It took her only a heartbeat to register the fact that she’d been lied to. A group of men in black leather boots and jackets stood by a small couch pulled close to the fireplace. One of the men she recognized as Tom Brewer, a member of the Steel Infidels, a well-known motorcycle gang in town rumored to be involved in several illegal activities.
A few months back he’d brought her an abused pit bull that he’d snatched from a man’s backyard. The poor dog had been chained up in the hot sun for days without adequate food or water.
Kendra hadn’t asked any questions at the time and had been grateful to Tom for bringing the dog in. It had taken a while, but eventually she’d been able to nurse the dog back to health and had even found a nice home for him with a couple of kids.
Later she’d read in the town’s newspaper that someone had beaten the hell out of the dog’s owner in what the newspaper had called a “random act of violence.” She’d suspected Tom Brewer and the Steel Infidels had been behind it, and to be honest, she was glad. The man deserved much worse in her opinion. No punishment was bad enough for an abuser of innocent animals.
A closer look at the group revealed another man wearing nothing but jeans and steel-toed boots sprawled out on the couch. From what she could see, the bare-chested man was positively lethal when it came to the looks department...and seriously injured.
He was a mass of hard-packed muscle and looked to be in his late twenties with a dark tan and jet black hair. Blood spilled from a wound in his left arm, dripping through the makeshift tourniquet and onto the wood floor. A large black tattoo with the motorcycle gang’s emblem wrapped across his back and upper shoulders.
Kendra’s mind raced as she tried to get a handle on the situation. She couldn’t possibly imagine what had transpired in the cabin and didn’t want to know. Getting tangled up with the Steel Infidels was something only a fool would do. And nobody had ever called Dr. Kendra Shaw stupid.
“Well gentlemen, I guess I can assume there’s not an injured eagle in here after all,” she said before turning and heading back towards the front door.
Damn! Too late.
The heavyset man who had let her in was now blocking her exit.
Kendra drew in a deep calming breath before whirling around. “Okay, somebody had better tell me what is going on here. Who called me?”
Tom Brewer cleared his throat. “I made the call, Dr. Shaw. I’m sorry for lying to you like that to get you up here. We didn’t know what to do and we needed help. Fast.” He waved a hand toward the injured man. “Flint took a bullet in the arm. We didn’t know who else to call.” He shrugged helplessly and looked away.
Kendra’s eyebrows shot up. “How about 911? That’s always a good first choice. Jesus Christ, Tom! I’m a vet, not a doctor! You need to take him to Union General right now.”
She hurried to the injured man’s side. Not only was his skin unnaturally pale underneath his tan, his breath was also shallow and erratic.
“When did this happen?” she asked.
“An hour or so ago,” Tom answered. “We were on a run to pick up some supplies over in Towns County. When we came back through the valley, an ambush was waiting for us. They opened fire and caught Flint in the arm.”
Kendra held up her hand to stop him from talking. She had enough sense to know the less she knew about the details, the better. Getting involved in the Steel Infidel’s business was a very bad idea.
She turned back to the injured man and quickly assessed his injury the best she could. “The first thing we need to do is stop the bleeding and clean the wound to prevent infection. Then we’ll need to load him into my truck. Unless you guys have a vehicle parked somewhere that I didn’t see?”
Tom shook his head. “No ma’am, we all rode our motorcycles up here. Even Flint.”
Kendra couldn’t believe the injured man rode all the way from Towns County and up the mountain on a motorcycle with a bleeding gunshot wound in his arm. He obviously must have a high tolerance for pain. Or maybe he was drugged up. Probably high as a kite on something. That would explain it.
Or it could be attributed to an intense flood of adrenaline hitting him when the shots were fired. She’d heard of cases where people didn’t realize they had been shot until much later due to the ability of adrenaline to mask pain.
A tall man with dark brown hair moved to the front of the group and knelt beside her. One glance at his worried face told her he must be related to the injured man. The resemblance was uncanny though this man was a little older.
“I’m Jesse,” he said, reaching out to shake her hand. “Flint’s brother. What do you need to stop the bleeding?”
“Some clean towels or dishcloths if you have them.” She quickly removed the bandage around Flint’s arm. She knew the men probably didn’t realize the tight tourniquet they had applied would begin to cause irreversible tissue damage in another hour. Then again, bleeding to death was worse.
She frowned when she saw the seriousness of the wound. “The bullet is still in there and it looks really bad. I’ll wrap it up as best as I can to stop the bleeding then we need to hurry. Someone should call the hospital to let them know we’re coming in with him.”
Jesse laid a firm hand on her arm. “That’s going to be a problem, Dr. Shaw,” he replied quietly. “Flint can’t go to the hospital. You’re going to have to take the bullet out and stitch him up here. That’s why we called you.”
