Cam stared at him intently. "My sister-in-law will find it a disappointment, to say the least."
"Yes. But Miss Hathaway will live longer and enjoy a higher quality of life as a childless woman. And she will learn to accept her altered circumstances. That is her strength." He swallowed some brandy before continuing quietly, "Miss Hathaway was probably never destined for childbearing, even before the scarlet fever. Such a narrow frame. Elegant, but hardly ideal for breeding purposes."
Kev tossed back his brandy, letting the amber fire wash down his throat. He pushed back from the table and stood, unable to bear another moment of the bastard's proximity. The mention of Win's "narrow frame" had been the last straw. Excusing himself with a rough mutter, he walked out of the hotel and into the night. His senses drew in the cool air, the foul, sharp city smells, the stirrings and rattlings and cries of the London night coming to life. Christ, he wanted to be away from this place.
He wanted to take Win to the country with him, to some place that was fresh and wholesome. Away from the gleaming Dr. Harrow, whose clean, fastidious perfection filled Kev with dread. Every instinct warned that Win wasn't safe from Harrow.
But she wasn't safe from him, either.
His own mother had died giving birth. The thought of killing Win with his own body, his spawn swelling inside her until-
His entire being shied at the thought. His deepest terror was harming her. Losing her.
Kev wanted to talk to her, to listen to her, help her somehow to come to terms with the limitations she'd been given. But he'd put a barrier between them, and he didn't dare cross it. Because if Harrow 's flaw was a lack of empathy, Kev's was just the opposite. Too much feeling, too much need.
Enough to kill her.
Later that evening Cam came to Kev's room. Kev had just returned from his walk, a glaze of evening mist still clinging to his coat and hair.
Answering the knock at the door, Kev stood at the threshold and scowled. "What is it?"
"I had a private talk with Harrow," Cam said, his face expressionless.
"He wants to marry Win. But he intends the marriage to be in name only. She doesn't know it yet."
"Bloody hell," Kev muttered. "She'll be the latest addition to his collection of fine objects. She'll stay chaste while he has his affairs-"
"I don't know her well," Cam murmured, "but I don't think she would ever agree to such an arrangement. Especially if you offered her an alternative, phral."
"There is only one alternative, and that is to stay safe with her family."
"There's one more. You could offer for her."
"That's not possible."
Kev felt his face burn. "I couldn't stay celibate with her. I could never hold to it."
"There are ways to prevent conception."
That elicited a contemptuous snort from Kev. "That worked well for you, didn't it?" He rubbed his face wearily. "You know the other reasons I can't offer for her."
"I know the way you once lived," Cam said, choosing his words with obvious care. "I understand your fear of harming her. But in spite of all that, I find it hard to believe that you would really let her go to another man."
"I would if that was best for her."
"Can you actually say that the best Winnifred Hathaway deserves is someone like Harrow?"
"Better him," Kev managed to say, "than someone like me."
Although the social season was not yet over, it was agreed that the family would go to Hampshire. There was Amelia's condition to consider-she would be better off in the healthful surroundings-and Win and Leo wanted to see the Ramsay estate. The only question was the fairness of depriving Poppy and Beatrix of the remainder of the season. But they both claimed to be quite happy to quit London.
This attitude was not unexpected coming from Beatrix, who still seemed far more interested in books and animals and romping through the countryside like a wild creature. But Leo was surprised that Poppy, who was candid about wanting to find a husband, would be so willing to depart.
"I've seen all this season's prospects," Poppy told Leo grimly as they rode through Hyde Park in an open carriage. "Not one of them is worth staying in town for."
Beatrix sat in the opposite seat, with Dodger the ferret curled in her lap. Miss Marks had wedged herself in the corner, her bespectacled gaze fixed on the scenery.
Leo had rarely encountered such an off-putting female. Abrasive, pale, her form an accumulation of pointy elbows and angular bones, her character stiff and knotty and dry.
Clearly Catherine Marks hated men. Which Leo wouldn't have blamed her for, since he was well aware of the faults of his gender. Except that she didn't seem to like women very much, either. The only people she seemed to unbend with were Poppy and Beatrix, who had reported that Miss Marks was exceptionally intelligent and could be very witty at times, and she had a lovely smile.
Leo had a difficult time imagining the tight little seam of Miss Marks's mouth curving in a smile. He rather doubted she even had teeth, since he had never seen them.
"She'll ruin the view," he had complained that morning, when Poppy and Beatrix had told him they were bringing him on their drive. "I won't enjoy the scenery with the Grim Reaper casting her shadow over it."
"Don't call her such horrid names, Leo," Beatrix had protested. "I like her very much. And she's very nice when you're not around."