“Trixie!” I called. “Trixie, do you have any allergies?” The only response I got was a muffled grunt. I looked up at the bartender. “Do you know if she has any allergies?”
Pam shrugged. “Just shellfish. You know, shrimp and stuff? But she’s really careful to . . .” Pam glanced back at the remains of my sandwich and my hands, which were touching Trixie’s neck. “Ohhh.”
I raised my crab-contaminated hands away from Trixie’s skin and dashed for the bar. I grabbed a prepackaged pair of yellow rubber kitchen gloves from the bar sink. “Is there a clinic in town?” I asked. Pam nodded. “Call them and explain the situation. Tell the doctor that we’ve got anaphylaxis, plus a possible concussion. We’re going to need Benadryl and an epi shot, plus fluids. You got that?”
Pam nodded and dialed the phone behind the bar.
I looked to Abe. “Go into the ladies’ room and get Trixie’s bag. She probably has an EpiPen.”
“I can’t go into the ladies’ room!” Abe protested.
“It’s an emergency,” I told him, depressing Trixie’s swollen tongue with my gloved fingers. “And you own the bar.”
“Sorry, right,” Abe mumbled sheepishly, before booking across the room to the bathroom door.
Caleb dropped to his knees beside me, watching me with a confused expression. “Is she faking?” he asked.
“You can’t fake that,” I said, nodding toward her swollen mouth and face. I folded Caleb’s jacket and placed it under Trixie’s head, tilting her head back to keep her airway open. “She must be pretty sensitive if contact with my hands could make her react like this. Of course, I bloodied her lip, which may mean the shellfish contaminants got into her bloodstream.”
Abe jogged back to us with a pink camouflage canvas rolling bag. I unzipped it and dug through a rainbow of sateen bustiers, feather boas, and thongs, until I found a small toiletry bag kept separate from the enormous makeup kit stuffed inside the lid. The black nylon bag was cleaner and newer than the makeup kit and was clearly used less. I unzipped it and found a plastic tube with a purple label marked “EpiPen.”
“Does anyone have any scissors or a knife?” I called. “I need to split her pants.”
Sheepish again, Abe knelt beside me and reached for the hem of Trixie’s uniform pants. He gave the leg of her pants a sharp jerk, and they split up to the knee. He pulled at the tear-away pants, splitting the Velcro to her thigh. My mouth hung open for a moment before I snapped myself out of it and removed the tube’s flip-top. I clicked the blue release button and jabbed the auto-injector into her outer thigh, holding it there to make sure the medicine was injected.
I kept my fingers at Trixie’s throat, waiting for the telltale spike in her pulse. In a few seconds, the swelling in her lips decreased ever so slightly. Her legs began to twitch and shake, as if she had been zapped with a cattle prod. This was a normal nerve response to the epinephrine, something patients complained bitterly about, along with nausea, anxiety, and bouts of the shakes. Of course, I’d be anxious if I’d had a stranger jab an injection into my bare thigh.
I took another jacket from a patron who stood nearby ogling the red spangly top peeking through Trixie’s uniform shirt. I glared at him while I draped the jacket over her chest. She needed to stay warm.
A handsome middle-aged man in a maroon St. Nicholas Clinic sweatshirt barreled into the barroom, black leather medical bag in hand. He spotted the woman on the floor and made a beeline for us.
“What in the hell happened to this woman?” he demanded, examining the swelling and bruises on her face.
“We had a minor difference of opinion before she went into anaphylactic shock,” I said.
He looked up at me, blue eyes flashing as if he was about to light into me about her condition. “It doesn’t look like you’re in much better shape, ma’am,” he said disdainfully.
I pressed my gloved hand to my mouth and drew back yellow latex smeared with blood. Well, that certainly explained the stinging in my lip. I turned to Caleb, who was glaring at the doctor. Maybe he didn’t appreciate his tone with me?
“It’s not that bad,” Abe assured me.
Groaning, I peeled off the contaminated gloves and reached toward the box of proper medical gloves in the doctor’s bag. “May I?”
The doctor gave a curt nod. “Ned Mabry.”
