In all her haste to get him inside and warm, she’d forgotten about his cell phone. She patted his clothing until she discovered it in his pocket. The glass screen was cracked, but the phone itself worked. Still, when she dialed the number for the Double-Bar-K, and then the Cruz ranch and then 9-1-1, she got no answer. They must be too far down this country road, she thought. Who knew the nearest place where she could get reception?
She tried going outside and even hiking up to the lane they’d drove in on, but it was no use. The cell phone didn’t pick up any signal. She’d have to find another way to get help. But first she’d have to set Ned’s leg or he could be crippled permanently.
The idea almost made her pass out. Like every other woman in her Afghan village, she’d learned the basics of first aid, and she’d often been made to assist an older woman who served as midwife and healer, as well. She’d witnessed bones being set many times over the years and as she grew older, she’d helped set them herself once or twice.
She’d never been the one in charge, however. The healer had told her where to sit, where to hold on and what to do. Now she was alone. She had no idea if she could do it right, but she knew she had to try. She found a small hatchet near the woodstove, went back outdoors and hunted around until she found two straight branches she could use for splints. She made quick work with the sharp tool to chop off small branches and bumps. Back indoors she found a well-worn sheet in the hall closet she could tear into strips.
Now came the tricky part. She surveyed Ned stretched out on the hard floor. He wore jeans, which she’d have to remove before she could set his leg and splint it. She’d never undressed a man before, though, and the thought left her sick with fear. What would Ned think of her when he knew? How could she touch a man in such a way? She hesitated for a long moment, wishing there was another choice, but she knew there wasn’t. Autumn or Hannah wouldn’t have wasted a second doing what needed to be done. What was modesty in the face of such an injury?
But Fila had been taught to value modesty above all else. She’d covered her face every time she left her compound’s walls. She’d been afraid to even look at a man. Now she approached Ned’s prone form and held her breath as she undid his belt buckle and the button of his pants. She almost closed her eyes when she unzipped them. Beneath his jeans he wore dark blue boxer briefs that didn’t cover nearly enough of his anatomy, to her point of view. She remembered the village healer and her brusque mannerism when she treated her patients. Fila fought for a similar composure, but touching Ned like this brought a rush of sensations to her body she hardly understood. Even in unconsciousness, Ned was all male. He posed no threat to her in this condition, which allowed her, in turn, to take a breath and appreciate him in a way she never had before. He was well-formed. Broad in the chest and shoulders. Strong of jaw. As she slid and tugged the jeans off of him as gently as she could, she revealed powerful thighs. They were thick with muscle, covered with a thatch of wiry hair. His briefs bulged in interesting places, but she tore her gaze away from them and focused on the job at hand.
There was no time to explore Ned’s body. To do so without his approval would be wrong, anyway. Still as she turned away, she longed to look again. She found him utterly fascinating, and with no danger of him responding to her glances, it seemed a shame to waste such an opportunity.
She only allowed herself one more quick look, however, before she moved her attention to his legs. It was obvious where the break occurred—in his left thigh. It was a bad one, too.
Ned needed her to be practical now. To be professional, as much as she could be. She needed to brace his body somehow and tug his leg sharply to snap the broken bone back into place. Toward the back of the large living room, a thick, wooden post braced up a ceiling beam. Fila decided she could make use of it. She searched the cabin until she found a long length of inch-thick rope. She edged Ned as close to the post as she could, then hauled and tugged him into a seated position, wrapping the rope around and around his torso as tightly as she could to bind him to the post. The result reminded her of cartoons she’d seen as a child, in which villains tied up unsuspecting maidens in coils of ropes that only left their head and feet sticking out, and left them lying on railway tracks. The loops of rope covered Ned from his hips to his armpits. She wasn’t sure this would work, but didn’t know what else to do.
Kneeling down at his feet, Fila tentatively took his left foot in her hand, sucked in a breath, screwed up her courage and jerked back as hard as she could. She felt the bones of his thigh snap into position and she released his foot with an exhale, nearly overwhelmed with nausea. Had she done it right? She didn’t think she had the courage to try it again. She inched closer to Ned, thankful he was still out cold. She felt along his thigh carefully, pressing his skin harder as she gained in confidence. All felt in place, so she quickly positioned the splints and bound his leg firmly. When she was done, she sat back, breathing deeply. Her brow was damp with sweat and her hands trembled. Suddenly, the enormity of her position crashed over her. She was alone with an injured man, far from civilization. Her phone didn’t work and she didn’t know if Ned’s injury might become infected or worse. Fear clogged her throat and her breathing sped up until she was almost hyperventilating. She bent forward until her forehead touched the floor, tears finally spilling over her eyes.
After a long minute, she forced herself to straighten up. Scraping her sleeve over her eyes she vowed to herself it was the last time she’d cry until she was home at the Double-Bar-K again. She had to stay strong. For herself—and for Ned.
Ned woke to an ache in his thigh so intense he thought he’d throw up. His head pounded, his tongue was thick and he was lying on a cold hard floor that did little to improve things. He twisted his head to try to make out his location and was rewarded with a throb of pain through his temples that nearly took his breath away.
He lay still until the room stopped spinning and tried again. Above him were the bare wooden rafters of a ceiling of a rustic cabin. Below him his fingers traced over rough-hewn plank boards. There was something familiar about the fireplace and the taxidermied buck’s head that hung above the mantel.
This was his family’s place—their hunting cabin.
Suddenly it all came back in a rush.
Fila. Where was Fila?
He tried to sit up but the pain forced him down again before he’d barely moved an inch. His thigh was on fire and his forehead damp with sweat. His whole body felt like he’d been tossed from a bucking bronco. He was in bad shape—literally flat on his back—but he hadn’t moved himself here. He hoped that meant Fila wasn’t nearly hurt as bad.