"I would go to hell to prevent your suffering any more than you already have. And I swear, Ian, if you let this chit hurt you, she'll be sorry Darlington ever produced her."
"Hurt me?" Ian repeated in bewilderment. Dare could not possibly be aware of what he had felt as Annie had knelt beside him in the snow that night.[This is the thing y'all missed in Chap12]
"Dealing with her has already put you in bed for a week."
"You can hardly blame her for that."
"No, nor for that harebrained journey north in the midst of a snowstorm. That was your fault."
"It wasn't snowing when we set out," Ian said, smiling.
"And John brought help as quickly as he could, despite the stable fire. Nothing that happened was her fault. It was simply a combination of unfortunate events."
"And somehow I have a feeling you are about to embark upon another series of those."
"I?" Ian asked in astonishment. "I assure you, Val,y life is most circumspect. By necessity, perhaps, but I'm beginning to consider the possibility that I am simply boring by nature."
"Good," Dare said. "Until your health is fully restored, I intend to see that you continue to be thoroughly bored. And boring. Now, go back to sleep," he ordered, picking up his book.
And after four or five minutes of watching Dare studiously pretend to read the same page, Ian felt his eyelids begin to droop. He briefly fought their heaviness, and then finally succumbed to the lure of a world where there were no worries or concerns. Particularly no concerns about a lively redhead, whose assets in the husband hunt were as meagre as Dare had suggested.
He would deal with that when he had to, Ian decided, just before he drifted back into the invalid's world of exhausted sleep.
"Believe me, Mr Sinclair, I truly wish I could disagree with the opinion of your surgeons. I'm afraid, sir, I must concur with what you were told on the Peninsula. Your lungs were irreparably damaged. They will always be prone to infections. That, in and of itself, however..."
"It is the 'however' that concerns you," Ian Sinclair said.
While he was again being prodded and poked, this time by the man many considered to be the finest physician in England, he had determined that, whatever the outcome, this would put an end to it. And he would live his life, whatever remained of it, exactly as he had lived it before—to the best of his ability.
"The largest piece of shrapnel within your chest is indeed, given its location, impossible to remove. The attempt would kill you outright. Frankly, I can't understand why it didn't kill you immediately when you were hit," McKinley said. "However, if there is anything I have learned through the years, it is that the human body is a remarkable instrument, frequently quite capable of healing itself. If we doctors could let well enough alone," the physician added, smiling.
Ian returned the smile, recognizing what the Scottish trained doctor was trying to do. And it wasn't that he didn't appreciate the effort. It was simply that he preferred his truths unvarnished. Even if the varnishing was intended to make them more palatable.
"Are you suggesting that if we leave it where it is..." Ian began cautiously, knowing this was the only question that mattered. For reasons he chose not to examine right now, it seemed to matter more than it had when he had first been given this same diagnosis more than a year ago.
"It may stay in place for the next forty years, and if it does you will die an old man, peacefully in your own bed. Or it may shift tomorrow and pierce your heart. In that case..."
He paused, and Ian finished it for him. "In that case, I won't die an old man, peacefully or otherwise."
McKinley let the silence build a moment, but he didn't deny the truth of what his patient had said.
"I should advise you to avoid the kind of physical exertion you recently engaged in. That may not be the life you would have chosen for yourself, Mr Sinclair, but it is life," the doctor said. "And much preferable to the alternative, I should think."
"I appreciate your honesty," Ian said, fighting the disappointment of a ridiculous hope he hadn't even realized he had been harbouring.
"I take it your brother doesn't know."
"I prefer that he never does. What good would it do?"
"He is very anxious about you. Since you have not told him the truth, he quite naturally feels that your convalescence has been unnecessarily slow."
"And no doubt is certain that your well-known skills could remedy the situation."
"I would that they could, Mr Sinclair," McKinley said.
"So do I," Ian admitted with a smile. "However, since they can't... And not one of us is guaranteed even one more day, of course. That is a lesson I saw demonstrated quite effectively in Portugal. I have simply received notice to live each of mine as well as I can."
"I have no doubt that you will. What do you wish me to tell the Earl?"
"That he isn't rid of me yet," Ian said. "It is, after all, nothing less than the truth."
"I'm sure he'll be relieved," McKinley said. And then, as his patient reached for the bell on the table beside the bed, "Don't bother the servants. i can see myself back to the parlour. If you have need of my services in the future, do not hesitate to send for me."
As the door closed behind the physician, the eyes of Ian Sinclair focused on the fine plaster ceiling above his head. The verdict had been nothing he hadn't known, he told himself.
There were things in his life he regretted, but the actions that had led to his being wounded were not among them. And he would therefore deal with the consequences of them without complaint. It was better, however, that he deal with them alone. He had always known that. Better for him. And much better for his family.
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