A chuckle rustled in Lady Westcliff's throat. She turned to Amelia. "We'll have been married four years, come September," she said rather sheepishly. "I had supposed I would have stopped mooning over him by now, but I haven't." Mischief danced in her dark eyes. "Now, I'll introduce you to some of the other guests. Tell me whom you wish to meet first."
Amelia's gaze had moved from the earl to the group of men around him. A ripple of awareness went down her spine as her attention was caught by Cam Rohan. He was dressed in black and white, identical to the other gentlemen's attire, but the civilized scheme only served to make him more exotic. With the dark silk of his hair curling over the starched white collar, the swarthiness of his complexion, the tiger eyes, he seemed completely out of place in these decorous surroundings. Catching sight of her, Rohan bowed, which she acknowledged with a stiff bow of her own.
"You've already met Mr. Rohan, of course," Lady Westcliff commented, observing the exchange. "An interesting fellow, don't you think? Mr. Rohan is charming and very nice, and only half civilized, which I rather like."
"I..." Amelia tore her gaze from Rohan with effort, her heart thrumming erratically. "Half civilized?"
"Oh, you know all the rules the upper class has devised for so-called polite behavior. Mr. Rohan can't be bothered with most of them." Lady Westcliff grinned. "Neither can I, actually."
"How long have you known Mr. Rohan?"
"Only since Lord St. Vincent took possession of the gambling club. Since then, Mr. Rohan has become a sort of protég? of both Westcliff's and St. Vincent's." She gave a quick laugh. "Rather like having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Rohan seems to manage them both quite well."
"Why have they taken such an interest in him?"
"He's an unusual man. I'm not certain anyone knows what to make of him. According to Westcliff, Rohan has an exceptional mind. But at the same time, he is superstitious and unpredictable. Have you heard about his good-luck curse?"
"It seems no matter what Rohan does, he can't help making money. A lot of money. Even when he tries to lose it. He claims it's wrong for one person to own so much."
"It's the Romany way," Amelia murmured. "They don't believe in owning things."
"Yes. Well, being from New York, I don't altogether understand the concept, but there you have it. Against his will, Mr. Rohan has been given a percentage of the profits at the club, and no matter how many charitable donations or unsound investments he makes, he keeps getting massive windfalls. First he bought an old racehorse with short legs—Little Dandy—who won the Grand National last April. Then there was the rubber debacle, and?
"It was a small, failing rubber manufactory on the east side of London. Just as the company was about to go under, Mr. Rohan made a large investment in it. Everyone, including Lord Westcliff, told him not to, that he was a foot and he would lose every cent?
"Which was his intention," Amelia said.
"Exactly. But to Rohan's dismay, the whole thing turned around. The company's director used his investment to acquire the patent rights for the vulcanization process, and they invented these little stretchy scraps of tubing called rubber bands. And now the company is a blazing success. I could tell you more, but it's all variations on the same theme—Mr. Rohan throws the money away and it comes back to him tenfold."
"I wouldn't call that a curse," Amelia said.
"Neither would I." Lady Westcliff laughed softly. "But Mr. Rohan does. That's what makes it so amusing. You should have seen him sulking earlier in the day when he received the latest report from one of his stockjobbers in London. All good news. He was gnashing his teeth over it."
Taking Amelia's arm, Lady Westcliff led her across the room. "Although we have a sad lack of eligible gentlemen tonight, I promise we'll have quite an array visiting later in the season. They all come to hunt and fish—and there's usually a high proportion of men to women."
"That is good news," Amelia replied. "I have high hopes that my sisters will find suitable gentlemen to marry."
Not missing the implication, Lady Westcliff asked, "But you have no such hopes for yourself?"
"No, I don't expect ever to marry."
"I have a responsibility to my family. They need me." After a brief pause, Amelia added frankly, "And the truth is, I should hate to submit to a husband's dictates."
"I used to feel the same way. But I must warn you, Miss Hathaway... life has a way of fouling up our plans. I speak from experience."
Amelia smiled, unconvinced. It was a simple matter of priorities. She would devote all her time and energies to creating a home for her siblings, and seeing them all healthy and happily married. There would be nieces and nephews aplenty, and Ramsay House would be filled with the people she loved.
No husband could offer her more.
Catching sight of her brother, Amelia noticed there was a peculiar expression on his face, or rather a lack of expression that indicated he was concealing some strong or private emotion. He came to her at once, exchanged a few pleasantries with Lady Westcliff, and nodded politely as she asked leave to attend to an elderly guest who had just arrived.
"What is it?" Amelia whispered, looking up as Leo cupped her elbow in his hand. "You look as though you'd just gotten a mouthful of rotten cork."