"Of course," Cam said, schooling his expression into pleasant blankness. "Please let me know if there is anything we can do to facilitate your departure."
"I only want what is best for her," the doctor murmured, still not looking at Merripen. "I will continue to believe that going to France with me is the wisest choice for all concerned. But it is Miss Hathaway's decision." He paused, his gray eyes somber. "I hope you will exert any influence you have to make certain all parties concerned understand what is at stake."
"I think we all have a reasonably good grasp of the situation," Cam said with a gentleness that masked the sting of sarcasm.
Harrow stared at him suspiciously and gave a short nod. "I'll leave the two of you to your discussion, then." He placed a subtle, skeptical emphasis on the word "discussion," as if he was aware that they'd been on the verge of an outright brawl. He left the terrace, closing the glass door behind him.
"I hate that bastard," Merripen said beneath his breath.
"He's not my favorite, either," Cam admitted. Wearily he gripped the back of his own neck, trying to ease the stiffness of the pinching muscles. "I'm going down to the Romany campsite. And if you don't mind, I'll take a cup of that evil brew you drink. I despise the stuff, but I need something to help me stay awake."
"Have whatever's left in the pot," Merripen muttered. "I'm more awake than I care to be."
Cam nodded and went to the French doors. But he paused at the threshold, and smoothed the hair at the back of his neck, and spoke quietly. "The worst part about loving someone, Merripen, is that there will always be things you can't protect her from. Things beyond your control. You finally realize there is something worse than dying… and that is having something happen to her. You have to live with that fear always. But you have to take the bad part, if you want the good part."
Kev looked at him bleakly. "What's the good part?"
A smile touched Cam 's lips. "All the rest of it is the good part," he said, and went inside.
"I've been warned on pain of death not to say anything," was Leo's first comment as he joined Merripen in one of the east wing rooms. There were two plasterers in the corner, measuring and marking on the walls, and another was repairing scaffolding that would support a man close to the ceiling.
"Good advice," Kev said. "You should take it."
"I never take advice, good or bad. That would only encourage more of it."
Despite Kev's brooding thoughts, he felt an unwilling smile tug at his lips. He gestured to a nearby bucket filled with light gray ooze. "Why don't you pick up a stick and stir the lumps out of that?"
"What is it?"
"A lime plaster and hairy clay mix."
"Hairy clay. Lovely." But Leo obediently picked up a discarded stick and began to poke around in the bucket of plaster. "The women are gone for the morning," he remarked. "They went to Stony Cross Manor to visit Lady Westcliff. Beatrix warned me to be on the lookout for her ferret, which seems to be missing. And Miss Marks stayed here." A reflective pause. "An odd little creature, wouldn't you say?"
"The ferret or Miss Marks?" Kev carefully positioned a strip of wood on the wall and nailed it in place.
"Marks. I've been wondering… Is she a misandrist, or does she hate everyone in general?"
"What is a misandrist?"
"She doesn't hate men. She's always been pleasant to me and Rohan."
Leo looked genuinely puzzled. "Then… she merely hates me?"
"It would seem so."
"But she has no reason!"
"What about your being arrogant and dismissive?"
"That's part of my aristocratic charm," Leo protested.
"It would appear your aristocratic charm is lost on Miss Marks." Kev arched a brow as he saw Leo's scowl. "Why should it matter? You have no personal interest in her, do you?"
"Of course not," Leo said indignantly. "I'd sooner climb into bed with Bea's pet hedgehog. Imagine those pointy little elbows and knees. All those sharp angles. A man could do fatal harm to himself, tangling with Marks.…" He stirred the plaster with new vigor, evidently preoccupied with the myriad dangers in bedding the governess.
A bit too preoccupied, Kev thought.
It was a shame, Cam mused as he walked through a green meadow with his hands tucked in his pockets, that being part of a close-knit family meant one could never enjoy his own good fortune when someone else was having problems.
There was much for Cam to take pleasure in at the moment… the benediction of sunshine on the spring-roughened landscape, and all the waking, droning, vibrant activity of plants pushing from the damp earth. The promising tang of smoke from a Romany campfire floated on a breeze. Perhaps today he might finally find someone from his old tribe. On a day like this, anything seemed possible.
