"I'm not that person," Amelia whispered. "Truly, I'm not."
Evie regarded her with kind sympathy. "It's your decision, of course. But as someone who has known Cam for a very long time, I must tell you?he's a good man, and entirely trustworthy." She pushed the French doors open for Amelia. "Your sisters are outside," she said. "I'll send for your dinner tray."
It was a damp, brisk day, the air saturated with the scents of mulch and roses and late-flowering grasses. The back terrace overlooked acres of meticulously tended gardens, all connected by graveled pathways. Tables and chairs had been set upon the flagstoned floor. Since most of Lord Westcliff 's guests had departed at the conclusion of the latest hunting party, the terrace was largely unoccupied.
Seeing Win, Poppy, and Beatrix at a table, Amelia strode to them eagerly. "How are you?" she asked Win. "Did you sleep well? Did you cough?"
"I'm quite well. We were worried about you—I've never known you to sleep so long unless you were ill."
"Oh, no, not ill, couldn't be better." Amelia gave her an overbright smile. She glanced at her other sisters, who were both wearing new gowns, Poppy in yellow and Beatrix in green. "Beatrix… you look lovely. Like a young lady."
Smiling, Beatrix stood and executed a slow turn for her. The pale green dress, with its intricately pleated bodice and dark green corded trim, fit almost perfectly, the skirts falling down to the floor. "Lady Westcliff gave it to me," she said. "It belonged to her younger sister, who can't wear it anymore because she's in confinement."
"Oh, Bea? Seeing her sister's pleasure in the grownup dress, Amelia felt a pang of sorrowful pride. Beatrix should attend a finishing school, where she would learn French and flower arranging, and all the social graces the rest of the Hathaways lacked. But there was no money for that—and at this rate, there never would be.
She felt Win's hand slip into hers and give it a small squeeze. Glancing down into Win's understanding blue eyes, she sighed. They were -still for a moment, hands clinging in mutual support.
"Amelia," Win murmured, "do sit by me. I want to ask you something."
Amelia lowered herself in the chair, which gave her a perfect vantage point of the gardens. There was a sharp pang of recognition in her chest as she saw a trio of men walking slowly along a yew hedge, Cam's dark and graceful form among them. Like his companions, Cam wore riding breeches and tall leather boots. But instead of the traditional riding coat and waistcoat, he wore a white shirt topped with a jerkin, an open collarless vest made of thin leather. A breeze played in the black layers of his hair, lifting the glossy locks and letting them settle.
As the three men walked, Cam interacted with his surroundings in a way the other two didn't, picking a stray leaf from the hedge, running his palm across the coppery tails of maidengrass. And yet Amelia was certain he didn't miss a word of the conversation.
Although nothing could possibly have alerted him to Amelia's presence, he paused and looked over his shoulder in her direction. Even across the distance of twenty yards, meeting his gaze gave her a small shock. Every hair on her body lifted.
"Amelia," Win asked, "have you come to some kind of arrangement with Mr. Rohan?"
Amelia's mouth went dry. She buried her left hand, the one with the ring, in the folds of her skirt. "Of course not. Where would you get such an idea?"
"He and Lord Westcliff and Lord St. Vincent have been talking ever since they returned from Ramsay House this morning. I couldn't help overhearing some of their conversation when they were on the terrace. And the things that were said—the way Mr. Rohan phrased himself—it sounded as if he were speaking for us."
"What do you mean, speaking for us?" Amelia asked indignantly. "No one speaks for the Hathaways except me.
"He seems to be making decisions about what needs to be done, and when." Win added in an abashed whisper, "As if he were the head of the family."
Amelia was flooded with indignation. "But he has no right… I don't know why he would think… oh, Lord"
This had to be stopped right away.
"Are you all right, dear?" Win asked in concern. "You look pale. Here, have some of my tea."
Aware that all three of her sisters were staring at her with round eyes, Amelia took the china cup and drained it in a few gulps.
"How long are we going to stay here, Amelia?" Beatrix asked. "I like it much better than our house."
Before Amelia could answer, Poppy joined in with, "Where did you get that pretty ring? May I see it?"
Amelia stood abruptly. "Excuse me—I need to speak with someone." She strode across the terrace and hurried down the curving steps to the garden walk.
As she approached the three men, who had paused beside a stone urn filled with dahlias, Amelia overheard a few snatches of conversation, such as "… extend the existing foundation …" and "… the remainder of quarried stone from Jenner's and have it carted here …"
Surely they couldn't be talking about Ramsay House, she thought with increasing alarm. They must not be aware of how paltry the Hathaways' yearly annuities were. Her family couldn't afford the materials and labor to rebuild.
Becoming aware of her presence, the three men turned. Lord Westcliff wore a kind, concerned expression, whereas Lord St. Vincent looked pleasant but aloof. Cam's face was unreadable, his gaze traveling over her in a quick, thorough sweep.