“How about you, Chase?” his teammate Ricky said. “You want another?”
“Nah. I’m good.” Chase could already feel the one beer he’d had. In fact, he felt a little queasy. Why had he mixed alcohol with his pain killers?
He’d thought it would feel right to be back in Savannah. Back here, at Chet’s Bar. Instead, everything around him was a reminder that he wasn’t the man he was when he left. That he’d never be a soldier again, let alone a Ranger.
Hell, what was the point in getting together with these men? It was torture to hear about their recent escapades—and, of course, every one of them wanted to know about Ella.
Especially Cory. Chase could feel it—the judgement almost palpable in Cory’s stare—even though he refrained from asking.
Chase shifted. His prosthetic felt too tight, and phantom pain kept shooting up his leg.
The waitress arrived with appetizers.
Maybe that will calm my stomach.
Chase reached for one of the baskets and nearly knocked over his beer bottle.
He and Cory reached for it at the same moment, both their hands closing around the glass.
“I got it,” Chase snapped. “I don’t need help.”
Cory released his hold on the beer bottle and leaned back in his chair, eyes narrowed on Chase.
A chorus of Hey Maddy! followed, and Chase looked up to see Maddy lean over and give Cory a kiss. Not long ago that would have been him and Ella…
“I don’t mean to break up guy time,” Maddy said. “I’m just here to be the driver.”
“My car’s in the shop,” Cory said.
Conversation turned to car ailments. Maddy gave Chase’s shoulder a light squeeze as she set her purse on the table, then took a seat on the other side of Cory.
The pain cramped up Chase’s leg and he bit his lip. He dug his cell phone out of his pocket and checked the time. It wasn’t nearly time for pain meds.
He shouldn’t even be wearing his prosthesis right now. It’d only been a few days since he’d gotten it. Had he thought it would impress his buddies? Make him look bad-ass compared to his wheelchair?
His leg itched and burned and pinched. He was going to go crazy if he didn’t adjust it.
With careful, deliberate moves, he stood and reached for his cane. When Cory looked at him, Chase recognized the question in his eyes. “Gotta visit the head,” Chase said.
Cory nodded, but even so, Chase felt as if every eye was on his back as he limped toward the restrooms. Pain shot up his leg and into his torso with every jolting step.
He was relieved when he made it around the corner and out of sight of the guys. Instead of entering the bathroom, though, he headed for the storage room at the back of the bar. He twisted the knob and the door swung open.
He collapsed into the single ratty chair, biting back the groan that had built up in that eight-yard torture walk.
He hitched his pants leg up and slipped his fingers under the edge of the prosthetic.
The liner was bunched. He tried to remember what Kyle had said about the liner. Something about open sores if it rubbed too much…
He would have to remove everything, re-do the liner and shrinker sock, and put the leg back on.
He’d never done that alone. He wasn’t even sure he could do it with just one functional hand—but he didn’t think he could walk out of there without doing it.
Way to go, Richards.
A voice made him jump. “Chase?”
Through the crack in the door, he could see the woman attached to the voice. “Jesus, Maddy. You shouldn’t be here.”
She stepped into the room. “Are you okay?”
Chase frowned. “I’m fine.”
He wasn’t fine. He was an amputee, for God’s sake. An incomplete man.
His mom was going to go home at some point. Three hours away. How the hell was he going to function when he couldn’t even adjust his fake leg by himself?
Maddy closed the door behind her. Before he could speak, she waved a hand at his leg. “Can I help with that?”
Chase blew out a breath. “No. Just… shit.” He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, fighting the urge to throw something.
He heard some scraping sounds, and when he opened his eyes, it was to see that Maddy had sat down on a pile of boxes. Apparently she wasn’t going anywhere until they had a conversation.
“I’m worried about you.” The soft tone of her voice brought a rush of emotion, and he clamped his jaw tight to keep from saying something less-than-manly.
She shifted but she made no move to touch him. “It’s not like you to snap at people. And Ella—”
“I’m not going to pretend to know what you’re going through,” she said. “And I don’t know the first thing about prosthetics. But if you want to get out of here, I have a car. We don’t even have to go out the front door.”
She held his gaze.
He realized that was exactly what he wanted. What would the guys think?
“You don’t owe anyone an explanation.” What was she, a mind reader? “But if you want me to, I’ll tell them I ran you home. No big deal.”
Chase rubbed a hand through his growing beard. He was tired. The constant pain made him tired. “I’ll take you up on the ride.” He straightened. “But I won’t sneak out the back door.”