The blue eyes turned hazy and unfocused, and he closed them. The pained grooves of his face began to relax. “Have I thanked you yet,” he asked, “for hauling me out of the ruins?”
“No thanks are necessary.”
“All the same … thank you.” Lifting one of her hands, he cradled her palm against his cheek while his eyes remained closed. “My guardian angel,” he said, the words beginning to slur. “I don’t think I ever had one until now.”
“If you did,” she said, “you probably ran too fast for her to keep up with you.”
He made a quiet sound of amusement.
The feel of his shaven cheek beneath her hand filled her with astonishing tenderness. She had to remind herself that the opium was exerting its influence on him. This feeling between them wasn’t real. But it seemed as if something new were emerging from the wreckage of their former conflict. A thrill of intimacy went through her as she felt the ripple of his swallow in the space beneath his jaw.
They stayed like that until a noise from the doorway caused Catherine to start.
Cam entered the room, glanced at the empty glass, and gave Catherine an approving nod. “Well done,” he said. “This will make it easer on Ramsay. And more importantly, on me.”
“Bugger you,” Leo replied mildly, slitting his eyes open as Cam and Merripen went to the bedside. Amelia followed with an armload of clean rags and toweling. Reluctantly, Catherine pulled away from Leo and retreated to the doorway.
Cam looked down at his brother-in-law with a mixture of concern and affection. The abundant sunlight from the window slid over the shiny black layers of his hair. “I can take care of this, phral. But we could send for a gadjo doctor if you prefer.”
“God, no. Anything he did would be far worse than your blundering. And he’d start with his damned jar of leeches.”
“No leeches here,” Cam replied as he eased the pillows from behind Leo’s back. “I’m terrified of them.”
“Are you?” Amelia asked. “I didn’t know that.”
Cam helped Leo to lower to the mattress. “When I was a boy still living with the tribe, I went wading in a spring-fed pond with a few of the other children. We all came out with leeches attached to our legs. I would say I screamed like a girl, except the girls were much quieter.”
“Poor Cam,” Amelia said, smiling.
“Poor Cam?” Leo echoed, sounding indignant. “What about me?”
“I’m reluctant to give you too much sympathy,” Amelia replied, “in light of my suspicion that you’ve only done this to get out of the turnip planting.”
Leo replied with two choice words that made her grin.
Pulling the bed linens to her brother’s waist, Amelia carefully tucked towels beneath his injured shoulder and side. The sight of his lean, smoothly muscled torso—and that intriguing dusting of hair on his chest—caused Catherine’s stomach to dive in an odd little swoop. She retreated farther behind the door, not wanting to leave and yet knowing it was improper for her to stay.
Cam dropped a kiss atop his wife’s head and nudged her away from the bed. “Wait over there, monisha—we need room to work.” He turned to the nearby tray of supplies.
Catherine blanched as she heard the rattle of knives and metal implements.
“Aren’t you going to sacrifice a goat or perform a tribal dance?” Leo asked woozily. “Or at least chant something?”
“We did all that downstairs,” Cam said. He handed a piece of leather strap to Leo. “Put this between your teeth. And try not to make too much noise while we’re working on you. My son is napping.”
“Before I put this in my mouth,” Leo said, “you might tell me the last place it’s been.” He paused. “On second thought … never mind. I don’t want to know.” He put the strap between his teeth, then removed it temporarily to add, “I’d rather you didn’t amputate anything.”
“If we do,” Merripen said, swabbing carefully around the injured shoulder, “it won’t be intentional.”
“Ready, phral?” she heard Cam ask gently. “Hold him still, Merripen. All right. On the count of three.”
Amelia joined Catherine in the hallway, her face tense. She wrapped her arms around her middle.
They heard Leo’s low groan, followed by a voluble flow of Romany between Cam and Merripen. The foreign language was brisk but soothing.
It was clear that despite the effects of the opium, the procedure was difficult to endure. Every time Catherine heard a grunt or pained sound coming from Leo, she tensed all over and knotted her torn fingers together.
After two or three minutes had passed, Amelia looked around the doorway. “Did it splinter?” she asked.
“Only a little, monisha, ” came Cam’s reply. “It could have been much worse, but—” He paused at a muffled sound from Leo. “Sorry, phral. Merripen, take the tweezers and—yes, that part right there.”
Amelia’s face was pale as she turned back to Catherine. And she astonished her by reaching out and drawing her close in the same way she might have hugged Win, Poppy, or Beatrix. Catherine stiffened a little, not in aversion but awkwardness. “I’m so glad you weren’t harmed, Catherine,” Amelia said. “Thank you for taking care of Lord Ramsay.”
Catherine nodded slightly.
Drawing back, Amelia smiled at her. “He’ll be fine, you know. He has more lives than a cat.”