"I hope you're right. God help me if I should ever have to face the consequences."
"Of what?" Her voice was faint.
"This." His hand slid to the back of her neck and his mouth covered hers.
Amelia had been kissed before. Not all that long ago, as a matter of fact, by a man she had been in love with. The pain of his betrayal had cut so deep, she had sworn never to allow any man close to her again. But Cam Rohan hadn't asked her consent or given her any chance to protest. She stiffened and brought her hands to his chest, exerting pressure against the hard surface. He seemed not to notice her objection, his mouth subtle and insistent. One of his arms slid around her, lifting slightly as he pulled her against the solid contours of his body.
With each breath she drew in a deeper scent of him, the sweetness of beeswax soap, the hint of salt of his skin. The supple power of his body was all around her, and she couldn't stop herself from relaxing into it, letting him support her. More kisses, one beginning before another had quite finished, moist and intimate caresses, secret strokes of pleasure and promise.
With a soft murmur—foreign words that fell pleasantly on her ears—Rohan took his mouth from hers. His lips wandered along the flushed curve of her neck, lingering on the most vulnerable spots. Her body felt swollen inside her clothes, the corset cinching around the desperate pitch of her lungs.
She quivered as he reached a place of exquisite sensation and touched it with the tip of his tongue. As if the taste of her were some exotic spice. A pulse awakened in her br**sts and stomach and between her thighs. She was filled with a dreadful urge to press against him, she wanted to fight free of the layers and layers of smothering fabric that made up her skirts. He was so careful, so gentle?The crash of a bottle on the pavement jolted her from the haze.
"No," she gasped, now struggling.
Rohan released her, his hands steadying her as she fought for equilibrium. Amelia turned blindly and staggered toward the open door of the carriage. Everywhere he had touched, her nerves stung with the desire for more. She kept her head low, grateful for the concealment of her bonnet.
Desperate for escape, Amelia ascended to the carriage step. Before she could climb in, however, she felt Rohan's hands at her waist. He held her from behind, trapping her long enough to whisper near her ear, "Latcho drom."
The Romany farewell. Amelia recognized it from the handful of words Merripen had taught the Hathaways. An intimate shock went through her as the heat of his breath collected in her ear. She didn't, couldn't, reply, only climbed into the carriage and awkwardly pulled the mass of her skirts away from the open doorway.
The door was closed firmly, and the vehicle started forward as the horse obeyed Merripen's guidance. The two Hathaways occupied their respective corners of the seat, one of them drunk, the other dazed. After a moment Amelia reached to untie her bonnet with trembling hands, and discovered the ribbons were hanging loose.
One ribbon, actually. The other…
Removing her bonnet, Amelia regarded it with a perplexed frown. One of the red silk ribbons was gone except for the tiny remnant at the inside edge.
It had been neatly cut.
He had taken it.
One week later, all five Hathaway siblings and their belongings had removed from London to their new home in Hampshire. Despite the challenges that awaited them, Amelia was strongly hopeful their new situation would benefit them all.
The house in Primrose Place held too many memories. Things had never been the same since both Hathaway parents had died, her father of a heart ailment, her mother of grief a few months afterward. It seemed the walls had absorbed the family's sorrow until it had become part of the paint and paper and wood. Amelia couldn't look at the hearth of the main room without remembering her mother sitting there with her sewing basket, or visit the garden without thinking of her father pruning his prized Apothecary's Roses.
Amelia had recently sold the house without compunction, not for lack of sentimentality but rather an excess. Too much feeling, too much sadness. And it was impossible to look forward when one was constantly being reminded of painful loss.
Her siblings hadn't offered a word of objection to selling their home. Nothing mattered to Leo—one could tell him the family intended to live in the streets, and he would have greeted the news with an indifferent shrug. Win, the next oldest sister, was too weak from prolonged illness to protest any of Amelia's decisions. And Poppy and Beatrix, both still in their teens, were eager for change.
As far as Amelia was concerned, the inheritance couldn't have come at a better time. Although she had to admit, there was some question as to how long the Hathaways would manage to retain the title.
The fact was, no one wanted to be Lord Ramsay. For the previous three Lord Ramsays, the title had been accompanied by a streak of singular ill fortune capped by untimely death. Which explained, in part, why the Hathaways' distant relatives had been quite happy to see the viscountcy go to Leo.
"Do I get any money?" had been Leo's first question upon being informed of his ascendancy to the peerage.
The answer had been a qualified yes. Leo would inherit a Hampshire estate of limited acreage and a modest annual sum that wouldn't begin to account for the cost of refurbishing it.
"We're still poor," Amelia had told her brother after poring over the solicitor's letter describing the estate and its affairs. "The estate is small, the servants and most of the tenants have left, the house is shabby, and the title is apparently cursed. Which makes the inheritance a white elephant, to say the least. However, we have a distant cousin who may arguably be in line before you—we can try to throw it all off on him. There is a possibility that our great-great-great-grandfather may not have been legitimate issue, which would allow us to apply for forfeiture of the title on he grounds of?