Home > Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(11)

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(11)
Lisa Kleypas

Where was Ransom at this moment?

Maybe loving the sewer rat was taking it a bit far.

I wish . . . a phrase she never used.

If she closed her eyes—which she was not idiotic enough to do in a parish containing three prisons—she felt as if she might actually be able to see him, like an image trapped in a fortune-teller’s crystal ball.

Garrett was bemused to discover the silver police whistle was in her hand. Without even being aware of it, she had fished the whistle from her jacket pocket. The pad of her thumb rubbed across the gleaming surface.

Obeying a lunatic impulse, she raised the whistle to her lips and gave an abbreviated blow. Not enough to produce a shrill alarm that would alert a constable, just a little chirp. She closed her eyes and counted to three, waiting and listening for an approaching footstep.

Oh, I wish, I wish . . .


Her lashes lifted. No one was there.

It was time to go home. Morosely she tucked the whistle back into her pocket, unhooked the cane from her left arm, and turned to leave.

A smothered exclamation was torn from her as she walked into a wall, the leather bag dropping from her hand. “Suffering savior!”

Not a wall. A man. Her face was mashed against the center of a broad chest.

Before her mind fully comprehended what had happened, her body had already recognized the feel of tough, heavy muscle, the big hands gripping her securely, the clean masculine scent that was nicer than anything in the world. Dark blue eyes took swift and thorough inventory of her, assuring himself of her well-being.


He’d been following her after all. A shaken breath of laughter escaped her. As she looked up into his hard face, exhilaration flooded her as if it had been injected directly into an artery. She was shocked at how good it felt to be with him. Her soul was leaping.

“That whistle is only for when you need help,” Ransom said in a low voice. A scowl darkened his face, but his fingertips flexed slightly as if he longed to fondle and caress the shape of her.

Garrett couldn’t help smiling up at him. “I do need help,” she replied, striving for a normal tone. “I’m hungry.”

A hint of raw emotion stirred beneath his controlled surface. “Acushla,” he said in a rough whisper, “don’t do this.”

“It’s my birthday,” she told him.

His hot gaze turned her inside out. “Is it?”

She nodded, trying to look forlorn. “I’m alone and hungry, and it’s my birthday.”

Ransom uttered a curse as soft as a vesper prayer, and lifted his hand to her face, gently cupping her jaw. The touch of his fingers was so pleasant that she felt a change come over all her skin. After surveying her for a burning moment, he shook his head grimly, as if marveling at a particularly unfortunate turn of fate. He bent to pick up her bag.

“Come,” he said.

And she went with him, neither asking nor caring where they were going.

Chapter 6

Garrett took Ransom’s arm as they walked. He was dressed in workingman’s clothes, with a vest made of leather as thin and soft as glove material. The muscled surface of his arm was hard beneath her palm. He guided her through streets lined with rows of serried buildings. They passed beer shops, a public house, a chandler’s shop, and a store selling secondhand clothes. The street became increasingly populated with sailors and jolly tars, men in greatcoats, shop girls, costers, and well-dressed tradesmen’s wives. Garrett relaxed her usual vigilance, knowing that not a soul would dare approach her in the company of a big, healthy bruiser who was so obviously at home in the streets. In fact, he was the one who made other people fearful.

Which reminded her about the jail break-in.

“I needn’t ask what you’ve been doing since we last met,” she said, “since I read an account of your latest exploit in the Police Gazette.”

“What exploit?”

“Breaking into the holding jail,” she chided. “Attacking those three soldiers. It was very wrong of you, and quite unnecessary.”

“I didn’t attack them. There was a bit of a scuffle at first, but that was only to get their attention while I spent a few minutes blistering their ears.”

“You broke in to scold them?” she asked skeptically.

“I made it clear that any man who tries to harm you will have me beating hell’s torment on him. And if I ever found out they attacked another woman, I told them I’d—” He broke off, apparently thinking better of what he’d been about to say. “Well, I made them afraid to do it again.”

“And that’s why you were described as an unknown offender? Because they were too terrified to identify you?”

“I’m good at scaring people,” he said.

“Apparently, you’ve appointed yourself judge, jury, and executioner. But all of that should be left in the hands of the British system of justice.”

“The law doesn’t always work when it comes to men like that. All they understand is fear and retaliation.” Ransom paused. “If I had a conscience, it wouldn’t be troubled over those bastards. Now, tell me about your visit to the workhouse.”

As they walked, Garrett told him about the patients she’d seen in the infirmary, and her worries about the poor conditions of the place. The improper diet of mostly porridge and bread was especially harmful for children, for without sufficient nourishment, their growth would be permanently stunted and they would be vulnerable to disease. And yet her appeals to the workhouse officials had fallen on deaf ears.