He had a beautiful wife who was carrying his child. He loved Amelia more than life. And he had so much to lose. But Cam wouldn't let fear cripple him, or prevent him from loving her with all his soul. Fear… He slowed his pace, perplexed by the sudden rapid escalation of his heartbeat. As if he'd been running for miles without stopping. Glancing across the field, he saw that the grass was unnaturally green.
The thump of his heart became painful, as if someone were kicking him repeatedly. Bewildered, Cam tensed like a man held at knifepoint, putting a hand to his chest. Jesus, the sun was bright, boring through his eyes until they watered. He blotted the moisture with his sleeve, and was abruptly surprised to find himself on the ground, on his knees.
He waited for the pain to subside, for his heart to slow as it surely must, but it only got worse. He struggled to breathe, tried to stand. His body would not obey. A slow boneless collapse, the green grass stabbing harshly into his cheek. More pain, and more, his heart threatening to explode from the extraordinary force of its beats.
Cam realized with a kind of wonder that he was dying. He couldn't think why it was happening, or how, only that no one would take care of Amelia and she needed him, he couldn't leave her. Someone had to watch over her; she needed someone to rub her feet when she was tired. So tired. He couldn't lift his head or arm, or move his legs, but muscles in his body were jumping independently, tremors jerking him like a puppet on strings. Amelia. I don't want to go away from you. God, don't let me die; it's too soon. And yet the pain kept pouring over him, drowning him, smothering every breath and heartbeat.
Amelia. He wanted to say her name, and he couldn't. It was an unfathomable cruelty that he couldn't leave the world with those last precious syllables on his lips.
After an hour of nailing up screeds and testing various mixtures of lime, gypsum, and hairy clay, Kev and Leo and the workmen had settled on the right proportions.
Leo had taken an unexpected interest in the process, even devising an improvement on the three-coat plas-terwork by improving the base layer, or scratch coat. "Put more hair in this layer," he had suggested, "and rough it up with a darby tool, and that will give more of a clinch to the next coat."
It was clear to Kev that although Leo had little interest in the financial aspects of running the estate, his love of architecture and all related matters of construction was more keenly developed than ever.
As Leo was climbing down from the scaffolding, the housekeeper, Mrs. Barnstable, came to the doorway with a boy in tow. Kev regarded him with sharp interest. The boy appeared to be about eleven or twelve years of age. Even if he hadn't been dressed in colorful clothes, his bold features and coppery complexion would have identified him as a Rom.
"Sir," the housekeeper said to Kev apologetically, "I beg your pardon for interrupting your work. But this lad came to the doorstep speaking gibberish, and he refuses to be chased away. We thought you might be able to understand him."
The gibberish turned out to be perfectly articulate Romany.
"Droboy tume Romale," the boy said politely.
Kev acknowledged the greeting with a nod. "Mishto avilanV He continued the conversation in Romany. "Are you from the vitsa by the river?"
"Yes, kako. I was sent by the rom phuro to tell you that we found a Rom lying in the field. He's dressed like a gadjo. We thought he might belong to someone here."
"Lying in the field," Kev repeated, while a cold, biting urgency rose inside him. He knew at once that something very bad had happened. With an effort, he kept his tone patient. "Was he resting?"
The boy shook his head. "He is ill and out of his head. And he shakes like this-" He mimicked a tremor with his hands.
"Did he tell you his name?" Kev asked. "Did he say anything?" Although they were still speaking in Romany, Leo and Mrs. Barnstable stared at Kev intently, gathering that some emergency was taking place.
"What is it?" Leo asked, frowning.
The boy answered Kev, "No, kako, he can't say much of anything. And his heart-" The boy hit his own chest with a small fist, in a few emphatic thumps.
"Take me to him." There was no doubt in Kev's mind that the situation was dire. Cam Rohan was never ill, and he was in superb physical condition. Whatever had befallen him, it was outside the category of ordinary maladies.
Switching to English, Kev spoke to Leo and the housekeeper. "Rohan has been taken ill… He's at the Romany campsite. My lord, I would suggest that you dispense a footman and driver to Stony Cross Manor to collect Amelia at once. Mrs. Barnstable, send for the doctor. I'll bring Rohan here as soon as I can."
"Sir," the housekeeper asked in bewilderment, "are you referring to Dr. Harrow?"
"No," Kev said instantly. All his instincts warned him to keep Harrow out of this. "In fact, don't let him know what's going on. For the time being, keep this as quiet as possible."
