Once inside, Lisa gathered Ned into her arms with tears in her eyes as Buck raced around the living room, delighted to have a whole new house to explore. She hugged him fiercely, then came for Fila. “I can never repay you for saving my son. Never.”
Holt helped Ned to an easy chair near the fire, and propped his leg up on an ottoman. As Lisa bundled him under comforters, all the Mathesons piled into the living room to hear their story.
“I hope I never see anything like that again,” Jake said, his voice thickening with emotion. “When I pulled into the driveway and saw Ned’s truck on its roof—all busted up. And then the cabin demolished…” He trailed off and Fila saw it wasn’t only Lisa who had tears in her eyes.
“Fila saved my ass.” Ned shifted under the pile of comforters. “More times than I’d like to admit. She pulled me out of the truck, set my leg, kept me warm and fed while she shoveled off half the roof.”
“You were lucky to get out of there alive,” Jake interrupted. He turned to their parents. “There’s nothing left standing. Nothing.”
“Fila got me out. Just in time.”
Holt was uncharacteristically quiet, Fila noticed. He looked old, his face nearly as drawn as Ned’s was.
“What I can’t figure out is how you made it to Fitzgerald’s on that leg.” Jake leaned forward on the couch, bracing his elbows on his knees. The others waited for Ned’s answer.
“The worst of it was not having any coats. Or shoes.” Ned shook his head. “Fila wrapped baggies around my feet with her hair ties. We didn’t have enough, though. One of her feet was only wrapped in a shirt. In the end she went ahead to Fitzgerald’s and found a sled. She came back and dragged me the rest of the way. Good thing, too. I’d fallen and passed out.”
“And then Oliver Handel found you.” Luke chuckled without humor. “You’re like a bad-luck magnet.”
“Luke,” their mother chided.
“A man with a rap sheet like Handel breaks out of jail and makes a beeline for the remote cabin where Ned’s lying at death’s door? That’s more than your average misfortune,” Luke drawled.
Fila smiled a little as the others laughed.
“How the hell did you knock him out if your leg was broken?” Morgan asked. She was perched on the arm of the chair Rob sat in.
“Didn’t. Fila did that, too.”
Fila drew back in her chair, wishing she could hide from the curious glances all the others were sending her way. She was not proud of the way she’d nearly lost control and cost that man his life—even if he was planning to hurt them. That wasn’t the person she wanted to be.
“So Fila dragged you from a car, set your leg—”
“Twice,” Ned interrupted Luke.
“Shoveled the roof, dragged you from a collapsing building, got your sorry ass seven miles down the road to safety, fixed you up again, and beat off a would-be killer?” Luke sat back. “That’s a hell of a weekend, Fila.”
Once again everyone turned her way.
“That’s a hell of a thing you did for my family,” Lisa said, more softly. “A hell of a thing to save my son not once, but three times.”
“More,” Ned said firmly.
“Young lady,” Holt said, his rusty voice piercing through the others in the room. Fila waited, holding her breath, for his pronouncement. Here’s where Holt would kick her out again. “That was a hell of a thing indeed. Thank you.” He got to his feet and walked slowly—unsteadily—from the room.
“Excuse me,” Lisa said and hurried after him.
In the quiet they left behind, the brothers exchanged a look.
“Told you it would work out okay,” Jake said.
Ned’s laugh sounded more like a grunt of pain.
Since Ned couldn’t easily negotiate the stairs to his bedroom, his brothers helped move the furniture in his cabin and brought his bed down from his bedroom to the living room for the duration. Once everyone had filed out the door and gone home, Fila turned to him, overcome with relief again that they’d made it home.
He moved to her swiftly, leaned on his crutches and pulled her into his arms. “I know. We’re safe now, honey. Everything’s going to be okay.”
She leaned against him, content to let him bear her weight even though she knew she should be urging him to rest. Ned had been through so much.
But she had been through so much too. And his arms felt good around her—strong, comforting. Alive. She realized she hadn’t been sure if they’d make it out alive.
“Come to bed.” Ned took her hand and tugged it gently, moving backward toward the newly set up bed. They’d drawn the curtains over all the first floor windows and dimmed the lights, but a fire still crackled in the hearth.
“With you? But—”
“I don’t want to be alone. Do you?”
She drew in a shaky breath. “No.”
“I won’t push my luck.” He planted a kiss on her jaw just in front of her ear. “I’d be afraid to.”
A shiver ran through her at the touch of his lips. She let him lead her to the bed where she sat and watched him strip down awkwardly to the flannel pajama pants he wore. He hesitated, his hands on the waistband. “I’ll keep these on for now,” he said finally.
Fila felt a stab of disappointment, then a surge of shock at her own reaction. The shock lasted only a moment. She’d chosen life and love over fear of any kind—even of a man’s body. This was Ned—her Ned. The man she loved with all her heart. The man she’d nearly lost. She refused to risk losing another moment with him. Not one more moment.
He awkwardly climbed between the sheets. “Come here.”
She didn’t join him. Instead she pulled the sweater she wore up and over her head, then began to unbutton her blouse. Ned struggled into a sitting position to watch. After a moment, he said, “Are you sure?”
When the buttons were undone, she shed the shirt on the ground and lifted her hands behind her to undo the clasp of her bra.
“Fila,” Ned breathed, his gaze never leaving her. She expected to feel fear, but she didn’t. Instead, she longed to get it off—to be bare in front of Ned—to allow him to see her.
She wanted to be seen. She wanted him looking at her.
She made short work of the clasp. Threw the bra to the floor.
“Fila.” Ned leaned forward. “Come here.”