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Authors: Donna Fletcher

Tags: #Historical Romance, #19th century

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BOOK: Rebellious Bride
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“Who?”

“That Jonathan fella that works for Lord Sherborn. The lord had an accident, and he’s bleeding. Don’t look real bad to me. Might need a few stitches, but I can’t say it’s a mortal wound. Jonathan told me to make certain I brought the doc back real fast or I’d be out of a job.”

“I can see to Lord Sherborn’s injury,” Lil said secure with her medical ability, but not optimistic about Lord Sherborn’s response to her treating him.

The cowhand took a step back and shook his head slowly. “I don’t know, ma’am.”

“Suit yourself. Tell this Jonathan that Doc Talbert won’t be available for another day or two, so he must see to Lord Sherborn himself.”

The cowhand started to sweat and wiped at his brow.

“That’s not a good idea, ma’am. I think maybe I better bring you back with me and let Jonathan decide what to do.”

“Sounds sensible. I just need to get my medical bag. Do you see that boy about five buildings down, holding the dog?” Lil asked, pointing in that direction. “Tell him Lil needs him to run an errand.”

The cowhand took off to get Billy while Lil reentered the office and quickly gathered the supplies she felt would be necessary to care for Lord Sherborn. The thought that he might refuse to allow her to treat him did cross her mind. But on other occasions she had dealt with people who doubted her ability, and she had handled them. She would handle Lord Sherborn and this Jonathan fellow.

Billy ran happily down the street with the note for Holly in his hand as well as a coin from Lil for running the errand, while Lil climbed into the buckboard the cowhand had driven to town.

It took only minutes to get up to the house on the hill. She climbed down from the wagon and ran up the veranda steps. The front door flew open, and her passage was blocked by a thin, distinguished-looking man impeccably dressed in a suit that Lil felt appropriate for a fancy ball.

“Excuse me, madam,” Jonathan said, holding up his hand to bar her entrance. “But I requested the doctor, not the birthing woman.”

Lil found his formal and stuffy manner amusing, but she had no time to take delight in it. “Doc Talbert will be unavailable for at least another day. I’m his assistant, Lil. I’m sure I can be of help.”

Jonathan was adamant in his refusal. “I fear not, madam. Lord Sherborn has sustained a deep wound to his thigh that possibly will require stitching. Although I am certain you are skillful with a needle, it would be most inappropriate for you to tend to him in such a personal fashion.”

Lil nodded with a smile. “As you wish.” She was about to turn to leave when she paused. “I should warn you that infection will set in if the wound is left unattended, and of course you must watch out for fever. Then, if the leg isn’t properly treated, there’s always the chance that it will have to be sawed off. Perhaps the best thing for me to do when I get to town...” Lil allowed her words to trail off and nodded again as though in agreement with herself. “Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll send the undertaker out to see you tomorrow. Good day and my best to Lord Sherborn.”

Before she could take another step, Jonathan spoke.

“Perhaps it would be wise if you ascertained Lord Sherborn’s condition for yourself.”

“I’d be happy to do that,” Lil said and marched toward Jonathan with purposeful steps, causing the manservant to back out of her way.

“Follow me,” Jonathan said once inside the house.

Lil was amazed how the man could walk as though looking straight ahead yet keep one eye focused on her to see her reaction to her surroundings. Her lack of curiosity obviously disturbed him, causing his head to turn more than hers, since she didn’t glance about, but fixed her eyes straight ahead on him. Her only interest was in her patient.

Jonathan stopped at the second door on the right as they turned down a long hall. He spoke in a hushed tone while his hand remained firm on the knob. “Lord Sherborn is...” Jonathan couldn’t seem to speak. His neck beneath his white starched collar began to turn bright red, the infusing color rushing up to brighten his otherwise pale cheeks. “Lord Sherborn has been made comfortable and prepared for the doctor’s visit. He is in an extreme state of... undress.”

Lil hid the smile that ached to slip out. “I can assure you that I am accustomed to dealing with men in various states of undress.”

Jonathan’s obvious disapproval of her unladylike work was apparent in his expression. “I’m sure you are, but this is Lord Sherborn we are discussing.”

Lil raised one eyebrow in question. “He is a man, isn’t he?”