"Yes, sir." Although the housekeeper didn't understand Kev's reasons, she was too well trained to question his authority. "Mr. Rohan seemed perfecdy well earlier this morning," she said. "What could have happened to him?"
"We'll find out." Without waiting for further questions or reactions, Kev gripped the boy's shoulder and steered him toward the doorway. "Let's go."
The vitsa appeared to be a small and prosperous family tribe. They had set up a well-organized camp, with two vardos and some healthy-looking horses and donkeys. The leader of the tribe, whom the boy identified as the rom phuro, was an attractive man with long black hair and warm, dark eyes. Although he was not tall, he was fit and lean, with an air of steady authority. Kev was surprised by the leader's relative youth. The word phuro usually referred to a man of advanced age and wisdom. For a man who appeared to be in his late thirties, it signified that he was an unusually respected leader.
They exchanged cursory greetings, and the rom phuro led Kev to his own vardo. "Is he your friend?" the leader asked with obvious concern.
"My brother." For some reason Kev's comment earned an arrested glance.
"It is good that you're here. It may be your last chance to see him this side of the veil."
Kev was astonished by his own visceral reaction to the comment, the rush of outrage and grief. "He's not going to die," Kev said harshly, quickening his stride and fairly leaping into the vardo.
The interior of the Gypsy caravan was approximately twelve feet long and six feet broad, with the typical stove and metal chimney pipe located to the side of the door. A pair of transverse berths was located at the other end of the vardo, one upper and one lower. Cam Rohan's long body was stretched out on the lower berth, his booted feet dangling over the end. He was twitching and juddering, his head rolling ceaselessly on the pillow.
"Holy hell," Kev said thickly, unable to believe such a change had been wrought in the man in such a short amount of time. The healthy color had been leeched out of Rohan's face until it was as white as paper, and his lips were cracked and gray. He moaned in pain, panting like a dog.
Kev sat on the edge of the berth and put his hand on Rohan's icy forehead. " Cam," he said urgently. " Cam, it's Merripen. Open your eyes. Tell me what happened."
Rohan struggled to control the tremors, to focus his gaze, but it was clearly impossible. He tried to form a word, but all he could produce was an incoherent sound.
Flattening a hand on Rohan's chest, Kev felt a ferocious and irregular heartbeat. He swore, recognizing that no man's heart, no matter how strong, could go on at that manic pace for long.
"He must have eaten some herb without knowing it was harmful," the rom phuro commented, looking troubled.
Kev shook his head. "My brother is very familiar with medicinal plants. He would never make that kind of mistake." Staring down at Rohan's drawn face, Kev felt a mixture of fury and compassion. He wished his own heart could take over the work for his brother's. "Someone poisoned him."
"Tell me what I can do," the tribe leader said quietly.
"First, we need to get rid of as much of the poison as possible."
"His stomach emptied before we brought him into the vardo."
That was good. But for the reaction to be this bad, even after expelling the poison, meant it was a highly toxic substance. The heart beneath Kev's hand seemed ready to burst from Rohan's chest. He would go into convulsions soon. "Something must be done to slow his pulse and ease the tremors," Kev said curtly. "Do you have laudanum?"
"No, but we have raw opium."
"Even better. Bring it quickly."
The rom phuro gave orders to a pair of women who had come to the entrance of the vardo. In less than a minute, they had produced a tiny jar of thick brown paste. It was the dried fluid of the unripened poppy pod. Scraping up some of the paste with the tip of a spoon, Kev tried to feed it to Rohan.
Rohan's teeth clattered violently against the metal, his head jerking until the spoon was dislodged. Doggedly Kev slid his arm beneath Rohan's neck and lifted him upward. " Cam. It's me. I've come to help you. Take this for me. Take it now." He shoved the spoon back into Rohan's mouth and held it there while he choked and shook in Kev's grip. "That's it," Kev murmured, withdrawing the spoon after a moment. He laid a warm hand on his brother's throat, rubbing gently. "Swallow. Yes, phral, that's it."
The opium worked with miraculous speed. Soon the tremors began to subside, and the frantic gasping eased. Kev wasn't aware of holding his breath until he let it out in a relieved sigh. He put his palm over Rohan's heart, feeling the jerking rhythm slow.