"Come and go as you please. I'll be traveling back and forth to Hampshire every now and again to look over things." Rohan gave him an astute glance. "You have nothing keeping you in London, do you?"
Kev shook his head.
"Then it's settled?" Rohan pressed.
Although Kev hated to admit it, the plan was not without appeal. He hated London, the grime and clamor and crowded buildings, the smog and noise. He longed to return to the country. And the thought of rebuilding the manor, exhausting himself with hard work… It would do him some good. Besides, he knew what the Ramsay estate needed better than anyone. Rohan might know every street, square, and rookery in London, but he wasn't at all familiar with country life. It only made sense for Kev to take charge of the Ramsay estate.
"I'll want to make improvements to the land as well," Kev said, setting down the knife. "There are field gates and fences that need repair. Ditches and drainage channels to be dug. And the tenant farmers are still using flails and reap-hooks because there is no threshing machine. The estate should have its own bakehouse to save the tenants from having to go to the village for their bread. Also-"
"Whatever you decide," Rohan said hastily, having the typical Londoner's complete lack of interest in farming. "Attracting more tenants will benefit the estate, of course."
"I know you've already commissioned an architect and builder. But from now on, I'll be the one they come to with questions. I'll need access to the Ramsay accounts. And I'm going to pick the land crews and manage them without interference."
Rohan's brows lifted at Kev's authoritative manner. "Well. This is a side of you I haven't seen before, chair
"Do you agree to my terms?"
"Yes." Rohan extended his hand. "Shall we shake on it?"
Kev stood, ignoring the overture. "Not necessary."
Rohan's white teeth flashed in a grin. "Merripen, would it be so terrible to attempt a friendship with me?"
"We'll never be friends. At best, we're enemies with a common purpose."
Rohan continued to smile. "I suppose the end result is the same." He waited until Kev had reached the door before saying casually, "By the way, I'm going to pursue the matter of the tattoos. If there is a connection between the two of us, I want to find out what it is."
"You'll do so without my cooperation," Kev said stonily.
"Why not? Aren't you curious?" "Not in the least."
Rohan's hazel eyes were filled with speculation. "You have no ties to the past or the Rom, and no knowledge of why a unique design was inked into your arm in early childhood. What are you afraid of finding out?"
"You've had the same tattoo for just as long," Kev shot back. "You have no more idea about what it's for than I do. Why take such an interest in it now?"
"I…" Absently Rohan rubbed his arm over his shirtsleeve, where the tattoo was located. "I always assumed it was done at some whim of my grandmother's. She would never explain why I had the mark, or what it meant."
"Did she know?"
"I believe so." Rohan's mouth quirked. "She seemed to know everything. She was a powerful herbalist, and a believer in the Biti Foki."
"Fairy people?" Kev asked with a disdainful curl of his lips.
Rohan smiled. "Oh yes. She assured me she was on personal terms with many of them." The trace of amusement faded. "When I was about ten years old, my grandmother sent me away from the tribe. She said I was in danger. My cousin Noah brought me to London and helped me to find work at the gambling club as a list-maker's runner. I've never seen any of my tribe since then." Rohan paused, his face becoming shadowed. "I was banished from the Rom without ever knowing why. And I had no reason to assume the tattoo had anything to do with it. Until I met you. We have two things in common, phral: we're outcasts, and we bear the mark of an Irish nightmare horse. And I think that finding out where it came from may help us both."
In the following months Kev prepared the Ramsay estate for reconstruction. A mild and halfhearted winter had fallen over the village of Stony Cross and its environs, where the Ramsay estate was located. Beige grasses were crisped with frost, and stones rested hard-frozen by the banks of the Avon and Itchen rivers. Catkins emerged on willows, soft and tender as a lamb's tail, while dogwood sent up red winter stems to splinter the pale gray landscape.
The crews employed by John Dashiell, the contractor who would rebuild the Ramsay manor, were hardworking and efficient. The first two months were spent clearing the remains of the house, carting off charred wood and broken rock and rubble. A small gatehouse on the approach road was repaired and refurbished for the Hathaways' convenience.
Once the ground began to soften in March, the rebuilding of the manor would start in earnest. Kev was certain the crews had been warned in advance that the project was being supervised by a Rom, for they offered no objection to his presence or his authority. Dashiell, being a self-made and pragmatic man, didn't seem to care if his clients were English, Romany, or any other nationality, so long as his payment schedule was met.
Near the end of February, Kev made the twelve-hour journey from Stony Cross to London. He had received word from Amelia that Beatrix had quit finishing school. Even though Amelia had added that all was well, Kev wanted to make certain for himself. The two months' separation was the longest he had ever spent away from the Hathaway sisters, and he was surprised by how intensely he had missed them.