The contact with Alec’s strong, long-fingered hand didn’t do anything to quell the annoyance dancing in her stomach. Or was it attraction? Or just a very long time since a man had taken her hand?
He tugged gently and braced his feet so she could stand and get her solid leg beneath her.
Her eyes came level with his tie. That put him at roughly six feet, she thought inanely, although, in truth, no thoughts but inane ones filled her head. Up close his eyes shone a dark, rich amber, and his full, upturned lips made him appear prone to smiling. His hat looked so natural on him he might well have been born with it on.
He held out his right elbow. “Just think of me as a human hiking stick.”
He hadn’t said “cane.” He hadn’t said “crutch.” She offered a tentative, grateful smile, took a deep breath, and nodded.
What could have been horribly awkward turned out to be an easy partnership. Alec seemed to know instinctively how to step where she needed him for support, and his arm offered a perfect grip that she could lean into as firmly as she wanted. It took a dozen or so strides to get the coordination right, but slowly she figured out how to step firmly with her right leg and use Alec’s weight to help swing and step quickly with her left. She’d walked like this with crutches, but this felt so quasi normal—she almost enjoyed it.
They came to the stairs, and she froze. A flat path was easy. Going up stairs was awkward but doable. But going down threw her weight forward, and she didn’t have the strength or balance to keep from pitching headfirst down the flight.
“We’re doing great,” he said. “There are only six.”
“We’re doing fine,” he’d said. She didn’t know this man from any random person, and yet he knew how to speak as if they’d been doing this forever.
“I really should have a body on the other side, too,” she admitted reluctantly. “I suck at stairs.”
“Here’s the deal.” He removed her hand from his elbow and held it, then wrapped his right arm loosely around her waist. “It’s your balance that’s got you spooked. You haven’t practiced with it, but your left leg is strong enough. Trust yourself. You know the drill: bad leg—”
“First,” she finished. “Yes. But it doesn’t hold my weight.”
“Eventually it will, but for now we’ll step together, and you lean into me when you’re using that leg.”
How did he know so effortlessly what to do? He’d probably had plenty of bangs and bruises when he’d been on the rodeo circuit—maybe this was second nature for him.
They navigated the stairs like they’d been doing it for years. She’d never have made it on her own, and such an exercise had been clunky at best with a physical therapist. When she stood at the bottom without aid of a crutch or two side walkers, her satisfaction had to rival that of any successful mountain climber’s.
“Wow,” she said, unable to keep the pleasure from her voice.
“Why are you surprised? You’re a ranch girl; you’re tough.”