Miss Rayne Stevens wiped her sweaty palms on her coat and handed the man behind the desk her paperwork. Her heart thudded while he looked over the documents and glanced behind her. “Where is Mr. Stevens?” Rayne cleared her throat. “I am Miss Stevens.” “Yes. Well, I still need to know where Mr. Stevens is.” “There is no Mr. Stevens. I am the person on that paperwork,” she pointed to the papers in his hands, “and I am Miss Stevens. Miss Rayne Stevens.” The man leaned back. “That is not possible. We do not accept female applicants for our school.
” Rayne drew herself up. “I have studied your application papers thoroughly. I also had a solicitor look them over. Nowhere does it state a female cannot request admission.” When Rayne had applied to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College, she counted on her name being nebulous enough that they would not realize she was a woman. “Females may apply all they want, but they are not accepted. Medical training is much too harsh for a woman’s sensibilities.” She refrained from rolling her eyes because that would probably make things worse. Instead, taking a deep, calming breath, she continued.
“According to your application, to be eligible for medical school, a candidate should have received the preliminary education of a well-educated person, know a good deal about everything, have a better knowledge of science, and should have done well at school, regardless of the studies.” The man looked down at the application and smirked. “One thing you have forgotten, Miss Stevens, is that the points you mentioned refer to a ‘gentleman.’” He held up the application. “I quote—He should have received the preliminary education of ‘a welleducated gentleman.’” Her anxiety had turned into anger. She knew it was going to be difficult when she showed up with her acceptance letter, but this man was being rude and condescending. Something she dealt with all her life. “That is irrelevant. I have my university record here.
” She fumbled in the satchel at her feet. Once she pulled it out, she handed it over. “You will see I excelled in all subjects at university and took extra classes in science.” There were several men behind her waiting to hand in their applications, and from the sounds drifting her way, they were not happy to be standing so long in line while she took up time with the annoying man. He handed back her application, letter of acceptance, and university record. “I have many other students to deal with, Miss Stevens. I suggest you take a seat over there,” he waved in the direction of several chairs lining the wall of the room, “and I will send for someone to explain this all to you.” Nailing the brand-new brass plate to the front door of her father’s infirmary, Rayne smiled, thinking back to her initial contact with St. Bartholomew’s. Her father had recently been ordered by his doctor to give up his practice, and now Rayne was the only Dr.
Stevens on the nameplate. Although she’d worked side-by-side with her father since she’d finished her medical training three years before, all the decisions regarding their medical practice had been his. Now she would run things the way she wanted and devote more time to those who could not afford to pay a doctor but desperately needed medical care. Although Father was a compassionate man, he believed those who did not pay for something found no value in it. One of the many things they disagreed on, but she never spoke about it since pleasing her father had been her life’s work. She loved her father and respected his work as a doctor, but his disappointment that she had not been a boy had shaped who she was. If Father could not have a male child— she had two older sisters—then she would do for him what a son would have done. Follow in his footsteps. She rubbed the nameplate with the cuff of her dress, stepped back, and grinned. It had taken a lot of hard work, late nights, and some tears, but she had arrived.
She was Dr. Rayne Stevens of Bath, England. Chapter 1 Startled awake at the sound of someone pounding on her front door, Rayne sat up with a jerk, and shaking her head to wake herself up, quickly left her warm, comfortable bed. Her bare feet danced on the cold floor as she pulled on a dressing gown and fumbled around in the dark for her slippers. Since she lived in the infirmary, it was not unusual to be awakened in the middle of the night with someone facing an emergency. Barely conscious after having spent hours delivering a baby earlier in the evening, she tied the belt on her dressing gown and stumbled down the stairs. She yawned, hoping whatever dire need the visitor had would not take too long. Grabbing the lantern, she kept on the small table next to the entrance, she raised the wick and opened the door. She held it up but saw no one. Frowning, she raised the lantern higher and looked left and right but saw nothing except a carriage racing away and rounding the bend at the end of the street.
Foolish people racing around this time of the night. Stifling another yawn, she shrugged and began to close the door when she heard a low groan. She looked down at the body of a man lying on her front steps. Well, hell and damn, someone just dropped the poor soul on her doorstep and took off. She placed the lantern on the cement step and rolled the body over. She sucked in a breath at the condition of the man. He had cuts and scrapes on his face and a swollen eye. Had he been in a fight? It would have been nice if whoever left him on her steps stayed long enough to give her an idea of how he received his injuries. She made a cursory examination of him through his clothes, and based on his groans, she assessed he had possibly suffered a broken leg and some injuries to his ribcage in addition to the injuries to his face. With a sigh, she climbed to her feet and walked the corridor to the back of the house where her footman slept.
Although titled a footman, Walter was really a man of all work. Big and strong, he would be able to move the mystery man from his place on the step to a bed in her infirmary. “Walter,” she called through the door to his room as she tapped on the wood. Within a few minutes, the door opened, and Walter dragged his palm down his face. “Yes, doctor.” She looked up at the rumpled man who stood a good foot and a half above her head. “There is a man on the front steps who looks to be in poor shape. I hated to wake you, but can you move him to one of the beds and help me undress him so I can do an examination?” He nodded. “Just give me a minute to dress.” He closed the door, and Rayne returned to the front step to check on the man.
