“I don’t think I’ll need a doctor,” Poppy said. “If you could just wrap it with a light binding, and perhaps I could have some willow bark tea—”
“Oh, you’re seeing a doctor,” Harry said, suffused with grim concern. Glancing at Poppy’s face, he saw the residue of tears, and he reached out to her with extreme gentleness, his fingers caressing the side of her face. Her skin was as smooth as fine-milled soap. There was a red mark in the center of her lower lip, where she must have bitten it.
Whatever she saw in his expression caused her eyes to widen and her cheeks to flush.
Mrs. Pennywhistle eased up from the floor. “Well,” she said briskly, “Now that she’s in your care, Mr. Rutledge, shall I fetch some bandages and salve? We may as well treat the ankle until the doctor arrives.”
“Yes,” Harry said curtly. “And send for another doctor—I want a second opinion.”
“Yes, sir.” The housekeeper fled.
“We haven’t even gotten a first opinion yet,” Poppy protested. “And you’re making far too much of this. It’s just a minor sprain, and . . . what are you doing?”
Harry had laid two fingers on the top of her foot, two inches below the ankle, feeling for her pulse. “Making certain your circulation hasn’t been compromised.”
Poppy rolled her eyes. “My goodness. All I need is to sit somewhere with my foot up.”
“I’m going to carry you to bed,” he said, sliding one arm behind her back, the other beneath her knees. “Can you put your arms around my neck?”
She blushed from head to toe, and complied with an inarticulate murmur. He lifted her in a slow, easy movement. Poppy fumbled a little as the toweling began to slip from her body, and she gasped in pain.
“Did I jostle your leg?” Harry asked in concern.
“No. I think . . .” She sounded sheepish. “I think I may have hurt my back a little as well.”
Harry let out a few quiet curses that caused her brows to raise, and he carried her into the bedroom. “From now on,” he told her sternly, “you’re not to step out of the bathing tub unless there’s someone to help you.”
“I can’t do that,” she protested.
“I don’t need help with my bath every night. I’m not a child!”
“Believe me,” Harry said, “I’m aware of that.” He set her down gently and arranged the covers over her. After easing the damp towel away from her, he adjusted her pillows. “Where are your nightgowns?”
“The bottom dresser drawer.”
Harry went to the dresser, jerked the drawer open, and pulled out a white gown. Returning to the bed, he helped Poppy into the nightgown, his face tautening with concern as she winced with every movement. She needed something for the pain. She needed a doctor.
Why the hell was it so quiet in the apartment? He wanted people running, fetching things. He wanted action.
After tucking the covers around Poppy, he left the room in rapid strides.
Three maids were still in the hallway, talking amongst themselves. Harry scowled, and the maids blanched simultaneously.
“S-sir?” one of them asked nervously.
“Why are you all standing here?” he demanded. “And where is Mrs. Pennywhistle? I want one of you to find her immediately, and tell her to hurry! And I want the other two of you to start fetching things.”
“What kind of things, sir?” one of them quavered.
“Things for Mrs. Rutledge. A hot water bottle. Ice. Laudanum. A pot of tea. A book. I don’t give a damn, just start bringing things!”
The two maids scampered away like terrified squirrels.
A half minute passed, and still no one appeared.
Where the devil was the doctor? Why was everyone so bloody slow?
He heard Poppy calling for him, and he turned on his heels and raced back into the apartments. He was at her bedside in an instant.
Poppy was huddled in a small, motionless heap.
“Harry,” her voice came from beneath the bedclothes, “are you yelling at people?”
“No,” he said instantly.
“Good. Because this is not a serious situation, and it certainly doesn’t merit—”
“It’s serious to me.”
Poppy pushed the covers away from her strained face and looked at him as if he were someone she had met before but couldn’t quite place. A faint smile touched her lips. Tentatively her hand crept to Harry’s, her small fingers curving around his palm.
That simple clasp did something strange to Harry’s heartbeat. His pulse drove in erratic surges, and his chest turned hot with some unknown emotion. He took her entire hand in his, their palms gently pressing. He wanted to hold her in his arms, not in passion, but to give comfort. Even though his embrace was the last thing she wanted.
“I’ll be back in a moment,” he said, striding from the room. He rushed to a sideboard in his private library, poured a small glass of French brandy, and brought it back to Poppy. “Try this.”
“What is it?”
She tried to sit up, wincing with every movement. “I don’t think I’ll like it.”
“You don’t have to like it. Just drink it.” Harry tried to help her, feeling unaccountably awkward . . . he, who had always navigated his way around the female form with absolute confidence. Carefully he wedged another pillow behind her back.