"I would never hurt you," Cam said in a low voice.
"I know. It's not that?
"It's because I kissed you, isn't it?"
"You… you said you didn't remember."
"Why did you do it?" she asked in a half-whisper.
"Impulse. Opportunity." Aroused by her nearness, Cam tried to ignore the coursing readiness of his own body. "Surely you would have expected no less of a Roma. We take what we want. If a Roma desires a woman, he steals her for himself. Sometimes right out of her bed." Even in the darkness he could see the rich renewal of her blush.
"You just said you would never hurt me."
"If I carried you away with me…" The idea of it, her soft, struggling weight in his arms, sent his blood surging. He was caught by the primitive appeal of it, all reason crushed beneath the thumping heat of desire. "The last thing on my mind would be hurting you."
"You would never do such a thing." She was trying very hard to sound matter-of-fact. "We both know you're too civilized."
"Do we? Believe me, the issue of my civility is entirely open to question."
"Mr. Rohan," she asked unsteadily, "are you trying to make me nervous?"
"No." As if the word required emphasis, he repeated softly, "No."
Hell and damnation, he thought, wondering what he was doing. He was at a loss to comprehend why this woman, in her intelligent prickly innocence, should have captivated him so thoroughly. All he knew was a fierce longing to reach something in her, to strip away all the artificial trappings of stays and laces and shoes, the curtain of her gown, the little hooks of her hairpins.
Amelia took a deep breath. "What you didn't mention, Mr. Rohan, was that if a Roma steals a woman from her bed according to tradition, it is with the purpose of marriage in mind. And the so-called stealing is prearranged and encouraged by the bride-to-be."
Cam gave her a charming smile, deliberately dispelling the tension. "It lacks subtlety, but it hastens the proceedings considerably, doesn't it? No asking for the father's permission, no banns, no prolonged betrothal. Very efficient, a Romany courtship."
Their conversation was checked by the reappearance of Beatrix. "Spot's gone," she reported. "He seemed quite happy to take up residence at Stony Cross Park."
Seeming relieved by her sister's return, Amelia went to her, brushed at the crumbs of soil on her sleeve, and straightened her hair bow. "Good luck to Spot. Are you ready to go back in to supper, dear?"
"Oh, everything will be fine. Just remember to look chastened while I grimace in an authoritative manner, and I'm certain they'll allow us to stay through dessert."
"I don't want to go back," Beatrix moaned. "It's so dreadfully dull, and I don't like all that rich food, and I've been sitting beside the vicar who only wants to talk about his own religious writings. It's so redundant to quote oneself, don't you think?"
"It does bear a certain odor of immodesty," Amelia agreed with a grin, smoothing her sister's dark hair. "Poor Bea. You don't have to go back, if you don't wish it. I'm sure one of the servants can recommend a nice place for you to wait until supper is done. The library, perhaps."
"Oh, thank you." Beatrix heaved a sigh of relief. "But who will create another distraction if Leo starts being disagreeable again?"
"I will," Cam assured her gravely. "I can be shocking at a moment's notice."
"I'm not surprised," Amelia said. "In fact, I'm fairly certain you would enjoy it."
The company at Westcliff's table had been relieved by the news that Beatrix had elected to spend the rest of the evening alone in quiet contemplation. No doubt they feared another interruption by yet some other pocket-sized pet, but Amelia had assured them there would be no more unexpected visitors at the table.
Only Lady Westcliff had seemed genuinely perturbed by Beatrix's absence. The countess excused herself sometime between the fourth and fifth courses and reappeared after a quarter hour. Amelia later learned that Lady Westcliff had sent for a supper tray to be brought to Beatrix in the library, and had visited her there.
"Lady Westcliff told me a few stories of when she was a girl, and how she and her younger sister used to misbehave," Beatrix recounted the next day. "She said bringing a lizard to supper was nothing compared to the things they had done—in fact, she said they were both diabolical and rotten to the core. Isn't that wonderful?"
"Wonderful," Amelia said sincerely, reflecting on how much she liked the American woman, who seemed relaxed and fun-loving. Westcliff was another matter. The earl was more than a little intimidating. And after Leo's callous dismissal of Westcliff's concerns over the Ramsay tenants, it was doubtful the earl would be kindly disposed toward the Hathaways.
Thankfully Leo had managed to steer clear of further controversies during supper, mostly because he had been drawn into flirtation with the attractive woman beside him. Although women had always been beguiled by Leo, with his height and good looks and intelligence, he had never been as ardently pursued as he was now.
"I think it says something odd about women's tastes," Win told Amelia privately as they stood in the Ramsay House kitchen, "that Leo wasn't chased by nearly as many women when he was nice. It seems the more odious he is, the more they like him."