Home > Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(2)

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(2)
Lisa Kleypas

“I need no protection,” she informed him. “Furthermore, if I did, you’re not the one I would hire to provide it.”

Ransom gave her an inscrutable glance before going to the soldier she had bashed with her cane. The unconscious man was sprawled on his side. After using a booted foot to roll him onto his front, Ransom pulled a length of cord from his vest and bound the man’s hands behind his back.

“As you just saw,” Garrett continued, “I had no difficulty in trouncing that fellow, and I would have defeated the other two on my own.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” he said flatly.

Garrett felt a simmer of irritation. “I’ve been trained in the art of cane fighting by one of the finest maître d’armes in London. I know how to take down multiple opponents.”

“You made a mistake,” Ransom said.

“What mistake?”

As Ransom held out his hand for the bayonet knife, Garrett gave it to him reluctantly. He slid it into the leather sheath and hooked it onto his own belt as he replied. “After you knocked the knife from his hand, you should have kicked it away. Instead you bent to pick it up, and turned your back on the others. They would have reached you if I hadn’t intervened.” Glancing at the bloodied pair of soldiers, who had begun to groan and stir, he remarked to them almost pleasantly, “If either of you moves, I’ll castrate you like a capon and throw your balls into Fleet Ditch.” His tone was all the more chilling for its casualness.

They both went still.

Ransom returned his attention to Garrett. “Fighting in a fencing master’s studio isn’t the same as fighting in the street. Men like those”—he flicked a contemptuous glance at the soldiers on the pavement—“don’t wait politely for you to fight them in turn. They rush simultaneously. As soon as one of them came within reach, your cane would have been useless.”

“Not at all,” Garrett informed him smartly. “I would have jabbed him with the point, and felled him with a hard strike.”

Ransom moved closer to her, stopping within an arm’s length. His shrewd gaze slid over her. Although Garrett held her ground, she felt her nerves spark with instinctive warning. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of Ethan Ransom, who seemed both a little bit more, and less, than human. A man designed like a weapon, long in the bone and muscular, with a fluid, limber way of moving. Even standing still, he conveyed a sense of explosive power.

“Try it with me,” he invited softly, his gaze locked on hers.

Garrett blinked in momentary surprise. “You want me to hit you with my cane? Now?”

Ransom gave a slight nod.

“I wouldn’t want to hurt you,” she said, prolonging her hesitation.

“You won’t—” he began to reply, just as she surprised him with an aggressive thrust of the cane.

As fast as she was, however, Ransom’s reaction was lightning swift. He dodged the cane, turning sideways so the tip barely grazed his ribs. Grasping the cane mid-shaft, he leveraged Garrett’s forward momentum with a strong tug, pulling her off her feet. She was stunned to feel one of his arms close around her, while he twisted the cane from her grip with his free hand. So easily, as if divesting people of weapons was child’s play.

Gasping and infuriated, Garrett found herself held firmly against his body, the knit of muscle and bone as unyielding as cordwood. She was utterly helpless.

Perhaps it was the reckless velocity of her pulse that accounted for the strange feeling that came over her, a velvety quietness that routed her thoughts and smothered every awareness of the scene around them. The world disappeared, and there was only the man at her back, his brutally hard arms around her. She closed her eyes, conscious only of the faint scent of citrus on his breath, and the measured rise and fall of his chest, and the wild tumult of her heart.

The spell was broken by his soft chuckle, the sound rippling gently along her spine. She tried to wrench free of him.

“Don’t laugh at me,” she said fiercely.

Carefully Ransom released her, assuring himself of her balance before handing the cane back to her. “I wasn’t laughing at you. I only liked it that you caught me off guard.” He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, a dance of amusement in his eyes.

Slowly Garrett lowered the cane, while her cheeks burned as red as poppies. She could still feel his arms enclosing her, as if the sensation of him had sunk into her skin.

Reaching into his vest, Ransom pulled out a small silver whistle shaped like a tube. He blew three shrill blasts.

Garrett gathered he was summoning a constable on patrol. “You don’t use a police rattle?” she asked. Her father, who’d had a beat in King’s Cross, had always carried one of the official weighted wooden rattles. To raise an alarm, a constable swung the rattle by its handle until the blades made a loud clapping sound.

Ransom shook his head. “The rattle’s too cumbersome. And I had to give it back when I left the force.”

“You’re no longer with the Metropolitan Police?” she asked. “Who employs you now?”

“I’m not officially employed.”

“You do some kind of work for the government, however?”

“Yes.”

“As a detective?”

Ransom hesitated for a long moment before replying. “Sometimes.”

Garrett’s eyes narrowed as she wondered what he did for the government that couldn’t be handled by the regular police. “Are your activities legal?”

