Michael's Discovery - By Sherryl Woods

Even through the haze of pain, Michael was aware of the charged atmosphere in his San Diego hospital room. The doctors had just delivered their dire predictions for his future with the Navy SEALs. Nurse Judy, normally a fountain of inconsequential, cheery small talk, was fluffing his pillow with total concentration, carefully avoiding his gaze. Clearly everyone was waiting for his explosion of outrage, his cries of despair. Michael refused to give them the satisfaction—not just yet anyway.

“Okay,” he said, gritting his teeth against the hot, burning pain radiating through his leg. “That’s the worst-case scenario. What’s the best I can hope for?”

His doctors—the best orthopedic doctors anywhere, according to his boss—exchanged the kind of look that Michael recognized. He’d seen it most often when an entire op was about to go up in flames. He’d been seeing it a lot since a sniper had blasted one bullet through his knee, then shattered his thigh bone with another. The head injury that had left him in a coma had been minor by comparison. The patchwork repairs to his bones had apparently just begun.

He still wasn’t sure how long he’d been out of touch, left for dead by the terrorist cell he’d penetrated. He did know that had it not been for a desperate, last-ditch effort by his team members, he would have died in that hellhole. He should be grateful to be alive, but if his career was over, how could he be? Though he was determined not to show it, despair was already clawing at him.

“Just tell me, dammit!” he commanded the expressionless doctors.

“That was the best-case scenario,” the older of the two men told him. “Worst case? You could still lose your leg.”

Michael felt a roar of protest building in his chest, but years of containing his emotions kept him silent. Only a muscle working in his jaw gave away the anguish he was feeling.

His entire identity was tied up with being a Navy SEAL. The danger, the adrenaline rush, the skill, the teamwork—all of it gave him a sense of purpose. With it, he was a hero. Without it, he was just an ordinary guy.

And years ago, abandoned by his parents, separated from his brothers, Michael had made a vow that he would never settle for being ordinary. Ordinary kids got left behind. Ordinary men were a dime a dozen. He’d driven himself to excel from his first day of kindergarten right on through SEAL training. Now these doctors were telling him he’d never excel again, at least not physically. He might not even walk…at least not for a long, long time. As for losing his leg, that was not an option.

With that in mind, he leveled a look first at one man, then the other. “Let’s see to it that doesn’t happen, okay? I’m a mean son of a gun when I’m pissed, and that would really piss me off.”

Nurse Judy chuckled, then bit off the reaction. “Sorry.”

Michael shifted slightly, winced at the pain, then winked at her. “It always pays to keep a man who’s itchy to use a knife aware of the consequences.”

She touched a cool hand to his cheek and studied him with concern. Since she was at least fifty, he had a hunch the gesture was nothing more than a subtle check of his temperature. The woman hadn’t kept her hands to herself since he’d been brought in two days ago with a raging fever from the infection that had spread from his leg wounds throughout his body. She’d been with him when he was rushed straight into surgery to try to repair the damage that had occurred halfway across the world. The doctors in the field hospital had done their best, but there had been little doubt that his injuries would require a higher level of medical skill.

He gave the nurse a pale imitation of his usually devastating smile. She was beginning to show signs of exhaustion, but she hadn’t left his side, unless she’d stolen a catnap while he’d been out of it in the operating room. Obviously she’d been hired by his bosses because she took her private-duty nursing assignments seriously. And given his own level of security clearance, hers was probably just as high in case he started muttering classified information in his sleep.

“How about some pain meds?” she asked. “You’ve been turning me down all morning. This stoic act of yours is beginning to get old. You’ll heal faster in the long run if you’re not in agony.”