Memories assailed him, driving a groan from his throat. He’d driven right off the road.
He could have killed them both.
Like an idiot he hadn’t buckled himself in during their ride from Chance Creek. Seatbelt laws irritated him, as did anything that attempted to restrict his liberties. Now he wished he’d restricted his own damn liberties a little bit.
What if he’d hurt Fila? What if she was dead, even? Someone else could have found them and dragged him in here.
He tried again to sit up and this time made it halfway before white fuzz spiked through his vision and a resounding thump through his skull a moment later told him he’d passed out and crashed back again.
He felt footsteps through the floor boards, light but firm. Someone was approaching. He opened one eye and a wave of relief crashed over him. “Fila,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m well. You are hurt.” Her soft voice chided him. Well, he deserved it, didn’t he?
“Did you call for help?”
“There’s no signal, not even outside.”
Ned closed his eyes. Of course—not out here. They were never able to get a signal until they’d traveled out to the highway and some miles south. The hunting lodge was designed to be remote. Part of its charm was its lack of access to the outside world.
She shook her head. He believed her. It had to be totaled after the fall from the driveway. “I’m sorry,” he made himself say. He didn’t often apologize, but this time it seemed warranted. He wanted to say more, but the words didn’t come. Flat here on his back, it was all too apparent how big an idiot he’d allowed himself to become. He’d wanted to rescue Fila—protect her from her fears, build her a whole new life—and now look what he’d done.
“I’m fine. You broke your leg. I don’t know if you are hurt in other places.”
Ned wasn’t sure either. His hands and arms seemed to be intact. He touched his chest and stomach and hips. All was right with them, too. Some sore spots which were probably bruises, but that was it. When his hands reached beneath the covers she’d piled on top of him, however, he realized what was different.
His pants. He no longer wore jeans. These were…a loose pair of sweat pants. He reached down farther, found where she’d split them up the leg. Took in the hard sticks that acted as splints beneath them. He cocked an eyebrow at her.
His own body fired up in response. Fila had undressed him? Had she liked what she saw?
“I set the bone,” Fila said, quenching his interesting thoughts, “but it could get infected.”
“You set it?” He wished he could sit up and look her head on. Wanted to ask her about his pants, but on the other hand, didn’t. If his leg was broken, the break had to be where it now throbbed and buzzed halfway down his thigh. His leg felt stiff too, and he realized that she’d splinted it in lieu of a cast. How on earth could a slip of a girl like Fila set his thigh? Maybe it hadn’t been broken that badly.
When he said as much to her, however, she shook her head gravely. “It was like this when I found you,” she said, demonstrating with two fingers. One pointed down like a leg should. The other one bent to the side. Ned’s stomach lurched.
“How did you know what to do?”
“I helped several times in my village. In Afghanistan,” she explained. “There was no doctor there. The older women knew what to do. We younger ones helped them. We held them down.”
She nodded. “You were unconscious. Much easier. I tied you to the post.”
The post, huh? Ned was getting an entirely new admiration for her. Setting a leg took strength. “Glad you did it while I was out cold.” He wondered if she had done it right, though. It sure hurt like hell. And what had she said about infection? What would they do if that happened?
“I must go get help,” she said as if reading his mind.
“The snow isn’t so deep,” she assured him. “I’ll build up the fire and leave you food and something to drink. Blankets.”
“You can’t,” he reiterated. “There’s no one else out here. It’s eighteen miles to the road and that’s the closest we ever get reception. You’d have to camp overnight somewhere on the way—in sub-freezing weather. Then, when you reached the highway, who knows who’d stop for you? What if it’s the wrong kind of person? Uh uh. You have to stay here. My family will come after us.”
“When?” she demanded.
“I said we’d be gone for four days.”
“So we wait all that time?”
Ned shrugged and looked away. “I guess. What’s wrong—afraid to be alone with me?” He regretted the taunt as soon as he said it. This wasn’t some girl he was hitting on at the Dancing Boot. This was Fila. She’d been through far too much to tease.
“I’m afraid you’ll die if that break gets infected.” She was angry.
“Let’s just hope it doesn’t get infected then.” He turned his head. The floor was uncomfortable. “Any chance I could get a pillow?”
Fila disappeared and came back with one. She brought another comforter, too, and laid it over him. The slightest movement or pressure on his leg was agony and he knew he was in for a very long haul until someone came after them. Fila was right, too; it could be days. His family knew he was usually capable of looking after himself. They knew, too, that he preferred to spend time alone every now and then. His best bet was that someone would worry about Fila out in the wilderness with him and come to fetch her early. Maybe they’d worry enough to come today.
Fila built up the fire and soon he was warm except for his back on the cool floorboards. When he mentioned it, Fila started the slow process of lifting him an inch at a time and insinuating another comforter between him and the planks. Each jostle to his leg made him wince and sweat. When she was finally done his nausea had returned.
She disappeared again and came back with a bottle of pain reliever. After consulting together, she gave him several tablets and lifted his head and shoulders so he could sip some water without drowning himself.
“Rest now,” she told him, as if he had any choice. He caught her hand as she got up to put the medicine away.
“Thank you,” he said. “It couldn’t have been easy to get me inside. You’re very brave.”