for my wards, my patience knew no bounds.
“Three,” he finally answered. “Three episodes, as you call them.” He ground out the words with extreme prejudice.
I nodded and made one last note before sticking the pad back into my coat. It was important to make sure the patient was cognizant of his symptoms.
“Nurse Morningstar.” His lips and tongue wrapped around my name in a way that spoke of danger, or desire. Perhaps a little of both.
Goosebumps raised along my skin as I reached for the syringes. Suddenly, the space between us seemed very short indeed.
“I want to trust you,” he said.
“Of course, you can trust me.” I assured him, while preparing his injections. The first was a sedative to control his episodes, and the other was the experimental drug prescribed by Dr. Sterling. “I’m here to help you.”
“What if I told you, you have to let me go?”
I paused and turned toward him. “That’s not a good idea…Leonidas.” I paused before using his name. Again, I wish I had a formal last name to address him by. “Not only is your quarantine for your own safety, but it’s a matter of public safety.”
He let out a discontented huff mixed with a growl. “I’m not infected with anything. I was tracking the creature and about to send it back to hell when we were both tranquilized and brought here.”
He’d never talked like this to me before. I set down the medicines to face him fully. “I read the report. But it seems you don’t remember the demon infecting you. You showed signs of supernatural irregularity. And we are working on getting you back to normal.”
“Supernatural irregularity,” he echoed. Hot impatience flashed over his features turning him into a savage creature for a moment. “There’s no irregularity. As I said, I was about to take down the creature when they stopped me.”
“Leonidas… Leo,” I said in a softer tone. “Try not to get worked up, or you might trigger another episode.”
“I didn’t have episodes before being brought to this place. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” Violence still balanced on the edge of his tone, as he shifted his weight to one leg.
Despite his intent to intimidate me, I met his eye and said. “I know. That’s why we are helping you. So we can get you back to normal and back to your home.”
With more confidence than I felt, I grabbed the first syringe and crossed the distance to Leonidas.
As I drew near, one side of his lips curved up and a scarred eyebrow arched with wicked promise. “I have never been normal, and I don’t have a home.”
The sense of being exposed and vulnerable washed over me, but it had more to do with not being used to a man towering over me. As a tall woman, there were few who did. As I neared Leonidas, his masculine scent washed over me. The scent of viral man and strong pine trees. The scent did things to my knees—turned them into rubber.
Nonsense, you are a capable nurse and he is a patient.
I flung the impure thoughts from my head like a pro shot putter and straightened my spine.
As soon as my fingers touched his neck, Leo jerked. He lunged at me with a feral growl. Though my stomach jerked in surprise, I forced myself to calmly take a step back. “Are you quite done now?”
A dark, throaty chuckle filled the room. “This is why they keep sending you to me. You aren’t afraid of the big bad man kept in chains.”
My fingers gently probed along the side of his neck, searching for the carotid artery.
Leonidas let out a male hum of approval at my touch. His face so close to mine, fear and excitement raced each other up and down my body. “Why is that?”
“Why is what?” I asked, completely losing track of what he asked me. The heat of him permeated my skin, while that purely masculine scent rolled off him.
“Why aren’t you afraid of me?” His feet firmly planted, as if readying to lunge at me. Those silver eyes flashed.
Meeting his intense gaze, I said, “Because I am more interested in helping you than wasting time on fear.”
The air between us thickened. Understanding sparked in his eyes. Taking care of people around me was more important than anything else. His stance relaxed.
I don’t know how I knew, but we were suspended at that moment, joined by some unspoken bond. It was like he understood exactly what I meant and shared the same sentiment. Everything else fell away, until it was just him and me. Leonidas saw to the core of me with that piercing gaze.
The sudden intimacy grew unbearable, and I broke eye contact. I did my best to assume my professional demeanor again, but I was shaken.
“Do we have time for a sponge bath today, legs?” The suggestion in his voice was unmistakable. His fingers reached up to stroke at the chains.
I pierced his artery with the needle. Leonidas gritted his teeth with a hiss as I pushed the plunger. The sedative.
Then I stepped back, to retrieve the second syringe. “Not today, I’m afraid.” My tone snapped like a cold rubber band.
Patients often made passes at me. Many said they did it because they’d never seen a tall blonde as built as me, but I knew it was sport that kept them entertained in their sick beds. It was nothing I wasn’t used to handling and putting them back in their place.
Though this wild man made my stomach flip like an acrobat after drinking twenty energy drinks, I was a professional care provider.
As I plunged the medicine into his neck, I accidentally met his eye again. They flashed light silver again. Evidence of his infection. I’d seen the before pictures. When he’d come in, they were a complex hazel, golden brown at the center, turning into a mossy green at the edges. But now an unnatural metallic sheen had all but swallowed up the warmth of their original color.
