Jo bit her lip with dismay as she opened the soldier's waistcoat and saw the warm red pool pulsing rapidly over his torn shirt. She inhaled deeply to calm herself, then reached up to unfasten the buttons.
Damien's hand snaked around her wrist with bruising force, making her cry out in surprise.
"What, exactly, are you planning to do to me?" he demanded harshly.
Jo held her breath as she stared at him. His gray eyes were clouded with pain, but there was a dark intensity to them that was openly threatening. She knew he was nearly incapacitated by his wound, and the blood that continued to pulse out of him as he lay there was making him terribly weak. Yet even in this helpless condition there was a dangerous quality to him. His grip on her was strong and relentless, and the gaze he held her with was intimidating.
"I am going to tend to your wound," she told him, trying to keep her voice even.
He looked at her with faintly amused skepticism. "Why?"
"Because if I don't, you will die," she informed him brusquely. She tried to wrench her aching wrist free.
He responded by tightening his grip on her and pulling her down even closer to him. "And why should my death displease you?" he demanded softly.
His pain was extreme, she could feel it in the bone-crushing strength of his fingers and in his uneven, labored breathing. She searched the gray ice of his eyes, trying to understand why he would want to punish the one who sought to help him. And there, beneath the wariness and the clouds of pain, she saw a piercing glint of fear. Suddenly she understood his need to frighten her. If she did not help him, he would die.
This man was not used to someone having that kind of power over him.
She hesitated before answering. She sensed he would know if she lied, and she had to gain his trust if he was to allow her to help him. "Your death wouldn't displease me overmuch," she admitted. The implications of her nursing a British soldier were terrifying. If he were discovered, she would be arrested and tried for treason. The shame she would bring on her family, who were all vehement Patriots, could never be washed away, not in a hundred years. If he died now, she could simply bury him in the fields and no one would ever know he had been here.
But this redcoat had risked his life so she could live. If not for him, her mangled body would now be lying bleeding in the yard, and Anne and the children would be screaming in helpless terror as they burned to death inside the farmhouse. This man had saved them all. She could not abandon him to his injuries, regardless of the uniform he wore.
"But you were wounded while saving my life," she continued in a matter-of-fact voice that completely belied her struggle with her decision. "Therefore, I would like to make an effort to save you."
He continued to stare at her warily, obviously unconvinced. "So you can turn me over to the tender care of your rebel army?" he spat, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Jo stiffened at the fury of his accusation. She had not thought about what she would do with him if he recovered. There was no question it was her duty to turn him over to the authorities. She considered this a moment, and then shrugged her shoulders.
"I had not really thought about it. Perhaps I will do a poor job of it, and you will not live."
Damien frowned, wondering if she thought that possibility was somehow reassuring. He searched her sky-blue eyes, which seemed so young and open and guileless. When had he ever looked into eyes like that before? A wave of pain surged through him, overwhelming in its brutal intensity. He inhaled quickly and clenched down hard on his jaw, struggling to gain control of it. After a moment he expelled the breath he had been holding. He opened his eyes to see the girl watching him, her face pale and drawn. Evidently she was not unaffected by his pain. Then he felt the delicate bones of her wrist twist within his savage grip. Perhaps it was her own pain that caused her to wince.
He did not know if he could trust her. Yet it would appear he had little choice. It was either submit to the tender mercies of this rebel farm girl, or lie on the filthy floor of this barn and bleed to death. Neither choice was particularly appealing, but he supposed the first was somewhat preferable to the latter. He reached out and wrapped his other bloodstained hand around her other wrist, then pulled her down so close he could feel her shallow, frightened breathing puff lightly against his cheek.
"I will have your word that you will not turn me over to the rebels," he stated softly.
She looked at him in disbelief. "You are hardly in a position to bargain, redcoat," she informed him flatly.
He smiled, vaguely wondering why she did not struggle to free herself from his intimate embrace. "True," he admitted. "But if you cannot give me your word that you will not turn me over, then I will not allow you to tend my wound."
She stared at him in shock. "But you will die!"
Her heart was beating so rapidly he could almost feel it throb against his chest. He knew it was the loss of blood that was making him focus on such ridiculously insignificant things. He relaxed his hold on her and sighed, feeling all at once incredibly weary. "I would rather die on the floor of this barn and get it over with, than sit rotting in one of your squalid Yankee prisons," he informed her bitterly.
Silence stretched between them as Damien waited for her answer. He had released his hold on her, but she continued to hover over him, her eyes filled with uncertainty, her breath blowing softly against his cheek as she wrestled with her decision. After a moment he closed his eyes, past giving a damn whether she tended to him or not. The pain was starting to ease, and somehow he sensed that was not a good thing.
He opened his eyes, uncertain he had heard her correctly. "Very well, what?" he demanded.
"You have my word, redcoat," she announced reluctantly. "I will not turn you in."
Damien regarded her with skepticism. She could be lying to him. He had to be sure. "Swear it," he persisted. "Before God."
Jo cast him a scornful look. What did a redcoat know about God? "I have already given you my word, redcoat--"
"Swear it," repeated Damien harshly, "or leave me. You choose."
Jo scowled. "Fine. I swear to you before God that I will not turn you in."
They stared at each other in silence a moment, each acknowledging the gravity of her oath. Then Jo straightened and set to work unfastening the buttons of his shirt.