Home > Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(10)

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(10)
Lisa Kleypas

Struggling to conceal the signs of inner chaos, Garrett handed the paper back. Dear God, how could Ransom have attacked three men in custody?

“There’s no proof that Mr. Ransom did it,” she said crisply.

“Only Jenkyn’s men would be capable of going in and out of a heavily guarded court jail without being caught.”

Garrett brought herself to meet her father’s gaze with difficulty. After recent weight loss, the skin of his formerly full-cheeked face now hung slightly loose, and there were deep pockets under his eyes, and he looked so kind and tired that it made her throat tighten.

“Mr. Ransom can’t tolerate any manner of violence against women,” she said. “That’s no excuse, of course.”

“You made light of what happened that night,” her father said soberly. “You said those soldiers only insulted you, but it was worse than that, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“Then those jackals deserved whatever Ransom did to them. He may be a cold-blooded cutthroat whose soul is bound for hell, but he has my thanks. I’d thrash the bastards myself, if I could.”

“I wouldn’t approve of you doing that any more than I would him,” Garrett informed him, folding her arms. “A vigilante is no better than a thug.”

“Is that what you’re going to tell him?”

A wry smile edged her lips. “Are you trying to trick me into some kind of admission, Papa? I have no intention of seeing Mr. Ransom again.”

Her father snorted and lifted the gazette to continue reading. His voice floated out from behind the rustling pages. “Just because you can look a man in the eyes when you lie doesn’t mean you’ve fooled him.”

The next few days were nothing but annoyance and drudgery. Garrett delivered the baby of a department manager’s wife, set a broken collarbone, and performed minor surgery to remove a benign tumor, and all of it felt perfunctory. Not even an interesting case of rheumatic effusions of the knee joints could cheer her up. For the first time in Garrett’s life, her enthusiasm for work, the thing that had always filled her with purpose and satisfaction, had inexplicably disappeared.

So far, she had managed to avoid dinner with the Ravenels, pleading exhaustion after having stayed up twenty-four hours with the patient in labor, but she knew another invitation would soon be forthcoming, and she would have to accept.

On Tuesday afternoon, as Garrett loaded her bag with supplies for her Tuesday visit to the workhouse, her partner at the clinic approached her.

Although Dr. William Havelock had made no secret of his objections when Winterborne had hired a female physician, he had soon become a mentor and a trusted friend. The middle-aged man, with his distinctive shock of white hair and large, leonine head, was everyone’s idea of what a doctor should look like. He was a man of remarkable skills and judgment, and Garrett had learned a great deal from him. To his credit, Havelock, despite his gruff manner, was a fair and open-minded man. After some initial resistance, he came to regard Garrett’s surgical training at the Sorbonne with interest rather than suspicion, and had soon adopted the antiseptic methods she had learned from Sir Joseph Lister. As a result, the patients at the Cork Street clinic experienced a substantially higher and faster rate of postoperative healing than average.

Garrett looked up as Dr. Havelock came to the doorway of the supply room with two small glass laboratory beakers containing pale gold liquid.

“I’ve brought you a restorative tonic,” he said, coming forward to hand her one of the beakers.

Lifting her brows, Garrett took the beaker and sniffed the contents cautiously. A reluctant smile crossed her lips. “Whiskey?”

“Dewar’s whiskey.” Regarding her with a shrewd but kindly gaze, he raised his beaker in a toast. “Happy Birthday.”

Garrett’s eyes turned round with amazement. Her father hadn’t remembered, and she’d never told the date to anyone. “How did you know?”

“The date was on your employment application. Since my wife keeps the files, she knows everyone’s birthday, and never forgets a one.”

They clinked glasses and drank. The whiskey was strong but very smooth, flavors of malt, honey, and cut hay lingering on Garrett’s tongue. Closing her eyes briefly, she felt the soft fire travel down her esophagus. “Excellent,” she pronounced, and smiled at him. “And much appreciated. Thank you, Dr. Havelock.”

“One more toast: Neque semper arcum tendit Apollo.”

They drank again.

“What does that mean?” Garrett asked.

“‘Not even Apollo keeps his bow drawn all the time.’” Havelock regarded her kindly. “You’ve been in a sour mood of late. I don’t know the specifics of your problem, but I have an idea as to the general cause. You’re a dedicated physician who has shouldered many responsibilities in such a capable manner that all of us, including you, tend to forget something: You’re still a young woman.”

“At eight and twenty?” Garrett asked bleakly, and took another swallow. Still holding the beaker, she reached for a box of adhesive plasters and dropped it into her bag.

“A mere babe in the woods,” he said. “And like all young people, you tend to rebel against a harsh taskmaster.”

“I’ve never thought of you that way,” Garrett protested.

