The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Page 35)

The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #7)(35)
Author: Cora Seton

She’d gotten one, too. A tiny light—no bigger than a star—traveling in a straight line across the sky. A satellite, just like the ones she’d seen while stargazing at home with her parents. If satellites were real, then technology was real. If technology was real, then the United States was real. After that she searched the night skies for satellites whenever the occasion arose. They comforted her a little. They promised her that home still existed.

Fila realized with a start that she’d been so busy in the last few hours that she hadn’t thought once about not fitting in or being afraid of people. All she’d done were the things she needed to do. The thought made her feel stronger. Ned was right—she was brave.

There.

Fila rushed forward. There was the wooden fence. She followed it swiftly until she came to a gap where a blank track of snow led away into the distance. Spotted the open gate. This had to be Fitzgerald’s driveway. She set off carefully down the sloped track toward even deeper shadows. At least the expanse of snow that marked the drive made it easy to follow through the woods. Several minutes later, she rounded a bend and saw the squat, square shape of a cabin up ahead.

Fila’s heart pounded in thankfulness and she rushed forward. She tried the doors first, found they were locked and broke the lowest window she could find. Clambering in through it, she threw down the duffel bag, felt her way down a hall to the kitchen and peered through the shadows until she found what she was looking for.

A box of matches.

She struck one with a shaking hand, located an oil lamp like the one at Ned’s family’s cabin and lit it. In its bright rays, she breathed easier. She’d done the hard part. She’d reached the cabin. She could gather supplies and go back to help Ned. They were safe.

Only Ned wasn’t safe; not yet. She set to work quickly, hunting for the things they needed. Back near the door she found several pairs of boots and set aside one pair for herself and another for Ned. The hall closet held several rugged winter coats. She pulled out two of them, along with mittens and hats. In a bedroom she found socks and a flashlight. Back in the kitchen she found packets of crackers which she stuffed in the pockets of one of the overcoats.

Ripping off the ridiculous footwear she sported, she chafed her toes until they tingled and burned, pulled on clean socks, shoved her feet into a pair of boots that were several sizes too big, pulled them out and layered on more socks, then tried again. She finally let herself back out the door, with the gear for Ned bundled into a cloth shopping bag, when she spied the best find of all—a plastic toboggan with a rope handle resting against a porch railing. She dropped her bundle onto it and set off back up the driveway toward the road, her heart soaring as she tugged the sled along behind her. Now she could pull Ned back here if need be. They’d be warm and fed and dry in no time.

As the minutes passed, she kept her pace strong, expecting to catch sight of Ned at any moment. While he couldn’t have covered the ground anywhere near as quickly as she did, he must have made some progress—especially given the time she’d spent inside the house finding the supplies. When her journey stretched out and he didn’t appear staggering through the snow on his crutches, she began to worry. With each passing minute, that worry grew. Had he run out of steam? Hurt himself again? Had he been attacked by a wild animal? She began to wish she’d thought to look for a gun.

The minutes ticked past as the cold, dark forest enveloped her. Her footsteps made small crunching sounds through the frozen snow as she walked. A slight, icy breeze blew through the rattling tree limbs, startling her now and then. She couldn’t see or hear any sign that she was anything but alone in these woods.

When she finally spotted him, a dark, still shape against the white snow, Fila rushed forward with a cry, dropping the lead rope to the toboggan. “Ned! Ned—” He was icy cold to the touch, but a pulse still beat at his throat. She scrambled to retrieve the sled and load him onto it, knowing that getting him warm was more important in this moment than not jostling his leg. She slid the second pair of boots straight over his feet, leaving the one on his hurt leg entirely undone, and piled both overcoats over him, knowing the exertion of pulling him would soon keep her warm.

She turned to face the long road home and nearly wept at the thought of retracing her steps. It would take ages to pull him to safety up and down the rises of the unplowed road. And then what?

Whatever it took to keep him alive until the Mathesons came and brought them home.

A series of bumps and jolts woke Ned and he cursed thickly at the stabs of pain in his leg. The break seemed to burn from the inside out. The rest of him shook helplessly with a cold that had seeped all the way to his bones.

“I’ll get the fire going. You’ll be warm soon.” He recognized the voice—Fila’s—but couldn’t answer her over the chattering of his teeth. He had no idea where he was, but they were inside—that was a ceiling above him, not tree boughs or open sky.

So why was it so damned cold?

Fila heaped something soft and warm over him, but not warm enough. Shudders consumed him. His throat ached with every swallow. His head ached almost as much as his leg, his lips were parched, and objects in the room around him seemed far away and close together all at once.

“Water?” His voice was thin and rough. She raced away. Came back. Tilted his head and lifted the glass to his lips. Most of its contents spilled over his chin but he got a taste down—not enough to soothe his raw, painful throat, though. What on earth had he done to himself?

He’d been on his back like this before—in another cabin. He searched his memory and dredged up the accident, his broken leg and the time he’d spent with Fila at his family’s place.

The cave-in.

Ned tried to sit up. Fila stopped him. “We’re okay now. We made it to Fitzgerald’s house.”

Ned sank back. Tried to remember how they’d gotten here. They’d walked part of the way, then Fila had gone ahead. Then…

He couldn’t recall what came next.

At least they’d made it to shelter. If they’d spent the night outside they would have been done for.

Cool fingers touched his cheek, then his forehead. “You’re burning up.” Fila chafed her hands, then pressed them to his skin again. Gave a small intake of breath. “Your leg. Maybe it’s infected?”

Covers shifted. She tugged down the loose sweatpants he wore over the splint. Ned groaned.

Another gasp. Fila let the breath out slowly. “You’ve rebroken it. I’ll have to set it again.”