Home > Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(3)

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(3)
Lisa Kleypas

Garrett’s eyes went wide. “You’re saying Mr. Ransom moved up five levels of advancement in his first year?” she whispered.

“No, in his first six months. But before the promotion examination could be administered, Ransom left the force. He was recruited by Sir Jasper Jenkyn.”

“Who is that?”

“A higher-up in the Home Office.” Hubble paused, looking uneasy. “Well, that’s all I know.”

Garrett turned to glance at Ransom’s broad-shouldered form, silhouetted in the glow of lamplight. His stance was relaxed, hands shoved negligently in his pockets. But she didn’t miss the quick turn of his head as he monitored the environment while talking with the other constable. Nothing escaped him, not even the scuttling rat near the end of the street.

“Mr. Ransom,” Garrett said.

Breaking off the discussion, he swiveled to face her. “Yes, Doctor?”

“Will I be required to give a statement about the events of this evening?”

“No.” Ransom’s gaze moved from her face to Constable Hubble’s. “It’s best for all concerned if we protect your privacy—and mine—by giving Constable Hubble the credit for apprehending these men.”

Hubble began to protest. “Sir, I couldn’t take the credit for your bravery.”

“It was my bravery as well,” Garrett couldn’t resist pointing out tartly. “I defeated the one with the knife.”

Ransom came to her. “Let him have the credit,” he said in a gently coaxing undertone. “They’ll give him a commendation and reward money. It’s not easy to live on a constable’s salary.”

Being all too familiar with the limitations of a constable’s salary, Garrett muttered, “Of course.”

One corner of his mouth tugged upward. “Then we’ll let these men handle the matter, while I walk with you to the main road.”

“Thank you, but I have no need of an escort.”

“As you wish,” Ransom said readily, as if he’d fully expected her to refuse.

Garrett looked up at him suspiciously. “You’re going to follow me anyway, aren’t you? Like a lion stalking a stray goat.”

A smile deepened the outer corners of his eyes. As one of the constables moved by them with a lantern, a stray shaft of light caught in the long sweep of his lashes, and struck hints of brilliant, jarring blue in the darkness of his pupils. “Just until you’re safely in a hansom,” he said.

“Then I’d prefer you to walk beside me in a civilized fashion.” She extended her hand. “My scalpel, please.”

Ransom reached for the inside shank of his boot, withdrawing the small gleaming knife. It had been wiped clean, more or less. “A beautiful instrument,” he commented, regarding the lancet-shaped blade admiringly before handing it to her with care. “Sharp as the devil. You strop it with oil?”

“Diamond paste.” After replacing the scalpel in her bag, Garrett hefted the bulky weight with one hand, and picked up her cane with the other. She was nonplussed when Ransom tried to take the bag from her.

“Allow me,” he murmured.

Garrett moved back, gripping the leather handles more tightly. “I can carry it myself.”

“Obviously. But I’m offering as a courtesy to a lady, not questioning your ability.”

“Would you make the same offer to a male physician?”

“No.”

“I would rather you consider me as a physician, not a lady.”

“Why must you be one or the other?” Ransom asked reasonably. “You’re both. I have no difficulty carrying a lady’s bag while at the same time respecting her professional competence.”

His tone was matter-of-fact, but something in his gaze unnerved her, an intensity that went beyond the regard of strangers. At her hesitation, he held out his hand and urged quietly, “Please.”

“Thank you, but I can manage on my own.” She began to walk toward the main thoroughfare.

Ransom fell into step beside her, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Where did you learn to throw a knife like that?”

“While I was at the Sorbonne. A group of medical students made a game of it to amuse themselves after college hours. They constructed a target behind one of the laboratory buildings.” Garrett paused before admitting, “I never mastered the underhand technique.”

“A good overhand throw is all you need. How long did you live in France?”

“Four and a half years.”

“A young woman attending the best medical school in the world,” Ransom mused aloud, “far from home, taking classes in a foreign language. You’re a determined woman, doctor.”

“No medical school here would admit a female,” Garrett said pragmatically. “I had no choice.”

“You could have given up.”

“That is never an option,” she assured him, and he smiled.

They passed a stunted building with a closed shop front, its broken windows plastered with paper. Ransom reached out to guide Garrett around a pile of empty oyster shells and broken pottery, and what appeared to be a set of rotting bellows. Reflexively she shrank from the slight pressure of his hand on her arm.

“You’ve no need to fear my touch,” Ransom said. “I was only going to help you across the path.”

“It’s not fear.” Garrett hesitated before adding a touch sheepishly, “I suppose my habit of independence is too firmly fixed.” They continued along the pavement, but not before Garrett caught his brief, longing glance at her doctor’s bag. A brief chuckle escaped her. “I will let you carry this,” she offered, “if you’ll speak to me in your real accent.”

