Home > Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(9)

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4)(9)
Lisa Kleypas

“No doubt it was,” Garrett said, nibbling at a miniature sandwich made of a nasturtium leaf and cream cheese pressed between two thin slices of French roll. But Ransom hadn’t seemed embarrassed. A ticklish sensation wove through her as she recalled the look he’d given her. A starving-tiger look, all desire and instinct. As if it had taken every last flicker of his will to hold himself back from her.

“How did the lesson end?” Helen asked.

“After we had changed into our street clothes, Ransom met me outside, and hailed a hansom cab for me. Before I climbed into the seat, he thanked me for the time we’d spent together, and said he regretted very much that we couldn’t meet again. I can’t remember what I said, only that I extended my hand for him to shake, and he . . .”

“He what?”

Fractious color rose in her face. “He . . . kissed it,” Garrett managed to say, remembering the sight of his dark head bent over her gloved hand. “It was the last thing I expected. That big, blue-eyed ruffian doing something so gentlemanly . . . especially after we’d spent the past two hours grappling and slamming each other all around the fencing room.” A gesture so tender, it had left her stunned and speechless. Even now, the thought of it sent flutters of pleasure and heat through her. It was madness. With all the patients she had examined and operated on, all the people she had held and comforted, nothing had ever felt so intimate as the pressure of his lips on her glove.

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it,” Garrett continued. “I can’t keep from wondering what it would be like if . . .” She couldn’t say the rest of it aloud. She began to fiddle with a tiny sorbet spoon. “I want to see him again,” she confessed.

“Oh, dear,” she heard Helen murmur.

“I don’t know how to reach him.” Garrett slid her a guarded glance. “But your husband does.”

Helen looked uncomfortable. “If Mr. Ransom says he can’t meet with you, I think you should respect his decision.”

“He could visit me on the sly, if he wished,” Garrett pointed out irritably. “The man skulks around London like a stray cat.”

“If he did meet you in secret, where would it lead? Or rather, where would you want it to lead?”

“I’m not sure.” Garrett set aside the sorbet spoon, picked up a fork, and stabbed a strawberry. She used a knife to mince it into miniscule bits. “Obviously Ransom is not an appropriate companion for me. I should put him—and his private parts—completely out of my mind.”

“That might be for the best,” Helen said cautiously.

“Except that I can’t.” Setting down the utensils, Garrett muttered, “I’ve never been ruled by unwanted thoughts or feelings. I’ve always been able to put them away as if they were folded linens in a drawer. What’s the matter with me?”

Helen slid a cool, pale hand over her clenched fist and gave it a comforting squeeze. “You’ve been all work and no play for much too long. And then one night a mysterious and handsome man appears out of the shadows, fending off attackers on your behalf—”

“That part was annoying,” Garrett interrupted. “I was doing quite well at being my own hero until he jumped in.”

Helen’s lips curved. “Still . . . it must have been a little flattering.”

“It was,” Garrett grumbled, taking refuge in examining the plate of tea sandwiches. She selected one filled with a translucent slice of pickled artichoke heart and a sliver of boiled egg. “In fact, it was ridiculous, how dashing he was, all brass and brawn. Only to you would I admit that when I heard his Irish brogue, I nearly began batting my eyelashes and simpering like the ingénue from some second-rate playhouse.”

Helen laughed gently. “There’s something charming about a man with an accent, isn’t there? I know it’s considered a defect—even more so if the accent is Welsh—but to me there’s poetry in it.”

“Nowadays having an Irish brogue is the surest way to have a door slammed in one’s face,” Garrett said darkly. “Which is no doubt why Mr. Ransom conceals it.”

During the past ten years, the political unrest of those who believed in Ireland’s right to govern itself had fueled an atmosphere of growing intolerance. Rumors of conspiracies were everywhere, and the people found it difficult to separate prejudice from reason. Especially, now, after a recent spate of terrorist activities, including a recently foiled attempt on the Prince of Wales’s life.

“The man is neither respectable nor gainfully employed,” Garrett continued. “He’s also sneaky, violent, and apparently as randy as a stoat. I can’t possibly be attracted to him.”

“Attraction isn’t something one chooses,” Helen mused. “It’s a kind of magnetism. An irresistible force.”

“I will not be held hostage by invisible forces.”

Helen regarded her with a sympathetic smile. “This reminds me a bit of what you told me after Pandora was injured in the street attack. You said she’d received a shock to her entire nervous system. I think Mr. Ransom has been a shock to your system. Among other things, I think he’s made you realize that you might be a bit lonely.”

Garrett, who had always taken pride in her self-sufficiency, shot her an indignant glance. “Impossible. How could I be lonely when I have you and my other friends, my father, Dr. Havelock, my patients—”

“I meant a different kind of loneliness.”

