BOOK 1: PAINTED TRUST
Edith and the Forensic Surgeon
Available End 2017
Here is a Pinterest board that reflects some of the ideas and mood as I was writing.
Edinburgh, Scotland 1889.
Wind swept clouds smudged the sky and a bleak wind pressed against her front as Edith stopped her trek in front of number forty-eight Surgeon’s Square. Edith lifted the brass door knocker and hit it against the black, glossy door. Three hard knocks which vibrated through her hand and rang out down the street. It was a baton thumping on castle gates. It was a request for refuge, against the weather, against the coming night and against a pursuing past; or perhaps, much like her heart, it was the sound of hope beating frantically against the odds.
The door opened.
Her breath hitched.
This was it.
An elderly man filled the doorway and from behind him came the smell of astringents, a little sharp, a little pungent. The smell of anatomy, of sterilization, and preservation. Of investigations and dissections. The familiar odor eased some of the tightness in her body. It was a world she’d studied, had somewhat mastered.
“Miss Applebury?” the old man asked, face expressionless. Not a promising sign.
“That’s correct.” Her hand squeezed the handle of her valise as she held the old man’s gaze.
The old man didn’t move aside as she expected, instead he stood firmly in the doorway, “You’re a bit young.”
Nerves scuttled down her spine, was she too young? Had she over done the credentials in her application? It was possible.
Shrewd eyes watched her, measuring her against an anecdotal standard.
Edith drew herself to stand taller.
“Perhaps I have good breeding.” The wind pushed her coat against her back and tugged at her hat as one second ticked by then the next.
The old man didn’t move.
Edith held her gaze firm as her annoyance and concern grew, what if she never even got in the door?
Another gust of wind battered against her. Her free hand flew up to hold down her hat until the flurry passed and still the old man stood there.
Scotts, they were ornery, stubborn and distrustful. She arched a single brow. “Perhaps I have the wrong address? Or perhaps you think it is your place to conduct final interviews on your master’s front step?”
He registered her comeback with a single nod, “I hope you have more where that came from, lass.”
“On-tap if required,” she replied.
“We’ll see,” the old man replied, “my money is on you leaving within the week.” Then he stepped back and held the door for her to enter.
She stopped herself from grinning but there were still more hurdles to get through. Dr. Vaughn’s reputation was brilliant as a medical mind and demonic as an employer. His inability to keep staff was what had clearly gotten her through the door, a woman with no contactable referees.
Backbone is what Dr. Vaughn’s butler was relaying she needed if she intended to stay. Well, he had no idea. A bad tempered forensic surgeon would be a relief, she had faced horror in human form and survived.
A long escalating scream came from deeper inside the house.
They both stood still as the cry rang out. Her on the front portico and the old man waiting for her to enter.
“Dr. Vaughn the forensic surgeon and anatomist?” Both those professions revolve around the dead. Working with cadavers was what she was comfortable with and they did not emit screams.
“And…surgeon. He is an eminent surgeon.” the man replied.
“He is.” The old man must have seen the color drain from her face. His brow creased and he looked at her as if she would turn tail and run.
And maybe she should. She didn’t have much experience with live surgery. Some, but not enough to bluff her way through anything serious.
The tightness in her abdomen squeezed up one more notch. “He retired from active surgery four years ago.” She had research him carefully.
“He, took it back up six months ago. What did you think he needed someone like you for?” The old man’s body tensed up as he spoke. “Will you be leaving?”
Panic washed through her at the thought. She lifted her chin, damn it she had faced worse, much, much worse. This couldn’t be so hard, not after all she had studied and all she had practiced.
Edith relaxed her face and took in a deep breath. “I see, well I guess I arrived just in time.”
The old man looked relieved. He reached out as he spoke and took her small brown valise and ushered her inside. “Mr. Price, butler.”
“And gatekeeper.” she replied.
“And gatekeeper,” he agreed.
Behind her the door clicked firmly closed leaving the wild wind and bleak sky on the other side; a transition from one world to the next, from one state of desperate circumstance to another of possible hope, a moment to make the Bronte Sisters proud.
Edith stepped inside, the black and white tiled foyer was sparsely furnished. A single potted palm in a blue and white ceramic pot, a large rectangular gold framed mirror above a glossy wooden sideboard all clustered to one side and the rest of the room clear.
Stairs went up to the private rooms above. From the outside she’d seen three floors, so most likely Dr. Vaughn had the second floor and staff such as herself, the third floor and possibly the attic. The thought sunk in, she would sleep under this roof tonight, tonight and every night until it was time to go.
“We expected your arrival over an hour ago.” Mr. Price held out a hand for her hat and coat.
“I walked.” She handed him her bonnet and started on the buttons of her coat. “I finally got comprehensible directions at the Old Thistle.” Her clean English accent sounded confident. Good, she still had her biggest hurdle yet, the notorious and infamously difficult, Dr. Anthony Vaughn.
Despite her bravado, as she removed her coat her hands shook and her palms were clammy. Surgeon. She had skills a plenty for an anatomist, for a surgeon all she had was smarts that came out of books and mock surgery on cadavers.
The butler tsked her with what was no doubt his version of collegiately as he placed her things on hooks in the hall cupboard. “I’m afraid we’ll need you to get started immediately. I’ll see your belongings are taken to your room.”
