Authors: Suzanne D. Williams
She reconsidered. She could remove the pants leg its
elf. That’d ruin his clothing, but, better decency than death. She’d remind him of that if he asked.
a knife from her pocket, she made a slice through the fabric, then cut in a circular fashion around his leg. She laid the cloth open and proceeded to slice into his long johns. The wound stared up at her from his naked thigh. It was a clean shot, embedded not too deep for her to get to it, but deep enough it’d take a while to heal. Dried blood had sealed much of it off.
rose and moved over to a wood stove in the corner. Stoking the fire, she filled a kettle from a barrel inside the door and set it to boil. She’d need to boil her knife and some rags to prevent infection.
Nathan had done this
once before when he operated on Timmy. Timmy had gone and gotten her hide stuck with porcupine quills, one buried pretty deep in her rump, and it’d taken both of them holding the dog and a few bites to the fleshy part of her own palm to get them all out.
She laid a
hand to Ezekiel Knapp’s forehead. He was cold, too cold. She could warm him up; body heat worked best. But the bullet had to come out first.
The whistle of the kettle set her to work. Dipping her knife in
to the scalding liquid, she aimed the point at the wound and carefully pried beneath the bullet. Then sticking her fingers inside the hole, she plucked it out and rolled it over in her palm. She pressed her thumbnail against it.
ain’t right,” she said. She’d used a two-eighty bullet and this was a thirty-aught-six. That meant she didn’t shoot him. Her brow furrowed of its own accord.
And another thing … wasn’t likely her bullet went through the moose and out the other side anyway.
Possible, but not normal.
if she didn’t shoot him, then someone else did.
She clutched the bullet in her hand, the uneven edges digging into her flesh. There wasn’t one stranger in these parts, but two; and whoever the other person was—
She studied his wound.
Inner thigh. Could have come from a random shot. But if someone was shooting at a moose, they’d aimed too low. To kill a moose you wanted to hit the heart or the lungs, the shoulder even. The angle was wrong. They’d done this on purpose.
The chatter of
Ezekiel Knapp’s teeth and steady tremor in his limbs sped up her work. Swabbing his wound clean, Clementine wrapped it in boiled strips of an old shirt of Nathan’s, then shed her jacket and shoes and climbed in beside him. She wrapped her body around his and tucked the blankets over them both. Timmy hopped up at their feet, circling three times before settling down.
shut her eyes. This was a fine pickle to be in. Nathan gone; a stranger on the loose maybe shooting people down, and her in bed with a man who so far, hated her guts.
Ezekiel awoke to the pale light of dawn and the steady throb of his right leg. Barely conscious, he closed and opened his eyes several times, focusing on his surroundings. The shape and form of the cabin’s log walls entered his mind, followed by the dog at his feet, and lastly, the heavenly spread of red hair extending over his chest.
The girl’s cheek was sealed to his arm, her breath blowing in and out
at the base of his neck. He swallowed hard, his mind taking hold of her curves fitted against him, her leg hooked through his. He laid his head back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling.
the world had he ended up like this? Last thing he remembered was being somewhere in the wilderness, fastened in her sled, growing colder and colder. He’d convinced himself he was going to die, finally whispering a prayer for God to keep his loved ones safe back home and resigning himself to a hole in the ground. He’d certainly never thought to be beneath the sheets with Clementine Button at the end of the day.
smiled crookedly. Her social skills were a bit lacking. Could be living alone out here had done that, which brought up the most obvious question. Why
she living out here alone? Where did a girl like this get the skills to know how to survive in no man’s land?
She stirred, but only to nestle tighter against him, and he shut his eyes and draped one arm around her waist.
He drifted off again, waking to her movements in the bed. She made to rise, but he snagged her.
“Mr. Knapp,” she said. “Kindly unhand me.”
“I’m thinking this is the most comfortable I’ve been in weeks, gunshot notwithstanding,” he replied.
Her gaze snapped and popped, and he withheld a laugh.
If looks could kill.
“I have saved your life at the expense of my own dignity. You’ll be on your own to stay warm after this.”
“Oh, come now. You have only one bed, and I distinctly remember how well we fit together.”
This brought her hand upward to his chin. She pinched it hard enough he winced. His hand fell from her side, and she shot up from the bed. “You are lucky I did not use your bullet wound as an example instead,” she said.
He was inclined to agree.
She seated herself on a stool at the bed’s side and rolled
the covers back to view his thigh. He followed her gaze. Only one side of his pants remained.
ll appreciate,” she said, “that I did not remove all your clothing. Our lying together was a simple measure to bring you back to life. I’ve had enough death out here.”
He stared at the top of her head.
Had enough death.
What did that mean?
She made no effort to explain
, however, but continued with her inspection. “It needs to be cleaned,” she said, “and I expect you’re hungry.”
“Worse,” he replied. “I need to relieve myself.”
Her face changed then, the first sign of any hesitation flickering across it. It was gone in a flash, the familiar spark lighting her features.
“I’ll bring a bucket.”
Ezekiel didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that remark. That he’d been reduced to using a bucket was humiliating. That it’d embarrassed her somehow, fulfilling. In the end, he said nothing, but lay back while she fired up the stove and let the dog outside. She disappeared for a time, returning with a metal pail in one hand and a hunk of meat in the other.
him the pail, and he reached out, closing his fingers over it. However, she didn’t release it right away. “This is how it’ll go,” she said.
