"You're rich, I've heard."
"Did your father tell you that?" Aleix asked. Though it went against everything he was, he sat in his prison, on the wrong end of a gun, conversing with Olivia Pascal. Why would he speak with the woman who'd advocated a more advantageous and strategic timing of his execution?
In the beginning he'd hoped she would give him information about Annal¨ªa, but he'd soon realized she was too intelligent to let anything slip. So why did he continue tarrying with her? Because he was about to die? Because he wanted to talk to someone? Anyone?
And he'd done this for two nights. This room was obviously making him crazed.
"No, not Pascal. Your sister described your home. Even here it must cost something to own a mountain with herds of horses covering it."
"My family has been fortunate in that regard."
She tapped her finger against her chin. "I want to be fortunate as well."
He frowned. "Your father has as much money as I do."
"But I don't." Collecting her pistol, she rose to her knees. "You have something I want, and I have something you desperately, desperately need."
He grew still. "You're talking about freeing me?"
"I'm talking about striking a deal, which would necessitate my freeing you."
He was so staggered he lapsed into politeness with her. "Pardon?"
"Since your freedom has such an extraordinary value, then the price must be dear as well."
Trying not to show her how anxious he was to escape - he thought she would see that as weakness - he said slowly, "Whatever it is, I can pay it."
"Are you sure?" she asked, her gaze steady. "It will be very, very steep."
"Steeper than giving up my life?"
She glanced down and traced a finger over the carvings in the wooden handle of her pistol. "Depends on how you look at it...."
"I'll no' leave."
MacCarrick was speaking to someone, but who? Why did their voices sound as if they'd been bathed in syrup? She wanted to open her eyes, but they felt impossibly heavy. Best just to lie here. Yes. Rest and listen.
"But, sir, I will have to examine her," a man said. His voice sounded young. "In my practice...with a lady like this...uh, husbands do not usually remain with their wives."
"This one does."
The gall. Had he no shame? Annal¨ªa tried to protest, tried to cry out that he wasn't her husband, but at that same moment MacCarrick had started to unlace her dress, and it sounded like a moan.
"I suppose her wedding band was stolen when you were set upon," the man said in an off-hand tone.
"Aye." Wedding band?
"And they left the other jewelry?"
Clever physician, Annal¨ªa thought hazily. Back the liar into a corner.
Of course MacCarrick came out fighting. In a menacing voice, he said, "Listen to me, boy. You doona need to be worryin' about that. You need to be concerned with fixin' her arm. Nothing else. Ken?"
"Uh, yes, monsieur. I will leave you to undress her and get supplies." A door clicked shut.
To her shame, MacCarrick removed her dress, skirts, and shoes. He unlaced her corset, too, she supposed when she took a full, welcome breath. Just when she comprehended his actions would leave her only in her shift, pantalettes, and hose, she felt his abrasive hand above her knee. "No, MacCarrick!" she said, but she couldn't even hear herself.
He leaned in. "What is it, Anna?"
"Stop," she whispered.
She strove to nod, but her body felt boneless.
"I canna do that. You might have caught ricochet. He needs to examine you."
"I will no' do that," he said as he untied the tight garters at her thighs and unrolled her hose.
She wanted to scream, but she just couldn't summon the energy.
"I'll put a blanket on you, so I doona see anything, if that's what you want. Anna? Can you hear me?"
When she chose not to answer, he rasped out a string of harsh-sounding foreign words just as something pounded the wall hard.
She might have slept afterward, because when she woke she was under a blanket, and she heard jumbles of sound, more than one voice, all speaking soft French. Except for MacCarrick, who argued with the doctor in English, his accent thicker than she'd ever heard it.
"What are you doin'?" he snapped. She wished she could see what was happening. Her lids felt affixed together.
"Irrigating with salt water," the doctor said.
"What? Puttin' salt in the wound?" To someone else he said, "You brought me a bloody quack?"
"I assure you I'm no quack. I studied at Heidelberg in Germany and graduated with full honors."
"It's important to do," he insisted.
"No' going tae happen. Too painful." For once she agreed with him. Even if the man was a doctor, she didn't want this. Not salt.... She tried to speak but failed again.
"More painful than cutting away putrefied flesh?" the doctor asked.
She shivered. MacCarrick went quiet. Did he say something? Did he give the doctor a look?
"You'll have to hold her."
No, no, no. They'd agreed without her. Coach-and-six.
She felt herself falling back as a weight bowed the bed. He was behind her? Did he have her shoulders in his lap?
"Once," MacCarrick said. "Do it right, once."
"There may be powder inside - "
"Once." His voice was like a snarl.
Her hair was being brushed from her forehead. Surely that wasn't MacCarrick. Her arm caught fire. She stiffened and screamed.
Again someone brushed her hair back. "There's a brave lass." MacCarrick's voice was close to her ear, and so low and rumbling, how could anyone hear him? "That part's over - "
Another pour like a hot poker. "No!" she cried as he held her down.
"God damn it, man," MacCarrick bellowed. "Do you want me to kill you?"
"There was powder. If you care about her, you will let me do what must be done."
"Do that again, and I'll hit you so hard you will no' wake till you're old enough tae practice medicine."
Fading. But she wanted to stay awake. Wanted to know what was about to happen and be on her guard. She didn't trust MacCarrick. Couldn't remember why she wanted away from him even more desperately than before or why she hated him more than she always did. She wasn't capable of escape now, knew it as darkness fell over her, but if she could only manage to wake in the night, she'd leave him where he slept.
"You want me to marry you?" Aleix choked out.