Kendra leaned back on her heels and blinked at him in confusion. “What are you talking about? Look, buddy,” she replied. “I don’t have to do anything. I don’t know who the hell you and your buddies think you are, but you can’t trick people then expect them to do whatever you tell them to. What do you mean he’s not going to the hospital? Are you crazy? He’s been shot! For the last time, I’m not a medical doctor! Do you want him to lose the use of his arm? He’s lucky the bullet didn’t nick a major artery or he’d already be dead. Honestly, I’m not qualified to treat him. That is the God’s honest truth.”
Flint groaned in pain and struggled to sit up before slipping back into unconsciousness. Kendra pushed her fingers through her long black hair and exhaled a breath. Being asked, or in this case, probably being forced to treat a person wasn’t a situation she’d ever been faced with before. As far as she was concerned, it wasn’t worth losing her veterinarian’s license over.
The law was the law. Period. She wasn’t licensed to treat people. Legally, she shouldn’t touch him. If something went wrong, he could sue her. And rightly so.
“For God’s sake!” she said, pointing to Flint. “Take a good look at him. With friends like you, this guy doesn’t need enemies.” She glared at Jesse. “Or family.”
“Haven’t you ever treated an animal with a gunshot wound before?” Jesse asked. “Surely you must have. Plenty of times.”
Kendra sighed. “Of course I have. But it was under anesthesia with IV fluids and monitors going to keep the animal stable. It’s obvious your brother is in terrible pain. Explain to me why you aren’t willing to take him to the hospital? Is it because of insurance? Because if it is, they still have to treat him in an emergency even if he doesn’t have any. This is crazy. I’m calling an ambulance myself.” She pulled her cell phone out of her jacket pocket and started dialing.
Jesse ripped the phone from her hands and turned it off before sliding it into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. “Sorry. Can’t let you do that. We didn’t want to involve you in the details, but it looks like there’s no other way to make you understand our position here. A rival motorcycle club, the Liberators, have put a hit out on Flint. Six months ago, they murdered one of our crew in a shootout over in Tennessee. So they mean business. They’ll have every hospital for miles around staked out watching for us to bring him in.” He shook his head. “It’s not safe. The next time Flint might not be so lucky. We can’t take a chance. Not with my brother.”
Kendra wondered if he might be telling the truth. She’d heard rumors of gang activity going on in the area but hadn’t ever paid much attention to the gossip. Occasionally, in the summer, she would see a group of motorcycles riding down Bardsville’s main street. As far as she knew, they weren’t doing anything other than making a lot of obnoxious noise.
She stood up and dusted off the seat of her pants. “I don’t like this. I don’t appreciate being lured here under false pretenses and I don’t like being put in this kind of position. I’m not licensed to treat people and could lose my veterinarian’s license if I lay a hand on him. Besides, don’t you realize doctors are required to report gunshot wounds to the police department?”
“That’s only for doctors, right? Not vets?” Jesse replied. “Since you’re not a medical doctor, it doesn’t apply to you.”
He had a valid point.
Flint moaned again. The undeniable pain in his voice pushed Kendra into a quick decision.
“If I do this, it has to stay between us,” she said. “Not a word to anybody. Not another soul. And you all owe me. Big time. Do you understand?” She looked around the room, slowly making eye contact with each man to let them know she wouldn’t be intimidated. Leather jackets and beards didn’t scare her. After glancing at Jesse for guidance, they all nodded.
“Please,” Jesse pleaded quietly. “I’m begging you to help him. We’ll be in your debt if you do.”
“Alright, I’ll help him,” she snapped irritably. “But give me back my phone. I have other patients, you know. The clinic might need to get in touch with me. And don’t worry, I promise not to call 911. Not unless he takes a turn for the worse. Then all bets are off. I’m not going to let a man die on me because of some stupid gang war.”
Jesse reluctantly pulled the phone from his jacket and handed it back to her. “Tell us what to do,” he said.
“First, we need to get his pain level under control before I try to clean the wound.” She rummaged through her medical bag and found only animal medication. Not even a bottle of ibuprofen. “He needs something stronger than what I have. These medications aren’t approved for human use.”
“We might be able to help you with that.” Jesse motioned to the big man who was still guarding the front door. “Get the stuff, Rocco,” he ordered. Rocco hurried out of the room and came back a minute later with two large grocery bags. He dumped the contents of both bags onto the coffee table.
“Good heavens!” Kendra exclaimed as bottles of prescription vials rolled around the table. She picked them up and read the labels: codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycotin, Ativan, Xanax, Valium. Upon closer inspection, she noticed the labels included names of people who obviously weren’t standing in the room. She recognized one name, Rosa Smith, a little old lady who called her a couple of times a year to come out and check her horse’s hoofs.
