This is raw and has not been edited. I will fix it in the fullness of time.
A deer steak tasted different when cooked from frozen. For a start, the center was rare, while the outside was a tad overcooked. The really strange part was no vegetables, nothing, not even canned corn. Morgan guessed the guy lived off the wilderness and yet a pure meat diet wasn’t healthy. A good job she wasn’t a vegetarian or she would have been dead out of luck.
“Thank you for the food, but what should I call you? I’m Morgan.” She offered him her hand, which he ignored like she had tried to pass him a live snake. Did he hate women?
He looked up at her with winter in his eyes. “Rowan. My mother named us for nature.” Those eyes dared her to make a snide remark.
“It suits you. There is something inflexible and yet wild about a tree name.”
“So Morgan le Fay, I can’t see you as a wicked Arthurian enchantress somehow. Parents have a lot to answer for when naming offspring.” A slight smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
Morgan sighed. “It could’ve been worse. Her second and third choices were Mahitibelle after early pioneer names and Amaryllis, her favorite flower.”
His shoulders started to shake a bit until he got them under as much control as he had his twitching lips. “Morgan isn’t so bad.”
Now he was talking to her, finally talking and not just about her condition. Morgan had a pressing concern. “I’m deeply grateful for everything you’ve done for me, but now I am awake, I wonder if there is a bathroom I can visit when needed?”
Rowan got up from his place by the fire to place his hands on her elevated leg. He closed his eyes, concentrating. “Yes, you can come off traction now. I’ll fix up a crutch, although it won’t help you with the bathroom, which is outside. The snow is far too deep for someone unsteady on their feet and I think you would be too weak in any case. I can carry you there and back.”
Reality slithered sideways. No-one should be able to assess a break without an x-ray machine. “How can you know for certain the bone is set?”
“I have this talent.” The winter returned to his eyes. “Now about clothes. Are you happy with a pair of my boxers and track pants? I salvaged everything you had on above the waist, aside from the sleeve of your jacket, but the rest…the fire and blood took care of them.”
Blood? A compound fracture? There was nothing to show for it on the smooth skin of her leg. He couldn’t mean her cycle as she had accepted the need for a contraceptive implant when she went into the protection program. Male bodyguards buying feminine products would have been a dead giveaway. Something was out of kilter, here. “Again, thanks. That would be very kind of you.”
Bathroom visits became a nightmare with the nasty little hut a distance from the cabin and no more than a primitive earth closet at that. What proved a bigger hardship was not having a daily shower. While Rowan cheerfully obliged by boiling water for her to wash with a bowl, there was no way she could manage the tin tub. Even stranger, he didn’t use the tub, but he never gave off the odor of unclean. Yes, he washed their clothes to hang dry in a corner of the shack, but not himself. No adult man could go long without cleaning himself if he didn’t wish to stink. Rowan did neither. Morgan began to wonder if he washed outside and yet she had never seen him take out any hot water.
Their routine shattered some weeks later when Rowan barreled into the shack near dusk, back early from a hunting trip. His face looked like thunder, but he schooled it into a ‘be nice’ expression before he approached her. “There are men sniffing around your burnt-out car. They know there’s no corpse and are coming back in the morning with dogs. These guys are not cops. You need to level with me.”
This was the end. Morgan couldn’t run. She had no transport and how far would she get hobbling into the forest? The dull pain of hopelessness coursed through her again. “They’re here to kill me. If you have somewhere to hide out, then go to it until they’re done. I want no more blood on my head.”
Rowan sat down on the edge of the bed and took her hand. “What is mine stays mine unless I say otherwise.” His eyes narrowed. “Why do they want you dead?”
What did it matter now? What did anything matter? “I saw a guy kill some people and I told the cops. That is when he had his friends murdered my family. I went into the witness protection program and he got convicted, but that wasn’t the end of it. He has people making me out to be a psycho. There are sworn testimonies from people I never met, claiming I’m a space cadet. If I don’t appear in his appeal, he will win. This is why there is a contract out on me and why you must let this happen. I have had four identities and three bodyguards blown away. I can’t live with a trail of death in my wake anymore.”
“Not acceptable.” Frost sparkled in Rowan’s eyes. “We will leave here now.”
“Get real. The dogs will track us.”
“Track you, maybe, if I were not going to carry you. Tracking me might prove more problematic.” He smiled, slow and wicked. “Finding me will be their last mistake.”
Rowan moved quickly, getting together clothes and a few essentials, which he stuffed into a backpack. He swaddled Morgan in furs to carry her in a fireman’s lift with the pack slung over his other shoulder, and then he set off into the night.
All the alarms went off in the moment he started his trek. She weighed about one hundred and fifteen pounds and yet he carried her as if she were a feather. His pace was a steady run, impossible for a normal man, and yet easy for him. Morgan didn’t fight. This was his choice, whatever he was, but she began to doubt if he were human as the hours wore on and still his pace didn’t alter, nor did he sweat, not that she could smell.
They stopped at dawn when they reached a cave next to a waterfall at the side of a hill. Morgan roused out of a doze to her new surroundings. The place gave shelter from the wind and fresh water, if little else. No normal person could hope to survive here in the depths of winter, so what was his plan?
“Rowan, it’s your turn to level with me.” She looked him in the eyes, but he wouldn’t hold her gaze.
“Leave it be. There are things better left unspoken.”
“This place will not support us.”
“Yes, it will. I’ll get a fire going, and then I must backtrack to take care of certain difficulties.”
“Those guys carry major firepower. I haven’t seen you with a gun before and nor did you pack one. You can’t take them on.”
He grinned, flashing his teeth. “I don’t share nicely.”
Once the fire was set he headed out, leaving her with a bunch of unanswered questions. She had deadfall to keep the blaze going and before he left, Rowan made a new crutch for her out of a tree branch with lashings holding together a bit that was wrapped in fur to support her weight. Alone now with her thoughts, she went over everything that had happened to her since she woke up after the accident. No normal man could have run that distance with her weight on his back. Even the iron man competitions weren’t so long or so harsh. No normal man could have fixed her leg the way he had. No normal man would hide in the woods with his looks. What, in the name of hell, was he?
Night clawed down into morning. Morgan kept the fire burning for warmth and to keep away predators. When the silvery lights of dawn streaked through the sky she heard yelps and snarls. Whatever was coming, she would meet it head on. The crutch worked well to get her out of the cave and then she saw a pile of clothes. Rowan’s clothes just left in a heap, right down to the underwear.
Men’s screams now sliced through the air until came silence. She didn’t wait long after. A large wolf ran into view, skidding to a halt in a cloud of snow when it saw her. It sat on its haunches, waiting her out. Morgan wasn’t backing down. She sat down awkwardly by the clothes.
The wolf tried growling and howling to make her move, but still she sat firm. The answer came in a shimmer of light, the impossible answer of the wolf dissolving into naked Rowan.
“You are not meant to see this,” he said, unembarrassed and not bothering to cover his private parts.
Not what she expected, thinking perhaps he was the product of some genetic experiment, one of the perfect soldier programs. Never had she considered something out of myths and legends. Her world tipped sideways. Whatever happened now was beyond her imagination. “But I have. If this means I need to die, do it quickly. I’m so tired of running.”
“The others will never let up until you are dead. This much I have learned. ”
She shivered, not just from the cold. “And you? Now I know what you are?”