There's Something About Lady Mary Part 24

"Is that why you ran?" His question was only a faint murmur, spoken on a breath of air. The look in his eyes told her that her answer was of the utmost importance to him.

Unable to speak for fear that she might burst into tears, she nodded her response.

"Mary," he told her seriously as he reached for her hand and held it in his, "I know I have been angry with you in the past for carrying on the way you did, but you must believe me when I tell you that I would never allow a malicious lie, posted in the Mayfair Chronicle by a venomous woman, to come between us."

"It is not all lies, Ryan; you know that." The tears were already beginning to flow-it was beyond her power to stop them.

"I know," he said softly. "But by tomorrow morning, London won't know that, though I daresay that Lady Stephanie will have a great deal to answer for; from what I understand, Lady Warwick was quite livid." He paused for a moment. "I also wanted you to know that your father's journals have been recovered-all ten of them."

Mary gasped as she choked back a sob, her hands trembling as they covered her face. Thank G.o.d. When she raised her head again, Ryan was looking her straight in the eye. "I have seen you work, Mary; you are by far the most skilled physician and surgeon that I have ever met. I know that I was against it to begin with, but I must admit that it would be a crime to force you to give up your practice.

"However, you must understand that you cannot continue to break the law. Practicing without a license, especially since you are a woman. . .it could have dire consequences, and I just don't wish for us to live with that kind of constant worry."

"I know," she said softly.

"That said, my suggestion to build that hospital we were talking about still stands. You could have an incredible influence on medicine this way." He paused, regarding her with all the love he felt for her. h.e.l.l, he would move heaven and earth if it would only make her happy. "And I promise that I will use my connections to the best of my abilities to obtain the permission we need for you to practice as a surgeon. Now, I cannot guarantee anything-"

He never got a chance to finish. She was suddenly on the floor with him, her arms about his neck, and she was kissing him as though her life depended on it.

"I. . .ahem. . .I think I will go and see if the housekeeper has gotten our baths ready," William muttered as he strode away with squelching boots.

"Mary," Ryan eventually said and grinned, easing slightly away from her. "I didn't finish my proposal."

Mary's eyes swam with merriment, and her lips edged upward into a warm smile. She didn't say anything, however; she just waited with what little patience she possessed for him to proceed.

He pulled a small velvet box out of his pocket and opened it. "Mary Croyden, Marchioness of Steepleton and the finest surgeon I have ever known, I love you more than words can say. Would you do me the tremendous honor of becoming my wife?"

"You might be an oaf," she said, laughing, "but you are my oaf, and I love you. So yes, a thousand times, yes."

"Do you know, you are quite outspoken for a little gnome," he chuckled as he slipped the ring onto her finger. "But I must admit that it is one of your finest qualities; I wouldn't have it any other way." And to prove it, he pulled her back in his arms and kissed her so thoroughly that she was sure never to forget it.

AUTHOR'S NOTE

My knowledge pertaining to nineteenth-century medicine was greatly improved during the course of writing this novel. What probably surprised me the most was discovering that oftentimes, the key to curing an ailment already existed, but that opening people's eyes to it could be an impossible undertaking.

Take William Buchan (17291805), for instance, whom Mary refers to on numerous occasions throughout the novel. When I was trying to find out when people initially became aware of the importance of hand washing and other antiseptic procedures, Ignaz Semmelweis (18181865), a Hungarian physician who demonstrated that the contagion of puerperal fever could be drastically reduced by routine hand washing, kept popping up. He made this discovery in 1847, and even then he failed to convince the rest of the medical community of the importance of his findings. But since 1847 didn't suit the period in which the story is set (namely, 1816), I decided to dig a little deeper until, lo and behold, William Buchan eventually surfaced, though he was by no means easy to find. His book Domestic Medicine was written in 1769, almost 100 years before Semmelweis made his claim, and in it he writes that "were every person, for example, after visiting the sick, handling a dead body, or touching anything that might convey infection, to wash before he went into company, or sat down to meat, he would run less hazard either of catching the infection himself, or of communicating it to others."

In my opinion, this strongly suggests that the importance of cleanliness was known, even if the vast majority of people (including the medical community) were too stubborn to pay heed to the benefits.