He felt a smile rising on his lips.
Her grip on the pail tightened. “I’ll fix you breakfast, then I have to go retrieve the rest of the moose. Should take me a couple hours. Seeing as you’re so bright today, I think you’ll be all right in that amount of time. But I’ll leave you a gun, just the same, and the dog. Do
get out of bed.”
nodded, a chuckle escaping.
Her frown extended. “I fail to see what’s funny about this, Mr. Knapp. Someone shot you, and apparently, it wasn’t me.”
“It wasn’t you?” Ezekiel sat
up in bed too fast, and the movement sent excruciating pain down his frame. He uttered a mixed oath
and fell backwards on the mattress. “You’re … the one … who fired.”
She turned her back on him and wandered to the stove. “I did not fire the bullet I pulled from your leg. First, it was the wrong caliber. Second
, the angle of it would be impossible from where I was standing. Third, my bullet will still be in the moose.”
I only heard one shot.” Then again, it had echoed. He’d assumed it was one shot.
“The mountains multiply the sounds,” she said, confirming his thoughts.
The sizzle of frying meat took over the small cabin along with the smell of onions, and his stomach growled.
It seems you have an enemy,” she continued.
But he’d seen so few people coming here, and none in the last couple weeks. There’d been the pilot that’d flown him in initially and, before that, the couple who ran the store in the nearest town. There was also George, a mixed-race Eskimo who passed by his cabin every now and then.
no one any harm. Honestly, what was there about him to hate?
Why shoot me in the leg?” he asked. “If whoever did this wanted to kill me, he should’ve aimed for my head or my heart.”
She glanced over her shoulder. “Perhaps they have poor aim, unlike
He’d asked for that. “I owe you a debt for saving my life.”
She neither smiled nor frowned. “You owe me nothing. I helped an injured man as I would have expected help for myself.”
She lifted two metal plates from a shelf by the stove and set them on a small counter running three feet along the same wall, then spooned out the breakfast concoction, returning the frying pan to a back burner of the stove. She plucked a fork from a coffee mug.
“Can you raise yourself?” she asked.
He looked down at his leg. Not after his last attempt at sitting.
“Here, then ..
.” She placed the plate at his side and turned the fork toward his fingers.
He took a bite, chewing slowly, his eyes trained on her face. It was quite good, the moose. At least, he assumed it was the moose.
“It’s to your satisfaction?” she asked.
He wiped his chin with the back of his hand.
“Both the food and the company.”
She gave a short nod and went back for her own plate.
“Tell me,” he asked her between bites. “Why is a lovely woman like you living here alone?”
She’d seated herself
at a small table against the far wall and didn’t respond right away, but continued with her meal. He took another bite.
After a minute
elapsed she set her fork down. “I wasn’t alone. You would like some water?”
“Please,” he replied.
She dipped him a cup from the barrel and brought it to him. Turning it upward toward his lips, she held the handle while he drank.
“Who were you with?”
Why did it matter? She was alone now.
For saving his life, he owed her whatever privacy she wanted.
She moved back to the table. “His name was Nathan. He was my husband.”
Startled, Ezekiel halted mid-bite. Her face showed great pain and sorrow. This really was none of his business. He silenced. He wouldn’t ask.
spoke for quite some time. Having finished his meal, Ezekiel lay back on the cot. “Thank you for the food.”
She rose and recaptured his plate. “I’m glad you liked it since we are stuck together.”
She started to go, but he reached for her, pulling her short. “Clementine.”
She turned her gaze to
his, and their eyes settled on each other.
“I’m thinking Nathan was a lucky man.”
The first hint of a smile appeared on her face. It was only a glimpse, but it was there. She detached herself and wandered over to the wash basin. “He was, Mr. Knapp,” she replied. “He really was.”
Snow began falling on Clementine’s way back to the cabin, effectively covering any trace of whoever may have shot Ezekiel Knapp. Though she’d stopped at the site of the shooting and looked anyway, there’d been nothing to see.
The temperature was
dipping fast. It’d be much colder tonight than it was last. Not that she was cold last night because she wasn’t.
Despite the chill
in the air, her face warmed. Ezekiel Knapp had proved a comfortable sleeping companion. Also, a gentleman. He’d teased her about their arrangement, but shown respect and compassion about the loss of Nathan, not prying into the story, and she appreciated that.
The ground rolled away beneath the snowmobile runners, each snow-laden mile like the last.
Truth was, she was tired of being alone. Nathan’s loss had thrown it upon her, forcing her to survive by doing the chores he’d always done. Learning to cope had proved helpful in her grief. It was the evenings that stretched out the longest, hours of quiet with nothing to do but read the same books she’d read a thousand times or remember their time together—laughter, love-making, the sharing of hopes and dreams.
As a result, s
he’d closed in upon herself and lost the ability to feel. It was easier that way. Probably it had made her short-tempered. She’d certainly snapped at Mr. Knapp well enough. Nathan used to say he liked her fiery spirit, that it made things more exciting. Yet she remembered plenty of times, he’d been upset, times they’d clashed and argued. And made up after.