The Artist's Healer
Coming June 29, 2020 (in ebook and print from Edwards and Williams)
Spunky artist and entrepreneur Abigail Archer is determined to see her friend, Jesslyn Denby, restored as director of the spa at Grace-by-the-Sea, even if that means ousting the news physician who took her place. A shame she was recently injured and requires him to dance attendance on her. But if he thinks she'll meekly accept his orders, he'd better think again!
Doctor Linus Bennett came to the little coastal village with his young son to escape a troubled past. He's not about to lose his post to some crusader, but the pretty painter awakens feelings he'd thought long buried. When it appears the French are about to invade, Abigail and Linus must work together to save the village. In doing so, the doctor may just find that falling in love with the outspoken Abigail is the best prescription to heal his wounded heart.
This sweet, clean Regency is the sequel to The Heiress's Convenient Husband. Grace-by-the-Sea: Where romance and adventure come home.
Grace-by-the-Sea, Dorset, England, July 1804
She wasn't made to lie abed all day.
Abigail Archer stared at the ceiling in her bedchamber. It wasn't a grand ceiling like those in Castle How on the headland above her shop or Lord Peverell's Lodge on the opposite headland across Grace Cove. The cream-colored plaster bore no coffering, no elaborate beams, no mosaic pattern or allegorical painting of mythical beings.
She could paint one. Perhaps Poseidon rising from the depths, waves crashing around him. But no, she didn't need the reminder of the autocratic fellows in her life.
The biggest autocrat at the moment wouldn't allow her to paint in any regard.
She carefully shrugged her right shoulder. Immediately, pain shot down her arm, causing her fingers to tighten. No, no painting. Not yet. But she would not be deterred.
Her mother bustled into the room. On the best of days, theirs was an uneasy truce. Now the carefully coiffed white curls around her mother's face, her neat and cheerful cream on spring green printed cotton gown gathered at her neck, and her purposefulness only served to remind Abigail of all she could not be at the moment.
"Let me fix your hair," her mother said, going to the walnut bureau on the opposite wall to fetch the tortoiseshell brush. "And help you change into something prettier. Miss Pierce the elder sent over a lovely bed jacket-green quilted satin. Can you imagine?"
"That was very kind of her," Abigail said as her mother came around the bed, brush in hand. "But I can't move my arm enough to don it, and I doubt this bandage would fit inside even if I could."
Her mother frowned at the swath of linen wrapped around Abigail's upper arm. "That is a problem."
It certainly was.
And it wasn't something she'd ever prepared for. Bullet wounds were unheard of in the village of Grace-by-the-Sea. She ought to know; she'd lived here for all her six and twenty years. She'd made cherished friends like Jesslyn Chance and now Eva Howland. She'd learned to read and write, learned to sail, learned to paint. She'd built her own business, provided for herself and her widowed mother. Now all that was threatened because she had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Her mother had nearly collapsed when two of Abigail's fellow shopkeepers, Mr. Carroll across the street and Mr. Lawrence, the jeweler, had half carried her down from the headland two nights ago.
"But what happened?" she kept repeating as Abigail curled up on her bed, holding her arm while the men went for the physician. "Why are you bleeding?"
"I was shot," Abigail managed, pausing to clench her teeth against the pain. "I was helping the magistrate up at the castle. He suspects the French have been using it to pass messages."
"Messages?" Even in Abigail's fog of shock, she could see her mother's face scrunching up. "But the French are still massing across the Channel. They haven't invaded."
"There may be some in the area," Abigail said.
"How?" her mother protested. "Why?"
She would not lose patience. She tried so hard. Abigail drew in a breath, mustered the last of her energy to explain. "Mr. Howland hoped to catch one of them, so he and the militia surrounded the castle, hiding among the trees. Jesslyn and I were inside with Eva and Mrs. Tully, keeping an eye on things, when one of the Frenchmen slipped through their net and into the castle. I ran out to alert the magistrate, and a militiaman fired his musket, thinking me the enemy. Now, if you don't mind, I think I shall faint."
She'd woken in her nightgown, with her mother hovering over her. The bullet had carved a deep trough across her upper arm, and that physician had insisted she must rest to heal. After all that, they had caught only one of the French agents thought to be haunting their village.
