Remaining half-hidden behind a column, Amelia surveyed the crowd from the upper gallery. Her gaze alighted on Mr. Rohan, who had donned a black coat and cravat. Even though he was attired similarly to the club members, he stood out from the others like a fox among pigeons.
Rohan half sat, half leaned against the bulky mahogany manager's desk in the corner of the room, where the hazard bank was managed. He appeared to be giving directions to an employee. He used a minimum of gestures, but even so, there was a suggestion of showmanship in his movements, an easy physicality that drew the eye.
And then?somehow... the intensity of Amelia's interest seemed to reach him. He reached up to the back of his neck, and then he looked directly at her. Just as he had done in the alley. Amelia felt her heartbeat awaken everywhere, in her limbs and hands and feet and even in her knees. A tide of uncomfortable color washed over her. She stood immersed in guilt and heat and surprise, red-faced as a child, before she could finally gather her wits sufficiently to dart behind the column.
"What is it?" she heard Merripen ask.
"I think Mr. Rohan saw me." A shaky laugh escaped her. "Oh, dear. I hope I haven't annoyed him. Let's go back to the receiving room."
And risking one quick glance from the concealment of the column, she saw that Rohan was gone.
Cam pushed away from the mahogany desk and left the hazard room. As usual, he couldn't leave without being stopped once or twice ... there was an usher, whispering that Lord so-and-so wished to have his credit limit raised ... an underbutler asking if he should replenish the sideboard of refreshments in one of the card rooms. He answered their questions absently, his mind occupied with the woman awaiting him upstairs.
An evening that had promised to be routine was turning out to be rather peculiar.
It had been a long time since a woman had aroused his interest as Amelia Hathaway had. The moment he had seen her standing in the alley, wholesome and pink-cheeked, her voluptuous figure contained in a modest gown, he had wanted her. He had no idea why, when she was the embodiment of everything that annoyed him about Englishwomen.
It was obvious Miss Hathaway had a relentless certainty in her own ability to organize and manage everything around her. Cam's usual reaction to that sort of female was to flee in the opposite direction. But as he had stared into her pretty blue eyes, and seen the tiny determined frown hitched between them, he had felt an unholy urge to snatch her up and carry her away somewhere and do something uncivilized. Barbaric, even.
Of course, uncivilized urges had always lurked a bit too close to his surface. And in the past year Cam had begun to find it more difficult than usual to control them. He had become uncharacteristically short-tempered, impatient, easily provoked. The things that had once given him pleasure were no longer satisfying. Worst of all, he'd found himself attending to his sexual urges with the same lack of enthusiasm he was doing everything else these days.
Finding female companionship was never a problem?Cam had found release in the arms of many a willing woman, and had repaid the favor until they had purred with satisfaction. There was no real thrill in it, however. No excitement, no fire, no sense of anything other than having taken care of a bodily function as ordinary as sleeping or eating. Cam had been so troubled that he'd actually brought himself to discuss it with his employer, Lord St. Vincent.
Once a renowned skirt-chaser, now an exceptionally devoted husband, St. Vincent knew as much about these matters as any man alive. When Cam had asked glumly if a decrease in physical urges was something that naturally occurred as a man approached his thirties, St. Vincent had choked on his drink.
"Good God, no," the viscount had said, coughing slightly as a swallow of brandy seared his throat. They had been in the manager's office of the club, going over account books in the early hours of the morning. St. Vincent was a handsome man with wheat-colored hair and pale blue eyes. Some claimed he had the most perfect form and features of any man alive. The looks of a saint, the soul of a scoundrel. "If I may ask, what kind of women have you been taking to bed?"
"What do you mean, what kind?" Cam had asked warily.
"Beautiful or plain?"
"Beautiful, I suppose."
"Well, there's your problem," St. Vincent said in a matter-of-fact tone. "Plain women are far more enjoyable. There's no better aphrodisiac than gratitude."
"Yet you married a beautiful woman."
A slow smile had curved St. Vincent's lips. "Wives are a different case altogether. They require a great deal of effort, but the rewards are substantial. I highly recommend wives. Especially one's own."
Cam had stared at his employer with annoyance, reflecting that serious conversation with St. Vincent was often hampered by the viscount's fondness for turning it into an exercise of wit. "If I understand you, my lord," he said curtly, "your recommendation for a lack of desire is to start seducing unattractive women?"
Picking up a silver pen holder, St. Vincent deftly fitted a nib into the end and made a project of dipping it precisely into an ink bottle. "Rohan, I'm doing my best to understand your problem. However, a lack of desire is something I've never experienced. I'd have to be on my deathbed before I stopped wanting—no, never mind, I was on my deathbed in the not-too-distant past, and even then I had the devil's own itch for my wife."
"Congratulations," Cam muttered, abandoning any hope of prying an earnest answer out of the man. "Let's attend to the account books. There are more important matters to discuss than sexual habits."