Into the Oak Grove
Joy stared at the man above her. She couldn't distinguish any of his features but the warmth and security of his body above hers gave her some confidence. He had spoken the truth. She'd been completely alone with him before the first shot had been fired. But why was someone trying to kill her?
"Joy. My name is Joy."
The way he breathed out her name had her heart hitching. She'd never heard her name sound so reverent. The fear and anxiety of the situation must be making her hear things. She closed her eyes took a deep breath and winced at the sharp stab of pain in her ribs. She hoped her ribs weren't broken.
"Joy. I need you to follow close behind me. We're going to dart to the outer circle. Stay close to the ground."
She nodded as he helped her to her feet. Her bodice slipped, her corset sliding down her woolen skirts to plop onto the ground. With a pounding heart and her left hand clasped tightly in his she snagged it from the ground just as he jerked her forward. As shots rang out they zig-zagged across the inner circle. Finally they reached the outer circle and slammed behind one of the sandstone pillars.
Joy collapsed to her knees gasping for breath. In London she'd hadn't needed to exert herself so. Her parents always encouraged her to study and put her time into her arts, not traipsing around the forested country.
"Are you hit?"
He leaned over her putting his back to the other side of the circle putting himself in harms way. Joy could only stare up at him trying to get her breath under control. Not even her father had ever willingly put himself in danger to protect her. When she didn't answer he brushed his hands over her arms.
"I don't think so."
"Good. I'll give you another few seconds then we've got to do it again."
His head jerked to the left. "We've got to get to cover."
"I don't think I can make it." She shook her head.
"Hey. I have every confidence in you. You can do this."
"I can barely breath."
His rough hands cupped her chin. His body heat soaked into her skin and slithered down through her body until she was sure he was some sort of walking heater.
"You can do this. I won't let anything happen to you."
Her heart stopped.
Just for a second.
The shooters fell away leaving only them for just a split second. Then the night was disturbed by the rapid firing of some sort of gun. Rock sprayed over their heads getting closer and closer to him.
She couldn't help it.
He grabbed her hand and tugged her towards the darkened forest. Something stung the back of her shoulder.
He caught her with an arm around her hefty waist. Her right arm went numb. Tears froze on her cheeks as the wind kicked up bringing with it the coming Christmas storm.
* * *
This was not how he'd planned to spend his first night back in England. Running for his life with a woman who was barely able to make a quick sprint. Grimacing as she stumbled again, he hitched her closer to him. The wind picked up blowing snow flurries into his field of sight.
He had to get them under cover and hidden.
If they were lucky the shooters would loose interest. He sighed. This night was turning out to be full of "if's".
"I can't." Joy gasped next to him. He squeezed her tighter against him taking more of her weight.
"Just a little further."
She shook her head her legs going out completely. He dropped with her but rolled she that he took the brunt of the injuries. He grunted as she landed on top of him.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"Shhhh. We'll crawl then. Just a couple of feet." He nudged her forward but she didn't move.
With a hammering heart he slowly flipped them over. The snow was already piling on top of them. No more shots rang out.
Blinking the flakes from his lashes he was almost thankful for the weather. If he couldn't see anything neither could the shooters. He leaned over Joy. She didn't move. Damn!
"Joy, wake up honey. Come on." He shook her.
She didn't budge. Cursing his luck he slipped his arms under hers and lifted. She wasn't light, but he'd moved heavier men on the battlefields. He readjusted so that she draped over his shoulder. He wouldn't be able to carry her for long, but perhaps by then he'd find a spot they could hide for the night. Once daylight arrived the assailants would be long gone.
He trudged into the forest using his battle experience for any sign of pursuers or a hiding spot. He wasn't sure how long he'd traveled but exhaustion made his knees weak and the biting cold was almost like a familiar friend by the time he found the small cave hidden under the extensive root system of several oak trees grown together.
The cave was deep enough to hide in and have a fire for warmth. He tumbled to his knees in the snow. If he was cold, she must be freezing. He felt her jugular.
Thankfully she was still alive.
With frozen hands he shoved her into the back of the cave and gathered the few sticks he could find. He was never more grateful to always carry flint than at that very moment. The moment heat hit his hands he groaned. Paid shot up every nerve ending until he thought he might actually be on fire.
The minute his fingers could flex without pain he turned to Joy. The firelight played against her pale features showing her blue tinged lips. He sighed.
She wasn't frozen. Her woolen clothing had helped protect her from the harshest of the weather. But now he had to get them both warm and that meant body heat. He unhooked her cloak and froze.
She'd been hit.
Her shoulder glaring black in the dim light. He held his breath for a second. She hadn't collapsed because of her lack of fitness. She'd stopped because she'd been hit. Swallowing he leaned forward. Never having been one to faint at the sight of blood he was surprised that his stomach was turning over at the sight now. Closing his eyes he breathed in the coppery stench.
It was still bleeding.
Cade snapped open his eyes bringing his guilt close to him and burying it. She couldn't afford for him to break down now. Think of it as the battlefield. She needed him. Just like his brothers had needed him.
He tore her petticoat, which was relatively dry, to make a bandage. He tore off the sliced remnants of her bodice thankful to see she'd worn a cotton shirt underneath the woolen one. Which was dry.
He laid out her cloak with the dry side up and rolled her over. He winced when her shoulder bumped the ground. Then pulled her wet skirts off laying them over the ground near the fire hoping they would dry out. The removed inner petticoat soon followed. He quickly stripped from his own wet clothes and stood near enough to the fire that his body dried out and warmed up.
He was amazed the little cave was warming up nicely. At this rate they would have a cozy place to spend the night. He wondered briefly if her driver was regretting leaving her alone. Then again perhaps their initial assailant had been her driver. It would make sense. If someone intended to eliminate him they'd need to do it in privacy. Make it look like an accident or on the battlefield. There was no way his friends would believe anything else.
She moaned. He hunched over her holding her chest down to the ground. The last thing she would want at the moment was to move the shoulder. She was going to feel more pain than he wanted her to just by him cleaning and bandaging the wound. He glanced at the entrance wound. She was lucky. A little more to the left would have severed an artery.
"Easy. Don't move." He whispered.
She stilled. For a quick second her lashes fluttered then nothing. He sighed. It was better this way. Using a piece of her wet skirt he cleaned the wounds as much as he could before bandaging it with strips of her underskirt. She started to shiver.
He breathed out his relief. That was a good sign. The body needed to shiver to generate heat. He sat on her dry skirt and pulled her onto his naked lap before pulling the woolen cloak around them both. It was the best he could do.
Copywrite Mae Pen 2013
Installment Three will be posted Friday, Jan. 10th.