Jonathan’s entire face grew scarlet, and his nostrils flared.”Yes, madam, he is a man.”

“Then I should have no problem. I am quite familiar with the male anatomy.” Lil didn’t mean that statement to sound as intimate as it did, but she was annoyed at valuable time being wasted over such petty nonsense.

“You’ve made yourself perfectly clear,” Jonathan said.

His refusal to address her as “madam” wasn’t lost on Lil, but she didn’t particularly care. What she did care about was Rolfe’s condition. She signaled Jonathan with a wave of her hand to open the door, and an irritated Jonathan did as directed.

Lil entered the room with a determined flourish. She expected to see a huge four-poster bed with heavy curtains so typical of English aristocrats. At least, so she assumed from her reading. Instead she found a large brass bed more customary to the West.

Her attention was immediately drawn to the spread-eagled man on the bed. He was devoid of clothing except for a wide white towel that covered his private parts. His head was cushioned by several white pillows, and his eyes were closed. His face was pale, though not alarmingly so, and showed the strain and discomfort of his predicament.

Her eyes drifted over his chest, broad and much fuller in muscle tone than she had first thought. His arm muscles were thick, his hands large and strong as they lay still on his flat midriff. He was much more of a man than she had given him credit for.

Her interest in his anatomy quickly vanished when she caught sight of his thigh. It was propped up on thick white towels that were now soaked with blood. Without blinking an eye Lil rushed to his side.

“Sir?” Jonathan’s voice roused the slumbering lord.

Rolfe lifted his head slightly and caught Lil’s eye. “What the bloody hell are you doing here?”

“I’m glad to see you too, Rolfe,” Lil said sweetly and put her medical satchel down on a nearby table.

Rolfe turned his attention to Jonathan. “Get her out of here. Now!”

“But, sir—”

“I said now, Jonathan!”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Lil insisted.

Rolfe focused his most intimidating look on Lil. It didn’t budge her. It actually stiffened her resolve.

“Childish petulance will get you nowhere,” she warned him as she opened her satchel. “Jonathan, bring me some hot water, soap, and clean towels.”

“I will wait for the real doctor to tend to me,” Rolfe said, sending her another glare.

With a wave of her hand, Lil gestured for Jonathan to do as she directed. “Nonsense. Doc Talbert isn’t available and won’t be for some time. You’re stuck with me.”

Rolfe dropped his head back onto the pillows and moaned.

Jonathan returned in minutes with the items she had requested. She took a clean white apron from her satchel, put it on, and tied the strings behind her back, then rolled up her sleeves and washed her hands. “Tell me what happened.”

Rolfe ignored her request.

“He took a fall from a horse, and a piece of wood tore a gash in his leg,” Jonathan offered.

The manservant’s explanation came quickly, and Lil noticed his expression had changed to one of extreme concern for Rolfe, which meant that Rolfe’s condition must have appeared to worsen, and the servant was deeply worried.

“Have all the slivers of wood been removed from the wound?” she asked, approaching the bed as she dried her hands.

Rolfe sat up, causing the towel to dip dangerously low and display the dark curly hair that lay a few inches below his belly.

Lil ignored the intimacy of the situation. She had seen almost naked men before, although never such a fine specimen of a man as Rolfe appeared to be.

“I was waiting for the
doctor
to assure me that all of the splinters had been removed,” Rolfe said, emphasizing the word “doctor.”

“Fine. I’ll make certain none remain,” Lil said with confidence and reached out to examine the wound.

Rolfe’s hand moved so fast Lil didn’t even see it coming, nor did she realize he had grabbed her wrist until she felt the strength of his grip. His fingers were firm and locked completely around her wrist.

His actions did not intimidate her, at least that was what she told herself while her heart thudded in her chest. “I am quite capable of tending to your wound,” she said softly, assuming he felt her skills inadequate.

Rolfe found his own heart hammering. This small, brash woman could not actually believe he would allow her to tend to such a personal matter. Why, she shouldn’t even be in his room while he was in a state of undress. Her eyes should have been shyly cast down in distress at his nakedness. Her behavior was not at all proper.

“I will wait for the doctor. You have no business being here.”

