Marks … I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to find your spectacles in this wreckage.”
“I have another pair at home,” she ventured.
“Thank God.” Leo sat up with a quiet grunt of discomfort. “Now, if we stand on the highest pile of debris, it’s only a short distance to the surface. I’m going to hoist you up, get you out of here, and then you’re going to ride back to Ramsay House. Cam trained the horse, so you won’t need to guide him. He’ll find his way back home with no trouble.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked, bewildered.
He sounded rather sheepish. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to wait here until you send someone for me.”
“I have a—” He paused, searching for a word. “Splinter.”
She felt indignant. “You’re going to make me ride back alone and unescorted and virtually blind, to send someone to rescue you? All because you have a splinter?”
“A large one,” he volunteered.
“Where is it? Your finger? Your hand? Maybe I can help to … Oh, God. ” This last as he took her hand and brought it to his shoulder. His shirt was wet with blood, and a thick shard of timber protruded from his shoulder. “That’s not a splinter,” she said in horror. “You’ve been impaled. What can I do? Shall I pull it out?”
“No, it might be lodged against an artery. And I wouldn’t care to bleed out down here.”
She crawled closer to him, bringing her face close to his to examine him anxiously...
“Don’t worry,” he murmured. “It looks worse than it is.”
But Catherine didn’t agree. If anything, it was worse than it looked... Stripping off her riding coat, she tried to lay it over his chest.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Trying to keep you warm.”
Leo plucked the garment off his chest and made a scoffing sound. “Don’t be ridiculous. First, the injury isn’t that bad. Second, this tiny thing is not capable of keeping any part of me warm. Now, about my plan—”
“It is obviously a significant injury,” she said, “and I do not agree to your plan. I have a better one.”
“Of course you do,” he replied sardonically. “Marks, for once would you do as I ask?”
“No, I’m not going to leave you here. I’m going to pile up enough debris for both of us to climb out.”
“You can’t even see, damn it. And you can’t move these timbers and stones. You’re too small.”
“There is no need to make derogatory remarks about my stature,” she said, lurching upward and squinting at her surroundings. Identifying the highest pile of debris, she made her way to it and hunted for nearby rocks.
“I’m not being derogatory.” He sounded exasperated. “Your stature is absolutely perfect for my favorite activity. But you’re not built for hauling rocks. Blast it, Marks, you’re going to hurt yourself—”
“Stay there,” Catherine said sharply, hearing him push some heavy object aside. “You’ll worsen your injury, and then it will be even more difficult to get you out. Let me do the work.” Finding a heap of ashlar blocks, she picked one up and lugged it up the pile, trying not to trip over her own skirts.
“You’re not strong enough,” Leo said, sounding aggravated and out of breath.
“What I lack in physical strength,” she replied, going for another block, “I make up for in determination.”
“How inspiring. Could we set aside the heroic fortitude for one bloody moment and dredge up some common sense?”
“I’m not going to argue with you, my lord. I need to save my breath for”—she paused to heft another block—“stacking rocks.”
Somewhere amid the ordeal, Leo decided hazily that he would never underestimate Catherine Marks again. Ounce for ounce, she was the most insanely obstinate person he had ever known, dragging rocks and debris while half blind and hampered by long skirts, diligently crossing back and forth across his vision like an industrious mole. She had decided to build a mound upon which they could climb out, and nothing would stop her.