"Besides," Cam said, "if Amelia doesn't marry me, the gadjo will be after her again. And you know she'll be better off with me."
Merripen's eyes narrowed. "Frost broke her heart. You took her innocence. Why does that make you any better?"
"Because I'm not going to leave her. Unlike the gadjos, the Rom are faithful to our women." Cam paused and measured out five seconds before adding deliberately, "You probably know that better than I."
Merripen fixed his furious gaze at a point in the distance. "If you hurt her in any way? he finally said, "I'm going to kill you."
"I may kill you anyway."
Cam smiled slightly. "You'd be surprised how many people have said that to me before."
"No," Merripen said, "I wouldn't."
Amelia paused nervously at the door of Cam's room. There were sounds of movement within, drawers opening and closing, objects being moved. She realized he must be preparing to leave for London.
The residents and guests of Stony Cross Manor had discreetly left the back terrace before Cam and Merripen had returned. Amelia had just caught sight of Merripen returning to his room, his ferocious scowl deepening as he had glanced at her. She had opened her mouth to ask something, apologize, she wasn't certain what, but he had cut her off. "Your choice," he muttered. "And it affects all of us. Don't forget that." He had closed the door before she could say a word.
Glancing up and down the hallway, Amelia made certain she was unobserved before she gave a feather-light rap at the door and let herself into the room.
Cam pushed a stack of neatly folded garments into a small gentleman's trunk at the foot of the bed. He looked up at her, a spill of black silk falling down to his eyes. He was so vibrant, so dark and beautiful, his skin like polished rosewood.
Amelia's voice came unevenly from her constricted throat. "I was afraid Merripen would bring you back in pieces."
Stepping away from the bed, toward her, Cam smiled. "All still here."
As Amelia glanced at the lean, fascinating contours of his body, she felt her temperature rise. She turned to the side and spoke rapidly.
"I've considered everything you said earlier. I've made a decision. But first I'd like to explain that it has nothing to do with your personal endowments, which are quite considerable. It's just that?
"My personal endowments?"
"Yes. Your intelligence. Your attractiveness."
Wondering why his voice sounded odd, Amelia darted a questioning glance at him. The amber eyes were bright with laughter. What had she said to amuse him? "Are you paying attention?"
"Believe me, when my personal endowments are being discussed, I always pay attention. Go on."
She frowned. "Mr. Rohan, although I consider your offer a great compliment, and present circumstances being what they?
"Let's get to the point, Amelia." His hands closed over her shoulders. "Are you going to marry me?"
"I can't," she said weakly. "I just can't. We don't suit. It's obvious we're not at all alike. You're impetuous. You make life-altering decisions in the blink of an eye. Whereas I choose one course and I don't stray from it."
"You strayed last night. And look how well it turned out." He grinned at her expression. "I'm not impetuous, love. It's just that I know when something is too important to be decided according to logic."
"And marriage is one of those things?"
"Of course." Cam settled a hand high on her chest, over the wild pounding of her heart. "You have to decide it in here"
Amelia's chest felt tight beneath the warmth of his hand. "I've only known you for a matter of days. We're still strangers. I can't entrust the future of my entire family to a man I don't even know."
"A couple can be married fifty years and never know each other. Besides, you know the important things about me already."
Amelia heard an annoying drumming sound, and she thought at first it was the wild percussion of her heart. But as Cam's leg intruded gently among the folds of her borrowed dress and touched hers, she realized she was doing her blasted foot-tapping again. With an effort, she went still.
Sliding one arm around her, Cam picked up her left hand, bringing it to his mouth. His lips brushed over the chafed red patch on her knuckle, where she had tried to pull the ring off.
"It's stuck," she grumbled. "It's too small."
"It's not too small. Just relax your hand and it will come off."
"My hand is relaxed."
"Gadjis" he said. "You're all as stiff as amaranth wood. It must be your corsets." His head bent, his mouth finding hers. He explored slowly, enticing her to open for him, hunting for the shy tip of her tongue. She stirred in dismay as she realized he was unfastening the back of her gown. The bodice loosened in front, sagging away from her neatly confined br**sts.
"Shhh? The hot, exciting waft of his breath filled her mouth. "I'm helping you remove the ring. That's what you want, isn't it?"
"Removing this ring has nothing to do with pulling my corset str—oh, no? The web of stays had split open to expose a lush display of flesh. "This isn't helping." She tried to pull up her disassembled clothing with the clumsiness of someone moving underwater.