"All men of intelligence must eventually give up their freedom," St. Vincent replied. "The problem with bachelorhood is that it's far too easy, which makes it tedious. The only real challenge left is marriage."
Marriage. Respectability. Cam regarded his companions with a skeptical smile, thinking they resembled a pair of birds trying to convince themselves of how comfortable their cage was. No woman was worth having his wings clipped.
"I'm leaving for London tomorrow," he said. "I'll stay at the club until it reopens. After that I'll be gone for good."
St. Vincent's clever mind circumvented the problem, analyzing it from various angles. "Rohan... you've led a more or less civilized existence for years, and yet suddenly it has become intolerable. Why?"
Cam remained silent. The truth was not something he was readily able to admit to himself, let alone say aloud.
"There has to be some reason you want to leave," St. Vincent persisted.
"Perhaps I'm off the mark," Westcliff said, "but I suspect it may have something to do with Miss Hathaway."
Cam sent him a damning glare.
St. Vincent looked alertly from Cam's stony face to Westcliff's. "You didn't tell me there was a woman."
Cam stood so quickly the chair nearly toppled backward. "She has nothing to do with it."
"Who is she?" St. Vincent always hated being left out of gossip.
"One of Lord Ramsay's sisters," came Westcliff's reply. "They reside at the estate next door."
"Well, well," St. Vincent said. "She must be quite something to provoke such a reaction in you, Rohan. Tell me about her. Is she fair? Dark? Well formed?"
To remain silent, or to deny the attraction, would have been to admit the full extent of his weakness. Cam lowered back into his chair and strove for an offhand tone. "Dark-haired. Pretty. And she has?quirks."
"Quirks." St. Vincent's eyes glinted with enjoyment. "How charming. Go on."
"She's read obscure medieval philosophy. She's afraid of bees. Her foot taps when she's nervous." And other, more personal things he couldn't reveal?like the beautiful paleness of her throat and chest, the weight of her hair in his hands, the way strength and vulnerability were pleated inside her like two pieces of fabric folded together. Not to mention a body that had been designed for mortal sin.
Cam didn't want to think about Amelia. Every time he did, he was swamped with a feeling he'd never known before, something as acute as pain, as pervasive as hunger. The feeling seemed to have no purpose other than to rob him of sleep at night. There wasn't one millimeter of Amelia Hathaway that didn't attract him profoundly, and that was a problem so far outside his experience, he didn't begin to know how to address it.
If only he could take her, ease this endless ache... but having lain with her once, he might want her even more afterward. In mathematics, one could take a finite figure and divide its content infinitely, with the result that even though the content was unchanged, the magnitude of its bounds went on forever. Potential infinity. It was the first time Cam had ever comprehended the concept in the form of a woman. Aware that Westcliff and St. Vincent had exchanged a significant glance, Cam said sourly, "If you're assuming that my plans to leave are nothing more than a reaction to Miss Hathaway... I've been considering this for a long time. I'm not an idiot. Nor am I inexperienced with women."
"To say the least," St. Vincent commented dryly. "But in your pursuit of women—or perhaps I should say their pursuit of you—you seem to have regarded them all as interchangeable. Until now. If you are taken with this Hathaway creature, don't you think it bears investigating?"
"God, no. There's only one thing it could lead to."
"Marriage," the viscount said rather than asked.
"Yes. And that's impossible."
The fact that they were discussing Amelia Hathaway and the subject of marriage was enough to make Cam blanch in discomfort. "I'm not the marrying kind?
St. Vincent snorted. "No man is. Marriage is a female invention."
"—but even if I were so inclined," Cam continued, "I'm a Roma. I wouldn't do that to her."
There was no need to elucidate. Decent gadjis didn't marry Gypsies. His blood was mixed, and even though Amelia herself might harbor no prejudices, the routine discriminations Cam encountered would certainly extend to his wife and children. And if that wasn't bad enough, his own people would be even more disapproving of the match. Gadje Gadjensa, Rom Romensa?Gadje with Gadje, Roma with Roma.
"What if your heritage made no difference to her?" Westcliff asked quietly.
"That's not the point. It's how others would view her." Seeing that the older man was about to argue, Cam murmured, "Tell me, would either of you wish your daughter to marry a Gypsy?" In the face of their discomforted silence, he smiled without amusement.
After a moment, Westcliff stubbed out his cigar in a deliberate, methodical fashion. "Obviously you've made up your mind. Further debate would be pointless."
St. Vincent followed his lead with a resigned shrug and a facile smile. "I suppose now I'm obliged to wish you happiness in your new life. Although happiness in the absence of indoor plumbing is a debatable concept."
Cam was undeceived by the show of resignation. He had never known Westcliff or St. Vincent to lose an argument easily. Each, in his own way, would hold his ground long after the average man would have collapsed to his knees. Which made Cam fairly certain he hadn't heard the last word from either of them yet.