“Where did you get these?” Kendra demanded, knowing the answer before she asked. The black market for painkillers wasn’t exactly a big secret.
Jesse had the decency to clear his throat and look away before answering. “Some of the elderly people on fixed incomes in the community need cash, so we buy their unused medications.” He shrugged as if it wasn’t a big deal. “They would just flush them down the toilet or throw them away anyway. It’s a win-win situation. For everybody.”
“You buy them to resell on the black market,” Kendra stated. She continued cleaning Flint’s wound while she talked. “To junkies? To people hooked on painkillers?” The thought was horrifying.
“No, not necessarily,” Jesse answered. “Quite frequently it seems we have a need for them ourselves. Like now.”
Kendra let out a short humorless laugh and rolled her eyes. “I can well imagine.” She chose the strongest painkiller in the pile and shook out three pills. “Can someone get a glass of water? I need to get these pills in him before I try to remove the bullet and stitch him up. It’s going to hurt like hell and he’ll need something strong to take the edge off.”
Kendra leaned over and placed the back of her hand against Flint’s forehead. She tried and failed to ignore the faint whiff of cologne that held a sexy hint of heat and leather.
“His name is Flint?” she asked for clarification.
“Flint! Wake up.” She shook him gently, attempting to bring him to long enough to swallow the pills. “Come on buddy! You need to open your eyes so I can give you something for the pain. Then I’ll knock you out again the best I can.”
His eyes flickered for a moment then closed again. “Flint! Open your eyes,” she coaxed. Suddenly, his eyes opened and she stared into the greenest eyes she’d ever seen; tantalizingly deep and penetrating. She hesitated for a moment, completely caught off guard. “That’s it. Now open your mouth. I’m going to give you some pills and then I want you to swallow a couple sips of water.”
Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead and slid down his face as he fought against the pain to stay conscious. “Someone get me a cold rag!” she yelled. The men scattered, eager to do something to help.
Kendra placed her hand behind his neck and propped him up a little. Flint opened his mouth wide enough for her to place the pills on his tongue. She held the glass to his lips and encouraged him to drink. “Don’t choke. Make sure you swallow all three pills. Trust me, you’ll be glad for it later.”
Flint opened his eyes again for a split second, making contact with hers for an instant before sagging heavily against her.
“He’s out again,” Kendra said. “I need to scrub my hands and put on a pair of gloves. Then I’ll need a couple of you guys to hold him down in case he comes to again while I’m working on him. Let’s do this as fast as we can while he’s unconscious. It will be much easier on him that way.”
She worked quickly to clean the wound and remove the bullet. He was lucky. The injury was bad, but it could have been so much worse, even lethal if the bullet had landed just a few inches lower. Flint twitched and jerked in pain while she worked, but he didn’t regain consciousness. Once the wound was cleaned to her satisfaction, she deftly stitched him up with the supplies from her bag. After bandaging his arm, she walked into the kitchen to throw away her gloves and wash her hands.
Jesse followed behind her. “Someone needs to make sure he gets the painkillers every three hours,” she instructed him. “Don’t wait for the pain to hit him first. You have to stay ahead of it. Also, if at all possible try to get him to eat a few bites of something so the painkillers don’t make him sick. Give me your phone number and I’ll call to check on him in the morning. Obviously you already have my number.”
Jesse tucked his hands into his pockets before speaking. “Dr. Shaw, we have another problem,” he said. “While you were working on Flint, Tom got a call from one of our other club members in town. The Liberators hit us in two places at once. They threw a Molotov cocktail through the window of my younger brother’s tattoo parlor. Luckily, nobody was hurt. The authorities are there now asking a lot of questions that Sam doesn’t know how to answer. We need to get back to town to take care of it before things escalate further.” He let out a long breath. “We all have to go. Now.”
Kendra stared at him in shock then threw up her hands in disbelief. “You’re all going to go and leave him here by himself? What if he gets sick and throws up or goes into shock? He’s unconscious! Someone needs to stay here to look after him. I don’t think you understand how serious his injury is.”
“I was really hoping you might be able to do that. You know, just stay here for the night and take care of him. You would know what to do if something went wrong. And with your expertise, you could take much better care of him than we could anyway.”
Kendra’s mouth opened then closed. Was he insane? What the hell was he thinking? That she would be willing to drop everything and hang out overnight in a secluded cabin with a criminal she didn’t know? Yeah right, like that would happen in a million years. If they wanted someone to look after him, they could call one of their groupies.
