Mine Till Midnight - Page 24

"My lady," she said, "thank you for allowing me to wear one of your dresses. I will return it as soon as possible?

"Call me Evie," came the warm reply. "And you must keep the dress. It is very becoming on you, and not at all on me. That particular shade of red clashes with my hair."

"You are too kind," Amelia said, wishing she didn't sound so stiff, wishing she could accept the gift without feeling the weight of obligation.

But Evie didn't seem to notice her awkwardness, just reached for her hand and drew it through her arm as they walked, as if Amelia needed to be led like a young girl. "Your sisters will be relieved to see you up and about. They said it was the first time they could ever remember you staying abed so long."

"I'm afraid I didn't sleep well. I was ... preoccupied." Color climbed up the pale slopes of Amelia's cheeks as she thought of lying next to Cam's body, their clothes disheveled to reveal places of bareness and heat, lips and hands delicately investigating.

"Yes, I'm sure you? A quick hesitation, then Evie continued in a bemused tone. "I'm sure you had much to consider."

Following her gaze, Amelia realized that Evie had glanced down at the hand that rested on her sleeve.

She had seen the ring.

Amelia's fingers curled. She looked up into the countess's curious blue eyes, and her mind went blank.

"It's all right," Evie said, catching Amelia's hand when she would have withdrawn it, pressing it back to her arm. She smiled. "We must talk, Amelia. I thought he wasn't quite himself today. Now I understand why."

There was no need to clarify who "he" was.

"My lady?Evie?there is nothing between Mr. Rohan and myself. Nothing." Her cheeks burned with agitated color. "I don't know what you must think of me."

They paused before the French doors that opened onto the back terrace, and Amelia withdrew her hand from Evie's arm. Tugging at the ring, which remained stubbornly clamped on her finger, she glanced at Evie in despair. To her astonishment, Evie did not seem at all shocked or critical, but rather understanding. There was something in her face, a sort of tender gravity, that made Amelia think, No wonder Lord St. Vincent is besotted with her.

"I think you're a capable young woman," Evie said, "who loves her siblings and bears a great deal of responsibility for them. I think that's a heavy burden for a woman to carry alone. I also think you have a gift for accepting people as they are. And Cam knows how rare that is."

Amelia felt anxious, as if she'd lost something and needed to retrieve it quickly. "I... is he still here? He should have left for London by now."

"He's still here, talking with my husband and Lord Westcliff. They rode to Ramsay House early this morning to see what was left of it, and make some early assessments."

Amelia didn't like the thought of them visiting the property without consulting her or Leo. The situation was being handled as if the Hathaways were nothing more than a group of helpless children. She squared her shoulders.

"That was very kind of them, but I can manage the situation now. I expect part of Ramsay House is still habitable, which means we won't need to prevail on Lord and Lady Westcliff's hospitality any longer."

"Oh, you must stay," Evie said quickly. "Lillian has already said you are welcome to remain until Ramsay House is fully restored. This is such a large house, you would never intrude on anyone's privacy. And Lillian and Lord Westcliff will be away for at least a fortnight. They're leaving for Bristol tomorrow—along with Lord St. Vincent and myself—to visit Lillian's younger sister Daisy, who is expecting a child. So you'll have the manor to yourselves, more or less."

"We'd reduce the place to a heap of rubble by the time they returned."

Evie smiled. "I suspect your family isn't as dangerous as all that."

"You don't know the Hathaways." Feeling the need to assert control over the situation, Amelia said, "I'll ride to Ramsay House myself after I have some breakfast. If the upstairs rooms are in suitable condition, my family will be back home by nightfall."

"Do you think that's best for Winnifred?" Evie asked gently. "Or Mr. Merripen, or Lord Ramsay?"

Amelia flushed, knowing she was being unreasonable. But the feeling of impotence, being stripped of all authority, was rising in a choking mass.

"Perhaps you should speak to Cam," Evie said, "before any decisions are made."

"He has nothing to do with my decisions."

Evie gave her a thoughtful look. "Forgive me. I shouldn't make assumptions. It's just that the ring on your finger?Cam's worn it since he was twelve years old."

Amelia tugged violently at the ring. "I don't know why he gave it to me. I'm sure it's of no significance."

