"May we offer you and your servants lodging for the night?"
"I have already arranged to bestow my company on
Lord and Lady Westcliff. No doubt you have heard of the earl. A most distinguished gentleman. I was acquainted with his father."
"Yes," Cam said gravely. "We've heard of Westcliff."
Cavan's lips thinned. "I suppose it will fall to me to introduce you to him someday." He slid a disdainful glance over both of them. "If we can do something about your manner of dress and personal deportment. And your education. God help us all." He snapped his fingers, and the two footmen swiftly collected the items they had brought in. Rising from the chair, Cavan allowed his coat to be draped over his narrow shoulders. With a morose shake of his head, he looked at Kev and muttered, "As I frequently remind myself, you're better than nothing. Until tomorrow."
The moment Cavan left the parlor, Cam went to the sideboard and poured two generous brandies. Looking bemused, he gave one to Kev. "What are you thinking?" he asked.
"He seems like the kind of grandfather we'd have," Kev said, and Cam nearly choked on his brandy as he laughed.
Much later that evening Win lay draped across Kev's chest, her hair streaming over him like trickles of moonlight. She was na**d except for the coin necklace. Gently disentangling it from her hair, Kev pulled the necklace off and set it on the nightstand.
"Don't," she protested.
"I like wearing it. It reminds me that I'm betrothed."
"I'll remind you," he murmured, rolling until she lay in the crook of his arm. "As often as you need."
She smiled up at him, touching the edges of his lips with exploring fingertips. "Are you sorry that Lord Cavan found you, Kev?"
He kissed the delicate pads of her fingers as he pondered the question. "No," he said eventually. "He's a bitter old cretin, and I wouldn't care to spend a great deal of time in his company. But now I have the answers to things I wondered about for my entire life. And…" he hesitated before admitting sheepishly, "… I wouldn't mind being the Earl of Cavan someday."
"You wouldn't?" She regarded him with a quizzical grin.
Kev nodded. "I think I might be good at it," he confessed.
"So do I," Win said in a conspiratorial whisper. "In fact, I think a great many people will be surprised by your absolute brilliance at telling them what to do."
Kev grinned and kissed her forehead. "Did I tell you the last thing Cavan said before he left this evening? He said he frequently reminds himself that I'm better than nothing."
"What a silly old windbag," Win said, slipping her hand behind Kev's neck. "And he's utterly wrong," she added, just before their lips met. "Because, my love, you're better than everything."
For a long time afterward, there were no words.
According to the doctor, it had been the first delivery during which he had more concerns for the expectant father than the mother and infant.
Kev had conducted himself quite well during the majority of Win's confinement, though he had tended to overreact at times. The commonplace aches and twinges of pregnancy had caused nothing short of alarm, and there had been many a time that he had insisted on sending for the doctor for no good reason at all, despite Win's exasperated refusal.
But parts of it had been marvelous. The quiet evenings when Kev had rested beside her with his hands flattened on her stomach to feel the baby kicking. The summer afternoons when they had walked through Hampshire, feeling at one with nature and the life teeming everywhere. The unexpected discovery that marriage, rather than weighting their relationship with seriousness, had somehow given life a sense of lightness, of buoyancy.
Kev laughed often now. He was far more apt to tease, to play, to show his affection openly. He seemed to adore Cam and Amelia's son, Ronan, and readily joined in the family's general spoiling of the dark-haired infant.
However, during the last few weeks of Win's pregnancy, Kev hadn't been able to conceal his growing dread. And when Win's labor had begun in the middle of the night, he had gone into a state of subdued terror that nothing would soothe. Every birthing pain, every sharp gasp she took, had caused Kev to turn ashen, until Win had realized she was faring far better than he.
"Please," Win had whispered to Amelia privately, "do something with him."
And so Cam and Leo had dragged Kev from the bedroom down to the library, plying him with good Irish whiskey for most of the day.
When the future Earl of Cavan was born, the doctor said he was perfectly healthy, and that he wished all births could go so well. Amelia and Poppy bathed Win and dressed her in a fresh nightgown, and cleaned and swaddled the baby in soft cotton. Only then was Kev allowed to come up to see them. After ascertaining for himself that his wife and child were both in good condition, Kev wept in unashamed relief and promptly fell asleep on the bed beside Win.
She glanced from her handsome, slumbering husband to the baby in her arms. Her son was small but perfectly formed, fair-skinned, with a remarkable quantity of black hair. His eye color was indeterminate at the moment, but Win thought his eyes would eventually turn out to be blue. She lifted him higher against her chest until her lips were close to his miniature ear. And in accordance with Romany tradition, she told him his secret name.
"You are Andrei," she whispered. It was a name for a warrior. A son of Kev Merripen could be no less. "Your gadjo name is Jason Cole. And your tribal name…" She paused thoughtfully.