Home > Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(7)

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(7)
Lisa Kleypas

His voice was soft. “You’ve nothing to fear from me. Ever.”

“Of course.” She paused before adding wryly, “Although when I mentioned you to my father, he warned that you were dangerous.”

“I can be.”

Garrett gave him a superior glance. “Every man likes to think there’s a part of his nature that remains untamed and unsubdued.”

“You know all about men, do you?” he asked with an edge of mockery.

“Mr. Ransom, the male sex has ceased to be a mystery ever since my first course in practical anatomy, which included the dissection of a cadaver.”

That should have set him in his place, but instead he laughed quietly. “I’ve no doubt you can carve up a man like a jugged hare, Doctor, but that doesn’t mean you understand the first thing about him.”

Garrett regarded him coolly. “You think me naïve?”

Ransom shook his head. “I see no fault in you,” he said, with a quiet sincerity that threw her off guard.

His fingers, dry and warm, returned to her neck with the lightest possible pressure. She felt the texture of a callus on his forefinger, like the rasp of a kitten’s tongue. The contrast between the brutal strength of his hands and the incredible gentleness of his touch caused gooseflesh to rise everywhere.

“Now then,” Ransom murmured, his thick lashes lowering as he focused on the tender front of her throat where his thumbs rested. “In this situation, you have only a few seconds to react after he takes hold.”

“Yes,” Garrett said, aware that he could feel her breath and pulse, and the movements of her swallowing. “The pressure on the trachea and carotid arteries would cause unconsciousness very quickly.” Tentatively her hands came up to grip his elbows. “If I pulled down on his arms like this . . . ?”

“Not if he was my size. You couldn’t budge him. Tuck your chin down to protect your throat, and put your palms together, as if you’re praying. Push them up through the circle of my arms . . . good, higher . . . until it forces my elbows to bend. Can you feel how that loosens my grip?”

“Yes,” she said in pleased discovery.

“Now grab my head.”

Disconcerted, Garrett gave him a blank look.

“Go on,” he encouraged.

To her embarrassed annoyance, a nervous giggle escaped her. She never giggled. Clearing her throat, she made herself reach out and shape her fingers over his skull, until the heels of her hands rested against the neat outer curves of his ears. The short-cropped locks of his hair were like coarse silk.

“Take hold closer to my face,” Ransom said, “so you can push your thumbs into the eye sockets.”

Garrett winced. “You want me to gouge a man’s eyes out?”

“Aye, show the bastard no mercy, as he’ll show none to you.”

She adjusted her grip tentatively, resting the pads of her thumbs not directly on his eyes, but at the outer corners where the skin was fine and hot. It was difficult to meet his gaze. The color of his eyes was so intense that she had the sensation of being pulled into blueness, almost drowning in it. “As you apply pressure to the eyes,” he continued, “you’ll be able to push the head back easily. Then jerk it down until the nose hits your forehead.” Before she moved, he cautioned, “Slowly. I’ve had my nose broken before, and it’s not an experience I’m after repeating.”

“How did it happen?” she asked, envisioning some life-threatening situation. “Were you quelling a riot? Stopping a robbery?”

“I tripped over a bucket,” he said wryly. “In front of two constables and a reception cell filled with a half dozen prisoners on remand, a deserter from the army, and a man in default of bail.”

“Poor lad,” Garrett said sympathetically, although she was unable to hold back a chuckle.

“It was worth it,” he said. “A fight was brewing among the prisoners, but they all started laughing so hard, they forgot about it.” Abruptly he turned businesslike. “In a real situation, pull your opponent’s head toward you with as much force as you can. Bash him as many times as it takes to make him let go.”

“Won’t I knock myself unconscious?”

“No, this is too hard for that.” Ransom paused to tap a knuckle gently against her forehead, as if knocking on a door panel. “It will hurt him far worse than you.”

His hand returned to her neck, fingers curving almost tenderly around the sides.

Carefully Garrett pulled his head down until she felt his nose and mouth on her forehead. The contact lasted only an instant, but it was electrifying. The smooth touch of his lips and the warm rush of his breath drew up another rush of feeling, a warmth that seemed to radiate from her quick. She breathed in the scent of him, the scrubbed-leather pungency of a clean and healthy male.

Ransom drew back slowly. “You could follow that with a knee to the groin,” he said, “if your skirts aren’t too heavy or narrow.”

“Do you mean I should use my leg to . . .” Her gaze flickered to his crotch.

“Like this.” He demonstrated with a subtle motion of his knee.

“I think walking skirts would allow for that.”

“Then do it,” Ransom said. “It’s the most devastating target on a man. The pain shoots all through your innards.”

“I’ve no doubt it would,” Garrett mused. “There’s a nerve in the scrotum called the spermatic plexus that extends into the abdomen.” Noticing the way he averted his face, she said apologetically, “Have I made you uncomfortable? I beg your pardon.”

Ransom lifted his head to reveal eyes glinting with laughter. “Not at all. It’s just that I’ve never heard a lady talk as you do.”

“As I told you . . . I’m not a lady.”

