Home > Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(6)

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(6)
Lisa Kleypas

“Good afternoon,” Garrett said cordially. “Have I arrived early for our session, Mr. Ransom?”

“No. Monsieur Baujart had reservations about allowing me to teach you until he judged my abilities for himself.”

“It’s worse than I feared,” Baujart said darkly, his masked face turning toward Garrett. “This man is unqualified, Dr. Gibson. I cannot condone your association with him—he will ruin every method you have learned here.”

“I hope so,” Ransom muttered.

Garrett pressed her lips together, struggling to hold back a grin. No one ever dared speak to Baujart with such insolence.

The sword master returned his attention to Ransom. “Allons,” he snapped. Another duel commenced, so lightning fast that the blades blurred.

Ransom twisted, parried an attack, and deliberately shoved his shoulder against Baujart to knock him off balance. After making a strike, he dropped to the floor in a roll, sprung to his feet, and jabbed Baujart a second time.

“Arrête!” Baujart shouted in fury. “Colliding with an opponent? Rolling across the floor? This is not a tavern brawl, you madman! What do you think you’re doing?”

Turning to face him with the foil lowered, Ransom said calmly, “Trying to win. Isn’t that the object?”

“The object is to fence, according to the Amateur League’s official code of rules!”

“And that’s how you’ve taught Dr. Gibson to fight,” Ransom said.

“Oui!”

“For what?” Ransom asked with blistering sarcasm. “To take part in a spontaneous fencing match that’s going to break out in some East End slum? She didn’t come here to learn how to fight gentlemen, Baujart. She needs to know how to defend herself against men like me.” Removing his mask, Ransom cleared away the locks of hair that hung in front of his eyes with a quick shake of his head, the short dark layers seeming to come alive before settling into place. He skewered the maître d’armes with a hard stare. “Dr. Gibson has no idea what to do if someone disarms her in the middle of those pretty moulinette cane twirls you’ve taught her. You’ve lived in Paris—you must know some savate. Or at least chausson. Why haven’t you shown her any of that?”

“Because it’s not correct,” Baujart retorted, ripping off his own mask to reveal a narrow, flushed face and black eyes slitted with fury.

“Correct for what?” For a moment, Ransom looked genuinely bewildered.

Monsieur Baujart gave him a scornful glance. “Only a peasant thinks the purpose of fencing is to stick someone with the pointy end of a sword. It’s a discipline. It’s visual poetry with rules.”

“God help me,” Ransom said, staring at him incredulously.

Garrett decided it was time for diplomacy. “Mr. Ransom, there’s no need to berate Monsieur Baujart. He’s instructed me to the best of his ability.”

“Have you?” Ransom asked the maître d’armes, his voice soft and savage. “Or have you given her lessons suited for a lady’s parlor exercise? Teach your other students how to be picturesque. But teach this one how to fight for her life. Because one day she might be doing just that, armed only with the skills she’s learned from you.” He gave the other man a withering glance. “I suppose when she’s lying on the street with her throat slit, at least she’ll be able to console herself that she didn’t score any illegal points.”

A long, long silence passed while Baujart’s vehement breathing slowed. His rage faded into an expression that Garrett had never seen from him before. “I understand,” he eventually said with difficulty. “I will make the necessary adjustments to her training.”

“You’ll include some savate?” Ransom pressed.

“I’ll bring in a special tutor if necessary.”

The men exchanged bows, and Garrett curtsied to her fencing master. It troubled her that Monsieur Baujart wasn’t quite able to meet her gaze. He departed with great dignity, closing the door behind him.

Left alone with Ethan Ransom, Garrett watched as he went to set the fencing foil and his other gear in the corner. “You were rather hard on poor Monsieur Baujart,” she said gently.

“Not hard enough,” Ransom said, switching to his Irish accent. “I should’ve spent fifteen minutes paintin’ hell to him.” He unstrapped the plastron and dropped it to the floor. “You’ve more of a practical need for self-defense than any student here. His arrogance—or laziness—has put you at risk.”

“I don’t know if I should feel more insulted for Monsieur Baujart’s sake or my own,” Garrett said dryly.

“I didn’t insult you.” Ransom stripped off his gloves and tossed them aside.

“You implied that I’m incompetent.”

Ransom turned to face her. “No. I’ve seen you fight. You’re an opponent to be reckoned with.”

“Thank you,” Garrett said, somewhat mollified. “For that, I’ll overlook your remark about my moulinet twirls.”

She saw the flash of an elusive grin. “A waste of motion, they are,” he murmured. “But very pleasing to the eye.”

