But as soon as Amelia Hathaway entered the room, Cam had found himself entirely in sympathy with the tiger. There was nothing he wanted more than to bite the tender back of her neck and drag her to some private place where he could feast on her for hours. In a crowd of elaborately dressed women, Amelia stood out in her simple gown and unadorned throat and ears. She looked clean and winsome and appetizing. He wanted to be alone with her, outside in the open air, his hands free upon her body. But he knew better than to en tertain such thoughts about a respectable young woman.
He watched the tense little scene involving Amelia, her brother, Lord Ramsay, and the architect, Mr. Christopher Frost. Although he couldn't hear their conversation, he read their postures, the subtle way Amelia leaned into her brother's support. It was clear some kind of history was shared between Amelia and Frost… not a happy one. A love affair that had ended badly, he guessed. He imagined them together, Amelia and Frost. It provoked him far more than he would have liked. Tamping down the surge of inappropriate curiosity, he dragged his attention away from them.
As he anticipated the long, bland supper to come, the interminable courses, the mannered conversation, Cam sighed heavily. He had learned the social choreography of these situations, the rigid boundaries of propriety. At first he had even regarded it as a game, learning the ways of these privileged strangers. But he had grown tired of hovering at the edge of the gadjo world. Most of them didn't want him there any more than he did. But there seemed no other place for him except at the periphery.
It had all started approximately two years earlier, when St. Vincent had thrown a bank passbook at him in the casual manner he might have used to toss a rounders ball.
"I've established an account for you at the London Banking House and Investment Society," St. Vincent had told him. "It's on Fleet Street. Your percentage of Jenner's profits will be deposited monthly. Manage them if you wish, or they'll be managed for you."
"I don't want a percentage of the profits," Cam had said, thumbing through the passbook without interest. "My salary is fine."
"Your salary wouldn't cover the annual cost of my bootblacking."
"It's more than enough. And I wouldn't know what to do with this." Cam had been appalled by the figures listed on the balance page. Scowling, he tossed the book to a nearby table. "Take it back."
St. Vincent had looked amused and vaguely exasperated. "Damnation, man, now that I own the place, I can't have it said that you're paid pauper's wages. Do you think I'll tolerate being called a skinflint?"
"You've been called worse," Cam had pointed out.
"I don't mind being called worse when I deserve it. Which is often, I'm sure." St. Vincent had stared at him in a considering way. And, with one of those damnable flashes of intuition you would never expect from the former profligate, he murmured, "It means nothing, you know. It doesn't make you any less of a Roma whether I pay you in pounds, whales' teeth, or wampum."
"I've compromised too much already. Since I first came to London, I've stayed under one roof, I've worn gadjo clothes, I've worked for a salary. But I draw the line at this."
"I've just given you an investment account, Rohan," St. Vincent had said acidly, "not a pile of manure."
"I would have preferred the manure. At least it would be good for something."
"I'm afraid to ask. But curiosity compels me … what in God's name is manure good for?"
"Ah. Well, then, let's approach it this way: money is just another variety of fertilizer." St. Vincent had gestured to the discarded bank passbook. "Do something with it. Whatever pleases you. Although I would advise something other than composting it in sod."
Cam had resolved to get rid of every cent, by scattering it in a series of lunatic investments. That was when the good-luck curse had befallen him. His growing fortune had begun to open doors that should never have been open to him, especially now that upper society was being raided by men of industry. And, having walked through those doors, Cam was behaving in ways, thinking in ways, that weren't usual for him. St. Vincent had been wrong—the money did make him less of a Roma.
He had forgotten things; words, stories, the songs that had lulled him to sleep as a child. He could barely remember the taste of dumplings flavored with almonds and boiled in milk, or boranija stew spiced with vinegar and dandelion leaves. The faces of his family were a distant blur. He wasn't certain he would know them if he met them now. And that made him fear he was no longer Roma.
When was the last time he had slept out under the sky? The company proceeded as a whole into the dining hall. The informal nature of the gathering meant they would not have to be arranged in order of precedence. A line of footmen clad in black, blue, and mustard moved forward to attend the guests, pulling out chairs, pouring wine and water. The long table was covered by an acre of pristine white linen. Each place setting, bristling with silverware, was surmounted with a hierarchy of crystal glasses in assorted sizes.
Cam wiped all expression from his face as he discovered he had been seated next to the vicar's wife, whom he had met on previous visits to Stony Cross Park. The woman was terrified of him. Whenever he looked at her, tried to talk to her, she cleared her throat incessantly. Her sputtery noises brought to mind a tea kettle with an ill-fitting lid.
No doubt the vicar's wife had heard one too many stories of Gypsies stealing children, placing curses on people, and attacking helpless females in a frenzy of uncontrolled lust. Cam was tempted to inform the woman that, as a rule, he never kidnapped or pillaged before the second course. But he kept silent and tried to look as unthreatening as possible, while she shrank in her chair and made desperate conversation with the man at her left.