Shit. This can’t be it. I can’t go out like this.
So many things he wanted to do with his life. Instead of the past coming back to him, flashes of all he’d never do ran through his mind. He’d never run his own ranch. Never get married. Never have children. Never know the kind of love and happiness the rest of his family had found.
Damn if fate hadn’t swung the rope, lassoed his life, and yanked him from victory toward death.
Overwhelmed with pain, his body went numb. A collective gasp went up from the crowd, and the lights went out.
The minute Dane shot out of the gate on the back of Black Cloud, Bell’s heart slammed into her ribs again and again. Her stomach tightened with anticipation and dread all mixed together. She prayed he won. She prayed he didn’t get hurt.
God, he looked magnificent. His big body swayed back and forth as the animal bucked and tried to toss him off. Dane held tight. She admired his strength and determination, the focus he showed in his intense gaze. Arm in the air for balance, his fist clenched in triumph at the sound of the buzzer. The huge smile that spread across his face said it all. He’d won.
She breathed a sigh of relief and smiled with him. The bull twisted and caught Dane off guard. She sucked in a gasp and her heart stopped. Dane’s big body flew through the air. The bull hit him hard, then crushed Dane’s leg under his sharp hooves. Blood spurted from the compound fracture. Her medical training kicked in. She didn’t hesitate; she jumped out of her seat and shimmied down the row past the other stunned spectators. Then she ran down the stairs, jumped the short wall, ran the few feet to the seven-foot fences, and climbed over them. She didn’t stop when the security guard yelled, or when the two rodeo clowns tried to grab her. She headed straight for the man bleeding out on the ground. She skidded to a stop on her knees beside him, pushed his chaps up over his thigh, and tore open his jeans to reveal the splintered tibia and fibula sticking out of his slashed skin. She hated to move his messed-up leg, but necessity and saving his life prompted action. She stuck her hand down his boot, grabbed his ankle with her hand to stabilize it, and pulled his boot off with the other so she could see the full extent of the damage. The bull continued to stomp and twist in her peripheral vision. She straightened Dane’s leg, panic rising to her throat when he grunted in pain, but she didn’t stop. She pulled back the torn skin, found the squirting artery, and pinched it closed with her finger and thumb.
Bell glanced up just in time to catch the swing of the bull’s hindquarters up toward her head. She spread her knees, leaned back, and lay her shoulders to the ground between her feet. Despite her quick movements, she still caught a hoof to her forehead. Just a graze, but unfortunately, she let go of Dane’s artery. The bull’s hooves landed in the dirt inches from her arm. A horse and rider drew close, trying to distract the out-of-control animal. She pulled herself up and covered Dane’s body with hers, a hand over his face and head as the bull charged, head down. The horse and rider knocked the bull to the side, but not before she got slammed in the shoulder, rocking her and Dane back before the rodeo clowns drew the bull’s attention. Black Cloud ran off for the exit gates like nothing had happened.
Her head throbbed where she’d been hit, blood trickled down the side of her face, and her vision blurred and cleared a few times. The pain in her shoulder pulsed down her arm. She ignored it all and focused on her dying patient.
Covered in dirt and dust, she rose up, found the spurting artery again, pinched it off with her fingers, and checked Dane’s leg, waiting for the arena to clear so the paramedics could get to them.
Damn, he’d lost a lot of blood.
The way he’d been tossed around and slammed into the ground, she bet he had a concussion, possibly some bruised or broken ribs, maybe a spine injury.
“Dane, are you okay?” Tony sank down beside her on his knees.
“He’s out cold.”
“That was my bull he was riding. Shit.” Tony’s gaze met hers. “Bell, your head.”
“You need to back up and let the paramedics in,” she ordered, no time to talk or worry about herself. Dane needed them to save his life.
“How the hell did you get down here so fast?” Tony asked.
She didn’t know. She’d seen the injury, and the compulsion to get to Dane, to save him, had overridden every other thought, as well as her common sense.
That bull could have killed her.
A rush of fear washed over her, but she let it go and focused on Dane and keeping her fingers pinched onto his torn artery.
“We’ll take it from here,” a dark-haired paramedic said, dumping his gear in the dirt.