Part O, in a continuing story from A to Z [link to the beginning]
It turned out Zoey did need stitches for the worst of her injuries, and more than a couple. Luckily, Mrs. Darby had experience with “patching things up” due to her long ago service as an army nurse. As she applied a foul-smelling poultice to the wounds, the woman assured Zoey that her great-grandmother had been a gifted healer who passed down her cures to future generations and that recovery should be swift, scarring minimal. Zoey didn’t care about a few more scars and certainly didn’t mind the smell. She was in favour of anything that would get her up and out of that bed sooner. She hated being confined.
She slept through the night and most of the next day, waking when Mrs. Darby came to check for fever and other signs of infection. And to spoon-feed more of her special broth, which she swore would get Zoey back on her feet in no time.
And she was healing quickly. So quickly that she got dressed and went downstairs late that afternoon, prepared with the excuse of wanting some air and to watch the sunset. She didn’t think anyone needed to know about her intention of getting a closer look at the wreckage on the beach.
She had crouched down and vaulted over onto the rock ledge, about to climb down the cliff as she had before, when she heard a voice behind her.
“It would be easier to use the steps.”
“Sam?” She hesitated, then scrambled back over the drop and stood, annoyed by how weak she felt.
“Mrs. Darby wouldn’t let me come see you, so I’ve been watching for you to come downstairs.”
“You should thank her for sparing you the boredom of watching me sleep. There are steps? Down to the beach?”
Sam frowned at her. “Are you sure you should be out of bed?”
Zoey was touched by the girl’s concern. “I’m fine. If I spent any more time in that bed, I’d start to decay. Are there really steps? Where?”
Sam gave a slow nod, but didn’t answer the question or make any move to point Zoey in the right direction. It looked as if she were struggling with something she wanted to say.
Zoey waited, uncomfortable with the distinctly remorseful expression she saw on Sam’s face.
“I’m sorry I didn’t help. With the wolf. I was– I shouldn’t have been such a baby, hiding in the tree. Maybe you wouldn’t have–”
Zoey interrupted before the girl could finish. “Oh, Sam. No.”
“I should have helped. I’m– I’m so sorry.”
Sam was crying now and Zoey couldn’t stand it. She wrapped the girl in a hug and murmured words of reassurance. “Sam there’s nothing for you to be sorry about. You did exactly what you should have done and got to safety. I’m so proud of you for that. And grateful. I’d never forgive myself if you had gotten hurt.”
The tears had slowed, but Sam still carried lingering traces of guilt in her eyes. “I heard Uncle Anton say you– you could have died.”
Zoey saw movement in her peripheral vision and glared at Ferraro as he stepped out the back door. Damn it. She realized he wasn’t used to having children around the place, but he was going to have to figure out how not to cause needless anxiety for his niece.
“Your uncle overreacted, Sam. Worrying like an old man with nothing better to do,” she said, knowing her voice carried to where he stood. “The sight of a little bit of blood does that to some people. Do I look like I’m dying?” She spread her arms wide and took a step back, not even wincing as the move pulled painfully at her stitches.
Sam gave her a watery smile. “No, I guess not.”
“Not even close,” she said, wondering how she was going to get down to the beach with Ferraro standing there watching her every move.
“Samantha. Ms. Prescott. There’s a storm moving in.”
Back to Ms. Prescott, were they? Zoey sighed. Just as well, since she was not going to think about that almost-kiss they hadn’t shared. Nope. Not even a little.
Sam grabbed her hand and started pulling her toward the mansion. “Come on, hurry. We don’t want to be out here in a storm, Zoey.”
Zoey shrugged out of her hold, ready to scoff at the idea of running inside over a few raindrops. Then she looked at the sky.
It had been clear just moments ago, when she’d come outside. Now it was filled with giant towering thunderclouds, unlike any she’d seen before, moving in fast. Billowing in dark shades of green and blue and purple and black, a massive bruise forming over the landscape. She could see streaks of lightning, flashing back and forth between clouds like messages, gathering consensus.
There was no wind, no rumble of distant thunder to warn of an impending storm. Just an eerie silent welling of angry clouds, stealing the waning light of day.
Zoey felt one large drop hit her cheek and run down over the welts there. Stinging slightly, like an ominous portent of the storm’s power. She stared at the clouds, mesmerized, unable to look away, and saw a blinding flash of lightning spear down, sizzling and crackling with hair-raising electricity as it hit the black sand of the beach.
She’d have been on that beach right now, if Sam hadn’t come looking for her.
The simultaneous crack of thunder had her edging toward the door, but apparently not fast enough. She felt strong arms lifting her, again, the two of them drenched by the sudden deluge in the few seconds it took Ferraro to carry her inside.
“I’m beginning to believe you need a keeper, Ms. Prescott,” he said, as he set her down and moved to accept the towel Mrs. Darby handed him.
Zoey took a towel as well and began to dry herself off, trying not to disturb her bandages. “My life was thoroughly unremarkable until I arrived on your estate, Mr. Ferraro,” she replied, noting his scowl at her formal use of his name.
“Somehow I doubt that, Ms. Prescott.”
“Dinner is ready to be served,” said Mrs. Darby. “I’m happy to bring a tray to your room if you’re not feeling up to sitting at the table, Ms. Prescott. I’m not sure you should be out of bed.”
“No, I feel great. Pretty much back to normal,” Zoey said, hoping blood wouldn’t seep through her sweater from where she suspected she’d popped a stitch earlier and prove her a liar.
She followed Ferraro and his niece in to dinner, pausing briefly before passing him in the doorway where he stood. His voice was quiet, pitched low so only she could hear. “For the record, it was a good deal more than ‘a little bit of blood,’ Zoey. And I am not an old man.”
She moved past him to take her seat, refusing to acknowledge his words, let alone the shiver caused by the rough caress of his voice, and gave one last fleeting thought to the wreckage on the beach, no doubt being swept away by the storm that was lashing and roaring and howling like a feral beast trying to gain entrance.
O is for Ominous