Kendra was already shaking her head. “Look, this is not my problem and definitely not my responsibility. I did what you asked because it was an emergency situation. I fixed his wound and stitched him up. Any other person in their right mind would’ve called both 911 and the cops. You’re asking way too much from me.”
She glanced over at Tom, who was sitting silently at the kitchen table. “I know I owe you for rescuing that dog and bringing him in, but come on. This is crazy. You’ve crossed so far over the line here already. I’m not kidding when I say I could very well lose my license if someone found out about this.”
Jesse nodded gravely as she spoke. “I know what we’re asking. We all do. That’s why I’m willing to make it worth your while. Have you heard of the charity ride the Steel Infidels always put on in the spring?”
Kendra shrugged. “Not really, but go ahead.” Personally, she’d always wondered if motorcycle gang charity drives were scams. Or at the very least if the gangs were skimming most of the donations off the top. She’d bet good money they were.
“Our club’s bylaws allow us to choose any charity we want to donate the funds to,” Jesse explained. “Basically it’s a goodwill gesture on our part for the community. So I have a proposition for you. What if we agreed to donate the money from the ride this year to the Shaw Wildlife Center in exchange for your help?”
“Seriously?” Kendra answered, suddenly much more interested. “How much money do you usually raise on a charity drive?”
“Twenty thousand minimum. Think of how far that would go in your center. Last year we wrote a check to the children’s burn unit for twenty-three thousand dollars.”
Whoa! Kendra’s mind started churning. Twenty thousand dollars would take the center out of the red. The wildlife rehabilitation center was currently funded solely by donations and by her vet practice that shared the same building. There were times when the center barely had enough money for raw meat for the carnivores, much less any specialized housing facilities.
She thought of all the things twenty thousand dollars could do for the center. A donation that large would help build a huge outdoor aviary for the orphaned and injured raptors that came in every year. Plus the money might even cover the cost of a deer facility to allow the baby fawns to acclimate to the weather before being released back into the wild.
On one hand, she absolutely loathed the thought of getting involved with a motorcycle gang up to their necks in illegal activities. On the other hand, the money would help feed a lot of animals when baby animal season rolled around in the spring.
This wasn’t the first time Kendra had been faced with difficult choices where animals were concerned. And this time, like every other time, no matter the consequences, she chose the side of the animals. Right or wrong, it didn't matter.
She didn’t hesitate. “Okay, I’ll stay,” she said firmly. “How long do you need me?”
Jesse heaved a long sigh of relief. She noticed he was quite a handsome man in a bad boy sort of way. Though not as devilishly good-looking as his injured brother.
“As long as you can spare,” he replied. “Flint needs to stay here where he is safe and out of sight for a couple of days at least.”
“You’re lucky it’s a Friday and I don’t have any big plans. A few of my staff are on duty at the clinic all weekend to take care of the animals, but I’ll need to be back at work on Monday morning. Three nights at the absolute maximum and that’s it. No more. Two would be better. One of you fellows better be back up here bright and early to check on him no later than Monday morning.”
Jesse reached out to shake her hand again. “Thank you so much, Dr. Shaw. You don’t know how much this means to us. Especially to me.”
Kendra shook his hand and dropped it quickly. “Let’s get something straight,” she interrupted. “I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for the wildlife clinic. As long as you come through with your end of the deal, we’ll all be fine. Don’t even think about screwing me over.”
“Don’t worry, my word is good,” Jesse replied.
“Good. Before all of you hightail it out of here, I need you to answer me one more question.”
“How do you know the people who shot Flint, the Liberators, aren’t going to come up here looking for him? If they knew your route before, wouldn’t it be plausible they would know where to find him now?”
“Don’t worry,” Jesse replied. “This is a safe house. Nobody outside our club knows about it. You’ll both be safe here, I promise. I wouldn’t leave him here unprotected if I didn’t believe that.”
“A safe house?” Kendra echoed. She didn’t realize such things existed in real life but then again, she didn’t make it a habit to hang around people who might need one. “Who owns it?”
“A man who owes us a big favor. That’s all you need to know. Trust me, the least you know about our business, the better off you’ll be.”
“No doubt,” she agreed.
Kendra followed the men out the back door of the house and watched as they climbed onto their motorcycles and roared off in single file. She waited until they were out of sight before walking back to her truck. After unlocking the glove box, she pulled out a pistol and the extra box of bullets she always kept stowed there.
Kendra hoped Jesse was right about the Liberators not knowing where to find Flint. In any case, the pistol made her feel a little safer. On second thought, so would the shotgun hidden underneath the front seat.
Looking like a gunslinger from the Wild West, she carried both guns into the house and locked the door behind her. After placing both guns on a table by the door, she sent up a small prayer that the weekend would go by quickly and without incident.