"How are you feeling?" Lady St. Vincent came to her at once and took her arm. "You look lovely. Your sisters are walking outside, except for Winnifred, who's having tea on the terrace. Have you eaten yet?"
Amelia shook her head.
"Come to the back terrace, we'll have a tray brought out."
"If I'm interrupting you?
"Not at all," Lady St. Vincent said gently. "Come."
Amelia went with her, touched and yet disconcerted by Lady St. Vincent's solicitous manner.
"My lady," she said, "thank you for allowing me to wear one of your dresses. I will return it as soon as possible?
"Call me Evie," came the warm reply. "And you must keep the dress. It is very becoming on you, and not at all on me. That particular shade of red clashes with my hair."
"You are too kind," Amelia said, wishing she didn't sound so stiff, wishing she could accept the gift without feeling the weight of obligation.
But Evie didn't seem to notice her awkwardness, just reached for her hand and drew it through her arm as they walked, as if Amelia needed to be led like a young girl. "Your sisters will be relieved to see you up and about. They said it was the first time they could ever remember you staying abed so long."
"I'm afraid I didn't sleep well. I was ... preoccupied." Color climbed up the pale slopes of Amelia's cheeks as she thought of lying next to Cam's body, their clothes disheveled to reveal places of bareness and heat, lips and hands delicately investigating.
"Yes, I'm sure you? A quick hesitation, then Evie continued in a bemused tone. "I'm sure you had much to consider."
Following her gaze, Amelia realized that Evie had glanced down at the hand that rested on her sleeve.
She had seen the ring.
Amelia's fingers curled. She looked up into the countess's curious blue eyes, and her mind went blank.
"It's all right," Evie said, catching Amelia's hand when she would have withdrawn it, pressing it back to her arm. She smiled. "We must talk, Amelia. I thought he wasn't quite himself today. Now I understand why."
There was no need to clarify who "he" was.
"My lady?Evie?there is nothing between Mr. Rohan and myself. Nothing." Her cheeks burned with agitated color. "I don't know what you must think of me."
They paused before the French doors that opened onto the back terrace, and Amelia withdrew her hand from Evie's arm. Tugging at the ring, which remained stubbornly clamped on her finger, she glanced at Evie in despair. To her astonishment, Evie did not seem at all shocked or critical, but rather understanding. There was something in her face, a sort of tender gravity, that made Amelia think, No wonder Lord St. Vincent is besotted with her.
"I think you're a capable young woman," Evie said, "who loves her siblings and bears a great deal of responsibility for them. I think that's a heavy burden for a woman to carry alone. I also think you have a gift for accepting people as they are. And Cam knows how rare that is."
Amelia felt anxious, as if she'd lost something and needed to retrieve it quickly. "I... is he still here? He should have left for London by now."
"He's still here, talking with my husband and Lord Westcliff. They rode to Ramsay House early this morning to see what was left of it, and make some early assessments."
Amelia didn't like the thought of them visiting the property without consulting her or Leo. The situation was being handled as if the Hathaways were nothing more than a group of helpless children. She squared her shoulders.
"That was very kind of them, but I can manage the situation now. I expect part of Ramsay House is still habitable, which means we won't need to prevail on Lord and Lady Westcliff's hospitality any longer."
"Oh, you must stay," Evie said quickly. "Lillian has already said you are welcome to remain until Ramsay House is fully restored. This is such a large house, you would never intrude on anyone's privacy. And Lillian and Lord Westcliff will be away for at least a fortnight. They're leaving for Bristol tomorrow—along with Lord St. Vincent and myself—to visit Lillian's younger sister Daisy, who is expecting a child. So you'll have the manor to yourselves, more or less."
"We'd reduce the place to a heap of rubble by the time they returned."
Evie smiled. "I suspect your family isn't as dangerous as all that."
"You don't know the Hathaways." Feeling the need to assert control over the situation, Amelia said, "I'll ride to Ramsay House myself after I have some breakfast. If the upstairs rooms are in suitable condition, my family will be back home by nightfall."
"Do you think that's best for Winnifred?" Evie asked gently. "Or Mr. Merripen, or Lord Ramsay?"
Amelia flushed, knowing she was being unreasonable. But the feeling of impotence, being stripped of all authority, was rising in a choking mass.
"Perhaps you should speak to Cam," Evie said, "before any decisions are made."
"He has nothing to do with my decisions."
Evie gave her a thoughtful look. "Forgive me. I shouldn't make assumptions. It's just that the ring on your finger?Cam's worn it since he was twelve years old."
Amelia tugged violently at the ring. "I don't know why he gave it to me. I'm sure it's of no significance."
"I think it has very great significance," Evie said softly. "Cam has been an outsider for his entire life. Even when he lived with the Rom. I think he's always secretly hoped he could someday find a place where he would belong. But until he met you, it didn't occur to him that it might not be a place he was looking for, but a person."