First things first, she kicked off her shoes.That was so-o-o-o much better.Yawning widely, she unknotted the string around the neck of the bag.
A snake's head shot out.
Panic flooded her.
A snake was the last thing she'd expected.The worst thing.She loved animals.She loved all animals.But she couldn't help being terrified of snakes.
Her heart leapt in a rush of instinctive primeval terror.She couldn't deal wuth this.
Not now.Not alone in the middle of the night.
Paralysed by fear, she thought of armaan driving off in his truck and seriously considered chasing after him, yelling for help.She whimpered his name and was ready to scream again when the foorsteps thundered up the path and armaan appeared at the surgery doorway.
" Riddhima, what's the matter?"
"A s-snake!"With a shaking hand she pointed to the sack.
"Let me deal with it."He spoke calmly and, just like that, he crossed the floor to wriggling hessian bag.
Riddhima watched, one hand clamped over her mouth to hold back another scream, as armaan carefully pulled the top of the sac apart, then with commendable cool, gripped the snake firmly, just behind its head.
"It's a carpet python,"he told her smoothly as he lifted it out and took hold of the tail, while the snake thrashed wildly."And it's wounded."
A carpet python.
Right.Riddhima drew a deep breath.Her racing heartbeats subsided. Carpet pythons weren't poisonous.Actually, now that she was calming down, she could see the distinctive brown and cream markings on the snake's back.
"I'm afraid i panicked,"she said."Someone left the bag on my porch and i was expecting a small motherless furry creature."
"Instead you have an angry snake with a nasty gash on its back."The expression in armaan's grey eyes was both tender and amused.
No longer trembling, riddhima came closer and saw the wound halfway down the snake's lenght."I'm afraid snakes are the one species of the animal kingdom i find hard to love.But this fellow's actually guite beautiful, isn't he?"
"As snakes go--he's extremely handsome ,"armaan said dryly."What do you want to do with him?Would you try to treat a wound like this?"
"I can at least clean it up.Maybe give it a few stitches."
"Can you leave it till tomorrow?Shall i put it in a cage for you?"
She bit back a sigh and ahook her head."The biggest threat for him is infection, so i really should see to the wound staight away."shooting armaan an apologetic glanc, she said,"It won't take long, but i'm afraid i couldn't possibly manage without an assistant."
He chuckled."No problem.I'm all yours."
The sparkle in his eyes sent heat flaming in her cheeks.Tightly, she said.If you'll keep holding him right there, I'll get organised. First, i'm going to have to feed oxygen and anaesthetic down his trachea."
"You're going to knock him out just to clean up a wound?"
"Its the only way to keep a snake still.They are actually very sensitive to pain."
As riddhima set up the gas cylinders, her mind raced ahead, planning each step of procedure.She would place a wooden board between the python and the metal table to keep him that little bit warmer.And she needed something to hold the wounded section steady while she worked on it.Masking tape would do the least damage to the python's sensitive skin.
Quickly she assembled everything she needed--scissors, scapels, tweezers, swabs, needles--and then she donned sterlite gloves."OK, let's get this gas into him."
Armaan held the snake's head steady while she fed the tube down its mouth, and she was amazed that that she wasn't scared anymore.
"How many pythons lives have you saved?"Armaan asked as they waited for the anaesthetic to take effect.
"This is the first."
He smiled."I can remember your very first patient."
She frowned at him, puzzled."You were in Argentina when i started to work as a vet."
"Before that.Don't you remember the chicken you brought to school in a woolly sock?"
"Oh, yes."She grinned."The poor little thing hatched on a very cold winter's morning and i was worried that it wouldn't make it through the day."
"You kept it hidden under the desk."
"Until the Mrs. Keerti discovered it during biology and turned it into a lecture on imprinting."
Their eyes met and they smiled and for a heady moment, riddima was sixteen again and Armaan Mallik was.......
No, for heaven's sake.
Shocked by how easily she was distracted by him, she centred her thoughts on cleaning the outside of the python's wound with alcohol wipes and foaming solution.Then, when her patient was completely under, she began to describe the damaged tissue.
All the time she worked, armaan was silent, watching her with a curious smile that she tried very hard to ignore.
"I guess this isn't quite how you expected to spend your evening."she said as she finally began to suture the delicate skin together.
"Wouldn't have missed this for the world."He chuckled softly."You have to admit, its a unique experience.How many guys have watched a barefoot bridesmaid stitch up a python at midnight?"
Riddhima couldn't help smiling."You make it sound like some kind of medieval witches ritual."
"The rites of spring?"
"Maybe, but then again, how many vets have been assisted by a hun--a guy in the best man's clobber?
Riddhima thanked heavens she had retraced the word hunk.For heavens sake.It was dinner suit factor.Stick the plainest man in a tuxedo and his looks were improved two hundred percent.Armaan in a tuxedo was a downright dangerous.
But she was grateful for his help.Working side by side with him again,she had felt good.
"You are a tough cookie."armaan told her."You were white as a ghost and shaking when i came in and yet you morphed into a steady-handed snake surgeon."
"Its my job."she said while cleaning everything.
"So where will we put this fellow while he sleeps off his ordeal?armaan asked.
"He'll have to go in one of the cages out the back."she said.
"Shall i do the honours?"
"Thanks armaan.Theres a cage in the far corner, away from the other patients.If you give me a minute,I'll line it with thick newspaper to keep him warm and dry."
By the time the python was safely in its cage it was past midnight but, to riddhima's surprise,she feel tired any more.She tried to tell herself that she'd found working on a completely new species exhilarating, but she knew very well it had everything to do with armaan's presence.
She'd felt relaxed and focused and it had been like stepping back in time to their student days.But dear heaven, it was such a long time ago and they couldn't really go back, could they?
"Lets go through the kitchen,"she said once they'd cleaned up.
She snapped the kitchen light on.She was rather proud of the renovations she had made to this room.
"I'd better let the boys in."
As soon as riddhima opened the back door,Seamus and Harry bounded inside, greeting her with doggy kisses.
At last the dogs calmed down and she turned to armaan."I think you've earned a drink."
"I believe i have,"he agreed and he immediately began to remove his jacket and tie.(haye..... )
Riddhima drew a sharp breath.But she couldn't send armaan packing after he'd been so helpful.Surely two old friends could have a drink together?
"What are you in a mood for?Alcohol or coffee?"
She opened the fridge."If you'd like alcohol.I am afraid theres only beer or red wine."
Armaan chose beer and riddhima poured a glass of wine for herself.
"Come on through to the lounge room,"she said."It's pretty shabby, though.I started renovating the kitchen and then ran out of enthusiasm."
Tonight, however, riddhima was surprised.
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