Chapter 4

The lesson that followed could not have been more different from Garrett’s sessions with Monsieur Baujart or his prévôts, who emphasized discipline, silence, and perfect form. This, by contrast, seemed like a rough-and-tumble form of play. In fact, every minute of twisting, grappling, and shoving was so absorbing that Garrett lost all awareness of time passing. Although she wasn’t used to having a man’s hands on her, Ransom’s touch was so careful and gentle that she quickly came to trust him.

Patiently he demonstrated various moves and encouraged her to repeat them until he was satisfied that she’d learned them properly. He praised her efforts, calling her a warrior, an Amazon, and more than once he chuckled at her enthusiasm. As promised, he taught her how to throw a man to the floor by hooking a foot around his leg and using it as leverage to push him off balance. Every time he hit the ground, he rolled in a fluid motion and came to his feet again.

“Where did you learn to do that?” Garrett asked.

“After I left K division, I was sent away for special training.”

“Away to where?”

For some reason Ransom seemed reluctant to answer. “India.”

“India? Good heavens. For how long?”

“A year and a half.” Seeing her interest, Ransom explained cautiously, “I was instructed by an eighty-year-old guru, who was as limber as a lad of sixteen. He taught a fighting system based on animal movements, like the tiger, or the snake.”

“How perfectly fascinating.” Garrett would have liked to ask more, but he motioned for her to face away from him.

“This is what to do if someone seizes you in a bear hug.” He hesitated. “I’ll have to put my arms around you.”

Garrett nodded and held trustingly still as his arms enclosed her. His grip was firm but not crushing, taking enough of her weight that her heels nearly began to lift from the floor. His body was hot, almost steaming inside the fencing jacket. She was surrounded by the strength of him, breathing in the salt and heat of male exertion, while the motion of his breathing pressed against her rhythmically.

“Do bears actually hug like this?” she asked breathlessly.

“I don’t know,” Ransom said, his amused voice close to her ear. “I’ve never been close enough to one to find out. Now then, you’ll want to keep me from picking you up and carrying you off. Shove your hips back, and use all your weight to plant your feet hard on the ground.” He waited until she had complied. The movement had obliged him to lean over her, altering his center of gravity. “Good. Take a sidestep, and that will give you a clear path to deliver a hammer-blow to the groin.” He watched as she knotted her fingers into a ball. “Not like that. Has no one ever taught you to make a fist?”

“Never. Show me.”

Releasing her, Ransom turned her to face him. He took her hand in both of his, molding it into the proper shape. “Curl your fingers and cross your thumb over them. Don’t tuck it inside, or you’ll break it when you hit someone. And don’t clench so tight that your little finger starts to collapse inward.” He tested the tension of her closed hand, running the pad of his thumb across her knuckles. The dark fans of his lashes lowered. She thought he would let go then . . . but instead . . . his fingertips slowly began to explore the miniature valleys between her fingers, the buffed surface of her nails, the soft flesh at the base of her thumb. Garrett’s breath caught as he touched the tender inside of her wrist, where a pulse beat light and fast.

“Why were you named Garrett?” she heard him ask.

“My mother was convinced that I was going to be a boy. She wanted to name me after one of her brothers, who died while he was still young. But she didn’t survive my birth. Above the objections of friends and relations, my father insisted on calling me Garrett anyway.”

“I like it,” Ransom murmured.

“It suits me,” Garrett said, “although I’m not certain my mother would have approved of giving a masculine name to a daughter.” After a reflective pause, she surprised herself by saying impulsively, “Sometimes I imagine going back in time, to stop the hemorrhage that killed her.”

“Is that why you became a doctor?”

Garrett pondered the question with a slight frown. “I’ve never thought about it that way before. I suppose helping people could be my way of saving her, over and over. But I would have found the study of medicine fascinating regardless. The human body is a remarkable machine.”

His fingers stroked over the back of her hand as if he were smoothing out a tiny silk handkerchief.

“Why did you enter into law enforcement?” she asked him.

“When I was a boy, I always liked watching the constables when they brought the prisoner van every morning. Big, strong chaps, in their blue uniforms and shiny black shoes. I liked the way they brought order to things.”

“What made you want to be one of them?”

Ransom drew the tip of his forefinger gently over each of her knuckles, a bit furtively, as if it were something he knew he shouldn’t be doing. “My father earned five pounds a week. It was good pay, especially as we were allowed to live in a watch-house on the prison grounds. But even so, there were times when we couldn’t make the money stretch. When Mam worried that I’d had naught but potatoes and milk for weeks, or too many bills had gone unpaid, she would slip away to visit a married gentleman she had an arrangement with. Later Da would see the new soles on my shoes, or a fresh stock of candles and coal in the house . . . and he would beat her without a word. Then he beat me for trying to stop him, and he wept while he did it. The next day, all three of us would carry on as usual. But I couldn’t forget about it. I kept telling myself that someday I’d have the power to stop Da, or any man, from hurting Mam. To this day, when I see a woman being threatened or harmed, it’s like setting flame to gunpowder.”

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