"I think it has very great significance," Evie said softly. "Cam has been an outsider for his entire life. Even when he lived with the Rom. I think he's always secretly hoped he could someday find a place where he would belong. But until he met you, it didn't occur to him that it might not be a place he was looking for, but a person."

"I'm not that person," Amelia whispered. "Truly, I'm not."

Evie regarded her with kind sympathy. "It's your decision, of course. But as someone who has known Cam for a very long time, I must tell you?he's a good man, and entirely trustworthy." She pushed the French doors open for Amelia. "Your sisters are outside," she said. "I'll send for your dinner tray."

It was a damp, brisk day, the air saturated with the scents of mulch and roses and late-flowering grasses. The back terrace overlooked acres of meticulously tended gardens, all connected by graveled pathways. Tables and chairs had been set upon the flagstoned floor. Since most of Lord Westcliff 's guests had departed at the conclusion of the latest hunting party, the terrace was largely unoccupied.

Seeing Win, Poppy, and Beatrix at a table, Amelia strode to them eagerly. "How are you?" she asked Win. "Did you sleep well? Did you cough?"

"I'm quite well. We were worried about you—I've never known you to sleep so long unless you were ill."

"Oh, no, not ill, couldn't be better." Amelia gave her an overbright smile. She glanced at her other sisters, who were both wearing new gowns, Poppy in yellow and Beatrix in green. "Beatrix... you look lovely. Like a young lady."

Smiling, Beatrix stood and executed a slow turn for her. The pale green dress, with its intricately pleated bodice and dark green corded trim, fit almost perfectly, the skirts falling down to the floor. "Lady Westcliff gave it to me," she said. "It belonged to her younger sister, who can't wear it anymore because she's in confinement."

"Oh, Bea? Seeing her sister's pleasure in the grownup dress, Amelia felt a pang of sorrowful pride. Beatrix should attend a finishing school, where she would learn French and flower arranging, and all the social graces the rest of the Hathaways lacked. But there was no money for that—and at this rate, there never would be.

She felt Win's hand slip into hers and give it a small squeeze. Glancing down into Win's understanding blue eyes, she sighed. They were -still for a moment, hands clinging in mutual support.

"Amelia," Win murmured, "do sit by me. I want to ask you something."

Amelia lowered herself in the chair, which gave her a perfect vantage point of the gardens. There was a sharp pang of recognition in her chest as she saw a trio of men walking slowly along a yew hedge, Cam's dark and graceful form among them. Like his companions, Cam wore riding breeches and tall leather boots. But instead of the traditional riding coat and waistcoat, he wore a white shirt topped with a jerkin, an open collarless vest made of thin leather. A breeze played in the black layers of his hair, lifting the glossy locks and letting them settle.

As the three men walked, Cam interacted with his surroundings in a way the other two didn't, picking a stray leaf from the hedge, running his palm across the coppery tails of maidengrass. And yet Amelia was certain he didn't miss a word of the conversation.

Although nothing could possibly have alerted him to Amelia's presence, he paused and looked over his shoulder in her direction. Even across the distance of twenty yards, meeting his gaze gave her a small shock. Every hair on her body lifted.

"Amelia," Win asked, "have you come to some kind of arrangement with Mr. Rohan?"

Amelia's mouth went dry. She buried her left hand, the one with the ring, in the folds of her skirt. "Of course not. Where would you get such an idea?"

"He and Lord Westcliff and Lord St. Vincent have been talking ever since they returned from Ramsay House this morning. I couldn't help overhearing some of their conversation when they were on the terrace. And the things that were said—the way Mr. Rohan phrased himself—it sounded as if he were speaking for us."

"What do you mean, speaking for us?" Amelia asked indignantly. "No one speaks for the Hathaways except me.

Or Leo."

"He seems to be making decisions about what needs to be done, and when." Win added in an abashed whisper, "As if he were the head of the family."

Amelia was flooded with indignation. "But he has no right... I don't know why he would think... oh, Lord"

This had to be stopped right away.

"Are you all right, dear?" Win asked in concern. "You look pale. Here, have some of my tea."

