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“St. Vincent . . .” Devon’s voice was edged with rueful amusement. “When I inherited the title, I wasn’t at all prepared to take responsibility for three innocent girls and an ill-tempered widow. They were always heading in different directions, acting on impulse, and landing themselves in trouble. I thought I’d never be able to control them. But then one day I realized something.”

“What was it?”

“That I’ll never be able to control them. They are who they are. All I can do is love them, and try my damnedest to keep them safe, even knowing it won’t always be possible.” Devon sounded wry. “Having a family has made me a happy man. It’s also robbed me of all peace of mind, probably forever. But on the whole . . . not a bad bargain.”

Gabriel recapped the flask and silently extended it to him.

“Keep it for now,” Devon said, “I’ll go back to wait with the others.”

Just before the end of the third hour, a hush fell over the waiting area, followed by a few quiet murmurs.

“Where is Lord St. Vincent?” he heard Dr. Gibson ask.

Gabriel’s head jerked up. He waited like a damned soul, watching the woman’s slim form appear from around the corner.

Dr. Gibson had removed the cap and surgeon’s gown. Her chestnut hair was confined in neat braids that went along the sides of her head and joined in a coil at the back, a tidy style vaguely reminiscent of a schoolgirl. Her green eyes were weary but alert. As she faced him, a faint smile broke through the layers of formidable self-possession.

“We’ve passed the first hurdle,” she said. “Your wife came through the operation in good condition.”

“Jesus,” he whispered. Covering his eyes with one hand, he cleared his throat and hardened his jaw against a rough tremor of emotion.

“I was able to reach the damaged portion of the artery without having to resection the clavicle,” Dr. Gibson continued. At his lack of response, she continued speaking, as if trying to allow him time to recover himself. “Rather than tie it off with silk or horsehair, I used specially treated catgut ligatures that are eventually absorbed into the tissues. They’re still in the late developmental stage, but I prefer to use them in special cases like this. No sutures will need to be removed later, which minimizes the risk of infection and hemorrhage.”

Finally controlling the surge of excess emotion, Gabriel looked at her through a hot blur. “What’s next?” he asked gruffly.

“The main concern is keeping her completely still and relaxed, to minimize the risk of having a ligature give way and causing hemorrhage. If there’s a problem, it will occur within the first forty-eight hours.”

“Is that why none of them survived? Hemorrhage?”

She gave him an inquiring glance.

“Havelock told me about the previous cases like Pandora’s,” he said.

Dr. Gibson’s gaze softened. “He shouldn’t have. At least not without putting it in proper perspective. Those cases were unsuccessful for two reasons: the doctors relied on old-fashioned surgical techniques, and the operations took place in contaminated environments. Pandora’s situation is quite different. All of our instruments were sterilized, every square inch of the operating room was disinfected, and I sprayed carbolic solution on every living thing in sight, including myself. We’ve cleaned the wound thoroughly and covered it with an antiseptic dressing. I’m quite optimistic about Pandora’s recovery.”

Gabriel let out a shaken sigh. “I want to believe you.”

“My lord, I never try to make people feel better by shading the truth one way or the other. I merely relate the facts. How you react to them is your responsibility, not mine.”

The resolutely unsentimental words almost made him smile. “Thank you,” he said sincerely.

“You’re quite welcome, my lord.”

“May I see her now?”

“Soon. She’s still recovering from the anesthesia. With your permission, I will keep her here in a private room for at least two or three days. I’ll stay around the clock, of course. In the event that a hemorrhage occurs, I’ll be able to operate right away. Now, I must assist Dr. Havelock with some postoperative . . .” The doctor’s voice faded as she noticed two men entering the front door and walking through the lobby. “Who are they?”

“One of them is my footman,” Gabriel said, recognizing Dragon’s towering form. The other man was a stranger.

As they approached, Dragon’s gaze fastened on Gabriel with dark intensity, trying to read his expression.

“The operation was successful,” Gabriel told him.

A look of relief came over the footman’s face, and his shoulders relaxed.

“Did you find Mrs. O’Cairre?” Gabriel asked.

“Yes, milord. She’s being held at Scotland Yard.”

Realizing he hadn’t yet made introductions, Gabriel murmured, “Dr. Gibson, this is my footman, Dragon. That is . . . Drago.”

“It’s Dragon now,” the footman told him in a matter-of-fact tone. “As her ladyship prefers.” He gestured to the man beside him. “Here is the acquaintance I told you about, milord. Mr. Ethan Ransom, of Scotland Yard.”

Ransom was improbably young for a man of his profession. Usually by the time a man was promoted to detective, he had served on the force for a number of years, and had been worn down by the physical hardships of the police beat. He was lean and big-boned, well over the height of five feet and eight inches required by the Metropolitan force. His coloring was Black Irish, with dark hair and dark eyes, and fair skin warmed with a hint of ruddiness.

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