I found her stopped in the galley, staring wide-eyed at the table.
“Shit,” I grunted.
She turned, slightly open-mouthed, and transferred the stare to me. “Did I interrupt something?”
“It’s nothing,” I stated. “I was just cleaning it.”
“Uh-huh,” she said flatly like she didn’t believe me.
I decided against trying another lie as she picked up the Springfield, removing the magazine and having a look. She set that down and pulled back the slide, ejecting the bullet in the chamber. She rolled her lips together, her eyes closing, the lashes fluttering against her cheeks for a moment before she opened those bottomless dark eyes and stared into mine.
“Looks like this was a happy accident, then,” she said softly, and palmed the round, shoving it into her coat’s pocket. She put the magazine back and hit the switch on the side, the slide popped forward, and she handed me my weapon.
I dumped it in the empty stainless steel sink of my galley with a clatter and moved further into my boat.
“Please, sit,” I said, swallowing nervously. “I’m going to grab my first aid kit.”
“Okay,” she said gently.
I moved past her in the narrow space and went back, past the stair, to the stern of my boat and the berth. I opened up the cabinet door beneath my bed and pulled out the soft-sided first aid kit. It was the size of a small suitcase; I had everything for any kind of emergency in here. I think every good medic’s first aid kit was essentially the same kit we carried out in the field, fully-stocked and ready to rock.
I expected her to be gone, but when I came back out, she was in my recliner in front of the TV, spun out to where I would have the most room to work. I knelt at her feet and opened up my kit. I was still in uniform from the shift I’d just worked, which I guess had helped sell the believability that I was, in fact, a medic. Why else would she just take my word for it?
“You okay?” she asked softly, and I couldn’t look at her. I nodded and unzipped compartments and sat back on my haunches with a sigh.
“I’m supposed to be taking care of you,” I reminded her and she smiled a charmed, if sad, little half-smile.
“Can’t take care of anybody if you don’t take care of yourself, first,” she said and her voice was gentle with just an edge of seduction that I don’t think was intentional. I think that was just her voice. I nodded and switched subjects. She’d already taken off her coat. It sat, with her purse on top, on the bench back by the table my bullets were still lined up on. My glass was empty and I had to smile at that. I mean, wasn’t that why I’d been drinking it? For the liquid courage? Not that she had anything to fear from me at all. I was genuinely just looking to help her.
“Not trying to get fresh with you,” I murmured, slipping my hands up the long skirt of her knit dress and finding the top of her heeled boot, up over her knee.
“I think it would be fine if you were,” she said dryly and I nearly swallowed my own tongue. I felt my face heat and didn’t respond to the overt flirtation, instead trying to remain all business.
I trailed my fingertips across the smooth leather and found a zipper at the inside of her ankle, let it down and gripped her heel gently; the high heel of her boot was loose and flopping.
“Think I found why you fell in the first place,” I murmured. “Boots might be toast. Shame too, they’re nice.”
“Dammit, they’re my favorite pair,” she pouted.
“Brace yourself, this might hurt a little bit.” I eased the boot off her foot and she sucked in a sharp breath, tensing as I carefully brought it down and all the way off.
“Ooo yeah, that’s a nasty sprain. You’re already swelling. Hang tight.” I rooted through my bag and found one of the chemical ice packs, popping the inner bladder and shaking it up; it instantly grew cold. I found a roll of Ace bandage and gently wrapped it onto the affected area temporarily so I could deal with her hand, which she was still cradling to her breast.
“Okay, onto the main event, let’s see it.” I held out my hand and waved at her to give up hers.
“This is probably going to suck, digging that bitch out, isn’t it?” she asked.
“It’s not going to be fun, but it’s not going to be too bad. I don’t think you’re going to feel it, the way I think I’m going to have to do it; it’s the disinfecting that’s going to sting a little. But, we’ll see what I’ve got in here to minimize that.”
“Okay, just get it out quickly,” she said, through gritted teeth and I chuckled.
“More whiskey?” I asked.
“Yes, if you please.”
I laughed outright then and stood up. “All right.”
I poured her a little more and handed her the glass. She took it with her uninjured hand and sipped while eyeing me with some trepidation. I smiled and turned my back to her, pulling her forward against it and resting her hand, palm up, on my knee.
“Don’t move, and no peeking,” I told her.
“Are you serious?” she asked, laughing a little.
“I am. Just relax, don’t look, and let me do my job. It’ll be over before you know it.”
“Okay, cool,” she said, her voice buzzing with nervousness, and I heard her take another sip.
I pulled out a scalpel and uncapped it. The sliver was under a few layers of skin but I didn’t think she would bleed much if I just parted them and lifted it out. If I went after it with a needle, we’d be here all night and I would have to break it up and pull it out in chunks. It would be better to get it out in one piece, disinfect, and bandage it up. No fuss, quick and easy. I didn’t want or need the scalpel freaking her out, though.
“Okay, here we go, ready?”
“No!” she blurted after exhaling a breath but it was too late, I was already drawing a sharp, clean line down the middle, the skin parting easily, the sliver emerging almost as if her body rejected its presence, offended that it’d even tried to take up residence there.
“Doing all right?” I asked, when I didn’t hear anything. I set the scalpel, still out of sight, on my kit and picked out a pair of tweezers from their pocket, flicking off the plastic keeping them together with my thumbnail.
“No!” Her voice was tight and clipped.
I could hear the smile in my voice as I told her calmly and evenly, “You’re doing great, Claire. Just a couple more things and we’ll be all done.”
“Mm,” she said noncommittally, her voice strained, her breath held tight. I set the sliver aside on a piece of gauze and pressed another piece to the palm of her hand while I pulled a bottle of hydrogen peroxide from its spot. I pulled the cap off with thumb and forefinger and moved the gauze away. It was dotted with crimson and I frowned; it was bleeding a little more than I expected, but still not too bad.
“Maybe a slight sting.” I sprayed the disinfectant solution onto the cut and it frothed and foamed with a vengeance. She jumped and let out an explosive breath that tickled across the back of my neck before her forehead dropped below it, to press just between my shoulder blades. I tingled all over at the contact.
“That’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” she confessed.
I dabbed at the cut and said, “Yeah, this is pretty mild stuff.”
“Thanks for that,” she murmured, muffled, and I smiled.
“You’re a tough girl, Claire.”
“Ha!” she mocked and I smiled some more.
She eased more against my back and I tried not to freeze and revel in the contact. I missed human touch something fierce. I ached for it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go my twin’s route and find it in a string of meaningless hookups. That just wasn’t for me.