Turning to his right, Cam found himself staring into Amelia Hathaway's blue eyes. They had been seated next to each other. Pleasure unfolded inside him. Her hair shone like satin, and her eyes were bright, and her skin looked like it would taste of some dessert made with milk and sugar. The sight of her reminded him of an old-fashioned gadjo word that had amused him when he had first heard it. Toothsome. The word was used for something appetizing, conveying the pleasure of taste, but also sexual allure. He found Amelia's naturalness a thousand times more appealing than the powdered and bejeweled sophistication of other women present.
"If you're trying to look meek and civilized," Amelia said, "it's not working."
"I assure you, I'm harmless."
Amelia smiled at that. "No doubt it would suit you for everyone to think so."
He relished her light, clean scent, the charming pitch of her voice. He wanted to touch the fine skin of her cheeks and throat. Instead he held still and watched as she adjusted a linen napkin over her lap.
A footman came to fill their wine glasses. Cam noticed that Amelia kept stealing glances at her siblings like a mother hen with chicks gone astray. Even her brother, seated only two places away from the head of the table, was subjected to the same relentless concern. She stiffened as she caught sight of Christopher Frost, who was seated near the far end of the table. Their gazes locked, while the ripple of a swallow chased down Amelia's throat. She seemed mesmerized by the gadjo. It was obvious an attraction still existed between the two. And judging from Frost's expression, he was more than willing to rekindle their acquaintance.
It required a great deal of Cam's willpower—and he had a considerable supply—not to skewer Christopher Frost with a dining utensil. He wanted her attention. All of it.
"At the first formal supper I attended in London," he told Amelia, "I expected to come away hungry."
To his immediate satisfaction, Amelia turned to him, her interest refocusing. "Why?''
"Because I thought the little side plates were what the gadjos used for their main course. Which meant I wasn't going to get much to eat."
Amelia laughed. "You must have been relieved when the large plates were brought out."
He shook his head. "I was too busy learning the rules of the table."
"Sit where they tell you, don't speak of politics or bodily functions, drink soup from the side of the spoon, don't use the nut pick as a fork, and never offer someone food from your plate."
"The Rom share food from each other's plates?"
He stared at her steadily. "If we were eating Gypsy-style, sitting before a fire, I would offer you the choicest bites of meat. The soft inside of the bread. The sweetest sections of fruit."
The color heightened in her cheeks, and she reached for her wine glass. After a careful sip, she said without looking at him, "Merripen rarely talks about such things. I believe I've learned more from you than I have after twelve years of knowing him."
Merripen … the taciturn chal who had accompanied her in London. There had been no mistaking the easy familiarity between the two, betraying that Merripen was more than a mere servant to her.
Before Cam could pursue the matter, however, the soup course was brought out. Footmen and underbutlers worked in harmony to present huge steaming tureens of salmon soup with lime and dill, nettle soup with cheese and caraway floats, watercress soup garnished with slivers of pheasant, and mushroom soup laced with sour cream and brandy.
After Cam chose the nettle soup and it was ladled into a shallow china bowl in front of him, he turned to speak to Amelia again. To his disgruntlement, she was now being monopolized by the man on her other side, who was enthusiastically describing his collection of Far East porcelain.
Cam took a quick inventory of the other conversations around him, all featuring mundane subjects. He waited patiently until the vicar's wife had bent her attention to the soup bowl in front of her. As she raised a spoon to her papery lips, she became aware that Cam was looking at her. Another throat-clearing noise, while the spoon quivered in her hand.
He tried to think of something that would interest her. "Horehound," he said to her in a matter-of-fact manner.
Her eyes bulged with alarm, and a pulse throbbed visibly in her neck. "H-h-h …" she whispered.
"Horehound, licorice root, and honey. It's good for getting rid of phlegm in the throat. My grandmother was a healer—she taught me many of her remedies."
The word "phlegm" nearly caused her eyes to roll back in her head.
"Horehound is also good for coughs and snake bites, " Cam continued helpfully.
Her face drained of color, and she set her spoon on her plate. Turning away from him desperately, she gave her attention to the diners on her left.
His attempt at polite discussion having been rebuffed, Cam sat back as the soup was removed and the second course was brought out. Sweetbreads in béchamel sauce, partridges nestled in herb beds, pigeon pies, roast snipe, and vegetable souffl?laced the air with a cacophony of rich scents. The guests exclaimed appreciatively, watching in anticipation as their plates were filled.
But Amelia Hathaway barely seemed aware of the sumptuous dishes. Her attention was focused on a conversation at the end of the table, between Lord Westcliff and her brother Leo. Her face was calm, but her fingers clenched around a fork handle.
"… obvious you possess a large acreage of good land that has gone unused …" Westcliff was saying, while Leo listened without apparent interest. "I will make my own estate agent available to you, to apprise you of the standard terms of tenancy here in Hampshire. Usually these arrangements are unwritten, which means it is an obligation of honor on both sides to uphold the agreements?