Havelock’s mouth twisted. “I’m not the harsh taskmaster, Doctor, you are. The fact is, recreation is a natural necessity. Your work habits have turned you into a wet blanket, and you will continue being a wet blanket until you find some leisure activity outside of this clinic.”

Garrett frowned. “I have no outside interests.”

“If you were a man, I’d advise you to spend a night at the best bawdy house you could afford. However, I have no idea what to recommend to a woman in your position. Look at a list of hobbies and pick one. Have an affair. Go on holiday to a place you’ve never been before.”

Garrett coughed on a sip of whiskey, and regarded him with wide, watering eyes. “Did you just advise me to have an affair?” she asked hoarsely.

Havelock let out a rusty chuckle. “I’ve surprised you, haven’t I? Not as stodgy as you thought. There’s no need to stare at me like a dyspeptic nun. As a physician, you’re well aware that the sexual act can be separated from procreation without descending to prostitution. You work like a man, you’re paid like one, and you might as well take your pleasures like one, so long as you’re discreet about it.”

Garrett had to drain the last of her whiskey before she could reply. “Moral considerations aside, the risk isn’t worth it. Being caught in an affair wouldn’t ruin a man’s career, but it would ruin mine.”

“Then find someone to marry. Love is not something to be missed, Dr. Gibson. Why do you think I, a comfortable widower, made a fool of myself over Mrs. Fernsby until she finally consented to be my wife?”

“Convenience?” she guessed.

“Good God, no. There’s nothing convenient about joining your life to another person’s. Marriage is a sack race: you may find a way to hop together toward the finish line, but you would still reach it more easily without the sack.”

“Then why do it at all?”

“Our existence, even our intellect, hangs upon love—without it, we would be no more than stock and stones.”

Inwardly astonished by such a sentimental speech coming from Havelock, of all men, Garrett protested, “It’s no simple task to find someone to love. You make it sound as easy as shopping for a good melon.”

“Obviously you’ve done neither of those things. Finding someone to love is considerably easier than finding a good melon.”

Garrett smiled wryly. “I’m sure your advice is well-intentioned, but I have no use for melons or grand love affairs.” She handed the empty beaker to him. “However, I’ll try to come up with a hobby.”

“That’s a start.” Havelock went to the doorway and paused to glance over his shoulder. “You’re very good at listening to other people, my young friend. But you’re not nearly as good at listening to yourself.”

Night was falling by the time Garrett had finished her rounds at the Clerkenwell workhouse infirmary. Fatigued and hungry, she removed her white apron and donned her dark brown walking jacket, trimmed with silk braid and cinched with a thin leather belt around the waist. After gathering up her cane and doctor’s bag, she left the workhouse and stopped just beyond the iron gate, on a front walkway mottled with light and shadow.

In the weary hush of the summer evening, she started on the walk back to the main road. The wail of a distant train rode on the dull thunder of churning rods, hissing boilers, and metal wheels. Her steps faltered as she realized that she was reluctant to return home. There was no compelling reason to be there: Her father was playing his weekly game of draw poker with his friends and wouldn’t miss her. But she couldn’t think of where else to go. The clinic and the department store were closed, and it certainly would not do to appear uninvited at someone else’s home. Her stomach growled beneath the confines of her light corset. She realized she’d forgotten to eat lunch.

One of the cardinal rules of navigating through the dangerous areas of the city was to appear confident. And here she was, pausing at a street corner, her feet as heavy as lead. What was she doing? What was this terrible feeling inside? Sadness, wrapped around yearning. A hollow feeling that no blasted hobby or holiday was ever going to fix.

Perhaps she should go visit Helen unannounced, manners be damned. Helen would listen to her worries, and know what to say. But no . . . that would only lead to more urging to meet Weston Ravenel, a substitute for the man she truly wanted to see . . . an amoral, oversexed government assassin with a dimple in one cheek.

Garrett’s mind sifted through remnants of conversations she’d had during the past week.

“No one knows what side he’s on. But he’s not a man you should have anything to do with.”

“Ransom is a cold-blooded cutthroat whose soul is bound for hell . . .”

“If he did meet you in secret, where would it lead?”

And Ransom’s low voice . . . “I see no fault in you.”

As Garrett stood there, trapped in that mysterious ache of a mood, she could hear a couple quarreling on a nearby street, the bray of a donkey, the cries of a watercress seller as he rolled his handcart along the pavement. The accumulated hum of city noise filled each passing second as London eased from the tumult of the day to the seething excitement of a warm summer night. It was a mean, big-bellied, prosperous city, shod in brick and iron, wearing a thick overcoat of factory smoke, carrying a million secrets in its pockets. Garrett loved it, all of it, from the dome of St. Paul’s down to the lowest sewer rat. London, her friends, and her work, had always been enough for her. Until now.

“I wish . . .” she whispered, and bit her lip.

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