She shivered and wrapped her dressing gown tighter around her. The damp night air was quite chilled. She hurried to the drawing room to pull a wool blanket off the settee. She threw it over the man and headed to the infirmary to start the stove up since the ground floor of the house had grown cold. Ordinarily, there would be a small fire in the infirmary stove if there were patients, but right now her infirmary was empty. Her last patients had been two young girls she treated for influenza, and thankfully they had recovered. Being in the infirmary had most likely helped keep the illness from the rest of their family. Once the fire had warmed up the room a bit, Walter entered carrying the man. “Lud, doctor. This man weighs less than a lass.
” The man in Walter’s arms was tall, but even through his clothes she could see he was frail. Yet, his face—despite the injuries—appeared to be somewhere in his thirties. She waved to the bed closest to the stove. “Put him there, please.” His clothing was of the finest fashion, proclaiming he was a man of means. As much as she hated to ruin such lovely clothes, she had no choice. “Walter, bring me the scissors, please. Since I’m not absolutely sure what all his injuries are, I want to move him as little as possible, so I’m afraid these dandified garments are going to have to be cut off.” Rayne winced as she removed the man’s clothes, one layer at a time. He was seriously bruised, and she confirmed the broken leg and bruised ribs.
But more upsetting was the skeleton of the man. He looked as though he hadn’t had a decent meal in months. He did reek of spirits, though. An alcoholic. No doubt. Slowly drinking himself to death. She reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small stack of calling cards. Edwin Sterling, Baron Sterling of Plaistow Rayne sucked in a breath. So, this was Lord Sterling? She had certainly heard enough about him from the gossip sheets—her one indulgence in triviality—and from what her friends, particularly Lottie Westbrooke, told her about the wastrel. He was the one who had discovered Lottie was the daughter of a well-known courtesan and publicly insulted her so that Lottie’s husband, Carter had to make Sterling a visit and ‘convince’ the man to leave his wife alone.
She was certain fists were involved in the convincing. She studied his features. Aside from the hollowness of his cheeks, he was a nicelooking man. Blond hair, a bit too long for fashion, a fine aristocratic nose, strong chin, and slight lines on either side of his mouth. His skin was blotchy, with the puffiness present in those with alcoholic addiction. What a waste of what should be a superb, sought-after man. He had a title, money, connections, and fine looks. Why would such a man throw it all away? As a firm teetotaler herself, she could never understand the draw of spirits. But then, Father never approved, so she never even tried it. It took a few hours, but she finally got his leg set, all the cuts cleaned and bandaged, and with Walter’s help, his ribs wrapped.
He would be laid up for some time. No carousing for a while. Luckily, he never awoke the entire time she worked on him. She would have been unable to give him laudanum for the pain she inflicted by moving his broken leg into place before encasing the break in a cast since his body was saturated with some sort of spirits. Before returning to her bed, she washed up, checked her patient one more time, made sure there was enough coal to keep the stove going so he wouldn’t catch a chill and sent Walter back to his room. It was nearly five in the morning when she climbed the stairs to the first floor and collapsed on her bed. Edwin opened his eyes and winced. Bright sunlight shone into the room, hurting his eyes. Before he ever wondered where he’d awakened this time, he noted the pain in various parts of his body. Aside from the usual pounding headache, he picked up his hand and frowned at the bandage on his wrist.
When he tried to sit up, it was apparent his leg was also in some sort of a cast. He moved his head around as little as possible. It appeared he was in an infirmary or hospital. “Hello?” He groaned as that little bit of effort made the pounding in his head worse. Time must have passed because the next time he opened his eyes, the sun was in a different position, and a woman with her back to him stood in the room, writing something as she leaned her elbow on a counter. “Hello?” The effort this time wasn’t as hard as the first time. “Oh, you’re awake?” Her voice was like smooth brandy. Something he could use to help clear his head. She laid her pencil down alongside the pad she’d been writing in and walked over to him. “How do you feel?” “Like I was hit by a runaway horse.
” She dragged a stool from the counter and sat on it. She leaned over him, the smell of roses and lavender drifting from her. Probably her hair. She pulled up one eyelid and examined his eye, then did the same thing to the other eye. “Would you care to tell me how you ended up on my front step last night?” She drew back and studied him. “First off, can you tell me where I am and who you are?” He tried to offer one of his famous charming smiles, but it didn’t quite make it with the pain radiating throughout his body. He needed a drink. “I am Dr. Stevens, and you are in my infirmary. I found you last night on my front steps, and I have reason to believe someone—I doubt a friend since the way you were left indicates more an enemy—dropped you on my doorstep.
” “I see.” She smiled. “Do you? Would you care to tell me how you received all these bruises, Lord Sterling?” She swept her hand along his body. Edwin tried to shift a bit, but everything hurt, so he remained where he was. He needed a drink. “I guess you found my calling cards.” Again, he smiled, but got no response from Dr. Stevens. He sighed. “The last I remember a few of us were racing our horses.
