"No need to bid me farewell just yet," Dr. Whitticomb assured. "I’ll be up to see you after I’ve spoken with Dr. Thomas."
"Oh dear God!" Clarissa gasped, blindly clutching the bedpost for support.
Dr. Whitticomb ignored her outburst. Reaching into his waistcoat pocket, he withdrew a heavy gold timepiece, glanced at the time, then snapped it shut. "His grace’s driver and coach are waiting, so if someone will be so kind as to direct me to Dr. Thomas, I’ll meet with him and assure myself of his credentials, then bring him back with me."
Whitney levered herself up on both elbows. "Whatever for? I mean, I’ve just assured you that he’s qualified. You can take my word for it."
"No, I’m sorry, but I can’t. Even if I were willing to entrust your health to some unknown colleague, which I’m not, I can assure you that the duke would never permit it. Actually, we discussed calling in Grundheim from Germany; he’s a good man with injuries to the joints. And there’s Johannsen in Sweden-"
"He wouldn’t dare!" Whitney retorted.
"Actually," Dr. Whitticomb admitted ruefully, "it was my idea to have them come to examine your knee. Claymore thought it best if I saw you first. He had certain-ah-doubts about the severity of your injury. Lady Gilbert," he said, "would you be so kind as to give me directions to Dr. Thomas?" He started for the door, but stopped in his tracks when, from the occupant of the bed, there came a stifled moan, followed by a series of blistering remarks about someone’s character and integrity, liberally salted with words such as "scoundrel, wretch, blackguard, and hypocrite."
Dr. Whitticomb turned in surprise. Gone was the shy, demure young lady who’d sighed and languished in her bed but a moment before. His lips twitched with laughter and admiration as he beheld the tempestuous beauty who was now sitting bolt upright against the pillows, positively emanating stormy wrath.
"Dr. Whitticomb," the beauty snapped at him, "I really cannot endure another moment of this. For the love of God, look at my knee before that man has every leech in Europe at my bedside!"
"I personally do not condone leeching," Dr. Whitticomb remarked as he walked back to the bed and put his instrument case down. This time there was no resistance when he drew back the bedcovers. He parted her dressing robe well below the thigh, exposing a pair of long, shapely limbs, one of which was propped upon a pile of pillows.
"That’s odd," he said, suppressing a smile as he glanced at his rebellious patient. "Yes indeed-I wondered about the lump created by this pile of pillows."
Whitney frowned at him. "I can’t see anything the least bit ‘odd’ about two pillows propping up an injured knee."
"I quite agree with you there." Dr. Whitticomb’s eyes twinkled. "But unless I misread your note to his grace, it was your left knee which was injured. Yet it is your right knee which we see here upon these pillows."
His finger pointed accusingly to the wrong leg and Whitney pinkened. "Oh that," she said hastily. "We propped the right leg up to keep it from bumping the left."
"Very quick thinking, my dear," Dr. Whitticomb said with a chuckle.
Whitney closed her eyes in chagrin. She wasn’t fooling him at all.
"There doesn’t appear to be any swelling." His fingers gentry felt first her right knee, then her left, then the right again. "Do you feel any pain here?"
"Dr. Whitticomb," Whitney said with a resigned smile trembling on her lips, "would you believe, even for one second, that I am in any pain?"
"No. I’m afraid not, actually," he admitted with equal candor. "But I must say I admire your knack for knowing when the time has come to throw in your cards and call the game lost." He replaced the bedcovers and leaned back in his chair, gazing at her in thoughtful silence.
He couldn’t help admiring her spirit. She’d concocted a scheme and she’d done her level best to see it through. And now, when she was defeated, she conceded the victory to him without rancor, no missish sulks and sullens, no tears or begging. Damned if he didn’t like her for it! After a moment, he straightened and said briskly, "I expect we should discuss what I am going to do next."
Whitney shook her head. "There’s no need to explain. I know what you’re obligated to do."
Dr. Whitticomb gave her an amused look. "First of all, I’m going to prescribe absolute, undisturbed bedrest for the next twenty-four hours. Not for you"-he laughed at Whitney’s joyous expression-"but for your poor, beleaguered maid behind me, who’s been torn between grabbing the nearest heavy object and bludgeoning me unconscious or swooning dead away." Plucking the hartshorn bottle from the bedside table, he passed it to Clarissa. "If you will take some free advice from an extremely expensive physician," he told her severely, "you will not involve yourself in any more of this lovely hoyden’s intrigues. You haven’t the constitution for it. Besides, your face quite gave your mistress away."
When Clarissa closed the door behind her, Dr. Whitticomb turned his gaze upon Lady Gilbert, who’d gone round the bed and was standing beside Whitney, waiting like a condemned man in the box to share her niece’s sentence. "You, Lady Gilbert, are not in much better condition than that maid. Sit down."
"I’m quite all right," Lady Anne murmured, but she sank to the bed.
"Much better than all right," Dr. Whitticomb chuckled
"Quite splendid, I should say. You never betrayed your niece by even the flicker of an eye." Whitney was the next object of the doctor’s penetrating gaze. "Now then, how do you think your future husband is going to react to this deception of yours?"
Whitney closed her eyes against the frightening image of an enraged Clayton, his gray eyes icy and his voice vibrating with cold fury. "He’ll be furious," she whispered. "But that was the risk I took."
"Then there’s nothing to be gained by confessing the deception, is there?"
Whitney’s eyes snapped open. "Me confessing? I thought you were going to tell him the truth."
"The truth I have to tell, young lady, is this: An injury to a joint, any joint, can be difficult, even impossible, to diagnose. Despite the absence of swelling, I could not definitely rule out the possibility that your knee was injured precisely as you claimed. Beyond that, any further revelations will have to come from you. I am here as a physician, you know, not an informant."
Whitney’s spirits soared. She snatched a pillow from beside her and hugged it to her chest, laughing with relief and gratitude. After thanking him three times, she said, "I don’t suppose that you could tell his grace that I should stay in bed?"