Sig was awake enough to know that he shouldn’t be alive, but he couldn’t seem to make his body work. His eyes refused to cooperate and his head weighed like a ton of bricks. He fought harder, swimming laboriously through layers of gray fog.
“Shhh.” A gentle hand touched his face, but that only made him struggle harder.
Charlie. I have to get her to safety.
It took all his strength, but he finally worked his eyes open. She hovered over him, her dark hair smooth and tidy. How could she look so elegant after crashing on a barely-populated colony? He tried to sit up, or at least lift his head, but nothing responded. He couldn’t feel his fingers or toes, couldn’t sense whether he was cold or hot, dressed or nude, on a bed of feathers…or nails.
She leaned down and pressed her mouth to his ear. He felt that much at least. “We’re safe, for now. A colonist named Gage has taken us in. As best as I can tell, he’s living in the wilderness between Bostonia and York.”
She sat back up and raised her voice slightly. “Yes, your name is Henry, and my name is Charlotte Wilder. Do you remember now?”
A man loomed into Sig’s vision, a large, broad shadow that dwarfed her. Danger sent shards of ice through his body. No, that was his heart pounding harder. His heart. Hadn’t it been cut all to hell? What did she do to me?
“Well, I’ll be, he’s awake,” Gage said with a huge smile. “I didn’t think he was going to make it.”
“He’s not out of the woods yet.” Charlie pulled at something on his chest. From the sting and tug, it must be a bio-bandage. He welcomed any sensation, even pulled chest hairs. “But he’s doing much better. How do you feel, Henry?”
“Danger.” His lips fumbled the word, but he was sure she understood.
Humming as though they hadn’t crashed, he wasn’t on death’s door, and a huge wild man didn’t loom behind her with God only knew what kind of weapon, she prodded his chest with gentle but sure fingers. “Yes, you’re still in danger, but the wound is healing nicely.”
He gritted his teeth, silently screaming at the stranger to go away so he could talk to her. There’s so much we need to do. If the bounty hunter tracks us down, while I’m sick and weak…
“Everything’s taken care of.” She leaned down, her gaze heavy with significance as though she knew he was desperate to gain information. “All you need to do is heal. Right, Gage?”
“Aye, Miss Wilder. I wiped away our tracks and fetched the other things you asked for. Not much I could do about the debris other than toss some branches on the hull to disguise it. The winter snows have even York piled up to their ears. No one’s going to be coming out here any time soon to look for you.”
He knows too much. Sig tried to convey the urgency with only his eyes. Don’t trust him. Don’t trust anyone.
Maybe all this concentrating was doing his frozen limbs some good, because he managed to shift his head enough to look down at himself. Pale pink skin covered his chest, not a gruesome gaping wound. Dread tightened like a fist in the pit of his stomach. How long have I been unconscious to heal like this?
Terror pounded in his skull and he struggled harder, thrashing his entire body. We have to get away from here!
Charlie pressed against him, using her slender body to try and still his struggles. His strength ran out quickly, leaving him shaking and so sick with worry he wanted to weep. I’ve failed her. Snows or no, the Queen’s Ravens won’t be far behind.
“Trust me, Henry.” She kissed his cheek and rubbed her palms on his shoulder in a soothing circular motion. Bare skin. He felt that much. “I’ve got everything in hand.”
“I can’t move,” he whispered, his voice more broken than he cared to admit. “I don’t even feel my arms.”
“I’m so sorry, but I had to tie you down. You thrashed too much with fever and I was afraid you were going to harm yourself even worse. Let me loosen the ties and see if you feel better.”
Tied. Thank God his eyes were closed, so she wouldn’t see the horrible darkness that knowledge must be spreading in his eyes. He hadn’t been tied up in a very long time.
Dark memories threatened from his childhood. Memories he’d killed a long time ago. He’d always thought those feelings of helplessness would stir him into a murderous rage, but all he felt…
Whatever bound his wrists loosened. His fingers tingled, cramped muscles stretched, and a surge of enormous relief washed over him. Peace. That’s what this feeling was. After all the suffering he’d survived as a child and the countless executions he’d committed in effort to blot out those memories, he’d never felt this completely at peace.
He flexed his fingers and turned his head to see his arm stretched out on a pillow. A strip of white cotton still tied his left wrist to the simple wooden headboard. His other arm sagged, too, still bound but looser and more comfortable.
Sensation coursed through his body, tingling like fire ants nibbling his extremities. Charlie finished loosening the tie and turned back, leaning down over his chest. “Better?”
He closed his eyes and nodded. So much better. Impossibly better. He’d hated the last woman who made him helpless. Every time he accepted a contract on a female mark, it was her face he saw when he terminated the target. He often made wry jokes about all his regrets, but in truth, his only true regret was that he hadn’t killed her himself.
So why don’t I hate Charlie?