Lillian's interactions with the child were quite unusual for an aristocratic household. Children were hardly ever brought out to see visitors unless it was a brief presentation, accompanied by a pat on the head and a quick departure. Most women of the countess's exalted position wouldn't see their own offspring more than once or twice a day, leaving the majority of child-rearing to the nanny and nursery maids.
"I can't help wanting to see her," Lillian explained candidly. "So the nursery servants have learned to tolerate my interference."
When the tea tray arrived, Annie the doll was propped up on the settee between Poppy and Merritt. The little girl pressed the edge of her teacup against the doll's painted mouth. "Annie wants more sugar, Mama," Merritt said.
Lillian grinned, knowing who was going to drink the highly sweetened tea. "Tell Annie we never have more than two lumps in a cup, darling. It will make her ill."
"But she has a sweet tooth," the child protested. She added ominously, "A sweet tooth and a temper."
Lillian shook her head with a tsk-tsk. "Such a headstrong doll. Be firm with her, Merritt."
Poppy, who had been watching the exchange with a grin, adopted a perplexed look and wriggled slightly on the settee. "Dear me, I do believe I'm sitting on something..." She reached behind her and produced the little wooden horse, pretending she had found it lodged between the settee cushions.
"That's my horsie," Merritt exclaimed, her small fingers closing around the object. "I thought he'd run away!"
"Thank goodness," Lillian said. "Horsie is one of Merritt's favorite toys. The entire household has been searching for it."
Amelia's smile wavered as she met Poppy's gaze, both of them wondering if it had been discovered that other things were missing. The stolen objects, especially the silver seal, must be returned as soon as possible. She cleared her throat. "My lady?that is, Lillian?if you wouldn't mind... I should like to know where the convenience is?
"Oh, certainly. Shall I have a housemaid show you the way, or?
"No, thank you," Amelia said hastily.
After receiving Lillian's matter-of-fact instructions. Amelia excused herself from the parlor, leaving the three of them to continue their tea.
The first room she had to find was the library, where the stereoscope card and the key belonged. Recalling Beatrix's description of the main floor plan, Amelia hurried along the quiet hallway. She slowed her pace as she saw a maid sweeping the carpet, and tried to look as if she knew where she was going. The maid stopped sweeping and stood aside respectfully as she passed.
Rounding a corner, Amelia found an open door revealing a large library with upper and lower galleries. Better yet, it was empty. She rushed inside and saw a stereoscope on the massive library table. There was a wooden box nearby, stuffed with cards just like the one in her pocket. Tucking the card in with the others, she hurried out of the library, pausing only to insert the key into the empty lock case of the door.
Only one task left—she had to find Lord Westcliff's private study and return the silver seal. The weight of it bounced uncomfortably against her leg as she walked. Please don't let Lord Westcliff be there, she thought desperately. Please let it be empty. Please don't let me be caught.
Beatrix had said the study was close to the library, but the first door Amelia tried turned out to be the music room. Spying another door across the hallway, she discovered a supplies closet filled with pails, brooms, rags, and pots of wax and polish.
"Blast, blast, blast," she muttered, rushing to another open doorway.
It was a billiards room. And it was occupied by a half-dozen gentlemen involved in a game. Worse, one of them was Christopher Frost. His handsome face was devoid of expression as his gaze met hers.
Amelia stopped, color flaring in her face. "Do excuse me," she murmured, and fled.
To her dismay, Christopher Frost moved as if to follow her. She was so intent on making her escape that she didn't see someone cut in front of Frost, neatly blocking him.
At the sound of a man's voice, Amelia whirled around. She expected to see Christopher Frost, but was startled to find that Cam Rohan had followed her. "Sir."
Cam Rohan was in his shirtsleeves, and his collar was a bit loose, as if he'd been tugging on it. His jet-black hair was casually disordered, as if he'd recently dragged his fingers through the shining layers. Her heart quickened. She waited stiffly as he approached her in fluid strides.
Lingering in the doorway, Christopher Frost gave them a last frowning glance before retreating into the room.
Rohan reached Amelia and stopped with a nod of greeting. "Is there something I can help you with?" he asked politely. "Have you lost your way?"
Abandoning caution in favor of expediency, Amelia seized a fold of his rolled-up sleeve. "Mr. Rohan, do you know where Lord Westcliff 's study is?"
"Yes, of course."
Rohan looked at her with a quizzical smile. "Why?"
"There's no time to explain. Just take me there now. Please, let's hurry!"
Obligingly he led her across the hallway, two doors down, into a small rosewood-paneled room. A gentleman's study. The only ornamentation was a row of rectangular stained-glass windows along one wall. Here was where Marcus, Lord Westcliff, conducted most of his estate business.
Rohan closed the door behind them.