Aware that all three of her sisters were staring at her with round eyes, Amelia took the china cup and drained it in a few gulps.

"How long are we going to stay here, Amelia?" Beatrix asked. "I like it much better than our house."

Before Amelia could answer, Poppy joined in with, "Where did you get that pretty ring? May I see it?"

Amelia stood abruptly. "Excuse me—I need to speak with someone." She strode across the terrace and hurried down the curving steps to the garden walk.

As she approached the three men, who had paused beside a stone urn filled with dahlias, Amelia overheard a few snatches of conversation, such as "... extend the existing foundation ..." and "... the remainder of quarried stone from Jenner's and have it carted here ..."

Surely they couldn't be talking about Ramsay House, she thought with increasing alarm. They must not be aware of how paltry the Hathaways' yearly annuities were. Her family couldn't afford the materials and labor to rebuild.

Becoming aware of her presence, the three men turned. Lord Westcliff wore a kind, concerned expression, whereas Lord St. Vincent looked pleasant but aloof. Cam's face was unreadable, his gaze traveling over her in a quick, thorough sweep.

Amelia nodded in greeting. "Good day, gentlemen." She steeled herself not to flinch as she stared up into Cam's dark face. "Mr. Rohan, I had thought you would have been gone by now."

"I'll be leaving for London soon."

Good, she thought. That was for the best. But her heart thumped in an extra painful beat.

"And I'll return within a week," Cam stunned her by adding calmly. "Along with an engineer and master builder to appraise the condition of Ramsay House."

Amelia was shaking her head even before he had finished. "Mr. Rohan, I don't wish to sound ungrateful, but that won't be necessary. My brother and I will decide how best to proceed."

"Your brother is in no condition to decide anything." Lord Westcliff broke in. "Miss Hathaway, you are welcome to stay at Stony Cross Manor indefinitely."

"You are very generous, my lord. But since Ramsay House is still standing, we will live there."

"It was barely adequate before the fire," Cam said. "As things stand now, I wouldn't let a stray dog go in there. Most of the place will have to be razed to the foundation." Amelia scowled. "Then we will move into the gatehouse on the approach road."

"That place is too small for the lot of you. And it's in bad condition."

"That's none of your concern, Mr. Rohan."

Cam gave her a long, intent stare. There was something new in his gaze, she realized. Something that made her insides tighten with apprehension and confusion.

"We need to speak privately," he said.

"No we don't." All her nerves shrilled in warning as she saw the glances the three men exchanged.

"With your permission," Lord Westcliff murmured, "we will withdraw."

"No," Amelia said swiftly, "you don't have to go, really, there's no need..." Her voice faded as it became apparent that her permission was not required.

Following Westcliff, Lord St. Vincent paused just long enough to murmur to Amelia, "Although most advice should be distrusted, particularly when it comes from myself... keep an open mind, Miss Hathaway. One should never look a rich husband in the mouth." He winked at her and left, striding to the back terrace along with Westcliff. Thunderstruck, Amelia could only manage one word.


"I told them we were betrothed." Cam took her arm in a gentle but adamant grip and guided her around to the other side of the yew, where they could not be observed from the house. "Why?"

"Because we are."


They stopped in the concealment of the hedge. Aghast, Amelia looked up into his warm hazel eyes. "Are you mad?" Taking her hand, Cam lifted it until the ring gleamed in the daylight. "You're wearing my ring. You slept with me. You made promises. Many in the Rom would say that constitutes full-blown marriage. But just to make certain it's legal, we'll do it the way of the gadjos as well."

"We'll do no such thing!" Amelia snatched her hand from his and backed away. "I'm only wearing this ring because I can't get the blasted thing off. And what do you mean, I made promises? Were those Romany words you asked me to repeat some kind of vow? You tricked me! I didn't mean what I said."

"But you did sleep with me."

She flushed in shame and outrage, and dragged a sleeve across her sweating brow. Whirling away from him, she strode rapidly along a graveled path that led deeper into the garden. "That didn't mean anything, either," she said over her shoulder.

He kept pace with her easily. "It meant something to me. The sexual act is sacred to a Roma."

She made a scornful sound. "What about all the ladies you seduced in London? Was it sacred when you slept with them, too?"

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