The Gilded Hour Page 143

“I’m not sure I like this hypothetical question. Is there a trick in it somewhere?”

He leaned over and kissed her forehead, damp and cool. “No. Never mind, it was just a theory I was testing.”

She was frowning at him, but he could almost see her attention drifting back to the folder in her hands. He had his answer: for fun, Anna liked to think about medicine. She liked many other things: coffee and high places, little girls laughing, flower gardens and the sea, but fun was a difficult concept. The stories she told about Sophie and Cap when they were children made him think she once had been able to be spontaneous, but somewhere along the way she had forgotten what it felt like to simply enjoy herself. Outside their bed, at least, she didn’t seem to understand the concept.

She was reading the first report and had forgotten that he was standing there.

He tried to catch the yawn that overwhelmed him, and failed. Instead he got up and began to strip. Jacket, tie, collar. With one hand he started unbuttoning his shirt while with the other he dropped a suspender over a shoulder. Then he saw the look on her face. Astonishment, maybe. Amusement tinged with irritation.


“Mezzanotte. You’re standing in front of the windows. Open windows, curtains drawn back.”

He waited, raised a brow.

“What would you say if I stood in the windows and stripped for the whole neighborhood to stare at? You’d be shocked, wouldn’t you?”

“Surprised is more the word that comes to mind. Um, maybe also a little . . . engaged.”

Her jaw dropped open and then closed with a click. “Don’t change the subject. Explain to me this compulsion you have about walking naked around the house.”

He draped his trousers over a chair back and came to sit on the bed, his legs stretched out before him and his hands folded over his middle.

“You know, Savard, for a credentialed doctor and surgeon you can be very prudish.”

She bristled, which was what he was after. And then she surprised him.

“Did it ever occur to you that I don’t want to share you?”

He let out a bark of a laugh and she poked him with one finger, hard.

“In some parts of the world women wear dark veils every day, regardless of the weather,” she told him. “Because their husbands don’t want other men looking at them or coveting them. It could work the other way around, too. In theory.”

He ran a finger from her throat to the first button of her chemise, and she shivered.

“How do you know about the habits of veiled women in other parts of the world?”

She sighed in mock irritation and put the folder aside. Jack was quite pleased with her about this, but he didn’t let it show.

“You still don’t understand what kind of place the New Amsterdam is. Poor women come in all colors and shapes and fashions. I’ve treated women from places you’ve never heard of.”

“You think?” He made a rake of his fingers and slid them through a strand of her hair. “I was always good at geography. Try me.”

“Wait.” She jumped up and ran down the hall to a room still filled with unpacked boxes. Because she was wearing a chemise and nothing else, he quite enjoyed this small interruption. She came back at a more measured pace, with a very large book in her arms. “My atlas. This way we can check each other.” She dropped it on his lap.

“Careful,” he said, shifting uncomfortably. “You are gambling with our progeny.”

She climbed up on the bed and sat back on her heels, her hands folded in front of herself. “I had a patient from Abyssinia last year.”

There was something compelling about Anna in a mood like this, absolutely determined to win a battle of wits. He’d draw it out as long as he could.

“If I’m not mistaken,” he said, “Abyssinia borders on the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the Red Sea in the south. The Nile runs the whole length of it. You’ve got to do better than that to trip me up, Savard. I was always good at geography.”

“And languages.”

“That too.” What he wanted to do was to get rid of the atlas she had taken back to hold in front of her like a warrior queen’s shield and then tumble her, cold or no cold.

He said, “Does it have to be a country?”

“As opposed to what?” she wanted to know. “Continents?”

He shrugged. “States. Counties, shires. Provinces. Cities.”

“Suit yourself. But stay within the realm of fair play.”

“But first you go on until I miss one.”

“Fine,” she said, composing her expression. “Basutoland.”

“Africa,” Jack said. “If I had to guess, the far south, one of the British colonies probably. I’ll guess near the Cape Colony.”

She put on her most disinterested expression, tilted her head to one side.


“Spell it.”


“You had a patient from Khiva?”

“I’m setting the questions, Mezzanotte. Answer, or admit defeat.”

“Don’t know.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “I think you do.”

That made him really laugh. “Why would I lie?”

“To stop the game. But you’ve missed a question and it’s your turn to ask me.”

He tugged on a strand of her hair. “If you insist. Brunei. Spelled B-R-U-N-E-I.”

“Ei is the word for egg in German.”

“That’s your answer? Brunei is a—state or principality in Germany?”

“Not an answer. It was a guess.”

“I’m feeling magnanimous. One more try.”

She tapped her forehead with one knuckle. “Wait. It’s coming to me. Brunei is a Swiss canton on the Austrian border.”

He wrestled the book out of her hands and dropped it over the side of the bed, which made her squawk.

“That’s a valuable atlas.”

“I’ve got a bigger one. Lift up.” He tugged at the hem of her chemise, caught beneath her knees.

She slapped his hands away. “No.”

“No? Why not?”

“I need a reason?”

“I’ll give you a reason,” he said, tugging harder. “I’m rewarding you for that stunning example of a bluff. There’s no Swiss canton called Brunei. Now are you going to lift up?”

“No.” She was trying not to laugh.

“Well, then.” He shrugged. “I’ll have to peel you like a banana.”

She didn’t try very hard to stop him and the buttons were no challenge at all. The thin muslin slid off her shoulders and down her arms to stop at her elbows. With her breasts looking at him cheerfully Jack said, “I’ve got an idea for a different kind of geography quiz. And this one I’m pretty sure you’ll win.”

•   •   •

“TELL ME,” ANNA said a half hour later, still trying to catch her breath. “Do people just stop doing this when the real heat starts next month?”

She felt him smiling, but he rolled to one side so the breeze from the window could wash over her. “Is that better?”

“I wasn’t complaining. Do people stop in hot weather?”

He said, “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the bathtub.”

Anna giggled, and was surprised at herself for it.

Jack lifted his head to peek at her, gave a low sound of satisfaction, and dropped it again.

“So,” he said. “You were telling me about men covering up women to ward off the interest of other men. You want me to wear a veil and robes?”

Anna took a journal from under her pillow and began to flap it like a fan. “I’m considering it.” And then: “You know the strangest thing about being married?”

He lifted his head again, one brow raised.

“The playfulness. I never anticipated that, and now it makes me sad to think I might have gone my whole life without it. Did you expect it to be like this?”

“I hoped, is the way I’d put it.”

“But how did you know to hope for it?”

“My parents,” he said. “They are affectionate with each other, and my brothers have that too, with their wives. Each in his own way.” He thought for a moment. “Some more successfully than others.”

“Is that an Italian thing, do you think?”

He wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow. “I couldn’t claim that. You remember Giacalone the tailor.”

“Now that you remind me. ‘Why did you kill your wife?’ in Sicilian.”

He grinned at her. “We are an emotional people, in all directions.”

“From the stories I think my parents were affectionate,” Anna said. She was quiet, but he could hear her thoughts spinning, and he understood.

“I have an idea.”

“Not another geography quiz.”

“Not right now. I’m wondering why you don’t write down what you want to tell me that you’re having such a hard time talking about.”

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