"I've hated them ever since I was seven."
"I was playing out-of-doors with Win and Leo, and 1 stumbled too close to a rosebush. A bee flew at my face and stung right here." She touched a spot just below her right eye, high on the crest of her cheek. 'The side of my face swelled until my eye closed… I couldn't see from it for almost two weeks?
His fingertips smoothed over her cheek as if to soothe the long-ago injury.
"—and my brother and sister called me Cyclops." She watched him struggle not to smile. 'They still do, whenever a bee flies too near."
He regarded her with friendly sympathy. "Everyone's afraid of something."
"What are you afraid of?"
"Ceilings and walls, mostly."
She stared at him in puzzlement, her thoughts still coursing too slowly. "You mean .. . you would rather live outside like a wild creature?"
"Yes, that's what I mean. Have you ever slept outside before?"
"On the ground?"
Her bewildered tone made him grin. "On a pallet beside a fire."
Amelia tried to imagine it, lying undefended on the hard ground, at the mercy of every creature that crawled, crept, or flew. "I don't think I could fall asleep that way."
She felt his hand playing slowly in the loose locks of her hair. "You could." His voice was soft. "I would help you."
She had no idea what he meant by that. All she knew was that as his fingertips reached her scalp, she felt a sensual shiver run down her spine. Clumsily she reached for her bodice, trying to pull the reinforced fabric together.
"Allow me. You're still unsteady." His hands brushed hers aside and he began to hook her corset deftly. Clearly he was familiar with the intricacies of a woman's undergarments. Amelia didn't doubt there had been more than a few ladies willing to let him practice.
Flustered, she asked, "Was I stung anywhere?"
"No." Mischief flickered in his eyes. "I checked thoroughly."
Amelia suppressed a little moan of distress. She was tempted to push his hands away from her, except that he was restoring her clothing far more efficiently than she would have. She closed her eyes, trying to pretend she wasn't sprawled in a man's lap while he fastened her corset.
"You'll need a local beekeeper to remove the hive," Rohan said.
Thinking of the enormous colony in the wall, Amelia asked, "How will he kill them all?"
"He may not have to. If possible, he'll sedate them with smoke and transfer the queen to a movable frame hive. The rest will follow. But if he can't manage that, he'll have to kill the colony with soap water. The larger problem is how to remove the comb and the honey. If you don't take it all out, it will ferment and attract all kinds of vermin."
Her eyes opened, and she looked up at him in worry. "Will the entire wall have to be removed?"
Before Rohan could reply, a new voice entered the conversation. "What's this?"
It was Leo, who had just arisen from bed and pulled on his clothes. He came barefoot from the direction of his' bedroom. His bleary gaze moved over the pair of them. "Why are you on the floor with your buttons undone?"
Amelia considered the question. "I decided to have a spontaneous tryst in the middle of the hallway with a man I hardly know."
"Well, try to be quiet about it next time. A fellow needs his sleep."
Amelia stared at him quizzically. "For heaven's sake, Leo, aren't you worried that I may have been compromised?"
"I…" Her face turned hot as she glanced into Rohan's vivid topaz eyes. "I don't think so."
"If you're not sure about it," Leo said, "you probably weren't." He came to Amelia, sank to his haunches, and stared at her steadily. His voice gentled. "What happened, sis?"
She pointed an unsteady finger at the closed door. 'There are bees in there, Leo."
"Bees. Good God." Her brother gave her an affectionately mocking smile. "What a coward you are, Cyclops."
Amelia scowled, levering herself upward from Rohan's lap. He braced her automatically, his arm firm behind her back. "Go see for yourself."
Leo sauntered lazily to the room, opened it, and stepped inside.
In two seconds, he had sped out, slammed the door, and lodged his shoulders against it. "Christ!" His eyes were wide and glazed. "There must be thousands of them!"
"I'd estimate at least two hundred thousand," Rohan said. Finishing the last of Amelia's buttons, he helped her to her feet. "Slowly," he murmured. "You might be a bit light-headed."
She let him support her while she assessed her uncertain balance. "I'm steady now. Thank you." Her hand was still clasped in his. Rohan's fingers were long and graceful, the thumb band gleaming against honey-colored skin.
Uneasily Amelia drew her hand away and told her brother, "Mr. Rohan saved my life twice today. First I nearly fell out the window, and then I found the bees."
"This house," Leo muttered, "should be torn down and used for matchsticks."
"You should order a full structural inspection," Rohan said. "The house has settled badly. Some of the chimneys are leaning, and the entrance hall ceiling is sagging. You've got damaged joinery and beams."
"I know what the problems are." The calm appraisal had annoyed Leo. He'd retained enough of his past architectural training to assess the house's condition accurately.