Her eyes widened at the sight of a small, stylized design inked on his arm. A tattoo of a black winged horse with eyes the color of brimstone. It was an Irish design, of a nightmare horse called a pooka: a malevolent mythical creature that spoke in a human voice and carried people away at midnight.
Her heart stopped as she saw the heavy rounded band of a thumb ring.
Wriggling beneath him, Amelia tried to turn over.
The strong hand curved around her shoulder, helping her. His voice was low and familiar. "Are you hurt? I'm sorry. You were in the way of?
He stopped as Amelia rolled to her back. The front of her hair had come loose, pulled free of a strategically anchored pin. The lock fanned over her face, obscuring her vision. Before she could reach up to push it away, he did it for her, and the brush of his fingertips sent ripples of liquid fire along intimate pathways of her body.
"You," he said softly.
It can't be, she thought dazedly. Here, in Hampshire? But there were the unmistakable eyes, gold and hazel and heavy lashed, the midnight hair, the wicked mouth. And the pagan glitter of a diamond at his ear.
His expression was perturbed, as if he'd been reminded of something he had wanted to forget. But as his gaze slid over her bewildered face, his mouth curved a little, and he settled into the cradle of her body with an insolent familiarity that temporarily robbed her of breath.
"Mr. Rohan?how?why?what are you doing here?"
He replied without moving, as if he were planning to lie there and converse all day. His infinitely polite tone was an unsettling contrast to the intimacy of their position. "Miss Hathaway. What a pleasant surprise. As it happens, I'm visiting friends. And you?"
"I live here."
"I don't think so. This is Lord Westcliff 's estate."
Her heart thundered in her breast as her body absorbed the details of him. "I didn't mean precisely here, I meant over there, on the other side of the woods. The Ramsay estate. We've just taken up residence." She couldn't seem to stop herself from chattering in the aftermath of nerves and fright. "What was that noise? What were you doing? Why do you have that tattoo on your arm? It's a pooka—an Irish creature—isn't it?"
That last question earned her an arrested stare. Before Rohan could reply, the other two men approached. From her prone position, Amelia had an upside-down view of them. Like Rohan, they were in their shirtsleeves, with waistcoats left unbuttoned.
One of them was a portly old gentleman with a shock of silver hair. He held a small wood-and-metal sextant, which had been strung around his neck on a lanyard. The other, black-haired man looked to be in his late thirties. He wasn't as tall as Rohan, but he had an air of authority tempered with aristocratic arrogance.
Amelia made a helpless movement, and Rohan lifted away from her with fluid ease. He helped her stand, his arm steadying her. "How far did it go?" he asked the men.
"Devil take the rocket," came a gravelly reply. "What is the woman's condition?"
The silver-haired gentleman remarked, "Impressive, Rohan. You covered a distance of fifty yards in no more than five or six seconds."
"I would hardly miss a chance to leap on a beautiful woman," Rohan said, causing the older man to chuckle.
Rohan's hand remained at the small of Amelia's back, the light pressure causing her blood to simmer.
Easing away from his distracting touch, Amelia raised her hands to the dangling front locks of her hair, tucking them behind her ears. "Why are you shooting rockets? And more to the point, why are you shooting them at my property?"
The stranger nearby gave her a sharp, assessing glance. "Your property?"
Rohan interceded. "Lord Westcliff, this is Miss Amelia Hathaway. Lord Ramsay's sister."
Frowning, Westcliff executed a precise bow. "Miss Hathaway. I was not informed about your arrival. Had I been aware of your presence, I would have notified you about our rocketry experiments, as I have everyone else in the vicinity."
It was clear that Westcliff was a man who expected to be informed about everything. He looked annoyed that the new neighbors had dared to move into their own residence without telling him first.
"We arrived only yesterday, my lord," Amelia replied. "I had intended to call on you after we settled in." Under ordinary circumstances, she would have left it at that. But she was still off balance, and there was no stopping the flow of comments from her own mouth. "Well. I must say the guidebook didn't warn adequately about the occurrence of rocket fire amid the peaceful Hampshire scenery." She reached down and whacked at the dust and bits of leaf that clung to her skirts. "I'm sure you don't know the Hathaways well enough to shoot at us. Yet. When we become better acquainted, however, I have no doubt you'll find ample reason to bring out the artillery."
Over her head, she heard Rohan laugh. "Considering our issues with aim and accuracy, you have nothing to fear, Miss Hathaway."
The silver-haired gentleman spoke then. "Rohan, if you wouldn't mind finding out where that rocket landed?
"Of course." Rohan took off at an easy lope.
"Agile fellow," the older man said approvingly. "Fast as a leopard. Not to mention steady of hands and nerves. What a sapper he'd make."
Introducing himself as Captain Swansea, formerly of the Royal Engineers, the elderly gentleman explained to Amelia that he was a rocketry enthusiast who was continuing his scientific work in a civil capacity. As a friend of Lord Westcliff, who shared his interest in engineering science, Swansea had come to experiment with a new rocket design in the country, where there was sufficient land to do so. Lord Westcliff had enlisted Cam Rohan to help with the flight equations and other mathematical calculations necessary to evaluate the performances of the rockets. "Quite extraordinary, really, his facility with numbers," Swansea said. "You'd never expect it to look at him."