“Anna Moder,” I told him, the name rolling off my tongue on autopilot, then I rattled off a succinct description of Trixie’s condition. “Patient engaged in a fistfight that ended with a blow to the back of her head when she hit the floor. Patient has a severe allergy to shellfish and had contact with residue from a crab salad sandwich. Before hitting her head, she developed respiratory difficulty and early-stage swelling of the lips and tongue. I auto-injected a point-three-milligram dose of epinephrine that the patient carried with her in her purse. Swelling has reduced. Patient is responding as expected.”
“Thank you, Nurse Moder.” Dr. Mabry nodded, checking Trixie’s vitals.
“It’s Doctor Moder,” I snapped, irritated that, like a lot of male doctors, Mabry had assumed that a woman with medical knowledge ranked below him. I ignored the way Caleb’s eyebrows winged up. Stupid pride.
“Pardon me,” he said. “I don’t know a lot of doctors who engage in fistfights at stripper bars.”
“They’re exotic dancers,” I corrected, becoming more and more irritated with this guy. “And it’s none of your business what I’m doing here.”
“Well, you’ve provided appropriate treatment,” he said. “I’ll take her to the clinic for overnight observation, but she should make a full recovery. I’m open until ten if you want to follow up with her.”
I nodded. Trixie was loaded onto a gurney and wheeled away to the clinic. The crowd, which had seen more than its fair share of entertainment that evening, dispersed. I sat heavily on the pool table, swiping at my busted lip with antiseptic. Caleb was at my side in a flash, taking over dabbing duties and then leading me to Abe’s office to make full use of his first-aid kit. “You OK?”
“I saw Million Dollar Baby. No matter what I say, do not pull the plug, OK?” I told him.
“Maybe we should go to the clinic and let the doctor check you,” he suggested anxiously.
I shook my head. “No, I’m fine.”
“I guess you would know. You really are a doctor, huh?” he asked.
“That’s what the fancy piece of paper I bought on the Internet says.”
“Well, even under the circumstances, it was neat to get to see you work. You usually don’t speak with that kind of authority and confidence.” I opened my mouth to protest, but Caleb added, “It was a good thing. I felt like I was seeing the real Tina. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of her.”
He grinned and kissed my bruised lip, making me wince. “My face hurts.”
“Here.” He pressed a gentle kiss to the tip of my nose.
“Oh, my God, she has you so whipped,” Abe groaned from the doorway. He wrinkled his face in disgust. “What did I tell you about being all cutesy?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps I can’t remember because of the stripping Amazon who pummeled my head!” I shot back, glaring at both of them. “A warning about her being Godzilla in a bikini would have been nice.”
“Well, to express our apologies—and our appreciation for not letting our friend die from the food at my bar—here you go.” Abe pressed an envelope into my hand. “The fellas wanted me to give you this.”
I opened it, amazed at the green profusion of singles that sprang forth from its confines. “What the—?”
“Well, my guys took bets on the fight. You won on fourteen-to-one odds. That’s a pretty decent cut of the proceeds.”
“Fourteen to one? That’s kind of hurtful,” I said, staring down at the envelope of crumpled bills. “I tell you what, why don’t you give my share to Trixie?” I said, pressing the money back into his hand. “Tell her it’s to help with her medical bills. It’s my fault for exposing her to the crab anyway.”
“You’re good people, Tina.” Abe nodded and produced a bloody raw steak from behind his back. Before I could protest, he slapped it against my bruised eye.
I yelped. “There’s no medical proof that this works.”
Caleb snorted. “Steak is Abe’s answer to most problems. You know, I keep trying to keep you out of situations where people are swinging at you. And you keep jumping right back into them. I give up. Jump away. Maybe if you’re actively trying to get hurt, you’ll stay safe, like reverse psychology.”
“I really didn’t mean for it to happen this time. But it was oddly therapeutic. Getting hit and getting back up,” I said. “It’s like facing my biggest phobia.”
“Don’t go doing any more ‘therapy’ for a while, OK?” he grumbled, before observing in wonder, “You gave Trixie your cut.”
