(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({ google_ad_client: “ca-pub-4772487975361184”, enable_page_level_ads: true });

"Try giving him some water," the tribe leader suggested, handing a carved wooden cup to Kev. He pressed the edge of the cup against Rohan's lips, and coaxed him to take a sip.

The heavy lashes lifted, and Rohan focused on him with effort. "Kev…"

"I'm here, little brother."

Rohan stared and blinked. He reached up and clutched the placket of Kev's open-necked shirt like a drowning man. "Blue," he whispered raggedly. "Everything… blue."

Kev slid his arm around Rohan's back and gripped him firmly. He glanced at the rom phuro, and tried desperately to think. He'd heard of such a symptom before, a blue haze over the vision. It was caused by taking too much of a potent heart medicine. "It could be digitalis," he murmured. "But I don't know what that derives from."

"Foxglove," the rom phuro said. His tone was matter-of-fact, but his face was taut with anxiety. "Quite lethal. Kills livestock."

"What's the antidote?" Kev asked sharply.

The leader's reply was soft. "I don't know. I don't even know if there is one."

Chapter Twenty-one

After dispatching a footman for the village doctor, Leo decided to go to the Gypsy camp and see how Rohan was faring. Leo couldn't stand the inactivity or suspense of waiting. And he was deeply troubled by the thought of anything happening to Rohan, who seemed to have become the linchpin of the entire family.

Rapidly navigating his way down the grand staircase, Leo had just reached the entrance hall when he was approached by Miss Marks. She had a housemaid in tow and was holding the hapless girl by the wrist. The maid was pale and red-eyed.

"My lord," Miss Marks said tersely, "I bid you to come with us to the parlor immediately. There is something you should-"

"In your supposed knowledge of etiquette, Marks, you should know that no one bids the master of the house to do anything."

The governess's stern mouth twisted impatiently. "Devil take etiquette. This is important."

"Very well. Apparently you must be humored. But tell me here and now, as I've no time for parlor chitchat."

"The parlor," she insisted.

After a brief glance heavenward, Leo followed the governess and housemaid through the entrance hall. "I warn you, if this is about some trivial household matter, I'll have your head. I've got a pressing issue to deal with right now, and-"

"Yes," Marks cut him off as they walked swiftly to the parlor. "I know about that."

"You do? Hang it all, Mrs. Barnstable wasn't supposed to tell anyone."

"Secrets are rarely kept belowstairs, my lord."

As they went into the parlor, Leo stared at the governess's straight spine, and experienced the same sting of irritation he always felt in her presence. She was like one of those unreachable itches on one's back. It had something to do with the coil of light brown hair pinned so tightly at her nape. And the narrow torso and tiny corseted waist, and the dry, pristine paleness of her skin. He couldn't help thinking about what it would be like to unlace, unpin, and unloosen her. Remove her spectacles. Do things that would make her all pink and steamy and profoundly bothered.

Yes, that was it. He wanted to bother her.

Repeatedly.

Good God, what the bloody hell was wrong with him?

Once they were in the parlor, Miss Marks closed the door and patted the housemaid's arm with a slender white hand. "This is Sylvia," she told Leo. "She saw something untoward this morning and was afraid to tell anyone. But after learning of Mr. Rohan's illness, she came to me with this information."

"Why wait until now?" Leo asked impatiently. "Surely anything untoward should be reported at once."

Miss Marks answered with annoying calmness, "There are no protections for a servant who inadvertently sees something she shouldn't. And being a sensible girl, Sylvia doesn't want to be made a scapegoat. Do we have your assurance that Sylvia will suffer no ill consequences from what she is about to divulge?"

"You have my word," Leo said. "No matter what it is. Tell me, Sylvia."

The housemaid nodded and leaned against Miss Marks for support. Sylvia was so much heavier than the frail governess, it was a wonder they didn't both topple over. "My lord," the maid faltered, "I polished the fish forks this morning and brought them to the breakfast sideboard, for the sole fillets. But as I came into the morning room, I saw Mr. Merripen and Mr. Rohan out on the terrace, talking. And Dr. Harrow was in the room, watching them.…"

"And?" Leo prompted as the girl's lips trembled.

