Home > Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(8)

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(8)
Lisa Kleypas

Seeming to realize he was still holding Garrett’s hand, Ransom abruptly let go. “I was too young to understand what Mam had done with her gentleman friend, or why Da—who fair worshipped her—should have beaten her for it. Or why Mam wouldn’t let me speak against him. Any husband might be moved to thrash his wife, she said. It was the nature of men. But she hoped I would be better than that.” He gave her a troubled, worn-around-the-edges look. “I told her I would never strike a woman, and I never have. I’d cut off my arm first.”

“I believe you,” Garrett said gently. “Your mother was mistaken. It is not men’s nature to commit violence against women, it’s a corruption of their nature.”

“I’d like to think so,” he muttered. “But I’ve seen too much evil to be sure.”

“So have I,” Garrett said simply. “Nevertheless, I know I’m right.”

“I envy your certainty.” What a smile he had, like something that had just been unleashed.

She’d never talked like this with a man in her life. The conversation was easy on the surface, but beneath . . . it reminded her a little of the feeling she’d had the day of her first classes at the Sorbonne. She’d been terrified and exhilarated by the world of mysteries about to be revealed.

“We’ll have to end the lesson soon,” Ransom said reluctantly. “We’ve gone overtime.”

“Have we?” she asked, bemused.

“It’s been almost two hours. We’ll practice the last move once more, and that will be the end of it.”

“I’m sure there’s much more for me to learn,” Garrett said, facing away from him. “When shall we plan to meet next?”

Ransom’s arms slid around her from behind. “I’m afraid I have obligations that will keep me busy for a while.” After a long pause, he said, “After today, you won’t see me again.”

“For how long?”

“Ever.”

Garrett blinked in surprise. She turned in the circle of his arms to face him. “But . . .” She was mortified to hear the plaintive note in her voice as she asked, “What about Tuesdays?”

“I can’t follow you on Tuesdays any longer. Soon I’ll have to go to ground for a while. Maybe for good.”

“Why? Are you planning to save England? Defeat an evil mastermind?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Oh, twaddle. Anything you say will be shielded by doctor-patient confidentiality.”

Ransom smiled slightly. “I’m not your patient.”

“You could be someday,” Garrett said darkly, “considering your occupation.”

His only response was to turn her around to face away from him.

A bleak feeling crept through her as she complied. How could it be that she might never see him again? Did it really have something to do with his job? Perhaps that was a convenient excuse, and the truth was that he had no interest in her. Perhaps the attraction was only on her side. Garrett was appalled to feel a knot of disappointment forming in her throat.

“Remember to push against—” Ransom began, when the door opened unceremoniously.

They both looked at the doorway, where Monsieur Baujart stood glowering. “I need to use this room for a scheduled lesson,” the fencing master announced. His eyes narrowed at the sight of them locked together. “Is this the way you’re teaching Dr. Gibson to fight for her life?” he asked sarcastically.

Garrett replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “This is a defensive maneuver, monsieur. I’m about to deliver an incapacitating strike to the groin.”

The fencing master regarded them both with a stony gaze. “Good,” he grunted, and the door closed smartly behind him.

Before Garrett could continue, she felt Ransom press his face against the back of her shoulder, chuckling like a mischievous boy in church. “Now you’ve done it,” he said. “Baujart won’t be satisfied unless I limp out of here in agony.”

A reluctant grin crossed her lips. “For the sake of England, I’ll have mercy on you.” As he had taught her before, she pushed her hips back and leaned forward. The fit between them was close and compact, their bodies aligning like puzzle pieces. Her mind went blank as she felt the pure visceral pleasure of his weight and warmth over her.

His arms tightened, and there was a quiet catch in his throat, as if he weren’t certain whether to breathe in or out.

In the next moment, he had released her and collapsed to a seated position in an uncharacteristically clumsy movement. His long arms curled around his bent legs, and he rested his forehead on his knees.

Alarmed, Garrett lowered to her knees beside him. “What’s wrong?”

“Strained muscle,” he said in a muffled voice.

But it appeared more serious than that. His color was high, and he seemed on the verge of hyperventilating.

“Do you feel dizzy?” Garrett asked in worry. “Light-headed?” She laid her palm against the side of his face, testing his temperature, and he jerked away from her touch. “Let me check your pulse,” she said, reaching for him again.

Ransom snatched her wrist, his gaze meeting hers in a blaze of unearthly blue. “Don’t touch me, or I’ll—” Breaking off, he rolled away and rose to his feet in a single easy motion. He went to the opposite wall and braced his hands against it, his head lowered.

Garrett stared after him, her jaw sagging.

