A Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred #3)(2)

By: Joanna Shupe

Apollo obeyed then prodded Oliver with his snout once more before trotting to the main door. That was odd. The dog had an entrance of his own that allowed him to come and go as he pleased. Why was he trying to gain Oliver’s attention?

Putting down his soldering iron, Oliver rose and opened the door. He motioned for the dog to keep going, to show Oliver what he’d found.

Apollo darted through the door. Oliver followed, the frigid air slapping his face and blowing through his thin shirt as if he were naked. He hunched his shoulders and hurried after his dog. Hopefully, this would not take long; otherwise he might suffer hypothermia.

Shoving his hands in his trouser pockets, he watched as Apollo loped toward the maze. Oliver knew every inch of these gardens; he’d played in them often enough as a boy. His mother had loved it out here as well, taking him on adventures every chance they had, and the memory caused a dull ache in his heart. Even fourteen years after his parents’ deaths he missed them terribly.

When he rounded the bend to the sitting area, his stomach dropped. Jesus . . . A figure was on the ground, unmoving.

And it was a woman.

Oliver dashed forward, his heart pounding as he fell to his knees. Her skirts had twisted around her legs, her body slumped under an iron bench as if she’d tried to catch her fall on the seat but had missed.

He reached out, desperate to assess how badly she’d been hurt. Blood streamed from a cut on her brow. Damn it. She must have hit her head on the way down.

Was she dead? With two fingers, he searched her neck for a pulse. Relief cascaded through him when he felt a weak, but discernable, heartbeat. Her chest rose and fell, her breathing even. She was alive.

He needed to send for Dr. Henry Jacobs. This woman could very well be concussed. Sliding his hands under her, he lifted her into his arms and started for the house. Henry would know what to do. The doctor would quickly set this woman to rights and then Oliver would send her on her way.

He did not care for strangers.

Oliver strode across the terrace and entered the house. A footman emerged from a side room, his eyes instantly popping open. It was not every day that the staff saw their master carrying an unconscious woman.

With his hands otherwise occupied, Oliver forced out a voice he himself had not heard since boyhood. “Send for Dr. Jacobs.”

The boy nodded, running off to the telephone in the front entry. Oliver continued with the girl, twisting and turning through the labyrinth of rooms, until he reached the study.

He placed her on the long sofa then covered her wound with a clean handkerchief. Her cheeks were bitten with cold, her lips blue. Exactly how long had she been outside? After wrapping her in a wool blanket, he marched to the bellpull and yanked. They needed hot water and clean bandages, now.

Movement in the doorway caught Oliver’s eye. His butler, Gill, stood there. “Sir, I understand there is an injured girl,” the butler signed. Gill had learned how to sign along with the Hawkes family when Oliver lost his hearing fifteen years ago. It had taken time but most of the staff had picked quite a bit of sign language up as well, though Oliver also excelled at reading lips. And when all else failed, he could write in the small ledger he carried in his pocket.

Oliver signed, “She fell outside. Her head is bleeding.”

Gill’s brows lowered in concern. “Oh, the poor dear. I shall bring clean water and bandages. Anything else?”

“Not yet,” Oliver signed. “I sent Michael to ring Jacobs.” Gill nodded and hurried from the room.

The wait seemed interminable. During his breaks in pacing the floor, Oliver placed a small pillow under the girl’s head and adjusted her limbs to make her more comfortable. Some color had returned to her face, thank Christ. She was actually quite pretty, with chestnut hair and creamy skin. Classic features of strength and fortitude, like a strong nose and high cheekbones. Her clothing conveyed former wealth, the fine wool of her coat well constructed, if a little on the shabby side.

The young woman stirred. Panicked, he glanced toward the door. Where the hell was Gill? Better for her to wake with calming words from the butler rather than a silent, surly man looming over her. Unfortunately, the damn servant was nowhere in sight.

What in God’s name was Oliver to do? Rub her forehead? Pat her shoulder? Tap her cheeks? He’d never cared much for society’s ridiculous rules but even he knew there were boundaries as far as touching a strange young lady. He settled for standing a few feet away, just in her line of vision. It would have to do. If she wished for coddling and niceties, she had fallen outside the wrong house.

No idea how long he waited but it felt like forever, long enough for the fire to start dying in the hearth. Finally her lids fluttered open, and large eyes focused on his face. “Where am I?”

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