THIRTY-FOUR

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Claire slammed the radio down and turned to the medic who had shown up at the clinic after hearing the explosion. "Get bandages and IVs ready," she ordered.

He nodded and ran toward the supply room.

"What's going on?"

Pivoting around, she found Bruce standing by the door. He was holding the thing open, as if unsure he was welcome, but he held her gaze with a look that said he wasn't leaving.

"One of our returning patrols hit an IED a few miles out—three wounded, one severely. I've called for a medevac. It's thirty minutes away."

"What can I do?"

Damn it. He was always so willing to help. It was what she admired most about him. Reaching up, she gathered and twisted her hair back into place while her eyes challenged his. The anger was still there, and part of her wanted to send him off to his tent with a patronizing pat on the back. But instead she pointed to the exam rooms. "Bring those beds out here. I'll be able to work faster. Scrounge up a cot for the third. And get that ultrasound set up, I'm going to need it."

Bruce got busy, wheeling the beds into the main room and setting up the machine between them, plugging it in and checking its read outs. Claire maneuvered around him, moving trays of supplies closer to the beds. What happened in Morris's storage room was pushed to the back of her mind, to be dealt with later. It paled in comparison to what was happening right here, right now.

Injured troops were about to arrive on their doorstep. This was the true horror of war.

)l(

Virginia's phone rang. She knew who it was without looking. It was the fourth call from him in thirty minutes, the deluge starting after her simple text back to him of:

NO

Holding her index finger up to Bill, she walked a short distance across the lawn to talk in private, assuming the exchange was likely to get heated.

"Hello?" she said with sarcastic sweetness.

"Have you reconsidered?" Mark all but growled.

"I'm not leaving."

"Your stubbornness is starting to get irritating."

"So is your bossiness," she spat.

There was a sigh, followed by a long silence. His voice carried a hint of distress when he eventually said, "I want you to be safe."

She smiled and softened her tone. "Then you'll be happy to know we are taking precautions. We are outside right now checking all the motion detectors. Bill has called on a few of his retired army buddies who are on their way over. And Carol is taking Janine over to her sister's place until Sunday."

"You should go with Carol."

This discussion was getting them nowhere. Biting down on her irritation, she calmly stated, "I'm not leaving Bill alone to face Gus."

"But you just said he won't be alone. It's not your job to protect them."

"Excuse me? That is precisely my job!"

Bill and his gardener turned their heads. She ducked her chin and hurried out of earshot. Another drawn out silence on the line was interrupted by the sound of glass shattering somewhere in his vicinity. She closed her eyes and cringed, wondering what had taken the brunt of his temper this time.

During the three earlier calls, he had been hesitant to talk about what was happening back home aside from Augustus's current state of distrust—the fallout from that day in the warehouse. He had made no mention of his "help", but she knew things were moving much slower than anticipated. In the meantime, he felt stuck in a traitorous limbo. His frustration was obvious.

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