Something patted Rose’s cheek. It was soft and wet. She was so tired, she just wanted to lie there and sleep, but whatever it was, it refused to let her. “Rose,” a voice said. He was close and quiet, insistent and demanding. “Rose, I need you to wake up.” Other sounds registered as he kept repeating her name. Something was scraped or dragged. Something else clunked. There were voices, too. All of it was muffled somehow, as if she was on the other side of a door trying to listen.
“Rose, we’re going to get you out of here. Can you open your eyes?”
She frowned and shook her head. It felt like it flopped from side to side so fast it gave her a headache. She tried to say ‘I’m fine, go away so I can sleep’, but her lips barely moved and it was all an incoherent mumble. Why did it sound like that, and why was she so tired? And why couldn’t she move her arms or legs?
“What were you thinking, anyway?” The man whose voice she still couldn’t place almost sounded amused through his concern for her. “Coming here in the middle of a snowstorm.”
A loud, rough scrape of wood on wood startled her and pulled weight off her chest she didn’t even realize was there. It was suddenly much easier to breathe, and she sucked in a deep breath. The frigid cold of it hitting her throat made her sputter and cough.
“Easy, easy.” Something soft was wrapped around her.
“That leg is- Be careful with it.” This voice sounded more familiar. She knew this person, but who was it?
“Go find Ryan, the one with the green cloak. He’s a healer. Bring him to your house. I’ll carry her there.”
It was hard to tell what was going on with her eyes still closed. Her whole body felt heavy and useless, almost like it wasn’t even hers to command. She struggled to force her eyes opened as she was moved, managing to flutter them just enough to tell it was still dark and still snowing. Again, she tried to speak, to ask where she was, but only managed vague, wordless noises.
“Ssh. You’re safe, you’ll be fine.” His voice resonated in the solid thing her face rested against. Movement happened, she just couldn’t understand what was going on.
Everything made a lot more sense when she was hit with a blast of warm air and she heard the smack of her front door slamming shut from the inside. Why did Kent always let it slam shut? It was supposed to be there to pull the door closed when your hands are full, or help when the wind is strong enough to fling it against the house, not just for anytime you walk in. She made an – unconscious at this point – effort to prevent the door whacking in its frame with her bottom by pausing at the threshold every time she entered. Kent never once did that.
Indignant that he should be so thoughtless now, of all times, she tried, very hard, to make her mouth tell him off. Just as she was getting ready to actually say something, she started to shiver. It took several seconds, but all of a sudden, she was aware of how horribly cold her body was.
“Ah, good, you’re waking up.”
Finally, she wrenched her eyes open, only to find herself carried in the arms of that damned adventurer, the one that visited her at home last night and tried to tell her his name. He sat down on her couch, draping her across his lap, and shrugged out of his coat and gloves. Before she could protest, she was bundled up under a blanket with him, his body heat radiating out to chase away the cold. She tried to talk yet again, but now her teeth chattered so much, she couldn’t say anything coherent.
“Relax, Rose.” He put a finger on her lips and snugged the blanket around her more. “This is your house. Your leg is hurt. Kent went for a healer, he should be here soon. In the meantime, I’ve taken on the job of keeping the local baker from freezing to death.”
“Why?” It took a great deal of effort to get just one word out so he could understand it.
He smiled like that was funny. “Because I’m not an ass, Rose. Besides, you’re a very attractive woman, and I don’t mind in the slightest having you in my lap for a little while. Maybe we can start some rumors, even.” He winked at her and changed his voice so it sounded like a caricature of a little old lady gossip. “I heard Rose spent the night in that man’s lap, under a blanket with him! That Scott, he took advantage of her, poor dear.”
Grinning, he let out a fake sigh and spoke normally again. “Oh dear. Now I’ve gone and told you my name. What a wretched ass I can be.”
She noticed her leg starting to ache as she mustered up the energy to glare at him. At least the shivering was starting to ebb. “B-b-bast-t-ard.”
His laugh, short and soft, made her scowl. “At least you’re not succumbing to the cold. Please, do tell me about all my shortcomings. I enjoy hearing about them, especially from beautiful women who were on the brink of death just a handful of minutes ago.”
Hunching in on herself more was probably a little more like sulking than she wanted to do, but she did it anyway. “Sh-shut-t-t up.”
“You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you be ornery at me.”
The door creaked open, letting in Kent and one of Scott’s fellow adventurers, the one with the green cloak. The man didn’t let the door slam shut behind him, for which he earned a small dollop of good will from Rose. “Oh, good. You’re taking care of her already.”
“The leg is bad, Ryan.” Scott flung the blanket off her legs. As he did so, he blocked Rose’s view of it by keeping her reclined in his lap and holding her like a baby. It was annoying to be treated like that, but she wasn’t in any condition to struggle or protest much.
Ryan made a disapproving noise. “Yes, yes it is. The town healer should be able to fix it, but he’s got his hands full already. Good idea to have the kid grab me for this.”
“My name is Kent.”
“Sorry, Kent.” Ryan chuckled lightly, then very warm hands were placed on her leg. It was such intense heat that Rose gasped. The last time she was healed for something was years ago. One of her mentor’s baking stones broke and a small piece flew through the air, hitting and burning her. The injury was small but horrible. When the town healer took care of it, she felt a pleasant, soothing cool wrap itself around the pain and wash it away. When Ryan healed her, she screamed at the sharp tug and searing heat.
Scott tensed at the loud noise and held onto her tighter. “Yep, that’s Ryan’s style. Worse than the wound, but only briefly. You get used to it.”
“Get her something warm to drink,” Ryan told Kent as he covered her legs again.
“We should stick around town today and help anyone who needs it.”
Ryan gave Scott a look Rose thought was very male. “Naturally, you should stay here and help Rose. She’ll need some time and help for a successful recovery.”
Scott smiled with a lot of teeth. “She’s a very important part of Brennan. I just want to make sure she’ll be alright.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “We’ll do whatever we can. It’s not like I’m going to just walk away from this many people in need of help. I’ll see you later.” He waved and left, still closing the door carefully after using it.
Kent was out of sight in the kitchen. Rose fixed Scott – just now turning to see her again – with an unfriendly glare. “Keep your hands to yourself.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said cheerfully.