Shrieking at him to wake up and gather his wits, Amelia tugged and dragged without success. Frustrated tears sprang to her smoke-stung eyes. But then Merripen was there, pushing her aside none too gently. Bending, he picked Leo up and hoisted him over a broad shoulder with a grunt. "Follow me," he said brusquely to Amelia. "The girls are already outside."
"I'll come out in just a moment. I have to run upstairs and fetch some things?
He gave her a dangerous glance. "No."
"But we have no clothes—it's all going to go up?
Since Merripen had never raised his voice to her in all the years they had known each other, Amelia was startled into obeying. Her eyes continued to smart and water from the smoke even after they had gone through the front door and out to the waiting darkness of the graveled drive. Win and Poppy were there, both huddled around Leo and trying to coax him into waking and sitting up. Like Amelia, the girls were dressed only in nightgowns, shawls, and slippers.
"Where's Beatrix?" Amelia asked. At the same moment, the estate bell began to peal, its high, clear tone traveling in every direction.
"I told her to ring it," Win said. The sound would bring neighbors and villagers to help, although by the time people reached them, Ramsay House would probably be consumed in flames.
Merripen went to lead the horse from the stable, in case that went up, too.
"What's happening?" Amelia heard Leo ask hoarsely. Before anyone could reply, he was seized by a spasm of coughing. Win and Poppy remained beside their brother, murmuring gently to him. Amelia, however, stood a few yards apart from them, knotting her shawl more tightly around her shoulders.
She was filled with bitterness and fury and fear. There was no doubt in her mind Leo had started the fire, that he had cost them the house and had nearly succeeded in killing them all. It would be a long time before she could trust herself to speak to him, this sibling she had once loved so clearly and who now seemed to have transformed into someone else entirely.
At this point there was little left of Leo to love. At best he was an object to be pitied, at worst a danger to himself and his family. They would all be better off without him, Amelia thought. Except that if he died, the title would pass to some distant relative or expire, and they would be left with no income whatsoever.
Watching Merripen, illuminated in the cloud-blunted moonlight as he worked to pull first the horse and then the barouche from the stables, Amelia felt a surge of gratitude. What would they ever have done without him? When her father had taken in the homeless boy so long ago, it had always been regarded by the residents of Primrose Place as an act of charity. But the Hathaways had been infinitely repaid by Merripen's quiet, steady presence in their lives. She had never been certain why he had elected to stay with the Hathaways—it seemed all to their advantage rather than his.
People had already begun to arrive on horseback, some from the village, some from the direction of Stony Cross Manor. The villagers had brought a handpump cart pulled by a sturdy draft horse. The wheeled cart was sided by troughs, which would be laboriously filled with river water, people carrying buckets back and forth. Cranking a wooden lever would push the water through a leather hose and expel it through a metal nozzle. By the time the process was under way, the fire would be raging out of control. However, it was possible the handpump would help to save at least a portion of the house.
Amelia ran to the approaching villagers to describe the shortest route to the nearby river. Immediately a group of men, accompanied by Merripen, set off at a run toward the water, buckets swinging from the yokes on their shoulders.
As she turned to go back to her sisters, Amelia bumped into a tall form behind her. Gasping, she felt a familiar pair of hands close over her shoulders.
"Christopher." Relief flooded her at his presence, despite the fact that he could do nothing to save her home. She twisted to look up at him, his handsome features bathed in erratic light.
He pulled her close as if he couldn't help himself, pressing her head to his shoulder. "Thank God you're not hurt. How did the fire start?"
"I don't know." Amelia went still against him, thinking dazedly that she had never expected to be held by him again. She remembered this, the way she fit against him, the security of his embrace. But remembering that he had betrayed her, she wriggled free and pushed her hair from her eyes.
Christopher released her reluctantly. "Stay away from the house. I'm going to help with the handpump."
Another voice came from the darkness. "You'll be of more use over there."
Amelia and Christopher both turned with a start, for the voice seemed to have come from nowhere. With his dark clothes and black hair, Cam Rohan seemed to emerge like a shadow from the night.
"Bloody hell," Christopher muttered. "One can barely see you, dark as you are."
Although Rohan could have taken umbrage at the remark, he did not respond. His gaze ran over Amelia in swift assessment. "Have you been hurt?"
"No, but the house? Her throat clenched on a sob.
Cam shrugged off his coat and settled it around her, pulling the edges together at the front. The wool was permeated with warmth and a comforting masculine scent. "We'll see what we can do." He gestured for Christopher Frost to come with him. "Two canisters are being unloaded near the stairs. You can help me carry them inside."
Amelia's eyes turned round at the sight of the two large metallic vessels. "What are they?"