At another point in the story, Mary's uncle Alistair mentions a sarcoma on his leg, which Mary hopes to cure by provoking an immune response to bacteria, a method she claims to have read about in her father's notes. Spontaneous regression for the cure of tumors did grow in popularity toward the end of the eighteenth century, though with varied amounts of success. In 1783 a Czech physician by the name of Wenzel Trnka von Krzowitz (17391791) observed the complete remission of breast cancer in a patient after the patient developed tertian malaria. Other physicians around that time noted similar cases and began encouraging fevers and inflammations in their patients through a number of different methods, discovering that the cancers would often regress after a few weeks. An actual treatment plan was eventually developed by Dr. William Coley (18621936).

In addition to these interesting facts, I was surprised to learn that ether was discovered roughly 200 years before it was ever used during surgery, and that the famous surgeon Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (9361013) not only performed operations for the removal of cataracts, but also invented a wide variety of surgical tools that have inspired many of the ones being used today.

For more information about this and other historical facts pertaining to my novels, please feel free to visit my research page at www.sophiebarnes.com.

Thank you so much for joining me on my adventures!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.

So much work went into this book that I often found myself overwhelmed by all the detail, yet through it all, my husband never stopped encouraging me to keep on going. Thank you so much for your love and support-I'd be lost without it.

Monica, Vicky and Laura-When I asked for a favor, you were instantly there to help me out. Thank you so much for reading the draft of this book, for offering me advice on how to improve it, and for being such wonderful friends!

A big thank you to the rest of my family and friends for reading my previous books-I know you felt obligated, so I really appreciate your efforts (especially yours, Dad).

To my wonderful editor, Esi and the rest of the Avon Books team-thank you so much for your incredible a.s.sistance. It's a pleasure working with all of you!

And as always, a HUGE thank you to you, dear reader, for not only buying my book, but for making it all the way to the acknowledgments!

Dying to know if Lord William will finally meet his match?

Keep reading for an excerpt from

THE SECRET LIFE OF LADY LUCINDA.

Available November 2012 And don't miss these previous books by

Sophie Barnes

LADY ALEXANDRA'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and HOW MISS RUTHERFORD GOT HER GROOVE BACK.

Available now An Excerpt from THE SECRET LIFE OF LADY LUCINDA.

London, 1817 William Summersby stared into the darkness that surrounded the terrace of Trenton House. He'd stepped outside with his father in order to escape the squeeze inside the ballroom. Taking a sip from the gla.s.s of Champagne in his hand, he shot a quick glance in his father's direction. "I've made up my mind, Papa."

Bryce said nothing in response to this, but merely waited for his son to continue, the cigar he held in his hand seemingly forgotten for the moment.

"I've decided to marry."

"Oh?" His father's surprise was clear. "I suppose you must have some candidates in mind then?"

William turned away from the darkness to face his father, knowing that what he was about to say would probably be met with disapproval. "I have done far better than that, Papa. In fact, I have already proposed." He paused for a moment, allowing his father to digest this surprising piece of news. "It may please you to know that the lady in question has accepted, and that we hope to marry before the year is out."

"I. . .er. . .I see," his father muttered in a half-choked tone that did little to conceal how astonished he was. "I always imagined that you would consult me first when it came to choosing a bride. However, you're grown, undoubtedly capable of making such a decision on your own. What, if I may ask, is the name of the lady who has so suddenly captured your heart, William?"

"Lady Annabelle-Lord and Lady Forthright's daughter, if you recall."

An immediate frown appeared on his father's forehead. "Yes, I know her well enough, though it did not occur to me that you were so well acquainted with her."

William merely shrugged. "I'm hardly getting any younger, you know. It's bad enough that both of my siblings are now married. I'm your heir, and as such, I have a certain responsibility."

His father's frown deepened. "You aren't even thirty years of age."

"Perhaps not, but I've attended enough social gatherings by now to have met all the eligible young ladies available, and I am forced to admit that not one has made my heart beat faster. Thus, my decision has been based on logic. Lady Annabelle will make a most agreeable wife. She is from a very respectable family, she has a level head on her shoulders, and I daresay that her looks suggest that our children shall not be lacking in physical attributes."

