"No need," said the aristocrat who had just struggled to his feet, sounding winded. "I can walk to my own bloody carriage." Tugging his clothes back into place over his bulky form, he threw the dark-haired man an anxious glance. "Rohan, I will have your word on something."
"Yes, my lord?"
"If word of this gets out—if Lady Selway should discover that I was fighting over the favors of a fallen woman—my life won't be worth a farthing."
Rohan replied with reassuring calm. "She'll never know, my lord."
"She knows everything," Selway said. "She's in league with the devil. If you are ever questioned about this minor altercation..."
"It was caused by a particularly vicious game of whist," came the bland reply.
"Yes. Yes. Good man." Selway patted the younger man on the shoulder. "And to put a seal on your silence? He reached a beefy hand inside his waistcoat and extracted a small bag.
"No, my lord." Rohan stepped back with a firm shake of his head, his shiny black hair flying with the movement and settling back into place. "There's no price for my silence."
'Take it," the aristocrat insisted.
"I can't, my lord."
"It's yours." The bag of coins was tossed to the ground, landing at Rohan's feet with a metallic thud. "There. Whether you choose to leave it lying on the street or not is entirely your choice."
As the gentleman left, Rohan stared at the bag as if it were a dead rodent. "I don't want it," he muttered to no one in particular.
"I'll take it," the prostitute said, sauntering over to him. She scooped up the bag and tested its heft in her palm. A taunting grin split her face. "Gosh, I've never seen a Gypsy what's afraid o' blunt."
"I'm not afraid of it," Rohan said sourly. "I just don't need it." Sighing, he rubbed the back of his neck with one hand.
She laughed at him and slid an openly appreciative glance over his lean form. "I 'ates to take something for noffing. Care for a little knock in the alley before I goes back to Bradshaw's?"
"I appreciate the offer," he said politely, "but no." She hitched a shoulder in a playful half shrug. "Less work for me, then. Good evenin'."
Rohan responded with a short nod, seeming to contemplate a spot on the ground with undue concentration. He was very still, seeming to listen for some nearly imperceptible sound. Lifting a hand to the back of his neck again, he rubbed it as if to soothe a warning prickle. Slowly he turned and looked directly at Amelia.
A little shock went through her as their gazes met. Although they were standing several yards apart, she felt the full force of his notice. His expression was not tempered by warmth or kindness. In fact, he looked pitiless, as if he had long ago found the world to be an uncaring place and had decided to accept it on its own terms.
As his detached gaze swept over her, Amelia knew exactly what he was seeing: a woman dressed in serviceable clothes and practical shoes. She was fair skinned and dark haired, of medium height, with the rosy-cheeked wholesomeness common to the Hathaways. Her figure was sturdy and voluptuous, when the fashion was to be reed-slim and wan and fragile.
Without vanity, Amelia knew that although she wasn't a great beauty, she was sufficiently attractive to have caught a husband. But she had risked her heart once, with disastrous consequences. She had no desire to try it again. And God knew she was busy enough trying to manage the rest of the Hathaways.
Rohan looked away from her. Without a word or a nod of acknowledgment, he walked to the back entrance of the club. His pace was unhurried, as if he were giving himself time to think about something. There was a distinctive ease in his movements. His strides didn't measure out distance so much as flow over it like water.
Amelia reached the doorstep at the same time he did. "Sir—Mr. Rohan—I presume you are the manager of the club."
Rohan stopped and turned to face her. They were standing close enough for Amelia to detect the scents of male exertion and warm skin. His unfastened waistcoat, made of luxurious gray brocade, hung open at the sides to reveal a thin white linen shirt beneath. As Rohan moved to button the waistcoat, Amelia saw a quantity of gold rings on his fingers. A ripple of nervousness went through her, leaving an unfamiliar heat in its wake. Her corset felt too tight, her high-necked collar constricting.
Rushing, she brought herself to stare at him directly. He was a young man, not yet thirty, with the countenance of an exotic angel. This face had definitely been created for sin... the brooding mouth, the angular jaw, the golden-hazel eyes shaded by long straight lashes. His hair needed cutting, the heavy black locks curling slightly over the back of his collar. Amelia's throat cinched around a quick breath as she saw the glitter of a diamond in his ear.
He accorded her a precise bow. "At your service, Miss..."
"Hathaway," she said precisely. She turned to indicate her companion, who had come to stand at her left. "And this is my companion, Merripen."
Rohan glanced at him alertly. "The Romany word for 'life' and also 'death.'"
Was that what Merripen's name meant? Surprised, Amelia looked up at him. Merripen gave a slight shrug to indicate it was of no importance. She turned back to Rohan. "Sir, we've come to ask you a question or two regarding?
"I don't like questions."
"I am looking for my brother, Lord Ramsay," she continued doggedly, "and I desperately need any information you may possess as to his whereabouts."