Ransom stopped and looked at her with a flash of surprise, a notch appearing between his dark brows. “What was the slip?”

“I heard the hint of a brogue when you threatened one of the soldiers. And the way you touched your hat . . . it was slower than the way Englishmen usually do it.”

“I was born to Irish parents and raised here in Clerkenwell,” Ransom said matter-of-factly. “I’m not ashamed of it. But at times the accent is a disadvantage.” Extending his hand, he waited until Garrett handed the bag to him. A smile crossed his face, and his voice changed, turning resonant and deep as he spoke in a brogue that seemed to have been warmed slowly over a low flame. “Now then, lass, what would you have me say?”

Taken aback by his effect on her, the pang of nerves at the pit of her stomach, Garrett was slow to reply. “You’re too familiar, Mr. Ransom.”

His smile lingered. “Ah, but that’s the price of it, if you want to hear an Irish brogue. You’ll have to put up with a bit o’ sweetheartin’.”

“Sweethearting?” Disconcerted, Garrett resumed walking.

“Compliments to your charm and beauty.”

“I believe that’s called blarney,” she said crisply, “and I beg you to spare me.”

“’Tis a clever, stirring woman you are,” he continued as if he hadn’t heard her, “and to be sure I have a weakness for green eyes—”

“I have a cane,” Garrett reminded him, profoundly irritated by his mockery.

“You couldn’t hurt me with that.”

“Perhaps not,” she conceded, her hand tightening on the cane’s handle. In the next moment, she whipped the length of hickory around in a horizontal strike, not hard enough to inflict serious damage, but sufficient to deliver an uncomfortable lesson.

Instead, to Garrett’s outrage, she was the one who received the lesson. The blow was blocked smartly by her own leather bag, and once again the cane was twisted from her grasp. The bag thudded to the ground, its contents rattling. Before Garrett had time to react, she found herself hauled back against Ransom’s chest and trapped by the cane across her throat.

The beguiling whiskey-warm voice fell against her ear. “You signal your moves in advance, darlin’. ’Tis a bad habit.”

“Let go,” she gasped, writhing in helpless outrage.

Ransom’s grip didn’t ease. “Turn your head.”

“What?”

“Turn your head to ease the pressure against your windpipe, and grasp the cane with your right hand.”

Garrett went still as she realized he was telling her how to break the hold. Slowly she obeyed.

“Use an inside grip to protect your throat,” Ransom said, and waited until she had complied. “Aye, just so. Now, tug down on the end of the cane, and use your left elbow to jab me in the ribs. Lightly, if you please.” After she’d made the motion, he bent forward as if doubling over. “Good. Grab the cane with both hands now—wider—and give it a hard twist as you duck under my arm.”

Garrett followed his instructions, and then . . . almost miraculously . . . she was free. She turned to stare at him with baffled fascination. She couldn’t decide whether to thank him or bash him over the head.

Ransom bent to pick up the doctor’s bag with a bland smile. He had the nerve to proffer his arm, as if they were a sedate couple going on a stroll through Hyde Park. Ignoring the gesture, Garrett began walking again.

“Being choked from the front is the most common way women are attacked,” Ransom said. “The second is to hold her from the back, with an arm across her throat. The third is to grab her from behind and carry her off. Hasn’t your fencing master taught you to defend yourself without a cane?”

“No,” Garrett was forced to admit. “He doesn’t instruct in hand-to-hand combat.”

“Why hasn’t Winterborne provided a driver and carriage for your outings? He’s not a miserly man, and he usually takes care of his own.”

Garrett frowned at the mention of Winterborne, who owned the clinic where she practiced. The clinic had been established for the benefit of the nearly thousand employees of his department store. Rhys Winterborne had hired her when almost no one else had been willing to give her a chance, and for that he would always have her loyalty.

“Mr. Winterborne has offered the use of a private carriage,” she admitted. “However, I don’t wish to impose on him any more than I already do, and I’ve been trained in the art of self-defense.”

“You’re overconfident, Doctor. You know just enough to be a danger to yourself. There are a few simple tactics that could help you escape an assailant. I could teach them to you, of an afternoon.”

They turned a corner and came to the main road, where knots of raggedly dressed people stood at doorways and steps, while pedestrians in all manner of dress threaded along the pavement. Horses, carts, and carriages passed to and fro along the tramway pavers that had been laid out along the road. Stopping at the curbstone, Garrett looked down the street and waited for a glimpse of a hansom.

As they waited, Garrett considered Ransom’s words. Clearly the man knew far more about street fighting than her fencing master. His maneuvers with her cane had been impressive. While half of her was inclined to tell him to go to the devil, the other half was more than a little intrigued.

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