Her heart lurched. “Now? Perhaps I could change? Start tomorrow?” Perhaps she should forget this and run?
The trouble was Dr. Vaughn forensic surgeon was called in on many of Britain’s toughest cases, if something happened to one of her sisters, she was betting on him being called to assist. And she had thought, by right of position she would be there with him. A little surgery would be a small price to pay to be there if that moment unfolded, and she knew it would. No mathematician alive would give her or any Painted Sister good odds at survival.
Another howl wailed through the house. This time as if the owner were passing the innards of hell through his vocal cords.
Her heart beat faster. What if she failed? What if the doctor took one look at her, saw the extent of her inexperience and threw her out before he knew how good she was with anatomy? Tension settled back in her gut.
The howls increased in volume taking up residence through the house as if the wild winds had in fact slipped under the door and joined them.
Double doors at the far right flung open hitting the walls on either side. Clap. Clap.
Two burst of syncopated thunder.
A stallion of a man strode into the foyer.
She took an involuntary step back before she got control of her cowardice legs.
That couldn’t be him.
She flashed a look over at Price who was still putting her things away totally immune to the doors and the man.
Her gaze returned to the six-foot three inches of stallion whose size made the foyer shrink. He stood scowling at her, as the doors swung shut behind him, hands on tapered hips and his chocolate colored hair oddly mussed.
A remarkable and very delicious ripple trickled down her spine. Oh no; no, no, no. Years being indifferent to men and now, now she had to find one attractive? She took another involuntary step back and his scowl deepened as if to warn her one more retreat and the hounds of hell would be unleashed.
Her throat tightened as she swallowed, unless she could get this under control she would be in trouble.
No illustrations or photographs of him showed up in the medical journals she’d searched through but from the tone of his writing, from his views she had always imagined a staid medico, steeped in formaldehyde.
Perhaps he was an assistant sent to check on her arrival?
Her eyes darted over him in hope.
She didn’t honestly except anything.
His apron and rolled up sleeves both showed signs of blood. Even if those signs weren’t there, his bearing shouted his position. He was the ultimate candidate for the Hippocratic Oath. A wielder of life and death in a body built to suture the two realms together.
Confidence leaked out of her like a broken blood bag. This was not a man to manipulate, let alone try and fool, and yet, she needed to do both to complete her task and stay alive. Her feet itched to take another step back.
“You’re late.” His voice was a delicious, rumbling, vibrating sound that wiped out clear coherent thought. He didn’t wait for a response but moved towards her, his eyes focused on hers sending a shot of awareness through her body and pinning her to the spot.
Her heart beat faster. Each step, each movement he took towards her was charged with the powerful beauty of a creature who’d earned its elevated place in the world.
“The train from London, Miss Applebury, arrives at ten eighteen. From platform to street a cab can be hailed in under fifteen minutes.” He stopped in front of her and that voice continued to rumble out of his chest swallowing what little remained of rational thought. “The journey from the station to this practice is a further twenty-five minutes. By my calculation that makes you well over an hour late and surgery has been held up fifteen minutes. I have a man bleeding out on a gurney while you chose to take tea en-route.”
He was a forensic surgeon, an extraordinary anatomist who went through bodies faster than hell was accepting souls. A man she was pinning all her hopes upon. But what he was saying, the words themselves were just sounds rolling deliciously and alarmingly through her insides. Instructions to her arms, legs and torso went ignored.
Immobilized, Edith stared up into mesmerizing pale steel colored eyes. The kind of silver shine that a scalpel had under lights. Her breathing became irregular and choppy like the surface of a lake ruffled into chaos by a portending storm. How was she going to concentrate if she had to look into them all day?
She opened her mouth to explain, that she’d walked, that the Scott’s accent led to some misunderstandings of direction that she would never dally for tea en-route.
But instead, “You’re the Butcher”, landed in the space between them.
His eyes opened in surprise at his nickname, then pulled together into a scowl.
Rallying, Edith pushed her shoulders back and lifted her head, which now contained a foggy and malfunctioning organ. “Or so I was told.” Triple damn, she sounded like an idiot.
“Gossip is an unattractive trait, Miss Applebury. You will refrain from it in my employ.”
Her jaw tightened. “You’re nickname is well know, I read it in a journal.”
Her brows came down and heat washed over her cheeks.
“Nonsense? Are you insinuating I couldn’t possibly read a medical journal?” Her hands made their way to her hips.
The Dr. leaned down to her. “I would think very carefully about what you say next, Miss Applebury. You are not registered with the British Nurses Association, nor have you had any experience in a hospital or field hospital. In fact you stand before me on very thin and credentials concerning difficult to verify.”
Edith clamped her lips together forcing herself to remain silent. She knew he was difficult she should have been prepared to hold her tongue.
He moved, placed a large hand between her shoulder blades. The touch scorched through the fabric of her dress making her nerves jump. Damn it she needed to be here, needed to find a way to turn this around. Instead of directing them to the front door, Dr. Vaughn propelled her in the direction of the double doors he had come through.
“You’re not kicking me out?” she tested, heart hammering in her chest.
“Not yet,” he growled back.