"Merripen…" Amelia whispered.
"From what I can tell, it was even worse than that for him. The man who raised him…" Cam, always so articulate, found it difficult to go on.
"His uncle?" Amelia prompted.
"Our uncle." Cam had already told her that he and Merripen were brothers. But he hadn't yet confided the rest of what Shuri had said. "Apparently he raised Merripen as if he were a game dog."
Amelia turned pale. "What do you mean?"
"Merripen was brought up to be as vicious as a pit animal. He was starved and maltreated until he was conditioned to fight anyone, under any circumstances. And he was taught to take any abuse that was meted out to him and turn his aggression against his opponent."
"Poor boy," Amelia murmured. "That explains much about the way he was when he first came to us. He was only half-tame. But… that was all a long time ago. His life has been very different since then. And having once suffered so terribly, doesn't he want to be loved now? Doesn't he want to be happy?"
"It doesn't work that way, sweetheart." Cam smiled into her puzzled face. It was no surprise that Amelia, who had been brought up in a large and affectionate family, should find it difficult to understand a man who feared his own needs as if they were his worst enemy. "What if you were taught all during your childhood that the only reason for your existence was to inflict pain on others? That violence was all you were good for? How do you unlearn such a thing? You can't. So you cover it as best you can, always aware of what lies beneath the veneer."
"But… obviously Merripen has changed. He's a man with many fine qualities."
"Merripen wouldn't agree."
"Well, Win has made it clear that she would have him regardless."
"It doesn't matter that she would have him. He's determined to protect her from himself."
Amelia hated being confronted with problems that had no definite solution. "Then what can we do?"
Cam lowered his head to kiss the tip of her nose. "I know how you hate to hear this, love… but not much. It's in their hands."
She shook her head and grumbled something against his shoulder.
"What did you say?" he asked, amused.
Her gaze lifted to his, and a self-deprecating smile curved her lips. "Something to the effect that I hate having to leave Merripen and Win's future in their hands."
The last time Win and Leo had seen Ramsay House it had been dilapidated and half-burned, the grounds barren except for weeds and rubble. And unlike the rest of the family, they had not seen the stages of its progress as it was being rebuilt.
The affluent southern county of Hampshire encompassed coastal land, heathland, and ancient forests filled with abundant wildlife. Hampshire had a milder, sunnier climate that most other parts of England, owing to the stabilizing effect of its location. Although Win had not lived in Hampshire for very long before she had gone to Dr. Harrow's clinic, she had the feeling of coming home. It was a welcoming, friendly place, with the lively market town of Stony Cross just within walking distance of the Ramsay estate.
It seemed the Hampshire weather had decided to present the estate to its best effect, with profuse sunshine and a few picturesque clouds in the distance.
The carriage passed the gatekeeper's lodge, constructed of grayish blue bricks with cream stone detailing. "They refer to that as the Blue House," Miss Marks said, "for obvious reasons."
"How lovely!" Win exclaimed. "I've never seen bricks that color in Hampshire before."
" 'Staffordshire blue' brick," Leo said, craning his neck to see the other side of the house. "Now that they're able to bring brick from other places on the railway, there's no need for the builder to make them on site."
They went along the lengthy drive toward the house, which was surrounded by velvety green lawn and white-graveled walking paths, and young hedges and rosebushes. "My God," Leo murmured as they approached the house itself. It was a multi-gabled cream stone structure with cheerful dormers. The blue slate roof featured h*ps and bays outlined with contrasting terra-cotta ridge tiles. Although the place was similar to the old house, it had been much improved. And what remained of the original structure had been so lovingly restored that one could hardly tell the old sections from the new.
Leo didn't take his gaze off the place. "Merripen said they'd kept some of the odd-shaped rooms and nooks. I see many more windows. And they've added a service wing."
People were working everywhere, carters, stockmen, sawyers, and masons, gardeners clipping hedges, stable boys and footmen coming out to the arriving carriages. The estate had not only come to life; it was thriving.
Watching her brother's intent profile, Win felt a surge of gratitude toward Merripen, who had made all this happen. It was good for Leo to come home to this. It was an auspicious beginning to a new life.
"The household staff is in need of expansion," Miss Marks said, "but the ones Mr. Merripen has hired are quite efficient. Mr. Merripen is an exacting manager, but also kind. They would do anything to please him."
Win descended from the carriage with a footman's help, and allowed him to escort her to the front doors. A marvelous set of double doors, with lower panels of solid timber and leaded glass panes set within the upper panels. As soon as Win reached the top step, the doors opened to reveal a middle-aged woman with ginger hair and a fair freckled complexion. Her figure was shapely and sturdy in a high-necked black dress. "Welcome, Miss Hathaway," she said warmly. "I am Mrs. Barnstable, the housekeeper. How glad we all are to have you back in Hampshire."