All He Desires
Ebook ISBN: 1-4201-1333-X
Print ISBN: 978-1-4201-0457-8
[ Victorian Romance, MF ]
Self-exiled on the Isle of Crete, an English doctor with a troubled past meets the one woman who can bring him out of the shadows and into the light.
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Crete, March 1848
Caroline Huntington was falling.
The distance from saddle to ground took on a dreadful expanse as her horse reared. Flung backwards, heartbeat doubling in her throat, she clutched at the pommel, but the smooth leather slipped beneath her palms. For a sickening moment she hurtled down through empty air. Then the earth rushed to meet her, clouting her head and sending a rough pain jolting down her outstretched arm. She swallowed, sudden darkness hovering at the edges of her vision. From far away she heard the throb of hoof-beats receding.
“Help…” It came out a moan, and who would hear? She had left the village far behind, drawn too far up the track by the promise of a dazzling view from the hillside, the scent of dusty herbs in the clear air.
How quickly the world had upended. One moment riding above the olive groves, the next…
She drew in a shaky breath and tried to sit, the world spinning at the motion. There was no sign of her skittish mount, no sign of any other living creature besides herself. The air was still and quiet, the late-afternoon light fading to red even as she lay on the path. She was alone, a stranger surrounded by silent hills.
Her arm hurt far too much, the ache magnified by the throbbing in her head. Would anyone find her out here? She thought of her uncle back in London, her brother—they were so terribly far away. Her mind veered from the notion she might never see them again. No. She only had to get up and start walking, keep breathing through the pain, but she felt tired, so tired…
When she opened her eyes again the world had darkened and there were stars above her, cold and distant. She stared at the sky as the constellations spun and wavered. The ground was hard and chilly beneath her, and the joint of her elbow felt as though it were on fire. Clenching her jaw she forced herself to her knees, then made a staggering lurch that brought her to her feet. Her legs seemed barely connected to her body and she fought for balance, breath scraping her throat. The world tilted, then steadied.
Right arm cradled close, she began to pick her way back down the path. Every step jarred and made her want to sit down again, or better yet, lie down and give in, but she pressed her lips together hard and kept on. One step. Then another. One breath. Then another.
She did not know how long she had been walking, but the stars had come down to earth and seemed to dance in front of her. She blinked, blinked again, and the points of light resolved into fires. No, torches. She could hear voices, calling something that sounded like her name.
“I’m here!” she cried, lifting her good arm, eyes hot with relief. In moments they were there, her rescuers, dark-eyed olive farmers, talking excitedly and waving their torches.
“Caroline! Thank heavens we found you.” Maggie Farnsworth pushed to the fore, her normally neatly coiled hair straggling from its pins, her face lined with worry.
How odd. When had her traveling companion ever appeared less than tidy? Caroline swayed and Maggie caught her.
“Quick, someone help me,” Maggie called. “She’s about to collapse.”
“Allow me to assist you.” A silver-haired gentleman with a French accent stepped forward, reaching for her.
Caroline flinched. “Not my elbow—”
“Pardon me, mademoiselle. We must get you to a doctor immediately.” He turned and shouted in Greek. Two men hurried back down the track, their torches leaving smears of light against the darkness.
“Manolis will bring the cart,” the Frenchman said. “It will not be long.”
“Thank you, Monsieur Legault,” Maggie said. “Your assistance tonight has been invaluable. When Miss Huntington did not return from her ride…” Her breath caught on the words.
“There now. We foreigners must look after one another, is it not so? Though without the help of these good men we would not have found your friend.”
“But we did. We did.” Maggie supported Caroline, holding firmly to her uninjured arm. The flames reflected off Maggie’s gold-rimmed spectacles. “When you had not returned by supper, I knew something was wrong. The owners of the villa directed me to Monsieur Legault, and he helped organize the search.”
Caroline swallowed. “I’m so glad.” She leaned against her friend and closed her eyes. How could she have been so thoughtless, so careless? She would make it up to Maggie, somehow.
“Ah,” Monsieur Legault said. “Here is the cart. It will not be comfortable, but the aid we seek is not far.”
Maggie led Caroline to where the rustic vehicle waited. “I would not think a village of this size boasted a doctor. How fortunate.”
The Frenchman smiled, though there was something cautious in his expression. “We shall see. Come.”
The cart rolled forward over the rough track, and it did not take long for Caroline to fall into a hazy, pain-filled daze. The night sky, the flaring torches, the jolting ride wove together into a disjointed tapestry. She did not realize they had halted in front of a cottage until Maggie coaxed her upright and helped her from the cart.
Monsieur Legault went to the door. He pounded, and pounded again until at last it was opened by a figure who remained in the shadows. Caroline blinked, her vision still blurred. A tall man, she thought.
“What do you want?” His voice was gruff.
“Mr. Trentham, we require your help.” The Frenchman waved to where Caroline stood, supported by Maggie. “The mademoiselle is injured.”
The man shook his head. “I cannot help you.” He began to close the door, but Monsieur Legault set his foot in the jamb.
“I ask you not to be stubborn. She is hurt—she must be seen.”
The shadow moved closer to the light. He was tall, his hair the color of night. The torchlight painted hollows under his cheekbones and cast his uncompromising nose in sharp relief. He did not look like a doctor, not with his creased clothing and untamed hair, a scowl making his face even more forbidding. When his gaze moved to her, Caroline felt it, a nearly physical sensation, like standing under a storm cloud just before the fury of wind and rain lashed down. She shivered.
He regarded her for several moments, measured by the rapid beat of her heart. His eyes seemed black in the flickering light. That intent gaze moved down to her dusty boots, then returned to her face.
At last he turned to the Frenchman. “The woman is on her feet. She looks well enough. Take her to Rethymno.” He stepped back and made to close his door again.