"And I thought I saw Dr. Harrow put something into Mr. Merripen's coffeepot. He reached for something in his pocket-it looked like one of those queer little glass tubes at the apothecary's. But it was so fast, I couldn't be sure what he'd done. And then he turned around and looked at me as I came into the room. I pretended not to see anything, my lord. I didn't want to make trouble."

"We think that perhaps Mr. Rohan drank the adulterated beverage," the governess said.

Leo shook his head. "Mr. Rohan doesn't take coffee."

"Isn't it possible that he might have made an exception this morning?"

The edge of sarcasm in her voice was unbearably annoying.

"It's possible. But it wouldn't be in character." Leo let out a harsh sigh. "Damn it all. I'll try to find out what, if anything, Harrow did. Thank you, Sylvia."

"Yes, my lord." The housemaid looked relieved.

As Leo strode from the room, he was exasperated to discover that Miss Marks was at his heels. "Do not come with me, Marks."

"You need me."

"Go somewhere and knit something. Conjugate a verb. Whatever it is governesses do."

"I would," she said acerbically, "had I any confidence in your ability to handle the situation. But from what I've seen of your skills, I highly doubt you'll accomplish anything without my help."

Leo wondered if other governesses dared to talk to the master this way. He didn't think so. Why the devil couldn't his sisters have chosen a quiet, pleasant woman instead of this little wasp? "I have skills you'll never be fortunate enough to see or experience, Marks."

She made a scornful humph and continued to follow him.

Reaching Harrow 's room, Leo gave a perfunctory knock and went inside. The wardrobe was empty, and there was an open trunk by the bed. "Do excuse the intrusion, Harrow," Leo said with only the shallowest pretense of politeness. "But a situation has arisen."

"Oh?" The doctor looked remarkably incurious.

"Someone has been taken ill."

"That is unfortunate. I wish I could be of assistance, but if I am to reach London before midnight, I must leave shortly. You'll have to find another doctor."

"Surely you have an ethical obligation to help someone who needs it," Miss Marks said incredulously. "What about the oath of Hippocrates?"

"The oath is not obligatory. And in light of recent events, I have every right to decline. You will have to find another doctor to treat him."

Him.

Leo didn't have to look at Miss Marks to know that she, too, had caught the slip. He decided to keep Harrow talking. "Merripen won my sister fairly, old fellow. And what brought them together was set in motion long before you entered the scene. It's not sporting to blame them."

"I do not blame them," Harrow said curtly. "I blame you."

"Me? " Leo was indignant. "What for? I had nothing to do with this."

"You have so little regard for your sisters that you would allow not one but two Gypsies to be brought into your family."

Out of the corner of his eye, Leo saw Dodger the ferret creeping across the carpeted floor. The inquisitive creature reached a chair over which a dark coat had been draped. Standing on his hind legs, he rummaged in the coat pockets.

Miss Marks was speaking crisply. "Mr. Merripen and Mr. Rohan are men of excellent character, Dr. Harrow. One may fault Lord Ramsay for many other things, but not for that."

"They're Gypsies," Harrow said scornfully.

Leo began to speak, but he was cut off as Miss Marks continued her lecture. "A man must be judged by what he makes of himself, Dr. Harrow. By what he does when no one else is looking. And having lived in proximity to Mr. Merripen and Mr. Rohan, I can state with certainty that they are both fine, honorable men."

Dodger extracted an object from the coat pocket and wriggled in triumph. He began to lope slowly around the edge of the room, watching Harrow warily.

"Forgive me if I don't accept assurances of character from a woman such as you," Harrow said to Miss Marks. "But according to rumor, you've been in rather too much proximity with certain gentlemen in your past."

The governess turned white with outrage. "How dare you?"

"I find that remark entirely inappropriate," Leo said to Harrow. "It's obvious that no sane man would ever attempt something scandalous with Marks." Seeing that Dodger had made it to the doorway, Leo reached for the governess's rigid arm. "Come, Marks. Let's leave the doctor to his packing."

At the same moment, Harrow caught sight of the ferret, who was carrying a slim glass vial in his mouth. Harrow 's eyes bulged, and he went pale. "Give that to me!" he cried, and launched toward the ferret. "That's mine!"

Leo leaped on the doctor and brought him to the floor. Harrow surprised him with a sharp right hook, but Leo's jaw had been hardened from many a tavern fight. He traded blow for blow, rolling across the floor with the doctor as they struggled for supremacy.

"What the devil"-Leo granted-"did you put into that coffee?"

