"God help anyone who stands in your way. You do like to manage other people's lives, don't you?"
"Only when it's obvious I can do a better job of it than they can. What are you smiling at?"
Rohan stopped, obliging her to turn to face him. "You. You make me want to? He stopped as if thinking better of what he'd been about to say. But the trace of amusement lingered on his lips.
She didn't like the way he looked at her, the way he made her feel hot and nervous and giddy. All her senses informed her that he was a thoroughly untrustworthy man. One who abided by no one's rules but his own.
"Tell me, Miss Hathaway … what would you do if you were invited on a midnight ride across the earth and ocean? Would you choose the adventure, or stay safely at home?"
She couldn't seem to tear her gaze from his. The topaz eyes were lit by a glint of playfulness, not the innocent mischief of a boy, but something far more dangerous. She could almost believe he might actually change form and appear beneath her window one night, and carry her away on midnight wings …
"Home, of course," she managed in a sensible tone. "I don't want adventure."
"1 think you do. I think in a moment of weakness, you might surprise yourself."
"I don't have moments of weakness. Not that kind, at any rate."
His laughter curled around her like a drift of smoke. "You will."
Amelia didn't dare ask why he was so certain of that. Perplexed, she lowered her gaze to the top button of his waistcoat. Was he flirting with her? No, it must be that he was mocking her, trying to make her look foolish. And if there was one thing she feared in life more than bees, it was appearing foolish.
Gathering her dignity, which had scattered like bits of dandelion fluff in a high wind, she frowned up at him. "We're nearly at Ramsay House." She indicated the outline of a roof rising from the forest. "I would prefer to go the last part of the distance alone. You may tell the earl that I was safely delivered. Good day, Mr. Rohan."
He gave a nod, took her in with one of those bright, disarming glances, and stayed to watch her progress as she walked away. With each step Amelia put between them, she should have felt safer, but the sense of disquiet remained. And then, she heard him murmur something, his voice shadowed with amusement, and it sounded as if he had said, "Some midnight…"
The news that they were to have supper at the home of Lord and Lady Westcliff was received with a variety of reactions from the Hathaways. Poppy and Beatrix were pleased and excited, whereas Win, who was still trying to regain her strength after the journey to Hampshire, was merely resigned. Leo was looking forward to a lengthy repast accompanied by fine wine.
Merripen, on the other hand, flatly refused to go.
"You are part of the family," Amelia told him, watching as he secured loose paneling boards in one of the common rooms. Merripen's grip on a carpenter's hammer was deft and sure as he expertly sank a handmade nail into the edge of a board. "No matter how you may try to deny all connection to the Hathaways—and one could hardly blame you for that—the fact is, you're one of us and you should attend."
Merripen methodically pounded a few more nails into the wall. "My presence won't be necessary."
"Weil, of course it won't be necessary. But you might enjoy yourself."
"No I wouldn't," he replied with grim certainty, and continued his hammering.
"Why must you be so stubborn? If you're afraid of being treated badly, you should recall that Lord Westcliff is already acting as host to a Roma, and he seems to have no prejudice?
"I don't like gadjos."
"My entire family—your family—are gadjos. Does that mean you don't like us?"
Merripen didn't reply, only continued to work. Noisily.
Amelia let out a taut sigh. "Merripen, you're a dreadful snob. And if the evening turns out to be terrible, it's your obligation to endure it with us."
Merripen reached for another handful of nails. "That was a good try," he said. "But I'm not going."
The primitive plumbing at Ramsay House, its poor lighting, and the dinginess of the few available looking glasses made it difficult to prepare for the visit to Stony Cross Manor. After laboriously heating water in the kitchen, the Hathaways hauled buckets up and down the stairs for their own baths. Everyone except Win, of course, who was resting in her room to preserve her strength.
Amelia sat with unusual submissiveness as Poppy styled her hair, pulling it back, making thick braids and pinning them into a heavy chignon that covered the back of her head. "There," Poppy said with pleasure. "At least you're fashionable from the ears upward."
Like the other Hathaway sisters, Amelia was dressed in a serviceable bombazine gown of twilled blue silk and worsted. Its design was plain with a moderately full skirt, the sleeves long and tightly fitted.
Poppy's gown was a similar style, only in red. She was an uncommonly pretty girl, her fine features lit with vivacity and intelligence. If a girl's social popularity were based on merit rather than fortune, Poppy would have been the toast of London. Instead she was living in the country in a rattletrap house, wearing old clothes, hauling water and coal like a maidservant. And she had never once complained.
"We'll have some new dresses made very soon," Amelia said earnestly, feeling her heart twist with remorse. "Things will improve, Poppy. I promise."