I think mine threw me.” Dr. Stevens crossed her arms over her chest. “Hmm. You think yours threw you? I assume you had been imbibing in strong spirits?” “Yes. You are correct, Dr. Stevens. May I request a little bit of brandy? It will help with the pain.” “Ah. I am very sorry to tell you that there are no spirits—of any kind—in this house.
” His brows rose to his bandaged forehead. “None?” She shook her head, her lips in a tight line. Gone was the friendly, smiling, doctor. This woman was a beauty and truly a sight to behold. Her curves were well outlined in a very well-washed dress, covered with an apron all the way to her feet. Her brown hair gleamed with golden highlights as the sun streamed through the window. Her clear blue eyes regarded him with intelligence. “I am afraid not, my lord. We do not permit liquor of any sort here.” “Well, in that case, do you have a butler or a maid who can fetch some for me? I’m sure I have money on me somewhere.
” Almost as if he just realized he was wearing nothing more than a loose-fitting nightshirt, he scowled. “Where are my clothes?” “I am sorry to tell you they are useless, my lord. I had to cut them off you last night.” “You cut off my clothes! Do you have any idea how much they cost?” She shrugged. “Probably not. But I could not examine you without removing your clothes and since I didn’t know what sort of injuries you were suffering, I couldn’t take a chance on maneuvering you around to take them off.” He grinned. “Did you enjoy taking off my clothes while I was unconscious, doctor?” She didn’t blush, didn’t squirm, didn’t giggle. She scowled. “Lord Sterling, I am a doctor, not a giggling sweet little miss you’ve enticed into the garden to steal a kiss or other things.
You are in serious trouble, and I suggest you spend more time asking questions about your injuries and recovery.” Well, then. “If you would be so kind as to send for some brandy, I will be happy to discuss my medical condition at length.” He needed a drink. “My lord. Let me make this very clear. The only alcohol that will ever be on these premises is the one I use to clean my instruments and rub down the counters.” “Fine. Please discuss my medical condition and then I will send for my driver to bring me home.” “No.
” Nothing else, she just stared at him. “Excuse me?” “I said no. You are not going anywhere, my lord. You cannot be moved for a while. Your injuries are too great to survive a ride in a carriage, coach or wagon.” He narrowed his eyes, beginning to dislike this woman who thought herself a doctor. “Define ‘for a while’.” “It is truly hard for me to say, because it depends on how your body heals. With the way you’ve abused your body with drinking and God knows what else, I’m afraid it will be at least a few weeks.” “A few weeks! No.
That will not do. I cannot lay here in this infirmary for a few weeks.” He shook his head. “No. I must send for my driver.” She leaned over him, practically nose to nose. “Listen to me, Lord Sterling. You were in bad shape physically before you were stupid enough to engage in a horse race while drunk. Now that you’ve done severe damage to your body, you are at risk for infection and improper healing. The last thing you need is more alcohol.
You need food and rest.” His anger turned to panic. No brandy? No wine, or ale? This woman must have been sent from the devil. “All right. Tell me what’s so very wrong with me that I have to stay here for—” He waved his hand around. “—whatever it was you said.” The doctor stood and walked to the counter and picked up the pad she’d been writing on when he awoke. She settled back on the stool and flipped back through a few pages. “You have a broken tibia—” “—stop! Please use terms I can understand. I know nothing about medicine.
” He could have sworn she mumbled he knew nothing about anything, but he chose to ignore it. “You have a broken bone in your right lower leg. You cracked two—I think—ribs. A sprained wrist. Aside from that, you have cuts, scrapes, a black eye, and other bruises all over your upper body.” She closed the pad and looked at him. “Since you said the last thing you remember is racing your horse and being thrown, I can only assume upon landing you collided with a sturdy object. The scrapes and cuts could be from whatever it was you hit, or from striking the ground.” Edwin closed his eyes, trying to remember where they were when the race took place. He thought it was Queen Victoria Park, but things got a little muddled after they left the Grossman ball.
Dr. Stevens stood and glared at him. “Reconcile yourself to the fact that you will be here for a few weeks. You will be given plenty of healthy food and when you can move a little bit, a trip to the garden for fresh air. “There will be no spirits of any kind, and no cigars, if that is also your habit. You will eat three full meals a day, drink plenty of water and sleep whenever your body tells you to.” She leaned over him, her eyes snapping, her cheeks flushed. The God of Vengeance. “Aren’t I going to be an expensive guest?” Again, he tried his best smile, but she never flicked an eyelash. “You are no guest, my lord.
You are a patient and believe me when I tell you that the bill I present to you will cover all your needs. Do I make myself clear?” He was getting mighty annoyed with the doctor. He hurt, he needed a drink and the last thing he wanted to do was remain in this den of purity for a few weeks. “And if I don’t agree?” “Then I will arrange to have your driver pick you up as requested and will make time in my schedule to attend your funeral the following week.” She squared her shoulders and looked him in the eye. “It’s your choice, my lord.” With those words she turned on her heel and left the room. He hadn’t been chastised like that since he’d been a lad in short pants.