"Everyone in that library was aware that Merripen was the one who compromised her," she said curtly. "Not Harrow. I can't believe it. After all Win has gone through, it comes to this? She'll marry a man she doesn't love and go to France, while Merripen won't lift a finger to stop her? What is the matter with him?"
"More than can be explained here and now. Calm yourself, love. It won't help Win for you to appear distressed."
"I can't help it. This is all wrong. Oh, the look on my sister's face…"
"We have time to sort it out," Cam murmured. "A betrothal isn't the same as marriage."
"But a betrothal is binding," Amelia said with miserable impatience. "You know people regard it as a contract that can't be broken easily."
"Perhaps semi-binding," he allowed.
"Oh, Cam." Her shoulders drooped. "You would never let anything come between us, would you? You would never let us be parted?"
The question was so patently ridiculous that Cam hardly knew what to say. He turned Amelia to face him, and saw with a jolt of surprise that his practical, sensible wife was close to tears. The pregnancy was making her emotional, he thought. The glitter of moisture in her eyes sent a rush of fierce tenderness through him. He curved a protective arm around her and used his free hand to grip the back of her hair, not caring that it mussed her coiffure. "You are the reason I live," he said in a low voice, holding her close. "You're everything to me. Nothing could ever make me leave you. And if anyone ever tried to separate us, I would kill him." He covered her mouth with his and kissed her with devastating sensuality, not stopping until she was weak and flushed and leaning hard against him. "Now," he said, only half-joking, "where is that conservatory?"
That provoked a watery chuckle from her. "I think there's been enough gossip fodder for one night. Are you going to talk to Merripen?"
"Of course. He won't listen, but that's never stopped me before."
"Do you think he-" Amelia broke off as she heard footsteps coming along the hallway, along with the crisp, abundant rustling of heavy skirts. She shrank farther into the niche with Cam, burrowing into his arms. She felt him smile against her hair. Together they were still and silent as they listened to a pair of ladies chattering.
"… in heaven's name did the Hunts invite them?" one of them was asking indignantly.
Amelia thought she recognized the voice-it belonged to one of the prune-faced chaperons who had been sitting at the side of the drawing room. Someone's maiden aunt, relegated to spinster status.
"Because they're monstrously wealthy?" her companion suggested.
"I suspect it is more because Lord Ramsay is a viscount."
"You're right. An unmarried viscount."
"But all the same… Gypsies in the family! The very thought of it! One can never expect them to behave in a civilized manner-they live by their animal instincts. And we're expected to hobnob with such people as if they're our equals."
"The Hunts are bourgeois themselves, you know. No matter that Hunt owns half of London by now, he's still a butcher's son."
"They and many of the guests here are not at all of suitable caliber for us to associate with. I have no doubt at least a half-dozen other scandals will erupt before the night is out."
"Dreadful, I agree." A pause, and then the second woman added wistfully, "I do hope we'll be invited back next year.…"
As the voices faded, Cam looked down at his wife with a frown. He didn't give a damn what anyone said- by now he was inured to anything that could be said about Gypsies. But he hated that the arrows were sometimes directed at Amelia.
To his surprise, she was smiling up at him steadily, her eyes midnight blue.
His expression turned quizzical. "What's so amusing?"
Amelia toyed with a button on his coat. "I was just thinking… tonight those two old hens will probably go to their beds, cold and alone." An impish grin curved her lips. "Whereas I will be with a wicked, handsome Rom who will keep me warm all night."
Kev watched and waited until he found an opportunity to approach Simon Hunt, who had just managed to extricate himself from a conversation with a pair of giggling women. "May I have a word with you?" Kev asked quietly.
Hunt didn't appear at all surprised. "Let's go to the back terrace."
They made their way to a side door of the drawing room, which opened directly onto the terrace. A group of gentlemen were gathered at one corner of the terrace, enjoying cigars. The rich scent of tobacco drifted on the cool breeze.
Simon Hunt smiled pleasantly and shook his head as the men beckoned for him and Kev to join them. "We have some business to discuss," he told them. "Perhaps later."
Leaning casually against the iron balustrade, Hunt regarded Kev with assessing dark eyes.
On the few occasions when they had met in Hampshire at Stony Cross Park, the estate that bordered the Ramsay lands, Kev had liked Hunt. He was a man's man who spoke in a straightforward manner. An openly ambitious man who enjoyed the pursuit of money and the pleasures it afforded him. And although most men in his position would have taken themselves far too seriously, Hunt had an irreverent and self-deprecating sense of humor.
"I assume you're going to ask what I know about Harrow," Hunt said.