* * *
Mac couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was something wrong with Bella. Oh, he understood that it must have been a strain for her to work with him—heaven knew he hadn’t found it easy, either. Nevertheless, he couldn’t rid himself of the nagging thought that there was something else troubling her. As he left the hospital, he knew that he wouldn’t rest until he found out what was the matter, even though he doubted Bella would appreciate his concern. If last night was anything to go by, she would much prefer it if he steered well clear of her!
He drove into town, drawing up in front of the apartment block where she lived. There was no sign of her car in the courtyard and he frowned. He had assumed that she would go straight home after working all night but maybe she had stopped off along the way. He decided to wait but when she still hadn’t appeared an hour later, he realised that he might as well give up. There was no point in him hanging around if she had gone off somewhere. He would just have to try again later.
Mac headed home and went straight to bed but, even though he was tired after the busy night, he couldn’t sleep. His mind kept churning over all the reasons why Bella might be upset. The fact that Freya had gone missing was bound to have upset her, but was it really that which was troubling her or something of a more personal nature? Try as he might, he couldn’t come up with an answer and it was frustrating, to say the least, not to be able to find an explanation.
In the end he gave up any attempt to sleep and got up. He made himself a cup of coffee and stood on the deck while he drank it. It had started to rain but he barely noticed. Was it something he had said? Or was he deluding himself by thinking that anything he did could affect her?
He sighed. The truth was that he had no idea how Bella really felt about him. Maybe he should be glad that she seemed to have put what had happened that night behind her, but in his heart he knew it wasn’t relief he felt. It was something far more disturbing, an emotion he shouldn’t allow himself to feel. To wish that Bella would never forget that night, as he would never forget it, was selfish in the extreme.
* * *
Bella trudged on. Although the rain had eased off, it hadn’t stopped and cold little flurries of raindrops stung her face as she made her way back along the track. She had decided to walk back to the main road and try to flag down a car in the hope that she could beg a lift into town. However, she hadn’t realised just how far she must have driven. At this rate it would be midnight before she reached the road!
Spurred on by the thought, she quickened her pace then had to slow down again when she came to a section where the hillside had caved in. Mud and boulders had been washed down by the rain and covered the track. Bella carefully made her way around the obstruction, pausing when she heard a cry coming from somewhere to her left. She looked around, trying to determine where it had come from, and gasped when she spotted a woman huddled against some bushes. She hurried towards her, her feet slipping this way and that on the muddy ground. It was only as she got closer that she realised it was Freya Watson.
‘Freya! What are you doing out here?’ she demanded, crouching down beside her.
‘I’ve hurt my ankle,’ the girl told her. She ran a grimy hand over her face and Bella’s heart went out to her when she realised that she was crying.
‘It’s OK,’ she said, putting her arm around the girl’s shoulders. ‘We’ll get it sorted out so don’t worry. Here, let me take a look.’
She eased up the leg of Freya’s jeans, hiding her grimace when she saw her ankle. It was very badly bruised and swollen, the flesh black and purple in places. ‘Can you wiggle your toes?’ she asked, trying to assess if it was broken or badly sprained, not that it made much difference. It must be extremely painful whichever it was.
‘No. I can’t move them. Is it broken, do you think?’ Freya asked miserably.
‘It looks like it.’ Bella unwound her scarf from around her neck. ‘I’m going to use this as a temporary support. I’ll be as gentle as I can but it might hurt a bit.’
Leaving the girl’s shoe and sock on, she carefully wound the scarf in a figure of eight fashion around Freya’s foot and ankle. ‘That should help,’ she said after she had finished. ‘How did it happen, though? And what were you doing out here in the first place?’
‘I was hiding from a man who gave me a lift,’ Freya told her. She bit her lip, looking for all the world like a child who knew she had done something wrong.
Bella sighed. ‘I think you’d better start from the beginning. But, before you do, have you a mobile phone I can use to call the mountain rescue services? My battery’s flat.’