WARNING! Some potential spoilers ahead...
A draft whistled through a hole in the door, but the heat from the stove was thick and warm, like a heavy blanket. That, or it was the animal pelts, and an old ratty quilt draped over the top of me; I was sweating beneath them, and the more I tried to ignore my throbbing left leg, the more impossible it became.
I lifted the blankets up, and my breath hitched. Save for my briefs and long sleeves, I was naked.
“Where are my pants?” I mumbled, just as the door opened, creaking and protesting before it swung and crashed against the wall. The jars in the window clanked together, and a gust of wind followed the person who stepped inside.
The girl, I remembered. She sidled through the door with my wet pack on her back, nearly the same size as she was. Her face was covered by the hood of her coat as she stepped farther in and shut the door behind her.
I blinked at the girl as she hobbled the few steps closer to the table, not bothering to look to see if I was conscious, and dropped my pack on the floor with a loud thud. The bed shook, the girl groaned in respite, and then she pushed back her damp hood, exposing round, flushed cheeks.
I swallowed thickly. I didn’t know how she’d gotten me in here, but whoever she was, she’d saved my life. I watched as she shrugged out of her wet coat. Biting her bottom lip, she stepped back over to the door, hung up her coat, and pulled her long hair out from the fur collar of a brown woven sweater that hung to the back of her legs. She was about Thea’s height, five-seven or so, and as I recalled her sitting on top of her horse with a gun aimed directly at me, I knew she was clearly capable of living out here. She lifted a leather pouch that was slung around her and set it on the table, the candlelight flickering against her damp lashes and cheeks.
I cleared my throat, my elbows digging into the old feather mattress as I tried to blink the remaining haziness from my mind.
Finally, the girl looked at me, and whatever softness she’d had in her features before hardened, and she glared at me. Oh yes, I remembered that look.
“You’re awake,” she said flatly, as if it was an inconvenience.
“Um . . . sorry?” It was more of a question than a real apology. If she didn’t want me there, why had she brought me?
She eyed me warily as she pulled off woven gloves, then pulled a handful of foliage from her pouch—herbs I’d seen before, like valerian and marigold, and others I didn’t recognize at all. Whoever she was, if her shack was any indicator, she knew about natural remedies, which was lucky for me.
“I remember hurting my leg,” I told her, rubbing the back of my head. “But why is my head so fuzzy? And . . .” I dropped my hand, feeling a bump on the base of my skull. “Why do I have a lump?”
The girl separated the different leaves into piles, then gathered them into bundles. “That might be from when you hit your head on the table,” she said, not bothering to look at me as she tied twine around each of them.
I glared at her. “When I did?”
“Or,” she continued, ignoring me as she wrapped another bundle, “when you fell off Cricket’s back. I’m not sure which.”
Cricket? “You mean, the horse?”
She nodded, absently. She wasn’t certain? As if she wasn’t the only conscious person I’d come into contact with over the past handful of hours.
“Well, thanks for being so damn careful with me,” I bit out.
The girl’s eyes cut to me again. “I could’ve left you out there—I could’ve left you hurt, out in the rain.”
I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from saying something I didn’t mean, like, you should have then.
She took a bunch of large-leaved herbs with hairy stems and tossed them in a pot of boiling water that I hadn’t noticed on top of the woodstove. Then, she turned to me. Heaving out another sigh, this one a sigh of exasperation, she flung the blankets back.
I felt a rush of cold and was mortifyingly aware that I was only in my underwear. “Hey,” I bit out, reaching for the quilt, and she glared at me, again.
“Give me a break,” she quipped, and rolled her eyes. “Do you want me to help you, or don’t you?”
“It depends,” I growled. “Am I going to get another lump on my head if I do?”
Her shoulders straightened, and her eyes shifted from my bound, injured leg, to my face.
“Look, I got you here, didn’t I? You’re about fifty pounds heavier than I’m comfortable lifting.”
Heat flushed my cheeks as the reality of my situation sank in. She was right, whoever she was. If it wasn’t for her, I’d still be out there, hurt and in the cold. This—bumps, bruises, mortification, and all—was far better than the alternative.
“Sorry,” I muttered. “And thank you, for helping me.”
I wasn’t sure why I expected her to answer me, but she didn’t. I got the impression that my presence alone annoyed her, though I had no idea why.
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