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Page 16

A smile flashed in his dark face. "As I've told you before, love, spend as much as you like. You couldn't beggar me if you tried."

"I bought some things for you, too," she said, rummaging through the pile. "Some cravats, and books, and French shaving soap… although I've been meaning to discuss that with you……"

"Discuss what?" Cam approached her from behind, kissing the side of her throat.

Amelia drew in a breath at the hot imprint of his mouth and nearly forgot what she had been saying. "Your shaving," she said vaguely. "Beards are becoming quite fashionable of late. I think you should try a goatee. You would look very dashing, and…" Her voice faded as he worked his way down her neck.

"It might tickle," Cam murmured, and laughed as she shivered.

Gently turning her to face him, he stared into her eyes. There was something different about him, she thought. A curious vulnerability she had never seen before.

" Cam," she said carefully, "how did your errand with Merripen go?"

The amber eyes were soft and alive with excitement. "Quite well. I have a secret, monisha. Shall I tell you?" He drew her against him, wrapping his arms around her, and he whispered into her ear.

Chapter Twelve

Kev was in a devil of a temper that evening for a variety of reasons. The uppermost being that Win was carrying out her threat. She was being friendly to him. Polite, courteous, damnably nice. And he was in no position to object, since this was precisely what he had wanted. But he hadn't expected that there was one thing even worse than having Win glance at him with longing. And that was indifference.

To Kev, she was affable, even affectionate, in the same way she was with Leo or Cam. She treated Kev as if he were a brother. He could hardly bear it.

The Hathaways gathered in the eating area of their suite, laughing and joking about the close quarters as they sat at the table. It was the first time in years that they had all been able to dine together: Kev, Leo, Amelia, Win, Poppy, and Beatrix, with the additions of Cam, Miss Marks, and Dr. Harrow.

Although Miss Marks had tried to demur, they had insisted that she dine with the family. "After all," Poppy had said, laughing, "how else will we know how to behave? Someone must save us from ourselves."

Miss Marks had relented, although it was clear that she would have preferred to be elsewhere. She took up as small a space as possible, a narrow, colorless figure wedged between Beatrix and Dr. Harrow. The governess rarely looked up from her plate except when Leo was speaking. Although her eyes were partially concealed by the spectacles, Kev suspected they held nothing but dislike for the Hathaways' brother.

It seemed that Miss Marks and Leo had found in each other the personification of everything they disliked most. Leo couldn't stand humorless people, or judgmental ones, and he had immediately taken to referring to the governess as "Satan in petticoats." And Miss Marks, for her part, despised rakes. The more charming they were, the deeper her loathing.

Most of the dinner conversation centered on the subject of Harrow 's clinic, which the Hathaways regarded as a miraculous enterprise. The women fawned on Harrow to a nauseating degree, delighting in his commonplace remarks, admiring him openly.

Kev had an instinctive aversion to Harrow, although he wasn't certain if that was because of the doctor himself, or because Win's affections were at stake.

It was tempting to disdain Harrow for all his smoothfaced perfection. Except that a roguish good humor lurked in his smile, and he displayed a lively interest in the conversation around him, and he seemed never to take himself too seriously. Harrow was obviously a man who shouldered heavy responsibility-that of life and death itself-and yet he carried it lightly. He was the kind of person who always seemed to fit in no matter what the circumstances.

While the family ate and conversed, Kev remained quiet except when called upon to answer some question about the Ramsay estate. He watched Win circumspectly, unable to discern exactly what her feelings for Harrow were. She reacted to the doctor with her usual composure, her face giving away nothing. But when their gazes met, there was an unmistakable connection, a sense of shared history. And worst of all, Kev recognized something in the doctor's expression… a haunting echo of his own fascination for Win.

Midway through the gruesomely pleasant dinner, Kev became aware that Amelia, who was seated at the end of the table, was unusually quiet. He looked at her closely, realizing her color was off and her cheeks were sweaty. Since he was seated at her immediate left, Kev leaned close and whispered, "What is it?"

Amelia gave him a distracted glance. " Ill," she whispered back, swallowing weakly. "I feel so… Oh, Merripen, do help me away from the table."

Without another word, Kev pushed his chair back and helped her up.

Cam, who was at the other end of the long table, looked at them sharply. "Amelia?"