"It's fine, Mother," she said now. "I don't need to dress. It isn't as if I have anywhere to go."
Her mother bit her lip a moment, then set about running the brush through Abigail's hair. Ginger-colored tendrils whipped past her eyes as if fleeing the vigorous strokes. She knew how they felt.
"Well, it's always wise to look your best," her mother said, avoiding her gaze. "You never know who might call."
A knock at the door to their flat attested to the fact.
"Oh!" her mother fumed. "I wasn't ready." She hurried to grab a handful of hairpins from the bureau and dropped them and the brush in Abigail's lap. "Here. Do what you can. I'll delay him a few moments." She hurried out.
Abigail shook her head. She couldn't raise her right arm, and she could hardly dress her hair one-handed. She set the brush on the table beside the bed, then scooped up the pins and let them slide down next to it. As the rattle subsided, she cocked her head and listened.
Through the door her mother had closed behind her came voices, three of them. She couldn't make out words, only pitches and tones. One of the higher, excited ones belonged to her mother, but the other? A lady visitor, perhaps, though why she would sound so reluctant was beyond Abigail. And that deeper one…
She stiffened a moment before the door opened. Doctor Linus Bennett walked in, black leather medical bag in one hand. Not that she would admit it to anyone who asked, but the ladies at the spa must be in alt at the very sight of him. Warm brown hair waved back from a brow that spoke of intelligence. Grey eyes appeared to look upon the world with wisdom and compassion. The firm line of those pink lips promised no complaint. His color and physique attested to good health.
"Miss Archer," he said. "How are we today?"
"I have no idea how you are," Abigail told him. "But I'm ready to get out of this bed."
His brows rose ever so slightly, but he gave no other response to her testy comment. He came around the bed to her side and set his bag on the table, sending a few pins to the hardwood floor with a tinkle.
"No pain?" he asked, beginning to unwind her bandage.
Though his gaze was on his work, Abigail felt her cheeks heating. Where was her mother? Always before she had remained in the room while Doctor Bennett examined Abigail. It was bad enough that he must visit her in her bedchamber, with her in her nightgown, the sleeve cut away to make room for the bandage. In a moment, the bare skin of her arm would be in view.
He'd seen it two nights ago, of course, when he'd first attended her, and the other morning as well. But this time, alone with him, seemed too intimate.
Then the wound came into view, an ugly slash against her fair skin, red, raw, the gap closed with white stitches as good as her mother's embroidery. Abigail swallowed.
"The sutures are holding together nicely," he said, studying the wound. "No sign of an inflammation." His gaze met hers, and breathing became difficult. He frowned and laid a hand on her forehead, the touch cool and commanding.
"No sign of a fever, though your color is higher than I'd like. How much laudanum have you used?"
"None," Abigail said, pressing her back against the wood of the walnut headboard to remove herself from his distracting touch. "I'm fine."
As if he didn't believe her, he went to locate the bottle on the bureau, held it up, and peered at the liquid sloshing about inside.
"Do not bother prescribing more," she warned him. "I won't take it. It makes me nauseous."
He set down the bottle and came back to her. "Have you been eating?"
"Broth and toast, as you apparently dictated," Abigail told him. "I could do with something more substantial."
"Gruel, then," he said, taking a fresh bandage from his bag.
Abigail stared at him. "Gruel? What of mutton, sir? At least plaice."
"Tomorrow, if you have no more nausea," he said, beginning to cover the wound anew.
"I only have nausea if I take the needless medicine you ordered. I cannot stay in this bed. I have a business to tend to, the magistrate will need assistance locating those French spies, and I must help Jesslyn Chance prepare for her wedding."
His head was bowed enough she could only see the crown. The strands of brown looked far softer than his demands.
"I am assured Miss Chance can manage," he said. "Everyone has gone out of their way to praise her skills and organization. And as for your business, the visitors to the spa will simply have to shop elsewhere for the next fortnight."
Abigail jerked away, and the bandage slipped out of his grip. "A fortnight! You cannot expect me to lie here so long. I demand you let me up, immediately."
Linus Bennett had to clench his teeth a moment before responding. He'd dealt with difficult patients in the past, in Edinburgh, where he'd attended school, and Mayfair, where he'd had his last practice. But even his nine-year-old son, Ethan, when he had been ill and abed for weeks had been more receptive to his suggestions than Miss Archer, who seemed determined to thwart his care of her.
