“What happened?” Anthony asked, his voice curt and panicked as he leapt from his horse.
“I don’t know,” Edwina gasped, wiping at the streaky tears that ran down her face. “Mr. Bagwell’s not such an experienced driver, I think, and then Newton got loose, and then I don’t know what happened. One minute we were rolling along, and the next—”
“Where is Bagwell?”
She motioned to the other side of the carriage. “He was thrown. He hit his head. But he’ll be all right. But Kate…”
“What about Kate?” Anthony dropped to his knees as he tried to peer into the wreckage. The entire carriage had overturned, smashing the right side of the vehicle as it had rolled. “Where is she?”
Edwina swallowed convulsively, and her voice barely rose above a whisper as she said, “I think she’s trapped beneath the carriage.”
In that moment Anthony tasted death. It was bitter in his throat, metallic and hard. It scraped his flesh like a knife, choking and squeezing, pulling the air from his very lungs.
Anthony yanked viciously at the wreckage, trying to open a wider hole. It wasn’t as bad as it had looked during the crash, but that did little to calm his racing heart. “Kate!” he yelled, trying to sound calm and unworried. “Kate, can you hear me?”
The only sound he heard in reply, however, was the frantic whinny of the horses. Damn. He’d have to get them unharnessed and loose before they panicked and started trying to drag the debris. “Edwina?” Anthony called sharply, looking over his shoulder.
She hurried over, wringing her hands. “Yes?”
“Do you know how to unharness the horses?”
She nodded. “I’m not very fast, but I can do it.”
Anthony flicked his head toward the onlookers who were hurrying over. “See if you can find someone to help you.”
She nodded again and quickly got to work.
“Kate?” Anthony yelled again. He couldn’t see anyone; a dislodged bench was blocking the opening. “Can you hear me?”
Still no response.
“Try the other side,” came Edwina’s frantic voice. “The opening isn’t as crushed.”
Anthony jumped to his feet and ran around the back of the carriage to the other side. The door had already come off its hinges, leaving a hole just large enough for him to stuff his upper body into. “Kate?” he called out, trying not to notice the sharp sound of panic in his voice. Every breath from his lips seemed overloud, reverberating in the tight space, reminding him that he wasn’t hearing the same sounds from Kate.
And then, as he carefully moved a seat cushion that had turned sideways, he saw her. She was terrifyingly still, but her head didn’t appear to be stuck in an unnatural position, and he didn’t see any blood.
That had to be a good sign. He didn’t know much of medicine, but he held on to that thought like a miracle.
“You can’t die, Kate,” he said as his terrified fingers yanked away at the wreckage, desperate to open the hole until it was wide enough to pull her through. “Do you hear me? You can’t die!”
A jagged piece of wood sliced open the back of his hand, but Anthony didn’t notice the blood running over his skin as he pulled on another broken beam. “You had better be breathing,” he warned, his voice shaking and precariously close to a sob. “This wasn’t supposed to be you. It was never supposed to be you. It isn’t your time. Do you understand me?”
He tore away another broken piece of wood and reached through the newly widened hole to grasp her hand. His fingers found her pulse, which seemed steady enough to him, but it was still impossible to tell if she was bleeding, or had broken her back, or had hit her head, or had…
His heart shuddered. There were so many ways to die. If a bee could bring down a man in his prime, surely a carriage accident could steal the life of one small woman.
Anthony grabbed the last piece of wood that stood in his way and heaved, but it didn’t budge. “Don’t do this to me,” he muttered. “Not now. It isn’t her time. Do you hear me? It isn’t her time!” He felt something wet on his cheeks and dimly realized that it was tears. “It was supposed to be me,” he said, choking on the words. “It was always supposed to be me.”
And then, just as he was preparing to give that last piece of wood another desperate yank, Kate’s fingers tightened like a claw around his wrist. His eyes flew to her face, just in time to see her eyes open wide and clear, with nary a blink.
“What the devil,” she asked, sounding quite lucid and utterly awake, “are you talking about?”
Relief flooded his chest so quickly it was almost painful. “Are you all right?” he asked, his voice wobbling on every syllable.
She grimaced, then said, “I’ll be fine.”
Anthony paused for the barest of seconds as he considered her choice of words. “But are you fine right now?”
She let out a little cough, and he fancied he could hear her wince with pain. “I did something to my leg,” she admitted. “But I don’t think I’m bleeding.”
“Are you faint? Dizzy? Weak?”
She shook her head. “Just in pain. What are you doing here?”
He smiled through his tears. “I came to find you.”
“You did?” she whispered.
He nodded. “I came to—That is to say, I realized…” He swallowed convulsively. He’d never dreamed that the day would come when he’d say these words to a woman, and they’d grown so big in his heart he could barely squeeze them out. “I love you, Kate,” he said chokingly. “It took me a while to figure it out, but I do, and I had to tell you. Today.”
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