His grin was a brief dazzle in the gathering darkness. “Not always,” he admitted.

They both turned as a constable dressed in a blue tunic and trousers came hurrying along the street with a bull’s-eye lantern in hand. “Hallo,” the approaching man called out, “Constable Hubble here. Did you raise the alarm?”

“I did,” Ransom said.

The constable, a portly man whose blunt nose and florid cheeks were perspiring from exertion, regarded him intently from beneath the brim of his helmet. “Your name?”

“Ransom,” came the quiet reply, “formerly of K division.”

The constable’s eyes widened. “I’ve heard of you, sir. Good evening.” His tone was instantly textured with deference. In fact, his posture became positively submissive, his head lowering a degree or two.

Ransom gestured to the men on the ground. “I found these three drunken sods in the process of physically assaulting and robbing a lady, after threatening her with this.” He handed the sheathed bayonet knife to the constable.

“By George,” Hubble exclaimed, glancing down at the men on the ground with disgust. “And soldiers too, more’s the shame. May I ask if the lady was harmed?”

“No,” Ransom said. “In fact, Dr. Gibson had the presence of mind to drive one of them off with her cane, after knocking the knife from his hand.”

“Doctor?” The constable regarded Garrett with open amazement. “You’re the lady doctor? The one in the papers?”

Garrett nodded, bracing inwardly. People rarely reacted well to the idea of a woman in the medical profession.

Continuing to stare at her, the constable shook his head in apparent wonder. “Didn’t expect she’d be so young,” he said as an aside to Ransom, before addressing Garrett again. “Beg pardon, miss . . . but why are you a doctor? It’s not as if you was a horse-face. Why, I know least two blokes in my division who’d be willing to tie the knot with you.” He paused. “If you could do some cooking and mending, that is.”

Garrett was inwardly annoyed to observe that Ransom was struggling to hold back a grin. “I’m afraid the only mending I do pertains to wounds and fractures,” she said.

The large soldier on the ground, who had risen up on his elbows, spoke in a thick, scornful voice. “Female doctor. Unnatural, I say. I’ll wager she’s got a tallywag under those skirts.”

Ransom’s eyes narrowed, his amusement vanishing instantly. “How would you like a boot to the head?” he asked, striding to the soldier.

“Mr. Ransom,” Garrett said sharply, “it’s unsporting to attack a man who’s already on the ground.”

The detective stopped in his tracks, throwing a baleful glance over his shoulder. “Considering what he intended to do to you, it’s lucky he is to be breathing.”

Garrett found it vastly interesting that the hint of an Irish brogue had stolen into his last few words.

“Hallo!” came a call as another constable approached. “I ’eard the whistle.”

While Ransom went to confer with the new arrival, Garrett went to retrieve her doctor’s bag. “The wound in the soldier’s cheek may require stitches,” she said to Constable Hubble.

“Don’t come near me, y’ she-devil,” the soldier exclaimed.

Constable Hubble glared at him. “Shut your bone-box, or I’ll put a hole through your other cheek.”

Recalling that her scalpel hadn’t yet been recovered, Garrett asked, “Constable, would you mind holding your lamp a bit higher to illuminate the street? I would like to search for the knife I threw at this man earlier.” She paused as an alarming thought occurred to her. “He may still have it.”

“He doesn’t,” Ransom said over his shoulder, pausing temporarily in his conversation with the other constable. “I do.”

Two thoughts occurred to Garrett simultaneously. First, how could the man be listening to her while simultaneously carrying on a conversation a few yards away? And second . . .

“You picked up the knife while fighting him?” she asked indignantly. “But you told me never to do that.”

“I don’t follow the rules,” Ransom said simply, and turned back to the constable.

Garrett’s eyes widened at the calm arrogance of the statement. Scowling, she drew Constable Hubble a few feet farther away and whispered, “What do you know about that man? Who is he?”

“You’re asking about Mr. Ransom?” The constable kept his voice very low. “He was raised right here in Clerkenwell. Knows every inch of the city, and has the run of it. A few years ago, he applied to the police force and was assigned to a beat in K division. A bruising fighter. Fearless. He volunteered to patrol in the slum districts where other officers wouldn’t dare set foot. They say he was drawn to detective work from the start. He had a sharp mind, with an eye for the odd detail. After walking the beat at night, he would go to the division office files and sort through unsolved cases. He cracked a murder that had baffled the division’s sergeant-detectives for years, cleared the name of a servant falsely accused of jewel theft, and recovered a stolen painting.”

“In other words,” Garrett murmured, “he was working outside his rank.”

Hubble nodded. “The division superintendent considered charging him with misconduct. But instead he recommended promoting Ransom from fourth-class constable to inspector.”

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