Before he’d turned his back, she’d caught a glimpse of something that was most definitely not a strained muscle. It was a different kind of problem altogether.

As the fencing trousers displayed so flagrantly, he was aroused. Prodigiously, impressively so.

Color invaded Garrett’s face until her cheeks felt scorched. At a complete loss for what to do, she remained kneeling on the floor. All her skin felt tight and seared, and she was filled with a sense of . . . well, she didn’t quite know what it was . . . not embarrassment, although her complexion had turned beetroot red. Not pleasure, exactly, although her nerves thrummed with giddiness.

She had never been a woman whose presence excited the male ardor. Partly because she’d never cultivated the skills of flirtation and feminine charm. Also because when she first met a man, she was usually jabbing him with suture needles or injection syringes.

“Would . . . would it help if I fetch a glass of cold water?” she dared to ask, in a timid voice that didn’t even sound like hers.

Ransom replied with his forehead leaning against the wall. “Not unless you pour it down my trousers.”

A strangled laugh was wrenched from her throat.

He turned to give her a sideways glance then, a flash of hot, infinite blue, conveying the force of a desire as immolating as a lightning bolt. Even with Garrett’s reams of knowledge about the workings of the human body, she could only begin to comprehend all that was contained in that blistering look.

His voice was dry and fractured with self-mockery. “As you said, Doctor . . . there’s a part of every man that’s untamed and unsubdued.”

Chapter 5

“What did he say after that?” Lady Helen Winterborne whispered across the tea table, her blue-gray eyes as round as silver florins. “What did you say?”

“I can’t remember,” Garrett confessed, amazed to feel her face heating up even now, three days later. “My mind turned to mush. It was so unexpected.”

“Had you never seen a man . . . in that state?” Helen asked delicately.

Garrett gave her a sardonic glance. “I’m a former nurse as well as a physician. I daresay I’ve seen as many erections as a brothel madam.” She frowned. “But never one that had anything to do with me.”

Helen hastily crammed a linen napkin against her lips, muffling a laugh.

As was their weekly habit, they had met for lunch at the renowned tea room of Winterborne’s department store. The tea room was a serene refuge from the heat and bustle of the day, a tall-ceiled, airy room decorated with frothy green potted palms, the walls lined with mosaics of blue, white, and gold tiles. The main floor was crowded with ladies and gentlemen clustered at the round tables. Each corner of the tea room featured an inset alcove where the table was set back enough to allow for private conversation. As Winterborne’s wife, of course, Helen was always seated at one of the alcove tables.

Garrett had been friends with Helen ever since she’d been hired as one of Winterborne’s staff physicians. She had quickly discovered that not only was Helen kind, sensible, and loyal, she could also be trusted to keep her mouth shut. They had a great deal in common, including a commitment to helping those less fortunate. In the past year, Helen had become the patroness of several charities benefitting women and children, and worked actively for reform causes.

Recently Helen had insisted that Garrett start attending some of the fundraising dinners and private concerts she and Winterborne hosted. “You can’t work all the time,” Helen had told her in a gentle but resolute tone. “Now and then you must spend an evening in the society of others.”

“I’m in the company of people every day,” Garrett had protested.

“At the clinic, yes. But I’m referring to a social evening, when you put on a nice dress, and make small talk, and perhaps even dance.”

“You’re not going to try matchmaking for me, are you?” Garrett had asked suspiciously.

Helen had given her a chiding smile. “There’s no harm in making the acquaintance of a few unmarried gentlemen. You’re not opposed to the idea of marriage, are you?”

“Not exactly. But I’ve never been able to see how my life could accommodate a husband. He couldn’t be the sort of man who insisted that the household revolve around his needs, nor could he expect me to be a traditional wife. He would have to be as unconventional as I am. I’m not sure such a man exists.” Garrett had shrugged and smiled wryly. “I don’t mind being ‘on the shelf,’ as they say. It happens to be a very interesting shelf.”

“If he’s out there,” Helen had told her, “you certainly won’t find him by staying at home. You’re coming to our next dinner, and that means we must have a new evening dress made up for you.”

“I have an evening dress,” Garrett had said, thinking of her sapphire brocade, which was a few years old but had worn like iron.

“I’ve seen it, and it’s very . . . nice,” Helen said, damning the garment with faint praise. “However, you need something more festive. And lower cut. No women our age wear high-necked evening gowns—those are only for young girls or dowagers.”

Acknowledging that fashion was not necessarily her forte, Garrett had agreed to visit the store’s in-house dressmaker, Mrs. Allenby, after tea with Helen today.

Her thoughts were drawn back to the present as Helen regained her composure and murmured, “Poor Mr. Ransom. It must be dreadfully embarrassing for a man to be caught in that state.”

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