"Good riddance to him."
"I'd agree with you, except that agreeing with you probably means I'm on the wrong side of the argument." Cam began to tug Leo upward, and the other man struggled. "Stand up, damn you." Cam hoisted him with a grunt of effort. "Or I'll drag you out by the heels."
Leo's bloated bulk swayed against him. "I'm trying to stand," he snapped. "The floor keeps tipping."
Cam fought to steady him. When Leo had finally gotten his bearings, he lurched toward the doorway, where the footman waited.
"May I escort you downstairs, my lord?" George asked politely. Leo responded with a surly nod.
"Close the window," one of the women demanded, her na**d body shivering as the autumn wind swept through the room.
Cam glanced at her dispassionately. He had seen too many of her kind to feel much pity. There were thousands of them in London—round-faced country wenches, just pretty enough to attract the attention of men who promised, took, and discarded without conscience. "You should try some fresh air," he advised, reaching for a discarded lap blanket beside the settee. "It promotes clear thinking."
"What do I need to do that for?" she asked sourly.
Cam grinned. "Good point." He draped the blanket over her shivering white body. "Still?you should take some deep breaths." He bent to pat her pale cheek gently. "And leave this place as soon as you're able. Don't waste yourself on these bastards."
The woman lifted her bloodshot eyes, staring in wonder at the black-haired man, who was as swarthy and dashing as a pirate prince with the glittering diamond at his ear.
Her plaintive voice followed him as he left. "Come back!"
It took the combined efforts of Cam and George to load the grumbling, protesting Leo into the carriage. "It's like hauling five sacks of potatoes all at once," the footman said breathlessly, pushing Leo's foot safely inside the vehicle.
"The potatoes would be quieter," Cam said. He tossed the footman a gold sovereign.
George caught it in midair and beamed at him. "Thank you, sir! And may I say you're a gentleman, sir. Even if you are a Gypsy."
Cam's smile turned wry, and he climbed into the carriage after Leo. They started back to Stony Cross Manor in silence.
"Do you need to stop?" Cam asked midway through the trip, seeing that Leo's face had turned from white to green. Leo shook his head morosely. "I don't wish to talk."
"You owe me an answer or two. Because if I hadn't had to spend the day searching through half of Hampshire to find you, I could have been in bed? With your sister, he thought, but instead said, "Sleeping."
Those curiously light eyes turned toward him, the color of icicles when blue twilight shone through them. Unusual eyes. Cam had seen someone with eyes like that before, but he couldn't remember who or when. A distant memory holered just beyond reach.
"What do you want to know?" Leo asked.
"Why do you bear Merripen such ill will? Is it his charming disposition, or the fact that he's a Roma? Or is it because he was taken in by your parents and raised as one of you?"
"None of that. I despise Merripen because he refused the only thing I ever asked of him."
"To let me die." Cam pondered that.
"You must mean when he nursed you through the scarlet fever."
"You blame him for saving your life?"
"If it makes you feel any better," Cam said dryly, settling back in his seat, "I'm sure he's had second thoughts about it."
They were silent after that, while Cam relaxed and let his mind wander. As darkness fell and Leo was cast in shadow, the unnerving eyes flickered silver-blue?—and Cam remembered.
It was in childhood, when Cam had still been with the tribe. There had been a man with a haggard face and brilliant colorless eyes, his soul ravaged by grief over his daughter's death. Cam's grandmother had warned him to stay away from the man. "He's muladi," she had said.
"What does that mean, Mami?" Cam had asked, clinging anxiously to her warm hand, which was comfortingly gnarled and tough like the buttressing roots of ancient trees.
"Haunted by a dead person. Don't go near him, he's upset the balance of Romanija. He loved his daughter too much."
Feeling pity for the man, and worry for his own sake, Cam had asked, "Will I be muladi when you die, Mami?" He had been certain that he loved his grandmother too much, but he couldn't stop feeling that way.
A smile had appeared in his grandmother's wise black eyes. "No, Cam. A muladi traps his beloved's spirit in the in-between because he won't let her go. You wouldn't do that to me, would you, little fox?"
The man had died not long after that, by his own hand. It had been a horror, and yet a relief for the entire tribe.
Now, as Cam looked back on it with the understanding of an adult rather than a small boy, he felt a chill of apprehension, followed by searing pity. How impossible it would be to relinquish a woman you loved. How could you stop yourself from wanting her? The seams of your heart would rip open with grief. Of course you would want to keep her with you. Or follow her.
As Cam entered the manor with the unrepentant prodigal at his side, Amelia and Beatrix hurried toward them, the former frowning, the latter smiling.