“They said if workhouse food were improved, too many people would be pushing their way in to obtain it.”

“They say the same about prison food,” Ransom said, darkly amused. “Make it too good, the argument goes, and people will commit crimes just to have it. But no one who’s ever found himself on the wrong side of a prison door would ever say that. And the only crime someone commits to end up in a workhouse is to be poor.”

“Obviously some common sense is needed,” Garrett said, “which is why I’ve decided to go over their heads. I’m compiling a report for the Home Secretary’s Office and the Local Government Board, to explain in detail why workhouse administrators should adopt a minimum set of standards. It’s a matter of public health.”

A faint smile touched his lips. “As busy as a stocking full of fleas,” he murmured. “Do you ever make time to enjoy yourself, Doctor?”

“I enjoy my work.”

“I meant kicking up your heels now and then.”

“I had a similar conversation with Dr. Havelock earlier today,” Garrett said with a rueful laugh. “He called me a wet blanket. I suppose you’d agree with him.”

Ransom let out a soft breath of amusement. “Do you, now?” he asked. “A wet blanket smothers fire. You’re what starts the fire.”

That threw her off guard. “Of course, I’m an infamous temptress,” she said sardonically. “Anyone could see that.”

“You think I’m mocking you?”

“Mr. Ransom, it’s one thing for you to pay me a reasonable compliment, but it’s quite another to carry on as if I were Cleopatra.”

Instead of looking chastened or abashed, Ransom regarded her with a touch of perplexed annoyance. “Come with me,” he muttered, taking her arm and urging her toward a narrow lane, where a row of costermongers’ wagons and carts had been turned on their ends and chained together, with their shafts aimed upward. A strong aroma of toasted herring and burnt chestnuts wafted from a lodging house nearby.

“Into a dark alley? I think not.”

“I’d rather not discuss this on the street.”

“There’s no need to discuss it. I’ve made my point.”

“And now I’m after making one.” Ransom’s grip on her arm was very firm. The only reason she didn’t twist away was that she was curious about what he would say.

Guiding her into the shadows of an empty doorstep, Ransom set down her bag and cane, and turned toward her. “Whatever else you may think about me,” he said gruffly, “I would never play that kind of game with you. The devil knows how you could doubt my attraction to you after our lesson at Baujart’s. Or didn’t you notice that being near you made me as randy as a prize bull?”

“I noticed,” Garrett whispered sharply. “However, the male erection isn’t always caused by sexual desire.”

His face went blank. “What are you talking about?”

“Spontaneous priapism can be caused by scrotal chafing, traumatic injury to the perineum, a flare-up of gout, an inflamed prostatic duct—” Her list was interrupted as Ransom hauled her against him, front to front.

She was alarmed to feel his entire body shaking. It wasn’t until she heard a ragged chuckle near her ear that she realized he was struggling not to laugh.

“Why is that funny?” she asked, her voice muffled against his chest. He didn’t reply, couldn’t, only shook his head vehemently and continued to wheeze. Nettled, she said, “As a physician, I can assure you there’s nothing humorous about involuntary erections.”

That nearly sent him into hysterics.

“Holy God,” he begged, “no more doctor-talk. Please.”

Garrett held her tongue, waiting while he fought for a measure of control.

“It wasn’t from scrotal chafing,” Ransom eventually said, a last tremor of laughter running through his voice. Letting out an unsteady sigh, he nuzzled against the side of her head. “Since we don’t seem to be mincing words, I’ll tell you what caused it: holding a woman I’d already dreamed about more than I should. Being near you is all it takes to put me in high blood. But I’ve no business wanting you. I shouldn’t have come to you tonight.”

At first Garrett was too stunned to reply. He wielded honesty like a weapon, she thought dazedly. Now he’d left them nowhere to hide. Coming from a man as secretive as he was, it was astonishing.

“You had no choice,” she eventually said. “I summoned you.” Her cheek curved against his shoulder as she added, “My genie of the whistle.”

“I don’t grant wishes,” he said.

“A second-rate genie. I should have known I’d get one of those.”

A last whisk of amusement sank into her hair, and his fingertip charted the soft rim of her ear.

Garrett’s head lifted. As she saw how close his mouth was, and felt the clean, warm rush of his breath, her stomach did an odd little flip.

She’d been kissed before, once by a charming doctor while working as a nurse at St. Thomas’s Hospital, and another time by a fellow medical student at the Sorbonne. Both occasions had been something of a disappointment. The sensation of a man’s mouth against hers had not been unpleasant, but she certainly hadn’t understood how anyone could describe kissing as a rapturous experience.

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