Now he understood why Win had been so nervous about returning.
Harrow paused at the library table and went to half-sit, half-lean on it. "I still want her," he said quietly. "I'm still willing to have her. On condition that she hasn't conceived." He broke off as Kev fastened a lethal glare on him. "Oh, you may glower, but you can't deny the truth. Look at you-how can you justify what you've done? You're a filthy Gypsy, attracted to pretty baubles like the rest of your ilk."
Harrow watched Kev closely as he continued. "I'm sure you love her, in your fashion. Not in a refined way, not in the way she truly needs, but as much as someone of your kind is capable. I find that somewhat touching. And pitiable. No doubt Winnifred feels that the bonds of childhood kinship give you more of a claim on her than any other man could possibly have. But she has been too long sheltered from the world. She has neither the wisdom nor the experience to know her own needs. If she does marry you, it will only be a matter of time before she tires of you, and wants more than you could ever offer. Go find a sturdy peasant girl, Merripen. Better yet, a Gypsy woman who would be happy with the simple life you could give her. You want a nightingale, when you would be so much better served with a nice, robust pigeon. Do the right thing, Merripen. Give her to me. It's not too late. She'll be safe with me,"
Kev could barely hear his own rasping voice, his pulse hammering with confusion and despair and fury.
"Maybe I should ask the Lanhams. Would they agree that she'd be safer with you?"
And without glancing to judge the effect of his words, Kev strode from the library.
Win's sense of unease grew as evening settled over the house. She stayed in the parlor with her sisters and Miss Marks until Beatrix had tired of reading. The only relief from Win's growing tension was in watching the antics of Beatrix's ferret, Dodger, who seemed enamored of Miss Marks, despite-or perhaps because of-her obvious antipathy. He kept creeping up to the governess and trying to steal one of her knitting needles, while she watched him with narrowed eyes.
"Don't even consider it," Miss Marks told the hopeful ferret with chilling calm. "Or I'll cut off your tail with a carving knife."
Beatrix grinned. "I thought that only happened to blind mice, Miss Marks,"
"It works on any offending rodent," Miss Marks returned darkly.
"Ferrets are not rodents, actually," Beatrix said. "They're classified as mustelidae. Weasels. So one might say the ferret is a distant cousin of the mouse."
"It's not a family I'd care to become closely acquainted with," Poppy said.
Dodger draped himself across the arm of the settee and pinned a love-struck gaze on Miss Marks, who ignored him.
Win smiled and stretched. "I'm fatigued. I'll bid everyone good night now."
"I'm fatigued as well," Amelia said, covering a deep yawn.
"Perhaps we should all retire," Miss Marks suggested, deftly packing away her knitting in a little basket.
They all went to their rooms, while Win's nerves bristled in the ominous silence of the hallway. Where was Merripen? What had been said between him and Julian?
A lamp burned low in her room, its glow pushing feebly against the encroaching shadows. She blinked as she saw a motionless form in the corner… Merripen, occupying a chair.
"Oh," she breathed in surprise.
His gaze tracked her as she came closer to him.
"Kev?" she asked hesitantly, while a chill slithered down her spine. The talk had not gone well. Something was wrong. "What is it?" she asked huskily.
Merripen stood and towered over her, his expression unfathomable. "Who was the doctor you saw in London, Win? How did you find him?"
Then she understood. Her stomach dropped, and she took a few steadying breaths. "There was no doctor," she said. "I didn't see the need for it."
"You didn't see the need," he repeated slowly.
"No. Because-as Julian said later-I could go from doctor to doctor until I found one who would give me the answer I wanted."
Merripen let out a breath that sounded like a scrape in his throat. He shook his head. "Jesus."
Win had never seen him look so devastated, beyond shouting or anger. She moved toward him with her hand outstretched. "Kev, please, let me-"
"Don't. Please." He was struggling visibly to control himself.
"I'm sorry," she said earnestly. "I wanted you so much, and I was going to have to marry Julian, and I thought if I told you about having seen another doctor, it would… well, push you a bit."
He turned away from her, his hands clenched.
"It makes no difference," Win said, trying to sound calm, trying to think above the desperate pounding of her heart. "It changes nothing, especially after today."
"It makes a difference if you lie to me," he said in a guttural tone.
Romany males could not countenance being manipulated by their women. And she had broken Merripen's trust at a time when he had been particularly vulnerable. He had let down his guard, had let her inside. But how else could she have had him?
"I didn't feel I had a choice," she said. "You're impossibly stubborn when your mind is made up. I didn't know how to change it."
"Then you've just lied again. Because you're not sorry."
"I'm sorry that you're hurt and angry, and I understand how much you-"