Going to one of the windows, she whisked open the curtains to admit the morning light, and was rewarded with a protesting groan from the bed. “Good morning,” she said cheerfully. “The maid will be here soon to help me dress. You’d better put something on.”

She busied herself at her dresser, sorting through a drawer of embroidered stockings. Out of the periphery of her vision she saw Cam stretch, his body lithe and powerful, his skin glowing like clover honey.


“Come here,” Cam said in a sleep-darkened voice, drawing back the bed linens.

A laugh stirred in her throat. “Absolutely not. There is too much to be done. Everyone is busy except you.”

“I intend to be busy. As soon as you come here. Monisha, don’t make me chase you this early.”

Amelia gave him a severe glance as she obeyed. “It’s not early. In fact, if you don’t wash and dress quickly, we’ll be late to the flower show.”

“How can you be late for flowers?” Cam shook his head and smiled, as he always did when she said something he considered to be gadjo nonsense. His gaze was hot and slumberous. “Come closer.”

“Later.” She gave a helpless gasp of laughter as he reached out with astonishing dexterity, snaring her wrist in his hand. “Cam, no.”

“A good Romany wife never refuses her husband,” he teased.

“The maid—” she said breathlessly as she was pulled across the mattress, and clasped against all that warm golden skin.

“She can wait.” He unbuttoned her robe, his hand slipping past the lace, fingertips exploring the sensitive curves of her br**sts.

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Amelia’s giggles died away. He knew so much about her—too much—and he never hesitated to take ruthless advantage. She closed her eyes as she reached up to the nape of his neck. The clean, silky locks of his hair slipped through her fingers like liquid.

Cam kissed her tender throat, while one of his knees nudged between hers. “It’s either now,” he murmured, “or behind the rhododendrons at the flower show. Your choice.”

She writhed a little, not in protest but excitement as he trapped her arms in the confining sleeves of the dressing gown. “Cam,” she managed to say as his head bent over her exposed br**sts. “We’re going to be so terribly late . . .”

He murmured his desire to her, speaking in Romany as he did whenever his mood turned un-civilized, and the exotic syllables fell hotly against her sensitive skin. And for the next several minutes he possessed her, consumed her, with a lack of inhibition that would have seemed barbaric had he not been so gentle.

“Cam,” she said afterward, her arms clasped around his neck, “are you going to say something to Mr. Bayning today?”

“About pansies and primulas?”

“About his intentions toward my sister.”

Cam smiled down at her as he fingered a loose lock of her hair. “Would you object if I did?”

“No, I want you to.” A frown notched the space between her brows. “Poppy is adamant that no one should criticize Mr. Bayning for taking so long to speak to his father about courting her.”

Gently Cam used the pad of his thumb to smooth away the little frown. “He’s waited long enough. The Rom say of a man like Bayning, ‘he would like to eat fish, but he would not like to get in the water.’ ”

Amelia responded with a humorless chuckle. “It’s very frustrating, to know that he’s tiptoeing around the issue like this. I wish Bayning would simply go to his father and have it out.”

Cam, who knew something about the aristocracy from his days as the manager of an exclusive gaming club, said dryly, “A young man who stands to inherit as much as Bayning has to tread softly.”

“I don’t care. He has gotten my sister’s hopes very high. If it all comes to naught, she’ll be devastated. And he has kept her from being courted by other men, and wasted an entire season—”

“Shhh.” Cam rolled to his side, taking her with him. “I agree with you, monisha . . . this shadow courtship must end. I’ll make certain Bayning understands that it’s time to take action. And I’ll speak to the viscount, if that will help.”

“Thank you.” Amelia tucked her cheek into one of the hard curves of his chest, seeking comfort. “I’ll be so glad when this is resolved. Lately I haven’t been able to rid myself of the feeling that things won’t turn out well for Poppy and Mr. Bayning. I hope I’m wrong. I want so badly for Poppy to be happy, and . . . what will we do, if he breaks her heart?”

“We’ll take care of her,” he murmured, cuddling her. “And love her. That’s what a family is for.”

Chapter Eight

Poppy was light-headed with nerves and excitement. Michael would soon arrive to accompany the family to the flower show. After all their subterfuge, this was the first step toward an openly acknowledged courtship.

She had dressed with extra care in a yellow walking dress trimmed with black velvet cord. The layered skirts were caught up at intervals with black velvet bows. Beatrix wore a similar ensemble, only hers was blue trimmed in chocolate.

“Lovely,” Miss Marks had pronounced, smiling as they entered the receiving room of the family suite. “You will be the two most elegant young ladies at the flower show.” She reached up to Poppy’s upswept curls and anchored a pin more securely. “And I predict that Mr. Bayning will not be able to take his gaze off you,” she added.

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