The slender young highwayman who held up Lord Raven's coach was shocked to discover he had made a terrible mistake. He turned and fled, but not before Lord Raven had put a bullet in his shoulder. It was then Raven's turn to be shocked. For the wounded highwayman turned out to be a beautiful young woman, the kind of woman the rakish Raven had been seeking all his life--Lady Tara. It was some time before Lady Tara could tell Raven the truth about this frightening masquerade. But when she did, she plunged them both into a dangerous mission that was to change their lives....
He stood frozen at the entrance.
“Is this the young ‘man’ I shot?” he asked John brusquely. John nodded. Raven, his eyes ablaze with fury, held himself in check as he looked at the wounded girl.
Although covered by a sheet, it was easy to see she was naked under it. Brilliant red hair, framing her face, accentuated the pallor of her skin. Her mouth was parted, exposing perfect white teeth, and her soft moans, barely audible, were nonetheless unnerving.
He looked at the two men and saw them silently begging him to take command. His gaze returned to the bed. He nodded briefly. In three quick strides he was by the bed. He felt her pulse. It was weaker than before and too rapid. Her breathing was rasping and obviously painful. Blood was slowly oozing out of the wound, causing an ever-widening stain on the sheet. Raven smelt the fear in the air and realized that both men were on the borderline of breaking. Knowing from years of campaign experience that a gentle authority was needed at a time like this, he shook off his anger and quietly and matter-of-factly said, “Pass me that bowl of water, John, so I can wash my hands.”
He looked down at the unconscious form and knew a moment of fear himself. His heart quickened, as it always did when he went into battle. One thing he knew, he was going to fight the Devil himself for her life, whoever she was.
Washing his hands he asked Timbs with studied care, “Is the bullet out?”
Both men nodded, happy to respond to a voice of authority. Timbs said shakily, “It looks as though an artery ’as been severed. I’ve never seen so much blood.”
“No, I do not think anything of the kind has happened,” Raven answered. He eased back the sheet, exposing a breast, crimson-streaked with blood. The maleness in him responded to the deadly beauty. Never had he dealt with a woman in such circumstances. He inhaled deeply and forced himself to think of his task and nothing else. Even so, his fingers trembled slightly as he gently probed the open wound. Again he steeled himself and thankfully felt his control return.
“As long as the bullet is out,” he said, “I will try to stem the bleeding and clean up the wound.” Without looking up, he continued, “Annie, hand me the bottle. Then run and fetch your largest needle, the strongest thread, and your sharpest scissors. I may be able to sew it up so the scar will not be too noticeable.”
He took the brandy and poured some into the wound, slopping more onto a bandage. The girl moaned, and her eyelids flickered briefly. “Hold her still,” Raven ordered John.
Annie returned, her ample bosom heaving as if she was unused to such exertion. “I’ve got the needle, m’lord,” she said breathlessly.
“Good!” Raven responded. “Timbs, make sure it is clean. Light a match and draw it through the flame. Be sure you do not touch the part you have cleaned except with a piece of bandage. Then thread it for me, and have the scissors at the ready.”
The girl’s breathing was more labored now. Fear gripped Annie, and she cried out, “Will she live, sir? Please say yes. Oh! Lord, please don’t let ’er go.” Tears welled up in her eyes and trickled down her fat red cheeks.
“Come, come,” Timbs said gruffly, briefly patting her on the back. “Pull yourself together, there’s a good lass. We can’t be coping with two emergencies. This gentleman knows what ’e’s doing, that’s for sure. Now give me the needle, and bring us another bowl of water.”
Sweat gathered on Raven’s brow, forming a droplet that started to roll down his nose. “Someone, wipe my brow,” he ordered. Timbs obliged.
Raven worked swiftly, swabbing the wound. The pile of reddened bandages at his feet grew. The girl was growing restless, and John was experiencing some difficulty in holding her steady. “Not much longer, now,” Raven said soothingly, just in case she could hear. “I have nearly finished. The needle, please, Timbs. Annie, stand by with the brandy, and if this young lady comes to, give her a large, unladylike swig. My sewing may hurt, but that will do the trick.”
Twenty minutes later, the four people in the room straightened up and looked at each other in relief.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Raven said. He wiped the back of one bloody hand over his brow and massaged his neck with the other. “If we get through this night, we might win. Around-the-clock nursing is needed, and it can only be done by the three of you. Otherwise this young lady will have been compromised beyond redemption.”
A stunned silence followed as the other three realized the full implication of his remark.
“I suggest we leave Annie here for the moment,” he continued, “and I will meet you two in the tap room in ten minutes. If we are to succeed in pulling ourselves out of this mess, we must treat it as an army campaign…. And, as self-appointed commander, I need to know all the facts before I formalize a plan.”
“Yes, m’lord,” they replied in unison, not daring to look at one another.