Скачать книгу

eyes widened. No wonder he commanded the respect of the locals. The Texas Rangers walked on water in this part of the country.

      Hope made her heartbeat flutter. Hope, and those unearthly eyes he had fixed on her. Surely with his help, she could get this crowd to cooperate. How did the old saying go? One riot, one ranger?

      “Sergeant, why don’t you gather your crew,” she said softly, calling on his leadership. “Help me get them lined up over by my assistants. Then I’ll explain everything to you.”

      He glanced over his shoulder at the assembly murmuring behind him, then turned to her, his straight lips pressed thin. “Why don’t you explain everything right here. To all of us.”

      She tried to warn him off with a look, but his steely gaze knocked hers away as easily as a master swords-man parrying the thrust of an inferior opponent. A flush she couldn’t blame on the confinement of the bio suit heated her cheeks, but she lifted her chin, nonetheless. She had a job to do. Lives depended on her doing it.

      “This plane was bound for the CDC research facility in Atlanta.” Her heart thundered with an urgency she hoped didn’t carry into her voice. “It was carrying a contagion.”

      “What kind of contagion?”

      She hesitated. “The flight originated in Malaysia.”

      “ARFIS,” one of the workers behind him said, fear riding high in his voice.

      She nodded, grateful for the protective shield on her helmet that would hide her reaction to the statement. “Acute Respiratory Failure Infectious Syndrome. If containment has been breached…”

      Tears welled up as the image of the mass graves required simply to keep up with burial needs in Malaysia, where the disease had originated, sprang to mind unbidden.

      Among the workers, only the Ranger looked unaffected.

      “Then we’re all dead,” he said, his voice as unmoved as his eyes.

      Chapter 2

      Outrage swirled in Clint’s chest like a cyclone, circling ever tighter and faster until it spun itself into a hard knot that sat on the floor of his stomach where it could be kicked aside like a pebble on a sidewalk. Nothing of what he felt showed on his face—he made sure of it.

      After six-and-a-half hours of shoveling dirt over the smoldering remains of the airplane, suppressing a wild-fire that could have consumed thousands of acres of trees and wildlife, Clint’s bad arm ached like a son of a bitch. The smoke had burned his nose and throat raw. His eyes were watering like he’d been hit square in the face with a shot of Mace. But they’d saved the Sabine National Forest, him and the others who had worked through the dark and then dawn, so they weren’t complaining.

      Until Typhoid Mary showed up and told them they might have traded their lives for it.

      “ARFIS?” Clint nearly spat the word. “What in God’s name were you thinking, bringing that bug here?”

      The woman squared her shoulders. At least he thought she squared her shoulders. It was hard to tell with her wearing that astronaut suit.

      “I was thinking I might develop a vaccine.”

      He narrowed his eyes. Oh, yeah. She’d squared off, all right.

      She took a step forward, a chess piece moved to block his advance. Her respirator rasped with each breath, making her sound like some kind of neon Darth Vader. “I was thinking I might save a few million lives.”

      “Playing God.”

      “Playing doctor,” the woman spat right back at him. She took another step forward. The glare on her face shield dimmed and Clint got his first real look at her—and that pebble he’d discounted so easily a moment ago slammed back into his gut like a boulder tumbling downhill. She might not be too big, or too smart, playing with bugs like ARFIS, but she had a face that would inspire a horde of Huns to sing like angels.

      A hint of wild, dark hair framed her heart-shaped face. Her mouth pursed into a perfect bow, her lips naturally rosy. Her skin tone was olive and her nose turned up just enough at the end to give the face personality. She was alluring, exotic and his body tightened against his will.

      He tried to stop the physical reaction without success, then tried to ignore it and failed almost as miserably.

      What was wrong with him? Women did not affect him this way. Ever.

      “It’s what I do,” she finished, though he hardly heard her past his clamoring pulse.

      She stepped past him to face the gathered workers. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” she told them. The raspy respirator only made her French-Cajun accent sultrier. Sexier. “We don’t know that the virus has escaped the containers it was packed in, yet, much less whether any of you have been exposed to it. There’s no reason to panic.”

      She was good, Clint gave her that. Had a nice soothing way about her that sounded like she really cared. But the workers were beyond soothing. As his hormones cooled, Clint could feel the tension mounting behind him, fear rising.

      “If it’s so safe here,” someone called out. “Then why are y’all wearing them spacesuits?”

      “The suits are just a precaution. I’m sure you can understand—”

      “I understand that we ain’t got no suits.”

      A wave of murmured “Yeahs” rippled through the crowd. Their growing restlessness had the hairs prick-ling on the back of Clint’s neck. Trouble was brewing. The lady was in over her head. She didn’t know these people. Didn’t understand that they weren’t city folk, conditioned to expect the unexpected. They lived a quiet, routine life. The possibility of being at the epicenter of an epidemic was going to scare the hell out of them. And fear could make people do crazy things.

      “I seen those people on TV,” Deputy Sheriff Slick Burgress spoke up, finger-combing his long mustache anxiously. “The sick ones in Malaysia. They drowned in their own blood.”

      “Those were extreme cases—”

      “Then you admit it could happen!” someone shouted.

      “People, please. Even if the virus did escape, it can only live in the air for three, maybe four minutes. Once it settles from the air it can only survive if it lands in some sort of moisture, oil- or water-based. You’d have to touch it—”

      “Lady we’ve been climbing over this wreck since before dawn putting out fires. There’s hydraulic oil and fuel and water all over the place, and we done touched every bit of it,” Cal Jenkins, an EMT from Hempaxe, the closest town, admitted. His voice rose, shook. “I got a wife. Kids.”

      “The best thing you can do for them is allow my team to examine you.”

      “Screw that. I’m gettin’ out of here.” He threw his shovel down.

      “Me, too.”

      “I’m with you. She can’t stop us.”

      “That’s the worst thing you can do,” the woman cried.

      Out of the corner of his eye, Clint saw some of the workers edge away. The fear in the air was palpable, and ready to combust.


      He didn’t like the way she’d sauntered in here, safe behind her protective face shield and airtight suit, and told two-dozen men they might have contracted a fatal illness. He didn’t like that she asked them to line up to be poked and prodded before they’d had time to absorb the information and he especially didn’t like the way his heart dropped between his legs just from looking at her.

      Stiffly, careful to keep his gaze on the crowd and not her, he clenched his free hand into a fist in an uncharacteristic display of frustration and turned to stand shoulder to shoulder with her, dragging the deputy along with him. He didn’t

Скачать книгу