Amelia smoothed his coat, her lip trembling. "Then you had better stop leading the life of a drunken wastrel," she said.
Leo grinned. "But I've always believed in cultivating one's natural talents to the fullest." He lowered his head so she could kiss his cheek. "You're a fine one to talk about how to conduct oneself," he said. "You, who just married a man you barely know."
"It was the best thing I ever did," Amelia said.
"Since he's paying for my trip to France, I suppose I can't disagree." Leo reached out to shake Cam 's hand. After a rocky beginning, the two men had come to like each other in a short time. "Good-bye, phral," Leo said, using the Romany word that Cam had taught him for "brother." "I have no doubt you'll do an excellent job taking care of the family. You've already gotten rid of me, which is a promising beginning."
"You'll return to a rebuilt home and a thriving estate, my lord."
Leo gave a low laugh. "I can't wait to see what you will accomplish. You know, not just any peer would entrust all his affairs to a pair of Gypsies."
"I would say with certainty," Cam replied, "that you're the only one."
After Win had bid farewell to her sisters, Leo settled her into the carriage and sat beside her. There was a soft lurch as the team pulled forward, and they headed to the London docks.
Leo studied Win's profile. As usual, she showed little emotion, her fine-boned face serene and composed. But he saw the flags of color burning on the pale crests of her cheeks, and the way her fingers clenched and tugged at the embroidered handkerchief in her lap. It had not escaped him that Merripen hadn't been there to say good-bye. Leo wondered if he and Win had exchanged harsh words.
Sighing, Leo reached out and put his arm around his sister's thin, breakable frame. She stiffened but did not pull away. After a moment, the handkerchief came up, and he saw that she was blotting her eyes. She was afraid, and ill, and miserable.
And he was all she had.
God help her.
He made an attempt at humor. "You didn't let Beatrix give you one of her pets, did you? I'm warning you, if you're carrying a hedgehog or a rat, it goes overboard as soon as we're on the ship."
Win shook her head and blew her nose.
"You know," Leo said conversationally, still holding her, "you're the least amusing of all the sisters. I can't think how I ended up going to France with you."
"Believe me," came her watery reply, "I wouldn't be this boring if I had any say in the matter. When I get well I intend to behave very badly indeed."
"Well, that's something to look forward to." He rested his cheek on her soft blond hair.
"Leo," she asked after a moment, "why did you volunteer to go to the clinic with me? Is it because you want to get well, too?"
Leo was both touched and annoyed by the innocent question. Win, like everyone else in the family, considered his excessive drinking an illness that might be cured by a period of abstinence and healthful surroundings. But his drinking was merely a symptom of the real illness-a grief so persistent that at times it threatened to stop his heart from beating.
There was no cure for losing Laura.
"No," he said to Win. "I have no aspirations to get well. I merely want to continue my debauchery with new scenery." He was rewarded by a small chuckle. "Win… did you and Merripen quarrel? Is that why he wasn't there to see you off?" At her prolonged silence, Leo rolled his eyes. "If you insist on being closemouthed, Sis, it's going to be a long journey indeed."
"Yes, we quarreled."
"About what? Harrow 's clinic?"
"Not really. That was part of it, but…" Win shrugged uncomfortably. "It's too complicated. It would take forever to explain."
"We're about to cross an ocean and half of France. Believe me, we have time."
After the carriage had departed, Cam went to the mews behind the hotel, a tidy building with horse stalls and a carriage house on the ground floor, and servants' accommodations above. As he had expected, Merripen was grooming the horses. The hotel mews were run on a part-livery system, which meant some of the stabling chores had to be assumed by the horse owners. At the moment Merripen was taking care of Cam 's black gelding, a three-year-old named Pooka.
Merripen's movements were light, quick, and methodical as he ran a brush over the horse's shining flanks.
Cam watched him for a moment, appreciating the Rom's deftness. The story that Gypsies were exceptionally good with horses was no myth. A Rom considered the horse to be a comrade, an animal of poetry and heroic instincts. And Pooka accepted Merripen's presence with a calm deference he showed to few people.
"What do you want?" Merripen asked without looking at him.
Cam approached the open stall leisurely, smiling as Pooka lowered his head and nudged his chest. "No, boy… no sugar lumps." He patted the muscular neck. His shirtsleeves were rolled up to his elbows, exposing the tattoo of a black flying horse on his forearm. Cam had no memory of when he'd gotten the tattoo… It had been there forever, for reasons his grandmother would never explain.
The symbol was an Irish nightmare steed called a pooka, an alternately malevolent and benevolent horse who spoke in a human voice and flew at night on widespread wings. According to legend, the pooka would come to an unsuspecting human's door at midnight, and take him on a ride that would leave him forever changed.