Cold. So cold. Her nose and left eye throbbing. Her foot jammed under the brake pedal. Teeth chattering, Brenna pushed away from the steering wheel to sit up. The airbag plopped onto her lap like a pancake.
Groaning, she remembered…the too hot heat, the deer in her headlights, the amusement park ride into the ditch. Her car was nose down, no longer running. Her door, when she tried it, wouldn’t budge. And her phone, when she found it, still had no bars.
She collapsed against her seat. Wasn’t she the picture of a damsel in distress? Stupid deer. Stupid car. Stupid driver. At least Gran knew she was on her way and would eventually call out the cavalry, right?
For the love of Pete. If she’d pulled off her gloves and tossed her coat from her lap and left the car’s heater alone, she’d be sitting in Gran’s cozy kitchen by now. Drinking spiced cider. Filling up on glazed sugar cookies. Gran fussing over the biscuits in the oven and the soup on the stove.
Instead, visions of a tiny motherless Bambi had her stranded and now starting to shiver in the bone-cutting cold.
The tips of her fingers and toes were numb. Her breath frosted in the air as she blew it out in an attempt to remain calm. She grabbed her coat and struggled into it, then reached down to work her foot free.
Pain shot up her shin. She grimaced, pretty sure her ankle was sprained. Not that it mattered. She couldn’t sit here and freeze to death. Unfortunately, getting out of her car wasn’t going to be as simple as had been getting in.
She was pondering the nuts and bolts of climbing out one or the other of the—thank God—manually operated windows, when the wind began to howl and the already blowing snow whipped into what in minutes would be a full-on blizzard. Lovely.
With no street signs and a starburst crack in the center of the GPS screen, she couldn’t be certain how far she was from Gran’s. She’d driven this road often, but the accident and near whiteout conditions had her crazy disoriented. And mental confusion was one of the first signs of hypothermia.
She closed her eyes, swallowed, and tried not to panic, but her teeth were chattering, gooseflesh pebbled her skin, and the car’s interior was rapidly turning into an icy tomb. Tears welled and she brushed them away, sniffing.
Cold. So cold. And tired. And very very scared.
“Hello! Miss! Hello!”
Brenna’s eyelids fluttered open. Had she been asleep? Dreaming?
She glanced toward her window, saw a fist, a coat…a man.
He leaned down, a big black Stetson pulled low on his face, and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Can you roll down your window?”
She cleared the glass with her sleeve and nodded, reaching for the handle. Frigid air sucked the remaining warmth from the car’s interior, slapped her in the face, stole her breath, started her teeth chattering anew.
“Are you hurt? Can you move?”
“My ankle. It’s sprained or bruised.” It wasn’t broken. Of that much she was sure. “I can move.”
“Okay. If you can, turn your back to the window. I’m going to slide my arms under yours and lift you out.”
Nodding again, she did as he instructed, ignoring what felt like nails hammering her head. Then he was there, big, strong, hefting her out of her seat. She pushed with her good foot, winced when she tried with her bad.
But she was sliding out, her shoulders, her butt, finally her legs. He eased her to her feet, and she hobbled to lean against the car.
“Thank you,” she said, but the wind whipped her words away, the same wind pelting her with ice shards.
“C’mon,” he yelled, reaching for her. “We’ve got to get you out of here and warmed up.”
She needed her purse, her clothes, Gran’s Christmas gifts. But he didn’t give her a chance to tell him any of that. He scooped her up as if she weighed no more than a snowflake and turned, and that’s when she saw his horse.
The big chestnut beast had snow-frosted lashes and a similarly dusted mane. His breath puffed out in clouds as he snorted. Her rescuer lifted her into the saddle, then swung up behind, scooting her onto his lap before wrapping his thick sheepskin coat around her.
He smelled like leather, like hay, like the deep green woods and the snow. His chest behind her was broad and warm, his thighs beneath hers solid. Like her, he wore gloves, but she could tell his hands were big, and obviously capable as he reined the horse around and away from her car.
She tilted her head back, “I almost hit a deer.”
Having leaned down to catch her words, he nodded, then brought her tighter against him with an arm across her middle. She really should be much colder than she felt, and had to be nearly delirious because all she could think about was how treasured, how protected, how small and feminine and faint she felt.
And how romantic it was to be rescued by a knight in a black Stetson on horseback.