Stone Cold Cowboy

By: Jennifer Ryan

“I’m sorry. I should have thought about how much your shoulders and hands must hurt from being pulled up like that.” He held her with one arm and worked his jacket off with the other, switching hands to hold her to get the jacket free. He wrapped it around her back and gently laid her in the soft grass and mud. He pulled the jacket around her, hoping his warmth worked its way into her cold skin soon. The shearling lining would help hold in the heat.

At least the snow had thawed and the temps had risen above freezing. Otherwise, she’d be dead by now. She wasn’t in great shape, but he thought she’d make it. If he got her the help she needed soon.

Her arms and wrists were sticky with blood. He cut the wires, but they’d dug into her deep. He peeled them away, his stomach souring at the sickening way the wire pulled out of her skin. He needed something to wrap the raw wounds and stop the bleeding. He pulled off his thermal and used the wire cutters to slit the material. He tore it into strips and used two to wrap around her wrists and hands. He used another thick swatch to press against the deep cut at her ribs.

“Hhmm. Stop. H-hurts.”

“I know, I’m sorry.” Rory pressed harder on the bleeding wound. “Are you cold?”

“N-no. Numb.”

Fuck. A very bad sign. If she couldn’t feel the cold anymore and didn’t shiver, her body was shutting down. Hypothermia had set in. He needed to get her warm, and fast.

He shoved the rest of his shirt under her back and pulled it out the other side. He tied the ends off in front of her, tight around her middle to keep pressure on the small but deep wound at her side. He closed the coat around her, not caring that her arms weren’t in the sleeves. He pulled the knit cap over her head and ears, hoping that helped keep what little body heat she had left from dissipating with the wind.

The cut on her thigh had stopped bleeding. The nick across her knee on her other leg didn’t look bad on its own, but add it to the collection all over her body, and he cringed.

He wrapped the scarf around her feet and ankles, wishing he had something more to keep her warm. Short of stripping himself bare and freezing his ass off before he got her to the help she needed, he’d done all he could for her right now.

Dehydrated, she needed water, especially on her chapped lips. He unscrewed the lid on the water bottle, slipped one hand beneath her neck to hold her head up, and tilted the bottle to her lips, pouring the water in slowly. She sputtered, but then drank deep.

“That’s it, sweetheart. Go slow.” He wished he had more than a couple ounces to give her, but she drank what he had and settled again. He left the bottle on the ground, along with the wire cutter and bloody wire. He’d send the cops back here to investigate and clean up.

“I’m sorry to do this to you.” He slid his hands underneath her and picked her up, pulling her close against his chest. She squeaked in pain as he settled her in his arms. That piercing sound tore his heart to shreds.

He’d never been sentimental. Not since his parents died in an avalanche when he was just a kid. He’d taken on his role as protector for his younger brothers and worked hard to raise them and keep his father’s ranch above water. Hell, he’d put his whole self into being the head of the family. Yes, they had their grandfather to look out for them, but Rory had taken on the role of head of the family and business early on. Granddad was getting older, though that didn’t tame his wild-at-heart ways and outrageous behavior. Rory had to be the serious one.

Still, this slip of a woman got to him on a deep level. One he didn’t want to acknowledge or think about. So he tucked his emotions back in the box he kept them in, buried deep in his heart, and did what needed to be done.

He walked down the hill with her, trying not to jostle her too much. He approached his horse, wondering how to get in the saddle without draping her over his horse and hurting her more. He looked around, trying to find a way to make this easier. He spotted the boulders nearby, grabbed the reins, and led his horse over to the rocks.

Even as a kid he hadn’t needed mounting steps, but with Sadie bundled in his arms, this would make things easier. He stopped the horse next to the rocks, climbed up on the boulder, turned to his side, put his left foot over the horse’s back, and lowered himself into the saddle as slowly as he could so he didn’t spook the horse. He fell harder than he’d like the last foot or so and the horse pranced, but didn’t try to throw him and the extra weight he carried.

“That’s it, boy.” Rory settled Sadie against his chest and on his lap. He grabbed the reins and kicked the horse to move. They rode down the valley toward where he thought the cattle rustlers took his herd. Better to get to the road here than try to take Sadie all the way back to the ranch. He tried to picture where they were in relation to his place and the neighbors’ houses. No matter which way he worked out the journey, they were all too far.

Rory pulled the reins right, leading his horse up a tall hill, hoping he’d get a cell signal way the hell out here. The chances were slim, but he had to try. The horse took the steep terrain at a lumbering lope, jostling Sadie against him. She twisted to get more comfortable and ended up with her face buried in his neck and her chest pressed to his. His coat kept her warm and helped to keep him warm, too, though his bare back froze. He held her close and tilted his head to press his cheek to her forehead and add what warmth he could to her.

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