Like Merripen, Rohan was a big, virile male. And like Merripen he was a Roma, but he was so much easier with it, infinitely more comfortable in his own skin. Rohan was smooth and prepossessing whereas Merripen was secretive and brooding. But for all Rohan's charm, there was a subtle edge of danger about him, a sense that he was acquainted with a side of life the sheltered Hathaways had never been exposed to.
He was a man who harbored secrets… like Merripen. Those identical tattoos had caused Win to wonder at the connection between the two men. And she thought she might know what it was, even if neither of them did.
She stopped with a timid smile as they met on the stairs. "Mr. Rohan."
"Miss Winnifred." Rohan's unnerving golden gaze moved across her white face. She was still upset from her encounter with Merripen. She could feel the color burning across the crests of her cheeks.
"He's awake, I take it," Rohan said, reading her expression far too accurately.
"He's cross with me for tricking him into drinking the tea with morphine."
"I suspect he would forgive you anything," Rohan replied.
Win rested her hand on the balcony railing and looked over the edge absently. She had the curious feeling of wanting, needing, to communicate to this friendly stranger, and yet having no idea what she wanted to say.
Rohan waited in companionable silence, in no apparent hurry to go anywhere. She liked his company. Having long been accustomed to Merripen's brusqueness, and Leo's self-destructiveness, she thought it was rather nice to be in the presence of such a levelheaded man.
"You saved Merripen's life," she ventured. "He's going to get well."
Rohan watched her intently. "You care for him."
"Oh, yes, we all do," Win said too quickly, and paused. Words gathered and flew inside her as if they had wings. The effort to hold them back was exhausting. She was suddenly glassy-eyed with frustration and desolation, thinking of the man upstairs and the untraversable distance that was always, always between them. "I want to get well, too," she burst out. "I want… I want…" She closed her mouth and thought, Good Lord, how must I sound to him? Feeling chagrin at her loss of self-control, she passed a hand over her face and rubbed her temples.
But Rohan seemed to understand. And mercifully, there was no pity in his gaze. The honesty in his voice comforted her immeasurably. "I think you will, little sister."
She shook her head as she confessed, "1 want it so much, I'm afraid to hope."
"Never be afraid to hope," Rohan said gently. "It's the only way to begin."
Chapter Twenty One
Amelia was at a loss to understand how she could have slept until after luncheon. She could only attribute it to Cam, whose mere presence in the house caused her to relax. It was as if her mind automatically handed over worries and cares to him, allowing her to sleep like an infant.
She didn't like it.
She didn't want to depend on him, and yet she couldn't seem to stop it from happening.
Dressing smartly in a chocolate-colored gown with pink velvet trim, she went to visit Merripen, whose surliness didn't dampen her joy in his recovery.
Upon going downstairs, she was told by the housekeeper that a pair of gentlemen had just arrived from London, and Mr. Rohan was meeting with them in the library. Amelia guessed one of them was the builder whom Cam had sent for. Curious about the visitors, she went to the library and paused at the doorway.
The masculine voices stopped. There were men grouped around the library table, two seated, one leaning casually against it, and another—Leo—lurking in the corner. The men all rose, except for Leo, who merely shifted in his chair as if the courtesy were too much effort to be bothered with.
Cam was dressed with his usual disheveled elegance: well-tailored clothes but a conspicuous lack of a cravat. Approaching Amelia, he took one of her hands. He raised it to his lips and pressed a lingering kiss to the backs of her fingers in a territorial gesture not likely to be lost on anyone.
"Miss Hathaway." Cam's tone was polite, while a heathen glint danced in his eyes. "Your timing is perfect. Some gentlemen have arrived to discuss the restoration of the Ramsay estate. Allow me to introduce them."
Amelia exchanged bows with the men: a master builder named John Dashiell, who appeared to be in his late thirties, and his assistant, Mr. Francis Barksby. Dashiell had gained a sterling reputation as the builder of the Rutledge Hotel several years earlier, and subsequently carried out private and public projects all over England. He and his brother had established a prosperous firm with the relatively new concept of employing all his subcontractors internally, rather than hiring outside workers and craftsmen. By keeping all his employees under one roof, Dashiell maintained an unusually high degree of control over his projects.
Dashiell was a large-framed, ruggedly attractive man with a ready smile. One could easily imagine him in his early days as a carpenter's apprentice, hammer in hand. "A pleasure, Miss Hathaway. I was sorry to learn of the Ramsay House fire, but very glad everyone escaped alive. Many families are not so fortunate."
She nodded. "Thank you, sir. We are grateful to have your judgment and insights, and to find out what can be made of our house now."
"I'll do my best," he promised.
"Mr. Dashiell, do you employ an architect at your firm?"
"As it happens, my brother is quite proficient at architectural design. But he is rather occupied with work in London. We're searching for a second architect to manage the surplus." He cast a quick glance at Leo, and turned back to Amelia. "I hope to persuade Lord Ramsay to accompany us to the estate. I would welcome his opinions."