Garrett realized this was the first time she’d ever seen him in good lighting. The stunning brightness of his eyes—blue from across the room—sparked an unfamiliar but pleasant tingling high up under her ribs, like delicately tightening knots. His features were ruggedly masculine, with that strong nose and geometric jaw . . . but the long sweeps of black lashes were a luxurious touch of softness . . . and when he’d smiled, she could have sworn there was the hint of a dimple in one cheek.

Ransom began to meander along a wall of framed illustrations of fencing positions, viewing them with feigned interest. Garrett was more than a little charmed by the hint of boyishness, as if he weren’t quite certain how to approach her.

He cut a splendid figure in the fencing uniform, a head-to-toe scheme of all white that usually did the male form no favors. The canvas jacket—buttoned on one side and closely fitted down to the high hip—tended to make the average man’s shoulders appear narrow and the waist look thick. The snug, flat-fronted trousers would highlight even the slightest tummy bulge. But on Ransom, the severely tailored garments only served to emphasize a physique of remarkable proportions. His body was lean, lithe, powerful, with no trace of softness anywhere.

Garrett’s gaze traveled from the broad shoulders down to the slim hips, and then even lower to his thickly muscled thighs. As it occurred to her that she was staring, she glanced upward, and blushed like a schoolgirl as she met his questioning gaze.

“I was just noting the unusual development of your quadriceps extensors,” she said in her professional voice.

His lips twitched. “Are you paying me a compliment, doctor?”

“Certainly not. It was merely an observation. Your physical build might lead one to assume you were a sailor, or a blacksmith.”

“I’ve done a bit of forging and pressing,” Ransom said. “But only light metalwork. Nothing so difficult as what a blacksmith does.”

“What kind of metalwork?”

He straightened one of the frames on the wall. “Locks and keys, mostly. I apprenticed for a prison locksmith as a boy.” Without looking at her, he added, “My father was a turnkey at Clerkenwell.”

Most prisons, including Clerkenwell, were unsanitary, hazardous, and crowded, as it was believed they should have a deterrent atmosphere. In her opinion, no boy should have been allowed to work under such conditions.

“A dangerous place for a child,” she commented.

His shoulders hitched in a shrug. “It was safe enough, as long as I heeded the rules.”

“Did you have brothers or sisters?” she asked.

“No. I was an only child.”

“So was I.” Although Garrett rarely volunteered personal information, she found herself continuing, “I always wanted a sister. My mother died when I was born, and my father never remarried.”

“He was a constable in E division, aye?”

Garrett looked up at him quickly. “Yes. How did you know that?”

“I read it in the newspaper.”

“Oh. Of course.” She made a little face. “Reporters insist on portraying me as a curiosity. Rather like a talking horse.”

“You’re an unusual woman.”

“Not really. Many thousands of women have the minds and temperaments to practice medicine. However, no medical school here will admit a female, which is why I had to study and train in France. I was fortunate to become certified before the British Medical Association closed the loopholes to prevent other women from doing the same.”

“What did your father say about it?”

“At first he was against the idea. He thought it indecent for a woman to have such an occupation. Viewing unclothed people, and so forth. However, as I pointed out to him, if we’re made in God’s image, there can be nothing wrong with the study of the human body.”

“And that changed his mind?”

“Not entirely. But when he saw the opposition I faced from friends and relations, it put him on his mettle. He can’t bear anyone telling me what I can’t do, and so he decided to support me.”

Amusement tugged at Ransom’s lips as he came to stand beside her. A shadow of whisker grain was visible beneath the close-shaven skin. His complexion was clear and fair, a striking contrast to his rich dark hair.

Slowly he reached out to take the cane from her. “We won’t need this for now.”

Garrett nodded, while a pulse tapped in her wrists, throat, the backs of her knees. “Shall I remove my gloves?” she asked, trying to sound businesslike.

“If you like.” Ransom set the cane on the floor, along the wall, and turned toward her. “This will be easy for you,” he said gently. “You might even enjoy it. In a few minutes, I’ll let you throw me to the floor.”

That startled a laugh from her. “You’re twice my size. How could I do that?”

“I’ll show you. But first we’ll start with something simple.” He waited until she tossed her gloves aside. “Do you remember what I said about the most common way women are attacked?”

“They’re choked from the front.”

“Aye. Usually against a wall.” Carefully he took Garrett’s shoulders and guided her backward until she felt her shoulder blades touch the hard surface. His big hands lifted to her throat, the fingers strong enough to bend copper coins. A frisson of alarm chased down her spine, and she stiffened.

Ransom let go instantly, his brows drawing together with concern.

“No,” Garrett assured him hastily, “I . . . I’m perfectly all right. It’s just that I’ve never had someone take me by the throat before.”

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