One of the things Cam adored about Amelia was her tender and unflagging interest in all the concerns, large and small, of her siblings. She was a little mother hen, valuing family as much as any Romany wife. That felt good to him. It hearkened back to his early childhood, when he'd still been allowed to live with the tribe. Family was equally important to them. But it also meant having to share Amelia, which, at times like this, was damned annoying.
After a few minutes, the feminine chatter still hadn't stopped. Gathering that Amelia wasn't going to return to bed any time soon, Cam sighed and left the bed.
He dragged on some clothes, went into the sitting room, and saw Amelia on a small settee with Win. Who looked wretched.
They were so intent on their conversation that Cam 's appearance was barely heeded. Sitting in a nearby chair, Cam listened until he comprehended that Win had lied to Merripen about having seen a doctor, that Merripen had been furious, and that the relationship between the two was in a shambles.
Amelia turned to Cam, her forehead puckered with concern. "Perhaps Win shouldn't have deceived him, but it is her right to make this decision for herself." Amelia retained Win's hand in hers as she spoke. "You know that I would love nothing better than to keep Win safe from harm, always… but even I have to acknowledge that it isn't possible. Merripen must accept that Win wants to have a normal married life with him."
Cam rubbed his face and stifled a yawn. "Yes. But the way to get him to accept that is not to manipulate him." He looked at Win directly. "Little sister, you should know that ultimatums never work with Romany men. It goes completely against a Rom's grain, being told what to do by his woman."
"I didn't tell him what to do," Win protested miserably. "I just told him-"
"That it didn't matter what he thought or felt," Cam murmured. "That you intend to live your life on your own terms, no matter what."
"Yes," she said faintly. "But I didn't mean to imply that I didn't care about his feelings."
Cam smiled ruefully. "I admire your fortitude, little sister. I even happen to agree with your position. But that's not the way to manage a Rom. Even your sister, who is not generally known for her diplomacy, knows better than to approach me in such an uncompromising fashion."
"I am quite diplomatic when I wish to be," Amelia protested, frowning, and he gave her a brief grin. Turning to Win, Amelia admitted reluctantly, " Cam is correct, however."
Win was quiet for a moment, absorbing that. "What should I do now? How can things be made right?"
Both women looked at Cam.
The last thing he wanted was to involve himself in Win and Merripen's problems. And God knew Merripen would probably be as charming as a baited bear this morning. All Cam wanted was to go back to bed and plow his wife. And perhaps sleep a bit longer. But as the sisters stared at him with entreating blue eyes, he sighed. "I'll talk to him," he muttered.
"He's most likely awake now," Amelia said hopefully. "Merripen always rises early."
Cam gave her a glum nod, hardly relishing the prospect of talking to his surly brother about womanish matters. "He's going to beat me like a dusty parlor rug," Cam said. "And I won't blame him a bit."
After dressing and washing, Cam went downstairs to the morning room, where Merripen invariably took breakfast. Passing the sideboard, Cam saw toad-in-the-hole, a casserole of sausages covered in batter and roasted, platters of bacon and eggs, sole fillets, fried bread, and a bowl of baked beans.
A chair had been pushed back from one of the round tables. There was an empty cup and saucer, and a small steaming silver pot next to it. The scent of strong black coffee lingered in the air.
Cam glanced at the glass doors that led to a back terrace, and saw Merripen's lean, dark form. Merripen appeared to be staring at the fruit orchard beyond the structured formal garden. The set of his shoulders and head conveyed both irritability and moroseness.
Hell. Cam had no idea what he was going to say to his brother. They had far to go before they approached a basic level of trust. Any advice Cam tried to give Merripen would probably be tossed summarily back into his face.
Picking up a slice of fried bread, Cam ladled a spoonful of orange marmalade on it, and wandered out to the terrace.
Merripen gave Cam a cursory glance and returned his attention to the landscape: the flourishing fields beyond the manor grounds, the heavy forests nourished by the thick artery of the river.
A few gentle streams of smoke arose from the distant riverbank, one of the places where Gypsies were wont to camp as they traveled through Hampshire. Cam had personally carved identifying marks on the trees to indicate that this was a friendly place to the Rom. And every time a new tribe came, Cam went to visit them on the off-chance that someone from his long-ago family might be there.
"Another kumpania passing through," he remarked casually, joining Merripen at the balcony. "Why don't you come with me to visit them this morning?"
Merripen's tone was distant and unfriendly. "The workmen are casting new plasterwork moldings for the east wing. And after the way they fouled it up last time, I have to be there."
"Last time, the screeds they nailed up weren't properly aligned," Cam said.
"I know that," Merripen snapped.
"Fine." Feeling sleepy and annoyed, Cam rubbed his face. "Look, I have no desire to stick my nose in your affairs, but-"