Leo’s breathing sounded strained as he replied, “I’m not sure. It could be an undercroft beneath the keep. I see the remains of a stone partition over there … and hollows in the side wall where transverse joints would support—”
In a burst of fresh terror, Catherine launched herself at his indistinct form, scrabbling to reach him in the dimness.
“What is it?” Leo’s arms closed around her.
Gasping, she buried her face against the solid surface of his chest. They were half sitting, half lying amid heaps of rotted timber, stone, and earth.
One of his hands came to her head, curving over her skull protectively. “What happened?”
Her voice was muffled in his shirt. “Undercroft.”
He smoothed her hair and pressed her even closer into the protection of his body. “Yes. Why does that frighten you?”
She could hardly speak between panting breaths. “Isn’t that … where they keep the bodies?”
The tremulous question hung in the air as Leo puzzled over it. “Oh. No, it’s not that kind of undercroft.” A quiver of rueful amusement ran through his voice, and she felt his mouth touch the rim of her ear. “You’re thinking of one of the rooms beneath modern churches, where the deceased are put away. But a medieval undercroft is different. It’s only a storeroom beneath the keep.”
Catherine didn’t move. “There are no s-skeletons in here?”
“No. Nor skulls, nor coffins.” His hand continued to stroke tenderly over her hair. “Poor darling. It’s all right. Nothing fearsome down here. Take a deep breath. You’re safe.”
Catherine continued to lie in his arms as she caught her breath. She tried to take in the fact that Leo, her enemy and tormentor, was calling her “poor darling” and petting her. His lips brushed her temple and lingered gently. Holding still, she absorbed the sensation. She had never been attracted to men of his size, preferring those of less intimidating stature. But he was strong and comforting, and he seemed so genuinely concerned, and his voice was like dark velvet wrapping around her.
Had anyone told her that she would one day be trapped alone in a filthy pit with Leo, Lord Ramsay, she would have said that was her worst nightmare. And yet it was turning out to be a rather agreeable experience. No wonder Ramsay was so sought after by the ladies of London … If this was how he set about seducing them, all this lovely soothing and stroking, Catherine could easily understand how he got his way with them.
To her regret, he gently eased her away from him. “Marks … I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to find your spectacles in this wreckage.”
“I have another pair at home,” she ventured.
“Thank God.” Leo sat up with a quiet grunt of discomfort. “Now, if we stand on the highest pile of debris, it’s only a short distance to the surface. I’m going to hoist you up, get you out of here, and then you’re going to ride back to Ramsay House. Cam trained the horse, so you won’t need to guide him. He’ll find his way back home with no trouble.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked, bewildered.
He sounded rather sheepish. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to wait here until you send someone for me.”
“I have a—” He paused, searching for a word. “Splinter.”
She felt indignant. “You’re going to make me ride back alone and unescorted and virtually blind, to send someone to rescue you? All because you have a splinter?”
“A large one,” he volunteered.
“Where is it? Your finger? Your hand? Maybe I can help to … Oh, God. ” This last as he took her hand and brought it to his shoulder. His shirt was wet with blood, and a thick shard of timber protruded from his shoulder. “That’s not a splinter,” she said in horror. “You’ve been impaled. What can I do? Shall I pull it out?”
“No, it might be lodged against an artery. And I wouldn’t care to bleed out down here.”
She crawled closer to him, bringing her face close to his to examine him anxiously. Even in the shadows, he appeared pale and gray, and when she pressed her fingers to his forehead, she felt cool moisture.
“Don’t worry,” he murmured. “It looks worse than it is.”
But Catherine didn’t agree. If anything, it was worse than it looked. She was infused with panic as she wondered if he were going into shock, a condition in which the heart did not pump enough blood to maintain the body. It had been described as a “momentary pause in the act of death.”
Stripping off her riding coat, she tried to lay it over his chest.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Trying to keep you warm.”
Leo plucked the garment off his chest and made a scoffing sound. “Don’t be ridiculous. First, the injury isn’t that bad. Second, this tiny thing is not capable of keeping any part of me warm. Now, about my plan—”
“It is obviously a significant injury,” she said, “and I do not agree to your plan. I have a better one.”
“Of course you do,” he replied sardonically. “Marks, for once would you do as I ask?”
“No, I’m not going to leave you here. I’m going to pile up enough debris for both of us to climb out.”
“You can’t even see, damn it. And you can’t move these timbers and stones. You’re too small.”