Pulling the covers over them both, Cam continued to stroke her. Amelia sighed, nestling against his shoulder and biceps.
"By the way," he murmured, "the flatware's back in the silver cabinet."
"It is?" she asked drowsily. "How… what…"
"I had a talk with Beatrix while we were crushing bees. She explained her problem. We agreed to find some new hobbies to keep her busy. To start with, I'm going to teach her to ride. She said she barely knows how."
"There hasn't really been time, with all the other? Amelia began defensively.
"Shhh… I know that, hummingbird. You've done more than enough, keeping all of them together and safe. Now it's time for you to have some help." He kissed her gently. "For someone to keep you safe."
"But I don't want you to?
"Go to sleep," Cam whispered. "We'll start arguing again in the morning. For now, love… dream of something sweet."
Amelia slept deeply, dreaming of resting in a dragon's nest, tucked beneath his warm leathery wing while he breathed fire on anyone or anything that dared to approach. She was woozily aware of Cam leaving the bed in the middle of the night, pulling on his clothes. "Where are you going?" she mumbled. "To see Merripen."
She knew she should go with him—she was concerned about Merripen—but as she tried to sit up, she was reeling with exhaustion, stupefied with it.
Cam coaxed her back down into the welcoming depth of the bedclothes. She fell asleep again, stirring only when he returned to stretch out beside her and gather her in his arms. "Is he better?" she whispered.
"Not yet. But he's no worse. That's good. Now close your eyes…" And he soothed her back to sleep.
Merripen awakened in a dark bedroom, the only glimmer of light coming from the quarter-inch space between the closed draperies. That one sliver was brilliant with the whiteness of midday.
His head ached viciously. His tongue seemed twice its normal size, dry and swollen in his mouth. His bones were sore, and so was his skin. Even his eyelashes hurt. In fact, he had undergone some strange reversal in which everything hurt except his wounded shoulder, which glowed with a near-pleasant warmth.
He tried to move. Instantly someone came to him.
Win. Cool, frail, sweet-smelling, a lovely spirit in the darkness. Without speaking, she sat beside him and lifted his head, and gave him tiny sips of water until his mouth was moist enough to allow speech.
So he hadn't died. And if he hadn't by now, he probably wasn't going to. He wasn't certain how he felt about that. His usual rough appetite for life had been replaced by shattering melancholy. Probably the aftereffects of the morphine.
Still cradling Merripen's head, Win stroked her fingers through his matted, unwashed hair. The light scratch of her fingernails on his scalp sent chills of pleasure through his aching body. But he was so mortified by his uncleanliness, not to mention his helplessness, that he shoved irritably at the gentle hand.
"I must be in hell," he muttered. Win smiled down at him with a tenderness he found unbearable. "You wouldn't see me in hell, would you?"
"In my version … yes."
Her smile turned quizzical, faded, and she laid his head carefully back on the bed.
Win would be featured prominently in Merripen's hell. The most profound, gut-wrenching pain he had ever experienced was because of her—the agony of wanting and never having, of loving and never knowing love. And now it appeared he was going to endure more of it. Which would have made him hate her, if he didn't worship her so. Bending over him, Win touched the bandage on his shoulder, beginning to untuck the end.
"No," Merripen said harshly, moving away from her. He was na**d beneath the covers, stinking of sweat and medicine. A huge, hulking beast. And even worse, dangerously vulnerable. If she continued touching him, tending him, his defenses would be smashed, and God knew what he would say or do. He needed her to go as far away from him as possible.
"Kev," she said, her too-careful tone maddening him further, "I want to see the wound. It's almost time to change the poultice. If you'll just lie flat and let me?
Lie flat. As if that were even possible, with the roaring erection that had sprung to life as soon as she had touched him. He was nothing more than an animal, wanting her this way even when he was ill and filthy and still drugged from morphine?even knowing that to make love to her was like signing her death warrant. Had he been a prayerful man, he would have begged the pitiless heavens never to let Win know what he wanted or how he felt.
A long moment passed before Win asked in a perfectly normal tone, "Who do you want to change the poultice, then?"
"Anyone." Merripen kept his eyes closed. "Anyone but you."
He had no idea what Win's thoughts were, as the silence became heavy and prolonged. His ears pricked at the sound of her skirts swishing. The thought of fabric moving and swirling around her slender legs caused every hair on his body to rise.
"All right, then," she said in a matter-of-fact tone as she reached the door. "I'll send someone else as soon as possible."
Merripen moved his hand to the place on the mattress where she had sat, his fingers splayed wide. And he fought to close his heart, which contained too many secrets and therefore could never be shut all the way.
Descending the grand staircase carefully, Win saw Cam Rohan coming up. She felt a spasm of nerves in her stomach. Win had always felt a bit twittery around unfamiliar men, and she wasn't quite certain what to make of this one. Rohan had assumed a position of influence over her family with astonishing speed. He had stolen her older sister's heart with such adroitness that she didn't even seem to know it yet.