"You're so beautiful," Amelia said, drawing back to cup Win's wet cheeks with her hands. "So healthy and strong. Oh, look at this goddess. Cam, just look at her!"
"You look well," Rohan told Win, his eyes glowing. "Better than I've ever seen you, little sister." Carefully he embraced her and kissed her forehead. "Welcome back."
"Where are Poppy and Beatrix?" Win asked, clinging to Amelia's hand.
"They're abed, but I'll go wake them."
"No, let them sleep," Win said quickly. "We shan't stay for long-we're both exhausted-but I had to see you before retiring for the night."
Amelia's gaze went to Leo, who had hung back near the door. Win heard the quiet intake of her sister's breath as she saw the changes in him.
"There's my old Leo," Amelia said softly.
Win was surprised to see a flicker of something in Leo's sardonic expression-a sort of boyish vulnerability, as if he was embarrassed by his own pleasure in the reunion. "Now you'll weep for a different cause," he told Amelia. "Because as you see, I've come back as well."
She flew to him, and was swallowed in a strong embrace. "The French wouldn't have you?" she asked, her voice muffled against his chest.
"On the contrary, they adored me. But there's no entertainment in staying where one is wanted."
"That's too bad," Amelia said, standing on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Because you're very much wanted here."
Smiling, Leo reached out to shake Rohan's hand. "I look forward to seeing the improvements you wrote about. It seems the estate is thriving."
"You can ask Merripen on the morrow," Rohan replied easily. "He knows every inch of the place, and the name of every servant and tenant. And he has much to say on the subject, so be forewarned that any conversation about the estate will be a lengthy one."
"On the morrow," Leo repeated, giving Win a quick glance. "He's in London then?"
"Here at the Rutledge. He's in town to visit a placement agency to hire more servants."
"I have much to thank Merripen for," Leo said with uncharacteristic sincerity, "and you as well, Rohan. The devil knows why you've undertaken so much for my sake."
"It was for the family's sake, as well."
As the two men talked, Amelia drew Win to a settee near the hearth. "Your face is fuller," Amelia said, openly cataloging the changes in her sister. "Your eyes are brighter, and your figure is altogether splendid."
"No more corsets," Win said with a grin. "Dr. Harrow says they compress the lungs, force the spine and head into an unnatural attitude, and weaken the back muscles."
"Scandalous!" Amelia exclaimed, her eyes sparkling. "No corset even on formal occasions?"
"He allows that I might wear one very rarely, but only loosely laced."
"What else does Dr. Harrow say?" Amelia was clearly entertained. "Any opinions on stockings and garters?"
"You may hear it from the source himself," Win said. "Leo and I have brought Dr. Harrow back with us."
"Lovely. Does he have business here?"
"Not that I know of."
"I suppose since he's from London, he has relations and friends to meet?"
"Yes, that's part of it, but-" Win felt herself flush a little. "Julian has expressed a personal interest in spending time with me away from the setting of the clinic."
Amelia's lips parted in surprise. "Julian," she repeated. "Does he mean to court you, Win?"
"I'm not sure. I'm not at all experienced in these matters. But I think so."
"Do you like him?"
Win nodded without hesitation. "Quite a lot."
"Then I'm certain to like him as well. And I will be glad of the chance to thank him personally for what he has done."
They grinned at each other, basking in the delight of being reunited. But after a moment Win thought of Merripen, and her pulse began to throb with uncomfortable force, and nerves jumped everywhere in her body.
"How is he, Amelia?" she finally brought herself to whisper.
There was no need for Amelia to ask who "he" was. "Merripen has changed," she said cautiously, "nearly as much as you and Leo. Cam says what Merripen has accomplished with the estate is no less than astounding. It requires a broad array of skills to direct builders, craftsmen, and groundsmen, and also to repair the tenant farms. And Merripen has done it all. When necessary, he'll strip off his coat and lend his own back to a task. He's earned the respect of the workers-they never dare to question his authority."
"I'm not surprised, of course," Win said, while a bittersweet feeling came over her. "He has always been a very capable man. But when you say he has changed, what do you mean?"
"He has become rather… hard."
"Yes, and remote. He seems to take no satisfaction in his success, nor does he exhibit any real pleasure in life. Oh, he has learned a great deal, and he wields authority effectively, and he dresses better to befit his new position. But oddly, he seems less civilized than ever. I think…" An uncomfortable pause. "Perhaps it may help him to see you again. You were always a good influence."
Win eased her hands away and glowered down at her own lap. "I doubt that. I doubt I have any influence on Merripen whatsoever. He has made his lack of interest very clear."