Amelia grinned and reached for another tart. “What I mean to suggest is, why don’t you try making a headlong dash at him? Try to make a real go of it. Show him what kind of marriage you want.”
“Charge at him,” Poppy murmured, “like a rabbit at a cat.”
Amelia gave her a perplexed glance. “Hmmm?”
Poppy smiled. “Something Beatrix advised me to do early on. Perhaps she’s wiser than the rest of us.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it.” Lifting her free hand, Amelia pushed aside the edge of a white lace curtain, sunlight falling over her shining sable hair, gilding her fine features. A laugh escaped her. “I see her now, coming back from her ramble in the wood. She’ll be thrilled to discover that you and Leo are here. And it appears she’s carrying something in her apron. Lord, it could be anything. Lovely, wild girl . . . Catherine has done wonders with her, but you know she’ll never be more than half tame.”
Amelia said this without worry or censure, merely accepting Beatrix for what she was, trusting that fate would be kind. Undoubtedly that was Cam’s influence. He’d always had the good sense to give the Hathaways as much freedom as possible, making room for their eccentricities where someone else might have crushed them. The Ramsay estate was their safe harbor, their haven, where the rest of the world dared not intrude.
And Harry would be there soon.
Harry’s journey to Hampshire had been long, dull, and uncomfortable, with no companionship except his own smoldering thoughts. He had tried to rest, but as a man who found sleep difficult in even the best of circumstances, trying to doze in a jolting carriage in the daytime was impossible. He had occupied himself with making up extravagant threats to bully his wife into obedience. Then he had fantasized about what he would do to Poppy in her chastised state, until those thoughts had made him aroused and aggravated.
Damn her, he would not be left.
Harry had never been given to introspection, finding the territory of his own heart too treacherous and tricky to examine. But it was impossible to forget the earlier time in his life, when every bit of softness and pleasure and hope had disappeared, and he’d had to fend for himself. Survival had meant never allowing himself to need another person again.
Harry tried to divert his thoughts by staring at the passing scenery, the summer sky still light as the hour approached nine. Of all the places in England he had visited, he had not yet gone to Hampshire. They were traveling south of the Downs, toward the thick wood and fertile grasslands near the New Forest and Southampton. The prosperous market town of Stony Cross was located in one of the most picturesque regions of England. But the town and its environs possessed something more than mere scenic appeal—a mystical quality, something difficult to put his finger on. It seemed they were traveling to a place out of time, the ancient woods harboring creatures that could only exist in myth. As evening deepened, mist collected in the valley and crept across the roads in an otherworldly haze.
The carriage turned onto the private road of the Ramsay estate, past two sets of open gates and a caretaker’s house made of blue gray stone. The main house was a composite of architectural styles that shouldn’t have looked right together but somehow did.
Poppy was there. The knowledge spurred him, made him desperate to reach her. It was more than desperation. Losing Poppy was the one thing he couldn’t recover from, and knowing that made him feel fearful and furious and caged. The feelings catalyzed into one impetus: He would not be kept apart from her.
With all the patience of a baited badger, Harry strode to the front door, not waiting for a footman. He shoved his way into the entrance hall, two stories high with immaculate cream paneling and a curving stone staircase at the back.
Cam Rohan was there to greet him, casually dressed in a collarless shirt, trousers, and an open leather jerkin. “Rutledge,” he said pleasantly. “We were just finishing supper. Will you have some?”
Harry gave an impatient shake of his head. “How is Poppy?”
“Come, let’s have some wine, and we’ll discuss a few things—”
“Is she having supper as well?”
“I want to see her. Now.”
Cam’s pleasant expression didn’t change. “I’m afraid you’ll have to wait.”
“Let me rephrase—I’m going to see her, if I have to turn this place into matchsticks.”
Cam received this imperturbably, his shoulders hitching in a shrug. “Outside, then.”
This ready acceptance of a brawl both surprised and gratified Harry. His blood was teeming with violence, his temper on the brink of explosion.
Some part of his mind recognized that he wasn’t quite himself, that the precise workings of his mind were off-kilter, his self-control dismantled. His usual cool logic had deserted him. All he knew was that he wanted Poppy, and if he had to fight for her, so be it. He would fight until he bloody well dropped.
He followed Cam through the entrance, down a side hallway, and out to a small open conservatory and garden where a pair of torches burned.
“I’ll say this for you,” the Rom remarked conversationally, “it’s in your favor that your first question was not ‘Where is Poppy’ but ‘How is Poppy.’ ”
“Devil take you and your opinions,” Harry growled, stripping off his coat and tossing it aside. “I’m not asking for permission to take my wife back. She’s mine, and I’ll have her, and be damned to all of you.”