She felt the blood drain from her face. "Oh, God?
"Don't move." Rohan's voice was astonishingly calm. "Don't swat at them."
She had never known such primal fear, welling up from beneath her skin, leaking through every pore. No part of her body seemed to be under her control. The air was boiling with them, bees and more bees.
It was not going to be a pleasant way to die. Closing her eyes tightly, Amelia willed herself to be still, when every muscle strained and screamed for action. Insects moved in sinuous patterns around her, tiny bodies touching her sleeves, hands, shoulders.
"They're more afraid of you than you are of them," she heard Rohan say.
Amelia highly doubted that. "These are not f-frightened bees." Her voice didn't sound like her own. "These are f-furious bees."
"They do seem a bit annoyed," Rohan conceded, approaching her slowly. "It could be the dress you're wearing—they tend not to like dark colors." A short pause. "Or it could be the fact that you just ripped down half their hive."
"If you h-have the nerve to be amused by this? She broke off and covered her face with her hands, trembling all over.
His soothing voice undercut the buzzing around them. "Be still. Everything's fine. I'm right here with you."
'Take me away," she whispered desperately. Her heart was pounding too hard, making her bones shake, driving every coherent thought from her head. She felt him brush a few inquisitive insects from her hair and back. His arms went around her, his shoulder sturdy beneath her cheek.
"I will, sweetheart. Put your arms around my neck."
She groped for him blindly, feeling sick and weak and disoriented. The flat muscles at the back of his neck shifted as he bent toward her, gathering her up as easily as if she were a child. "There," he murmured. "I've got you." Her feet left the floor, and she was floating and cradled at the same time. None of it seemed real: the swirling, droning bees that poured through the air, the hard chest and arms that enclosed her in a safe, secure grip. The thought came to her that she might have died if he hadn't been there. But he was so steady and deliberate, so utterly lacking in fear. The clamp of terror eased from around her throat. Turning her face into his shoulder, she relaxed as he carried her.
His breath fell in a warm, even rhythm on the curve of her cheek. "Some people think of the bee as a sacred in sect," he said. "It's a symbol of reincarnation."
"I don't believe in reincarnation," she muttered.
There was a smile in his voice. "What a surprise. At the very least, the bees' presence in your home is a sign of good things to come."
Her voice was buried in the fine wool of his coat. "What does it mean if there are thousands of bees in one home?"
He shifted her higher in his arms, his lips curving gently against the cold rim of her ear. "Probably that we'll have plenty of honey for teatime. We're going through the doorway now. In a moment I'm going to set you on your feet.
Amelia kept her face against him, her fingertips digging into the layers of his clothes. "Are they following':
"No. They want to stay near the hive. Their main concern is to protect the queen from predators."
"She has nothing to fear from me!"
Laughter rustled in his throat. With extreme care, he lowered Amelia's feet to the floor. Keeping one arm around her, he reached with the other to close the door. 'There. We're out of the room. You're safe." His hand passed over her hair. "You can open your eyes now."
Clutching the lapels of his coat, Amelia stood and waited for a feeling of relief that didn't come. Her heart was racing too hard, too fast. Her chest ached from the strain of her breathing. Her lashes lifted, but all she could see was a shower of sparks.
"Amelia… easy. You're all right." His hands chased the shivers that ran up and down her back. "Slow down, sweetheart."
She couldn't. Her lungs were about to burst. No matter how hard she worked, she couldn't get enough air. Bees… the sound of buzzing was still in her ears. She heard his voice as if from a great distance, and she felt his arms go around her again as she sank into layers of gray softness.
After what could have been a minute or an hour, pleasant sensations filtered through the haze. A tender pressure moved over her forehead. The gentle brushes touched her eyelids, slid to her cheeks. Strong arms held her against a comfortingly hard surface, while a clean, salt-edged scent filled her nostrils. Her lashes fluttered, and she turned into the warmth with confused pleasure.
"There you are," came a low murmur.
Opening her eyes, Amelia saw Cam Rohan's face above her. They were on the hallway floor—he was holding her in his lap. As if the situation weren't mortifying enough, the front of her bodice was gaping, and her corset was unhooked. Only her crumpled chemise was left to cover her chest.
Amelia stiffened. Until that moment she had never known there was a feeling beyond embarrassment, that made one wish one could crumble into a pile of ashes. "My?my dress?
"You weren't breathing well. I thought it best to loosen your corset."
"I've never fainted before," she said groggily, struggling to sit up.
"You were frightened." His hand came to the center of her chest, gently pressing her back down. "Rest another minute." His gaze moved over her wan features. "I think we can conclude you're not fond of bees."