"She's ill," Kev said.

Cam reached them in a flash, his face taut with anxiety. As he gathered Amelia in his arms and carried her, protesting, from the room, one would think she'd suffered a severe injury rather than a probable case of indigestion.

"Perhaps I might be of service," Dr. Harrow said with quiet concern, laying his napkin on the table as he made to follow them.

"Thank you," Win said, smiling at him gratefully. "I'm so glad you're here."

Kev barely restrained himself from gnashing his teeth in jealousy as Harrow left the room.

The rest of the meal was largely neglected, the family going to the main receiving room to wait for a report on Amelia. It took an unnervingly long time for anyone to appear.

"What could be the matter?" Beatrix asked plaintively. "Amelia's never ill."

"She'll be fine," Win soothed. "Dr. Harrow will take excellent care of her."

"Perhaps I should go to their room," Poppy said, "and ask how she is."

But before anyone could offer an opinion, Cam appeared in the doorway of the receiving room. He looked bemused, his hazel eyes vivid as he glanced at the assorted family members around him. He appeared to search for words. Then a dazzling smile appeared despite his obvious effort to moderate it. "No doubt the gadje have a more civilized way to put this," he said, "but Amelia is with child."

A chorus of happy exclamations greeted the revelation.

"What did Amelia say?" Leo asked.

Cam 's smile turned wry. "Something to the effect that this wouldn't be convenient."

Leo laughed quietly. "Children rarely are. But she'll adore having someone new to manage."

Kev watched Win from across the room. He was fascinated by the momentary wistfulness that hazed her expression. If he had ever doubted how much she wanted children of her own, it was clear to him then. As he stared at her, a flush of warmth rose in him, strengthening and thickening until he realized what it was. He was aroused, his body yearning to give her what she wanted. He longed to hold her, love her, fill her with his seed. The reaction was so barbaric and inappropriate that it mortified him.

Seeming to feel his gaze, Win glanced in his direction. She gave him an arrested stare, as if she could see down to all the raw heat inside him. And then she looked away from him in swift rejection.

Excusing himself from the receiving room, Cam went back to Amelia, who was sitting on the edge of the bed. Dr. Harrow had left the bedchamber to allow them privacy.

Cam closed the door and leaned back against it, letting his caressing gaze fall on the small, tense form of his wife. He knew little of these matters. In both Romany and gadjo cultures, pregnancy and childbirth were a strictly female domain. But he did know that his wife was uneasy in situations she had no control over. He also knew that women in her condition needed reassurance and tenderness. And he had an inexhaustible supply of both for her.

"Nervous?" Cam asked softly, approaching her.

"Oh no, not in the slightest; it's an ordinary circumstance, and only to be expected after-" Amelia broke off with a little gasp as he sat beside her and pulled her into his arms. "Yes, I'm a bit nervous. I wish… I wish I could talk to my mother. I'm not exactly certain how to do this."

Of course. Amelia liked to manage everything, to be authoritative and competent no matter what she did. But the entire process of childbearing would be one of increasing dependence and helplessness, until the final stage, when nature took over entirely.

Cam pressed his lips into her gleaming dark hair, which smelled like sweetbriar. He began to rub her back in the way he knew she liked best. "We'll find some experienced women for you to talk to. Lady Westcliff, perhaps. You like her, and God knows she would be forthright. And regarding what you're going to do… you'll let me take care of you, and spoil you, and give you anything you want." He felt her relax a little. "Amelia, love," he murmured, "I've wanted this for so long."

"Have you?" She smiled and snuggled tightly against him. "So have I. Although I had hoped it would happen at a more convenient time, when Ramsay House was finished, and Poppy was betrothed, and the family was settled-"

"Trust me, with your family there will never be a convenient time." Cam eased her back to lie on the bed with him. "What a pretty little mother you'll be," he whispered, cuddling her. "With your blue eyes, and your pink cheeks, and your belly all round with my child…"

"When I grow large, I hope you won't strut and swagger, and point to me as an example of your virility."

"I do that already, monisha."

Amelia looked up into his smiling eyes. "I can't imagine how this happened."

"Didn't I explain that on our wedding night?"