“Yeah, it felt weird taking money for beating someone up. Also, there were some questionable stains on some of the bills,” I said, shuddering.
It took some convincing to prevent Caleb from actually carrying me out of the bar. He drove me right back to the motel and started the shower, helping me out of my clothes and tsking over my bruises.
“I’m not going to just jump you this time,” he rumbled. “This is me, very slowly, very deliberately, going about the business of us having sex. We’re going to talk about your ‘no-fly zones’ and protection and the possibility of you getting pregnant, since there’s a really good chance of that happening, what with the werewolf sperm and all—”
I cut him off with a kiss. “Please stop talking.”
He nodded sharply, muttering into my mouth, “Oh, thank God.”
And with that, he lunged at my mouth, kissing and licking and biting, until he’d explored every inch of it. We slid under the blissfully warm spray, and I winced as it beat against my face. I braced my arms against the wall, letting the water sluice down my back.
Warm hands brushed down the length of my spine. I jumped, nearly knocking my head into the wall, but Caleb’s hand cradled my skull and guarded it from the impact. I turned, my feet slipping a little on the tub surface as I wound my arms around his neck. I pressed my head into the hollow of his throat while his hands stroked my back.
The water cascaded over us, rippling over his skin. I ran my fingers along the line of his ribs, making him jump. I giggled, making him grin as he gently poked at my ticklish sides. He swallowed my indignant squeal. His fingers curled around my hip, and he hitched my legs around his waist. Already encased in a condom, he lined up our bodies and slid forward with aching hesitation. I gasped, and his tongue darted into my mouth, the water moving over our mouths.
I tipped my head back against the door, breathing hard, pinned there like a butterfly. Caleb’s hair was dripping over his forehead, inky black, as he loomed over me. His eyelashes stuck together, spiky and wet. I nodded, moving my hips up to meet him. He relaxed, grinding me into the wall, sliding me up and down as we moaned in unison.
Just when we’d worked out an easy rhythm, the water ran cold, and I practically vaulted us out of the shower. Laughing, he carried me to the bed, gently dropped me onto the bedspread, and crawled over me.
As if he wanted to remind me that I was dealing with a dangerous supernatural creature, he bit down on my bottom lip. I dragged my nails down his back, making him hiss. His skin was so hot. It practically radiated against my palms as I stroked his back.
His fingers pressed down over my hips, pulling me back, aligning me with him. I felt him between my thighs, warm and hard and thick. I leaned forward and bit the skin of his hand, the delicate web between his thumb and forefinger.
He yowled in protest, but he didn’t stop. His fingers cupped the back of my neck, cradling my throat and pulling me back against his chest, nipping and biting the sensitive skin. His hands trailed over my arms, pressing my palms against the bedspread as his teeth sank just a bit deeper. I cried out, freeing one hand to reach back into his hair, and yanked before he could break the skin.
His hips pushed me into the rhythm he needed without keeping me from what gave me pleasure. His warm, deft fingers trailed down my back, around my hip, and between my thighs, to find that special little bundle of nerves. My hips stuttered as he teased me there, and the very small part of my brain still capable of thinking vowed horrible, anatomically specific revenge if he didn’t continue doing exactly that for, oh, maybe a month.
A wonderful pressure rippled down my spine, through my belly, and I was falling, rising, spinning, all at once. I lost all sense of balance, falling forward and clawing at the arm around my waist as dark, pulsing shudders racked my body. Caleb pitched forward and nearly knocked me facedown onto the comforter. He hitched me up, hugging me to his chest and balancing me on his lap, while he guided my hips up and down. Because I didn’t have the coordination to do that for myself.
I felt him shake and give a long, guttural moan before flopping to his side, pulling me down with him. Our breathing evened out, and I could move my legs again, rolling my ankles from side to side just so I could feel the pleasant little aftershocks that fired down to my toes.
Caleb was staring at me in that analytical way of his, trying to gauge my reaction.
“And suddenly, sex happened,” I muttered into the pillow.
Caleb’s mussed head popped up over my shoulder. “Slower, sweeter, romantic-comedy sex will happen later, I promise. Sorry most of it was against a shower wall.”