"Hmmm. That is neither Irish nor Romany. Perhaps there's another part of you we haven't yet identified."
"My God. I hope not." But he was smiling, and Win felt a warm ripple of delight spread through all her limbs.
"That's the first real smile I've seen from you since I came back," she said. "You should smile more, Kev." "Should I?" he asked softly.
"Oh yes. It's beneficial for your health. Dr. Harrow says his cheerful patients tend to recover far more quickly than the sour ones."
The mention of Dr. Harrow caused Merripen's elusive smile to vanish. "Ramsay says you've become close with him."
"Dr. Harrow is a friend," she allowed.
"Only a friend?"
"Yes, so far. Would you object if he wished to court me?"
"Of course not," Merripen muttered. "What right would I have to object?"
"None at all. Unless you had staked some prior claim, which you certainly have not."
She sensed Merripen's inner struggle to let the matter drop. A struggle he lost, for he said abruptly, "Far be it from me to deny you a diet of pabulum, if that's what your appetite demands."
"You're likening Dr. Harrow to pabulum?" Win fought to hold back a satisfied grin. The small display of jealousy was a balm to her spirits. "I assure you, he is not at all bland. He is a man of substance and character."
"He's a watery-eyed, pale-faced gadjo"
"He is very attractive. And his eyes are not at all watery."
"Have you let him kiss you?"
"Kev, we're on a public thoroughfare-"
"Once," she admitted, and waited as he digested the information. He scowled ferociously at the pavement before them. When it became apparent he wasn't going to say anything, Win volunteered, "It was a gesture of affection."
Still no response.
Stubborn ox, she thought in annoyance. "It wasn't like your kisses. And we've never…" She felt a blush rising. "We've never done anything similar to what you and I… the other night…"
"We're not going to discuss that."
"Why can we discuss Dr. Harrow's kisses but not yours?"
"Because my kisses aren't going to lead to courtship."
That hurt. It also puzzled and frustrated her. Before all was said and done, Win intended to make Merripen admit just why he wouldn't pursue her. But not here, and not now.
"Well, I do have a chance of courtship with Dr. Harrow," she said, attempting a pragmatic tone. "And at my age, I must consider any marriage prospect quite seriously."
"Your age?" he scoffed. "You're only twenty-five."
"Twenty-six. And even at twenty-five, I would be considered long in the tooth. I lost several years-my best ones perhaps-because of my illness."
"You're more beautiful now than you ever were. Any man would be mad or blind not to want you." The compliment was not given smoothly, but with a masculine sincerity that heightened her blush.
"Thank you, Kev."
He slid her a guarded look. "You want to marry?"
Win's willful, treacherous heart gave a few painfully excited thuds, because at first she thought he'd asked, "You want to marry me?" But no, he was merely asking her opinion of marriage as… well, as her scholarly father would have said, as a "conceptual structure with a potential for realization."
"Yes, of course," she said. "I want children to love. I want a husband to grow old with. I want a family of my own."
"And Harrow says all of that is possible now?"
Win hesitated a bit too long. "Yes, completely possible."
But Merripen knew her too well. "What are you not telling me?"
"I am well enough to do anything I choose now," she said firmly.
"What does he-"
"I don't wish to discuss it. You have your forbidden topics; I have mine."
"You know I'll find out," he said quietly.
Win ignored that, casting her gaze to the park before them. Her eyes widened as she saw something that had not been there when she had left for France… a huge, magnificent structure of glass and iron. "Is that the Crystal Palace? Oh, it must be. It's so beautiful-much more so than the engravings I've seen."
The building, which covered an area of more than nine acres, housed an international show of art and science called the Great Exhibition. Win had read about it in the French newspapers, which had aptly termed the exhibition one of the great wonders of the world.
"How long since it was completed?" she asked, her step quickening as they headed toward the glittering building.
"Not quite a month."
"Have you been inside? Have you seen the exhibits?"
"I've visited once," Merripen said, smiling at her eagerness. "And I saw a few of the exhibits, but not all. It would take three days or more to look at everything."
"Which part did you go to?"
"The machinery court, mostly."
"I do wish I could see even a small part of it," she said wistfully, watching the throngs of visitors exiting and entering the remarkable building. "Won't you take me?"
"You wouldn't have time to see anything. It's already afternoon. I'll bring you tomorrow."