Lil attempted to ignore his powerful grip. “This, Lord Sherborn, is the West, not England, where propriety is everything. Here, day to day survival is the most important consideration. And if survival means a woman tending to a naked man, then so be it. Now can you adapt to our customs, or will your sense of propriety allow you to die?”

“You have a fiery tongue, Lillian,” Rolfe said, although he didn’t add his other opinion of her—that she was witty and intelligent.

“So will you bleed to death or will you release my wrist?”

Jonathan stepped forward. “Sir, perhaps—”

It wasn’t necessary for Jonathan to finish. Rolfe released Lil’s wrist and dropped back against the pillows, his face growing even paler from the exertion.

“Bloody hell, do what you will,” Rolfe relented reluctantly.

Lil usually felt compassion for the patients she treated, her heart often going out to them in their time of pain and uncertainty. But at the moment her emotions were foreign to her. She experienced an ache so strong that she thought she herself had suffered the injury to her leg. It was strange and a bit unnerving.

Her hands did not shake in betrayal of her nervousness, and once she touched his leg and the initial shock of feeling its warmth and strength passed, she proceeded with her duties as efficiently as usual.

Her examination was gentle as she probed the three-inch long gash, and her voice was soothing as she informed him of her intentions. “I’m going to cleanse the wound and check for splinters.”

Rolfe didn’t respond. He remained perfectly still with his eyes closed.

Jonathan stepped forward. “If I can be of assistance madam...”

Lil smiled, pleased that the manservant’s regard of her as a lady had been reinstated by his referral to her once again as “madam.” “Thank you, Jonathan. Right now your help isn’t necessary. If it is, I will gladly seek it.”

Jonathan stepped back, watched, and waited.

Lil spent several minutes cleansing the wound. Rolfe remained still, but that was no surprise to Lil. She had been told on many occasions that her touch was so light it could hardly be felt.

She signaled to Jonathan. “Could you help me remove these towels from beneath his leg?”

Jonathan hurried to her side. “You’ll need fresh ones.”

“Several fresh ones,” Lil added. “This wound will need stitches, then bandaging, and I’ll need to replace the towels often.”

Rolfe raised his head and with what Lil could have sworn was a hint of humor said, “You will sew nice neat stitches, won’t you?”

Not thinking of how her reaction would affect Rolfe, Lil placed her hand on his naked chest and patted it gently.

“Don’t worry. I sew the neatest and most skillful stitches in all of Little.”

Rolfe barely heard her words. The intimacy of her touch to someone who was not her husband shocked him speechless. He once again dropped his head back on the pillows. This time he took a deep breath, attempting to chase away the lingering warmth the imprint of her hand had left on him.

Nonsense.
This all was complete nonsense. The loss of blood was causing him to suffer delusions. Her touch felt good because he had willingly placed himself in her care. Besides, she was merely comforting him in his time of need.

It had nothing to do with that fiery gold hair of hers, or the way her full breasts strained her apron bib, or the way the apron strings were wrapped twice around her tiny waist. He was delirious, pure and simple, and that was all there was to that.

Lil hadn’t given a second thought to the intimate touch. She had simply offered him comfort—not that his naked flesh hadn’t felt good. It was warm, though, and she was concerned about fever setting in, the only reasonable explanation for the intense heat of his body.

Lil prepared the needle while Jonathan arranged his lord’s leg on clean towels. Then Lil washed her hands again in clean water and took up her needle after drying them thoroughly.

“Jonathan, will you hold his lordship’s leg still?”

Rolfe’s head shot up, not only from being unaccustomed to hearing her refer to him as “his lordship” but also by her suggestion that he wasn’t man enough to withstand the pain of a few stitches. “That won’t be necessary, Lillian.”

“Are you certain about that?” Lil asked doubtfully.

“Your leg must remain immobile while I work.”

If she’d been a man, he would have strangled her for impugning his character that way. Why, the woman was audacious beyond measure. “Stitch it!” he ordered in his most authoritative tone.

“Suit yourself,” Lil said and motioned Jonathan to stand nearby.

Lil was not only gentle but fast. That was the main reason everyone in Little sought her out when there was stitching to be done. Some claimed she was so fast that they didn’t feel a thing.

And that, to Rolfe’s pleasant surprise, was what he experienced.

“Now all I need to do is bandage it up,” Lil announced.

BOOK: Rebellious Bride
4.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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