As far as Amelia was concerned, that ended the debate. "I've always been the one to decide what is for my own good. I won't yield that right to you, nor to anyone."
Cam fingered her earlobe lightly, traced the side of her throat. "Before you make your final decision, there are some things you should consider. There's more than just the two of us at stake." As Amelia tried to step away from him, he gripped her h*ps and forced her to stay. "Your family's in trouble, sweetheart."
"That's nothing new to us. We're always in trouble."
Cam conceded the point. "Still, it's gotten bad enough that you'd be better off—even as the wife of a Roma?than if you tried to manage it all on your own."
Amelia wanted to make him understand that her objections had nothing to do with his Gypsy heritage.
But he was speaking again, his face close to hers. "Marry me, and I'll restore Ramsay House. I'll turn it into a palace. We'll consider it part of your bride-price."
"A Romany tradition. The groom pays a sum to the bride's family before the wedding. Which means I'll also settle Leo's accounts in London?
"He still owes you money?"
"Not to me. Other creditors."
"Oh, no," Amelia said, her stomach dropping.
"I'll take care of you and your household," Cam continued with relentless patience. "Clothes, jewelry, horses, books?school for Beatrix?a season in London for Poppy. The best doctors for Winnifred. She can go to any clinic in the world." A calculated pause. "Wouldn't you like to see her well again?"
"That's not fair," she whispered. "In return, all you have to do is give me what I want." His hand came up to her wrist, sliding along the line of her arm. A ticklish pleasure ran beneath the layers of silk and wool. Amelia fought to steady her voice. "I would feel as if I'd made a bargain with the devil."
"No, Amelia." His voice was dark velvet. "Just with me."
"I'm not even certain what it is you want."
Cam's head lowered over hers. "After last night, I find that hard to believe.'"
"You could get that from countless other women. F-far more cheaply, I might add, and with much less trouble."
"I want it from you. Only you." A brief, somewhat uncomfortable pause. His mouth twisted. "The other women I've been with ... I was a novelty to them. Someone different from their husbands. They wanted my company at night, but not during the day. I was never an equal. And I was never satisfied after being with them. With you, it's different."
Amelia closed her eyes as she felt the hot caress of his mouth against her forehead. "It was very wicked of you to sleep with married women," she said with difficulty. "Perhaps if you had tried to court a respectable one?
"I live in a gambling club." Subtle amusement tempered his voice. "I've met very few respectable women. And—present company excluded—I've never gotten on well with them."
His mouth wandered gently along the side of her face. "I seem to make them nervous."
She jumped at the touch of his tongue on her earlobe. "I c-can't imagine why."
He toyed with her ear, catching the rim delicately between his teeth. "I'll admit it wouldn't be easy, being married to a Romany male. We're possessive. Jealous. We prefer our wives never to touch another man. Nor would you have the right to refuse me your bed." His lips covered hers in a molten kiss, his tongue exploring deeply. "But then," he said, lifting his mouth, "you wouldn't want to." Another long, lazy kiss, and then Cam said against her mouth, "You'll wear the look of a well-loved woman, monisha."
Amelia was forced to hold on to him for balance. "You would leave me, eventually."
"I swear to you, I wouldn't. I've finally found my atchen tan."
"I didn't know Romas had stopping places."
"Not all. Apparently I'm one of the few who do." Shaking his head, Cam added in a disgruntled tone, "My back is sore after sleeping on the ground all night. My gadjo half has finally gotten the better of me."
Amelia ducked her head and pressed a shaky smile against the cool smoothness of his jerkin. "This is lunacy," she muttered.
Cam held her closer. "Marry me, Amelia. You're what I want. You're my fate." One hand slid to the back of her head, gripping the braids and ribbons to keep her mouth upturned. "Say yes." He nibbled at her lips, licked at them, opened them. He kissed her until she writhed in his arms, her pulse racing. "Say it, Amelia, and save me from ever having to spend a night with another woman. I'll sleep indoors. I'll get a haircut. God help me, I think I'd even carry a pocket watch if it pleased you."
Amelia felt dizzy, unable to think. She leaned helplessly into the hard support of his body. Everything was him, every breath, beat, blink, quiver. He said her name, and his voice seemed to come from a great distance.
"Amelia? Cam shook her a little, asking something, repeating the words until she gathered that he wanted to know when she had eaten last.
"Yesterday," she managed to reply. Cam didn't look sympathetic as much as annoyed. "No wonder you're ready to faint. You've had no food and hardly any sleep. How are you to be of use to anyone when you can't manage to take care of your own basic needs?" She would have protested, but he gave her no opportunity to explain anything. Fitting a hard arm around her back, he propelled her back to the house, offering caustic advice the entire way. It seemed to take all her strength to ascend the back staircase.