A laughing mock argument sprang up between Amelia and the baker as she flatly refused one for herself, saying she had no wish to marry.
"But of course you do!" the baker declared with a sly grin "It's what every woman hopes for." Amelia smiled and passed the gingerbread men to her sisters. "How much for three, sir?"
"A farthing each." He attempted to hand her a fourth. “And this is for no charge. It would be a sad waste for a lovely blue-eyed lady to go without a husband."
"Oh, I couldn't," Amelia protested. "Thank you, but I don't ?
A new voice came from behind her. "She'll take it." Discomfiture and pleasure seethed low in her body, and Amelia saw a dark masculine hand reaching out, dropping a silver piece into the baker's upturned palm. Hearing her sisters' giggling exclamations, Amelia turned and looked up into a pair of bright hazel eyes.
"You need the luck," Cam Rohan said, pushing the gingerbread husband into her reluctant hands. "Have some."
She obeyed, deliberately biting off the head, and he laughed. Her mouth was filled with the rich flavor of molasses and the melting chewiness of gingerbread on her tongue.
Glancing at Rohan, she thought he should have had at least one or two flaws, some irregularity of skin or structure… but his complexion was as smooth as dark honey, and the lines of his features were razor-perfect. As he bent his head toward her, the perishing sun struck brilliant spangles in the dark waves of his hair.
Managing to swallow the gingerbread, Amelia mumbled, "I don't believe in luck."
Rohan smiled. "Or husbands, apparently."
"Not for myself, no. But for others?
"It doesn't matter. You'll marry anyway."
"Why do you say that?"
Before replying, Rohan cast a look askance at the Hathaway sisters, who were smiling benevolently upon them. Merripen, on the other hand, was scowling.
"May I steal your sister away?" Rohan asked the rest of the Hathaways. "I need to speak with her on some apiary matters."
"What does that mean?" Beatrix asked, taking the headless gingerbread husband from Amelia.
"I suspect Mr. Rohan is referring to our bee room," Win replied with a grin, gently urging her sisters to come away with her. "Come, let's see if we can find a stall with embroidery silks."
"Don't go far," Amelia called after them, more than a little amazed by the speed at which her family was abandoning her. "Bea, don't pay for something without bargaining first, and Win…" Her voice trailed away as they scattered among the stalls without listening. Only Merripen gave her a backward glance, glowering over his shoulder.
Seeming to enjoy the sight of Merripen's annoyance, Rohan offered Amelia his arm. "Walk with me."
She could have objected to the soft-voiced command, except this was probably the last time she would see him for a long while, if ever. And it was difficult to resist the beguiling gleam of his eyes.
"Why did you say I would marry?" she asked as they moved through the crowd at a relaxed pace. It did not escape her that many gazes strayed to the handsome Roma dressed like a gentleman.
"It's written on your hand."
"Palm-reading is a sham. And men don't read palms. Only women."
"Just because we don't," Rohan replied cheerfully, "doesn't mean we can't. And anyone could see your marriage line. It's as clear as day."
"Marriage line? Where is it?" Amelia took her hand from his arm and scrutinized her own palm.
Rohan drew her with him beneath the shade of a bulky beech tree on the edge of the green. Crowds milled across the cropped oval, while the last few swags of sunlight crumpled beneath the horizon. Torches and lamps were already being lit in anticipation of evening.
"This one," Rohan said, taking her left hand, turning it palm upward.
Amelia's fingers curled as a wave of embarrassment went through her. She should have been wearing gloves, but her best pair had been stained, and her second-best pair had a hole in one of the fingers, and she hadn't yet managed to buy new ones. To make matters worse, there was a scab on the side of her thumb where she'd gashed it on the edge of a metal pail, and her nails had been filed childishly short after she’d broken them. It was the hand of a housemaid, not a lady. For one wistful moment she wished she had hands like Win’s, pale, long-fingered, and elegant.
Rohan stared for a moment. As Amelia tried to pull away, he closed his hand more firmly around hers. “Wait,?she heard him murmur.
She had no choice but to let her fingers relax into the warm envelope of his hand. A blush raced over her as she felt his thumb nuzzle into her palm and stroke outward until all her fingers were lax and open.
His quiet voice seemed to collect at some hidden pleasure center at the base of her skull. "Here." His fingertip brushed over a horizontal line at the base of her little finger. "Only one marriage. It will be a long one. And these? He traced a trio of small vertical notches that met the marriage line. "It means you’ll have at least three children." He squinted in concentration. "Two girls and a boy. Elizabeth, Jane, and?Ignatius."
She couldn’t help smiling. "Ignatius?"
"After his father, " he said gravely. "A very distinguished bee farmer."
The spark of teasing in his eyes made her pulse jump. She took his hand and inspected the palm. "Let me see yours."