“You must help us,” Monsieur Legault said, a pleading note in his voice. “Rethymno is too far, and you know how little talent the doctor there has.”
“Enough to care for an injured arm. Good night.”
“Wait!” Maggie stepped forward, bringing Caroline with her. “You cannot refuse—you are English!”
“Oh?” He paused with one hand on the door frame, his lips twisted as though he had tasted something bitter. “I don’t see that it signifies.”
“Of course it does. This is Miss Caroline Huntington, the niece of the Earl of Twickenham. How can you consider yourself a gentleman if you turn her away?”
“Who says I consider myself a gentleman?”
Caroline took an uneven step forward, ready to add her voice to the argument, but the world tilted. She heard Maggie gasp, but Monsieur Legault was quicker. He spun, bracing Caroline before she fell.
“You see?” He glared back at Mr. Trentham. “It is more than her arm.”
The dark man said nothing for a long moment, then with a curse he turned on his heel and stalked back into the cottage. Light from inside spilled across the threshold.
“Come, little one.” Monsieur Legault aided Caroline into the cottage while Maggie followed behind.
“Put her in there.” Mr. Trentham gestured down a short hallway but made no move to follow.
Caroline allowed herself to be led and was dimly aware of sinking down on a bed, of Maggie removing her riding boots and helping her lie back. The room whirled behind her closed eyelids.
“Do not worry at Mr. Trentham’s manner,” Monsieur Legault said in an undertone. “He was a very skilled doctor—even if he refuses to acknowledge it.”
“Why is that?” Maggie asked.
“He will not speak of it. But your companion, she is in good hands. Come, madame, you must sit too—the events of the evening have unsettled you. Look, you are trembling.”
Caroline heard her friend’s sigh, the weary rustle of skirts settling. She wanted to apologize, but all strength had left her. Her head hurt, and it was easier to simply lie still, eyes closed, and try not to imagine what would follow. Would she have to return to England? Maggie would insist on accompanying her, but that was unthinkable. Her friend’s mission in the Mediterranean would have to be abandoned if she did so—and it would be Caroline’s fault.
“I see you’ve made yourselves at home.”
She opened her eyes to see Mr. Trentham standing in the doorway. His dark hair looked as though he had roughed his hands through it before entering the room. It gave him a wild, untamed air.
“Really, sir.” Maggie started to rise, but he waved her back to her seat.
“Calm yourself, Mrs.…”
“Farnsworth,” she supplied.
He gave a nod, then turned his scowl toward Monsieur Legault.
“Bien,” the Frenchman said. “I knew we could rely upon you, Mr. Trentham.”
“You presume too much.” The black-haired man stalked to Caroline’s bedside. He moved with an almost imperceptible limp, favoring his left leg. He bent and looked into her eyes, forcing her to meet his gaze. Caroline stared back into deep indigo—the color of the sky after sunset, just before it shades into night.
“My elbow,” she said, trapped by his gaze. “I landed on my arm when I fell.”
“Here?” He set two fingers to the inside of her elbow, where the fire burned.
She flinched. “Yes.”
He took her hand and she felt the roughness of his palm. “Can you move your fingers, Miss Huntington?”
She could, her fingers brushing lightly against his.
“Good.” Despite the difficult introduction and his obvious unwillingness to care for her, his touch was gentle. Steady competence radiated from his hands, an odd contrast to the rest of his demeanor.
“The blood flow doesn’t appear to be compromised, but your elbow. . .. Take a deep breath.”
Caroline obeyed as his large hands moved up her arm. When he touched the joint she stiffened in pain and could not help her quick, indrawn breath, but she refused to give voice to the lightning slicing through her. She would bear whatever came in silence, for Maggie’s sake.
His touch moved back down to her wrist. “Move your fingers again. Yes, that’s it. Any tingling? Loss of feeling?”
“No.” It came out a strained whisper.
He glanced up. “Mrs. Farnsworth, I require your assistance.”
Maggie came and stood at Caroline’s shoulder. Her face was pale and she was breathing quickly. “I am not certain…”
“Grasp her arm here, above the elbow. Firmly. I am going to apply a downward pressure and lever the arm so the bones can return to their proper alignment.”
“Lever the arm?” Maggie’s voice was faint.
Mr. Trentham looked impatient. “That’s generally the accepted procedure to reduce a dislocated elbow.”
“Shouldn’t you administer something for the pain?” Maggie sounded as though she were the one in need of medication.
Caroline glanced at her friend. “I will be all right.” She forced a smile past the throbbing ache.
“Please, Caroline. I can’t bear the thought of you suffering.” Maggie swallowed.
A sudden, dangerous edge leapt into Mr. Trentham’s voice. “She said she would be all right.”
“You don’t know my companion as I do,” Maggie said. “She won’t admit…”
He leaned forward and stared into Caroline’s eyes. A ghost of something like panic shadowed his expression. “I do not run an apothecary. And I do not administer medications.” His tone was harsh. “You have no right to ask.”
“Mr. Trentham.” Monsieur Legault spoke from his place at the end of the bed, his voice soothing. “A small dose of laudanum. It will not hurt, surely. She seems to be in some difficulty.”
“Please.” Maggie’s voice held a touch of desperation.
Caroline wanted to argue that she could bear it, but she was not certain she could. Just the thought of him straightening her arm brought her perilously close to tears.
Mr. Trentham stood, hands balled into fists. “You don’t bloody know what you’re asking.”
Tension vibrated from him, and Caroline was reminded again of a storm about to break free, some elemental force barely chained.
“Now, my friend,” the Frenchman said softly.
“No.” The doctor spun, mouth tight and furious, and strode from the room.
[bctt tweet=”Read #excerpt of All He Desires by @AntheaLawson #histrom #Victorian”]