"There’ll be tune enough for all that later, if we survive this," Anne panted, already unfastening Whitney’s dress with shaking fingers and jerking it unceremoniously over her head.
Clarissa was hauling back the bedcovers, then flying to the wardrobe from which she snatched a fleecy dressing robe.
"Couldn’t you have told him that I was asleep or something, and sent him back to London?" Whitney implored as she dived into bed and pulled up the covers.
"Dr. Whitticomb," Anne said, trying to catch her breath, "is no fool, believe me. He’s been sent here to treat your knee, and he intends to do exactly that." Casting a quick, critical eye over Whitney, she said, "Clarissa, bring two pillows and place them beneath Whitney’s knee. Then fetch some hartshorn from my room and put it on the bedside table. That will be a nice touch, I think." She started for the door. "I’ll forestall Dr. Whitticomb for as long as I can to give you time, but don’t count on more than a few minutes."
Clarissa remained rooted to the floor, her eyes glassy, her bands gripping the back of a chair. "Clarissa!" Lady Anne said sharply. "Do not even consider fainting!"
"I thank you, Lady Gilbert, but no," Dr. Whitticomb said, refusing for the third time the refreshments which, in an apparent excess of polite solicitude, Lady Gilbert was again trying to press upon him. He had already replied to her inquiries about the weather in London, the weather outside, and the pleasantness of his journey from London. When she tried to engage him in a discussion over how much snow they ought to expect this winter, Dr. Whitticomb said bluntly, "I wonder if I might see Miss Stone now."
Lady Gilbert led him upstairs and down the hall to the fourth door on the left. After a curiously long interval, the door was finally opened by a stout, elderly maid whose mob cap sat crazily askew atop her wiry gray head. Dr. Whitticomb, who was no stranger to the temperaments of wealthy, pampered young ladies, immediately assumed that Miss Stone was spoiled and had harassed her poor maid until that woman looked ready to swoon dead away.
This conclusion was reinforced by the appearance of the patient herself, a young lady of stunning good looks and high color who was reclining upon a large canopied bed, eyeing his approach with ill-concealed antagonism. A pair of jade-green eyes narrowed briefly on his face, wandered momentarily along his black frockcoat, then riveted in alarm on the black bag he carried.
Trying in his compassionate way to distract his patient from her terrified preoccupation with his instrument case, Dr. Whitticomb put it down beside her bed and said soothingly, "His grace, the Duke of Claymore, is most deeply concerned about you."
Two bright spots of color appeared on her high cheekbones. In a strangled voice, she whispered, "He is the embodiment of kindness and solicitude."
"Quite so," Dr. Whitticomb agreed, not able to believe the sarcasm he thought he heard. "As I understand it, Miss Stone," he began briskly, "you took a nasty fall down the staircase." Reaching for the bedcovers, he said, "Let’s just have a look at that knee, shall we?"
"Don’t!" she yelped, clutching the bedcovers to her pretty chin and eyeing him mutinously.
For a moment he stared at her in amazement, but then he realized what was distressing her and his expression gentled. Drawing up a chair beside the bed, he sat down. "My dear girl," he said kindly, "we are no longer in the dark ages when a female denied herself the ministrations of a competent physician merely because he was a man and she a woman. I applaud your modesty-God knows we see it all too seldom in young ladies these days-but this is not the proper time for it, as I am sure your aunt would tell you. Now then . . ." Reaching out, he tried to draw the sheets back, but his patient’s tightly clenched fists exerted equal pressure to draw them in the opposite direction.
Dr. Whitticomb reared back and frowned with frustrated annoyance. "I am a competent physician with a score of female patients, including Her Majesty, if that will reassure you, Miss Stone."
"Well, it doesn’t reassure me in the least!" his patient fired back in a voice remarkably strong for one supposedly in excruciating pain.
"Young woman," he warned, "I am under specific orders from his grace to examine your knee and prescribe the proper care. And," he added ominously, "he instructed me to have you restrained, if necessary, in order to do so."
"Restrained!" Whitney burst out. "Of all the unmitigated, unbelievable gall! Just who does he think would dare to do such a …" She choked back her outburst, already visualizing Clayton striding into her bedchamber in defiance of every law of decency and propriety, and forcibly pinning her to the bed, so that Dr. Whitticomb could examine her knee.
Frantically, she groped for some way to deter the physician from examining her. Excessive modesty was her only hope. Her lids fluttered closed, then opened to regard the man in charming embarrassment. Shyly, she plucked at the sheets. "I know how silly and foolish I must seem to you, Dr. Whitticomb, but I would simply the of mortification to be so exposed … to a perfect stranger, no matter how fine a doctor you are."
"My dear girl, we are only talking about ‘exposing’ your knee, after all."
"But I can’t help the way I feel," Whitney protested virtuously. "You don’t know me, but surely his grace, who does know me, should have considered my tenderest feelings in this. I’m quite shocked by his callous disregard of my . . . my .. . ?"
"Maidenly sensibilities?" the doctor offered automatically, thinking to himself that Claymore was going to have his work cut out for himself on his wedding night with this young woman, and that it was a very good thing that the duke was no novice where females were concerned.
"Exactly! I knew you would understand."
Reluctantly Dr. Whitticomb capitulated. "Very well, Miss Stone, I will not examine your knee on one condition: You must permit a local physician to examine it."
"Immediately!" Whitney agreed, beaming a bright smile on him.
Leaning over, he snapped his bag shut and picked it up "Do you know of someone who has experience with sprains and breaks-someone with whom you could feel comfortable?"
"Someone with experience with sprains and breaks?"
Whitney repeated, searching madly for some name to give him. "Why yes. Yes, I do," she announced triumphantly.
"Who?" Dr. Whitticomb persisted, standing up. "What is his name?"
"Thomas," Whitney provided promptly, smiling widely at her own inspiration. "I trust him implicitly, as does everyone for miles around-whenever there’s a sprain or a break, it is always brought to Thomas for treatment." With a gracious smile, she said, "Goodbye, Dr. Whitticomb. I do thank you for coming, and I’m most dreadfully sorry for the inconvenience you’ve been caused. Clarissa will show you out."