Lillian turned her attention to Amelia. "Will you and the others be all right in our absence? I hate to leave with things so unsettled, and Mr. Merripen under the weather."
"I expect Merripen will heal very quickly," Amelia said with utter confidence. Other than the time he had first come to them, he had never been ill. "He has a robust constitution."
"I've requested the doctor to visit daily," Westcliff said. "And if you have any difficulties, send word to Bristol. It isn't that far, and I'll come at once."
Heaven knew how they had been fortunate enough to have Lillian and Westcliff as neighbors.
Now, as Amelia made her way through the art gallery, her gaze moving over paintings and sculptures, she became aware of a terrible hollowness inside. She couldn't think how to make it go away. It wasn't hunger, fear, or anger, it wasn't exhaustion or dread.
It was loneliness.
Nonsense, she scolded herself, striding to a long row of windows that overlooked a side garden. It had begun to rain, a cold soaking glitter that fell steadily over the grounds and rushed in muddy streams toward the bluff and the river. You can't be lonely. He hasn't even been gone for half a day. And there's no reason for it when your entire family is here.
It was the first time she had ever felt the kind of loneliness that couldn't be cured with just any available company.
Sighing, she pressed her nose against the cold surface of a windowpane, while thunder sent vibrations through the glass.
Her brother's voice came from the other side of the gallery. "Mother always said that would flatten your nose."
Pulling back, Amelia smiled as Leo approached her. "She only said that because she didn't want me to make smudges on the glass."
Her brother looked drawn and hollow-eyed, the pastiness of his complexion a striking contrast to Cam Rohan's clover-honey tan. Leo was dressed in borrowed clothes, these so fine and precisely tailored, they must have been donated by Lord St. Vincent. But instead of hanging gracefully as they did on St. Vincent's elegantly spare frame, the garments strained over Leo's bloated waist and puffy neck.
"One can only hope you feel better than you look," Amelia said.
"I'll feel better once I can find some decent refreshment. I've asked thrice for wine or spirits, and the servants all seem damnably absentminded."
She frowned. "Surely it's too early in the day even for you, Leo."
He extracted a pocket watch from his waistcoat and squinted at its face. "It's eight o'clock in Bombay. Being an internationally minded fellow, I'll have a drink as a diplomatic gesture."
Ordinarily Amelia would have been resigned or annoyed. However, as she stared at her brother, who seemed so lost and miserable beneath his brittle facade, she felt a rash of compassion. Walking forward, she put her arms around him and hugged him. And wondered how to save him.
Startled by the impulsive gesture, Leo remained still, not returning the embrace but not pulling away, either. His hands came to her shoulders, and he eased her away.
"I should have known you'd be maudlin today," he said.
"Yes, well?finding one's brother nearly roasted to death tends to make a woman rather emotional."
"I'm just a bit charred." He stared at her with those strange, light eyes, not at all the eyes of the brother she had known all her life. "And not so altered as you, it seems."
Amelia knew immediately what he was leading to. Warily she turned away from him and pretended to inspect a nearby landscape of hills and clouds and a silvery lake. "Altered? I've no idea what you mean."
"I'm referring to the game of hide-the-slipper you've been playing with Rohan."
"Who told you that? The servants?"
"I can't believe he dared?
"For once he and I agree on something. We're going back to London as soon as Merripen is welt enough. We'll stay at the Rutledge Hotel until we can find a suitable house to lease?
"The Rutledge costs a fortune," she exclaimed. "We can't afford that."
"Don't argue, Amelia. I'm the head of this family, and I've made the decision. With Merripen's full support, for what that's worth."
"The two of you can go to blazes! I don't take orders from you, Leo."
"You will in this instance. Your affair with Rohan is over."
Feeling bitter and outraged, Amelia turned away from him. She didn't trust herself to speak. In the past year, there had been so many times she had longed for Leo to assume his place as the head of the family, to have an opinion about anything, to show concern for someone othei than himself. And yet this was the issue that had provoked him to take action?
"I'm so glad," she said with ominous quietness, "that you've taken such an interest in my personal affairs, Leo. Now perhaps you might expand your interest to other topics of importance, such as how and when Ramsay House will be rebuilt, and what we're going to do about Win's health, and Beatrix's education, and Poppy's?
"You won't distract me that easily. Good God, sis, couldn't you find someone of your own class to dally with? Have your prospects really sunk so low that you've taken a Gypsy to your bed?"
Amelia's mouth dropped open. She spun to face him. "I can't believe you would say such a thing. Our brother is a Roma, and he?
"Merripen isn't our brother. And he happens to agree with me. This is beneath you."