"I'm not a complete villain, Amelia. I have a conscience, albeit a somewhat underused one. It's not easy to live with the memories of the people I hurt in the past. Including you and your brother."
"Christopher," she murmured, throwing him a distracted glance. "I don't know what to say. I need some time to consider things?
"Take all the time you wish," he said gently. "If I can't be what I once was to you … I will have to be satisfied as a friend-in-waiting." He smiled slightly, his eyes filled with a tender glow. "And if you should ever want more?a single word is all it will take."
Ordinarily Cam would have been pleased by the arrival of Lord and Lady St. Vincent at Stony Cross Park. However, Cam wasn't looking forward to the prospect of telling St. Vincent about his decision to quit the club. St. Vincent wouldn't like it. Not only would it be inconvenient to have to find a replacement manager, but the viscount wouldn't understand Cam's desire to live as a Roma. St. Vincent was nothing if not an enthusiastic advocate of fine living.
Many people feared St. Vincent, who possessed a lethal way with words and a calculating nature, but Cam was not one of them. In fact, he had challenged the viscount on more than one occasion, both of them arguing with a vicious articulateness that would have sliced anyone else to ribbons.
The St. Vincents arrived with their daughter Phoebe, a red-haired infant with an alarmingly changeable temperament. One moment the child was placid and adorable. The next, she was a squalling devil-spawn who could only be soothed by the sound of her father's voice. "There, darling," St. Vincent had been known to coo into the infant's ear. "Has someone displeased you? Ignored you? Oh, the insolence. My poor princess shall have anything she wants? And, appeased by her father's outrageous spoiling, Phoebe would settle into hiccupping smiles.
The baby was duly admired and passed around in the parlor. Evie and Lillian chattered without stopping, frequently hugging and linking arms in the way of old friends.
After a while Cam, St. Vincent, and Lord Westcliff withdrew to the back terrace, where an afternoon breeze diffused the scents of the river and reed sweetgrass and marsh marigold. The raucous honks of greylag geese punctuated the peace of the Hampshire autumn, along with the lowing of cattle being driven along a well-worn path to a dry meadow.
The men sat at an outside table. Cam, who disliked the taste of tobacco, waved his hand in dismissal as St. Vincent offered him a cigar.
Under Westcliff's interested regard, Cam and St. Vincent discussed the progress of the club's renovations. Then, seeing no reason to tiptoe around the issue, Cam told St. Vincent of his decision to quit the club as soon as the work was completed.
"You're leaving me?" St. Vincent asked, looking perturbed. "For how long?"
"For good, actually."
As St. Vincent absorbed the information, his pale blue eyes narrowed. "What will you do for money?"
Relaxed in the face of his employer's displeasure, Cam shrugged. "I already have more money than anyone could spend in a lifetime."
The viscount glanced heavenward. "Anyone who says such a thing obviously doesn't know the right places to shop." He sighed shortly. "So. If I'm to understand correctly, you intend to eschew civilization altogether and live as a savage?"
"No, I intend to live as a Roma. There's a difference."
"Rohan, you're a wealthy young bachelor with all the advantages of modern life. If you've got ennui, do what every other man of means does."
Cam's brows lifted. "And that would be?
"Gamble! Drink! Buy a horse! Take a mistress! For God's sake, have a little imagination. Can you think of no better option than to throw it all away and live like a primitive, thereby inconveniencing me in the process? How the devil am I to replace you?"
"No one's irreplaceable."
"You are. No other man in London can do what you do. You're a walking account book, you've got eyes in the back of your head, you've got the tact of a diplomat, the mind of a banker, the fists of a boxer, and you can put down a fight in a matter of seconds. I'd need to hire at least a half-dozen men to your job."
"I don't have the mind of a banker," Cam said indignantly.
"After all your investment coups, you can't deny?
"That wasn't on purpose!" A scowl spread across Cam's face. "It was my good-luck curse."
Looking satisfied to have unsettled Cam's composure, St. Vincent drew on his cigar. He exhaled a smooth, elegant stream of smoke and glanced at Westcliff. "Say something," he told his old friend. "You can't approve of this any more than I."
"It's not for either of us to approve."
"Thank you," Cam muttered.
"However," Westcliff continued, "I urge you, Rohan, to reflect adequately on the fact that while half of you is a freedom-loving Gypsy, the other half is Irish—a race renowned for its fierce love of land. Which leads me to doubt that you will be as happy in your wandering as you seem to expect."
The point rattled Cam. He had always tried to ignore the gadjo half of his nature, lugging it around like some oversized piece of baggage he would have liked to set aside but for which he could never find a convenient place.
"If your point is that I'm damned whatever I do," Cam said tersely, "I'd rather err on the side of being free."