Bryce stared back at his son with sad eyes. "I always hoped that you would marry for love, William. I was fortunate enough to do so, and it is quite clear that Alexandra and Ryan were as well."

"We can't all be that lucky, Papa. First comes duty, however unfortunate that may be. But I will not run from it. I've tried long and hard to make a match that would put Romeo and Juliet's love to shame but with no success. I see no point in wasting any more time. Lady Annabelle will suffice. She's quite pleasant, really."

"Well, if your mind is made up, then the least I can hope for is that you might, in time, find more appropriate words with which to describe your bride. 'Most agreeable' and 'quite pleasant' are rather lacking, if you ask me. And don't forget that if you both live long and healthy lives, you will be stuck with one another. Do you really wish to spend the remainder of your days with a woman who merely suffices?"

William let out a lengthy sigh. He'd always longed for the sort of happiness his father and mother had shared, but as time pa.s.sed, he'd gradually been forced to acknowledge that he would be denied that sort of marriage. The woman he longed for didn't exist. "There's no one else. Besides, I've already proposed, and she has accepted. It would be badly done if I were to go back on my word now."

"Perhaps." His father patted him roughly on his shoulder. "But whatever you do, you have my full support. I hope you know that."

Lucy Blackwell's gaze swept across the ballroom, like a hawk seeking out its prey. She'd barely made it through the door before finding herself a.s.saulted by a h.o.a.rd of young gentlemen, all wishing to know her name and why they'd never seen or heard of her before. She'd favored each of them with a faint smile but had otherwise done little to enlighten them. She wasn't there to elaborate on her pedigree in the hopes that one of those young gentlemen might find her eligible enough to merit a courtship. No, she'd done her research as meticulously as any detective, and consequently, she already knew whom she planned to marry. All she had to do now was make his acquaintance.

Moving forward, she slowly made her way around the periphery of the room until she found her path blocked by a small gathering of women who appeared to be quite caught up in whatever subject it was that they were discussing. Lucy was just about to squeeze past them when one of these ladies, a lovely blonde with bright blue eyes, stopped her. "Please excuse my ignorance," the woman said, "but I don't believe that you and I have been formally introduced."

Lucy stared back at her, making an admirable attempt to hide her annoyance. How many people would delay her this evening?

"I am the Countess of Trenton, and these ladies who are presently in my company are the Marchioness of Steepleton and my sister-in-law, Lady Ca.s.sandra."

"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintances," Lucy told them, managing an even broader smile at the realization that the woman before her was not only her hostess, but also Lord Summersby's sister. "My name is Lucy Blackwell. I am Lady Ridgewood's ward."

"I had no idea that she had a ward," Lady Trenton said, looking to her companions as if to see if either of them had ever heard of such a thing. Both ladies shook their heads.

"As you may know, Lady Ridgewood favors the country," Lucy told them by way of explanation. "And since I have only recently turned eighteen, there hasn't been much reason for us to come to London until now. But her ladyship has most graciously agreed to grant me a season, so here I am."

"And not a moment too soon," Lady Ca.s.sandra blurted out. "One can never start scouring the ma.s.ses quickly enough. Finding a good match can often take more than one season." She followed her statement with a nervous giggle, which led Lucy to believe that Lady Ca.s.sandra had probably been on the marriage mart for some time.

Lucy responded with an awkward smile. "I daresay that I hope it won't take more than this one."

"Have you perhaps set your sights on someone already?" the marchioness asked with a great deal of curiosity as she moved a little closer.

"I was practically stampeded on my way in here," Lucy remarked, unwilling to divulge any important details to these women, for fear that they might sabotage her plan. "Surely there must be a potential husband among them."

All three women nodded in agreement.

"But for now, I am actually searching for a certain Lord Summersby, for he and I are meant to dance the next set together, and with the crowd being as dense as it is, I'm finding it rather difficult to seek him out."

Lady Trenton served her a bright smile. "I would be delighted to be of service. Are you not aware that he is my brother?"

"Forgive me, my lady, but I really had no idea." It was a small lie perhaps, but one that Lucy deemed necessary.

