Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4) - Lisa Kleypas Page 0,1

she observed coldly, her pulse thundering. “That, added to the offenses of public drunkenness and rape, will earn you a flogging and at least ten years in prison.”

“Then behap I’ll cut out yer tongue, so ye won’t tell anyone,” he sneered.

Garrett didn’t doubt that he would. As the daughter of a former constable, she knew that pulling out a knife meant it was likely he would use it on her. More than once in the past, she had stitched up the slashed cheek or forehead of a woman whose rapist had wanted to give her “something to remember me by.”

“Keech,” the younger man said to him, “there’s no need to terrify the poor girl.” Turning to Garrett, he added, “Let us do what we want.” He paused. “It’ll go easier on you if you don’t fight.”

Taking strength from a surge of anger, Garrett recalled her father’s advice about handling confrontation. Maintain your distance. Avoid being flanked. Talk and distract while you choose your moment.

“Why force an unwilling woman?” she asked, carefully setting down her doctor’s bag. “If it’s for lack of coin, I’ll give you shillings enough to visit a brothel.” Surreptitiously her hand dipped into the outer pocket of the bag, where she kept a leather roll of surgical knives. Her fingers closed around a slim silver handle of a scalpel, and she deftly concealed it from view as she stood. The familiar delicate weight of the instrument comforted her.

In the periphery of her vision, Garrett saw the stout soldier with the bayonet knife circling around her.

At the same time, the hatchet-faced man began to close the distance between them. “We’ll take those shillings,” he assured her. “But first we’ll make use of ye.”

Garrett adjusted her grip on the scalpel, resting her thumb on the flat side of the handle. Gently she applied the tip of her index finger along the blade’s spine. Make use of this, she thought. After drawing her hand back, she released the scalpel in a slinging motion, snapping her wrist straight to ensure no spin. The wickedly sharp little blade sank into his cheek. He roared with astonished fury, stopping in his tracks. Without pausing, Garrett pivoted around to the soldier with the bayonet knife. Whipping her cane in a horizontal forehand strike, she smashed it against his right wrist. Taken by surprise, he cried out in pain and dropped the knife. Garrett followed the blow with a backhand strike against his left side and heard a rib crack. She jabbed the tip of the cane at his groin to make him double over, and finished him off with an upward vertical strike of the handle against his chin.

He sank to the ground like an undercooked soufflé.

Garrett snatched up the bayonet knife and spun to face the other two soldiers.

In the next moment she froze in surprise, her chest rising and falling rapidly.

The street was silent.

Both men were sprawled on the ground.

Was this a trick? Were they pretending to be unconscious, to lure her closer?

She was filled with quivery, nerve-jangling energy, her body slow to recognize that the emergency was over. Slowly she ventured forward to have a closer look at the fallen men, taking care to stay out of arm’s reach. Although her scalpel had left a bloody wound in the larger one’s cheek, that wouldn’t have been enough to render him unconscious. There was a red mark on his temple that appeared to have been caused by blunt force.

Her attention went to the younger soldier, whose nose was streaming blood and had almost certainly been broken.

“What the devil . . . ?” Garrett murmured, looking up and down the silent street. She had that feeling again, the prickly awareness that someone was there. There had to be. Obviously these two soldiers hadn’t knocked themselves to the ground. “Come out and show yourself,” she said aloud to the unseen presence, although she felt a bit foolish. “There’s no need to lurk like a rat at the back of the cupboard. I know you’ve been following me for weeks.”

A masculine voice came from a direction she couldn’t detect, nearly causing her to jump out of her sensible shoes.

“Only on Tuesdays.”

Garrett turned a quick circle, her gaze chasing over the scene. Seeing a flicker of movement at one of the tenement doorways, she gripped the bayonet knife handle more firmly.

A stranger emerged from the shadows, cool darkness spun into the form of a man. He was tall and well-proportioned, his athletic form clad in a