The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Page 29)

The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #7)(29)
Author: Cora Seton

“Thinking of your time away?”

Fila nodded.

Ned shifted a little. Winced. “Did they hurt you, Fila?”

It was the question everyone wanted answered. Did they hurt her? She hesitated before saying, “I was not raped.”

Ned didn’t look away. “I’m glad to hear that. That doesn’t entirely answer the question, though.”

Tears pricked her eyes. She blinked them back, remembering her vow. “I don’t think I can put into words what they did.”

“Try.”

She set the bowl down on the bedside table and clasped her hands together in her lap. “They took away…everything. My family. My home. My country. They kept…saying I was wrong. Everything I did was wrong. Everything I felt was wrong. Everything I thought was wrong. Until I didn’t know what was wrong or right anymore.” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “It was like being peeled away layer by layer by layer until there was nothing left. Until I became nothing. Until I disappeared. I thought when I came home I’d get it all back again, but—” She shook her head. “There’s nothing to get back. Who I was—” A tear trailed its way down her cheek, despite her best efforts. “It’s gone.” Her voice cracked and she fought for composure, her fingers entwined so tightly together they ached.

Ned didn’t need to know all this. She didn’t want him to know it. The words still spilled from her lips, though. “Now it’s just the same here as it was there. Everything I do is wrong. Everything I say and think and the ways I react. The way I look—it’s all wrong. I don’t fit in here any more than I fit there. They won!” Her voice spiked upward as she put voice to her worst fear.

Ned tried to reach for her, swore when the motion jostled his leg, put down his bowl and finally touched her hand. “They did not win.” His voice was nearly a growl. “You got away from them. You didn’t become one of them. If they’d won you’d have a suicide vest strapped on and be marching into some crowded building. All that’s happening right now is you’re readjusting to coming home. Soldiers go through the same damn thing, you know. That’s what you’re like—a soldier coming home. A prisoner of war.” Fila scraped the wetness from her cheeks with her sleeve. She hadn’t looked at it that way. He touched her again. “You’ve been to war for over a decade. Give yourself time.” He patted her knee. “And for God’s sake, go ahead and scream once in a while. Cry. Throw things. Let it out.”

“I can’t.”

“You’re going to have to.”

He didn’t understand. No one did. Sometimes she thought she would start screaming and never be able to stop again. When she thought about what happened, how much she’d lost—how much time she’d lost—it made her feel like shredding the things that surrounded her into a thousand pieces. She didn’t know what to do with her anger. It was almost worse than her fear.

“Go on and eat. You probably worked up an appetite shoveling off that roof,” Ned said. “Think I could get another bowl of that soup? It’s good.”

“Of course.” She gathered their dishes and stood.

“By the way,” Ned said casually. “The way you look is not all wrong. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Fila quickly darted to the kitchen and spent far more time than necessary spooning more soup for each of them from the pot on the small cook stove. The knowledge that Ned thought she was pretty—beautiful, actually—warmed her all the way through.

Chapter 17

Ned sat back against the pillows Fila had placed between his back and the headboard of the bed, his leg aching. Fila perched cross-legged on the kitchen chair she’d dragged into the room at dinnertime and read more from The Call of the Wild. While he enjoyed the story—he liked dogs, history and action—he couldn’t rid himself of the nagging worry that sooner or later she’d address his inability to read as well as he should.

It galled him that a man could ride a horse, help oversee a ranch, build and repair all kinds of equipment, predict the weather from natural signs, and do most any chore on a large cattle spread and all anyone judged him by was his inability to decipher the printed word. He’d worked hard to make up for that one little deficiency and still it seemed to define him. No wonder he was quick-tempered.

Fila had a beautiful voice and he could tell she liked the story, too. She sped up in the action parts and grew angry whenever Buck the dog was hard done by. Which was often. He had a feeling she identified with that dog as much as he did. Finally, she cleared her throat. “I have to stop. I’m losing my voice.”

Ned nodded, his body tensing. Here’s where most people would ask him to take over and read aloud. He had a hunch that Fila had figured out his problem, but he wasn’t sure. He figured he’d find out now.

“Time for bed,” she said, surprising him. He checked his watch. Had it really gotten that late? “Do you want a snack first? Some more soup?”

“I’m fine. I could use more of that pain reliever, though.”

She went and fetched the bottle of pills and a fresh glass of water, then watched him wash down two.

“I’ll sleep in the other room.”

Ned shook his head. “The bunk room? You’ll freeze to death in there. No way. You’ll sleep right here with me, so I know you’re safe. We’ll help keep each other warm.”

She shook her head quickly. “I couldn’t.”

“Look, I’m no danger to you.” He pointed to his leg.

She hesitated a long moment. “It wouldn’t be right.”

“You had your own room in Afghanistan?”

“No. But I never slept alone with a man, either.”

“Fila, I get it—you’re right, normally it wouldn’t be a good idea. I might take advantage of the situation.” He flashed her a wolfish grin. “But not tonight. Not like this.”

She cocked her head. “You’d…take advantage?”

A smile twitched his lips. “You’d better believe it. I’d chase you all over this cabin if I had to.”

She ducked her head, hiding her own smile. “I run very fast.”

“Not as fast as me, I bet.”

“I bet I am.”

When she peeped up at him, her eyes were dancing with humor. Ned felt a rush of tenderness. “I’ll race you any time. As soon as my leg heals up.”