Beneath This Mask (Beneath #1)(12)

by Meghan March

“Charlie, step back for a second.” Simon was holding a gray cargo blanket. “We need to get the blanket under him to lift him into the back. We’re going to do it together, okay?”

I moved toward Huck’s head and Simon lay the blanket down. “Fuck,” he breathed. “Need to wrap up his wounds before we can move him.” Simon was all business, ripping off his suit coat and wrapping it around Huck. His dress shirt and tie became a tourniquet around Huck’s hindquarters. “Never done a field dressing on a dog, but this is the best I can do.” He worked the blanket under Huck’s body, trying to jostle him as little as possible. Huck whimpered and tried to move. “Hold still, buddy.”

Simon stood and spun to hit a button in the car. The tailgate of his BMW X5 rose. Wearing only a white T-shirt and suit pants, Simon crouched next to me. He nodded toward Huck’s head. “You get his head. It’s going to be a tight fit, but the back seat is down. As soon as we’ve got him in, climb over the seat and try to keep him calm. I’ll get us there as fast as I can without bouncing him around too much. Got it?” When I didn’t reply, he grabbed my shoulder and shook me. “Charlie, you with me?”

“Yeah.” I nodded.

“Okay. Let’s do this.”

We awkwardly maneuvered Huck into the SUV, and my heart clenched at every whimper and whine. Once he was settled, I scrambled onto the back of the seat so I could sit next to him. Simon put the car in drive and activated his Bluetooth system. I only half listened to his call, but it seemed he was relaying Huck’s condition to someone. He made another call, but I was deaf to everything but Huck’s whimpers. Long minutes later we pulled up to a large white and tan building, and three women and a man in scrubs scurried out, carrying a doggy stretcher. Simon popped the tailgate, and the man started calling out orders to the others. A strong arm wrapped around my middle as I tried to follow them as they maneuvered Huck out of the car.

“Come on, let’s go,” he said, pulling me back and out the side door.

When we entered the building, my eyes darted around, but Huck was already gone. I tugged at Simon’s arm, which was still wrapped around my waist, holding me upright.

“Where is he? Where did they take him?”

A woman at the reception desk responded. “They’ve taken him back to surgery. He’s in good hands, ma’am.” She slid a clipboard across the counter. “I’ll need you to fill out some forms for him and,” she hesitated, “I’ll need a credit card.”

I bit my lip. “I don’t have a credit card.” I looked down at the forms. Shit. It was like going to the fucking emergency room. Something I’d been happy to avoid for a year because I worked too damn hard to stay off the radar.

Simon shoved the clipboard away. “I’ve already instructed Jack—Dr. Richelieu—to add him to the Duchesne account.”

Her eyes went wide. “Oh, of course, Mr. Duchesne. I apologize.”

Simon nodded at her and led me to a bathroom where we both washed the blood from our hands. The gravity of the situation was further highlighted by the swirling red water running down the drain. My breathing accelerated, and I started to feel lightheaded. Simon once again wrapped an arm around me as he directed me into the waiting area and pushed me down into a chair. He crouched in front of me, pulling my hands into his. “Charlie, you need to breathe. You’re going to hyperventilate, and I don’t want to have to take you to the ER too.”

I looked down at our joined hands. His were big, tanned, with little white scars on the knuckles. They didn’t look like a politician’s hands. Mine appeared childlike in his grasp. My nails were short ovals painted black. His thumbs brushed back and forth over my wrists, where the ink stopped and unmarked skin started.

I matched my breathing to his, slow and rhythmic. He squeezed my hands, and I looked up to meet his eyes. I said the first thing that came into my head.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you. I wasn’t even trying to call you. I mean—I don’t even know how I called you. I was—” He squeezed my hands again, and I went silent.

“It’s okay. I get it. I wouldn’t have been your first call if you’d had your shit together.”

“No—I didn’t mean … I just meant I shouldn’t have troubled you.” I gave him what I hoped was a heartfelt stare. “But I’m really glad you came. I … I don’t know what I would do without him. He’s just a baby.” A fresh wave of tears spilled over, and Simon released my hands to wipe them away with his thumbs.

“Jack’s going to do everything he can for Huck. I promise. He’s one of the best; I wouldn’t have brought him here otherwise.” He paused, catching another tear on his thumb. “I’m glad you called me. You scared the hell out of me, but I’m glad it was me you called. Even if you didn’t mean to.”

“I’ll pay you back for everything. I promise. I … don’t do credit cards, but I have cash. At my place. I’ll pay you back every dime, I swear.” I hoped I wasn’t lying. Because I knew this wasn’t going to be cheap. It’d probably wipe out my emergency fund. But I didn’t care. I’d do whatever I had to do to make sure Huck was okay.

“Let’s not worry about it right now. Jack’s an old friend; we’ll work it out.” He stood, stretched, and sat in the chair beside me, threading his arm around my shoulders. “We’re going to be waiting a while, so why don’t you try to chill, okay?” It was so easy to let my head rest against his solid shoulder. I felt some of my tension drain away, but I couldn’t get the picture of Huck lying in the street out of my head.

Two hours later I was pacing the waiting room. I’d already flipped through damn near every magazine without reading a single word. The door to the back of the clinic opened, and a man in black scrubs stepped out. He looked to be in his early thirties and was classically handsome—blond hair with striking green eyes. But I didn’t give a shit what he looked like—all I cared about was the name embroidered in red above his pocket. Dr. Richelieu.

Simon rose and reached out a hand. The vet shook it. “How’s Huck?”

I crossed the room, barreling into Simon’s side in an attempt to get closer to the vet. “Please. How is he?”