But it didn't feel quite the same as before.

"Christoph? she began, moving away from him, but his mouth caught hers, and she froze in astonishment as he kissed her. This, too, was different... and yet for a moment, she remembered what it had been like, how happy she had once been with him. It seemed so long ago, that time before the scarlet fever, when she had been innocent and hopeful and the future had seemed full of promise.


She turned her face from his. "No, Christopher."

"Of course." He pressed his lips to her hair. "Now isn't the proper time for this. I'm sorry."

"I'm so concerned about my brother, and Merripen, I can't think of anything else?

"I know, sweet." He turned her face back to his. "I'm going to help you and your family. There's nothing I want more than your safety and happiness. And you need my protection. With your family in turmoil, you could easily be taken advantage of."

She frowned. "No one is taking advantage of me."

"What about the Gypsy?"

"You're referring to Mr. Rohan?"

Christopher nodded. "I chanced to meet him on his way to London, and he spoke of you in a way that... well, suffice it to say, he's no gentleman. I was offended for your sake"

"What did he say?"

-- Advertisement --

"He went so far as to claim that you and he were going to marry." A scornful laugh escaped him. "As if you would ever lower yourself to that. A half-bred Gypsy with no manners or education."

Amelia felt a rush of defensive anger. She looked into the face of the man she had once loved so desperately. He was the embodiment of everything a young woman should want to marry. Not all that long ago, she might have compared him to Cam Rohan and found Christopher superior. But she was no longer the woman she had been... and Christopher wasn't the knight in shining armor she had believed him to be.

"I wouldn't consider it lowering myself," she said. "Mr. Rohan is a gentleman, and highly esteemed by his friends."

"They all find him entertaining enough for social occasions, but he will never be their equal. And never a gentleman. That's understood by everyone, my dear, even Rohan himself."

"It's neither understood nor accepted by me," she said. 'There is more to being a gentleman than fine manners."

Christopher stared intently into her indignant face.

"Very well, we won't discuss him, if it makes you heated. But never forget that Gypsies are renowned for their charm and deceit. Their ruling principle is to seek their own enjoyment without regard for responsibilities or consequences. Your faith in him is misplaced, Amelia. I only hope you haven't entrusted any of your family's business or legal affairs to him."

"I appreciate your concern," she replied, wishing he would leave and try to find her missing brother. "But my family's affairs will remain in the hands of Lord Ramsay and myself."

"Then Rohan won't be returning from London? Your connection with him is severed?"

"He will return," she admitted reluctantly, "to bring some professional men who will advise what can be done with Ramsay House."

"Ah." There was just enough condescension in his tone to set her teeth on edge. Christopher shook his head and was silent for a long moment. "And is it only his counsel you will accept on the matter?" he finally asked. "Or may I be allowed to make recommendations on a subject of which I have a fair amount of expertise and he has none?"

"I would welcome your recommendations, of course."

"Then I may visit Ramsay House to make some professional assessments of my own?"

"If you like. That is very kind of you. Although..." She paused uncertainly. "I wouldn't wish for you to spend too much of your time there."

"Any time in your service is well spent," He leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers before she had the chance to pull back.

"Christopher, I'm far more concerned about my brother than the house?

"Of course," he said reassuringly. "I'll ask after him, and if there is any news, I will relay it to you at once."

"Thank you."

But somehow she knew as Christopher left that his search for Leo would be halfhearted at best. Despair crept through her in a cold, heavy wave.

The next morning Amelia awakened from a nightmare with her arms and legs thrashing, her heart pounding. She had dreamed of finding Leo floating facedown in a pond, and as she had swum to him and tried to pull him to the edge, his body had begun to sink. She couldn't keep him afloat, and as he retreated farther into the black water, she was pulled down with him ... choking on water, unable to see or breathe?Trembling, she climbed out of bed and hunted for her slippers and robe. It was early yet, the house still dark and quiet. She headed for the door, and paused with her hand on the doorknob. Fear pumped through her veins. She didn't want to leave the room. She was afraid of finding out that Merripen had died during the night... afraid, too, that her brother had met with tragedy... and most of all afraid that she wouldn't be able to accept the worst, if the worst should come. She didn't feel as if she had the strength.

It was only the thought of her sisters that caused her to grip the knob and turn it. For their sakes, she could act with purpose and confidence. She would do whatever needed to be done.

Hurrying along the hallway, she pushed at the half-open door of Merripen's room and went to the bedside.

-- Advertisement --