The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Page 29)

The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #6)(29)
Author: Cora Seton

“Just thinking.” He came down the steps from the porch to join her. He paced beside her as she continued on her way. “Kind of hard on the eyes inside my place just now.”

Hannah stifled a giggle. “Jake told me about Mia’s decorating spree.”

“Think I might have hurt her feelings,” he said. “Didn’t mean to. That’s just a lot of pink to spring on a man. My reaction was a little… abrupt.”

“Oh, no.”

“What’s wrong with Fila?” At her look of surprise he said, “I saw Luke hightailing it toward your house a few minutes ago. Figured something happened to upset her and he couldn’t take her tears.”

“You’re right. He tried to watch Jarhead with her.”

“Idiot.” Ned picked up the pace. “You don’t show that kind of thing to a woman—not one like Fila.”

“What do you know about it?” The words popped out before she could think them through. Ned stopped short.

“I know more than people give me credit for.”

“Okay, okay. Didn’t mean to touch a nerve.”

“Yeah, well. You did.” He didn’t explain further. Just resumed walking. Hannah followed him.

When they reached Luke’s cabin all was quiet inside. The lights were on and a fire blazed in the fireplace. Plates had been scraped and left by the sink but there was no evidence that anyone had cooked. Hannah got the feeling they’d eaten frozen dinners. There was no sign of Fila.

“Fila?” Hannah called. “Are you here?”

They moved quickly through the main floor but it was obvious she wasn’t downstairs. Hannah climbed to the second story thinking Ned would stay behind, but he followed close on her heels. This cabin was laid out exactly the same way as Jake’s, so she approached the guest room door and knocked.

“Fila? It’s Hannah. Can I come in?”

After a long moment, she heard something that might have been an invitation to enter. She turned the door handle and opened it slowly. “Fila?” The young woman was huddled on the bed, pressed up against the headboard. “Are you okay?” She quickly moved to Fila’s side and pulled her close, instinctively wanting to give her comfort. “It’s all right. I’m here. Nothing is going to hurt you.”

When Ned entered the room she shooed him away vigorously, but he didn’t leave. He came to stand next to the bed, his hands in his jeans pockets. Hannah ignored him. She stroked Fila’s hair and let her sob against her shoulder.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, thinking if she could get Fila to talk about it, she might settle down.

“I can’t do this,” Fila cried. “I can’t… I just feel… I’m too…” Her sobs deepened until her body was wracked with them. Hannah gathered her closer, wishing she could somehow prevent Fila from ever being hurt or scared again. She didn’t know everything that had happened to the woman in her time in Afghanistan, but she could only imagine how scared and alone she must have been. Had all that fear she’d held inside for a decade overwhelmed her now that she was out of danger? Was it a matter of crying it out or did she need more help? Professional help, maybe.

Hannah tugged the comforter up around the two of them to make a kind of nest and rocked Fila in her arms. She wished Ned would go away. He was a reminder to Fila of everything that made the world frightening to her. Didn’t he realize that?

After some minutes Hannah began to get frightened herself. Fila’s sobs weren’t abating at all. She was getting louder, if anything. Verging on hysteria. Hannah held her closer as if her arms could form a protective cage that could somehow bring her back to herself.

Suddenly Ned yanked the comforter away. “Time to stop,” he announced.

Fila shrieked and Hannah jumped. “Ned!”

“No. This isn’t helping her. Fila—stop!” His voice was like a slap, loud and sharp.

“What the hell?” Hannah scrambled to her knees. She placed herself between Fila and Ned, ready to do battle against him if it was necessary. What was he thinking, being so harsh at a time like this? Fila needed care and comfort, not tough love. “Get out of here. You’re scaring her!”

Ned paced around the bed to the other side and crouched to bend over Fila. “Am I scaring you? Really?” He straightened, holding up his hands so she could see them. “I don’t have any weapons. You’ve got a friend with you.” He pointed to Hannah. “So am I scaring you?”

Fila gaped at him. She was a mess, her long black hair tangled and plastered with tears to her face, her beautiful eyes red-rimmed from crying.

“You can’t live in memories. You can’t stay where you’ve been. You’ve got to be here!” He slapped a hand down on the mattress and both women jumped. “You think you’re helping her, Hannah, but you’re not. You’re teaching Fila to be a victim. That’s not what she needs.”

“Ned Matheson, you get the hell out of here!” Hannah yelled and launched herself at him. Of all the times for him to interfere. And of all the ways. He thought yelling at Fila would do her any good? He was a fool. She braced her hands against his chest and pushed him away with all her strength.

“Okay. I’m going.” He didn’t even look at Hannah as he set her physically aside. Instead he directed all of his words to Fila. “But I’m not going far and I won’t let your friends turn you into a weakling. You’re a fighter, Fila. Remember that. You beat those sons of bitches with your brain when they outnumbered and outgunned you. You made it here. You got free. Don’t lock yourself up again inside these walls. Get back on your feet and get out there.”

He turned and stalked from the room. Hannah rushed back to Fila’s side and tried to gather her back into her arms. “I’m so sorry. I’ll keep him away from you.”

“No,” Fila said, her tears gone. She extricated herself from Hannah’s embrace, stood up and smoothed the hair back from her eyes with a shaky hand. “He’s right.” She hugged her arms to her chest. “I can’t stop fighting. Not now.” She took a deep breath. “I’m going to wash my face. Please tell Luke he can come home.”

“Did Ned come over here?” Mia let herself into Jake’s cabin without knocking first. Jake didn’t mind. He and Luke were sitting uncomfortably in the living room as the minutes ticked past and there was no word from Hannah.