"Yes, in exchange for your freedom."
He shot to his feet. "Why not money? I could set up - "
"Why would I not want to marry you?" she interrupted as she rose as well. "You're handsome, you're rich, and you're titled." Truthfully, these traits were mere bonuses. Listing them was simpler than explaining that she wanted a new name, and she wanted it to be his because he could hide nothing with his eyes. She would never trust a man, so she might as well find one she could read. If she was confident that she would know every time he lied, then that was like a twisted sort of trust in a way, wasn't it?
He shoved his fingers through his hair. "Olivia, I was married."
"I know your story."
"Do you know I vowed never to marry again?"
She dropped her pistol in her skirt pocket. "No, your sister neglected to mention that. But is your vow not to wed greater than your fear for her in the hands of a gang of Highlanders?" No need for Llorente to know quite yet that those men wouldn't hurt her.
"Of course not. What will you have me do?"
"Give me your word while you look me in the eyes."
He took her elbow and said, "I feel I have to remind you that Pascal will send the Rechazados after you. You are risking your life."
Of course he felt that way. Everything above board. Hell, Llorente needed her just to make sure other vultures didn't get hold of him first. "Then you'd better make the risk worth it."
"Why are you doing this?"
Because Pascal had taught her cruelty and malice, never knowing she would turn those very traits back on him. And freeing Llorente was just the beginning. "I have my motives. Besides, you need me as much as I can use you."
He scowled at that, then caught her gaze. "If you free me, I will wed you."
She stared long after. She'd known he would agree, had planned for it, and yet she still felt relief. "Then let's not waste another minute." She turned for the door. "I have two horses outside - one I have hereby appropriated from your sister." She pointed at him over her shoulder. "Make a note of that."
"Do you know where they've taken Annal¨ªa?"
"The last Rechazados' report said they were riding north into France."
As they started up the stairs, he said, "And the guards?"
"Have been taken care of."
He caught up with her and grabbed her hand to stop her. "Did you kill them?"
With her other hand, she patted his face. "No, I'm wearing my new riding habit and I'm ever the messy killer." She exhaled. "I drugged them. Listen to me, Llorente, I promise from now on I'll never kill or maim anyone." She jerked free of him and walked on, but turned back to eye him. "Unless they have it coming."
Four o'clock in the morning and the doctor that they'd roused from bed didn't even have a shadow beard. Perhaps Court was just an ignorant Scot, but he preferred two things in his surgeons: that they be sober, and that they have lived long enough to have practiced on others before getting to him.
Court had ridden straight down the base of the Pyrenees into France with Anna in his arms - a crazed trip he had little memory of - and stopped at an ancient spa town. He had the vague notion that there'd be more physicians centered around medicinal waters than in any mountain foot village. He'd been right.
There were many doctors, who unfortunately catered to rich, bored ladies with imagined maladies. Annal¨ªa had a gunshot wound - a tisane of chamomile wasn't going to do the trick here.
He'd stopped at the first boardinghouse he found, but balked when he'd seen the boy the people in the house recommended. Yet Dr. Molyneux, for all his youth, had been thorough in his examination.
Court looked down at her arm. The bullet had passed over the side and had burned the wound's edges, but the bone was untouched. Lass was lucky that plug hadn't shattered it. A hair closer and Court still would've been arguing with the doctor, but not over something so minor as how to clean the wound.
While Molyneux directed the boardinghouse matron for clean linen to be cut into bandages, Court brushed her hair behind her ear and watched her eyes move behind her lids. He'd ridden as far as he'd dared, and only hoped his men could prevent the Rechazados from getting through that pass. Regardless, they needed to get on the road as soon as possible. "When will she regain consciousness?"
"Right now she's just sleeping."
He gave Molyneux an irritated look.
"I could wake her right now if I wanted to. But I don't want to."
Court's brows drew together when Molyneux put some tincture on her arm and began to roll the bandage around. "Do you no' need to suture it?"
"No, it looked deeper than it actually is because of all the blood."
"You need to suture it. You should always sew these things."
"Mr. MacCarrick, the wound simply wasn't that grievous. It bled profusely, and I'm sure it gave you quite a scare, but the actual damage to the skin wasn't enough to warrant stitches. I understand that you are worried about your...your Mrs. MacCarrick, but this is the best course."
Court set Annal¨ªa aside, then stood. "Gunshot wounds get sewn."
The doctor craned his neck to look up at Court, steadfastly meeting him in the eyes, though he swallowed hard. "Aside from this, your wife is the picture of health. It would be injudicious of me to put thread in her skin. Thread that can swell and break, and get dirty."
"My wife," he said without the slightest hesitation, "may be the picture of health, but she's small and of a delicate constitution. I'll no' have her walking around with an open gash in her arm."
"How long have you known her?"
"A while," he answered evasively.
"I don't know how well you know her, but your wife is not of a delicate constitution, I assure you. I'll bet she's told you she rarely gets ill."
"She might have mentioned it," he answered, though they'd never had more than one civil conversation.
"We'll keep the wound together with linen bandages. I'll show you how to put this tincture on and how to wrap it. Just make sure she doesn't reinjure it. And of course," he added with a disapproving look, "that she isn't shot again."
Court was shaking his head. "She'll get fever."
"And then what should I do?"
"Let it burn." That was his maddening answer. "Just don't let it spike. You can run a cool cloth over her if it rises too high, which I doubt it will, and summon me again, but otherwise let her handle this. She's strong." And then with a last fond look at Annal¨ªa that almost got young Molyneux killed, he left Court alone with her.