Garrett scowled. “I’m not some dewy-eyed girl with a head full of spun sugar. I should hope I’m more high-minded than that.”

“Even a high-minded woman can appreciate a fine pair of . . . what did you call them? Quadriceps?”

One could hardly miss the sly teasing in Helen’s demure tone. Taking refuge in dignified silence, Garrett drained another cup of tea while a waitress came to the table with little glass cups of lemon sorbet.

Helen waited until after the waitress had departed before saying, “Hear me out before you refuse: I want very much to introduce you to my cousin West. He’ll be in town for a fortnight. You didn’t meet him the last time he was here to see Pandora. We’ll all have dinner at Ravenel House one evening.”

“No. I beg you, Helen, do not put me—or your cousin—through such pointless torture.”

“West is very handsome,” Helen persisted. “Dark-haired, blue-eyed, and charming. I’m positive you’ll like each other. After a few minutes in his company, you’ll forget all about Mr. Ransom.”

“Even in the unlikely event that Mr. Ravenel and I formed an attachment, it would never work. I can’t live in the country.” Garrett tried a spoonful of sorbet, letting the tart, sugary frost dissolve into a cold flood on her tongue. “Among other things, I’m afraid of cows.”

“Because of their size?” Helen asked sympathetically.

“No, it’s the way they stare. As if they’re plotting something.”

Helen chuckled. “I promise, when you come to visit Eversby Priory someday, all scheming cows will be kept out of sight. And as far as living in the country is concerned, West may be willing to move back to London. He’s a man of many interests and talents. Oh, do say you’ll at least meet him!”

“I’ll consider it,” Garrett said reluctantly.

“Thank you, that sets my mind at ease.” A new, serious note entered Helen’s voice. “Because I fear there’s a very good reason Mr. Ransom has decided to stay away from you.”

Garrett looked at her alertly. “What is it?”

Helen frowned, seeming to debate something within her mind before continuing. “I know some information about Mr. Ransom. I’m not at liberty to relay all of it, but there’s something you should be made aware of.”

Garrett waited with forced patience while Helen glanced around to make certain no one was approaching the alcove.

“It has to do with that incident at the Guildhall last month,” Helen said softly. “You’ll recall that Pandora and Lord St. Vincent attended the reception.”

Garrett nodded, having heard from Pandora herself about how a loose plank had led to the discovery that bombs had been laid beneath the floor. Within a few minutes, the panicked crowd had rapidly fled the building. Fortunately, the explosive devices had been dismantled before they could be detonated. No arrests had been made in connection to the plot, but it had been blamed on a small group of radical Irish nationalists.

“One of the reception guests passed away that night,” Helen continued. “An undersecretary from the Home Office, Mr. Nash Prescott.”

Garrett nodded. “As I recall from the account in the Times, he had a weak heart. In the midst of all the alarm and confusion, he experienced a fatal cardiac seizure.”

“That’s the official story,” Helen said. “But Lord St. Vincent told Mr. Winterborne privately that Mr. Prescott had known about the bomb plot in advance. And it was none other than Mr. Ransom who found Mr. Prescott’s body, not far from the Guildhall grounds.” She paused. “After having given chase to him.”

“Ransom chased him from the reception?” Garrett looked at her sharply. “Believe me, no one in the middle of a cardiac event would be running anywhere.”

“Exactly.” Helen hesitated. “No one knows for certain what caused Mr. Prescott’s death. However, it’s possible that Mr. Ransom . . .” Her voice trailed away, the suspicion too terrible to be uttered out loud.

“Why would he do that?” Garrett asked after a long moment. “Do you think he may be on the side of the conspirators?”

“No one knows what side he’s on. But he’s not a man you should have anything to do with.” Helen gave her a worried, affectionate look. “My husband has a saying about risk taking: ‘God is good—but never dance in a small boat.’”

The cloud of gloom that Helen’s information had cast over Garrett was not helped the following day when her father waved the latest copy of the Police Gazette beneath her nose, asking pointedly, “What do you make of this, daughter?”

Frowning, Garrett took the newspaper from him, her gaze skimming rapidly over the page.

On Wednesday night, the King’s Cross Court holding jail was broken and entered by an unseen intruder, who proceeded to attack a cell of three prisoners. The victims are soldiers in Her Majesty’s 9th Regiment of Foot, confined on charges of assault against a lady whose person has not been publicly identified. The intruder escaped before he could be apprehended. All three soldiers will remain in custody without chance of bail until their future appearance at the assizes. Any person giving information to W. Cross, Chief Constable, leading to the apprehension of the unknown offender shall, on his conviction, receive ten pounds reward.

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