The muted light of dawn barely leavened the darkness, but it was enough for Amelia to see two people in the bed. Merripen was on his side, the formerly strong lines of his body collapsed and sprawling. And there was the slim, neat shape of Win sleeping beside him, fully clothed, her feet tucked beneath the skirts of her house dress. Though it was impossible for such a delicate creature to protect someone so much larger, Win's body was curved as if to shelter him. Amelia stared at them in wonder, understanding more from the tableau than any words could have conveyed. Their position conveyed longing and restraint, even in sleep.
She realized her sister's eyes were open—there was the shine of her eyes. Win made no sound or movement, her expression grave as if she were absorbed in collecting each second with him.
Overwhelmed with compassion and shared sorrow, Amelia tore her gaze from her sister's. Retreating from the bedside, she left the room.
She nearly bumped into Poppy, who was also walking through the hallway, her robe a ghostly white.
"How is he?" Poppy asked.
Her throat hurt. It was difficult to speak. "Not well. Sleeping. Let's go to the kitchen and put a kettle on." They went toward the stairs.
"Amelia, I dreamed all night about Leo. Terrible dreams."
"So did I."
"Do you think he's… done himself harm?"
"I hope not, with all my heart. But I think it's possible."
"Yes," Poppy whispered. "I think so, too." She heaved a sigh. "Poor Beatrix."
"Why do you say that?"
"She's still so young, to have lost so many people… Father and Mother, and now perhaps Merripen and Leo."
"We haven't lost Merripen and Leo yet."
"At this point, it would be a miracle if we could keep either of them."
"You're always so cheerful in the morning." Amelia caught her hand and squeezed it. Trying to ignore the weight of hopelessness in her own chest, she said firmly, "Don't give up yet, Poppy. We'll hold out hope for as long as we can."
They reached the bottom of the stairs. "Amelia." Poppy sounded vaguely annoyed. "Don't you ever feel like throwing yourself to the floor and crying?"
Yes, Amelia thought. Right now, as a matter of fact. But she couldn't afford the luxury of tears. "No, of course not. Crying never solves anything."
"Don't you ever want to lean on someone's shoulder?"
"I don't need someone else's shoulder. I've got two perfectly good ones."
"That's silly. You can't lean on your own shoulder."
"Poppy, if you mean to start the day by bickering? Amelia broke off as she became aware of some noise from outside, the thunder and jangle and gravel-crunching of a carriage and team of horses. "Good heavens, who would come at this hour?"
"The doctor," Poppy guessed.
"No, I haven't sent for him yet."
"Perhaps, Lord Westcliff has returned."
"But there would be no reason for that, especially for him to have come so early?
A footman knocked at the door, the sound echoing through the entrance hall. The sifters looked at each other uneasily. "We can't answer it," Amelia said. "We're in our nightclothes."
A maid came into the entrance hall. Setting down a pail of coal, she wiped her hands on her apron and hastened to the door. Unlocking the massive portal, she tugged it open and bobbed a curtsy.
"Come away." Amelia muttered, urging Poppy back to the stairs with her. But as she glanced back over her shoulder to see who had come, the sight of a man's tall, dark form struck sparks inside her. She stopped with her foot on the first step, staring and staring, until a pair of amber eyes looked in her direction.
He looked disheveled and disreputable, like an outlaw on the run. A smile came to his lips, while he stared at her intently. "It seems I can't stay away from you," he said.
She rushed to him without thinking, almost stumbling in her haste. "Cam?
He caught her up with a low laugh. The scent of outdoors clung to him; wet earth, dampness, leaves. The mist on his coat sank through the thin layer of her robe. Feeling her tremor, Cam opened his coat with a wordless murmur and pulled her into the tough, warm haven of his body. Amelia couldn't contain her shivering. She was vaguely aware of servants moving through the entrance hall, of her sister's presence nearby. She was making a scene—she should pull away and try to compose herself. But she couldn't. Not yet.
"You must have traveled all night," she heard herself say.
"I had to come back early." She felt his lips brush her tumbled hair. '"I left some things unfinished. But I had a feeling you might need me. Tell me what's happened, sweetheart."
Amelia opened her mouth to answer, but to her mortification, the only sound she could make was a sort of miserable croak. Her self-control shattered. She shook her head and choked on more sobs, and the more she tried to stop them, the worse they became.
Cam gripped her firmly, deeply, into his embrace. The appalling storm of tears didn't seem to bother him at all He took one of Amelia's hands and flattened it against his heart, until she could feel the strong, steady beat. In a world that was disintegrating around her, he was solid and real. "It's all right," she heard him murmur. "I'm here."
Alarmed by her own lack of self-discipline, Amelia made a wobbly attempt to stand on her own, but he only hugged her more closely. "No, don't pull away. I've got you." He cuddled her shaking form against his chest. Noticing Poppy's awkward retreat, Cam sent her a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, little sister."