Home > Diamond Bay (Rescues #2)(8)

Diamond Bay (Rescues #2)(8)
Author: Linda Howard

The only way she had of getting him up the steps was to catch him under the arms and pull him up them, just as she'd pulled him out of the sea. Joe couldn't help now. She would have to lift the man's head, shoulders and chestthe heaviest part of his body.

She'd gotten her wind back, and sitting there in the grass wasn't going to get anything accomplished. But she was so tired, as if her legs and arms were weighted down with lead; they were sluggish, and she staggered a little when she climbed to her feet. Gently she wrapped the quilt around the man, then positioned herself behind him and slid her hands under his shoulders. Straining, fighting for every bit of leverage, she raised him to a half-sitting position, then quickly propped him up on her legs. He started to fall over, and with a cry Rachel caught him around the chest, looping her arms tightly and locking her hands together. His head fell forward, as limply as a newborn's. Joe worried at her side, growling when he couldn't find a place to catch hold of the quilt.

"It's all right," she panted. "I've got to do it this way now." She wondered if she was talking to the dog or the man. Either was ridiculous, but both seemed important.

The steps were at her back. Keeping her legs under her and her hands tightly locked around the man's chest, Rachel thrust herself backward; her bottom landed on the first step with a jarring thud, and the edge of the top step scraped a raw strip down her back, but she'd managed to lift the man a little. Hot pain seared her back and legs from the strain she was putting on her muscles. "Oh, God," she whispered, "I can't collapse now. In a little while I'll rest, but not now."

Grinding her teeth, she got her feet under her again, using the stronger muscles of her thighs rather than her more vulnerable back muscles. Once more she lunged up and back, pushing with her legs, hauling the man up with her. She was sitting on the top step now, and tears of pain and effort were stinging her eyes. The man's torso was on the steps, his legs still out in the yard, but if she could get his upper body on the porch the rest would be easy. She had to do the agonizing maneuver one more time.

She didn't know how she did it, where she found the strength. She gathered, lunged, pushed. Suddenly her feet went out from under her and she fell heavily on her back on the wooden porch, the man lying on her legs. Stunned, she lay there for a moment, staring up at the yellow porch light with the tiny bugs swarming around it. She could feel her heart pounding wildly inside her rib cage, hear the wheezing sobs as she tried to suck enough oxygen into her lungs to meet the demand being made by overworked muscles. His weight was crushing her legs. But she was lying full-length on the porch, so if he was lying on her legs, that meant she'd done it. She'd gotten him up the steps!

Groaning, crying, she pushed herself into a sitting position, though she thought the planks beneath her made a wonderful bed. It took her a moment to struggle from beneath his confining weight, and then it was more than she could do to stand. She crawled to the screen door and propped it open, then scrambled back to the man. Just a few more feet. Inside the front door, angle to the right, then into her bedroom. Twenty, thirty feet. That was it, all she would ask of herself.

The original method of catching the edge of the quilt and pulling it seemed like a good idea, and Joe was willing to lend his strength again, but Rachel had precious little strength herself, and the dog had to do most of the work. Slowly, laboriously, they inched the man across the porch. She and Joe couldn't get through the door at the same time, so she went first and knelt to reach for a new grip on the quilt. Growling, his husky body braced, Joe pulled back with all his strength, and man and quilt came through the door.

It seemed like a good idea to keep on going while they had him moving; she angled him toward her bedroom, and a scant minute later he was lying on the floor beside her bed. Joe released the quilt as soon as she did and immediately backed away from her, his hackles raised as he reacted to the unfamiliar confines of a house.

Rachel didn't try to pet him now; she'd already asked so much of him, trespassed so far past the set boundaries, that any further overtures would simply be too much. "This way," she said, struggling to her feet and leading him back to the front door. He darted past her, anxious for his freedom again, and disappeared into the darkness beyond the porchlight. Slowly she released the screen door and closed it, slapping at a gnat that had entered the house.

Methodically, her steps slow and faltering, she locked the front and back doors and pulled the curtains over the windows. Her bedroom had old-fashioned Venetian blinds, and she closed them. That done, the house as secure as she could make it, she stared down at the naked man sprawled on her bedroom floor. He needed medical attention, skilled medical attention, but she didn't dare call a doctor. They were required to report all gunshot wounds to the police.

There was really only one person who could help her now, one person she trusted to keep a secret. Going to the kitchen, Rachel dialed Honey Mayfield, keeping her fingers crossed that some emergency hadn't already called Honey out. The telephone was picked up on the third ring, and a distinctly drowsy voice said, "This is Mayfield."

"Honey, this is Rachel. Can you come out?"

"Now?" Honey yawned. "Has something happened to Joe?" "No, the animals are fine. But...can you bring your bag? And put it in a grocery sack or something, so no one can see it."

All traces of drowsiness had left Honey's voice. "Is this a joke?"

"No. Hurry."

"I'll be there as soon as I can."

Two receivers were hung up simultaneously, and Rachel went back to the bedroom, where she crouched beside the man. He was still unconscious, and the handling he had received should have been enough to wake the dead, unless he had lost so much blood that he was in deep shock and near death himself. Sharp, piercing anxiety seized her, and she touched his face with trembling hands, as if she could pass the essence of life to him with her touch. He was warmer now than he had been, and he was breathing with slow, heavy movements of his chest. The wound on his shoulder was sullenly oozing blood, and sand clung to him, even matting his hair, which was still dripping seawater. She tried to brush some of the sand out of his hair and felt something sticky beneath her fingers. Frowning, she looked at the watery redness that stained her hand; then awareness dawned. He had a head injury, as well! And she had dragged him up that slope, then literally manhandled him up the steps and onto the porch! The wonder was that she hadn't killed him!

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