"Nothing." The doctor's strong hands clamped on his throat. "Don't know what you're talking about-"

Leo bashed him in the side with a closed fist until the doctor's grip weakened. "The hell you don't," Leo gasped, and kneed him in the groin. It was a dirty trick Leo had picked up from one of his more colorful escapades in London.

Harrow collapsed to his side, groaning. "Gentleman… wouldn't… do that.…"

"Gentlemen don't poison people, either." Leo seized him. "Tell me what it was, damn you!"

Despite his pain, Harrow 's lips curved in an evil grin. "Merripen will get no help from me."

"Merripen didn't drink the filthy stuff, you idiot! Rohan did. Now tell me what you put in that coffee or I'll rip your throat out."

The doctor looked stunned. He clamped his mouth shut and refused to speak. Leo struck him with a right and then a left, but the bastard remained silent.

Miss Marks's voice broke through the boiling fury. "My lord, stop it. This instant. I need your assistance in retrieving the vial."

Hauling Harrow upward, Leo dragged him to the empty wardrobe and closed him inside. Leo locked the door and turned to face Miss Marks, his face sweating and his chest heaving.

Their gazes locked for a split second. Her eyes turned as round as her spectacle lenses. But the peculiar awareness between them was immediately punctured by Dodger's triumphant chatter.

The blasted ferret waited at the threshold, doing a happy war dance that consisted of a series of sideways hops. Clearly he was delighted by his new acquisition, and even more by the fact that Miss Marks seemed to want it.

"Let me out!" Harrow cried in a smothered voice, and there was a violent pounding from inside the wardrobe.

"That blasted weasel," Miss Marks muttered. "This is a game to him. He'll spend hours teasing us with that vial and keeping it just out of reach."

Staring at the ferret, Leo sat on the carpet and relaxed his voice. "Come here, you flea-ridden hair wad. You'll have all the sugar biscuits you want, if you'll give your new toy to me." He whistled softly and clicked.

But the blandishments did not work. Dodger merely regarded him with bright eyes and stayed at the threshold, clutching the vial in his tiny paws.

"Give him one of your garters," Leo said, still staring at the ferret.

"I beg your pardon?" Miss Marks asked frostily.

"You heard me. Take off a garter and offer it to him as a trade. Otherwise we'll be chasing this damned animal all through the house. And I doubt Rohan will appreciate the delay."

The governess gave Leo a long-suffering glance. "Only for Mr. Rohan's sake would I consent to this. Turn your back."

"For God's sake, Marks, do you think anyone really wants a glance at those dried-up matchsticks you call legs?" But Leo complied, facing the opposite direction. He heard a great deal of rustling as Miss Marks sat on a bedroom chair and lifted her skirts.

It just so happened that Leo was positioned near a full-length looking glass, the oval cheval style that tilted up or down to adjust one's reflection. And he had an excellent view of Miss Marks in the chair. And the oddest thing happened-he got a flash of an astonishingly pretty leg. He blinked in bemusement, and then the skirts were dropped.

"Here," Miss Marks said gruffly, and tossed it in Leo's direction. Turning, he managed to catch it in midair.

Dodger surveyed them both with beady-eyed interest.

Leo twirled the garter enticingly on his finger. "Have a look, Dodger. Blue silk with lace trim. Do all governesses anchor their stockings in such a delightful fashion? Perhaps those rumors about your unseemly past are true, Marks."

"I'll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head, my lord."

Dodger's little head bobbed as it followed every movement of the garter. Fitting the vial in his mouth, the ferret carried it like a miniature dog, loping up to Leo with maddening slowness.

"This is a trade, old fellow," Leo told him. "You can't have something for nothing."

Carefully Dodger set down the vial and reached for the garter. Leo simultaneously gave him the frilly circlet and snatched the vial. It was half-filled with a fine dull green powder. He stared down at it intently, rolling it in his fingers.

Miss Marks was at his side in an instant, crouching on her hands and knees. "Is it labeled?" she asked breathlessly.

"No. Damn it all." Leo was gripped with volcanic fury.

"Let me have it," Miss Marks said, prying the vial from him.

Leo jumped to his feet immediately, hurling himself at the wardrobe. He slammed it with both his fists. "Damn you, Harrow, what is it? What is this stuff? Tell me, or you'll stay in there until you rot."