This, Win decided with a surge of anger, was an impossible situation. Merripen refused to acknowledge his feelings for her and wouldn't explain why. Surely she deserved more trust from him than that.
"Very well," she said stiffly, struggling to her feet. As Merripen stood and reached for her, she pushed impatiently at his hand. "No, I don't want help." She began to shake out her skirts. "You are absolutely right, Merripen. We should not be alone together, since the result is always a foregone conclusion: you make an advance, I respond, and then you push me away. I am no child's toy to be pulled back and forth on a string, Kev."
He found her bonnet and handed it to her. "I know you're not-"
"You say I don't know you," she said furiously. "Apparently it hasn't occurred to you that you don't know me, either. You're quite certain of who I am, aren't you? But I've changed during the past two years. You might at least make an effort to find out what kind of woman I've become." She went to the end of the fabric corridor, peeked out to make certain the coast was clear, and she stepped out into the main part of the court.
Merripen followed. "Where are you going?"
Glancing at him, Win was satisfied to see that he looked as rumpled and exasperated as she felt. "I'm leaving. I'm too cross to enjoy any of the displays now."
"Go the other direction."
Win was silent as Merripen led her from the Crystal Palace. She had never felt so unsettled or peevish. Her parents had always called irritability an excess of spleen, but Win lacked the experience to comprehend that her ill humor stemmed from a source quite different from the spleen. All she knew was that Merripen seemed similarly vexed as he walked beside her.
It annoyed her that he didn't say a word. It also annoyed her that he kept pace so easily with her brisk, ground-digging strides, and that when she had begun to breathe hard from exertion, he barely seemed affected by the exercise.
Only when they approached the Rutledge did Win break the silence. It pleased her that she sounded so calm. "I will abide by your wishes, Kev. From now on, our relationship will be pi atonic and friendly. Nothing more." She paused at the first step and looked up at him solemnly. "I've been give a rare opportunity… a second chance at life. And I intend to make the most of it. I'm not going to waste my love on a man who doesn't want or need it. I won't bother you again."
When Cam entered the bedroom of their suite, he found Amelia standing before a towering pile of parcels and boxes overflowing with ribbons and silk and feminine adornments. She turned with a sheepish smile as he closed the door, her heart tripping a little at the sight of him. His collarless shirt was open at the throat, his body almost feline in its lithe muscularity, his face riveting in its sensuous male beauty. Not long ago, she would never have envisioned being married at all, much less to such an exotic creature.
His gaze chased lightly over her, the pink velvet dressing gown open to reveal her chemise and na**d thighs. "I see the shopping expedition was a success."
"I don't know what came over me," Amelia replied a touch apologetically. "You know I'm never extravagant. I only meant to purchase some handkerchiefs and some stockings. But…" She gestured lamely to the piles of fripperies. "I seem to have been in an acquisitive mood today."
A smile flashed in his dark face. "As I've told you before, love, spend as much as you like. You couldn't beggar me if you tried."
"I bought some things for you, too," she said, rummaging through the pile. "Some cravats, and books, and French shaving soap… although I've been meaning to discuss that with you……"
"Discuss what?" Cam approached her from behind, kissing the side of her throat.
Amelia drew in a breath at the hot imprint of his mouth and nearly forgot what she had been saying. "Your shaving," she said vaguely. "Beards are becoming quite fashionable of late. I think you should try a goatee. You would look very dashing, and…" Her voice faded as he worked his way down her neck.
"It might tickle," Cam murmured, and laughed as she shivered.
Gently turning her to face him, he stared into her eyes. There was something different about him, she thought. A curious vulnerability she had never seen before.
" Cam," she said carefully, "how did your errand with Merripen go?"
The amber eyes were soft and alive with excitement. "Quite well. I have a secret, monisha. Shall I tell you?" He drew her against him, wrapping his arms around her, and he whispered into her ear.
Kev was in a devil of a temper that evening for a variety of reasons. The uppermost being that Win was carrying out her threat. She was being friendly to him. Polite, courteous, damnably nice. And he was in no position to object, since this was precisely what he had wanted. But he hadn't expected that there was one thing even worse than having Win glance at him with longing. And that was indifference.
To Kev, she was affable, even affectionate, in the same way she was with Leo or Cam. She treated Kev as if he were a brother. He could hardly bear it.
The Hathaways gathered in the eating area of their suite, laughing and joking about the close quarters as they sat at the table. It was the first time in years that they had all been able to dine together: Kev, Leo, Amelia, Win, Poppy, and Beatrix, with the additions of Cam, Miss Marks, and Dr. Harrow.
Although Miss Marks had tried to demur, they had insisted that she dine with the family. "After all," Poppy had said, laughing, "how else will we know how to behave? Someone must save us from ourselves."