"We can wait," he had told Amelia only last night, holding her against his shoulder, stroking her rich brown hair as it lay in a river over his chest. "If you wish to keep Win with you a little longer, we can send her to the clinic in the spring."
"No, she must go as soon as possible. Dr. Harrow made it clear that too much time has already been wasted. Win's best hope of improvement is to start the course of treatment at once."
Cam had smiled at Amelia's pragmatic tone. His wife excelled at hiding her emotions, maintaining such a sturdy facade that few people perceived how vulnerable she was underneath. Cam was the only one with whom she would let down her guard.
"We must be sensible," Amelia had added.
Cam had rolled her to her back and stared down at her small, lovely face in the lamplight. Such round blue eyes, dark as the heart of midnight. "Yes," he allowed softly. "But it's not always easy to be sensible, is it?"
She shook her head, her eyes turning liquid.
He stroked her cheek with his fingertips. "Poor hummingbird," he whispered. "You've gone through so many changes in the past months-not the least of which was marrying me. And now I'm sending your sister away."
"To a clinic, to make her well," Amelia had said. "I know it's best for her. It's only that… I'll miss her. Win is the dearest, gentlest one in the family. The peacemaker. We'll all probably murder each other in her absence." She gave him a little scowl. "Don't tell anyone I was crying, or I shall be very cross with you."
"No, monisha," he had soothed, cuddling her closer as she sniffled. "All your secrets are safe with me. You know that."
And he had kissed away her tears and removed her nightgown slowly, and made love to her even more slowly. "Little love," he had whispered as she trembled beneath him. "Let me make you feel better…" And as he took careful possession of her body, he told her in the old language that she pleased him in all ways, that he loved to be inside her, that he would never leave her. Although Amelia hadn't understood the foreign words, the sound of them had excited her, her hands working on his back like cat paws, her h*ps pressing upward into his weight. He had pleasured her, and taken his own pleasure, until his wife had fallen into a sated sleep.
For a long while afterward Cam had held her nestled against him, with the trusting weight of her head on his shoulder. He was responsible for Amelia now, and for her entire family.
The Hathaways were a group of misfits that included four sisters, a brother, and Merripen, who was a Rom like Cam. No one seemed to know much about Merripen aside from the fact that he had been taken in by the Hathaway family as a boy, after being wounded and left for dead in a Gypsy hunt. He was something more than a servant, but not quite part of the family.
There was no predicting how Merripen would fare in Win's absence, but Cam had a feeling it wasn't going to be pleasant. They couldn't have been more opposite, the pale blond invalid and the huge Rom. One so refined and otherworldly, the other brown and rough-hewn and barely civilized. But the connection was there, like the path of a hawk that always returned to the same forest, following the invisible map that was etched in its very nature.
When the carriage was properly loaded and the luggage was secured with leather straps, Cam went into the hotel suite where the family was staying. They had gathered in the receiving room to say their good-byes.
Merripen was conspicuously absent.
They crowded the small room, the sisters and their brother, Leo, who was going to France as Win's companion and escort.
"There, now," Leo said gruffly, patting the back of the youngest, Beatrix, who had just turned sixteen. "No need to make a scene."
She hugged him tightly. "You'll be lonely, so far from home. Won't you take one of my pets to keep you company?"
"No, darling. I'll have to content myself with whatever human companionship I can find on board." He turned to Poppy, a ruddy-haired beauty of eighteen. "Good-bye, Sis. Enjoy your first season in London. Try not to accept the first fellow who proposes to you."
Poppy moved forward to embrace him. "Dear Leo," she said, her voice muffled against his shoulder, "do try to behave while you're in France."
"No one behaves in France," Leo told her. "That's why everyone likes it so much." He turned to Amelia. It was only then that his self-assured facade began to disintegrate. He drew an unsteady breath. Of all the Hathaway siblings, Leo and Amelia had argued the most frequently, and the most bitterly. And yet she was undoubtedly his favorite. They had been through a great deal together, taking care of the younger siblings after their parents had died. Amelia had watched Leo turn from a promising young architect into a wreck of a man. Inheriting a viscouncy hadn't helped one bit. In fact, the newly acquired title and status had only hastened Leo's dissolution. That hadn't stopped Amelia from fighting for him, trying to save him, every step of the way. Which had annoyed him considerably.
Amelia went to him and laid her head against his chest. "Leo," she said with a sniffle. "If you let anything happen to Win, I will kill you."
He stroked her hair gently. "You've threatened to kill me for years, and nothing ever comes of it."
"I've been w-waiting for the right reason."
Smiling, Leo pried her head from his chest and kissed her forehead. "I'll bring her back safe and well."