“I’m sorry.” The words escaped my mouth before I even knew what they meant.
The question of “why” entered his eye before he began to convulse. The chains strained and shook as Leonidas jerked. I stumbled back, out of reach as he growled, and the silver sheen fully engulfed the whites of his eyes.
My hand hovered over the door handle, bag already under my arm. There was nothing I could do to ease his pain, as he endured the effects of the medicine. Yet I couldn’t force myself to leave. Normally, my armed escort would usher me out of the room, but no one was here to make me go.
Instead I dropped the bag back on the counter and retreated to the corner to watch. Arms folded tightly against my chest, I stayed with Leonidas as he jerked, growled, and frothed at the mouth. The sedative should have lessened the effects, but Leonidas thrashed, seeming in more pain than I’d ever seen before.
His muscles began to bulge and the metal chains on his wrists and legs groaned.
I’d seen the footage of his reaction to the experimental treatment and his episodes, but seeing it up close was enough to make me question everything I knew about the human body.
Ten minutes later, he sagged against the chains.
“Do you really think I’m getting better?” he rasped.
I opened my mouth then closed it.
Doctor Sterling insisted Leonidas was on his way to recovery, but the more I administered the experimental drugs, the more volatile he became. I had to agree with him, that it didn’t seem his condition was improving at all.
When I brought it up to Sterling, she made a point to remind me she was the one with the medical degree. If I wanted to be part of something important, I needed to follow her lead and do what was asked of me.
Instead of answering, I pulled a fresh cloth from my bag and crossed over to him. I wiped the sweat from his brow and hairline.
Without looking up, he said, “You stayed.”
Though he couldn’t see me, I shrugged. “Didn’t have anywhere to be just now.”
Ever so slowly, he lifted his head as if it took all his strength. “I don’t belong in here. You need to let me out.”
My heart double timed at his raw plea.
“Doctor Sterling is doing everything to help you and get you back on your feet,” I repeated, though my heart wasn’t in it.
With a slight shake of his head, his fierce gaze pinned me through the hair hanging in his eyes. “No. She is doing something to me.” For once, confidence drained from his voice, replaced with hesitance and fear. “Something unnatural. I can feel it. She’s making me sicker.”
The door unlocked then opened to reveal Diego. I jumped back, hiding the cloth behind my back like a child being caught doing something naughty.
Diego frowned. “You okay, Betsy? You’ve been in here a long time. I got worried.”
“Betsy.” Leonidas said it on a low growl as if experimentally rolling my name around in his mouth. He shuffled back into the shadows, taking the word with him.
“I’m fine, Diego. Simply observing my patient.”
Diego nodded but kept a wary eye on Leonidas who’d dropped his head back down. “Best to get comfortable, Leo. No one will be available to resituate you for a couple hours. It’s busy around here and we are short staffed.”
I frowned. “You mean, you are going to keep him strung up like this?”
Diego shrugged. “It’s a two man job, nurse.”
Before he finished his sentence, I rolled up the sleeves of my lab coat. “Well, I see two people here, don’t you?”
Diego shook his head, eyes wide as if terrified by the prospect. “No offense, Betsy, but you aren’t trained for this.”
I’d had enough of people telling me about my limitations today. “The sooner we get this done, the sooner you can get home to Loretta and the kids.”
Diego eyed Leonidas then me, as if weighing the danger of the situation.
“The man is clearly exhausted.” I swept an arm at Leonidas who still sagged against the chains. “It’s highly unlikely he will undergo another episode in the time it will take us to get him comfortable.”
I saw the moment Diego lost the fight with himself. I did my best to cover up my smile of satisfaction. Today had been hard. I needed a win.
With a brief tutorial on how the chains worked, Diego directed me to help him with Leonidas. When we released a cable, Leonidas would be lowered and we’d need to catch him and help him over to the bed. He’d still be restrained, but he could walk around the room more freely. Not tied up like some sacrificial animal.
As soon as I released the cable on my side, after Diego, the chains slid with a sound rattle, and Leonidas lowered, arms landing on our shoulders. The man weighed a ton but I was no wilting flower. Despite the chill of the room, his body was surprisingly hot as he leaned against me. Then I realized his eyes were open, trained right on me. Shock jerked through me as he seemed to see through me to my soul. My knees threatened to turn to Jell-O again.
Red lights and blaring sirens went off. For a split second I’d thought it was my brain reacting to Leonidas’s unerring stare and warm touch. But no, the institute had gone on full alert which meant one of two things. There was either a contaminant or a subject loose. Or worse. Both.
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