“Marks, there is nothing in the world I would enjoy more than watching you make a scene. In fact, I’ll help you. How shall we start?” Leo seemed to enjoy her discomfiture, the wash of uncontrollable color over her face.
The pad of his thumb stroked the thin, soft skin beneath her jaw, a coaxing motion that caused her head to tilt back before she quite knew what she was doing. “I’ve never seen such eyes,” he said almost absently. “They remind me of the first time I saw the North Sea.” His fingertips followed the edge of her jaw. “When the wind chases the waves before it, the water is the same green-gray your eyes are now … and then it turns to blue at the horizon.”
Catherine could only assume that he was mocking her again. She scowled at him. “What do you want from me?”
Leo took a long time to answer, his fingers trailing to her earlobe, massaging lightly. “I want your secrets. And I’ll get them out of you one way or another.”
That gave her the impetus to swat his hand away. “Stop this. You’re amusing yourself at my expense, as usual. You are a dissipated scoundrel, an unprincipled cad, and—”
“Don’t forget ‘lecherous libertine,—” he said. “That’s one of my favorites.”
He pushed away lazily from the dressing table. “All right. I’ll go. Obviously you fear that if I stay, you won’t be able to control your desire for me.”
“The only desire I have for you,” she said, “involves maiming and dismemberment.”
Leo grinned and went to the door. Pausing at the threshold, he glanced over his shoulder. “Your spectacles are fogging again,” he said helpfully, and slipped through the door before she could find something to throw.
“Leo,” Amelia said as Leo entered the breakfast room the next morning, “you have to get married.”
Leo gave her a warning glance. His sister knew better than to start a conversation with him so early. He preferred to ease his way into the day, whereas Amelia liked to fling herself at it full tilt. Moreover, he’d slept badly the night before, plagued by erotic dreams involving Catherine Marks.
“You know I’ll never marry,” he said.
Marks’s voice came from the corner. She was perched on a small chair, a sunbeam glancing off her fair hair and causing dust motes to glitter around her. “Just as well, since no rational woman would have you.”
Leo took up the challenge without hesitation. “A rational woman…” he mused aloud. “I don’t believe I’ve ever met one of those.”
“How would you know if you did?” she asked. “You wouldn’t be interested in her character. You would be far too busy examining her … her…”
“Her what?” he prompted.
“Her dress measurements,” she finally said, and he laughed at her prudishness.
“Is it really so impossible for you to name ordinary body parts, Marks? Breasts, hips, legs—why is it indecent to talk about the human anatomy in a straightforward manner?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Because it leads to improper thoughts.”
Leo smirked at her. “Mine already are.”
“Well, mine aren’t,” she said. “And I would prefer them to remain that way.”
His brows lifted. “You don’t have improper thoughts?”
“But when you do, what are they?”
She gave him an indignant glance.
“Have I ever been involved in your improper thoughts?” Leo persisted, causing her face to flame.
“I told you I didn’t have any,” she protested.
“No, you said ‘hardly ever.’ Which means one or two are rattling around in there.”
Amelia broke in. “Leo, stop tormenting her.”
Leo barely heard her, his attention fixed on Catherine. “I wouldn’t think badly of you at all if you did,” he said. “In fact, I’d like you much better for it.”
“No doubt you would,” Catherine shot back. “You probably prefer women with no virtues at all.”
“Virtue in a woman is like pepper in the soup. A little makes for a nice seasoning. But overdo it, and no one wants very much of you.”
Clamping her mouth shut, Catherine pointedly looked away from him, putting an end to the rapid-paced argument.
In the silence, Leo became aware that the entire family was staring at him with collective bemusement.
“Have I done something?” he demanded. “What’s going on? And what the devil are you all reading?”
Amelia, Cam, and Merripen had spread papers over the table, while Win and Beatrix appeared to be looking up words in a massive legal tome.
“A letter was just delivered from our London solicitor, Mr. Gadwick,” Merripen said. “It seems there are legal issues that weren’t made clear when you inherited the estate.”
“No surprise there,” Leo said. He went to the sideboard, where breakfast had been laid out. “The estate and title were tossed in my direction like used fish wrappings. Along with the Ramsay curse.”
“There is no Ramsay curse,” Amelia said.
“Oh?” Leo smiled darkly. “Then why did the last half-dozen Lord Ramsays die in quick succession?”
“Pure coincidence,” she replied. “Obviously that particular branch of the family was clumsy and inbred. It’s a common difficulty for bluebloods.”