"You cannot get up immediately without risking a fever," he said, catching hold of the bandage to tie it off. "You could also break the sutures and reopen the wound. The bullet grazed your bicep, madam. Unless it heals properly, you will never lift your lower arm without pain. I imagine that would be rather inconvenient for a painter."
He leaned back to find her green eyes narrowed and her lips working as if she was piling up words to hurl at him. Her color had only gone higher, and this time he was fairly sure of the cause.
She was furious.
"It would be more than inconvenient, and you know it," she finally said. "But my paintings aren't the only things in the shop. Nearly every woman in the area helps support her family through the crafts I sell on commission. If I make no money, neither do they."
The workings of this village continued to amaze him. He'd visited the famous spas at Harrogate and Scarborough and knew of inland Bath and Lyme Regis along the coast. None had such a generous arrangement. At Grace-by-the-Sea, families lived from the income of the shops, the goods and services sold to the spa where he had been appointed physician, and the visitors it brought in. The Spa Corporation that paid his salary divided profits among the village families quarterly.
"Perhaps one of your ladies could watch the shop for you," he suggested, snapping shut his bag.
She started to cross her arms over her chest and seemed to think better of it. "I prefer to manage things myself."
That came as no surprise. "Unfortunately, this injury requires more attention than you can give. If you have any sign of a fever or swelling, you are to send for me immediately."
Her face settled into tight lines. Her cheekbones were high and firm, the maxilla and mandible of her jaw well defined. Sculptors must long for such a face to model.
"I do not appreciate being ordered about, sir," she informed him.
Neither had Catriona.
He shoved the thought aside. Miss Archer was nothing like his late wife. Catriona had been blond and buxom, with a focus on her own pleasures. Miss Archer had a slender physique and hair the color of the bruised ginger the apothecary used in Linus's preparations. It fell about her shoulders now in thick waves that seemed to beckon him closer.
All while the light in her green eyes warned him to keep his distance.
"Ordering my patients about is my duty," he said, picking up his bag. "So is helping them understand the ramifications of ignoring my counsel. Wounds that are not allowed to heal can turn gangrenous. I prefer not to perform amputations, but I understand there's a surgeon in Upper Grace who is delighted to pull out his saw."
The color that had concerned him fled, and she dropped her gaze to the quilt covering her lap.
He felt a twinge of guilt. He hadn't intended to frighten her, but she had to know what could happen if she didn't take care. Catriona had refused to listen to him. He would not lose another.
"No need to trouble him," Miss Archer murmured as if far more contrite. "I'll do what I must to heal."
Linus drew in a breath. "Good. Any other questions for me?"
Her gaze rose once more. Oh, but he'd been wrong. Not contrite. Merely gathering more ammunition.
"Have you reinstated Jesslyn Chance and Maudlyn Tully to their positions at the spa yet?" she asked.
He should have known she'd bring that up. Miss Chance and her aunt had managed the spa between the time the previous physician-Miss Chance's father-had passed last year and Linus had arrived. Was it only a week ago, now? The Spa Corporation president and his wife did not see the need for the ladies' services now that Linus had taken charge, but he began to think them indispensable. For one thing, many of the ongoing spa guests refused to set foot in the Grand Pump Room without them. For another, he was having trouble just getting the fountain that dispensed the mineral waters to operate correctly.
"I regret that I have been too busy to make Miss Chance's acquaintance," he said. "But I have asked everyone who mentioned her to have her visit me at the spa."
She puffed out a sigh. "When you intend to apologize, sir, you go to the person you have wronged. You do not demand that they go out of their way to find you." She narrowed her eyes. "You do intend to apologize, don't you?"
"I intend to correct the misperception that I insisted on their dismissal," Linus explained. "And begin discussions on how to reinstate some of their services."
Her chin edged higher. "Some?"
He met her gaze, hoping that his own held half that determination. She could not know how important this position was to him and to Ethan.
"I am the physician at the spa, Miss Archer," he told her. "There isn't a need for another."
She continued watching him a moment, then nodded slowly. "Very well. I'll endeavor to have Jesslyn here when you call tomorrow morning. But I warn you, sir. I have started a crusade against your despotism, and I will not cease until I have satisfaction."