She chuckled and put her arms around his neck. "I was referring to the fact that I've been taking preventative measures. All those cups of nasty-tasting tea. And I still ended up conceiving."

"Rom," he said by way of explanation, and kissed her passionately.

When Amelia felt well enough to join the other women for tea in the receiving room, the men went downstairs to the Rutledge's gentlemen's room. Although the room was ostensibly for the use of hotel guests, it had become a favorite haunt of the peerage, who wished to share the company of the Rutledge's many notable foreign visitors.

The ceilings were comfortably dark and low, paneled in glowing rosewood, the floors covered in thick Wilton carpeting. The gentlemen's room was cornered with large, deep apses that provided private spaces for reading, drinking, and conversing. The main space was furnished with velvet-upholstered chairs and tables laden with cigar boxes and newspapers. Servants moved unobtrusively through the room, bringing snifters of warmed brandy and glasses of port.

Settling in one of the unoccupied octagonal apses, Kev requested brandy for the table. "Yes, Mr. Merripen," the servant said, hastening to comply.

"What well-trained staff," Dr. Harrow remarked. "I find it commendable that they give impartial service to all the guests."

Kev slanted him a questioning glance. "Why wouldn't they?"

"I imagine that a gentleman of your origins does not receive service at every establishment you frequent."

"I find that most establishments pay more attention to the quality of a man's clothes than the shade of his complexion," Kev replied evenly. "Usually it doesn't matter that I'm a Rom, so long as I can afford their wares."

"Of course." Harrow looked uncomfortable. "My apologies. I'm not usually so tactless, Merripen."

Kev gave him a short nod to indicate that no offense had been taken.

Harrow turned to Cam, seeking to change the subject. "I hope you'll allow me to recommend a colleague to attend Mrs. Rohan during the remainder of your stay in London. I'm acquainted with many excellent physicians here."

"I would appreciate that," Cam said, accepting a brandy from a servant. "Although I suspect we won't remain in London much longer."

"Miss Winnifred seems to have a great fondness for children," Harrow mused. "In light of her condition, it's fortunate that she will have nieces and nephews to dote on."

The other three men looked at him sharply. Cam had paused in the act of lifting the brandy to his lips. "Condition?" he asked.

"Her inability to have children of her own," Harrow clarified.

"What the devil do you mean, Harrow?" Leo asked. "Haven't we all been trumpeting about my sister's miraculous recovery, due to your stellar efforts?"

"She has indeed recovered, my lord." Harrow frowned thoughtfully as he stared into his brandy snifter. "But she will always be somewhat fragile. In my opinion, she should never try to conceive. In all likelihood the process would result in her death."

A heavy silence followed this pronouncement. Even Leo, who usually affected an air of insouciance, couldn't manage to conceal his reaction. "Have you made my sister aware of this?" he asked. "Because she has given me the impression that she fully expects to marry and have her own family someday."

"I have discussed it with her, of course," Harrow replied. "I have told her that if she marries, her husband would have to agree that it would be a childless union." He paused. "However, Miss Hathaway is not yet ready to accept the idea. In time, I hope to persuade her to adjust her expectations." He smiled slightly. "Motherhood, after all, is not necessary for every woman's happiness, much as society glorifies the notion."

Cam stared at him intently. "My sister-in-law will find it a disappointment, to say the least."

"Yes. But Miss Hathaway will live longer and enjoy a higher quality of life as a childless woman. And she will learn to accept her altered circumstances. That is her strength." He swallowed some brandy before continuing quietly, "Miss Hathaway was probably never destined for childbearing, even before the scarlet fever. Such a narrow frame. Elegant, but hardly ideal for breeding purposes."

Kev tossed back his brandy, letting the amber fire wash down his throat. He pushed back from the table and stood, unable to bear another moment of the bastard's proximity. The mention of Win's "narrow frame" had been the last straw. Excusing himself with a rough mutter, he walked out of the hotel and into the night. His senses drew in the cool air, the foul, sharp city smells, the stirrings and rattlings and cries of the London night coming to life. Christ, he wanted to be away from this place.

He wanted to take Win to the country with him, to some place that was fresh and wholesome. Away from the gleaming Dr. Harrow, whose clean, fastidious perfection filled Kev with dread. Every instinct warned that Win wasn't safe from Harrow.

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