Poppy gave her sister a sly glance. "At Amelia's age, women are far beyond thoughts of Romance and passion."
"One never knows," Leo told Poppy. "She may catch an elderly gentleman who needs a nurse."
Amelia was tempted to skewer them both with the tart observation that she had already been in love once, and she would not care to repeat the experience. She had been pursued and courted by Leo's best friend, a charming young architect named Christopher Frost, who, like Leo, had been articled to Rowland Temple. But on the day he had led her to believe a proposal was forthcoming, Frost had ended the relationship with brutal abruptness. He said he had developed feelings for another woman, who conveniently happened to be Rowland Temple's daughter.
It was only to be expected of an architect, Leo had told her with grim remorse, outraged on behalf of his sister, sorrowful at the loss of a friend. Architects inhabited a world of masters and disciples and the endless pursuit of patrons. Everything, even love, was sacrificed on the altar of ambition. To be otherwise was to miss the few precious opportunities one might have to practice the art of design. Marrying Temple's daughter would give Christopher Frost a place at the table. Amelia could never have done that for him.
All she had been able to do was love him.
Swallowing back her bitterness, Amelia glanced up at her brother and managed a rueful smile. "Thank you, but at this advanced stage of life, I have no ambitions to marry."
Leo surprised her by bending to brush a light kiss on her forehead. His voice was soft and kind. "Be that as it may, I think someday you'll meet a man worth giving up your independence for." He grinned before adding, "Despite your encroaching old age."
For a moment Amelia's mind chased back to the memory of the kiss in the shadows, the mouth slowly consuming hers, the gentle masculine hands, the whisper at her ear. Latcho drom…
As her brother turned to walk away, she asked with mild exasperation, "Where are you going? Leo, you can't leave when there's so much to be done."
He stopped and glanced back at her with a raised brow. "You've been pouring unsweetened tea down my throat for days. If you have no objection, I'd like to go out for a piss."
She narrowed her eyes. "I can think of at least a dozen polite euphemisms you could have used."
Leo continued on his way. "I don't use euphemisms."
"Or politeness," she said, making him chuckle.
As Leo left the room, Amelia folded her arms and sighed. "He's so much more pleasant when he's sober. A pity it doesn't happen more often. Come, Poppy, let's find the kitchen."
With the house so stale and dust-riddled, the atmosphere was hard on poor Win's lungs, causing her to cough incessantly through the night. Having awakened countless times to administer water to her sister, to open the windows, to prop her up until the coughing spasms had eased, Amelia was bleary-eyed when morning came.
"It's like sleeping in a dust box," she told Merripen. "She's better off sitting outside today, until we can manage to clean her room properly. The carpets must be beaten. And the windows are filthy."
The rest of the family was still abed, but Merripen, like Amelia, was an early riser. Dressed in rough clothes and an open-necked shirt, he stood frowning as Amelia reported on Win's condition.
"She's exhausted from coughing all night, and her throat is so sore, she can barely speak. I've tried to make her take some tea and toast, but she won't have it."
"I'll make her take it."
Amelia looked at him blankly. She supposed she shouldn't be surprised by his assertion. After all, Merripen had helped nurse both Win and Leo through the scarlet fever. Without him, Amelia was certain neither of them would have survived.
"In the meanwhile," Merripen continued, "make a list of supplies you want from the village. I'll go this morning."
Amelia nodded, grateful for his solid, reliable presence. "Shall I wake Leo? Perhaps he could help?
She smiled wryly, well aware that her brother would be more of a hindrance than a help.
Going downstairs, Amelia sought the help of Freddie, the boy from the village, to move an ancient chaise out to the back of the house. They set the furniture on a brick-paved terrace that opened onto a weed-choked garden bordered by beech hedges. The garden needed reseeding and replanting, and the crumbling low walls would have to be repaired.
"There's work to be done, mum," Freddie commented, bending to pluck a tall weed from between two paving bricks.
"Freddie, you are a master of understatement." Amelia contemplated the boy, who looked to be about thirteen. He was robust and ruddy-faced, with a ruff of hair that stood up like a robin's feathers. "Do you like gardening?" she asked. "Do you know much about it?"
"I keeps a kitchen plot for my ma."
"Would you like to be Lord Ramsay's gardener?"
"How much does it pay, miss?"
"Would two shillings a week suffice?"
Freddie looked at her thoughtfully and scratched his wind-chapped nose. "Sounds good. But you'll have to ask my ma."
'Tell me where you live, and I'll visit her this very morning."
"All right. It's not far—we're at the closest side of the village."
They shook hands on the deal, talked a moment more, and Freddie went to investigate the gardener's shed.
Turning at the sound of voices, Amelia saw Merripen carrying her sister outside. Win was dressed in a nightgown and robe and swathed in a shawl, her slim arms looped around Merripen's neck. With her white garments and blond hair and fair skin, Win was nearly colorless except for the flags of soft pink across her cheekbones and the vivid blue of her eyes.