"Amelia hardly ever cries," Poppy said.
"She's fine." Cam ran his hand along Amelia's spine in soothing strokes. "She just needs?
As he paused, Poppy said, "A shoulder to lean on."
"Yes." He drew Amelia to the stairs, and gestured for Poppy to sit beside them.
Cradling Amelia on his lap, Cam found a handkerchief in his pocket and wiped her eyes and nose. When it became apparent that no sense could be made from her jumbled words, he hushed her gently and held her against his large, warm body while she sobbed and hid her face. Overwhelmed with relief, she let him rock her as if she were a child.
As Amelia hiccupped and quieted in his arms, Cam asked a few questions of Poppy, who told him about Merripen's condition and Leo's disappearance, and even about the missing silverware.
Finally getting control of herself, Amelia cleared her aching throat. She lifted her head from Cam's shoulder and blinked.
"Better?" he asked, holding the handkerchief up to her nose.
Amelia nodded and blew obediently. "I'm sorry," she said in a muffled voice. "I shouldn't have turned into a watering pot. I'm finished now."
Cam seemed to look right inside her. His voice was very soft. "You don't have to be sorry. You don't have to be finished, either."
She realized that no matter what she did or said, no matter how long she wanted to cry, he would accept it. And he would comfort her. That made her eyes water again. Her hand crept to the open neck of his shirt, partially open to reveal a glimpse of sun-burnished skin. She let her fingers curl around the linen placket. "Do you think Leo might be dead?" she whispered.
He offered no false hope, no empty promises, only caressed her damp cheek with the backs of his fingers. "Whatever happens, we'll deal with it together."
"Cam?would you do something for me?"
"Could you find some of that plant Merripen gave to Win and Leo for the scarlet fever?"
He drew back and looked at her. "Deadly nightshade? That wouldn't work for this, sweetheart."
"But it's a fever."
"Caused by a septic wound. You have to treat the source of the fever." His hand went to the back of her neck, soothing the tautly strung muscles. He stared at a distant point on the floor, appearing to think something over. His tangled lashes made shadows over his hazel eyes. "Let's go have a look at him."
"Do you think you could help him?" Poppy asked, springing to her feet.
"Either that, or my efforts will finish him off quickly. Which, at this point, he may not mind." Lifting Amelia from his lap, Cam set her carefully on her feet, and they proceeded up the stairs. His hand remained at the small of her back, a light but steady support she desperately needed.
As they approached Merripen's room, it occurred to Amelia that Win might still be inside. "Wait," she said, hastening forward. "Let me go first."
Cam stayed beside the door.
Entering the room with caution, Amelia saw that Merripen was alone in the bed. She opened the door wider and gestured for Cam and Poppy to enter.
Becoming aware of intruders in the room, Merripen lurched to his side and squinted at them. As soon as he caught sight of Cam, his face contracted in a surly grimace.
"Bugger off," he croaked.
Cam smiled pleasantly. "Were you this charming with the doctor? I'll bet he was falling all over himself to help you."
"Get away from me."
"This may surprise you," Cam said, "but there's a long list of things I'd prefer to look at rather than your rotting carcass. For your family's sake, however, I'm willing. Turn over."
Merripen eased his front to the mattress and said something in Romany that sounded extremely foul.
"You, too," Cam said equably. He lifted the shirt from Merripen's back and pried the bandage from the injured shoulder. He viewed the hideous seeping wound without expression. "How often have you been cleaning it?" he asked Amelia. '"Twice a day."
"We'll try four times a day. Along with a poultice." Leaving the bedside, Cam motioned for Amelia to accompany him to the doorway. He lowered his mouth to her ear. "I have to go out to fetch a few things. While I'm gone, give him something to make him sleep. He won't be able to tolerate this otherwise."
"Tolerate what? What are you going to put in the poultice?"
"A mixture of things. Including apis mellifica"
"What is that?"
"Bee venom. Extract from crushed bees, to be precise. We'll soak them in a water-and-alcohol base."
Bewildered, Amelia shook her head. "But where are you going to get? She broke off and stared at him with patent horror. "You're going to the hive at Ramsay house? H-how will you collect the bees?"
His mouth twitched with amusement. "Very carefully."
"Do you... do you want me to help?" she offered with difficulty.
Knowing her terror of the insects, Cam slid his hands around her head and pressed a hard kiss to her lips. "Not with the bees, sweetheart. Stay here and dose Merripen with morphine syrup. A lot of it."
"He won't. He hates morphine. He'll want to be stoic."
"Trust me, none of us will want him to be awake while I'm applying the poultice. Especially Merripen. The Rom call the treatment 'white lightning' for good reason. It's not something anyone can be stoic about. So do whatever's necessary to put him out, monisha. I'll be back soon."