“Why?” she asked through dry lips.
“We have to make some decisions.”
What kind of decisions? Was he planning to dismiss her? Or was some kind of indecent proposition in the making? “Perhaps I should leave Hampshire,” she said with difficulty.
Leo’s eyes glinted dangerously. Taking her head in his hands, he bent down to whisper in her ear, in what could have been either a promise or a threat. “Anywhere you go, I’ll find you.”
He went to the door, and paused before leaving. “Incidentally,” he said. “When I drew those sketches of you, I didn’t begin to do you justice.”
After Leo had washed and changed into decent attire, he went to the library. Cam was waiting there, looking no happier than Leo felt. Even so, there was a calmness about him, a quality of relaxed tolerance that helped to blunt the edge of Leo’s temper. There was no man on earth whom Leo trusted more.
When they had first met, Leo would never have chosen a man like Cam Rohan for Amelia. It just wasn’t done. Cam was a Gypsy, and no one could claim that a Romany heritage was an advantage in English society. But the temperament of the man, his patience, humor, and inherent decency, was impossible to deny.
In a relatively short time, Cam had become a brother to Leo. He had seen Leo at his worst, and he had offered steady support as Leo had fought to reconcile himself to a life bereft of innocence or hope. And somehow, in the past few years, Leo had regained a little of both.
Standing at the window, Cam leveled a shrewd stare at him.
Wordlessly Leo went to the sideboard, poured a brandy, and let the snifter warm in his fingers. To his surprise, he saw that his hand wasn’t quite steady.
“I was called in from the stables,” Cam said, “to find your sisters worried and the housemaids in hysterics, because you decided to close yourself in a bedroom with Miss Marks. You can’t take advantage of a woman in your employ. You know that.”
“Before you tread the moral high ground,” Leo said, “let’s not forget that you seduced Amelia before you married her. Or is debauching an innocent acceptable as long as she’s not working for you?”
There was a flash of annoyance in Cam’s hazel eyes. “I knew I was going to marry her when I did it. Can you say the same?”
“I haven’t slept with Marks. Yet.” Leo scowled. “But at this rate I’ll have bedded her by week’s end. I can’t seem to stop myself.” He raised his gaze heavenward. “Lord, please smite me.” When it appeared there would be no response from the Almighty, he tossed back a swallow of brandy. It went down his throat in a rush of smooth fire.
“You think if you take her,” Cam said, “it would be a mistake.”
“Yes, that’s what I think.” Leo took another swallow of liquor.
“Sometimes you have to make a mistake to avoid making an even worse one.” Cam smiled slightly as he saw Leo’s baleful expression. “Did you think you could avoid this forever, phral?”
“That was the plan. And I’ve managed quite well until recently.”
“You’re a man in his prime. It’s only natural to want your own woman. What’s more, you have a title to pass on. And from what I understand of the peerage, your primary responsibility is to produce more of yourselves.”
“Good God, are we back to that again?” Scowling, Leo finished his brandy and set the glass aside. “The last thing I want to do is sire brats.”
Cam lifted a brow, looking amused. “What’s wrong with children?”
“They’re sticky. They interrupt. They cry when they don’t have their way. If I want that kind of company, I have my friends.”
Settling in a chair, Cam stretched out his long legs and regarded Leo with deceptive casualness. “You’re going to have to do something about Miss Marks. Because this can’t continue. Even for the Hathaways, it’s…” He hesitated, searching for a word.
“Indecent,” Leo finished for him. He paced across the room and back. Stopping at the cold, dark hearth, he braced his hands on the mantel and lowered his head. “Rohan,” he said carefully. “You saw what I was like, after Laura.”
“Yes.” Cam paused. “The Rom would say you were a man who grieved too much. You trapped your beloved’s soul in the in-between.”
“Either that, or I went mad.”
“Love is a form of madness, isn’t it?” Cam asked prosaically.
Leo let out a humorless chuckle. “For me, undeniably.”
They were both silent. And then Cam murmured, “Is Laura still with you, phral?”
“No.” Leo stared into the empty fireplace. “I’ve accepted that she’s gone. I don’t dream about her anymore. But I remember what it was like, trying to live while I was dead inside. It would be even worse now. I can’t go through it again.”
“You seem to think you have a choice,” Cam said. “But you have it backward. Love chooses you. The shadow moves as the sun commands.”
“How I enjoy Romany sayings,” Leo marveled. “And you know so many of them.”
Rising from the chair, Cam went to the sideboard and poured himself a brandy. “I hope you’re not entertaining any thought of making her your mistress,” he said matter-of-factly. “Rutledge would have you drawn and quartered, no matter that you’re his brother-in-law.”
“No, I wouldn’t, in any case. Taking her as a mistress would create more problems than it would solve.”