It seemed the feeling was mutual. As soon as Kev arrived at their suite at the Rutledge Hotel, Amelia, Poppy, and Beatrix all pounced on him with unseemly enthusiasm. He tolerated their shrieks and kisses with gruff indulgence, secretly pleased by the warmth of their welcome.
Following them into the family parlor, Kev sat with Amelia on an overstuffed settee, while Cam Rohan and Poppy occupied nearby chairs. Beatrix perched on a footstool at Kev's feet. The women looked well, Kev thought… all three stylishly dressed and groomed, their dark hair arranged in pinned-up curls, except for Beatrix, who had plaits.
Amelia in particular seemed happy, laughing easily, radiating a contentment that could only come from a good marriage. Poppy was emerging as a beauty, with her fine features and her rich auburn-toned hair… a warmer, more approachable version of Win's delicate blond perfection. Beatrix, however, was subdued and thin. To anyone who didn't know her, Beatrix would appear to be a normal, cheerful girl. But Kev saw the subtle signs of tension and strain on her face.
"What happened at school?" Kev asked with his customary bluntness.
Beatrix unburdened herself eagerly. "Oh. Merripen, it was all my fault. School is horrid. I abhor it. I did make a friend or two, and I was sorry to leave them. But I didn't get on with my teachers. I was always saying the wrong thing in class, asking the wrong questions-"
"It appeared," Amelia said wryly, "that the Hathaway method of learning and debating wasn't welcome in school."
"And I got into some rows," Beatrix continued, "because some of the girls said their parents told them not to associate with me because we have Gypsies in the family, and for all they knew I might be part Gypsy, too. And I said I wasn't, but even if I were it was no cause for shame, and I called them snobs, and then there was a lot of scratching and hair-pulling."
Kev swore under his breath. He exchanged glances with Rohan, who looked grim. Their presence in the family was a liability to the Hathaway sisters… and yet there was no remedy for that.
"And then," Beatrix said, "my problem came back."
Everyone was silent. Kev reached out and settled his hand on her head, his fingers curving over the shape of her skill. "Chavi," he murmured, a Romany endearment for a young girl. Since he rarely used the old language, Beatrix gave him a round-eyed look of surprise.
Beatrix's problem had first appeared after Mr. Hath-away's death. It recurred every now and then in times of anxiety or distress. She had a compulsion to steal things, usually small things like pencil stubs or bookmarks, or the odd piece of flatware. Sometimes she didn't even remember taking an object. Later she would suffer intense remorse, and go to extraordinary lengths to return the things she had filched.
Kev removed his hand from her head and looked down at her. "What did you take, little ferret?" he asked gently.
She looked chagrined. "Hair ribbons, combs, books… small things. And then I tried to put everything back, but I couldn't remember where it all went. So there was a great rumpus, and I came forward to confess, and I was asked to leave the school. And now I'll never be a lady."
"Yes, you will," Amelia said at once. "We're going to hire a governess, which is what we should have done in the beginning."
Beatrix regarded her doubtfully. "I don't think I would want any governess who would work for our family."
"Oh, we're not as bad as all that-," Amelia began.
"Yes, we are," Poppy informed her. "We're odd, Amelia. I've always told you that. We were odd even before you brought Mr. Rohan into the family." Casting a quick glance at Cam, she said, "No offense meant, Mr. Rohan."
His eyes glinted with amusement. "None taken."
Poppy turned to Kev. "No matter how difficult it is to find a proper governess, we must have one. I need help. My season has been nothing short of disaster, Merripen."
"It's only been two months," Kev said. "How can it be a disaster?"
"I'm a wallflower."
"You can't be."
"I'm lower than a wallflower," she told him. "No man wants anything to do with me."
Kev looked at Rohan and Amelia incredulously. A beautiful, intelligent girl like Poppy should have been overrun with suitors. "What is the matter with these gadjos?” Kev asked in amazement.
"They're all idiots," Rohan said. "They never waste an opportunity to prove it."
Glancing back at Poppy, Kev cut to the chase. "Is it because there are Gypsies in the family? Is that why you're not sought after?"
"Well, it doesn't exactly help," Poppy admitted. "But the greater problem is that I have no social graces. I'm constantly making faux pas. And I'm dreadful at small talk. You're supposed to go lightly from topic to topic like a butterfly. It's not easy to do, and there's no point to it. And the young men who do bring themselves to approach me find an excuse to flee after five minutes. Because they flirt and say the silliest things, and I have no idea how to respond."
"I wouldn't want any of them for her, anyway," Amelia said crisply. "You should see them, Merripen. A more useless flock of preening peacocks could not be found."
"I believe it would be called a muster of peacocks," Poppy said. "Not a flock."
"Call them a knot of toads instead," Beatrix said.
"A colony of penguins," Amelia joined in.