Her lips wobbled into a shaky smile as she motioned to the rest of her body with her chin. “You’ve bloody good timing.”
Amazingly, he found himself grinning in return. “Almost makes you glad I waited so long, eh? If I’d told you last week, I wouldn’t have followed you out to the park today.”
She stuck out her tongue, which, considering the circumstances, made him love her even more. “Just get me out,” she said.
“Then you’ll tell me you love me?” he teased.
She smiled, wistful and warm, and nodded.
It was, of course, as good as a declaration, and even though he was crawling through the wreckage of an overturned carriage, even though Kate was stuck in the cursed carriage, with what might very well be a broken leg, he was suddenly consumed with an overwhelming sense of contentment and peace.
And he realized he hadn’t felt that way for nearly twelve years, not since that fateful afternoon when he’d walked into his parents’ bedroom and seen his father laid out on the bed, cold and still.
“I’m going to pull you through now,” he said, sliding his arms beneath her back. “It’ll hurt your leg, I’m afraid, but it can’t be avoided.”
“My leg already hurts,” she said, smiling bravely. “I just want to get out.”
Anthony gave her a single, serious nod, then curved his hands around her side and began to pull. “How is that?” he asked, his heart stopping every time he saw her wince with pain.
“Fine,” she gasped, but he could tell she was merely putting up a brave front.
“I’m going to have to turn you,” he said, eyeing a broken and jagged piece of wood that stuck down from above. It was going to be difficult to maneuver her around it. He couldn’t care less if he tore her clothing—hell, he’d buy her a hundred new dresses if she’d only promise never again to step into a carriage if it was being driven by anyone other than himself. But he couldn’t bear the thought of scratching even an inch of her skin. She’d been through enough already. She didn’t need more.
“I need to pull you out headfirst,” he told her. “Do you think you can wiggle yourself around? Just enough so I can grasp under your arms.”
She nodded, gritting her teeth as she painstakingly turned herself inch by inch, lifting herself up on her hands as she scooted her hips around clockwise.
“There you are,” Anthony said encouragingly. “Now I’m going to—”
“Just do it,” Kate ground out. “You don’t need to explain.”
“Very well,” he replied, inching backward until his knees found purchase on the grass. On a mental count of three, he gritted his teeth and began to pull her out.
And stopped a second later, as Kate let out an earsplitting scream. If he hadn’t been so convinced that he’d die within the next nine years, he would have sworn she’d just taken ten off his life.
“Are you all right?” he asked urgently.
“I’m fine,” she insisted. But she was breathing hard, puffing through pursed lips, and her face was tense with pain.
“What happened?” came a voice from just outside the carriage. It was Edwina, done with the horses and sounding frantic. “I heard Kate scream.”
“Edwina?” Kate asked, twisting her neck as she tried to see out. “Are you all right?” She yanked on Anthony’s sleeve. “Is Edwina all right? Is she hurt? Does she need a doctor?”
“Edwina’s fine,” he replied. “You need a doctor.”
“And Mr. Bagwell?”
“How’s Bagwell?” Anthony asked Edwina, his voice curt as he concentrated on maneuvering Kate around the debris.
“A bump on his head, but he’s back on his feet.”
“It’s nothing. Can I help?” came a worried male voice.
Anthony had a feeling that the accident had been as much Newton’s fault as Bagwell’s, but still, the young man had been in control of the reins, and Anthony wasn’t inclined to feel charitable toward him just now. “I’ll let you know,” he said curtly, before turning back to Kate and saying, “Bagwell’s fine.”
“I can’t believe I forgot to ask after them.”
“I’m sure your lapse will be pardoned, given the circumstances,” Anthony said, edging farther back until he was nearly entirely out of the carriage. Kate was now positioned at the opening, and it would take only one more—rather long and almost certainly painful—tug to get her out.
“Edwina? Edwina?” Kate was calling out. “Are you sure you’re not injured?”
Edwina jammed her face into the opening. “I’m fine,” she said reassuringly. “Mr. Bagwell was thrown clear, and I was able to—”
Anthony elbowed her out of the way. “Grit your teeth, Kate,” he ordered.
With one single tug, he freed her completely from the wreckage, both of them landing on the ground, both of them breathing hard. But where Anthony’s hyperventilation was from exertion, Kate’s was obviously from intense pain.
“Good God!” Edwina nearly yelled. “Look at her leg!”
Anthony glanced over at Kate and felt his stomach drop down clear to his toes. Her lower leg was crooked and bent, and more than obviously broken. He swallowed convulsively, trying not to let his concern show. Legs could be set, but he’d also heard of men who’d lost limbs due to infection and bad medical care.
“What’s wrong with my leg?” Kate asked. “It hurts, but—Oh, my God!”
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