Kev pulled her up against him, her body living flame beneath the thin layer of her nightgown, the pale silk of her hair streaming over both of them. And he cradled her head in one of his hands, the powerful battered hand of a bare-knuckle fighter. "You're mad," he said in a low voice, "if you think I would leave you now. I'll see you safe and well no matter what it takes."
"I won't live through this," she whispered.
Kev was shocked by the words, and even more by his own reaction to them.
"I'm going to die," she said, "and I won't take you with me."
Kev gripped her more closely, letting her fitful breaths blow against his face. No matter how she writhed, he wouldn't let go. He breathed the air from her, taking it deep into his own lungs.
"Stop," she cried, trying desperately to twist away from him. The exertion caused her flush to darken. "This is madness… Oh, you stubborn wretch, let me go!"
"Never." Kev smoothed her wild, fine hair, the strands darkening where her tears had tracked. "Easy," he murmured. "Don't exhaust yourself. Rest."
Win's struggles slowed as she recognized the futility of resisting him. "You're so strong," she said faintly, the words born not of praise, but damnation. "You're so strong…"
"Yes," Kev said, gently using a corner of the bed linens to dry her face. "I'm a brute, and you've always known it, haven't you?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"And you're going to do as I say." He cradled her against his chest and gave her some water.
She took a few painful sips. "Can't," she managed, turning her face away.
"More," he insisted, bringing the cup back to her lips.
"Let me sleep, please-"
"After you drink more."
Kev wouldn't relent until she obeyed with a moan. Settling her back into the pillows, he let her drowse for a few minutes, then returned with some toast softened in broth. He bullied her into taking a few spoonfuls.
By that time Amelia had awakened, and she came into Win's room. A quick double blink was Amelia's only reaction to the sight of Win leaning back against Kev's arm while he fed her.
"Get rid of him," Win told her sister hoarsely, her head resting on Kev's shoulder. "He's torturing me."
"Well, we've always known he was a fiend," Amelia said in a reasonable tone, coming to stand at the bedside. "How dare you, Merripen?… Coming into an unsuspecting girl's room and feeding her toast."
"The rash has started," Kev said, noting the roughness that was rising up Win's throat and cheeks. Her silken skin had turned sandy and red. He felt Amelia's hand touch his back, clenching in a loose fold of his shirt as if she needed to hold on to him for balance.
But Amelia's voice was light and steady. "I'll mix a solution of soda-water. That should soothe the rawness, dear."
Kev felt a surge of admiration for Amelia. No matter what disasters came her way, she was willing to meet all challenges. Of all the Hathaways, she had shown the toughest mettle so far. And yet Win would have to be stronger and even more obstinate, if she was to survive the days to come.
"While you bathe her," he told Amelia, "I'll fetch the doctor."
Not that he had any faith in a gadjo doctor, but it might give the sisters peace of mind. Kev also wanted to see how Leo and Laura were faring.
After relinquishing Win to Amelia's care, Kev went to the Dillards' home. But the maid who answered the door told him that Leo wasn't available.
"He's in there with Miss Laura," the maid said brokenly, blotting her face with a rag. "She knows no one; she is near insensible. She is failing fast, sir."
Kev felt the traction of his short pared nails against the tough skin of his palms. Win was less robust than Laura Dillard, less sturdy in form and constitution. If Laura was sinking so fast, it hardly seemed possible that Win would be able to withstand the same fever.
His next thoughts were of Leo, who was not a brother by blood but certainly a tribesman. Leo loved Laura Dillard with an intensity that would not allow him to accept her death rationally, if at all. Kev was more than a little concerned for him. "What is Mr. Hathaway's condition?" Kev asked. "Does he show any sign of illness?"
"No, sir. I don't think so. I don't know."
But from the way her watery gaze slid away from his, Kev understood that Leo was not well. He wanted to take Leo away from the death watch, now, and put him to bed to preserve his strength for the days to come. But it would be cruel to deny Leo the last hours with the woman he loved.
"When she passes," Kev said bluntly, "send him home. But don't let him go alone. Have someone accompany him all the way to the doorstep of the Hathaway cottage. Do you understand?"
Two days later, Leo came home. "Laura's dead," he said, and collapsed in a delirium of fever and grief.
The scarlet fever that had swept the village was a particularly virulent strain, the worst effects falling on the very young and the old. There were not enough doctors to tend the ailing, and no one outside Primrose Place dared to come. After visiting the cottage to examine the two patients, the exhausted doctor had prescribed hot vinegar poultices for the throat. He had also left a tonic containing tincture of aconite. It seemed to have no effect on either Win or Leo.