"Do you think the white lightning will work?" she asked.
"I don't know." Cam cast an unfathomable glance back at the suffering figure on the bed. "But I don't think he'll last long without it."
While Cam was gone, Amelia conferred with her sisters in private. It was decided that Win would be the one most likely to succeed in making Merripen take the morphine. And it was Win herself who stated flatly they would have to deceive him, as he would refuse to take it voluntarily no matter how they beseeched him.
"I'll lie to him, if necessary," Win said, shocking the other three into speechlessness. "He trusts me. He'll believe whatever I say."
To their knowledge, Win had never told a lie in her life, not even as a child.
"Do you really think you could?" Beatrix asked, rather awed by the notion.
'To save his life, yes." Delicate tension appeared between Win's fine brows, and splotches of pale pink appeared high on her cheeks. "I think... I think a sin committed for such a purpose may be forgiven."
"I agree," Amelia said swiftly.
"He likes mint tea," Win said. "Let's make a strong batch and add a great deal of sugar. It will help hide the taste of the medicine."
No pot of tea had ever been prepared with such scrupulous care, the Hathaway sisters hovering over the brew like a coven of young witches. Finally a porcelain teapot was filled with the strained and sugared concoction, and placed on a tray beside a cup and saucer.
Win carried it to Merripen's room, pausing at the threshold as Amelia held the door open.
"Shall I go in with you?" Amelia whispered. Win shook her head. "No, I'll manage. Please close the door. Make certain no one disturbs us." Her slender back was very straight as she entered the room.
Merripen's eyes opened at the sound of Win's footsteps. The pain of the festering wound was constant, inescapable. He could feel the toxins leaking into his blood, feeding poison into every capillary. It produced, at times, a perplexing dark euphoria, floating him away from his wasting body until he was at the periphery of the room. Until Win came, and then he gladly sank back into the pain just to feel her hands on him, her breath on his face.
Win shimmered like a mirage in front of him. Her skin looked cool and luminous, while his body raged with miasma and heat.
"I've brought something for you."
"Don't... don't want?
"Yes," she insisted, joining him on the bed. "It will help you to get better?here, move up a bit, and I'll put my arm around you." There was a delicious slide of female limbs against him, beneath him, and Merripen gritted his teeth against a dull burst of agony as he moved to accommodate her. Darkness and light played beneath his closed eyelids, and he fought for consciousness.
When Merripen could open his eyes again, he found his head resting against the gentle pillow of Win's br**sts, one of her arms cradling him while her free hand pressed a cup to his lips.
A delicate porcelain rim clicked against his teeth. He recoiled as an acrid taste burned his cracked lips. "No?
"Yes. Drink." The cup advanced again. Her whisper fell tenderly against his ear. "For me."
He was too sick—he didn't think he could keep it down—but to please her, he drank a little. The crisp-sour taste made him recoil. "What is it?"
"Mint tea." Win's angel-blue eyes stared into his without blinking, her beautiful face neutral. "You must drink all of this, and then perhaps another cup. It will make you better."
He knew at once Win was lying. Nothing could make him better. And the bitter tang of morphine in the tea was impossible to conceal. But Merripen sensed an intent in her, a strange deliberateness, and the idea came to him that she was giving him an overdose on purpose. His exhausted mind weighed the possibility. It must be that Win wanted to spare him more suffering, knowing the hours and days to come were beyond his endurance. Killing him with morphine was the last act of kindness she could offer him.
Dying in her arms?cradled against her as he relinquished his scarred soul to the darkness?Win would be the last thing he would ever feel, see, hear. Had there been any tears in him, he would have wept in gratitude.
He drank slowly, forcing down every swallow. He drank part of the next cup until his throat would no longer work, and he turned his face against her chest and shuddered. His head was spinning, and sparks were drifting all around him like falling stars.
Win set the cup aside and stroked his hair, and pressed her wet cheek lo his forehead.
And they both waited.
"Sing to me," Merripen whispered as the blinding darkness rolled over him. Win continued to stroke his head as she crooned a lullaby. His fingers touched her throat, seeking the precious vibration of her voice, and the sparks faded as he lost himself in her, his fate, at last.
Amelia lowered herself to the floor and sat beside the door, her fingers laced in a loose basket. She heard Win's tender murmurs?a few rasping words from Merripen... a long silence. And then Win's voice, singing gently, humming, the tones so true and lovely that Amelia felt a fragile peace steal over her. Eventually the angelic sound faded, and there was more quiet.
After an hour had passed, Amelia, whose nerves had been stretched to the limit, stood and stretched her cramped limbs. She opened the door with extreme care. Win was easing from the bed, tugging the bedclothes over Merripen's prone form.
"Did he take it'?" Amelia whispered, approaching her. Win looked weary and strained. "Most of it."