"Well, he most certainly is. And if I am not entirely mistaken, I saw him not too long ago on the terrace with our father. Come; I will take you to him directly."

"That is most kind of you, my lady, but really quite unnecessary. I should hate to impose."

"First of all," Lady Trenton began, linking her arm with Lucy's, "you shall call me Alexandra from now on, for I am quite certain that the two of us shall be wonderful friends. Second of all, it is no imposition at all."

Lucy could think of nothing more to say. She was quite certain that she and Alexandra would be far from friends once she put her plan into motion, but she couldn't help but admit that she did need her, if for no other reason than to lead her to the right man.

"Shame on you, William," Alexandra teased moments later as she stepped out onto the terrace with Lucy in tow. "It seems that you've quite forgotten your dance partner-a bit out of character for you and rather ungentlemanly, I might add."

If Alexandra continued speaking, Lucy found it impossible to focus on what it was she was saying, for the man who presently turned toward her, the very one she planned to ensnare, would undoubtedly be capable of taking her breath away ten times over. In short, he was the most perfect, the most handsome, the most memorable of any man she'd ever set eyes upon before. That Mother Nature had taken it upon herself to create such a fine specimen must surely be a crime against all the other poor creatures who'd have to walk in his shadow. She drew a sharp breath.

"Lucy?" a distant voice from a far-off place seemed to ask.

Lucy's first instinct was to ignore it, but then she felt Alexandra's hand tugging gently on her arm, hurtling her with startling force right back to reality. "Hm?" She couldn't for the life of her imagine what she might be expected to say, much less overlook the puzzled expression on Lord Summersby's face.

"I don't believe we've ever met, Miss Blackwell."

Panic swept over her from head to toe until she realized that the words had been spoken, not by Lord Summersby, but by an older gentleman who stood to his right. He wasn't quite as tall as Lord Summersby, but he still had an imposing figure, and Lucy considered how terrifying he must be when he was angry. Thankfully, he looked rather cheerful at present. His eyes were a tone lighter than Lord Summersby's, his chin a little rounder around the edges, and his nose slightly bigger.

"Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the Earl of Moorland. It seems I must apologize for detaining my son from his prior engagement."

There was a flicker of something in the old man's eyes that was by no means lost on Lucy. Mischief, perhaps? How odd.

Lord Summersby, on the other hand, had taken on a rather stiff stance, his gray-blue eyes regarding Lucy with a mild degree of interest.

"It is a pleasure, my lord," Lucy responded, offering the earl a graceful curtsy.

"William, you've not said a single word to Miss Blackwell as of yet." Lord Moorland's voice was stern-the mark of a man who was used to being in command. "I daresay you'd do rather well to make your own apology. A lesser woman would already have had a fit of the vapors in response to your lack of attention."

There was a momentary pause. Lucy held her breath, wondering if Lord Summersby would act as a gentleman or declare her a liar before all. Her heart hammered, and her palms grew sweaty, but then, like her very own knight in shining armor, he gave a curt nod and took a step toward her, not only saving her from utter humiliation, but unwittingly helping her realize the next part of her plan.

"Forgive me, Miss Blackwell." His eyes bore into hers, holding her captive as he spoke. "It seems that I was so engrossed in the conversation I was having that I must have had a complete lapse in memory. Indeed, it is so severe that I might just as well not recall having asked you at all. I do apologize with the sincerest hope that you will still allow me to make good on my promise."

Lucy almost lost her nerve. Not in a million years would she have imagined that any man would make her feel so small and wretched. His tone had not been mocking, but his meaning had been clear. He thought her a charlatan, and why wouldn't he? After all, they'd only just met, and she'd hardly done anything to make him think highly of her. Quite the opposite, in fact. She groaned inwardly, knowing that what she planned to suggest would sound ludicrous to him. She hoped he'd accept without a fuss, however, for if he didn't, he'd likely hold a harlot in higher regard than he would her once the night was over.

Pushing all sympathy from her mind, she squared her shoulders and strengthened her resolve. "Nothing would please me more, my lord," she replied, allowing him to take her by the arm and lead her back inside the ballroom.

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