House Calls:Callaghan Brothers, Book 3(7)

By: Abbie Zanders

“Come on, Sher. Help a poor guy out here, will you?”

She laughed and slid off the stool. “No way. Maggie’s the best friend I’ve ever had and I’m not vapid enough to jeopardize that, not even for the likes of you, Michael Callaghan.”

Sherri left to prepare for her next number. Michael continued to watch Maggie even as she left the tiny stage. She was out of the sight of everyone else, but from the back of the bar he could see her perfectly. The look of pure joy on her face was something to behold, and he found himself smiling right along with her.

She didn’t seem to notice that the back edge of the stage ended abruptly. He knew what was going to happen an instant before it actually did. He vaulted over the far end of the bar even as her foot stepped off the stage and into nothing. She clawed at the air, twisting her body instinctively in an attempt to protect herself as gravity did its thing. She couldn’t have known about the extra tables they had moved back there.

Michael reached out, but he was a step too late. The side of her head slammed against one of the tables, the rest of her body following milliseconds later, literally bouncing with the force of contact. Her big eyes, wide with fear, looked right into his face as he bent over her, but she didn’t acknowledge him at all before they closed and her body went limp.

A quick check assured him she had no broken bones, but she was going to have one hell of a bump on the side of her face. Lifting her carefully, he took her back to the kitchen and placed her gently on the padded bench seat there, then turned on the lights to take a better look.

Her mask had dislodged in the fall. Blood, matching the shade of her dark ruby hair, trickled along the side of her face where she had hit, creating a goth-like image against her pale, creamy skin and dark kohl liner. Satisfied that none of her injuries were immediately life-threatening, Michael covered her with a warm blanket and kneeled beside her to begin the task of gently cleaning away the makeup she had so artfully applied to expose and properly treat the wound.

When he was finished, Michael sat back on his heels and took a deep breath. In costume, she had been striking and exotic. But without all of the makeup, with her eyes closed and her face relaxed, she was the picture of innocence. From her sinfully long lashes to the smattering of freckles across her nose, she barely looked old enough to legally enter a bar, let alone dance in one.

She let out a soft moan as she began to come around. Michael quickly finished applying an antibiotic ointment and bandage to her wound, then placed a soothing ice pack on top.

* * *

“Maggie?” The low voice was very pleasant, though it held a trace of worry. No voice that rich and deep should sound worried, she decided. The music was much fainter now, and she was laying on something soft.

“Maggie, can you hear me?”

She tried to pry her eyes open, but only one would cooperate. The other seemed to be stuck, covered with something cold and heavy. She lifted her hand, but another bigger, stronger hand covered hers and gently pushed it away.

“Leave it,” the nice voice said. “The ice will help with the swelling. Do you know where you are?”

Maggie tried to focus, the image before her large and blurry. But the voice was familiar, as was the scent. The bartender? The gorgeous guy with the heart-stopping smile and bedroom eyes? She was dancing, she was free, and then... she winced as she remembered her fall.

“Hang on, I’m going to turn off a few of these lights.” Seconds later, the level of brightness – and thus the sensation of knives shooting through her optic nerves - was substantially reduced. “Better?”

She nodded gingerly. The right side of her face felt like she’d been slammed with a two by four. Or a table. Her cheeks flamed red.

“Maggie, I’m going to take you down to the ER, get some X-rays, maybe an MRI, alright?”

“No,” she protested, her voice sounding distant and far away while still echoing painfully throughout her skull. ER’s were expensive, and X-rays even more so. No steady employment meant no health insurance, and she did not have an overabundance of funds. And after this little tiptoe through the tulips she was quite certain she wouldn’t be getting paid for this job. If she was lucky, the cost of any damages she caused wouldn’t be more than what she had in the petty cash fund she kept for emergencies.